Gustav Theodor Fechner.

The little book of life after death online

. (page 1 of 5)
Online LibraryGustav Theodor FechnerThe little book of life after death → online text (page 1 of 5)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook










University of California.














"Indesten, freut es immer wmn man seine Wurteln ausdehnt
und sexne ExUtenz in Andere eingrei/en «eA/."- SchiUer im
Bnefwechwl mit Ooetha. ttt a rvi

_„.,v .u^»»cft« »« .aiiuerv eingr

Briefwechael mit Goethe. Ill, S. 63.




f^rft^I£DAi Copyright, im,

^ By Ijttlb, Brown, and Company.

All rights reserved
Published October, 1904






The Author



/GLADLY accept the translator's
invitation to furnish a few words
of introduction to Fechner's
^^Buchlein vom Leben nach dem Tode^'
the more so as its somewhat oracularly
uttered sentences require^ for their proper
understandings a certain acquaintance
with their relations to his general system,
Fechners name lives in physics as
that of one of the earliest and best de-
terminers of electrical constants, also as
that of the best systematic defender of
the atomic theory. In psychology it is a
cominonplace to glorify him as the first
user of experimental methods, and the


first aivier at exactitude in facts. In
cosmology he is known as the author of
a system of evolution which, while
taking' great account of physical details
and mechanical conceptions, makes con-
sciousness correlative to and coeval with
the whole physical world. In literature
he has made his mark by certain half-
humoristic, half-philosophic essays pub-
lished under the name of Z>r, Mises —
indeed the present booklet originally ap-
peared under that name. In cesthetics
he may lay claim to be the earliest sys-
tematically empirical student. In meta-
physics he is not only the author of an
independently reasoned ethical system,
but of a theological theory worked out
in great detail. His mind, in short,
was one of those multitudinously organ-


ized cross-roads of truth, which are
occupied only at rare intervals by chil-
dren of men, and from which nothing is
either too far or too near to be seen in
due perspective. Patient observation
and daring imagination dwelt hand
in hand in Fechner ; and perception,
reasoning, and feeling all flourished on
the largest scale without interfering
either with the other s function,

Fechner was, in fact, a philosopher in
the "great''' sense of the term, although
he cared so much less than most philoso-
phers do for purely logical abstractions.
For him the abstract lived in the con-
crete ; and although he worked as defi-
nitely and technically as the narrowest
specialist works in each of the many lines
of scientific inquiry which he successively


followed, he followed each and all of
them for the sake of his one overmaster-
ing general purpose, the purpose namely
of elaborating what he called the " day-
light-view ''ofthe world into greater and
greater system and completeness.

By the daylight-view, as contrasted
with the night-view, Fechner meant the
anti-materialistic view, — the view that
the entire material universe, instead of
being dead, is inwardly alive and con-
sciously animated. There is hardly a
page of his writing that was not proba-
bly connected in his mind with this most
general of his interests.

Uttle by little the materialistic gen-
eration that called his speculations fan-
tastic has been replaced by one with
greater liberty of imagination. Lead-


ers of thought, a Paulsen, a Wundt,
a Preyer, a Lasswitz, treat Fechners
pan-psychism as plauMble, and write of
its author with veneration. Younger
men chime in, and Fechner's philosophy
promises to become scientifically fashion-
able. Imagine a Herbert Spencer who,
to the unity of his system and its unceas-
ing touch with facts, should have added
a positively religious philosophy instead
of Spencer's dry agnosticism ; who should
have mingled humor and lightness (even
though it were germanic lightness) with
his heavier ratiocinations; who should
have been no less encyclopedic and far
more subtle ; who should have shown a
personal life as simple and as conse-
crated to the one pursuit of truth, —
imagine this, I say, if you can, and you


viay form some idea of what the name
of Fechner is more and more coming to
stand for, and of the esteem in which it
is more and more held by the studious
youth of his native Germany. His be-
lief that the whole material universe is
conscious in divers spans and wave-
lengths, inclusions and envelopments,
seems assuredly destined to found a school
that will grow more systematic and
solidified as time goes on.

The general background of the pres-
ent dogmatically written little treatise is
to be found in the " Tagesansicht,'' in
the ''Zend-Avesta,'' and in various other
works of Fechner's. Once grasp the
idealistic notion that inner experience is
the reality, and that matter is but a
form in which inner experiences may


appear to one another when they affect
each other from the outside ; and it is
easy to believe that consciousness or
inner experience never originated, or
developed, out of the unconscious, but
that it and the physical universe are co-
eternal aspects of one self-same reality,
much as concave and convex are aspects
of one curve, " Psychophysical move-
ment,'' as Fechner calls it, is the most
pregnant name for all the reality that
is. As ''movement'' it has a "direc-
tion " ; as " psychical " the direction can be
felt as a'' tendency " and as all that lies
connected in the way of inner expe-
rience with tendencies, — desire, effort,
success, for example ; while as ''physical "
the direction can be defined in spatial
terms and formulated mathematically or


otherwise in the shape of a descriptive

" lawr

But movements can be superimposed
and compounded, the smaller on the
greater, as wavelets upon waves. This
is as true in the mental as in the physi-
cal sphere. Speaking psychologically,
we may say that a general wave of con-
sciousness rises out of a subconscious
background, and that certain portions
of it catch the emphasis, as wavelets
catch the light. The whole process is
conscious, but the emphatic wave-tips of
the consciousness are of such contracted
span that they are momentarily insu-
lated from the rest. They realize them-
selves apart, as a twig might realize
itself, and forget the parent tree. Such
an insulated bit of experience leaves,


however, when it passes away, a memory
of itself. The residual and subsequent
consciousness becomes different for its
having occurred. On the physical side
we say that the brain-process that corre-
sponded to it altered permanently the
future mode of action of the brain.

Now, according to Fechner, our bod-
ies are just wavelets on the surface of
the earth We grow upon the earth as
leaves grow upon a tree, and our con-
sciousness arises out of the whole earth-
consciousness, — which it forgets to thank,
— just as within our consciousness an
emphatic eocperience arises, and makes
us forget the whole background of
experience without which it could not
have come. But as it sinks again into
that background it is not forgotten.



On the contrary, it is remembered and,
as remembered, leads a freer life, for it
now combines, itself a conscious idea,
with the innumerable, equally conscious
ideas of other remembered things. Even
so is it, when we die, with the whole
system of our outlived experiences.
During the life of our body, although
they were always elements in the more
general enveloping earth-consciousness,
yet they themselves were unmindful of
the fact. Now, impressed on the whole
earth-mind as memories, they had the
life of ideas there, and realize them-
selves no longer in isolation, but along
with all the similar vestiges left by other
human lives, entering with these into
new combinations, affected anew by ex-
periences of the living, and affecting the


living in their turn, enjoying, in short,
that " third stage " of ea^stence with the
definition of which the text of the present
work begins.

God, for Fechner, is the totalized
consciousness of the whole universe, of
which the Ear^tlts consciousness forms an
element, just as in turn my human con-
sciousness and yours form elements of
the whole earth's consciousness. As I
apprehend Fechner {though I am not
sure), the whole Universe — God there-
fore also — evolves in time : that is, God
has a genuine history. Through us as
its human organs of eocperience the earth
enriches its inner life, until it also " geht
zu grunde " and becomes immortal in the
form of those still wider elements of inner
experience which its history is even now

* xvii


weaving into the total cosmic life of

The whole scheme, as the reader sees,
is got from the fact that the span of our
own inner life alternately contracts and
expands. You cannot say where the
exact outline of any present state of
consciousness lies. It shades into a more
general background in which even now
other states lie ready to be known. This
background is the inner aspect of what
physically appear, first, as our residual
and only partially excited neural ele-
ments, and then more remotely as the
whole organism which we call our own.

This indetermination of the partition,
this fact of a changing threshold, is the
analogy which Fechner generalizes, that
is all.



There are many difficulties attaching
to his theory. The complexity with which
he himself realizes them^ and the subtlety
with which he meets them are admirable.
It is interesting to see how closely his
speculations y due to such different mo-
tiveSy and supported by such different
arguments, agree with those of some of
our own philosophers, Royce's Giff'ord
lectures, " The World and the Individ-
ual,'' Bradley s Appearance and Reality,
and A, E, Taylor's Elements of " Meta-
physics," present themselves immediately
to one's mind,


Chocorua, N. H., Jum 81, 1904-



rHE first edition of this little
book appeared in the year 1836
under the pen name of ''Mises"
and was published by my friend, long"
since dead, the book-dealer and com-
poser, Ch, E. Grimmer, It made its
way quietly, like the first edition of its
authors life, of which the little book was
a part, while cherishing the expectation
of a second. With the years of the
one first edition, the copies of the other,
without being yet quite exhausted, are

While I dedicate this second edition,
issued from another friendly publishing


house, and under my own name, to the
beloved daughters of my departed friend,
in whom is continued for us that knew Mm
all that we loved in him, I believe, in
the sense of the very view which is set
forth in this book, that I am giving
it back to my friend in the way he
would best like. He has, indeed, a per-
petual spiritual claim upon the earlier
material; for it originated mainly as
the result of talks with him about an
idea of our mutual friend Billroth,
which, though cursorily expressed and
held by the latter, yet took deep root in
the heart of the author. It wa^ a little
seed, a tree has grown from it; he has
helped to loosen the earth for it.

Let me here add a wish: that there
might be a revival of my friends songs,


so beautiful and so forgotten, as well as
of this hafforgotten little book. The
creation of both went on so hand in hand
during a period of daily companion-
ship, that they seem to echo and re-echo in
my memory like intermingled melodies.
Simple as their charm is, may they have
a duration even beyond that of the music
of the future; for sound drowns beauty,
yet beauty outlives sound, and what
begins loud cannot so end. But if I
did not believe that the same is true
of truth as of beauty, how should I
hope for a future for the opinions of
this book ?

The reason for exchanging the former

pen-name now for the author's own, was

personal. The little paper at its first

appearance was a divergence from the



chief characteristics of the author's other
works; but it became the firstling of a
series of later writings, appearing under
his own name, which, in their cofitents,
conform to it more or less, and to which
it may therefore be added by the ascrip-
tion of a common origin. Finally, their
grouping results from the consideration
that they combine with the work before us
to form a connected theory of life which
partly supports, partly is supported by
the contents of this book, A further
carrying out of this view, only briefly
developed here, may be found in the
third part of the Zend-Avesta,

This edition has only been altered in
unimportant respects, eoctended in sev-
eral, from the former.



/T is sufficient to remark that, except
by the addition of a note upon
page 57, and the omission of an
easily controverted appendix (on the prin-
ciple of divine vision) at the close of the
last edition, the present one only differs
from the former in unimportant changes
of a few words.

The fourth edition, the first after the
author's death, is a faithfully rendered
reprint of the third, changed only in


March, I9OO.



rHE first suggestion of the idea
worked out in this paper, that
the spirits of the dead continue
to eooist in the living as individuals,
came to me through a conversation with
my friend Professor Billroth, then liv-
ing in Leipzig, now in Halle. While
this idea, in a series of related images,
both appealed to me and awakened
kindred ones, it took prominent shape,
and through a sort of enforced pro-
gression extended to the idea of a higher
life of spirits in God, Meanwhile the
originator, as in the philosophy of reli-


gion in general, so especially in the doc-
trine of immortality, took a quite differ-
ent line from this, conforming more
directly to the church dogma, which led
him away, for the most part, if not wholly,
from this fundamental idea, so that, while
I had thought it necessary to point to
him as its author, I no longer venture
to call him its advocate. The views of
this philosopher upon the subject in ques-
tion will be developed in a work by him
shortly to appear.

Written in Gastein in
August, 1835.




MAN lives upon the earth not
once, but three times. His
first stage of Ufe is a continu-
ous sleep ; the second is an alternation
between sleeping and waking ; the third
is an eternal waking.

In the first stage man lives alone in
darkness ; in the second he Uves with
companions, near and among others,
but detached and in a light which pic-
tures for him the exterior ; in the third
his life is merged with that of other souls
into the higher life of the Supreme


Spirit, and he discerns the reahty of
ultimate things.

In the first stage the body is devel-
oped from the germ and evolves its
equipment for the second ; in the
second the spirit unfolds from its seed-
bud and realizes its powers for the third ;
in the third is developed the divine
spark which lies in every human soul,
and which, already here through per-
ception, faith, feeling, the intuition of
Genius, demonstrates the world beyond
man — to the soul in the third stage as
clear as day, though to us obscure.

The passing from the first to the
second stage is called birth ; the transi-
tion from the second to the third is
called death.

The way upon which we pass from
the second to the third stage is not



darker than that by which we reach the
second from the first. The one leads to
the outer, the other to the inner aspect
of the world.

But as the child in the first stage is
still blind and deaf to all the glory and
joy of the life of the second, and his
birth from the warm body of his mother
is hard and painful, with a moment when
the dissolution of his earlier existence
feels hke death, before the awakening
to the new environment without has
occurred, — so we in our present exist-
ence, in which our whole consciousness
lies bound in our contracted body, as
yet know nothing of the splendor and
harmony, the radiance and freedom of
the third stage, and easily hold the
dark and narrow way which leads us
into it as a blind pitfall which has no


outlet. But death is only a second
birth into a freer existence, in which
the spirit breaks through its slender
covering and abandons inaction and
sloth, as the child does in its first

Then all, which with our present
senses only reaches us as exterior and,
as it were, from afar, we become pene-
trated with and possessed of in all its
depth of reality. The spirit will no
longer wander over mountain and field,
or be surrounded by the delights of
spring, only to mourn that it all seems
exterior to him ; but, transcending
earthly limitations, he will feel new
strength and joy in growing. He will
no longer struggle by persuasive words
to produce a thought in others, but in
the immediate influence of souls upon


each other, no longer separated by the
body, but united spiritually, he will ex-
perience the joy of creative thought ;
he will not outwardly appear to the
loved ones left behind, but will dwell
in their inmost souls, and think and
act in and through them.


THE unborn child has merely
a corporeal frame, a forming
principle. The creation and
development of its limbs by which it
reaches full growth are its own acts.
It has not yet the feeling that these
parts are its possession, for it needs
them not and cannot use them. A
fine eye, a beautiful mouth, are to him
only objects to be secured uncon-
sciously, so that they may sometime
become serviceable parts of himself.
They are made for a subsequent world
of which the child as yet knows noth-
ing: it fashions them by virtue of an
impulse, blind to him, which is clearly


r T • I

established alone in the organization of
the mother.^ But when the child, ripe
for the second stage of life, slips away
from the organ representing the provi-

^ It may thus be more clearly stated to the
physiologist : The creative principle of the child
lies, before birth^ not in that which after birth
will continue to live on with him, which indeed
now is only dependence, the product, but in that
which at birth will remain behind and be cast off,
like the body of man in death (placenta cum puni-
culo umbilicalif velamentis ovi eorumque liquoribus) :
out of its activity emerges, as its continuation, the
young human being.

[In the embryonic period it seemed to the
child that the placenta was its body, and it was
actually its special embryonic body, useless in an-
other stage, and rejected as refuse at the moment
of birth. Our body in human life is like a second
envelope which is useless to the third life, and for
this reason we reject it at the moment of our
second birth. Human life as compared with the
celestial is truly embryonic. Euphas Levi.]

The translator.


sion for his former needs, it leaves it
behind, and suddenly sees itself an in-
dependent union of all its created parts.
This eye, ear, and mouth now belong to
him ; and even if acquired only through
an obscure inborn sense, he is learning
to know their precious uses. The world
of light, color, tone, perfume, taste,
and feeling is only now revealed as the
arena in which the functions acquired
to that end are to operate for him, if he
makes them serviceable and strong.

The relation of the first stage to the
second recurs in a higher degree in the
relations of the second to the third.
Our whole action and will in this world
is exactly calculated to procure for us
an organism, which, in the next world,
we shall perceive and use as our Self.
All spiritual influences, all results of


the manifestations which in the Ufe-
time of a man go forth from him, to be
interwoven with humanity and nature,
are already united by a secret and in-
visible bond ; they are the spiritual
limbs of the man, which he exercises
during life while still bound to a spirit-
ual body, to an organism full of unsat-
isfied, upreaching powers and activities,
the consciousness of which still lies out-
side him, though inseparably interwoven
with his present existence, yet, only in
abandoning this, can he recognize it as
his own.

But in the moment of death, when
the man is separated from the organ
upon which his acquisitive efforts were
bent here, he suddenly receives the con-
sciousness of all, which as a result of
his earlier exterior life in the world


of ideas, powers, and activities, still sur-
vives, prevails, flowing out as from a
well-spring, while still bearing also
within himself his organic unity.

This, however, now becomes living,
conscious, independent, and, according
to his destiny, controls mankind and
nature with his own completed individual

Whatever any one has contributed
during his life, of creation, formation,
or preservation, to the sum of human
idealism, is his immortal part, which,
in the third stage, will continue to
operate even if the body, to which, in
the second, this working power was
bound, were long since destroyed. What
millions who have died have acquired,
performed, and thought, has not died
with them — ^norvdll it be undone by



what the next millions shall have ac-
quired, performed, and thought, but con-
tinues its power, unfolds itself in them
spontaneously, impels them towards a
great goal which they do not themselves

This ideal survival seems indeed to
us only an abstraction, and the continued
influence of the soul of the dead in the
living but an empty fancy.

But it only appears so to us because
we have no power to perceive in them
spirits in the third stage, to comprehend
a predestined and permanent existence ;
we can only recognize the connecting
link of their existence with ours, the
portion of increase within us, appearing
under the form of those ideas whieh
have been transmitted from them to
us. Although the undulating circle


which a sinking stone leaves behind it
in the water creates, by its contact, a
new circle around every rock which still
projects above the surface, it still retains
in itself a connected circumference which
stirs and carries all within its reach ; but
the rocks are only aware of the break-
ing of the perfect line. We are just
such ignorant objects, only that we, un-
like fixed rocks, while even still in life,
shed about us a continuous flow of
influence which extends itself not only
around others but within them.

Already, in fact, during his lifetime,
every man with his influence grows into
others through word, example, writing,
and deed. While Goethe lived, con-
temporary millions bore within them
sparks from his soul, and were thereby
newly kindled. In Napoleon's life nearly



the whole period was penetrated by the
force of his spirit. With their death
these tributary sources of hfe did not
also die ; only the motive power of a
new earth-born channel expired, and the
growth and manifestation of this, ema-
'nating from an individual, and in their
totality again forming an individual,
production now takes place with a
similar indwelling consciousness, incom-
prehensible indeed to us, as was its
first inception. A Goethe, a Schiller,
a Napoleon, a Luther, still live among
us, thinking and acting in us, as awak-
ened creative individuals, more highly
developed than at their death — each no
longer restrained by the limitations of the
body, but poured forth upon the world
which in their lifetime they moulded,
gladdened, swayed, and in their per-


1 3 4 5

Online LibraryGustav Theodor FechnerThe little book of life after death → online text (page 1 of 5)