Friday, July 28, 2006

The Goal of Philosophy

Today is the hope of the world. Here and now we are welding that great chain of Tomorrows which extends from the instant to infinity. We live not for ourselves alone but for all futurity. Our accomplishments survive us, for long after we have descended into the earth the orders which we have established shall dominate the activities of men. The world is an ancestral shrine filled with the mortuary tablets of the honored dead. We bow before our illustrious progenitors. We are the substance of their aspirations, the consummation of their dreams, for Today is the focal point of Time. We are all that has been about to be projected into all that shall be. Each human soul holds Eternity in suspension. Recognizing this truth, several modern scientists have formulated the theory that immortality is achieved through a succession of lives -- that the father achieves immortality in his son, the son in his progeny, and so on to the end of generation. The torch of life which each expiring personality hands on to another does not go out; it is immortal, but he who bears it must perish by the way. Men are but incidents in the flow of life, yet they have a strange power; for while they cannot cause the vital flame to blaze up from nothing-ness, they are empowered to snuff it out, and when generations cease the countless ages die together.

To be is to be immortal, for that which has been can never utterly cease. The past hovers like a mirage in the air. Men feel its presence; they breathe it in and, enveloped by it, live their little Now. Upon the surface of their polished mirrors, the ancient Magi caught faint visions of forgotten times. Within the next century we shall discover that history is written in the air; that so-called space itself is photographic, preserving, as on a sensitized place, the varied activities of created things. Egypt as a physical empire has long crumbled into dust, but upon each minute particle of the atmosphere the glory of ancient Egypt is preserved for all time to be. Men speak words and these words seemingly vanish into nothing-ness, but in the living substances of the
universe these selfsame words are traced in everlasting characters to be read in some distant time by men as yet unborn. Thoughts unuttered are not wholly lost nor do dreams perish because their dreamer dares not give them speech. Somewhere in the infinite vistas of space, impressed as it were upon the memory of the Infinite and sharing together a common immortality, all aspirations, all visions, and all deeds await the day when men with unfolding reason will bind all time into a common Now.

In his experiments with plants, the late Luther Burbank found substantiation for the scientific concept of immortality through progeny. The doctrine of natural salvation, as it is called, was demonstrated to Burbank through phenomena arising from the cross-pollination of plants. For example, Burbank pollenized a variety of plants bearing white flowers with another variety bearing colored flowers, and as a result secured plants some of which were wholly white, others wholly colored, and still others of mixed appearance. Taking a white plant from this cross-pollenization test, Burbank pollenized it with another white plant, the result being a number of new plants all white. Taking one of the latter, he again pollenized it with white and the result was again white. This experiment was repeated ten times. In every case the flowers were entirely white, but the eleventh time several blossoms reverted back to the original colored plant, thereby proving that, though latent for a considerable period, the elements of the first cross-pollination survived to reappear again. The original colored shrub had died long before its activities reappeared among the white blossoms, but Burbank recognized in this phenomena the immortality of the colored flower which was reborn again in its own progeny.

To Burbank, man was but a human plant, and the great horticulturist solved the philosophic problem of his life by observing the habits of the growing things in his garden. If after the lapse of ten pollenizations the identity of a distant progenitor was re-established, was it not reasonable to assume that men are born again to blossom forth in their descendants? Is not immortality the carrying forward of a primitive trace and is not the urge which we feel within ourselves the voice of some ancestral impulse? For the physical thinker, to whom the invisible universe is simply a vast mechanism and spirit an unnecessary hypothesis, there can be no immortality other than that which is carried in the seed. How small a germ man springs from, yet how much that germ contains; for in each wriggling sperm is the man with character, personality, and individuality. From so slight a beginning, what great issues come; for in the single tiny germ are contained not only the epitome of all the past but also all the greatness that is to follow.

The philosopher takes issue with the scientist not as to the accuracy of the conclusion but rather as to the field to which the conclusion is applied. A fact is a fact, but for lack of clarification may often seem half a lie. Recognizing only the physical universe, the savant limits all his premises to physical concerns, with the result that his discoveries are rendered of little value by false emphasis. If man were actually a body, then physical immortality would be his hope and he would indeed survive in his progeny. But since man is not a physical body, the laws controlling the body are powerless over the intangible essence which resides within its innermost parts. Indwelling spirit is not to be measured wholly by its outer form. Body has hands and feet but spirit has not need of such appendages except when functioning in the physical world. Body has parts and dimensions but spirit is impartible and dimensionless. Thus, while the laws of physical generation produce the actual phenomena so carefully classified by Burbank, it does not necessarily follow that spirit, which is not material, is dependent upon generation for its survival. It is obvious that spirit depends upon generation for its manifestation in form, but such manifestation is merely a phase in the condition of spirit.

Heredity is limited to the sphere of generation; it is of the accidents and not the essence in man. Thus, while men may inherit physical tendencies -- even physical attitudes and, under some conditions, physical thoughts -- this shell of personality is soulless until he animates it with his own immortal principle and gradually shapes it into an appropriate destiny. Heredity only controls such as are incapable of controlling themselves. Steeped in the vibration of its previous states, the stuff from which bodies are made comes to each incarnating soul. The life into whose vehicles it was formerly incorporated set the minute atoms whirling at a definite speed and imprinted upon each of them its own purposes and characteristics. The child coming into the world must, therefore, battle with these strange vibrations, reorganizing the substances of its bodies into individual vehicles by overcoming the motion of past agencies and revibrating the electrons according to its own needs. To a far greater extent than man is the plant a victim of circumstances. To escape its environment, the plant must either die or trust to the unlikelihood of some gardener transplanting it to a more ideal habitat. Man, however, if his surroundings be incongenial, may move at will to an environment more propitious to his destiny.

The analogy may be projected into the invisible structures of both plants and men. The evolving plant life is still working through a vehicle too low in its organic quality to respond to the impulses of the inner agent. While man is empowered to resist the impulses of heredity as these incline his physical body in one direction or another, the plant must abide by the dictates of its formal part. The fallibility of the law of heredity has already been proved and additional evidence of its inaccuracy will be accumulated as evolving man takes more of his destiny into his own hands and relies less upon the elements of chance and environment. As the stars impel yet do not compel, so man's hereditary impulses traced upon the fabric of his atomic nature urge him to follow in the old accustomed way. The self, however, declares otherwise and one by one the impediments of heredity are overcome by the onward march of consciousness towards perfection.

Whereas science fights to maintain the dignity of form and the supremacy of matter throughout the universe, philosophy would establish the excellence of life and the rulership of all creation by its rational part. If we come to worship matter and elevate the physical universe to first place among the spheres, we can never hope to establish well-being in the nature of men or fellowship among the nations of the earth. The premise of material supremacy is wholly destructive of the moral sense and reduces ethics to a superstition and aesthetics to an artist's vagaries. All that is beautiful is thus sacrificed in the defense of a premise and the sovereign good is martyr to a notion. More cruel than Moloch even is the God of the materialist, for man will feed whole nations into the maw of greed. To remedy a condition, we must discover its cause. Man's boast of a godless age is his undoing, for he who destroys the concept of Deity destroys with it the sufficiency of his own internal nature. In his pride that he is now able to govern the universe unaided, the twentieth-century thinker has given the divinities on high Olympus notice to gather up their belongings and depart. The gods have obliged him. Their thrones are empty; they have left for some other sphere where mortals are less vain. But man is still unhappy. His boasted knowledge has brought him doubt, doubt terror, and terror has sapped away his strength. Afraid that his worst conclusions may yet be true, the materialist clings to his little ball of dirt, shuddering in anticipation of that day when he will be hurled therefrom into the abyss he himself has postulated. The soulless universe that his mind has declared, the heart of the thinker cannot accept. How strangely fickle is the mind that first from pure imaginings fashions a universal order and then, dissatisfied with the fabric it has spun, convicts High Heaven of its manmade inconsistencies!

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