Law Of Change
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
NOTHING is more pathetic, and, at the same time, more singular, than the persistence with which man has rebelled against the primal law of his being, the law of change. The words he loves most are those which express the opposite of change. " Firm," " immovable," " steadfast, " eternal " are his first-class adjectives ; just as " shifty," ":unstable," " evanescent " are at the bottom of his value-scale. There are matters here—questions, anomalies—which most of us as yet have, perhaps, hardly puzzled out, and which it may be profitable to investigate. Change, we say, is written large on life. It might be called its hall-mark. The " eternal flux " was the watchword of one of the old Greek philosophies. In the majestic, melancholy lines of Lucretius there is no thought that more often recurs :
Nee manet ulla sui similis res.
" Nor does anything abide like itself ; everything is on the move." We realise this even more intensely now than did the ancients. Science gives us a universe which is a stupendous dance of atoms ; "atomic shivers," as one researcher calls them. We live, in fact, by change. Did our bodies remain fixed from one moment to another that moment would be our last. In this rush we seem to keep nothing. We lose our children as much by living as by dying. You have had to exchange your two-year-old, with his sweet, engaging ways, for this sturdy schoolboy-who is another affair altogether. Men think of deluges, earthquakes, revolutions—events that are sudden and violent—as the great change-instruments. But at the world's quietest the movement goes on not less surely than in its great uproars and upheavals. Take the story of a London street—Cheapside or Ludgate Hill. For nigh two thousand years, from the days of old Londinium in the Roman time, there has pulsed, without ceasing, a tide of life along these thoroughfares. And it was as day succeeded day —silently, imperceptibly, as the crowd moved over the pavements—that there crept into it bit by bit all the changes, in raiment, in speech, in manners, in ideas, that make the enormous gulf between that far-off time and our own.
We ourselves are on this flood, helpless to stay its movement. We may stop our clocks, but not the heart-beats that measure our days. " I have seen," says Montaigne, " the green shoot, the flowers and the fruit. Now I see ` la secheresse.' I see it happily because it is natural." Undoubtedly the best way to see it. But the " natural " here will become still more welcome to us when we enter more deeply into what is contained in it. For now we discover that the change-flood which sweeps us along is not master in the universe. It has its limits and its laws. Its limits to begin. with. For it seems set here as the antithesis of something greater, older than itself—namely, the permanent. Change, we find, is an affair of the surface of things ; it is of the outer rind of reality, not of its innermost core. It belongs to that order of phenomena with which science has to do. But science, to use the words of Wundt, one of her most eminent students, " indicates the path to territories beyond her own, ruled by other laws than those to which her realm is subject." Philosophy, which underlies science, shows us that we could, in fact, have no idea of change apart from the concept of a permanent. It shows us, in that thought-world which for us is the greatest of all realities, how the sweep and movement of the evanescent obtains all its strange effect upon us by contrast with a something within which tells of fixity, of eternity. Our thought-world is as full of the changeless as the material world is of change. Here we find laws—of mathematics, of logic, of the inherent relations of things, which, amid all outward permutations, remain the same. The truths of geometry, of thought sequence, of harmony, are more solid than the hills. The whole sphere of the invisible, in short, is a sphere of the eternal.
Change, we see, has its limits. It has also its laws. There is, we find, an invisible wrapped around every visible, and it is this invisible that is permanent. We transmute our products by chemical processes ; but we can never change the law of the processes. We can combine our oxygen and hydrogen, but we have no power over the combining proportions. Nature, so prodigal of her mutations, is also the greatest of conservatives. How she keeps to her forms ! Why is it that carbon when it crystallises into diamond invariably assumes some form derived from the cube, while quartz will as invariably take the shape of a six-sided prism ? The same metal goes on eternally yielding the same spectrum. Indeed, there is an aspect in which we might speak almost of the monotony of nature. Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose. It is this aspect which certain pessimists have seized on as a ground for their grumble at the universe. Marcus Aurelius complains that " things are repeated and come over again apace." Goethe tells of a contemporary who disliked the ever-returning green of spring and wished that " by way of change it might once appear red." Schopenhauer likens life to a conjurer's booth where the tricks are made to be seen only once. If you live through two generations you see them twice over and their effect is gone. Spinoza has erected this sameness into a philosophy, and offers us a universe which, being eternally perfect in itself, can as such make no progress, any more than a circle can ever be more a circle than it is.
This brings us to the real point of our discussion. Spinoza has had a new vogue of late, and there is a certain order of mind for whom he will always have a great fascination. Always, indeed, he will stand amongst the noblest and purest of spirits, and his system for one of the most wonderful of intellectual creations. But humanity is wiser than the wisest of its sons, and it is outgrowing Spinoza. We see to-day that his geometrical demonstrations are misplaced as applied to the mystery of the universal life. Mathematics go deep into the cosmos, but they do not contain the whole of it. His denial of ends, and of final causes, . is an a priori assumption which the facts, as we now know them, do not bear out. He wrote before the key of evolution had been discovered, the key which has unlocked so many secret chambers and opened so many new perspectives. In particular it opened a view unknown to him, of vastest significance both for science, philosophy and religion. It is that of infinite progression. It gives us, in short, the essential law of change, in which we see that change is ever in the long run a change upward.
Spinoza says the universe is perfect. Its perfection is in itself. There is nothing else than it. God is the universe and the universe is God. It is the sum of all there is, and you cannot have more than there is. But what are the facts, so far as we can now see ? Do they not reveal to us, rather, a universe that is not so much perfect as perfecting ? We see everywhere movement, and a movement one way. Science points us to a life-series which has always been mounting the ladder, from zoophyte to man. Nature in this showing does not repeat herself, but to the old adds ever her something new. The history of civilisation is the repetition on another scale of the zoologic story. Man has not only moved ; he has climbed. His ideas, his morality, his religions, have shown ever the fresh increment. He has not repeated simply what he had. The later generations show an accretion, an importation of what the earlier did not possess. The most striking feature in to-day's religious thought is that men are bewildered by their own upward movement. They are distressed to find a something in themselves to which their sacred books, their religious traditions do not properly respond. They are unable to see what, nevertheless, is the plainest of truths, that they, because they stand farther on in the movement, are the recipients of an inspiration which is higher than the older and written one, and by which the older is being judged.
But what does all this point to ? Surely to a cosmic view which neither philosophy nor religion has as yet fairly discussed, but which they will have to discuss. Science and philosophy run after Monism to-day, but the signs are that when all is done they will end in Dualism. The signs are, that is, of an external universe which is not perfected, but on the way to perfection. Which in its turn means a Perfect of Being and Reality that is behind and beyond the visible universe, greater than it, and which, in its constant self-disclosures, brings ever the cosmos closer to its own height and beauty. Why should we think of the universe other than as we think of ourselves ? Why should we not say that, just as the soul in us is in a way a mirror of the Deity, but an imperfect one ; and that in proportion as the soul grows, in that degree the Divinity is more clearly revealed ; so this external frame of things is just a vehicle for the self-disclosure of God, and will, in its infinite progression, open to us ever more of the inexhaustible riches of His perfection ?
It is, we say, to some such point as this that the higher science and the higher philosophy of to-day are steadily moving. And the lesson from it is that which religion has taught from the beginning, the lesson, namely, of our inheritance in the Invisible, of our permanent home and treasure there. What is seen has all come out of the unseen, is a sort of deposit from it, and there is an infinity more to follow. But our share is in the fountain as well as in the stream. We are not of the visible only ; our inmost texture is of the invisible, and we partake of its eternity.
Kein Wesen kann zu nichts zerfallen,
" No being can to nothing fall, in everything the Eternal moves." So sings the German prophet. But we can go further. Science and philosophy take us to the threshold ; the Christian Gospel introduces us to the presence chamber. These suggest a power, a wisdom, greater than all we see ; this tells us of a love that passeth knowledge. Spinoza offers us the Amor intellectualis Dei : Jesus shows us the heart of the Father, and that, and that alone, suffices us.