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Religion for Infidels, Part 4 
Life Finds a Way

Young plant1,888 words

Part 4 of 5

What, then, are the disconnected facts, the underlying relation of which would have vindicated Lamarck, shed important light on the evolutionary process and simultaneously explained many a problem connected with religion and religious practice? 

I suggest that they are, on the one hand, biological variation occurring under special circumstances, which we shall examine, and, on the other, those facts, positive knowledge of which has been recently ac­quired (although acted upon blindly for thousands of years), proving that it is possible for living organisms, and certainly for man (although perhaps less possible for him), to influence, and even to enlist the cooperation of, the formative, improvisatory and innovatory forces of living matter.

In other words, I suggest that it is now legitimate to postulate the feasibility of reaching and summoning to any activity whatsoever, and with any object (i.e., evil or benign), the hidden constructive and improvising forces operating incessantly in living matter, although these forces are normally inaccessible and unamenable to the conscious mental faculties of animals and man, and are in any case totally refractory in all circumstances to any volitional effort on the part of either beasts or human beings.

I intend to make a further claim, and to suggest that it is now probably consistent with acknowledged facts to say that we can reach and stimulate to any activity whatsoever (evil or benign) these same hidden forces even outside and beyond the range of our own living organism. It will, however, be noticed that in this connection I say ‘probably’, as I do not regard this claim as nearly so well-established as the former one. For the moment I shall be concerned only with the former claim.

It is common knowledge that for centuries mankind have been aware of their capacity, in certain not wholly conscious states, of contacting and summoning to activity powers in their bodies not normally under their control. In the East, among the religious devotees of Tibet and the yogis of Hindustan, and, nearer home, among the dervishes of Algiers, this has been a familiar fact for a much longer period than in Europe . . .

Now, apart from the successful use of hypnotism in surgery and midwifery . . . in the hypnotic state it appears to be possible to call into activity forces which, in the normal state, are quite inaccessible and cannot be mobilized. Nor should it ever be forgotten—as it always is forgotten, even by scientists when attempting to disparage parallels drawn between the relatively slight and superficial bodily phenomena induced under hypnotism and the deeper and relatively more elaborate phenomena of bodily change in living organisms, effected during the process of evolution—that the results obtained by hypnotism are all spontaneous, if not actually instantaneous, whilst Nature’s ultimate transformations, achieved by means of what Sir Julian Huxley calls ‘mainly small mutations’ . . . have unlimited time at their disposal.

How does an authority like McDougall describe the condition of the hypnotized subject? He says ‘increased suggestibility is its essential symptom’. That is true enough; but it is not enough, because, added to the increased suggestibility is the patient’s singular capacity to get into touch with the formative and usually inaccessible forces inherent in living matter, which in his unhypnotized state he is quite unaware of and incapable of mobilizing or of stirring to any activity whatsoever. We are therefore entitled to infer that, if the living organism is to be capable of activating the formative and improvisatory forces inherent in its cells, it is of paramount importance that its volition should be suspended and that only a suggestion of any desired effect should reach them. For the essential condition of the subject’s ability to activate the forces in question is his total surrender of his conscious mind, and above all of his volition, to the hypnotist; and, be it noted, not to the hypnotist’s will, as many assume, but only to his suggestions. If we lose sight of this crucial fact, we are unable to understand not only the phenomenon of hypnotism but many kindred phenomena which I shall now discuss, including some of the more fundamental aspects of religious practice . . .

We have but to read Charles Baudouin’s Suggestion and Auto-Suggestion . . . in which many impressive results of Coué’s method are recorded, in order to appreciate that not only in therapeutics but in every field of human endeavour, mental and physical, Coué’s tech­nique for enlisting, or more properly invoking, the formative and improvisatory forces latent in living matter at once frees us from the cumbersome necessity of hypnotism and, what is even more important, provides us with the rationale of bodily changes brought about in states of suspended volition . . .

Sir Julian Huxley tells us that ‘it is mainly small mutations which are of importance in evolution’ . . . and . . . not only Lamarck but also other evolutionists, including Darwin, give us ample grounds for connecting variation with changes in environment . . .

On the other hand, persistence of type for as long as millions of years, as for instance in Amphioxus, Heterodontus and Sphenodon, in lung-fish and lamp-shells, and even in such mammals as opossums, hedgehogs, dogs, pigs and lemurs, points, as many biologists suppose, to a certain constancy in the circumstances of these creatures’ lives. Thus, Sir Julian tells us that ‘there has been no improvement in birds, regarded as machines for flying, for perhaps 20 million years, none in insects for more than 30’, both of which facts seem to indicate that the creatures concerned have during all these ages found little amiss in their mastery of their environment, and, since any such failing would indicate an environmental change sufficient to account for it, it seems probable that in one respect at least their conditions have been stable. ‘Some less advanced types of organization’, Sir Julian continues, ‘such as lung-fish and lamp-shells, have remained unchanged for 300 million years or more’ . . .

The facts seem to indicate that variation and mutation (I refer to the ‘small mutations’ important in evolution), far from being universal or inevitable, more probably represent the organism’s reaction to any change in the environment which disturbs an equilibrium previously established between it and its conditions. This appears the more likely when we learn from Professor J.B.S. Haldane that the ‘genes for a major character, say hair density, may be replaced rather rapidly in response to environmental change’ . . . for in this example we have a change which may be very adverse and dangerous for the organism, and the fact that the state of distress thus created provokes a rapid readjustment, of the kind described, lends colour to the view that variation and mutation are organic responses to any environmental change serious enough to destroy the harmony previously established between the organism and its milieu . . .

Thus, when we try to picture what takes place in the psychophysi­cal system of living organisms, especially of those lower in the evolutionary scale than man, which are less intellectual and conscious than he is, when an environmental change provokes a readjustment, whether of bodily structure, behaviour or both, we must suppose that the effort or striving or desire, which Lamarck postulated as the factor initiating adaptive modifications, amounts to the organism’s confining its mental response to the new conditions, to a mute aspiration which, translated into human terms, would be expressed by no more than the words ‘Oh, help! If only I could get out of this’ or ‘Oh, mercy! If only those of my members concerned could deal with it’.

The efforts amount to a blind SOS in which the desired end is imagined and its accomplishment assumed as inevitable. In the organisms lower than man, no volition would accompany these mute aspira­tions, because will implies the conception either of some definite thing willed or some definite power that will can urge or impress.

The creatures lower than man, knowing of no means—not knowing, for instance, that fins may be changed into limbs—leave the means to Nature or the life-forces, and only imagine successful adaptation, not narrowly defined, lying ahead. They only ardently desire a happy consummation. The most they might do, as we shall see, is to picture themselves in imagination surmounting the difficulties the changed environment confronts them with. And as there is no limit to the power and resource of the life-forces, the most intricate and ingenious means of overcoming these difficulties are generally found. The fact that this is not always so is suggested by the evidence we have of the sudden extinction of certain animal species, as in the period between the Tertiary and the Eocene.

What creatures lower than man, however, never do is to doubt their success in ultimately overcoming an environmental change, because doubt presupposes some conception of the possibility, feasibility or probability of an individual modification, and that conception they cannot have. It is man’s intellect that here is prone to defeat his purpose, and Troward says quite correctly that ‘our intellect becomes the greatest hindrance to our success, for it only helps to increase our doubts’ . . .

Now, there is nothing mystical or magical in this intervention of the formative and improvisatory powers latent in living matter in order to produce the organic changes needed for a successful response to an environmental change. It is simply the slow operation in Nature of processes observed to occur spontaneously and, consequently, on a much less elaborate scale in human beings subjected to hypnotism or practising passive auto-suggestion. Nor do all human beings necessar­ily differ fundamentally from animals in the way they respond to environmental difficulties. Many, though a small minority probably, have retained the animal’s faculty of contacting and mobilizing the life forces directly by simply visualizing desired ends without any compo­nent of will or doubt . . .

It is, however, man’s fatal misfortune that all the immense advantages his consciousness affords him are heavily outweighed in most of his species by introducing into human desires and aspirations two fac­tors absent from the animal’s more subconscious thought: doubt and volition. By jeopardizing his chances of seeing his aspirations realized, they lead to endless frustration and despair . . . Only in religion has man—instinctively, presumably—lighted upon the means for mitigat­ing this twofold evil. But as we shall see, even in religion he has not wholly circumvented it.

We have but to think of what the result would be if a hypnotist, in suggesting to a subject that the cold key he is about to lay on her arm was really white-hot, added the proviso, ‘If it really is white-hot’ . . .

Whether we are entitled . . . to assume that the suggestions thrown out intensively by an ardently aspiring being can reach the life-forces outside our own selves; whether, that is to say, we may believe that we are able by suggestion to move, as it were, the cosmic life-forces to affect the course of our own or other people’s lives, is a question much more difficult to decide than that which has occupied us in the foregoing discussion. But if there is truth in telepathy, clairvoyance and in the alleged terrifying powers of primitive medicine-men and shamans to inflict curses upon people, it seems as if there must be means of mov­ing the cosmic forces through suggestion to produce effects beyond ourselves. The data regarding the unfailing efficacy of medicine-men’s curses are certainly too well-authenticated to be lightly dismissed, and many scientists have already expressed their belief in telepathy . . .

 

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