Our New Senses
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
THE best proof of evolution is the fact that we are evolving. The work is going on before our eyes. The thing that was not is there visibly coming into being. In human nature and human history we perceive the slow emergence of new forms of power, glimmerings of vast possibilities yet to be realised. Man is in the making, the greatest part of him still to come. Behind is the boundless, inexhaustible ocean of being. We have to measure that before we can measure the man that is to be.
The movement is a slow one, for, as Herbert Spencer points out, " the higher the organisms the longer they take to evolve." In certain directions, indeed, there are retardations and retrogressions. Civilisation has played havoc with some of our faculties. Horology has destroyed our sense of time. Roads and sign-posts have robbed us of the instinct of the savage by which he finds his way unerringly across hundreds of miles of trackless forest. We neither see, nor hear, nor smell with the quickness and accuracy of the man of the woods. Even in the direction of the higher arts we appear to have lost some things. The execution of a certain Etruscan brooch, representing three bees poised on a flower, could not be successfully copied by modern Parisian experts, in spite of repeated attempts. The Egyptians had a secret of colours that are as brilliant today as four thousand years ago. In that time our aniline dyes would have absolutely disappeared.
But these are details that do not affect the main result. Even in the matter of the senses civilisation has given more than it has taken away. In the telescope, the microscope, the spectroscope, and a score of other instruments, man has reinforced his eyesight and other senses to a degree which the savage cannot even comprehend. His steam-engine, his motor-car, carry him faster than the swiftest brave can run. One may say that the mind of the modern man has constructed for him a series of outside senses which augment a hundredfold the force of his physical organs. The Indian with his ear to the ground could catch the crackle of a leaf, the beat of a horsehoof at a distance which seems incredible to the untrained townsman. But the townsman, in return, putting his ear to a telephone receiver, listens to a message across a space which transcends the Indian's faculty as hopelessly as the express train beats him in speed. We may say that the upward movement has endowed us with a new sense apparatus.
But it is not along these lines specially that we are now thinking. It is to the evolution of what may be called certain internal senses that we ask our readers' attention. As we survey history and literature, and note the way of thinking and feeling of our fellows ages ago, we discern at once a difference so great that it points to the emergence. in the mind of at least the germs of new faculties. The mind of man, we perceive, is steadily being remade. Let us point out in one or two directions what precisely we mean.
There has, then, to begin with, come to the modern consciousness a faculty we fail to discern earlier, in the shape of what is frequently called " the historical sense." By that we mean the power of realising the past exactly as it was, of placing bygone ages in the dry light of actuality, of cutting clean through the enormous and fantastic structures which the human imagination has constructed round certain events, and reaching the bare, simple fact. To appreciate the essential modernness of this faculty, its entire absence from the ablest minds of a not remote past, we have only to consult the historical records of the times before our own. One might, indeed, go beyond history—to art, for instance. The mediaeval, and even the Renaissance, painters were quite without the historical sense. They had no feeling for actuality. The " Christ in the Pharisee's House " of Paul Veronese, a splendid piece of work so far as colour and drawing are concerned, is, as to its historic setting, a banquet of the middle ages rather than of the first century in Palestine. The treatment would be as impossible to the modern painter as would be Bonaventura's handling of the life of St. Francis to M. Paul Sabatier.
It is to the appearance and steady growth of this new faculty that we may look for changes of the vastest consequence in the domain of man's relations. with the past, in the domain, that is to say, of history and religion. The earlier mind could not see clearly if it would. The medium in which it worked was so charged with preconceptions, with unscientific views of the universe, that it had no means of reaching the actual fact. It was like searching for a needle in a London fog. There were no rules or instruments of accurate research ; no sense, indeed, of the paramount value of accuracy. The happenings of past times were seen by their recorders on the background of a universe in which any and every monstrosity was possible ; the more monstrous the more possible. This attitude of mind was, we have to remember, that of all the classical writers, of all the early Christian writers, of all the mediaeval writers, and of all the theological writers up to a very late date indeed. So little did they regard accuracy, that forgery in what seemed a good cause was deemed a pious exercise. The writers of the " Acts of Paul and Thecla," of the " Gospel of Peter," and similar productions never imagined that the false use of an Apostle's name was morally, not to say historically condemnable. Their mental condition was also that of the Church Fathers, whose miracle stories were so mercilessly exposed by Middleton in his famous " Inquiry." It is, we say, a new mental development which compels the modern mind, in contrast with all this, to judge of the occurrences of the first century by the occurrences of our own ; and to be perfectly sure that nothing happened in Judaea at that or any other time that might not happen in London or New York in our own. We are only beginning dimly to recognise the changes in our thought - world that the rise and operation of this faculty will accomplish. We see enough, however, to be aware that it will make all things new.
Another of the higher senses, whose operation, in its present form, constitutes a new evolution, is that of universal sympathy. The idea of regarding the whole human family as the subject of friendly regards, as essentially one with us, and that independently of race, creed or colour, is, as regards average men, practically an acquisition of our time. The great world teachers, Jesus, Gautama, Confucius, possessed it, but for ages it was absent from the common brain. Legislators, statesmen, theologians constructed their systems as though unaware of its existence. Qui Deum amat, amat omnes, says Leibnitz, but as a matter of fact it has not been so. There have been innumerable sincere lovers of God who have had no such feeling for their fellow-men as that which now is every where gaining ground. With what complacency Plato and Aristotle base their ideal state on slavery ! And Cicero is convinced, as he tells us in the De Officiis, that " it is not contrary to nature to despoil, if you can, him whom it is a virtue to slay." The most cultivated minds of classic antiquity could not conceive of the outsider other than as an enemy. Theology, for long ages, did not improve matters in this respect. Its doctrine of election, which carried the savage tribal hatred into its conceptions of the Divine government, was the emphatic denial of human solidarity. Augustine's " City of God " is founded on the notion of two species of men, the blessed and the accursed. At the Reformation, and for long after, Protestants and Catholics regarded each other as dogs and reprobates, to whom no quarter was to be shown in this world or the next. John Knox recommended the burning of Bonner ; Calvin advised the Protector Somerset " to punish well with the sword Catholics and fanatic Gospellers." The saintly Fénelon approved the infamous Dragonnades of Louis XIV. All this is impossible to the modern mind. The brain of humanity has risen to the height of an entirely new view. It is conscious of a fresh inner sense, the sense of the human oneness. It has acquired a kind of X-ray which, penetrating beneath the material envelopes of sects and creeds, discovers the one universal soul ; a soul that suffers, grows, aspires, in one common movement and effort. This sense will also, like the other, work enormous changes. It will have nothing to do with any gospel that is not a gospel of the whole striving brotherhood. It will have nothing to do with Imperialisms that point their edge against other peoples. It will have nothing to do with election doctrines that leave other men out. It cannot think of a God that is less kind than itself.
There remains the greatest of all man's higher senses, his sense of the spiritual. We cannot, in one way, speak of that as a new sense. One would call it the oldest in existence. Assuredly what it stands for is the oldest thing in the universe. And yet, as related to human life as a whole, it may still be regarded as the youngest of the faculties. Man's animal nature is old almost as the world. It derives from all the million years of our planet's animal story. Compared with this his spiritual quality is indeed a late arrival. It is as yet a mere streak on the top of his nature, a babe new-born amid the ferocious tribe of his animalities. But the babe has all the future before it. That streak of dawn means a long and splendid day to come. Goethe's " Die Geisterwelt ist nicht verschlossen " is the greatest thing that can be uttered about man. The religious feeling, that baffling mystery to the psychologist ; with its mystic exaltations, with its attendant phenomena of dream, of vision, of psychic forces ; with its stupendous moral driving power, with its possibilities of all that is exquisite in feeling ; with its hints of unimaginable acquisitions yet to be realised ; the religious feeling, we say, is of all the senses of man's inner nature the one that carries in it the richest promise.
A supremely important question remains. What is the mode of development of our higher senses ? The whole scientific teaching here points one way. We develop by effort, by struggle. It is under strain and pressure that the organism evolves. Anyone who realises that simple fact should see in it an all-sufficient reason for the arduous, the strenuous life. And that to its very close. The law which bids us " scorn delights and live laborious days," which assures us that
Mortals miss Fair
is the very central law of life. To preserve our faculties at their topmost level by constant work ; to abhor and keep from the ruts of luxurious ease ; to welcome the opportunity of sacrifice, the doing of things that crucify the flesh ; to maintain in every department the strict subordination of lower to higher, of animal to spiritual—this we are coming now to recognise is not only the teaching of the New Testament Gospel ,but is seen by science to be the one and only way upward.