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Man Thinking

( Originally Published 1912 )



I meditate on all thy works.

Hebrew Poet.

The domain of the senses is almost infinitely small in comparison with the vast regions accessible to thought alone which lie beyond them. -Tyndall.

O God! I think thy thoughts after Thee. -Kepler.

There is nothing more marks the dignity and glory of mankind than the power of thought. Using this statement as a guide, let us see whither it will lead us.

Different expressions have been employed to de-scribe the place man occupies in the plan of creation. Carlyle calls him the "tool using animal." When the number and variety of implements which he uses to accomplish his purposes are considered, running all the way from a hammer to an engine, and from a simple pen to a complex printing press,—the definition seems very apt. Nevertheless, it does not separate him completely from all the rest of the animal world. Du Chaillu and other explorers have pointed out the fact that the African gorilla can wield a club in its defense ; that it uses a pole to beat fruit from the higher branches of the trees ; and the chimpanzee breaks the shells of nuts with a stone. Man has also been called the animal that weeps and laughs ; but this only' indicates that his lachrymal glands have greater secreting power and discharge their secretions under different circumstances or that his facial muscles are more developed and more flexible than in his humble antecedents. It is very evident that those emotions which are the cause of tears and laughter are present in some of the creatures not called human.

Wisdom exists in large measure in individual and collective humanity ; and yet it is not a peculiarly human possession. With exquisite irony Job said to his reputed friends : "Doubtless ye are the people and wisdom will die with you." Of course this was not intended to be taken literally; for if, not only Job's troublesome friends, but all persons were to die, wisdom would not die with them. The term wisdom is a compound of two words, one of which signifies knowledge, the other power. In their united form they indicate the ability to turn information into some channel to accomplish a useful purpose. In this sense wisdom was here before man came and would be here if he were to go away. The beaver has it when it builds a dam ; the spider when it weaves a web ; the squirrel when it lays up its store of winter food. In Australia there are birds that make gardens.

Memory is a marvelous power. Millions of sensations rush along the many roads leading to the brain. Having arrived at the end of their journey, they register their presence. This impression, in some cases, remains uneffaced for four score years. The situation is all the more amazing when it is recalled that the book in which the registration is kept is not permanent. It is changed in its structure several times in a long life history. The gallery of the brain is taken.

Man Thinking down and rebuilt every seven years but the. pictures re-main. They are not even taken out while the process of destruction and rebuilding is going forward. Perhaps this wonderful power of memory reaches its culmination in man; and yet it is present in great strength in other forms of life. A French writer tells of a dog that made its way, alone, from Constantinople back to Paris, and, after twelve years of separation, instantly recognized and leaped with joy upon his former master. The same thing may be said of all the other powers of mind and heart. They are not an exclusive possession of the human race. The difference is not so much in kind as in degree. Man's hopes are greater and purer, his imagination draws nobler pictures, his will is exerted for worthier ends, his love is more comprehensive and carries him into higher regions; yet the humble beginnings of these exalted powers are found in forms of life not bearing his name. Perhaps no phrase is sufficiently comprehensive and sufficiently exact to describe man's place in nature.

The doctrine of evolution is confessedly weak in one point:—It is unable to point out one of the important steps! in the ascent. The darkness is seen, and then a long twilight ; but there is a period between the twilight and the full day that is missing from view. Nevertheless, as, when last seen the twilight was growing brighter, it is more reasonable to conclude that those missing hours failed to register themselves on the great horologe of Time than to deny that they ever existed. A chasm is, indeed, found, over which no bridge is now seen, across which the lower life, on the farther, might have passed to this side of existence. But it is more rational to affirm that the chasm has been made by some upheaval since the passage was effected, or that the bridge has been destroyed, than to affirm that creation suddenly ceased on the farther side when lower forms were finished, and, after the lapse of ages, was suddenly resumed on the nearer side. Some have maintained that, if the body and soul of man are not a special and instantaneous creation by miraculous power, he is thereby less honor-able. There is not much reason in this claim. Coming by degrees from less highly organized beings, the human form is no less marvelous and no less honor-able than if it were made from dust in a single day. Experience gradually becoming knowledge, instinct turning to reason, affection becoming a spiritual attachment, and wonder finally changing into worship, and all these changes produced by the constant out-going of power and wisdom through many ages, take away none of the dignity or grandeur from the soul. Man is indeed exalted in the world, but he need not seek greater exaltation by degrading all the rest of God's creatures.

After this long detour we may return to the main theme and reiterate the truth that it is the power of thought which makes mankind a most prominent and most honorable figure in the great landscape of the world's history.

It may help us to a better understanding of the case to recall the fact that, in its original form, the term "Man" means "The Thinker." Among all other forms of life, he is the being who thinks. Language is the effort of thought to reveal itself. By reaching the elemental forms of speech, the elemental forms of thought are reached. Thus, by passing backward along the highway of language, Max Muller, and other seekers after the original meaning of words, found the term "man" and the term "thinker" to be synonymous. Therefore, if there is a boundary line between the human and the non-human, in fact as well as in speech, it is this power of thought which established it in some remote past and maintains it in the present.

It is by means of the senses we come in contact with the external world. It is thus it is apprehended. But, in themselves, the senses know nothing of the problem of the world. This is the work of the intellect alone. It sees relations, laws, and causes. Not only so, it asks for the reasons of these relations and laws and causes. It endeavors to go back of all existing things and discover the first cause. It would find the solution of the universe, both in its origin and destiny. With a vast geometry it runs lines like sunbeams through space and time, and tries to be present at the laying of the foundations of the world.

Let us call thought the ability to pass from appearance to reality. Impressions come into the mind from without. Through the channels of the senses they are poured into this reservoir. Every object eye sees, hand touches, tongue tastes prints its form and nature within. Every sound registers itself upon an invisible scroll. The phonograph is a wonderful instrument; but it is much less marvelous than this something which catches and holds alike the whisper of a child and the thundering of Niagara. Sometimes impressions come rushing in through different doors into this inner chamber, as if each one were trying to out-strip all the rest, and yet there is no hindrance or confusion. Standing in a pine forest, at the same instant the nostrils are filled with a tonic and resinous breath from the trees, the eye is filled with their form and color, the feet feel the soft carpet beneath them, and the ear is soothed by the music of the wind as it sweeps through the myriad-stringed harp of the branches. Thus there are times when the whole external world seems to be on the point of emigrating and taking up a new abode in the soul.

But nothing ever does emigrate. However many millions of minds may invite the world to come within, it still remains without. Nightly, since the dawn of history, human eyes have been upturned toward Jupiter. He has stamped his form and color upon every gazing and wondering soul; and yet that blazing world, itself, is still there unchanged. For every one who gazes there are two Jupiters,—one there in the firmament and one in the soul. One may be seen at night by the natural eye; the other may be seen at any time the mind wishes. Close the eyes now, and that flaming planet can be as clearly beheld as upon the starriest night.

"My eyes make pictures When they are shut:
I see a fountain, large and fair,
A willow and a ruined hut.
The shadows dance upon the wall,
By the still dancing fire-flames made ;
And now they slumber, moveless all !
And now they melt to one deep shade !
But not from me shall this mild darkness steal thee;
I dream thee with mine eyes, and at my heart I feel thee."

Thus knowledge is made up of impressions and the power to recall these impressions and convert them into something else. The phonograph can only reproduce that which it has received. It can make no new adjustments or combinations. If, in singing or playing into the receiver, a false note is struck, a false note will be reproduced. So far as can be known, that is all the mind of an animal can do. It can reproduce, but it cannot combine and create. It is not so with the human mind. Receiving material from the outside, it can choose and eliminate and construct. In looking for a model for the perfect human form, an artist or sculptor may find a trunk in one place, an arm in another, a neck, a nose, and a forehead in other places. Out of this collection, an ideal figure is made. So, having ranged through all the world and gathered its material, the mind can construct finer objects than it has ever seen. It can do more than reproduce; it can create. Hearing sound, it created music. Seeing beauty, it created art. Collecting marble, it created the Parthenon. If the word "liberty" is frequently pronounced to a parrot it will be able to repeat it ; but it can only repeat it. Pronounced to human beings there comes a time when they can do much more than merely reproduce it. It is turned into a Marsellaise, into a Declaration of Independence, into a great Republic.

The senses furnish material for thought, but they are not thought. It is the architect creates the building, not the building the architect. There is impression and there is that which is impressed ; and that which is impressed antedates and outranks the impression. The letter is of more importance than the seal. There is knowledge ; and there is that which knows. The knower is superior to the known. When Locke said : "There is nothing in the mind that was not first in the senses," he may have spoken truthfully. But he had to assume the existence of mind before he could utter his famous doctrine. That which came through the senses, came to something already existing. However good the road, and however good travelers things may be, they cannot go nowhere; they cannot find a resting place in nothing.

One thing is certain :—along whatever roads and in whatever shape things come to the mind they return along different roads and in different forms. Some-times it occurs that that which comes skulking along a by-way, like a slave, goes back along a royal highway, like a king in a gorgeous chariot. The mind is an alembic that transmutes the world into something finer than itself. Bees collect from a thousand flowers and distil their material into honey. Thought is the mind's honey. Alchemists sought for the magic stone that would change all baser substances into gold. Thought is the mind's gold. In the song Ariel represents the King of Naples as transformed by the chemistry of the deep sea. His body had been made into coral and pearls. By substituting a word the power of the mind over the material world is accurately described :

"Nothing of it that doth fade,
But doth suffer a soul-change
Into something rich and strange."

This simply means that the mind gives to every natural fact an additional value and beauty. Since the laws by which they move were discovered, the stars seem more wonderful. The daisy and the lark seem to have more meaning since Burns and Shelley wrote of them. Since Christ spoke of the grass and the lily, to illustrate a spiritual principle, they seem half sacred.

Thought is the rationalizing of experience. It is the bridge over which we pass from that which appears to that which really is. Without this, philosophy would be impossible. What is philosophy but a separation between phenomena and being? Science would be impossible, for science is the effort to give a rational account of the world. It is evident that the world is one thing to the senses and quite another thing to the soul. When Longfellow wrote :

"Things are not What they seem,"

he not only wrote poetry, but he stated a plain fact. Thought goes beneath what things seem to be and ascertains what they really are. To the senses earth seems to be a plane ; thought declares it is a sphere. The sky seems to bend over us like a glass bell ; in reality there is no limiting firmament above us. Sun, moon and stars seem to move over a smooth surface from east to west ;; in reality it is earth that moves from west to east. To sense, everything seems to fall toward earth; but, to the mind, earth itself is a falling body. The same power which drew Newton's apple toward the center of our globe, draws the globe itself toward a greater center. Stars, moon, and the sun itself are falling, falling, and forever falling, but so guided in their fall that, instead of crashing together, they are constantly returning and their course becomes a beautiful circle ! The heavens which the eye behold are only tie vestibule of the heavens beheld by the mind. The clod at our feet, the solid rock upon which we stand seems to be inert and lifeless ; and yet each is throbbing with energy. Light seems to be all about us; but the mind insists that this light is only waves of the great ocean of ether beating upon the shores of our island and, where these waves do not incessantly rise and fall, there is darkness. That which seems to be sound is the vibrations of the great zone of atmosphere, forty miles in thickness, enswathing our star and beyond this girdle there is a vast realm of unbroken silence. No eye has ever seen the ultimate atoms which quiver in the abysses where matter begins to take form. Much less has any sight rested upon those spherules of force whirling around their tiny centers, —primordeal drops in the infinite ocean of Force ; yet to thought, these invisible things have a local habitation and a name.

Thus the mind reveals the ultimate Reality back of the world apprehended by the senses. It discovers also how great is the universe itself. Once earth was regarded as the greatest world. The sun was a fire kindled a few miles away to warm and light it. The stars were lamps hanging above it. The seasons were beheld, but their cause was unknown. The snows upon Mount Hermon, the cedars of Lebanon, and the rose of Sharon were seen, but their source was concealed. Nevertheless the world that was known caused a Hebrew writer to wonder. But how much more should modern man be amazed at the universe which thought has unveiled ! It is not surprising that the world of the senses is to the world of the mind as a drop of water is to the ocean. Back of all visible things Herbert Spencer declared there is an invisible, but infinite Energy which is their cause. Tyndall said that all around the world, that is seen and heard and touched, there is a vaster realm accessible to thought alone. After studying the phenomena of earth and sky, in his old. age, Newton said that he was like a child that had gathered up a few shells on the shores of a mighty sea.

Thought is nothing less than the effort of the human mind to master the infinite. Countless ages ago Deity laid the foundations of the worlds and their contents. Thought is the effort of man to find where the Creator went and what He did. He tries to see every star and the laws which govern it ; tries to see every plant and learn its nature ; tries to mark how many forms the plastic arts may express ; tries to note all the colors of sea and sky at morn, at noon, and at eve; tries to study the principles of all social life ; tries to exhaust that spiritual realm in which all art and poetry and religion dwell. Man tries to think God's thoughts after Him.

Perhaps some of you may have read an account of the voyage of the Vincennes in the first half of the last century. If so you will recall the care that was taken to discover everything possible concerning winds and currents and sea-depths. The vessel was gone for several years. Sometimes the ship was a mere solitary speck on the Pacific ; months later it was on the Southern seas ; again it would be on the Indian ocean. Its officers had been sent out to discover the truths of the great deep.

That ship illustrates the movements of the intellectual human race. Everywhere it has appeared and has attempted to take soundings of the infinite expanse. All science, all philosophy, all theology, and all public and private thought are report of this exploration. One of the officers of the ship Vincennes tells of sailing for days over depths that could not be fathomed. To him this fact was impressive. In like manner there are depths which thought cannot sound. The finite cannot hope to measure the infinite. This, also, is impressive. But whatever measurement is made, must be made by thought. If there is a purpose in the universe the mind alone can discover it. Often man has wished that a superior being might come from the sky and tell him the things he most longs to know ; but his wish has never been gratified. That which he would know, he must himself learn. What he would discover about a grain of sand or a planet, about dew-drop or ocean, about his own life or the life of Deity, he must discover with his own mind.

Man thinking has not only found the greatness of the outer, but the greatness of the inner world. He has discovered that the material is repeated in the intellectual and moral realm. He has spiritualized many of the natural adjectives and attributes. Such terms as "sweet" and "pure" and "sincere" have been transferred to the inner life. "Holiness" is wholeness,—a form of character without break or flaw. "Right," once applied to a line or an angle, reappears in conduct as righteousness. Thus a permanent and spiritual meaning is by thought given to passing and material things. Thinking man has been the light-bearer, the path-finder of the world. There is not a law of star or flower, not a principle of ethics, not a theory of agriculture, of government, of education, but what has come along roads cut through the wilderness by man the thinker. If religion commands the assent of thoughtful persons, its sanctions and rebukes and expectations must all be reasonable. Man must construct his temple of faith out of all the material which the whole world brings to his mind ;—beauty of grass and blossom, sublimity of sea and mountain, learning from libraries, wisdom from experience, mystery from. the infinite spaces must all be wrought into the noble structure.

All possessing this power of thought let us prize it well. By its means we discover how great and how wonderful is our world. It drives errors from the heart. It breaks down narrowness and destroys pre. judice. It separates the real from the seeming and broadens the outlook. The path of thought is the path to greatness. It winds about over so many mountain tops of truth ; it so runs from star to star ; so passes from the known to the unknown; so leads from fact to mystery; so joins the finite to the infinite, that he who follows it cannot fail to find the highest meaning of life. Man, forever thinking, is man for-ever advancing and ascending.

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