« PrejšnjaNaprej »
THE PROBLEM OF CONSCIOUSNESS.
By R. F. GREEN.
It is a winter afternoon, and a lady is sitting by the fire reading. At her feet, on the hearthrug, a child is playing quietly with a doll, and a cat, overcome by the warmth and a diurnally recurring drowsiness, sleeps -- lying on its side with legs and tail stretched out lazily.
The woman is absorbed in her book, it is The Mill on the Floss, and she has nearly finished it; she breathes quickly; a slight sob escapes her, and her eyes fill with tears. The awful pathos of poor Maggie's life appeals to her as it has appealed to all of us. She ceases to read, and sits musing, book in hand.
Meanwhile, the child, tired for the moment of her playing, has made her doll sit down, propped up against the cat, and this, of course, pussy resents. She is disturbed, and too sleepy or lazy to move, shows her irritation by an ominous waving of her tail. No notice being taken, and dolly being indifferent, too, to the annoyance she is causing, the cat rouses herself-the child puts out her hand to the rescue of her plaything, and receives a quick blow and scratch. Her cry startles the mother, who, letting her book fall, springs up, takes the little one in her arms, kisses and soothes her---the cat, running to the door, tries to get out of the room. Incidents more familiar and commonplace than these can hardly be imagined, and yet they illustrate phenomena perhaps the most inscrutable that nature presents to us. The transmission of complex abstract ideas by means of arbitrary signs—the effect of such ideas, which are probably outside of one's own personal experience, upon the physical functions—the woman is reading an imaginary biography--no such experiences as those of Maggie Tulliver have been hers—she draws her breath-her heart beats quickly—she sobs. The wonderful maternal instinct in the little one who loves and cares for her doll just as the mother loves her child—the cat, sleepy in the daytime like its cousin in the Indian jungle, and despite every incentive to nocturnal slumberits selfish resentment at being disturbed-its expression of anger by lashing its tail, a habit it has in common with other members of its genus—the vicious attempt to revenge itself for a slight discomfort-its fear of punishment-the cry of the child following instantly on receiving the wound—the start of her mother, and the involuntary dropping of her book—the effect of her sympathy upon the child in relieving its pain and lessening the effect of the shock upon
its We can describe these phenomena, we can point out even the nerves and muscles which produce them, but what it is that brings these nerves and muscles each in their turn into play—how we come to think, and remember, and act as we do, are secrets that we are fain to admit must lie for ever beyond us. They are part of that great mystery we call life, they come with us out of the mist, stand out sharp and clear in the pageant of experience that is moving so quickly before us, and we are in the mist again, and have only seen-have understood nothing. The phenomena just indicated represent some of the highest and most complex forms of consciousness we can recognize-indeed, the ability to convey and receive abstract ideas by means of language is peculiar, so far as we know, to the highest organism-man. Consciousness, apparent to us in other forms of life, is a simpler expression, but differing, as we shall see, rather in degree than in kind as we descend the scale of living matter,
It is to be assumed that there is no risk of misconception in the use of such terms as living organism and life. The living organism is an entity which grows by absorption from outside, and which is capable of reproduction. It may have other functions; it always has in fact; but these two are essential. Its functions, separately considered, present to us the phenomena we call consciousness, and the sum of the functions, be they few or many, of an organism we call life. To state the case inversely: life is shown to us by acts of consciousness only, we have no other means of distinguishing between dead and living matter. Consciousness may further be described as effort to a definite end. We may not recognize the particular end in view, but if a purpose is obvious we must admit consciousness. We see a man making calculations on a piece of paper, though we do not know the problem he is working out; we have a heated discussion with a political or theological adversary, and we tell him, after a long speech, that we don't know what he is driving at; but none the less we admit these acts imply consciousness. The definition-effort to an end-is the basis of the present Essay. It may be insufficient, it may be incorrect, and it is certainly open to drastic criticism, it is, however, the best I am able to formulate, I cannot find another which will embrace such facts as have to be collated. And simple as the definition seems to be at first sight, it gives us quite enough to think about, the statement of the problem even on these lines is no easy matter, and, moreover, brings us no nearer to its solution. If it helps to make clear the relation of the various phenomena life presents to us, that is all we can ask of it, and it will have served its purpose well.
Let us begin, then, at the beginning. The earth in its solemn swing, the planets in their never hastening, never tiring procession-do they give us any sign of consciousness? None that we have yet recognised. Their motion is apparently impressed upon them by the one great force which binds other solar systems together, and which controls them no more and no less than it does the smallest grain of sand upon our sea shores. Regarded as one body, each planet seems under the complete dominion of the force of gravitation—subject to it as we see by its axial and orbital revolutions, exercising it as we see by its inducing like revolutions in its satellites. No purpose is evident to
In fact the very regularity of these motions would of itself forbid our thinking of them as conscious. Regular invariable motion of any kind seems opposed to consciousness; irregular variable motion seems to imply it. When we come, however, to regard the matter of which our planet is composed, a very different series of phenomena presents itself. A careful examination reveals to us some 68 substances, which, with the means now at our disposal, we cannot reduce; they are called, therefore, elementary substances, and it is they and their combinations which account for all matter on the earth. These elementary substances exist in widely different conditions, someoxygen and hydrogen, for instance-are gases at ordinary temperatures; mercury and bromine are liquid; the greater number are solid. Some, like gold, are found native pure, but in most cases they exist in nature only in combination, and can be isolated only with great difficulty. Their combinations are found to be regular and in definite invariable proportions, following a law which has been formulated by comparisons of their relative weights. Thus, taking the lightest of the elementary substances, Hydrogen, as 1, we find oxygen always combining as 15.96, or a simple multiple of that number. This, moreover, represents the weight of oxygen, bulk for bulk, under equal conditions as compared with Hydrogen-that is, if a globe filled with hydrogen weighs 1 lb. net, the same globe filled with oxygen, under exactly the same conditions of temperature, pressure, etc., would weigh 15.96 lbs. net, and if filled with mercury would weigh 199.8 lbs. These figures: H= 1,
Mercury = 200, gives us the invariable proportions of H, O, and Hg. in their respective compounds. Take a simple example: Water, H, O, is a compound of two parts of H and one of 0. (We eliminate fractions for the sake of brevity).
2 parts of H = 2
18 so that in 18 ozs. or 18 lbs. or 18 tons of water there will be 16 ozs. or 16 lbs. or 16 tons of oxygen, and 2 ozs. or 2 lbs. or 2 tons of hydrogen, and this of course can be proved empirically. These facts, and some others arising out of them are embodied in the atomic theory. Matter in its original form is supposed to exist in grains or atoms all of the same size, so that if we could get an atom of oxygen it would weigh 16 times the atom of hydrogen, and the mercury atom would weigh nearly 200 times the hydrogen atom. These atoms represent the smallest quantity of the substance that can exist even in combination, and it is suggested that if by any means we could divide an atom of silver, for instance, the resulting parts would not be silver at all, but that primary form of matter from which silver and all the elementary substances are derived. This, of course, is a supposition, but it is one to the truth of which