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The Personal Significance Of Involution

( Originally Published 1916 )


At a recent alumni banquet in one of our large universities, an eminent biologist was called upon to respond to the toast, " After Science, What? " His auditors instinctively braced for the oncoming of mechanistic forces. What was their glad surprise at the simple response, " Love "! Such farsightedness is in our spiritual order of things only if one has attained to the summit of the years ; from a man whose eye is still at the microscope we have come to expect a vision limited to heliotropic dogs and their human prototypes. That such a question could be put to a scientist, to say nothing of . the answer, is most significant. Can it be that fifty years of, Darwinism have sufficed to bring consciousness to such extension in matter that, as Bergson tells us, it has perforce to turn toward life for further advance?

It will be generally conceded that the attention which the world is giving to science must in time have its psychological effect upon the collective mind. But that the resultant of this general focusing of mental energy will be love, might give rise to controversy. Professor Royce would no doubt parallelogram it as loyalty ; others would veer it in the direction of cosmic consciousness ; and some of us who are mathematically minded think to resolve it into fourth-dimensional insight. Perhaps, like the blind men who went to see the elephant, we shall find that these are but different aspects of the same truth.

The evolution of the mind has been a progress toward a unity of consciousness which is at once the basis of attention and of love. It will be demurred that there are many kinds of love. Quite so; and perhaps for the very reason that there are many kinds of attention. We will begin our study with personal love, and proceed from that to communal, since that is the order of experience for the majority of persons, notwithstanding Kropotkin thinks to find it the reverse for the race.

Although love is usually ascribed to some virtue inherent in the object of its passion, it is a recognised fact that the mental attitude has much to do with its engendering. The child attends best to the study he likes, but the teacher knows that the liking is contingent upon the attention. The biographies of great men show that intense concentration is invariably accompanied by intense passion for the work. Do we not say of the suitor that he is paying " attention " to his lady ; and have not travel, change of scene,—that is, of attention,— been ever the prescription for an a affaire du coeur? Propinquity is the basis of al-most all marriages, said Jane Austen, and had she known herself to be the great psychologist she was, she would have added because it is conducive-to attention.

The psychological characteristics of the love-state are identical with those of attention. Each must have an object for its focusing. In both there is an inhibition; also a turning of the mental flux to the exclusive benefit of a single element. Note the old adage: There is safety in numbers. It is this very substitution of a relative unity of consciousness for the normal plurality of thought that gives rise to the sense of exaltation which comes with falling in love. Since the psychological process fundamental to the converging of attention is motor in its nature, the object must have " captured the personality " after the manner of love. In fact, to understand the mechanism of attention is to understand the mechanism of love.

Like the power to attend, the capacity for loving is a matter of will and directed effort. As we have achieved the one through a concentration of our thought, we shall attain the other by the further projecting of our mental power. The two are equally dependent upon the ability of the mind to control its processes, and in that sense only is love the gift of the gods we have thought it.

And not only does love resemble attention in its normal aspects but in its abnormal ones as well. The grand passion and the fixed idea are the acute and chronic forms respectively of that state of ideation wherein a single representation absorbs all thought. Of its very nature attention requires a great expenditure of physical force not possible to one whose strength is exhausted by work or anxiety. In a passive state of consciousness the work of the brain is diffused, but with attention the work becomes localised. This concentration of effort to one part of the organ obviously requires a rapid transformation of potential energy into actual kinetic energy, and for this there must be a reserve of vital force. If attention is thus difficult physiologically to one in a state of fatigue, how much more so its higher form, love? It is not strange that affection sometimes goes out of the door when sickness and poverty enter.

Before going further into the question it were perhaps well to discriminate between spontaneous and voluntary attention, for therein lies the basis of the difference between dependable and non-dependable affection. In the passive state of the mind impressions come and go in perpetual flux. It is through the association of these impressions that sensations, ideas, and images arise. All such associations have their genesis in an emotional state. If the resulting attention arises entirely from an emotion it is said to be spontaneous or involuntary and is quite out of the individual's control ; on the other hand, it is voluntary and hence controllable to the degree that it is a matter of training and will. The mind possessed of the power only of involuntary attention is a slave to external conditions—an object officially strong to attract, a disagreeable element in work or study, and its loyalty is shifted ! That individual alone is master of his life who is able to exercise will in the directing of his attention and of his love.

The attitude of voluntary attention is of its very nature a laborious one; it has to suppress useless elements, expel intrusive ones, and exert a sustained effort in holding to a definite line of thought. Its work of direction is to choose the appropriate states and maintain them within consciousness. This work it can accomplish only through inhibition, which means a going-against its natural. impulses. Hence for the majority of persons it is an impossible task to control the attention, a contingent achievement for all. What wonder, then, that so many fail to realise love !

Fortune-telling in all matters, and particularly those of the heart, were best done in the psychological laboratory. " Would you know, fair maid, if your love be true? Have him tested as to what sort of attention he is wont to exercise. If it is by fancy engendered it will go as fancy listeth and his love with it. And however attractive you may be, there is no telling at what moment some other woman may prove more so to a mind that is subject to the chance of circumstance." The only guarantee of connubial bliss is to be found in the voluntary, willed attention of determinate aim, which is the highest achievement of education. The many toys of babyhood, the countless diversions of youth, the moving picture and vaudeville shows, the racing hither and thither in pleasure-seeking, are a sequence culminating psycho-logically in the divorce court. If you would teach loyalty, constancy, good-citizenship, teach attention, for this is the foundation of all morality.

Sir Ray Lankester has recently shown that the connection between love and attention is one of biological evolution : that the elementary principle of courtship from the lowest unicellular organism to man is the impression, or the idea, derived by the female from the proximity of the male. This influence of the male, Darwin called charm, and the capacity of the female to be acted upon by it, her receptivity. The instruments of charm are significant, Lankester says, only as they proclaim the presence of the male in the field of consciousness and evoke a series of appropriate ideas. Courtship among animals consists of attempts on the part of the male to secure the female's attention, and to fascinate her by the display of brilliant colors or astonishing poses and movements. And is not the same true of the human species — with possibly a reversal of subject and object? In this connection it is to be noted that voluntary attention was first manifested in woman; hence her development toward constancy in love has been of longer standing than man's. Voluntary attention is a sociological phenomenon because it is the result of discipline and habit ; likewise is stability in matters erotic.

But if sexual love has had its significance for the race, it has had a far greater significance for the individual. The growth of consciousness, or personality, is a constructive, organising process demanding a synthesis for its formation. This the individual is rarely able to hold of himself ; he falls short of his ideal in act or thought, and so loses his bearings self-ward. It is the sacred office of love to bridge this gap between the real and the ideal. In ordinary friendship the individual is able to reveal only that aspect of his personality which he feels will be understood and so falls short of that complete self-realisation for which the ego is ever striving --a pain for which Eugene Delacroix says he knows only one remedy, " une épouse qui est de votre force." Referring to this, Ellen Key says very truly, " The sense of home in another soul is what gives love its chastity." When she adds, though, that woman must convert man not to the duty of monogamy but to the joy of unity, she is overlooking the man's larger good for which unity of consciousness is the first desideratum and as such must be regarded as a duty without question of joy. Apropos is the Chinese saying: " The mind through oneness the soul procures."

The way to a higher morality is manifestly through the community of life coming from the sharing of attention; for love, like attention, can persist only if there be a constant desire of attaining to a yet higher state. When attention has reached this point in its development there will be no " passionate friendships " such as H. G. Wells would have obtain. The joy that we have in another is due to the thought that makes us a part of itself. To be shut out of the consciousness of a loved one is in very truth to be cast into outer darkness. Even the child feels this, and when neglected seeks any method of calling attention to himself. What is taken to be jealousy is more often the blind despair of a lost spirit. The impulse for notoriety is the only way the criminal knows of getting into the social consciousness. This need of finite beings for the warmth of an embracing personality has a close connection with the anthropomorphic conception of the Infinite ; while it may not have given rise to that, it has no doubt much to do with our clinging to the idea of the Fatherhood in the face of scientific knowledge — which may be interpreted to show that the foundations of truth lie deep within the human soul.

Mate-hunger is the craving for a larger being, and not, as generally considered, for the reproduction of the species. Nature took to propagating only when she found herself unable to realise her purpose through the given individual. She continues to project life into the future in order to escape immediate dangers or take a new start to the better attaining of her goal. We may have here the key to the decrease in the birthrate of a people, the nearer it comes to the perfecting of the individual. Nature is sufficiently wise to know that if life is good; it is good right here and now. The object of life, whatever the form, is the approximation of some ideal. Love, as we have discovered, furthers that purpose; hence love's larger function may well be the arrest of life on the physical plane and its exaltation to a spiritual one. From this point of view the term becomes, after the Platonic usage, synonymous with wisdom or beauty.

The emphasis for both love and loyalty has been placed hitherto on the object. Royce would have the cause all-embracing, compelling, supreme, certain and fit to centralise life; the unification is to come from without and above. If love is, however, the matter of attention it would seem to be, we should be able to say of a man that he is a good lover without regard to the object of his love, as we are wont to say he is a good thinker without concern of the object of his thought. The mind is the generator of a light-force which obeys the same laws as other wave-promulgated forces. Any woman is a radiant being for the man whose attention is focused upon her to the degree of luminosity. To be sure, the force to attend carries with it the power to select, but it carries something more, and that is the power to hold the vision which prompted the selection.

" If beyond earthly wont, the flame of love
Illume me, so that I o'ercome thy power
Of vision, marvel not: . . . I well discern,
How in thine intellect already shines
The light eternal, which to view alone
Ne'er fails to kindle love."

If attention throws a new light on love, love furnishes new insights for the functioning of attention. It is quite possible that thought and inspiration are as dependent upon a sexual interchange for their inception as other forms of life. We are learning the dual nature of all evolving force. Although the great line of cleavage made by sex starts on the physical plane, it by no means ends there. Man and woman are quite as definitely separated by it in the psychical realm. Hence the need of the exchange of life-essences on the intellectual as well as the physical level of being. I wonder that it has never occurred to any one to account for the slow advancement of thought by the fact that the psychological process of its generation has been in the main an asexual and not a bisexual process. It is to be noted that the great thinkers have been usually great lovers. Perhaps, Goethe, we have surprised the secret of your wonderful mind !

But this whereof we speak is personal love ; what significance can it have for the collective consciousness? Every mode of self-expression that was once individual, such as music and dancing, has in the course of time become racial; the social body in all probability follows the individual one in the general lines of its development. Now we have found that love in its highest attributes is a constructive synthetic force, creative of the ideal. Let such power become universal and we shall know a love that for its potency may well have cosmic sway.

The mere recognition that the power to love centres in the power to attend does not, however, pro-duce that power. And this is where science plays its part. The habits of study and concentration which science induces are the best possible for training the mind to self-directed effort. Science requires as no other subject the close attention of which love is the highest manifestation. Moreover, scientific knowledge, founded as it is upon the universal laws of nature, must perforce fuse and unify the race as naught else.

While I agree most profoundly with Bergson that the intellect is dependent upon the intuition for the perception which inspires and directs its working, I would emphasise as he does not that the intuition can rise to new visions only if the intellect has given full organisation to the data of experience. To this fact is due the great significance of science for the race. Such organisation causes matter to become progressively spatialised for consciousness; hence it follows that while space is a form of our thought it is a form of our own evolving. That our consciousness is limited to three dimensions means simply that the intellect has progressed thus far only in its conquest of matter. But now that science is postulating a fourth dimension for its working we may presume that the collective mind is getting ready to take the leap upward to that higher level of insight denominated cosmic consciousness.


Bergson has shown that consciousness, in order to move in the direction of life, has to detach itself from the already-made and attach itself to the being-made. The former is the zone of distinct consciousness, the realm of science; the latter is that higher realm of the spirit which we know only through the intuition.

Regarded as a means to growth in consciousness, the intuition therefore clearly transcends the intellect; hence the emphasis which Bergson has placed on it. But as clear-cut perception is found essential to advance of intellect, so a comprehensive grasp is necessary to intuitive insight. The knowledge thus obtained is a metaphysic in the true meaning of the word, for it requires a substratum of physics.

In our quest for the involutionary way, we shall have to distinguish between the unity that comes through instinct and the unity that comes through insight ; the one results from an expansion of the feelings and is a sinking back to the previous involutionary period ; the other can result only from a concentration of the will that reaches to something beyond itself. The naturalistic tendency of the day is to look to the unconscious part of our being as the source of all good. But since no distinction is made between the sub-conscious and the supra-conscious, a lower rather than a higher psychic level of our nature is apt to be thus invoked. The will becomes weakened, the subsidiary centres of nerve force regain control, and the disintegration of personality follows. The medium's is a case in point. The only gain that can come from such atavistic relapse is the recovery of rudimentary powers, powers which in the long process of the individual's involution have become eliminated, and doubtless for some good reason. It were well to unravel the work of nature if by so doing we are sure of picking up only desirable stitches.

To the extent that we allow the subjective mind to take precedence of the rational, we rehabilitate the primitive elements in us. And further, we are lending ourselves to the process of devolution, for there is no standing still in the life-stream ; Romanticism is a retrograde movement until it creates for itself a new classicism.

The vital law of one's being is not to be found through the emotions. Its discovery demands, as Mr. Irving Babbitt has ably shown in his New Laokoon, not only effective thinking, but effective self-discipline. The way of individual growth is one of concentration and selection; the law of the higher unity is self-constraint and not self-expansion.

While the way of the progressively larger life is a fixed one, the individual unit is free to take it or not as he chooses. If he would realise a complete self-hood, he must do so through his relations to others ; there is no development for him apart from his fellows, but the degree of this self-realisation lies with himself. Although he may not be free to set up his own life-function, he may, nevertheless, choose the element with respect to which he would integrate it. In other words, he may decide what for him shall constitute the " eternal values." Concerning the question of freedom, the mathematician will find solace in the fact that the constant of integration allows for a certain amount of indetermination ; the individual may at least fix for himself the height of his goal. Immortality is ours for the winning.

It is by faith that we transcend our individual consciousness, but faith without knowledge is blind. We set up for ourselves graven images and bow down to unknown gods in our gropings for a higher life, but there is no good nor truth for us apart from a final systematisation of our purposes. Disintegration and evil come because our will is not yet known to ourselves. Our Towers of Babel are forever toppling through a confusion of purposes, but when we shall come to think with one accord (that is, ration-ally), nothing can be restrained from us, providing we have the vision; then verily our temple shall reach unto Heaven.

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