E. E. (Edmund Edward) Fournier d'Albe.

New light on immortality online

. (page 8 of 20)
Online LibraryE. E. (Edmund Edward) Fournier d'AlbeNew light on immortality → online text (page 8 of 20)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

For practical life it will be useful to know more
about the possibilities of temporary separation of
soul and body, possibilities which largely partake
of the nature of physical and physiological problems.
The study of these possibilities will annex to science
most of the realms hitherto refjarded as " occult,"
and will enable us to deal with ghosts, apparitions,
hauntings, and doubles much as we do now with
meteorites or comets or iceberg.s, while it will throw
the searchlight of accurate investigation over the
path which we all one day iiuist trrnd nn om- way
into the unseen world.




Birth and death are the boundary stones of earth-life.
ImmortaUty presents itself in two different aspects
in connection Avith these two events. In considering:
birth, we are faced by tlie problem of pre-existence,
just as after death comes the problem of continued

In the process of birth Ave have to account for
the appearance in the world of a new individual.
The progress from birth to death is irreversible.
Yet there is no logical necessity for its being so.

Consider the alternatives ; and suppose that a
portion or the whole of a human life process Avcro
reversible. If that portion Avere one-half of it, Ave
should have a normal development from birth up
to the age of thirty or forty, and then a gradual
reversal, a diminution of bulk and strength, a gener-
alisation instead of a specialisation of functions, more
cell-fusion than cell-division, more elimination tlmn
acqui.sition, and a final dAvindling of the organism
to an invisibly small germ-cell, which in turn

1 1 6 BIRTH

might fuse with other cells and finally become

A reversal of the whole life-process is more
dillicult to conceive. A fully formed but greatly
ossified human body would have to become
suddenly animated by a human intelligence,
would have to gain in strength, suppleness, and
soundness, to arrive at full vigour, and then
dwindle to youth and infancy as already indicated.

Such pure reversals are unknown. Ikit that
there is a reversal in the tendency towards ex-
pansion admits of little doubt. The " second
childhood " of old age looks like a reversal of
some process associated with birth. It is as if,
instead of expanding its realm and accreting new
material, the soul retired from the world and
gradually reduced its sphere of action and in-
fluence. The loss of stature and weight which
usually accompanies old age is an eloquent indi-
cation of the general tendency towards retrench-
ment, a tendency which, but for the stability of
the more permanent tissues, would no doubt go
nnich farther than it does.

In the course of his " threescore years and ten "
man builds him a house, many materials of which
arc permanent, and designed to be so in order to
enable him to take a certain set of conditions as a
firm and changeless base of operations. When the
possibilities of development under those conditions


are exhausted, when the novelty has worn o\Y, the
organism is not demolished as carefully as it was
built u]). It is laid aside, like a garment outworn.
The demolishing work is left to "nature's scavengers,"
the bacteria of putrefaction.

Although there is this rapdissemcnt, this re-
trenchment toAvards both the boundaries of life,
there are in other ways most signiticant differences.
Death is not associated with the living in the way
that birth is. Death is a solitary act, while birth
is most intimately bound up with the maternal
organism. The generalisation Oninc vivum e vivo
holds good, as far as we know, for the entire
organic world. No individual is born into this
world without the vital co-operation of at least
one living individual, and in most cases two.

In its simplest form, the problem of birth appears
to us in the process of unicellular cell-division, and
here again the simplest conditions are found in
the flaijollatcs, such as Tdramitu.s. a little animal
consisting of a single cell provided with four hair-
like tentacles which enable it to propel itself through
water. It resembles a bag of jelly, with a darker
central sphere, apparently without structure, and
granules of chromatin scattered irregularly about
it. When division approaches, the sphere becomes
lengthened out, a constriction appears about the
middle, which becomes more pronounced and finally
leads to cleavage. At the same time, the granules


collect about the bpliurc and divide themselves into
tAvo groups, each group attaching itself to one of
the cloven spheres. These move apart in the
substance of the cell, and the whole bag of jelly
repeats the cleavage. The hair-like fiagelke do
the same, so that they become eight in number,
and when finally " the painter is cut " we have two
individuals where before avc had only one.

This is " birth " in its simplest form. But if wo
can account fully for tliis, the chief difficulties of
the problem are solved. It would only remain to
deal with the problem of conjugation, or the union
of two dirterent individuals which as a rule precedes
the production of new ones. Of this, Wilson says ^ :
'' The conjugation of unicellular organisms possesses
a peculiar interest, since it is undoubtedly a proto-
type of the union of germ-cells in the multicellular
forms. Blitschli and Minot Ion*; a^o maintained
that cell-divisions tend to run in cycles, each of
which begins and ends with an act of conjuga-
tion. In the higher forms, the cells produced in
each cycle cohere to form the multicellular body ;
in the unicellular forms the cells separate as distinct
individuals, but those belonging to one cycle are
collectively comparable with the multicellular body.
The validity of this comparison, in a morphological
sense, is generally admitted. No process of conju-
gation, it is true, is known to occur in many uui-

> "The Cell." \u 222.


cellular and in some multicellular forms, and the
cyclical character of cell-division still remains sch
jiulkc. It is none the less certain that a key to the
fertilisation of hicrher forms must be sou<dit in the

o o

conjugation of unicellular organisms. The difficul-
ties of observation arc, however, so great that we
are as yet acquainted with only the outlines of the
process, and have still no very clear idea of its finer
details or its physiological meaning. The pheno-
mena have been most clearly followed in the infu-
soria by Biitschli, Engelmann, Maupas, and Richard
Hertwig, though many valuable observations on the
conjugation of unicellular plants have been made
by De Bary, Schmitz, Klebahn, and Overton. All
these observers have reached the same general
result as that attained through study of the fertilisa-
tion of the Q^^ ; namely, that an essential pheno-
menon of conjugation is a union of the nuclei 0/ the
conjvgatiwj cells. Among the unicellular plants both
the cell-bodies and the nuclei completely fuse.
Among animals this may occur ; but in many of
the infusoria union of the cell-bodies is only
temporary, and the conjugation consists of a
mutual exchange and fusion of nuclei. . . . We
may first consider the conjugation of infusoria.
Maupas's beautiful observations have shown that
in this group the life-history of the species runs in
cycles, a long period of multiplication by cell-
division bemg succeeded by an ' epidemic of con-


jugatioii,' which inaugurates a new cycle, and is
obviously cunipurable in its physiological aspect
with the period of sexual maturity in the mctazoa.
If conjugation does not occur, the race rapidly
degenerates and dies out ; and Maupas believes
himself justified in the conclusion that conjugation
counteracts the tendency to senile degeneration and
causes rejuvenescence, as maintained by Blitschli
and Minot."

AVilson then goes on to describe the essential
phenomena occurring during conjugation. They
are extremely significant : —

" The infusoria possess two kinds of nuclei, a
large macronuchv.s and one or more small micro-
nuclei. During conjugation the macronucleus de-
generates and disappears, and the micronucleus
alone is concerned in the essential part of the
process. The latter divides several times, one of
the products, the (jcrm-nuckns, conjugating with a
corresponding germ-nucleus from the other indi-
vidual, while the others degenerate as ' corpuscules
do rebut.' The dual nucleus thus formed, which
corresponds to the cleavage-nucleus of the ovum,
then gives rise by division to both macronuclei
and micronuclei of the offspring of the conjugating

Here, then, wc liavc au epitome of the processes
l)y one or oilier of which all livmg bemgs increase
and multiply and people the earth.


Herbert Spencer propounded an ingenious theory
to account for the primal necessity of subdivision.
Food, he said, must be absorbed through the surface
of the cell. When the diameter of a cell is doubled,
its surface becomes four times as great as before,
but its volume becomes eight times as great. The
food-traffic will therefore bo twice as heavy as
before, and may unduly strain the consistency
of the surface. If the eight-fold volume were
subdivided into eight separate cells, the surface
per volume would be the same as before, and
the customary process of food-supply could be

This argument supposes, of course, that enlarge-
ment of volume is m itself an object towards which
the natural processes tend. In view of the govern-
ing activity of the nuclear matter it is more reason-
able to suppose that the multiplication of nuclei is
the governing tendency.

Each nucleus is a centre of life, the seat of sonjc
intelligent activity which we, being so far removed
from it in the scale of intelligence, can only diiidy
appreciate. This intelligence, we may well believe,
is fitted for dealing with certain kinds of influences
and impulses, provided by the medium in which it
lives. It can deal with them at a certain rate. If
the impulses become too rapid, life becomes too
" strenuous," and the working capacity of the
" central cxchani;e " is overstrained. An undue


increaso iu voluuic not only increases the points of
contact with tlic outer Avorld beyond a certain
limit. It also, and much more largely, increases
the amount of second-class matter to be superin-
tended. If, then, the food-supply becomes too
abundant, and growth too rapid, the nucleus divides,
and the line of cleavage, after beginnmg among the
innermost arcana of vitality, runs through the outer
courts of life, emerging into the visible day and
taking the remaining matter in the lump, much as
two heirs, after having carefully sorted and divided
the jewelry and family heirlooms, might lump the
remainmg property together and take their halves
at random.

Life and experience are thereby multiplied and
varied. But a danc^cr then arises, and has to be
• aiarded asrainst. It is that in the extreme varia-
tion of life thus produced there may be a deviation
from the best tradition, that inherited tradition of
customary processes which is the outcome of long
ages of ancestral experience. This danger is mini-
mised by the converse ])rocess of conjugation. In
this process, certain vital parts of each cell combine
together and give rise to now nuclei, and thus to
new individuals.

From the point of view advanced in this book, it
is evident that we have to deal with what, in short,
wo might stylo the division and combination of
souls. For, according to our view, all cells arc


living beings, which may or may not combine to
form beings of a higher order. And the most
essential, vital, directive parts of each coll con-
stitute its soul. This soul is withdrawn from the
cell when it '■ dies," and its subsequent fate is what
we have to determine, if we can.

Now the question arises : Can a soul split in two ?
And this is matched by the converse question : Can
two souls become merged into one ?

If, as Ave have all along assumed, all living things
are linked together through some superior centre
(or, in the last resort, through the universal centre),
if, in fact, all life is ultimately One, then there is
no difficulty in assuming any number and variety of
different combinations and dispersals of the ultimate
infinitesimal units of life. But we have really
nothing to do with those. We have in practice to
deal with very complex combinations of them, with
very highly organised and differentiated systems,
and must ask ourselves whether such duplication of
contents of consciousness as we actually observe is
dcducible from our general premises, or, at least,
not inconsistent with them.

Reverting to our diagram of an individual (Fig. 3,
p. 104), we need only suppose that the central lines of
each plastid bundle are capable of splitting along
their lengths, beginning at the " infinitesimal " end.
The result in a simple case is represented by Fig. 4,
where B and C are twu similar individuals formed



by simple fission. Conjugation would then be
represented by the converse process. The more
central lines would coalesce, and liberate the re-
mainder from their allegiance. The knot at A
would moan that there is a unifying principle which
tends to keep the species moving along the same
general lines of development. This unifying knot

Fjc;. 1.

at A also lirings about the 'epidemic of conjuga-
tion " periodically. In a multicelhdai' individual it
represents the soul, not of the coll or the species,
but of the whole organism. In the metazoa or
higher organisms generally, the process is more
complex. It is a process of fission, conjugation, and
a second fission. Briefly, it consists in this.


Specially equipped cells (called germ-cells) are
developed by each organism, whose fmiction it is to
hand on the inherited tradition. These gcrm-cclls
are of two kinds, male and female, and while in
most plants and in some of the lower animals both
kinds are developed in the same individual, in the
higher animals each kind is only developed by its
appropriate sex. Millions of these are constantly
produced, and only an insignificant proportion of
them ever fulfil their appropriate function. To do
this, it is necessary that a male gcrin-cell should
reach a female germ-cell, that their nuclei should
fuse, and give rise to a new nucleus capable of
cleavage. When this happens, a new individual of
the same species is gradually developed by the sub-
division and multiplication of the original cell and
the differentiation of the different groups of cells
into organs.

The process thus briefly sketched raises quite a
number of important questions. Have the germ-
cells, male or female, any souls ? And if so, of
what order ? What relation have these souls to
that of the individual ? What becomes of the souls
of the germ-cells when they die without fulfilling
their function ? What happens when tlicy do fulfil
their appropriate function ?

The simplest way of dealing with these ques-
tions will be to answer them, so to speak,
dogmatically, and then to proceed at leisure


to justify the answers given. These, then, are
the answers : —

All germ-cells, like other cells, have souls. Their
souls diftcr materially, but not fundamentally, from
other cells of the body, in two main particulars.
They are composed of infinitesimal monads derived
from the whole of the body, instead of being chiefly
associated with a single organ (they are, so to
speak, condensed extracts of the whole individual).
And, secondly, they are one-sided, asymmetrical, or
incomplete. They are incomplete structurally, as
shown by their possessing only half the usual num-
ber of chromosomes (see p. 72). They are, there-
fore, incapable of spontaneous division or of separate

When the germ-cells die, with their mission un-
fulfilled, their souls return to the organism whence
they came.

When two germ-cells meet and merge, their
souls are liberated from their parent organisms.
The " lines " which constitute them intertwine,
swing loose from the two parent groups, and form
a new knot on a level with the souls of the parent
individuals. At that moment, in a Hash of raplure,
a new soul is conceived and enters the workl in
which its two parents move.

This view brings out the essential similarity of
the process of reproduction in all forms of life. In
both protozoa and metazoa there is an alternation


of division and conjugation. The only difference is
that whereas in the protozoa fission or cell-division
implies an actual separation of the cells, in the
metazoa the divided cells continue in contact, and
support each other by a division of labour and by ^
mutual service.

This mutual service is the governing principle of
the life of the metazoon from its earliest stasres.
What exactly is the guiding principle of the de-
velopment of the embryonic being into its state of
maturity is the most profound problem of biology.
After reviewing the various theories hitherto pro-
pounded, Wilson says ^ : —

" The truth is that an explanation of development
is at present beyond our reach. The controversy be-
tween pre-formation and epigenesis has now arrived
at a stage where it has little meaning apart from
the general problem of physical causality. What we
know is that a specific kind of living substance, de-
rived from the parent, tends to run through a specific
cycle of changes during which it transforms itself into
a body like that of which it formed a part ; and we
are able to study with greater or less precision the
mechanism by which that transformation is effected
and the conditions under which it takes place. But
despite all our theories we no more know how the
organisation of the germ-cell involves the properties
of the adult body than we know how the properties
' "The Cell," p. 433.

1 2 8 BIRTH

of hydrogen and oxygen involve those of water.
So long as the chemist and physicist arc unable to
solve so simple a problem of physical causality as
this, the embryologist may well be content to re-
serve his judgment on a problem a hundred-fold
more complex."

Our view of the problem is that it is not a ques-
tion of " physical causality " at all, and that no
ph3''sical theory can, in the nature of things, ever
shed any light on the real problem of development.
The course of development is so evidently governed
by psychological rather than physical factors that
only the prevailing materialism of biology can
account for this not being acknowledged long ago.
We have all along boon driven to suppose that some
part of the memory of the individual is embodied in
every cell of the body, and wc may well assume
that such a crisis as the merging of two germ-cells
stimulates and exalts the memories of both, and
throws into strong relief all that they have in
common. This common ground will bo a closer
approach to the average memory of the species than
each memory would be when taken separately.
For lack of an insi<dit into the true cause of de-
velopmcnt, biologists have invented a word which,
at all events, embodies the unknown factor deter-
mining the idiosyncrasies of each species. The
word is "idioplasm," and it means "the sub.stance,
now generally identified with chromatin, which by


its inherent organisation involves the characteristics
of the species." ' In short, it is the cause which,
by some inherent cause, causes — the effect observed.
Wilson says : " —

" The second question, regarding the historical
origin of the idioplasm, brings us to the side of the
evolutionists. The idioplasm of every species has
been derived, as we must believe, by the modifica-
tion of a pre-existing idioplasm through variation,
and the survival of the fittest. Whether these
variations first arise in the idioplasm of the germ-
cells, as Weismaun maintains, or whether they may
arise in the body-cells and then be reflected back
upon the idioplasm, is a question to which the study
of the cell has thus far given no certain answer.
Whatever position we take on this question, the
same difficulty is encountered ; namely, the origin of
that co-ordinated _^^7itfss, that power of active adjust-
ment between internal and external relations, which,
as so many eminent biological thinkers have in-
sisted, overshadows every manifestation of life. The
nature and origin of this power is the fundamental
problem of biology. When, after removing the lens
of the eye in the larval salamander, we see it restored
in perfect and typical form by regeneration from
the posterior layer of the iris, we behold an adap-
tive response to changed conditions of which the
organism can have had no antecedent experience

' Wilson's Glossary in " The Cell." ■* Ibid., p. 4.S3.


130 BTirni

either ontogenetic or pbylogenelic, and one of so
marvellous a character that we are made to realise,
as by a flash of light, how far we still ;iro from a
solution of this problem."

Without attempting or pretending to give a com-
plete solution of this difficult probleni, we may point
out that there is nothing inconceivable in a pro-
found stirring of ancestral infra-world memories at
the union of two germ-cells. As at the moment of
death, so at the moment of conception, there is an
exaltation of memory which surveys, with lightning
rajiidity, a vast course of previous evolution. That
memory becomes a directive influence, pointing out
the future path, which must be parallel with the
path already trodden. And so the incipient being
rehearses during its early existence the stages
through which the species passed in the course of
its age-long evolution, and that remarkable corre-
spondence between ontogenetic and phylogenetic
development arises, that agreement between the
life-history of the individual and that of tlie
species, which Haeckel has done so nnicli to make
known, and from which he has drnwn so many
unwarranted conclusions.



Are we prepared for a rational theory of the life
after death ?

The question seems a strange one. Is not this
rational theory what the world has been striving
for ages to attain to ? Does not this question of
the after-life confront us whenever we think a few
years or scores of years l)eyond our present life ?
Is not the truth the best, the greatest, the most
welcome ?

What is the actual present-day attitude on the
question ? Let us examine it dispassionately, with
sole regard for accuracy and impartiality.

In Europe and America we have two main
attitudes, the (more or less orthodox) Christian
attitude and the Materialistic attitude. The former
controls most of those who are emotional rather
than intellectual; the latter controls the quasi-
intellectual classes and a considerable ]n'oportion
of the highly cultured.

The Christian attitude towards immortalit}- is
difficult to state .succinctly. It depends partly

upon the form of Christianity professed, and partly



upon personal disposition and the " private judg-

Broadly speaking, there is an assurance of personal
survival, largely centred about the personality of the
Founder of Christianity and based upon His re-
surrection after crucifixion. There is a general
belief in a moral retribution, wliicli in many cases
takes the form of places of bliss and of punishment,
as well as an intermediate place of purification. A
final resurrection of all flesh and Judgment Day
are also looked forward to, and in the more extreme
forms we have the doctrines of eternal liliss and
eternal punishment.

Details of the life immediately following death
are of the vaguest. In fact, the prevailing tendency
is to avoid them carefully, to screen them from the
play of reason, to veil them from the prying in-
tellect, so as to avoid a conflict between the heart
and the understanding, between faith and reason.
The next world is peopled with angels and devils,
among Avhom the duj)arted soul finds it hard to hold
its own, and cannot hope to do so unfortified by a
fervent belief in the truths revealed by religion and
the record of a good life on earth.

To all this the materialistic attitude ofifers a blank
negation. It professes to point out all tlie impossi-
bilities and absurdities of the Christian attitude, and
shows that the possibility of a future life without
the brain is contradicted by every fact of nature.


It asserts the supreme right of the intellect to

1 2 3 4 5 6 8 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20

Online LibraryE. E. (Edmund Edward) Fournier d'AlbeNew light on immortality → online text (page 8 of 20)