Canadian Progressive Psychiatrist and Author, best known for book "Cosmic Consciousness"
Richard Maurice Bucke, often called Maurice Bucke
Canadian Progressive Psychiatrist and Author, best known for book "Cosmic Consciousness"
Only a little while now and we shall be again together and with us those other noble and well-beloved souls gone before. I am sure I shall meet you and them; that you and I shall talk of a thousand things and of that unforgettable day and of all that followed it; and that we shall clearly see that all were parts of an infinite plan which was wholly wise and good. Do you see and approve as I write these words? It may well be... So long; dear boy. Your father.
Self-Consciousness having appeared in an individual, is only lost in great and rare crises?as in the delirium of fever and in some forms of insanity, notably mania
Self-consciousness makes its appearance in the child at the average age of three years; it is not present in any species but the human; it is, in fact, that faculty, the possession of which by an individual constitutes him a man. It is not universal in our race, being absent in all true idiots; that is, it is permanently absent in about one in each thousand human beings in Europe and America. There must, however, be many members of low races, such as. the Bushmen of South Africa and native Australians, who never attain to this faculty.
So of purely human faculties, self-consciousness, which appears in the individual at the average age of about three years, made its appearance in the race certainly more than a thousand centuries ago, while the musical sense, which does not appear in the individual before adolescence or puberty, cannot (to judge by the records) have existed in the race more than a very few thousand years.
The immediate future of our race, the writer thinks, is indescribably hopeful. There are at the present moment impending over us three revolutions, the least of which would dwarf the ordinary historic upheaval called by that name into absolute insignificance. They are: (1) The material, economic and social revolution which will depend upon and result from the establishment of aerial navigation. (2) The economic and social revolution which will abolish individual ownership and rid the earth at once of two immense evils?riches and poverty. And (3) The psychical revolution of which there is here question.
Although at the 1881 meeting of American asylum superintendents, which Bucke attended, entreaties were made for a more aggressive and scientific approach to institutional treatment of the insane, no real advances were made throughout the decade. At the 1894 meeting Weir Mitchell, a distinguished American neurologist who was known to have a poor opinion of American alienists, was invited to address the asylum superintendents. He refused at first, but then, reluctantly agreed to take on the task of rebuking them. He criticized his audience for stagnating by remaining aloof from the mass of physicians. As administrators, business managers and custodians, it was small wonder they were mediocre physicians. The consequence, he pointed out, was that the treasure house of pathological material at their disposal was little used.
The simple truth is, that there has lived on the earth, appearing at intervals, for thousands of years among ordinary men, the first faint beginnings of another race; walking the earth and breathing the air with us, but at the same time walking another earth and breathing another air of which we know little or nothing, but which is, all the same, our spiritual life, as its absence would be our spiritual death. This new race is in act of being born from us, and in the near future it will occupy and possess the earth.
Although in the birth of Cosmic Consciousness the moral nature plays an important part, it will be better for many reasons to confine our attention at present to the evolution of the intellect. In this evolution there are four distinct steps. The first of them was taken when upon the primary quality of excitability sensation was established. At this point began the acquisition and more or less perfect registration of sense impressions?that is, of, percepts.
There are of course other differences than these between the lower mind and the higher?differences in intellect, and even in sense perceptions; but these, though great in themselves, have not the supreme significance of the basic, fundamental, moral differences just mentioned. The lower mind then lacks faith, lacks courage, lacks personal force, lacks sympathy, lacks affection?that is (to sum up), it lacks peace, content, happiness. It is prone to the fear of things known, and still more to vague terror of things unknown; it is prone to anger, rage, hatred?that is (to again sum up), to unrest, discontent, unhappiness. On the other hand, the higher mind (as compared with the lower) possesses faith, courage, personal force, sympathy, affection; that is, it possesses (relatively) happiness; is less prone to fear of things known and unknown and to anger and hatred?that is, to unhappiness.
And in all this process of destruction the older formed faculties, such as perception and memory, desire for food and drink, shrinking from injury, and the more basic sense functions, endure the longest ; while, as has been said, the latest evolved functions crumble down first, then the next latest, and so on. A fact that well illustrates the contention that insanity is essentially the breaking down of mental faculties which are unstable chiefly because they are recent, and that it rests therefore upon an evolution which is modern and still in progress, is the comparative absence of insanity among negroes. It has been said that the large percentage of insanity in America and Europe depends directly upon the rapid evolution in late millenniums of the mind of the Aryan people. Very few would claim that the negro mind is advancing at anything like the same rate. As a consequence of these different rates of progression we have in the Aryan people of America a much higher percentage of insanity than is found in the negro race.
This faculty [self-consciousness] is lost much more easily than is simple consciousness. We lose it in coma and also often in the delirium of fever; in certain forms of insanity, as in mania, it is often lost for weeks and months at a time; lastly, it is never present in dreams.
As in the evolution of an individual tree some branches flourish while others fail; as in a forest some trees grow tall and stretch out wide branches while others are stunted and die out ; as in the onward and upward progress of any species some individuals are in advance of the main body while others lag behind
To him mental illness was not simply an accidental aberration necessitating skilled and humane treatment, but evidence of a failure of the biological process by which mankind adapts to change.
Before Socialism [arrived] crushing toil, cruel anxiety, insulting and demoralizing riches, poverty and its ills will become subjects for historical novels. In contact with the flux of cosmic consciousness all religions known and named today will be melted down. The human soul will be revolutionized. Religion will absolutely dominate the race. It will not depend on tradition. It will not be believed and disbelieved. It will not be a part of life, belonging to certain hours, times, occasions. It will not be in sacred books nor in the mouths of priests. It will not dwell in churches and meetings and forms and days. Its life will not be in prayers, hymns nor discourses. It will not depend on special revelations, on the words of gods who came down to teach, nor on any bible or bibles. It will have no mission to save men from their sins or to secure them entrance to heaven. It will not teach a future immortality nor future glories, for immortality and all glory will exist in the here and now. The evidence of immortality will live in every heart as sight in every eye. Doubt of God and of eternal life will be as impossible as is now doubt of existence; the evidence of each will be the same. Religion will govern every minute of every day of all life. Churches, priests, forms, creeds, prayers, all agents, all intermediaries between the individual man and God will be permanently replaced by direct unmistakable intercourse. Sin will no longer exist nor will salvation be desired. Men will not worry about death or a future, about the kingdom of heaven, about what may come with and after the cessation of the life of the present body. Each soul will feel and know itself to be immortal, will feel and know that the entire universe with all its good and with all its beauty is for it and belongs to it forever. The world peopled by men possessing cosmic consciousness will be as far re-moved from the world of today as this is from the world as it was before the advent of self-consciousness.
To make the matter clear it must be understood that there are three forms or grades of consciousness. (1) Simple Consciousness, which is possessed by say the upper half of the animal kingdom. By means of this faculty a dog or a horse is just as conscious of the things about him as a man is ; he is also conscious of his own limbs and body and he knows that these are a part of himself. (2) Over and above this Simple Consciousness, which is possessed by man as by animals, man has another which is called Self-consciousness. By virtue of this faculty man is not only conscious of trees, rocks, waters, his own limbs and body, but he becomes conscious of himself as a distinct entity apart from all the rest of the universe. It is as good as certain that no animal can realize himself in that way. Further, by means of self-consciousness, man (who knows as the animal knows) becomes capable of treating his own mental states as objects of conscious-ness. The animal is, as it were, immersed in his consciousness as a fish in the sea ; he cannot, even in imagination, get outside of it for one moment so as to realize it. But man by virtue of self-consciousness can step aside, as it were, from himself and think : Yes, that thought that I had about that matter is true ; I know it is true and I know that I know it is true. ... Cosmic Consciousness is a third form which is as far above Self-consciousness as is that above Simple Consciousness. With this form, of course, both simple and self-consciousness persist (as simple consciousness persists when self-consciousness is acquired), but added to them is the new faculty so often named and to be named in this volume. The prime characteristic of cosmic consciousness is, as its name implies, a consciousness of the cosmos, that is, of the life and order of the universe.
But it is notorious that in civilized man, especially in the Aryan race, the functions which have undergone most change in the last few thousand years are those called mental?that great group of functions (sensuous, intellectual, moral) which depend upon, spring from, the two great nervous systems?the cerebro-spinal and the great sympathetic. This great group of functions has grown, expanded, put forth new shoots and twigs, and is still in the act of producing new faculties, at a rate immeasurably greater than any other part of the human organism. If this is so then within this great congeries of faculties it is inevitable that we should meet with constant lapses, omissions, defects, breakdowns. Clinical observation teaches day by day that the above reasoning is solidly grounded. It presents lapses of all degrees and in unlimited varieties; lapses in sense function, such as color-blind-ness and music deafness; lapses in the moral nature, of the whole or a part; in the intellect, of one or several faculties; or lapses, more or less complete, of the whole intellect, as in imbecility and idiocy. But over and above all these lapses, and as a necessary accompaniment of them, we have that inevitable breaking down of function, once established in the individual, which we call insanity, as distinguished from the various forms and degrees of idiocy.
We know that in some men the intellectual functions are so unstable that as soon as they are established they crumble down?crushed (as it were) by their own weight?like a badly built house, the walls of which are not strong enough to sustain the roof. Such are extreme cases of so-called develop-mental insanity?cases in which the mind falls into ruins as soon as it comes into existence or even before it is fully formed; cases of insanity of puberty and adolescence, in which nature is barely able to form or half form a normal mind and totally unable to sustain it, the mind, consequently, running down at once back into chaos. The hopelessness of this class of cases (as regards recovery) is well understood by all alienists, and it is not difficult to see why such insanities should and must be practically incurable, since their very existence denotes the absence of the elements necessary to form and maintain a normal human mind in the subjects in question. In the realm of insanity, properly so called?that is, excluding the idiocies?these cases occupy the extreme position at one end of the scale, while those persons who only become maniacal or melancholic under the most powerful exciting causes, such as child-birth and old age, occupy the other end. That is, we have a class in whom the mind, without a touch, crumbles into ruin as soon as formed or even before it is fully formed. Then we have another class in which the balance of the mental faculties is only over-turned by the rudest shocks, and then only temporarily, since the cases to which I refer recover in a few weeks or months if placed under favorable conditions. But between these extremes the whole wide intermediate space is filled with an infinite variety of phases of insanity, exhibiting every possible condition of mental stability and instability between the two extremes noticed. But throughout the whole range of mental alienation this law holds, namely: that the latest evolved of the mental functions, whether intellectual or moral, suffer first and suffer most, while the earliest evolved of the mental and moral functions suffer (if at all) the latest and the least.
I Dedicate This Book To The Man Who Inspired It - To The Man Who Of All Men Past And Present That I Have Known Has The Most Exalted Moral Nature - To Walt Whitman.
I take it for granted that all will agree that insanity is often caused by diseases of the procreative organs, and on the other hand, that mental derangement frequently disturbs the functions of other organs of the body, and modifies diseased action in them. Either may be primary and causative, or secondary and resultant. In the literature of the past, we find the gynecologist pushing his claims so far as to lead a junior in medicine to believe that if the sexual organs of women were preserved in health, insanity would seldom occur among them.
In conclusion the results arrived at in this chapter may be summed up as follows: (1) The stability of a faculty in the individual depends upon its age in the race. The older the faculty the more stable it is, and the less old the less stable. (2) The race whose evolution is most rapid will be the most subject to breakdown. (3) Those functions in any given race whose evolutions are the most rapid will be the most subject to breakdown. (4) In the more progressive families of the Aryan race the mental faculties have for some millenniums last past developed with great rapidity. (5) In this race the large number of mental breakdowns, commonly called insanity, are due to the rapid and recent evolution of those faculties in that race.
It seems impossible to believe that as a race [African Bushmen] these creatures are self-conscious.
Man's progenitor was a creature (an animal) walking erect but with simple consciousness merely. He was (as are to-day the animals) incapable of sin or of the feeling of sin and equally in-capable of shame (at least in the human sense). He had no feeling or knowledge of good and evil. He as yet knew nothing of what we call work and had never labored. From this state he fell (or rose) into self-consciousness, his eyes were opened, he knew that he was naked, he felt shame, acquired the sense of sin (became in fact what is called a sinner), and learned to do certain things in order to encompass certain ends?that is, he learned to labor. For weary eons this condition has lasted?the sense of sin still haunts his pathway?by the sweat of his brow he still eats bread? he is still ashamed. Where is the deliverer, the Saviour? Who or what? The Savior of man is Cosmic Consciousness.
With these come, what may be called, a sense of immortality, a consciousness of eternal life, not a conviction that he shall have this, but the consciousness that he has it already.
There occurs an intellectual enlightenment or illumination which alone would place the individual on a new plane of existence ... To this is added a state of moral exaltation, an indescribable feeling of elevation, elation and joyousness ... With these come, what may be called, a sense of immortality, a consciousness of eternal life, not a conviction that he shall have this, but the consciousness that he has it already.
This reveals the boundless radiance of the infinite face of the real Divinity, beaming on him who sees it its equipoise of "Mercy and Truth"