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The Present Evolutionary Confusion

( Originally Published 1916 )

"I SAW NO CAUSE WHY MAN SHOULD NOT STAND ALL-SUFFICIENT EVEN NOW, NOR WHY HIS ANNALS SHOULD BE FORCED TO TELL THAT ONCE THE TIDE OF LIGHT, ABOUT TO BREAK UPON THE WORLD, WAS SEALED WITHIN ITS SPRING: I WOULD HAVE HAD ONE DAY, ONE MOMENT'S SPACE, CHANGE MAN'S CONDITION, PUSH EACH SLUMBERING CLAIM OF MASTERY O'ER THE ELEMENTAL WORLD AT ONCE TO FULL MATURITY."

In the book of the Cosmic Order, the chapter entitled " The Evolution of Man " is drawing to a close. Written in terms of individual achievement, its pages are fraught with vital interest for us; but while we linger to decipher a line, to interpret a passage, an-other chapter is in the writing. Even while man visions himself as the end and goal of its course, Evolution is passing on to greater things,— nations and civilisations are become its concern.

We stand today at the meeting of two evolutionary periods — the period of the man-unit and the period of the group-unit. Evolution is not the continuous process for the development of organic life that it postulates itself. The mathematician must needs mark what the scientist has overlooked — the change in the operand. This change may not be ac-counted for on the basis of variation ; the social unit is not the derivative of the individual unit that it displaces in the Darwinian process. Moreover, the factors making for its formation cannot be subsumed under evolution, for they are in direct opposition to the principles underlying the struggle for existence. Inasmuch as evolution has brought man to his present height, so that from a lowly origin he has come to inherit the earth, it is not to be wondered that he should think himself still the object of its solicitude. But as the struggle for existence passes from that level whereon man competes with man, to the higher level where nation contends with nation, there is manifestly a change in the unit of operation.

And because the factors making for the selective process are the same as those which a short time since governed the evolution of the individual, the world is experiencing an inversion of values. So it is that on every side we " see writ large what small " we saw in the beginnings of human development — the same crude art, the formless verse, blind impetuosity, and pitiless death struggle! Civilisation is suffering a great retardation in order that the life-stream may be raised to the higher level whereon evolution would work its onward way. But without such an uplift, humanity would sooner or later run aground in some superman, as visioned by Nietzsche. The world strife is justified of the Evolutionary rhythm.

II

"DIM FRAGMENTS MEANT TO BE UNITED IN SOME WONDROUS WHOLE, IMPERFECT QUALITIES THROUGH-OUT CREATION, SUGGESTING SOME ONE CREATURE YET TO MAKE."

Our desire to subsume all of Nature's workings under the formula of Evolution has caused us to over-look a process of vital significance to the world-order. While Nature has achieved much through the perfecting of the individual, her larger progress has come through the summing up of her activities. From the atom to the molecule, from the molecule to the crystal, from the crystal to the sphere, she has leaped on her upward way. The centripetal force has ever taken its turn with the centrifugal at the wheel of things. The passing from the homogeneous to the heterogeneous is only half the process, since the latter must pass again into the homogeneous for the accomplishing of the further diversity necessary to progress. " Organic evolution," says Professor Ritter in a recent book, " is just as fundamentally an organising, an integrating, process as it is a differentiating process."

Alone, the individual entity, be it cell or man, can achieve little. The biological reason of this is not far to seek. There is a limit to which natural selection can carry the development of life, since it is only a question of time when an organism will lapse into a state of equilibrium with its environment. When its evolution is thus threatened there is naught to save it except a change of environmental contact, and this change must be an accumulative one since any other would destroy life. Bernard found that it is Nature's wont to meet this issue by the gradual compounding of the unit. A group comes perforce into larger contact with the external world than do its individual components. This means new adjustments ; hence greater activity and more complex functioning. The stagnation which comes with equilibrium gives place to a quickening of the life impulse. Through the reconquering of the environment the composite compound becomes an articulate organism on a totally different plane from that of its constituent elements, and a new evolutionary period is inaugurated. That this period grows more complex with each successive unit testifies to the all-important part played by integration in the furtherance of the life movement.

" SO FAR THE SEAL IS PUT ON LIFE ; ONE STAGE OF BEING COMPLETE, ONE SCHEME WOUND UP."

So great a need has the human intellect of some all-embracing synthesis for the data of experience, that, without regard to the limits of Evolution, it has carried that conception into all fields of mental activity. The result is that Evolution holds its place as a world-theory by ignoring a wide range of phenomena — phenomena to which we as individuals attach great significance. The practice of the ethically best as demanded by the social order involves a course of conduct opposed in all respects to that which leads to a survival of the fittest. Formulated, as Evolution is, on the basis of past experience, it is unable to cope with this entirely new order of things. An hypothesis, to establish itself as a law, must give a coherent and self-consistent account of the facts. This, Evolution has not done ; its solution of the problem of life, besides being incomplete, is one of confusion, both as to element and as to operation.

Whether or not our indictment against Evolution, the hypothesis of science, holds, we are certainly justified in refusing to accept it as a philosophy for all our thinking. The end that the scientist has in view in setting up his hypothesis is a mechanical determinism ; quite the antithesis, I take it, the purpose of the layman in seeking a life-philosophy — that should make above all for his freedom as an individual. I hear some one say: " What if the facts do not verify such an hypothesis? " Henri Poincarι has said that a fact may be generalised in an infinite number of ways, and it is a question of choice as to what hypothesis we take. Surely with an infinite range for our selection we may hope to find a conception that will not only co-ordinate the facts of life, but do so constructively to a larger human development.

The natural world is a sequence of cause and effect. Inasmuch as man is a creature of his environment, any philosophy in order to find objective reality must give due recognition to physical science. Not to do away, then, with Evolution as defined in terms of Darwinism, but to find an hypothesis at once inclusive of it and of all other life-phenomena, is our aim. Such an hypothesis must account for the inner as well as the outer evidence of our senses and so make place for personal liberty and its correlative, moral responsibility.

Iv

"AND FROM THE GRAND RESULT A SUPPLEMENTARY REFLUX OF LIGHT ILLUSTRATES ALL THE INFERIOR GRADES, EXPLAINS EACH BACK STEP IN THE CIRCLE."

That we have not thought to include integration in our accounting for organic change is due to a peculiarity of our cerebral functioning. The human intellect is strangely reluctant of the inverse process — coming to it slowly and only after long familiarity with the direct. The historical development of mathematics bears witness to this natural antipathy of the mind to reverse the order of its thinking; like-wise, the pedagogical. Listen to the child as he solves his example in subtraction,—" What number added to five will make twelve? " Is it surprising, then, that concerning a process so far-reaching and complex as Evolution we have quite overlooked the inverse? But as multiplication carries with it division, so does Evolution carry with it a process which logically should be called Involution. It is the same which gave Huxley great trouble when he tried to account for human progress in terms of Darwinism.

Science, in order to give a complete account of the phenomena of life, must needs postulate, as operative with Darwinism, a process the antithesis of Darwin-ism both in principle and action. For the establishing of a biological continuity, as well as a logical synthesis, Evolution requires to be supplemented by its inverse, Involution ; the one process necessitates the other. The attempt to explain these two processes by means of the same hypothesis has led, not only to much confusion in scientific thought, but to great retardation of that thought. Whatever laws may be set up for Evolution, there is a change of meaning in kind, sooner or later, when it comes to their application to the phenomena of life : as witness the new Evolution for which Darwinism is " an overcome " hypothesis.'

It takes, however, the old Evolution as well as the new to tell the story completely, for the life-movement is not the direct current we have conceived it, but an alternating one, periodically reversing its direction. Evolution (Darwinism) accounts for one direction of the force ; so far, so good. For the other, the principle of spontaneity and new beginnings, we have to set up Involution. Inasmuch as we have postulated Evolution for the differentiation of man, we must postulate Involution for his integration.

In the interrelation of the two is to be found that nexus for the life-chain which Evolution has not been able to forge — a nexus of sufficient strength to bridge not only the chasm between the inorganic and organic realms, but the far greater chasm between the organic and the psychical, for it is a thought nexus.



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