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The Consciousness of the Atom
Lecture I - The Field of Evolution

There has probably never been a period in the history of thought entirely resembling the present. Thinkers everywhere are conscious of two things, first, that the region of mystery has never before been so clearly defined, and secondly, that that region can be entered more easily than has hitherto been the case; it may, therefore, perhaps be induced to render up some of its secrets if investigators of all schools pursue their search with determination. The problems with which we are faced, as we study the known facts of life and existence, are susceptible of clearer definition than heretofore, and though we do not know the answers to our questions, though we have not as yet discovered the solutions to our problems, though no panacea lies ready to our hand whereby we can remedy the world's ills, yet the very fact that we can define them, that we can point in the direction in which mystery lies, and that the light of science, of religions, and of philosophy, has been shed upon vast tracts which were earlier [12] considered lands of darkness, is a guarantee of success in the future. We know so much more than was the case five hundred years ago, save in a few circles of wise men and mystics; we have discovered so many laws of nature, even though as yet we cannot apply them; and the knowledge of "things as they are" (and I choose these words very deliberately) has made immense strides.

Nevertheless, the mystery land still remains to be opened up, and our problems are still numerous. There is the problem of our own particular life, whatever that may be; there is the problem of that which is largely termed the "Not-Self," and which concerns our physical body, our environment, our circumstances, and our life conditions; if we are of an introspective turn of mind, there is the problem of our particular set of emotions, and of the thoughts, desires, and instincts by which we control action. Group problems are many; why should there be suffering, starvation, and pain? Why should the world as a whole be in the thrall of direst poverty, of sickness, of discomfort? What is the purpose underlying all that we see around us, and what will be the outcome of world affairs viewing them as a whole? What is the destiny of the human race, what is its origin, and what is the key to its present condition? Is there more than this one life, and is the sole interest to be found in that which [13]

is apparent and material? Such queries pass through all our minds at various times, and have passed through the minds of thinkers right down through the centuries.

There have been many attempts to reply to these questions, and as we study them we find that the answers given fall into three main groups, and that three principal solutions are held out for the consideration of men. These three solutions are:

First, Realism. Another name for this school is that of Materialism. It teaches that "the presentation which we have in consciousness of an external world is true"; that things are what they seem; that matter and force, as we know them, are the only reality, and that it is not possible for man to get beyond the tangible. He should be satisfied with facts as he knows them, or as science tells him they are. This is a perfectly legitimate method of solution, but for some of us it fails in that it does not go far enough. In refusing to concern itself with anything except that which can be proven and demonstrated it stops short at the very point where the enquirer says, "That is so, but why?" It leaves out of its calculation much that is known and realized as truth by the average man, even though he may be unable to explain why he knows it to be true. Men everywhere are recognizing the accuracy of [14] the facts of the realistic school, and of material science, yet at the same time they feel innately that there is, underlying the proven objective manifestation, some vitalizing force, and some coherent purpose which cannot be accounted for in terms of matter alone.

Secondly, there is the point of view which we can best, perhaps, call supernaturalism. Man becomes conscious that perhaps, after all, things are not exactly what they seem to be, and that there remains much which is inexplicable; he awakens to the realization that he himself is not simply an accumulation of physical atoms, a material something, and a tangible body, but that latent within him is a consciousness, a power, and a psychic nature which link him to all other members of the human family, and to a power outside himself which he must perforce explain. This it is which has led, for instance, to the evolution of the Christian and Jewish point of view, which posits a God outside the solar system, Who created it, but was Himself extraneous to it. These systems of thought teach that the world has been evolved by a Power or Being Who has built the solar system, and Who guides the worlds aright, keeping our little human life in the hollow of His hand, and "sweetly ordering" all things according to some hidden purpose which it is not possible for us, with our finite minds, to glimpse, [15] still less to understand. This is the religious and supernatural point of view, and is based on the growing self-consciousness of the individual, and in a recognition of his own divinity. Like the point of view of the realistic school, it embodies only a partial truth, and needs to be complemented.

The third line of thought we might call the Idealistic. It posits an evolutionary process within all manifestation and identifies life with the cosmic process. It is the exact opposite of materialism, and brings the supernatural deity, predicated by the religionist, into the position of a great Entity or Life, Who is evolving through, and by means of, the universe, just as man is evolving consciousness through the medium of an objective physical body.

In these three standpoints - the frankly materialistic, the purely supernatural, and the idealistic - you have the three main lines of thought which have been put forward as explanatory of the cosmic process; all of them are partial truths, yet none of them is complete without the others; all of them, when followed alone, lead into byways and into darkness, and leave the central mystery still unsolved. When synthesized, when brought together and blended, and when unified, they embody, perhaps (I offer this simply as a suggestion) just as much of the evolutionary truth [16] as it is possible for the human mind to grasp at the present stage of evolution.

We are dealing with large problems, and tampering, perhaps, with high and lofty things; we are trespassing into regions which are the recognized domain of metaphysics; and we are endeavoring to sum up in a few brief talks what all the libraries of the world are embodying; we are therefore attempting the impossible. All that we can do is to take up briefly and cursorily first one aspect of the truth and then another. All we can possibly accomplish is an outline of the basic lines of evolution, a study of their relationship to each other and to ourselves as conscious entities, and then an endeavor to blend and synthesize the little we can know until some general idea of the process as a whole becomes clearer.

We have to remember in connection with every statement of truth that each is made from a particular point of view. Until, we have further developed our mental processes, and until we are able to think in abstract terms as well as in concrete, it will not be possible for us fully to answer the question, What is the truth? nor to express any aspect of that truth in a perfectly unbiased way. Some people have a wider horizon than others, and some can see the unity underlying the different aspects. Others are prone to think that their outlook and interpretation is the only one. [17] I hope in these talks to broaden somewhat our point of view. I hope we shall come to the realization that the man who is only interested in the scientific aspect, and who confines himself to the study of those manifestations which are purely material, is just as much occupied with the study of the divine as is his frankly religious brother who only concerns himself with the spiritual side; and that the philosopher is, after all, occupied in emphasizing for us the very necessary aspect of the intelligence which links the matter aspect and the spiritual, and blends them into one coherent whole. Perhaps by the union of these three lines of science, religion, and philosophy we may get a working knowledge of the truth as it is, remembering at the same time that "truth lies within ourselves." No one man's expression of the truth is the whole expression, and the sole purpose of thought is to enable us to build constructively for ourselves, and to work in mental matter.

I should like to outline my plan this evening, to lay the groundwork for our future talks, and to touch upon the main lines of evolution. The line that is most apparent is necessarily that which deals with the evolution of substance, with the study of the atom, and the nature of atomic matter. Next week we will touch upon that. Science has much to tell us about the evolution of the atom, [18] and has wandered a long way during the past fifty years from the standpoint of the last century. Then the atom was regarded as an indivisible unit of substance; now it is looked upon as a center of energy, or electric force. From the evolution of substance we are led very naturally to the evolution of forms, or of congeries of atoms, and there will then open up to us the interesting consideration of forms other than the purely material, - forms existing in subtler substance, such as forms of thought, and the racial forms, and the forms of organizations. In this dual study, one of the aspects of deity will be emphasized, should you choose to use the term "deity," or one of the manifestations of nature, should you prefer that less sectarian expression.

We shall then be led to the consideration of the evolution of intelligence, or of the factor of mind which is working out as ordered purpose in all that we see around us. This will reveal to us a world which is not blindly going on its way, but which has back of it some plan, some coordinated scheme, some organized concept which is working itself out by means of the material form. One reason why things appear to us so difficult of comprehension is involved in the fact that we are in the midst of a transition period, and the plan is as yet imperfect; we are too close to the machinery, being ourselves an integral part of the whole. [19] We see a little bit of it here, and another little bit there, but the whole grandeur of the idea is not apparent to us. We may have a vision, we may have a high moment of revelation, but when we contact the reality on every side, we question the possibility of the ideal materializing, for the intelligent relationship between the form and that which utilizes it seems so far from adjustment.

The recognition of the factor of the intelligence will inevitably lead us to the contemplation of the evolution of consciousness in its many forms, ranging all the way from those types of consciousness which we consider subhuman, through the human, up to what may be logically posited (even if it may not be demonstrated) to be superhuman consciousness. The next question which will face us will be, What lies back of all these factors? Is there, behind the objective form and its animating intelligence, an evolution which corresponds to the "I" faculty, to the Ego in man? Is there in nature, and in all that we see around us, the working out of the purpose of an individualized self-conscious Being? If there is such a Being, and such a fundamental existence, we should be able to see somewhat His intelligent activities, and to watch His plans working towards fruition. Even if we cannot prove that God is, and that the Deity exists, it may be possible to say, at least, that the hypothesis that He exists is a reasonable one, a [20] rational suggestion, and a possible solution of all the mysteries we see around us. But to do that it has to be demonstrated that there is an intelligent purpose working through forms of every kind, through races and nations, and through all that we see manifesting in modern civilization; the steps that that purpose has taken, and the gradual growth of the plan, will have to be demonstrated, and from that demonstration we shall perhaps be able to see what lies ahead for us in the coming stages.

Let us for the minute consider what we mean by the words "evolutionary process." They are constantly being used, and the average man well knows that the word "evolution" suggests an unfolding from within outwards, and the unrolling from an inner center, but we need to define the idea more clearly, and thus get a better concept. One of the best definitions which I have come across is that which defines evolution as "the unfolding of a continually increasing power to respond." Here we have a definition that is very illuminating as we consider the matter aspect of manifestation. It involves the conception of vibration, and of response to vibration, and though we may in time have to discard the term "matter," and employ some such suggestion as "force center," the concept still holds good, and the response of the center to stimulation is even more accurately [21] to be seen. In considering human consciousness this same definition is of real value. It involves the idea of a gradually increasing realization, of the developing response of the subjective life to its environment, and it leads us eventually on and up to the ideal of a unified Existence which will be the synthesis of all the lines of evolution, and to a conception of a central Life, or force, which blends and holds together all the evolving units, whether they are units of matter, such as the atom of the chemist and physicist, or units of consciousness, such as human beings. This is evolution, the process which unfolds the life within all units, the developing urge which eventually merges all units and all groups, until you have that sumtotal of manifestation which can be called Nature, or God, and which is the aggregate of all the states of consciousness. This is the God to Whom the Christian refers when he says "in Him we live, and move, and have our being"; this is the force, or energy, which the scientist recognizes; and this is the universal mind, or the Oversoul of the philosopher. This, again, is the intelligent Will which controls, formulates, binds, constructs, develops, and brings all to an ultimate perfection. This is that Perfection which is inherent in matter itself, and the tendency which is latent in the atom, in man, and in all that is. This interpretation [22] of the evolutionary process does not look upon it as the result of an outside Deity pouring His energy and wisdom upon a waiting world, but rather as something which is latent within that world itself, that lies hidden at the heart of the atom of chemistry, within the heart of man himself, within the planet, and within the solar system. It is that something which drives all on toward the goal, and is the force which is gradually bringing order out of chaos; ultimate perfection out of temporary imperfection; good out of seeming evil; and out of darkness and disaster that which we shall some day recognize as beautiful, right, and true. It is all that we have visioned and conceived of in our highest and best moments.

Evolution has also been defined as "cyclic development," and this definition brings me to a thought which I am very anxious that we should thoroughly grasp. Nature repeats continuously until certain definite ends have been reached, certain concrete results have been brought about, and certain responses made to vibration. It is by the recognition of this accomplishment that the intelligent purpose of indwelling Existence can be demonstrated. The method whereby this is achieved is that of discrimination, or of intelligent choice. There are, in the textbooks of different schools, many words which are used to [23] convey the same general idea, such as "natural selection," or "attraction and repulsion." I would like, if possible, to avoid technical terms, because they are used by one school of thought to mean one thing, and by another for something different. If we can find a word similar in intent, yet not tied to any particular line of thought, we may find fresh light thrown upon our problem. Attraction and repulsion in the solar system is but the discriminating faculty of the atom or of man demonstrating in the planets and the sun. It will be found in atoms of all kinds; we can call it adaptation, if we so choose, or the power to grow and to adapt the unit to its environment through the rejection of certain factors and the acceptance of others. It shows itself in man as free will, or the power to choose, and in the spiritual man it can be seen as the tendency to sacrifice, for a man then chooses a particular line of action in order to benefit the group to which he belongs, and rejects that which is purely selfish.

We might finally define evolution as ordered change and constant mutation. It demonstrates in the ceaseless activity of the unit or the atom, the interaction between groups, and the endless play of one force or type of energy upon another.

We have seen that evolution, whether it is of matter, of intelligence, of consciousness, or of spirit, consists in an ever-increasing power to [24] respond to vibration, that it progresses through constant change, by the practice of a selective policy or the use of the discriminative faculty, and by the method of cyclic development or repetition. The stages which distinguish the evolutionary process might be broadly divided into three, corresponding to the stages in the life of a human being: childhood, adolescence, and maturity. Where man is concerned these stages can be traced in the human unit or in the race, and as the civilizations pass on and increase, it should surely become possible to trace the same threefold idea in the human family as a whole, and thus ascertain the divine objective through the study of His image, or reflection, MAN. We might express these three stages in more scientific terms, and link them with the three schools of thought earlier referred to, studying them as

  1. The stage of atomic energy.
  2. The stage of group coherency.
  3. The stage of unified or synthetic existence.

Let me see if I can make my meaning clear. The stage of atomic energy is largely that which concerns the material side of life, and corresponds to the childhood period in the life of a man or a race. It is the time of realism, of intense activity, of development by action above all else, or pure self-centeredness and self-interest. It produces the [25] materialistic point of view, and leads inevitably to selfishness. It involves the recognition of the atom as being entirely self-contained, and similarly of the human units as having a separate life apart from all other units, and with no relationship to others. Such a stage can be seen in the little evolved races of the world, in small children, and in those who are little developed. They are normally self-centered; their energies are concerned with their own life; they are occupied with the objective and with that which is tangible; they are characterized by a necessary and protective selfishness. It is a most necessary stage in the development and perpetuation of the race.

Out of this selfish atomic period grows another stage, that of group coherency. This involves the building up of forms and species until you have something coherent and individualized in itself as a whole, yet which is composed of many lesser individualities and forms. In connection with the human being it corresponds to his awakening realization of responsibility, and to his recognition of his place within the group. It necessitates an ability on his part to recognize a life greater than himself, whether that life is called God, or whether it is simply regarded as the life of the group to which a man, as a unit, belongs, that great Identity of which we are each a part. This corresponds to the school of thought which we [26] called the supernatural, and it must be succeeded in time by a truer and a wider concept. As we have already seen, the first or atomic stage developed by means of selfishness, or the self-centered life of the atom (whether the atom of substance or the human atom); the second stage grows to perfection by the sacrifice of the unit to the good of the many, and of the atom to the group in which it has place. This stage is something which we, as yet, know practically little about, and is what we often vision and hope for.

The third stage lies a long way ahead, and may be considered by many a vain chimera. But some of us have a vision, which, even if unattainable at present, is logically possible if our premises are correct, and our foundation is rightly laid. It is that of unified existence. Not only will there be the separate units of consciousness, not only the differentiated atoms within the form, not only will there be the group made up of a multiplicity of identities, but we shall have the aggregate of all forms, of all groups, and of all states of consciousness blended, unified, and synthesized into a perfected whole. This whole you may call the solar system, you may call it nature, or you may call it God. Names matter not. It corresponds to the adult stage in the human being; it is analogous to the period of maturity, and to that stage wherein a man is supposed to have a definite purpose [27] and life work, and a clear-cut plan in view, which he is working out by the aid of his intelligence. In these talks I should like if I can, to show that something like this is going on in the solar system, in the planet, in the human family, and in the atom. I trust that we can prove that there is an intelligence underlying all; and that from separation will come union, produced through blending and merging into group formation, and that eventually from the many groups will be seen emerging the one perfect, fully conscious whole, composed of myriads of separate identities animated by one purpose and one will. If this is so, what is the next practical step ahead for those who come to this realization? How can we make practical application of this ideal to our own lives, and ascertain our immediate duty so that we may participate in, and consciously further the plan? In the cosmic process we have our tiny share, and each day of activity should see us playing our part with intelligent understanding.

Our first aim should surely be self-realization through the practice of discrimination; we must learn to think clearly for ourselves, to formulate our own thoughts and to manipulate our own mental processes; we must learn to know what we think and why we think it, to find out the meaning of group consciousness through the study of the law of sacrifice. Not only must we find [28] ourselves through the primary childhood stage of selfishness (and surely that should lie behind us), not only should we learn to distinguish between the real and the unreal, through the practice of discrimination, but we should endeavor to pass on from that to something very much better. For us the immediate goal should be to find the group to which we may belong. We do not belong to all groups, nor, can we consciously realize our place in the one great Body, but we can find some group in which we have our place, some body of people with whom we can cooperate and work, some brother or brothers whom we can succor and assist. It really involves the conscious contacting of the ideal of brotherhood, and - until we have evolved to the stage where our concept is universal - it means finding the particular set of brothers whom we can love and help by means of the law of sacrifice and by the transmutation of selfishness into loving service. Thus we can cooperate in the general purpose, and participate in the mission of the group. [31]