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The Human Soul is Indestructible by Camille Flammarion 1906 (Flammarion 1842–1925 was a French astronomer and author.)
The universal and constant aspirations of all thinking human beings, the reverence and affectionate remembrance in which we hold the memory of our dead, the innate idea of a day of Judgment, the feelings inherent in our consciousness and in our intellect, the miserable incoherence between the destinies of men on earth compared with the mathematical order which regulates the universe, the bewildering impression we receive of the infinite and the eternal as we gaze into the starry heavens, and beneath all this our certainty of the permanent identity of our I (our individual existence) notwithstanding perpetual changes in our bodies and our brains— all conspire to create in us a conviction of the existence of the soul as an individual entity, which will survive the destruction of our corporeal organism, and which must be immortal.
However this may be, scientific demonstration of all this has not as yet been made, and physiologists teach us, on the contrary, that thought is a function of the brain, that without brain there is no thought, and that all dies when we die. In this there is disagreement between the ideal aspirations of human nature and what we call positive science.
On the other side we do not know, we cannot affirm anything but what we have learned, and we cannot know anything until we have learned it. Science alone makes steady progress in the history of mankind. It is science which has transformed the world, though we rarely render her the justice and gratitude that are her due. It is through her that we live intellectually, and even materially, at the present day. She alone can guide us and enlighten us.
Perhaps the most singular thing of all is that a free inquiry into truth seems disagreeable to everyone; for each brain has its little secrets, which it does not wish to have disturbed. If, for example, I say that the immortality of the soul, already demonstrated by philosophy, will be speedily proved by psychic sciences, more than one skeptic will smile at my assertion. New facts or new ideas bewilder and horrify them. They wish to see no changes in the steady march of events to which they are accustomed. The history of the progress of human knowledge is a dead-letter to them. The boldness of investigators, of inventors, of all who try to effect any kind of revolution, seems criminal to them. In their eyes the human race has always been what it is at the present moment. They overlook the stone age, the discovery of fire, the first construction of houses, the building of carts, carriages, and railroads—in short, all the difficulties that the intelligence of man has overcome, and all the discoveries of science.
Great men have apparently striven to trace out for science its "positive" way. They tell us we are only to admit what we can see, or touch, or what we have heard; we are to receive nothing except on the clear evidence of our own senses, and not to endeavor to know what is unknowable. For half a century these have been the rules which have regulated science in the world.
But see now. In analyzing the testimony of our senses we find that they can deceive us absolutely. We see the sun, the moon, the stars revolving, as it seems to us, round us. That is false. We feel that the earth is motionless. That is false, too. We see the sun rise above the horizon. It is beneath us. We touch what we think is a solid body. There is no such thing. We hear harmonious sounds; but the air has only brought us silently undulations that are silent themselves. We admire the effects of light, and the colors that bring vividly before our eyes the splendid scenes of nature; but in fact there is no light, there are no colors. It is the movement of colorless ether striking on our optic nerve which gives us the impression of light and color. We burn our foot in the fire; it is not the foot that pains us; it is in our brain only that the feeling of being burned resides. We speak of heat and cold; there is neither heat nor cold in the universe, only motion. Thus our senses mislead us as to the reality of objects around us. Sensation and reality are two different things.
We are told of five doors to human knowledge, sight, hearing, smell, touch, and taste. These five doors open for us but a little way to any knowledge of the world around us, especially the last three, smell, taste, and touch. The eye and ear can do a good deal, but it is light alone that really puts us in communication with the universe; and light is a sensation caused by a kind of excessively rapid vibration of the air.
All our human knowledge might be symbolically represented by a tiny island surrounded by a limitless ocean. There are still a vast number of things not yet explained, which belong to the domain of the unknown. [See Flammarion's book, The Unknown, Harper Bros.]
Positive observation proves the existence of a psychic world, as real as the world known to our physical senses. And now, because the soul acts at a distance by some power that belongs to it, are we authorized to conclude that it exists as something real, and that it is not the result of functions of that part of the body called the brain.
Of what is the human body composed? An average adult man weighs 140 lbs. Of this amount there are nearly 104 lbs. of water in the blood and flesh. Analyze the substance of our body, you find albumen, fibrine, caseine, and gelatine; that is, organic substances composed originally of the four essential gases, oxygen, nitrogen, hydrogen, and carbonic acid. You will also find gum, sugar, starch, etc., substances which are exhaled during respiration under the form of carbonic acid and water.
Water is a combination of two gases, oxygen and hydrogen; the air is a mixture of two gases, oxygen and nitrogen, to which is added, in lesser proportions, water in the form of vapor, which, however, is but condensed oxygen.
Thus our body is composed only of transformed gases.
In a few months (not in seven years, as was formerly thought) our body is entirely renewed. None of the flesh of our body existed three months ago; the shoulders, face, eyes, mouth, the arms, the hair —all of our organism is but a current of molecules, a ceaselessly renewed flame, a river which we may look upon all of our lives but never see the same water again. It is all nothing but assimilated gas, condensed and modified, and more than anything else, it is air. Our whole body is composed of invisible molecules which (when taken separately) do not touch each other, and which are continually renewed.
Finally, our table is spread; if we are vegetarians we absorb substances almost entirely drawn from the air. This peach is air and water; this pear, this grape, this nut are also made of air and water, a few gaseous elements drawn to them by the sap, by solar heat, by rain. Asparagus or salad, peas, beans or lettuce, all these live in the air and on the air—the very same gases, nitrogen, oxygen, hydrogen, carbon, etc.
If it is a question of meat, the difference is not great. This substance, apparently so different, is only transformed vegetable matter, which itself is but a grouping of molecules taken from the gases.
Thus, whatever may be our kind of nourishment, our body, kept repaired, developed by the absorption of molecules acquired by respiration and alimentation, is really but a current incessantly renewed by means of this assimilation,—directed, governed, and organized by the immaterial force which animates us. To this force we may assuredly give the name of soul. It groups the atoms which suit it, eliminates those which are useless to it, and, starting with an imperceptible speck, an indiscernible germ, ends by building up a perfect human body.
But this force is immaterial, invisible, intangible, imponderable, like the attraction which lulls the worlds in the universal melody; and the body, however material it may seem to us, is in itself only a harmonious grouping, formed by the attraction of this interior force.
From the origin of humanity down to within a century or two it has been believed that sensation was perceived at the very point where it was felt. A pain in the finger was considered as having its seat in the finger itself. Children and many people believe so still. Physiology has demonstrated that the impression is transmitted from the finger-tip to the brain by means of the nervous system. If the nerve is cut, the finger may be burned with impunity; the paralysis is complete. We have been able to determine the time taken by the impression in transmitting itself from any part of the body to the brain, and it is known that the rapidity of this transmission is about twenty-eight metres per second. Since then we have referred sensation to the brain. But we have stopped half way.
The brain is matter, like the finger, and by no means fixed and stable matter. It is essentially changing matter, rapidly variable, and forming no identity. A single lobe, a single cell, a single molecule which does not change, does not and could not exist in the whole mass of brain matter. A stoppage of motion, of circulation, or of transformation would be a death warrant. The brain subsists and feels only on condition of submitting, like all the rest of the body, to the incessant transformation of organic matter which constitutes the vital circuit.
So it cannot be that our personality, our identity, lies in a certain grouping of brain matter,—our individual me, our ego which acquires and preserves a personal scientific moral value, increasing with study; our ego which feels itself responsible for its acts performed a month, a year, ten, twenty, fifty years ago, during which the composition of the body, the molecular grouping, has been changed frequently.
Physiologists who affirm that the soul does not exist, are like their ancestors who affirmed that they felt pain in their finger or their foot. They are little less far from the truth, but they stop on the way when they stop at the brain, and make the human being consist only of brain impressions. This theory is all the less excusable because these same physiologists know perfectly well that personal sensation is always accompanied by a modification of substance.
In other words, the ego of the individual only continues when the identity of its matter ceases to continue. * * *
Here are the inductions which appear to me to be founded on the study of Nature, that is to say, by science:
The visible, tangible, ponderable, and constantly moving universe is composed of invisible, intangible, imponderable, and inert atoms.
These atoms are governed by force, to constitute bodies and to organize beings.
Force is essential entity (being).
Visibility, tangibility, solidity, and weight are relative properties, and not absolute realities.
The intangible, invisible atom, scarcely conceivable to our mind accustomed to superficial judgments, constitutes the only true matter; and what we call matter is but an effect produced on our senses by the motion of atoms,—that is to say, an incessant possibility of sensations.
The visible universe is composed of invisible bodies. What we see is made up of things which are not seen. Different bodies, iron, gold, oxygen, hydrogen, etc., are composed of the same primal atoms; their difference lies only in the number, grouping and motion of the atoms.
What we call "matter," vanishes when scientific analysis thinks to grasp it. But we find as the support of the universe and the origin of all form, Force,—the dynamic element.
The human being has for essential principle the soul. The body is visible and transitory.
Atoms are indestructible. The energy which moves atoms and governs the universe is indestructible. The human soul is indestructible.
The individuality of the soul is recent in the world's history. Our planet was nebula, then sun, after that chaos. No terrestrial human being was then in existence. Life began with the most rudimentary organism; it has progressed century by century to attain its present state, which is not the last. What we call the faculties of the soul,—intelligence, reason, conscience,—are modern. The mind has gradually freed itself from matter; as—if the comparison were not awkward—gas frees itself from coal, perfume from the flower, flame from fire. [See Expressions, by Minot J. Savage.]
Psychic force has been beginning to exert itself in the higher spheres of terrestrial humanity for the past thirty or forty centuries; its action is but in its dawn. Souls conscious of their individuality, or still unconscious of it, are by their very nature beyond the conditions of time and space. After the death of the body, as during life, they occupy no place; perhaps some of them go to dwell in other worlds. Those only who are freed from material bonds can be conscious of their extra-corporeal existence and immortality.
The earth is but a province of the eternal fatherland; it forms a part of heaven. Heaven is infinite; all worlds are a part of heaven.
The planetary and sidereal systems which constitute the universe are at different degrees of organization and advancement. The extent of their diversity is infinite; there are beings everywhere appropriate to their worlds.
All worlds are not lived upon. The present era is of no more importance than those which preceded or those which will follow it. Some worlds have been inhabited in the past, others will be in the future. Some day nothing will remain of the earth; even its ruins will have perished.
Terrestrial life is not the type of other lives. An unlimited diversity reigns in the universe. There are dwelling-places where the weight is intense, where light is unknown, where touch, smell, and hearing are the only senses, where, the optic nerve not being formed, all beings are blind. There are other dwelling-places where the beings are so light and so slight that they would be invisible to earthly eyes, where senses of exquisite delicacy reveal to privileged beings sensations forbidden to terrestrial humanity.
The space existing between the worlds distributed over the immense universe does not separate them from each other. They are all in perpetual communication, from the attraction which makes itself felt through all distance, and establishes an indissoluble link between worlds.
The universe forms a single unity.
The system of the physical world is the material basis, the habitat of the moral or spiritual world. Every thinking being bears within himself the consciousness, but uncertainty, of immortality. This is because we are the microscopic wheels of an unknown mechanism.
Man makes his own destiny. He rises or falls in accordance with his own works. But a primordial and absolute law governs creation,—the law of progress. Everything rises in the infinite.
In the ascension of souls, the moral qualities have no less value than the intellectual qualities.
Universal creation is an immense harmony, of which the earth is but an insignificant, rather uninteresting, and unfinished fragment.
The eternity of the soul would not be long enough to visit the infinite and learn all there is to know.
The soul's destiny is to free itself more and more from the material world, and to belong to the lofty Uranian life, whence it can look down upon matter and suffer no more. It then enters upon the spiritual life, eternally pure. The supreme aim of all beings is the perpetual approach to absolute perfection and divine happiness.