Cosmic Consciousness, by Richard Maurice Bucke, , at sacred-texts.com
To Self Consciousness.
It will be necessary, in the first place, for the reader of this book to have before his mind a tolerably complete idea in outline of mental evolution in all its three branches—sensuous, intellectual and emotional—up to and through the status of self consciousness. Without such a mental image as basis for the new conception this last (that is, cosmic consciousness) to most people would seem extravagant and even absurd. With such necessary foundation the new concept will appear to the intelligent reader what it is: A matter of course—an inevitable sequel to what preceded and led up to it. In attempting to give an idea of this vast evolution of mental phenomena from its beginning in far off geologic ages down to the latest phases reached by our own race anything like an exhaustive treatise could not, of course, be thought of here. The method actually adopted is more or less broken and fragmentary, but enough (it is thought) is given for the present purpose, and those who desire more will have no difficulty in finding it in other treatises, such as the admirable work of Romanes . All the present writer aims at is the exposition of cosmic consciousness and a barely sufficient account of the lower mental Phenomena to make that subject fully intelligible; anything further would only burden this book to no good purpose.
The upbuilding or unfolding of the knowable universe presents to our minds a series of gradual ascents each divided from the next by an apparent leap over what seems to be a chasm. For instance, and to begin not at the beginning, but midway: Between the slow and equable development of the inorganic world which
prepared it for the reception and support of living creatures and the more rapid growth and branching of vital forms, these having once appeared, there occurred what seems like the hiatus between the inorganic and organic worlds and the leap by which it was over-passed; within which hiatus or chasm has heretofore resided either the substance or shadow of a god whose hand has been deemed necessary to lift and pass on the elements from the lower to the higher plane.
Along the level road of the formation of suns and planets, of earth crust, of rocks and soil, we are carried, by evolutionists, smoothly and safely; but when we reach this perilous pit stretching interminably to right and left across our path, we pause, and even so able and daring a pilot as Lester Ward (190. 300–320) can hardly induce us to attempt the leap with him, so wide and dark frowns the abyss. We feel that nature, who has done all—and much greater things—was competent to cross and did cross the apparent break, although we may not at present be able to place a finger in each one of her footprints. For the moment, however, this stands the first and greatest of the so-called bars to acceptance of the doctrine of absolute continuity in the evolution of the visible world.
Later in the history of creation comes the beginning of Simple Consciousness. Certain individuals in some one leading species in the slowly unfolding life of the planet, some day—for the first time—become conscious; know that there exists a world, a something, without them. Less dwelt upon, as it has been, this step from the unconscious to the conscious might well impress us as being as immense, as miraculous and as divine as that from the inorganic to the organic.
Again, running parallel with the river of time, we perceive a long, equable and gradual ascent stretching from the dawn of Simple Consciousness to its highest excellence in the best pre-human types—the horse, the dog, the elephant and the ape. At this point confronts us another break comparable to those which in order of time preceded it—the hiatus, namely, or the seeming hiatus between Simple and Self Consciousness: the deep chasm
or ravine upon one side of which roams the brute while upon the other dwells man. A. chasm into which enough books have been thrown to have sufficed (could they have been converted into stones or pig iron) to dam or bridge a great river. And which has only now been made safely passable by the lamented G. J. Romanes, by means of his valuable treatise on the "Origin of Human Faculty" .
Only a very short time ago (and even yet by most) this break in the line of ascent (or descent) was supposed to be impassable by ordinary growth. It may be said to be now known to be so passable, but it still stands out and apart from the even path of Cosmic development before our vision as that broad chasm or gap between the brute and the man.
For some hundreds of thousands of years, upon the general plane of Self Consciousness, an ascent, to the human eye gradual, but from the point of view of cosmic evolution rapid, has been made. In a race, large brained, walking erect, gregarious, brutal, but king of all other brutes, man in appearance but not in fact, the so-called alalus homo, was, from the highest Simple Consciousness born the basic human faculty Self Consciousness and its twin, language. From these and what went with these, through suffering, toil and war; through bestiality, savagery, barbarism; through slavery, greed, effort; through conquests infinite, through defeats overwhelming, through struggle unending; through ages of aimless semi-brutal existence; through subsistence on berries and roots; through the use of the casually found stone or stick; through life in deep forest, with nuts and seeds, and on the shores of waters with mollusks, crustaceans, and fish for food; through that greatest, perhaps, of human victories, the domestication and subjugation of fire; through the invention and art of the bow and arrow; through the taming of animals and the breaking of them to labor; through the long learning which led to the cultivation of the soil; through the adobe brick and the building of houses therefrom; through the smelting of metals and the slow births of the arts which rest upon these; through the slow making of alphabets and the evolution of the
written word; in short, through thousands of centuries of human life, of human aspiration, of human growth, sprang the world of men and women as it stands before us and within us to-day with all its achievements and possessions [124. 10–13].
Is that all? Is that the end? No. As life arose in a world without life; as Simple Consciousness came into existence where before was mere vitality without perception; as Self Consciousness leaping widewinged from Simple Consciousness soared forth over land and sea, so shall the race of man which has been thus established, continuing its beginningless and endless ascent, make other steps (the next of which it is now in act of climbing) and attain to a yet higher life than any heretofore experienced or even conceived.
And let it be clearly understood that the new step (to explain which this volume is written) is not simply an expansion of self consciousness but as distinct from it as that is from simple consciousness or as is this last from mere vitality without any consciousness at all, or as is the latter from the world of inorganic matter and force which preceded it and from which it proceeded.