by Douglas Harding
This book was begun several years ago. It arose out of a public crisis and a private need - a need to take stock while there was still time, a need to find out just how much and how little I really knew about myself and the universe in which I had somehow occurred. It seemed a pity to die before I had had time to be surprised at being alive, or actively curious as to what man amounted to - if, indeed, he amounted to anything. Though the present book has grown far beyond my first attempts to meet such a situation, still it remains an effort to answer the question: what am I? "Whatever the human mystery may be I am it."
What is man? This is the riddle which everyone, while accepting all the outside help he can get and use, must solve after his own fashion. My solution (if it can be called that) will not in its entirety do for anybody else, and it is offered here more as an incentive than as a guide. In any case I have no complete, self-consistent, well-rounded system, but only the sketch-plan of a philosophy. The nature of man is a baffling and inexhaustible topic, about which I do not wish to dogmatize. While I can say with Thoreau, "I should not talk so much about myself if there were anybody else whom I knew as well", I have to admit that I am increasingly a stranger to myself. Of the two kinds of man - those who refuse to take the advice know thyself, and those who imagine they have done so - the second is perhaps the less wise. Knowledge that is not counterbalanced with knowledge of ignorance is mere dead weight.
This is a philosophical book, but to prevent misunderstanding I must explain at once that the term philosophy as I use it bears a meaning which is not always accepted nowadays. Firstly, I avoid as far as possible the metaphysics which, remote from the concrete details of nature, loses itself in a fog of words. Philosophy has been defined as the sum of scientific knowledge, or an attempt to unify the sciences. My intention is not so ambitious, but I do wish to suggest lines along which the chief results of the separate sciences may one day coalesce into a Science. Secondly, this book is a practical enterprise. Many philosophers, and amongst them the greatest, have held that philosophy is much more than thinking about the important things: it demands and includes appropriate ways of behaving. I shall have a good deal to say on this subject. Thirdly, this book is speculative - I hope boldly so. Though in the main I agree with Samuel Alexander that "true or concrete thought is tied down to nature", I dare not claim that all my balloons are captive ones. Some of them sail off into the blue. But is not the view from above, the widest possible perspective, just what we require if we are to find ourselves in the universe? At present we do not know where we are, though it is clear that we are not at home. Philosophy has failed us. There is a trenchant passage in Kierkegaard's Journals where he says that "In relation to their systems most systematizers are like a man who builds an enormous castle and lives in a shack close by." Our real need is neither castle nor shack, but a home in the universe - something between a hovel and an equally uninhabitable front parlour, something that is neither the sceptic's cosmic slum nor the tidy (but insubstantial and draughty) constructions of the arm-chair metaphysician. I believe we are desperate for lack of a world-picture in which our own lives fill a perceptible corner - a picture with enough richness of colour and generous detail to fire the imagination, with that conformity to science which any robust intellect demands, and with that clear portrayal of cosmic unity and purpose which alone will satisfy the heart. This book is the rough cartoon of such a picture.
Next as to the presentation. I know of no reason why serious books on philosophical subjects should not be as easy to read as the theme allows. Accordingly I have tried to write in terms that the educated and non-specialist will follow, and I have helped out the text with many diagrams, using these in what I believe amounts to a new way. Actually, no doubt, the book's intelligibility will depend more upon the reader's sympathies and antipathies than upon any other factor. Whether he is or is not a visualizer will also make a difference. To some, the graphic method is more hindrance than help - for the sake of such readers the text has been written so that (with a few insignificant exceptions) it can be read without reference to the diagrams; to others the diagrams may perhaps prove as helpful in the reading of the book as they were to me in the writing of it; to a few they will possibly suggest a new field of research. There is an appendix on the subject.
The reason for the dialogues - between my unreflecting or common-sense self ('C') and my philosophical self ('P') - which are scattered throughout these pages, is that thinking naturally falls into such a shape. Thought, as Plato observed, is a dialogue of the soul with herself. And in the course of this inward talk, C, though often worsted by P, is never worsted for good, but recovers again and again to play an indispensable part. Let me say here, once and for all, that no man, and least of all a philosopher, can afford to disown this hopelessly unphilosophical side of himself.
A hint about reading the book: I must warn readers against dipping in here and there. Sampling can only mislead, because the plan of the work is roughly dialectical. The findings of earlier chapters are modified later on, and later chapters need the backing of earlier ones if they are to be understood. The whole must be read. There will be many things to bring my readers to a standstill, but, like Spinoza, "I pray them to proceed gently with me and form no judgement concerning these things until they have read all."
Even so, there is a highly cultivated type of mind to whom much of what I have to say will remain meaningless. I know the value of the mentality that has no use for speculation, for it is to the intellectual ascetic, with his patient attention to detail, and his refusal to go more than an inch at a time beyond the evidence, that I owe many of the data on which are based the constructions which he condemns as, at best, premature. All I can suggest to him is that our attitudes are complementary, and that there is as deep and as practical a need for large-scale structures of thought as for their building materials. Let him allow me my function as I allow his. It is little use pointing out that I have failed in it. I know that already. Constructive proposals are wanted. As the Chinese sage remarks, "The man who criticizes others must have something as an alternative. To criticize without an alternative is like using fire to put out a fire."
There is another type of reader to whom much of what I have to say will be all to acceptable. I refer to the lazy-minded and intellectually undisciplined enthusiast, to the cult-monger who, unprepared for the long grind of working his way through stubborn facts towards the goal of his desire, tries to leap there at a single bound. But in fact quick advance leads nowhere, and nothing worth while is achieved without industry, patience, and humility. Let there be speculation about man and the universe (without it man is not himself) but let it be informed speculation, not idle. The warning of Heraclitus that "men that love wisdom must be acquainted with very many things indeed" is more to the point now than ever it was. Dr. F. Sherwood Taylor underestimates neither the size nor the urgency of the task when he writes: "the only hope for the world is the incorporation of the religious, philosophical, and scientific outlooks in a single comprehensive view, and I would say emphatically that this incorporation has not been accomplished and that its accomplishment is the most immediate and urgent of tasks for those who wish men well." We are due for a synthesis. The scientific jungle needs the taming hand of the thinker and the saint; on the other hand, philosophy can find in the luxuriant growth of modern science just the food she should have for further growth, while religion can find in it a much-needed purgative and tonic. Dr. Inge has told us that the task of the century is to spiritualize science: it is also, I would add, to intellectualize religion. In both tasks philosophy has a great opportunity and a great responsibility. The following pages are an attempt to discharge my own share of this responsibility.
Finally, let me emphasise the fact that I carry no stock of patent medicines or labour-saving devices. I can offer no easy way out or in, no short cut to bliss, no philosophy without tears, no brand-new gospel. All I can promise are some ancient teachings in modern dress - teachings that are difficult only because they are simple, and must be lived to be understood - together with some old recipes for hope and confidence. The merely new-fangled is as useless as the merely traditional. We must go forward to new ideas and back to old ones; we must get down to the facts of science and wake up to those of religion. Genuine progress is not one-way advance from the present into the future, but the symmetrical expansion of the present pastwards and futurewards, so that time is in some sense transcended. D.H. Lawrence is surely right when he says: "Every profound new movement makes a great swing also backwards to some older, half-forgotten way of consciousness."