Time, Space and Consciousness
By E. A. Holmes
From The Theosophical Forum, December 1944, reprinted from Theosophical Nuggets, Vol. III, No. 3, Spring 1944.
Time and space are interlinked. Science recognises this in its conception of space-time continuum. The demonstrations of Einstein have familiarised modern thought with the hypothesis that this continuum is not of universally fixed measure, but has ratios peculiar to individual closed units of space. These ratios are mathematical equations as fundamental as the equilibrium implied in ratios of mass, velocity, and distance from the sun of any globe in the universe.
A Closed unit of space, a world if you like, or a human being, has its own space-time continuum. The life of a May-fly is but the wink of an eye compared with the life of a tree, whilst our span of three score years and ten is insignificant even in the geological history of the earth.
That the May-fly does not necessarily consider its own existence to be short, or that the consciousness of a world, whatever degree this may be, is not experienced as a long drawn out affair, can be deduced from the general belief that Man himself, in the dreaming state of consciousness can review a lifetime of years in as many seconds, and when enwrapped in some concentrated interest, will lose all count of clock-measured passage of time. Yet on other occasions five minutes may seem like an eternity.
“Consciousness of a world” may seem like a meaningless phrase. But life can only manifest as consciousness, self-conscious or unself-conscious, and of higher or primitive degree. Modern research into radioactivity has weakened the conception of “dead matter.” The dividing line between organic and inorganic chemistry is receding and prominent scientists, such as Professor Wood Jones of Manchester University, came near to accepting a conception of one life pervading all things [a concept embraced by the late David Bohm, among many other scientists in the latter 2oth and early 21st centuries]. Time is obviously a manufactured affair. We create Time from out our own consciousness.
“…I see that each moment is mine, and that, when gone, it is passed and merged into the sum of my being.” – W. Q. Judge, Letters That Have Helped Me.
At this moment my consciousness is of such a degree – maybe that of hunger, repletion, cold or warmth, anger, contentment, love, hatred, stealth, simplicity, spiritual or bestial, active or indifferent.
The moment is passed, and that consciousness is a part of me – a part of physical space, nothing less. Do we not see a man’s character in his face? Conflicting elements may make the reading well-nigh impossible, but the elements are there.
Space, physical space, is born from the womb of Consciousness. It crystallizes to the pulse beat of Time, just as the human pulse propels the physical life-force, the consciousness of the moment, to the cells of the body, and so builds them up with its impress.
Human blood-transfusion is not a mere surgical operation. Chemical-surgical categories these are in the science, but there are other psychological factors involved.
Yet Life is not a pure Idealism. We touch “solid” articles around us, and are subject to inescapable and mechanistic laws of day and night, decay, and dissolution.
Obviously, again, we are conditioned by space-time systems greater and lesser than our own individual consciousness, just as the life of our May-fly may be further curtailed by a passing swallow.
However much we may dream our dreams, and compress a lifetime into a minute, physically we belong to a system which knows twenty four of our hours as one cycle, and we are composed of bodily cells whose consciousnesses entail complete coming into being and replacement in the stream of bodily wear and tear, every seven years or so, and whose vitality is eventually lost in death.
Consciousness and Mind
The question arises from the foregoing that if a human being, as a closed unit in space, has his own space-time continuum or consciousness, why should this conception vanish in sleep, or unconsciousness, since the closed unit, as a form, still exists?
Consideration of this point brings an interesting conviction. The normal time-space consciousness of an individual cannot be inherent in the body itself, since sleep, or anaesthetic, can separate it from the otherwise unimpaired form. Moreover, the body continues the tenor of its growth or decay, more or less independently of the thought velocity of the mind; not entirely so, of course. There are repercussions through the nerves, blood stream, and glandular functions. Yet in the physical cycles an average progression obtains.
It seems implied that within or without the physical body, but totally identified with its waking hours, is some other “closed space,” or “closed spaces,” whose continuum is that of the Mind.
Mind is a complex phenomenon and functions on many grades of consciousness. It may be concerned at one moment with bodily desires, and even totally associate itself with physical consciousness. Hunger and thirst, the first expressions of bodily life, can be an obsession of the mind itself.
In the extreme case where contact with any higher vehicle of the mind does not exist, the time-space continuum of such an entity – its Ego – must disintegrate on dissolution of the form, that is, on the death of the body.
There is a difference between a hungry man and an epicure, and this difference implies another stratum of consciousness in which the mind can operate. It is the realm of the senses. There is nothing wrong in healthy hunger. There is nothing wrong in good taste. The mind only immolates itself, when it reduces its time-space consciousness to that of the physical form, or the world of senses.
Another aspect of this world of sensation is its association with Idea. “Association of Idea” is a familiar term in modern psychology. It is said to represent the “mind” in the lower animals. Give a horse a lump of sugar and you will be identified with the thought of sugar by that horse. It will show “intelligence” on the next meeting by singling you out for more sugar. This, if you like, is instinct, though there is more in this faculty than mere association of idea. One needs to admit reincarnation to explain why a domesticated dog will turn about on the spot on its mat where it intends to lie, before actually squatting.
To man, the world of sense is the world of phantasy – the “Venus burg.” For the mind to abandon itself to it, without transmuting Idea into Ideal, is to lie behind the thin barrier which separates lunacy from genius.
Dame Ethel Smyth, in an article recalling her impressions of Brahms, the composer, remarks that his culinary appetite was typical of a musician. Yet his music soars above the common sensations.
Mozart’s “Don Juan” depicts not a sensual libertine, but a pilgrimage after abstract beauty in the land of the senses – a quest which fails.
This world surely has a time-space continuum of its own, and is entitled to its own “closed space.”
There is a restlessness in the human character, a will to do, to be up and about. All but the most supine have it in some degree. It is the urge behind the going forth of the “prodigal son.” It is the will to live of the “Wandering Jew.” Action is its end in itself. The energy may be diverted for good or for bad. It is a power potential, and, on occasion, may fully occupy the mind to the exclusion of aim or interest. What but action is the greatest anodyne to sorrow? Carlyle’s professor in Sartor Resartus, found solace, and the only real road to knowledge, in action. And is not this blind activity a state of consciousness? Then it must have a space-time continuum.
So far we have found three states of consciousness in which the mind may operate: consciousness of bodily necessities, consciousness of the senses, and the world of idea, and consciousness of a vital urge to action.
There is a difference between using the senses, any or all of the five, and developing passion and desire though them. Desire, again, be it for things good or bad, has a consciousness of its own. It can be a consuming passion totally eclipsing all other considerations. We must grant its province a time-space continuum of its own.
It may be held, as we consider these successive states, that there is a quickening of the time element of the continuum, and an expansion in the space element. Consciousness has expanded as we have progressed from thinking solely of dinner. Whilst hunger is a long drawn out affair compared with a fit of anger, both experiences may count the same number of ticks of the clock.
So far, none of these degrees of consciousness could be called “noble,” though the last three, at least, have been instrumental in evolving mankind from a mere “converter of good food into indifferent manure.”
Expand the consciousness out of the enmeshing sphere of passion, and we can come into the realm of Reason.
In order to discover the elementary degrees of our subject, we must limit this conception of a reasoning faculty to the sphere of cold impersonal logic, to materialistic science, and non-metaphysical mathematics. It is in the time-space consciousness of this order that materialistic or “nineteenth century” thought originates. Its dictums, learned, and perhaps useful in their pragmatic way, behoves one to keep at least one foot on the ground, unless one can swim, are liable to betray a “chattering brain mind.”
Concentration on mathematics, abstract philosophy, and the pure sciences absorbs the mind and speeds the clock faster even than anger and the passions, whilst an outlook in these realms is certainly broader than anything previous,
Modern science has, however, transcended the materialistic standpoint and is becoming more and more abstract. Again, it is significant that men of science are becoming aware that they cannot dissociate their experiments and discoveries from their effect on humanity and the world at large.
The human element, human relationships, can be ignored up to a certain point. Science can pour new discoveries into the market, can revolutionise social foundations with impersonal developments, but unless it uses its knowledge with discrimination, considers the world peopled with men and women and not mere individuals; in short, unless science develops and inculcates wisdom, the pessimistic outlook of H. G. Wells and his Fate of Homo Sapiens may be justified.
Mere logic implies that the course which is most beneficial to the individual should be followed by that individual, and self-seeking seems justified by the dictates of cold reason.
In actual fact, such a policy, as exemplified in the “laissez-faire” school of economics, and in national isolationism, has proved disastrous.
One might assert that the policy of obtaining individual felicity by actually planning according to the interests of the whole community is but an extension of logical reasoning. So be it; but common sense cannot be obtained by academic study alone.
There is another conception involved in the consideration of good neighbourliness, and this conception is altruism.
Altruism, fraternalism, brotherhood, exist as a consciousness of an ideal. In this stratum of time-space continuum, time is becoming of no account, and the horizon of existence becomes vast. A great artist, musician, poet-altruist, or sage, seeking the Good, the True and the Beautiful, has his consciousness near eternity, though his mortal frame be corrupting at mortal pace.
There is apparently one more recorded degree of consciousness, evidence of which is only known in isolated examples. It is the ecstatic At-one-ness of St. Therese and others, and of the “Passion” of Christ. It has been known as a “great moment” by great men. You will find even pragmatic H. G. Wells making reference to it in one of the essays in his book, The Open Conspiracy.
Evolution of the Mind
How can we identify this gamut of states of consciousness with the bundle of flesh, bones, and bile we carry about with us, or that carry “us” about? Obviously, since they are contained within this form of ours, or accompany it, we should find some clue to them in it.
We speak of “brain mind” and “heart’s love.” Is the brain really a reasoning machine, or the heart a secreter of matter whose consciousness is that of altruism? We know that anger or passion causes or is caused by the activity of some gland which injects its fluid into the blood stream, and so “gets one’s back up.” Will physiologists eventually trace still further examples of physical centres of consciousness?
Theosophy, the modern re-statement of an archaic wisdom, says yes; and not only this, but affirms that each such centre was formed by its own consciousness. The organ, gland, or centre, is an actual embodiment, an incarnation, of the Monad of that consciousness, just as man himself, the Thinker, is an incarnation of the Manasaputra, the “Son of Mind,” a “Prometheus” chained to the rock of matter, a Christ crucified on the cross of the flesh.
Each organ has its time-space consciousness, and the evolution of man is the evolution through the time-space conceptions of its own organs.
Evolution, according to Theosophy, involves first an involution of the Spirit, or Consciousness, if you like, into matter; the crystallizing out of cosmic nebula or the forming of a human embryo, is such a process; and the subsequent evolution of that matter, or of the child-man, to bring out all its latent characteristics or faculties.
If we knew the exact sequence of appearance of the organs and glands in the embryo, we could envisage the involution of the consciousness involved in their formation, and also, perhaps, be able to foretell the basic character of the unborn child by the good or malformation of those centres which will act as instruments of certain states of mind, just as the phrenologist offers to read one’s character in one’s “bumps.” Of course, one must remember that character is self-made, as well as inherent, and, in point of fact, man goes to the grave before the whole of his potential faculties have been developed.
Physiologists affirm that the first organ to function in the embryo is the heart. The brain centre must then materialise, since some nervous organisation is necessary for the flow of the circulation to be controlled. We know that the head of a child is comparatively well-developed at birth.
In order that nourishment may be absorbed, the stomach as an organ must come early in the scheme of development.
It will be found that organs of a higher order of consciousness form in advance of the lower centres, as consciousness is stepped down from higher reaches.
Trace the growth of a child after birth, and you will trace the growth of its time-consciousness, or evolution of the mind:
First: A bundle of humanity sucking its thumb, conscious only of hunger and thirst.
Second: Awakening consciousness of the dream-like fantasia around it. This “fairyland,” becoming more and more anthropomorphic and condensed as we grow, remains with us as a symbol of the world of Idea. The poet wanders though it seeking the Ariadne’s thread. The musician finds therein his warmth and colour. It is implied in the works of the impressionist painters.
Third: Action or display of vitality. A healthy child is either asleep or violently awake, seldom pausing in the delights of play.
Fourth: Childish spirit akin almost to the animal in possessiveness, and lack of feeling. Here begins the importance of education and training.
Fifth: The infinitude of Time is now becoming stepped down, the succession of words, progression of figures can be cognized, Evolution is now slower, and time passes quicker. The rest of a lifetime may be spent within this time-consciousness of cold reason. The majority of civilised men can and do go beyond it.
It is given to genius and great souls, however, to wander at will in the next field of quickening Time and expanding Space.
Sixth: This is the realm of consciousness such as of the Christ, and of pure ethics and altruism. It is the land of the future which the great can envisage today. There, time cannot drag, though a “lifetime” in it is an earth’s era. The horizon is that seen from tall mountains. The Vision is Sublime.
There is a Seventh Consciousness, but we cannot conceive its Nature. It is “beyond the range and reach of thought.”
And no doubt, since there are no bounds to infinity, there are states beyond the Seventh.
To us this Seventh must represent the Unifier, the One, into which all things can be resolved. It is the Universal Solvent. It is Space to our uttermost. It is Time as a unit. It is Consciousness per se.