The Star Thrower, by Loren Eiseley

Re: Starthrower, by Loren Eiseley

Postby admin » Mon May 02, 2016 2:51 am

Man Against the Universe


Man against the universe. But who is man and how is the universe to be defined? Sigmund Freud, in the modern era, remarked that man's mind has suffered from the impact of three significant events. The first took place when Nicolaus Copernicus, over four centuries ago, succeeded in demonstrating that the earth revolved around the sun, thus removing man from his privileged position at the center of the cosmos. The second blow which man's religious sensitivity sustained might well be dated to Darwin's demonstration in 1859 that man was only one part of nature's living web and was akin to, indeed was descended from, the animal life of the past. Finally, Freud himself, the great conquistador of psychology, created the third trauma by revealing the subterranean irrational qualities of the human mind.

The five-hundredth anniversary of Copernicus's birth was only recently celebrated. In the 1970S science has lengthened out the period in which man was a mere wandering proto-homonid on the African savanna. Thanks to the researches of Harlow Shapley, for fifty years we have known we are not even located at the heart of our own galaxy but like a sand grain are drifting on a remote arm of a spiral nebula which contains uncounted members. In truth, we can find no center. As far as the eye can reach, the objects of our attention are fleeing outward through billions of light-years.

Yet to say that man's self-examination began with the dawn of Copernican science would be to ignore that tremendous confrontation between Job and the voice from the whirlwind, in which the humbled Job is asked where he was when the foundations of the earth were laid. Furthermore, the ancient Orient had always viewed the world as illusory and envisioned the good life as primarily a way of hastening one's escape from the suffering wheel of existence. Thus man's sense of alienation, his feelings of inadequacy and trepidation before the natural world about him, long preceded the psychical disturbances that Freud regarded as induced by modern science. As Robin Collingwood pointed out some years ago, Anicius Boethius's Consolation of Philosophy, written in the sixth century A.D., had the distinction of being one of the most widely read books of the Middle Ages. For a thousand years every literate individual sought solace and comfort in the Consolation. It was never a proscribed book. Nevertheless it touches upon the infinitesimal space occupied by man in the scheme of things. Copernicus, on the other hand, had actually opened the possibility that human power extended into the celestial realms. In no mean sense he was a necessary forerunner of the space voyagers.

Yet any great scholar or artist is likely to find his conceptions denigrated in some quarters. To say that the entirety of mankind has been overwhelmed and psychologically traumatized beyond recall is to overestimate the achievements of any single intellectual. Today there exist millions of people who are totally encapsulated in another era and to whom Darwin and Darwin's ideas mean nothing. The accretion of ideas through the centuries does change the intellectual climate. Rarely, however, is the contemporary mass conscious of the innovator in its midst. This was particularly true before the rise of the news-disseminating media, but even today the content of much of science and philosophy is confined to learned circles and only rarely reaches a wider audience. As our probes into nature become more sophisticated, the greater becomes our reliance upon the specialist, while he, in turn, appeals to a minute audience of his peers.

The truth is that no man expounds upon great ideas to a single audience. He speaks, instead, to audiences, and these in turn will be receiving his message, like the far-traveling light from a star, sometimes centuries after he has delivered it. Man is not one public; he is many and the messages he receives are likely to become garbled in transmission. Again, the ideas of the most honest and well-intentioned scholar may be distorted, reoriented, or trimmed to fit the public needs of a given epoch. In addition, it could be argued that no great act of scientific synthesis is really fixed in the public mind until that public has been prepared to receive it through anticipatory glimpses.

Darwin, for example, had the way partly prepared for his ideas by the geological and paleontological efforts of the generation before him. The fact that geological time had been vastly extended had been recognized. Animal breeders were beginning to discern a lurking dynamism, a potential for change concealed in their domestic creations. In the 1840s Robert Chambers, an enterprising journalist and amateur geologist, had written a widely circulated popular book espousing, albeit anonymously, the evolutionary cause. Even the concept of natural selection, Darwin's major claim to originality, had been anticipated, in admittedly firefly glimpses, by several previous writers. Without detracting in the least from Darwin's massive and major achievement, one may observe that the literate public was in some measure ready to receive his views. In spite of some contemporary furor, the educated world accepted him within his lifetime.

By contrast, Gregor Mendel, as significant in his own way as Darwin, never received serious recognition in scientific circles and had been dead for thirty-five years before his discoveries in genetics were appreciated. He was ahead of his century and was what today might be called a laboratory geneticist carrying out seemingly unspectacular experiments upon pea plants in a kitchen garden. He was a monk burdened with the religious duties of his monastery. He had no romantic aura of wealth, no spectacular world voyage, no eminent scientific colleagues and defenders to heighten his prestige. Mendel's discoveries, though essential to the full understanding of the evolutionary mechanism, were of a sufficiently mathematical cast to belong to the biological studies of the twentieth century, not the nineteenth.

Though his work could be regarded as leading on to a far more sophisticated understanding of the miracle of life and its interrelatedness, Mendel went unnoticed by the public. No philosopher has tried to describe what Mendel's discoveries might have done to our world view, in the way either of shock or of renewed uplift. Such horizons of thought are implicit in his work and need not be equated with a more simplistic nineteenth-century Darwinism. The simple point is, however, that Mendel never had the kind of philosophical attention that would have attracted Freud. His thought lay outside the stream of public attention and he never would have gained Freud's interest as the purveyor of psychological shock.

Freud gauged his own impact upon society, but I wonder, with all due respect to his discoveries in the basement depths of the intellect, whether his claim to having destroyed man's faith in the godlike attributes of reason is justified, or whether he has expressed merely the happy ardor of the triumphant psychiatrist. For out of the depths of unreason, the murkiness of the subconscious, have come also some of the most poignant works of great art and literature. Even scientists have, on occasion, acknowledged indebtedness to that subterranean river. Freud did not in actuality destroy man's faith in mind. He merely added to its mystery by the realization that it could create besides flawed half-idiot phantasms, a more incredible beauty than could be conjured up in daylight. Before Freud was born, Ralph Waldo Emerson, a man of no inconsiderable literary gifts, had written: "I conceive a man as always spoken to from behind, and unable to turn his head and see the speaker." From those words emerges the voice of nineteenth-century romanticism. With Emerson and Darwin as opposed yet converging forces in nineteenth-century thought I shall now concern myself.


George Boas, one of our most eminent intellectual historians, remarked, some thirty years ago, that there are always at least two philosophies in a country: one based upon the way people live, and the other upon the results of meditation upon the universe. In the end, one is apt to contend against the other. A perfect example of this may be observed in the rise of those doctrines labeled by critics as romanticism. They reached a peculiar intensity in the early nineteenth century, chiefly as a revolt against the formalism and social restraint of the eighteenth century.

One can venture that one of the first principles to emerge from the romantic revolt was the assertion of the self against the universe -- the self, "dirty and amused" or titillated with midnight terrors but for all that having escaped forever out of the constraining formal gardens of custom into a wilder nature of crags and leaping torrents. Reason gave way for the moment to the long-restrained but impassioned reality of the heart. People wept over the new poetry, and the new poetry -- that of Byron, Shelley, Keats, Coleridge -- was full of picturesque revolutionaries and moon-haunted landscapes that would have seemed absurd to Lord Chesterfield and his contemporaries -- men who believed that gentlemen neither laughed nor wept, at least in public. So much was the nostalgic time-sense deepened that people of means began to replace their formal gardens with artificially constructed ruins in which to brood. The experience of nature became tinged with a belief in a higher awareness, as though in the observation of nature itself one saw into the mind of the Divinity. Something subjective, lingering behind one's casual impressions, was thus sensed in nature. An intensified empathy, a willingness to transcend the ordinary modes of thinking, became a part of the suddenly emancipated and magnified self.

This feeling for nature as a thought to be encompassed, a human ego sustained by a creative power greater than itself yet capable of assimilation by the individual, crossed the Atlantic and took on a peculiarly American tinge among Emerson and his followers, who became known as transcendentalists. The mystical aspect of this experience is described by Emerson early in his career. "Standing on bare ground," he says, "my head bathed by the blithe air and uplifted into infinite space, all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eyeball; I am nothing, I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or parcel of God."

If such remarks now seem a trifle grandiose it is because this first careless rapture, what we might call the utter intoxication with wild nature which descended upon the first romantics, has largely departed. These first innovators were dreamers, sleepwalkers upon mountain heights, who groped their way out of formal gardens to be hurried along through obscure lanes and falling leaves. One's destination mattered less than the sudden freedom from restraint.

In New England with its Puritan heritage it is not surprising that, instead of being engaged with the tale of the Ancient Mariner or the defiant acts of Byronic heroes, verse should remain spare and clipped, but that the granite hillsides should take on an unearthly light in the prose that flowered by Walden Pond. Emerson was the basic sustainer, teacher, and father of the American movement. He had traveled abroad, talked with Coleridge, visited Stonehenge with Carlyle. There he had remarked in a flash of insight that the huge broken slabs reminded him of some ancient egg out of which all the ecclesiastical structures and history of the British isles had proceeded. Unconsciously the great essayist's gift for words had forecast something of his own role in American thought. His utterance was destined to inspire the democratic embrace of Whitman, as well as the austerities of Thoreau.

Of all the Concord circle Emerson was perhaps the most widely read in science. He was familiar with Sir Charles Lyell's work in geology and was well aware that Christian chronology had become a mere "kitchen clock" compared with the vast time depths the earth sciences were beginning to reveal. "What terrible questions we are learning to ask," brooded the man sometimes accused of walking with his head in the clouds. He saw us as already divesting ourselves of the theism of our fathers.

No, it cannot be asserted that this romantic of the winds and stars did not comprehend true nature. Louis Agassiz, the exponent of the Ice Age, was his friend. Emerson could speak without reluctance of early man's chewed marrow bones, of pain and disillusion, of the exploration of dreams and their midnight revelations. Yet he remained deceptively aloof, and it is perhaps this quality which has led to much castigation and to assumptions that his puritanism could never tolerate a full evolutionary philosophy.

"I found," he once humorously remarked, "when I had finished my new lecture that it was a very good house, only the architect had unfortunately omitted the stairs." And so indeed Emerson had. For all that, however, the stairs, or the somewhat wispy and transparent ghost of them, exist. It is what he called the infinitude of the private man. But if the private man is to understand his infinitude he must be led to explore it, to clamber up any available ladder. This was Emerson's primary occupation and to it he brought not alone a truly prophetic glimpse of nature before Darwin, but also a remarkably clear perception of the fauna contained in man's own psyche.

To explain the intellectual relationship between such opposites as Darwin and Emerson is not easy. At first glance, though contemporaries in time, they appear poles apart in thought, even though both have derived much from the scientific discoveries of their elders. Darwin would never have compared himself to a transparent eyeball, neither would Emerson have ever used Darwin's words "on the clumsy ... blundering and horribly cruel works of Nature." Darwin was also willing to confess that nature was capable of telling "a direct lie," but in spite of his occasional protestations, weariness, and doubt I cannot quite visualize him confiding, as did Emerson, that his journals were full of disjointed dreams and all manner of rambling reveries and "audacities." "I delight in telling what I think," Emerson affirms in a letter, "but if you ask how I dare say so, or why it is so, I am the most helpless of mortal men." Here Emerson is the honest romantic admitting that the voice of the speaker he was never destined to see pre-empted his thoughts. Yet he knew his own gifts well, and the powers he had "by the help of some fine words" to make "every old wagon and woodpile oscillate a little and threaten to dance."

Darwin was capable of perceiving, from the presence of vestigial organs in living creatures, the fact that they were engaged on an invisible journey. Animals slipped through the interstices between one medium and another, dragging with them evolutionary traces of the past in the shape of functionless claws or rudimentary teeth. Nevertheless, no professional biologist should be unaware of Emerson's pronouncement that "there is a crack in everything God has made." Emerson is perfectly aware that the oak glades about Concord present, at best, peripheral vistas into a nature whose "interiors are terrific, full of hydras and crocodiles." In his journals there is a hidden melancholy not always to be found in his published essays.

The Romantic Movement has been studied in many aspects -- its effects on the social order, its effects upon philosophy, literature, music, and the graphic arts. I know of no adequate treatment of its impact upon the science of the nineteenth century and I shall not attempt one here. It should be recognized, however, that nature in the eyes of the early romantics was revelatory. History, the ruins of the past, partook of that revelation. So did the geological catastrophism of the early century. Men began to look behind self-evident nature, the fixed nature of the existing world, toward some mysterium not evident to the directly observant eye. The fixed scale of nature that satisfied the scholars of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries showed signs of disintegration. Progress and innovation came to be regarded as ushering in a better world. The existent began to be replaced by process. As Emerson put it, "We wake and find ourselves on a stair; there are stairs below us which we seem to have ascended, there are stairs above us ... which go out of sight."

Though Darwin, in public moments, claimed his thinking to be inductive and purely Baconian, he was already as a youth being swept along in the romantic current which included enthusiasm for Odyssean voyages, evidences of past time, and the looming shadow, not just of tomorrow, but of a different tomorrow in some manner derived from today. When in 1831 he set sail in the Beagle all these matters were swirling in the heads of his contemporaries, however much the first discoverers would politely deny themselves in order to avert the wrath of the orthodox. In 1818, when Darwin was a boy of nine, Keats wrote about the struggle for existence, of which men were to hear so much after the publication of the Origin of Species:

I was at home
And should have been most happy-but I saw
Too far into the sea, where every maw
The greater on the less feeds evermore.
But I saw too distinct into the core
Of an eternal fierce destruction,
And so from happiness I was far gone.

Keats, the prescient romantic, saw what Darwin was later to see and what Emerson also glimpsed and recorded as "the virulence that still remains uncured in the universe."

As Darwin centered upon that "fierce destruction" whose creative role he sought to unravel, he appealed less to the tame logicians of his era and more and more to "speculative men," men with imagination, men who loved extremes of argument -- in short, romantic men. In a burst of enthusiasm Darwin himself once cried, shedding his Baconian mask for a moment, "I am but a gambler and love a wild experiment." In those words Darwin had revealed the soul of a romantic, a man willing to follow a dancing boglight through the obscurity of forgotten ages.

Nevertheless, when he came to write the conclusion of the Origin of Species, a certain orthodox benignity is allowed once more to conceal the ferocity of the world whose cruelty and waste he had once exclaimed over. "As natural selection works solely by and for the good of each being," the author philosophizes, "all corporeal and mental endowments will tend to progress toward perfection." "Thus," concludes Darwin, "from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been and are being evolved." Of this type of conclusion the mystical Emerson had remarked soberly on an earlier but similar occasion, "What is so ungodly as these polite bows to God in English books?"

The man whom reality eluded, or so it was said, produced in 1841 a statement that anticipates the full flowering of process philosophy in the twentieth century but would equally and more eloquently have graced Darwin's final paragraphs in the Origin of Species. "The method of nature," Emerson muses, "who could ever analyze it? That rushing stream will not stop to be observed. We can never surprise nature in a corner, never find the end of a thread, never tell where to set the first stone. The bird hastens to lay her egg. The egg hastens to be a bird. [Nature's] smoothness is the smoothness of the pitch of a cataract. Its permanence is a perpetual inchoation."

Unlike Darwin's somewhat sly intimations of perfection and progress it was the idealist, not the concealed materialist, who wrote: "That no single end may be selected and nature judged thereby, appears from this, that if man himself be considered as the end, and it be assumed that the final cause of the world is to make holy or wise or beautiful men, we see that it has not succeeded."

As a result of his contemplations, even though he did not possess the Darwinian key of natural selection, Emerson is aware of nature's infinite prodigality and wastefulness of suns and systems. He recognizes that nature can only be conceived as existing to a universal end, and not to a particular one, such as man. "To a universe of ends," Emerson adds as an afterthought, "a work of ecstasy." Nature, he maintained, is unspecific. "[It] knows neither palm nor oak, but only vegetable life, which sprouts into forests and festoons the globe." Nowhere is anything final. Nature has no private will; it will answer no private question. "The world," Emerson meditates, looking on with that far-reaching sun-struck eyeball which earned him critical derision, "leaves no track in space, and the greatest action of man no mark in the vast idea."

And yet Emerson cared -- more, perhaps, than has been allowed. Crouched midway on that desperate stair whose steps pass from dark to dark, he spoke as Darwin chose not to speak in his final peroration. Emerson saw, with a terrible clairvoyance, the downward pull of the past. "The transmigration of souls is no fable," he wrote. ". would it were; but men and women are only half human. Every animal in the barnyard, the field and the forest, of the earth and of the waters ... has contrived to get a footing and to leave the print of its features and form in someone or other of these upright heaven-facing speakers." He could sense, not Darwin's automatic trend toward perfection, but the weary slipping, the sensed entropy, the ebbing away of the human spirit into fox and weasel as it struggled upward while all its past tugged upon it from below. This is the Gethsemane of the man whom Walt Whitman called, and rightly, "transcendental of limits, a pure American for daring."


When I was young, in a time of boyhood marked by a world as fresh and green and utterly marvelous as on the day of its creation, I found myself attracted by a huge tropical shell which lay upon my aunt's dressing table. The twentieth century was scarcely a decade old, and people did not travel or collect as they do now. My uncle and aunt lived far inland in the central states and what wandering relative had given them the beautiful iridescent shell I do not know. It was held up to my youthful ear and I was told to listen carefully and I would hear the sea. Out of the great shell, even in that silent bedroom, I, who had never seen the ocean, heard the whispered sibilance, the sigh of waves upon the beach, the little murmurs of moving water, the confused mewing of gulls in the sun-bright air. It was my first miracle, indeed perhaps my first awareness of the otherness of nature, of myself outside, in a sense, and listening, as though beyond light-years, to a remote event. Perhaps, in that Victorian bedroom with its knickknacks and curios, I had suddenly fallen out of the nature I inhabited and turned, for the first time, to survey her with surprise.

The sounds stayed with me through the years or I would not be able to recall them now. Neither does it matter that in my college days I learned that it was not the sea to which I had listened, but the vastly magnified whispers of my blood and the house around me. Either was marvel enough -- that a shell, a shell shaped in the seas' depths, should, without intent, so concentrate the essence of the world as to bring its absent images before me.

The taxonomists, the classifiers, have tried with Latin appellations to define man to their satisfaction. They have called him wise and raised up justifiable doubt, as did Freud. They have called him the tool user, the fabricator. They have, by turns, characterized him as the only being who laughs or who weeps. They have spoken of him as a time binder who transmits thought through the generations and thus reorients and changes the world. There are also those who have categorized him as the sole religious animal or, finally, as Homo duplex, the creature composed of flesh and spirit.

The appeal of this last definition gives me pause, even though I am a professional anthropologist who must employ the diction of his trade. For is it not true, as Emerson indicated before the rise of scientific anthropology, that man, in becoming aware of nature, has entered upon a confused and endless exploration, a transcendental search for order? Both the theologian and the scientist, each in his way, pursue that quest.

In one of the most profound and succinct analogies ever penned by a philosopher, George Santayana once ventured: "The universe is the true Adam, the creation the true fall." He saw, immured in his study, that in the instant when the universe was brought out of the void of non-being its particles, achieving such powers as are present in man, would yearn for understanding of their destiny. Alienated and alone, listening to the murmur in the shell, the individual would search his mind in vain. Primitively he would seek to placate the unseen spirits in running water, or the ghost that rules in the fir tree. Divorced from the whole, he would always be intimidated by those mocking questions from the whirlwind, "Where wast thou, where wast thou? Declare if thou knowest it all."

No clearer evidence is needed to refute Freud's argument that the great traumas from which man has suffered are the products of modern science. The fall out of nature into knowledge was sustained long ago in the caverns of mankind's birth. Between the telescope and the microscope the Adamic universe has widened, that is all. If we still suffer from renewed shocks of a scientific nature, we have, at the same time, been released from the bonds of barbarous superstition. If the particle cannot rejoin the mass, it has at least achieved, in twentieth-century quantum mechanics, a creative liberty not granted under the Newtonian Mechanic God.

When I first read Emerson's Method of Nature I was amazed at how much of a forerunner of process philosophy he was, and how, some twenty years before the Origin of Species, as I have noted, he had expressed so skillfully nature's lack of any single observable objective. Not for man, not for mouse. Total nature, as he put it, was coincident with no private will, yet it was "growing like a field of maize in July."

At the time I encountered those passages I was a young man steeped in the scientific tradition, and I was struck with Emerson's articulate insight. Why then, one might ponder, if Emerson glimpsed only a universe of ends, and if every natural object is only an emanation from another, and if -- I can put it in no other way -- each emanation explodes into another future, did Emerson, after beclouding human hope, direct so much of his attention toward the species he had so eloquently dismissed? For, along with fox and woodchuck, we would appear as but momentary and superficial tenants of the globe.

It was not until many years later, when I had abandoned certain of the logical disciplines of my youth, that I began to sense why Emerson, with seeming inconsistency, had rounded home in that same essay to extol the nature of man. I think it was upon encountering a phrase in Whitman, and knowing there was an intellectual affinity between the two men, that I paused. The lines read:

There was a child went forth every day
And the first object he looked upon, that object he became.

It is not alone that the species is an emanation, I considered; our very thoughts transform us from minute to minute, hour to hour. How powerfully this quotation reflects Emerson's earlier statement: "The termination of the world in a man appears to be the last victory of intelligence. The universal does not attract us until housed in an individual. Who heeds the waste abyss of possibility?

Who indeed, until the possibility is embodied, "not to be diffused," in Whitman's words, but to be realized. I had listened long ago to the impingement of secret and rumorous whispers from the air upon the coiled interior of a shell. Man it was who held and interpreted the shell, first in the romantic sea vision of youth, last as a symbol of all that the human ear might encompass from the resounding shores of the universe, as well as his own interior.

"We must admire in man," continued Emerson, who, in The Method of Nature, was careful not to admire him overmuch, "the form of the formless, the concentration of the vast, the house of reason, the cave of memory." The cave of memory! It is this, this echoing upheld shell, that enabled Emerson to interpose insignificant transitory man as the counterweight to stars and wasteful galaxies, to say, in fact, that man can carry the chemistry and the distance of a star inside his head. "What is a man," he jotted in his journals, "but nature's finer success in self-explication?" The explication is not eternal, any more than today is for always. The world, Emerson made clear, is in process, is departing, as men and ideas are similarly departing. The self-explication of today is approximate and will demand rearrangement as long as a critical and enlightened eye remains to examine nature. Nor does Emerson have illusions about the number of minds that can genuinely perceive nature. Furthermore, he is aware that what he terms nature's "suburbs and extremities" may contain truths that turn the world from a lumber room to an ordered creation. This observation was written in the same year that Darwin, home from probing such natural extremities as the Galapagos, conceived of the principle of natural selection.

Emerson had had, like Darwin, an illness and a voyage -- that strange road taken by so many of the nineteenth-century romantics -- romantics who were finally to displace the sedate white doorstone into nature by something wild and moon-haunted, whether in science or art. He may have had, as he himself once ventured, "an excess of faith" -- faith in man that may cause us to stir uneasily now, but which he expressed at a time when London was truly a city of dreadful night. Above all, he seemed to sense intuitively what Alfred Russel Wallace had believed -- that man possesses latent mental powers beyond what he might culturally express in a given epoch. In Ice Age caverns he had painted with an artist's eye; modern primitives can master music, writing, and machines they have never previously experienced. In the words of the eminent French biologist Jean Rostand, "Already at the origin of the species man was equal to what he was destined to become." A careful reading of the American transcendentalist would demonstrate that he had an intuitive grasp of this principle -- so firm that neither the size of the universe nor the imperfections of our common humanity distressed him overmuch. He knew, with a surety our age is in danger of losing, that if there was ever a good man there will be more. Nature strives at better than her actual creatures. We are, Emerson maintains, "a conditional population." If atavistic reptiles still swim in the depths of man's psyche, they are not the only inhabitants of that hidden region.

Tomorrow lurks in us, the latency to be all that was not achieved before. This is what led proto-man, five million years ago, to start upon a journey, at a time when night and day were strange and miraculous, as was the trumpeting of mammoths or the march of reindeer. It was for this that man adorned his caverns in the morning of time. It was for this that he worshiped the bear. For man had fallen out of the secure world of instinct into a place of wonder. That wonder is still expanding, changing as man's mind keeps pace with it. He stands and listens with a shell pressed to his ear. He is still a child before the infinite spaces but he is in no way frightened. It was thus that his journey began -- perhaps with a message drawn from an echoing shell. Now he listens with his own giant fabricated ear to messages from beyond infinity. In the old house of nature there are monsters in every cupboard. That is why, as nature's children, we are inveterate romantics and go visiting. This is why the great American essayist anticipated the whole of the unborn science of anthropology when he said, "The entrance of [nature] into his mind seems to be the birth of man." If it brought him fear it opened to his aroused curiosity every nook and cranny of the world. It left him, in fact, the inheritor of an echoing and ghost-ridden mansion. The shifting unseen potential that we call nature has left to man but one observable dictum, to grow. Only our unforeseeable tomorrow can determine whether we will grow in the wisdom Emerson anticipated.
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Re: Starthrower, by Loren Eiseley

Postby admin » Mon May 02, 2016 2:53 am

Thoreau's Vision of the Natural World


Somewhere in the coverts about Concord, a lynx was killed well over a century ago and examined by Henry David Thoreau; measured, in fact, and meditated upon from nose to tail. Others called it a Canadian lynx, far strayed from the northern wilds. No, insisted Thoreau positively, it is indigenous, indigenous but rare. It is a night haunter; it is a Concord lynx. On this he was adamant. Not long ago, over in Vermont, an intelligent college girl told me that, walking in the woods, her Labrador retriever had startled and been attacked by a Canadian lynx which she had been fully competent to recognize. I was too shy, however, to raise the question of whether the creature might have been, as Thoreau defiantly asserted, a genuine New England lynx, persisting but rare since colonial times.

Thoreau himself was a genuine Concord lynx. Of that there can be no doubt. We know the place of his birth, his rarity, something of his habits, his night travels, that he had, on occasion, a snarl transferred to paper, and that he frequented swamps, abandoned cellar holes, and woodlots. His temperament has been a subject of much uncertainty, as much, in truth, as the actual shape of those human figures which he was wont to examine looming in fogs or midsummer hazes. Thoreau sometimes had difficulty in seeing men or, by contrast, sometimes saw them too well. Others had difficulty in adjusting their vision to the Concord lynx himself, with the result that a varied and contentious literature has come down to us. Even the manner of his death is uncertain, for though the cause is known, some have maintained that he benefited a weak constitution by a rugged outdoor life. Others contend that he almost deliberately stoked the fires of consumption by prolonged exposure in inclement weather.

As is the case with most wild animals at the periphery of the human vision, Thoreau's precise temperament is equally a matter of conjecture even though he left several books and a seemingly ingenuous journal which one eminent critic, at least, regards as a cunningly contrived mythology. He has been termed a stoic, a contentious moralizer, a parasite, an arsonist, a misanthrope, a supreme egotist, a father-hater who projected his animus on the state, a banal writer who somehow managed to produce a classic work of literature. He has also been described as a philosophical anarchist and small-town failure, as well as an intellectual aristocrat. Some would classify him simply as a nature writer, others as a failed scientist who did not comprehend scientific method. Others speak of his worldwide influence upon the social movements of the twentieth century, of his exquisite insight and style, of his relentless searching for something never found -- a mystic in the best sense of the term. He has also been labeled a prig by a notable man of English letters. There remains from those young people who knew him the utterly distinct view that he was a friendly, congenial, and kindly man. At the time of his funeral, and long before fame attended his memory, the schools of Concord were dismissed in his honor.

In short, the Concord lynx did not go unwept to his grave. Much of the later controversy that has created a Browningesque Ring and the Book atmosphere about his intentions and character is the product of a sophisticated literary world he abhorred in life. Something malevolent frequently creeps into this atmosphere even though it is an inevitable accompaniment of the transmission of great books through the ages. Basically the sensitive writer should stay away from his own kind. Jealousies, tensions, feuds, unnecessary discourtesies that are hard to bear in print are frequently augmented by close contact, even if friendships begin well. The writer's life is a lonely one and doubtless should remain so, but a prurient curiosity allows no great artist to rest easy in his grave. Critical essays upon Thoreau now number hundreds of items, very little of which, I suspect, would move the Concord lynx to do more than retire farther into whatever thickets might remain to him. Neither science nor literature was his total concern. He was a fox at the wood's edge, regarding human preoccupations with doubt. Indeed he had rejected an early invitation to join the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The man had never entertained illusions about the course of technological progress and the only message that he, like an Indian, had gotten from the telegraph was the song of the wind through its wires.

As a naturalist he possessed the kind of memory which fixes certain scenes in the mind forever -- a feeling for the vastness and mystery contained in nature, a powerful aesthetic response when, in his own words, "a thousand bare twigs gleam like cobwebs in the sun." He had been imprinted, as it were, by his home landscape at an early age. Similarly, whatever I may venture upon the meaning of Thoreau must come basically from memory alone, with perhaps some examination of the tone of his first journal as contrasted with his last. My present thoughts convey only the residue of what, in the course of time, I have come to feel about his intellectual achievement -- the solitary memory that Thoreau himself might claim of a journey across austere uplands.

In addition, my observations come mostly from the realm of science, whereas the preponderance of what had been written about Thoreau has come from the region he appeared to inhabit: namely, literature. His scientific interests have frequently been denigrated, and he himself is known more than once to have deplored the "inhumanity of science." Surely then, one cannot, as a representative of this alien discipline, be accused of either undue tolerance or weak sympathy for a transcendental idealism that has largely fallen out of fashion. Yet it is an aspect of this philosophy, more particularly as it is found modified in Thoreau, that I wish to consider. For Thoreau, like Emerson, is an anticipator, a forerunner of the process philosophers who have so largely dominated the twentieth century. He stands at the border between existent and potential nature.


Behind all religions lurks the concept of nature. It persists equally in the burial cults of Neanderthal man, in Cro-Magnon hunting art, in the questions of Job and in the answering voice from the whirlwind. In the end it is the name of man's attempt to define and delimit his world, whether seen or unseen. He knows intuitively that nature is a reality which existed before him and will survive his individual death. He may include in his definition that which is, or that which may be. Nature remains an otherness which incorporates man, but which man instinctively feels contains secrets denied to him.

A professional atheist must still account for the fleeting particles that appear and vanish in the perfected cyclotrons of modern physics. We may see behind nature a divinity which rules it, or we may regard nature itself as a somewhat nebulous and ill-defined deity. Man knows that he springs from nature and not nature from him. This is very old and primitive knowledge. Man, as the "thinking reed," the memory beast, and the anticipator of things to come, has devised hundreds of cosmogonies and interpretations of nature. More lately, with the dawn of the scientific method, he has sought to probe nature's secrets by experiment rather than unbounded speculation.

Still, of all words coming easily to the tongue, none is more mysterious, none more elusive. Behind nature is hidden the chaos as well as the regularities of the world. And behind all that is evident to our senses is veiled the insubstantial deity that only man, of all earth's creatures, has had the power either to perceive or to project into nature.

As scientific agnostics we may draw an imaginary line beyond which we deny ourselves the right to pass. We may adhere to the tangible, but we will still be forced to speak of the "unknowable" or of "final causes" even if we proclaim such phrases barren and of no concern to science. In our minds we will acknowledge a line we have drawn, a definition to which we have arbitrarily restricted ourselves, a human limit that mayor may not coincide with reality. It will still be nature that concerns us as it concerned the Neanderthal. We cannot exorcise the word, refine it semantically though we may. Nature is the receptacle which contains man and into which he finally sinks to rest. It implies all, absolutely all, that man knows or can know. The word ramifies and runs through the centuries, assuming different connotations.

Sometimes it appears as ghostly as the unnamed shadow behind it; sometimes it appears harsh, prescriptive, and solid. Again matter becomes interchangeable with energy; fact becomes shadow, law becomes probability. Nature is a word that must have arisen with man. It is part of his otherness, his humanity. Other beasts live within nature. Only man has ceaselessly turned the abstraction around and around upon his tongue and found fault with every definition, found himself looking ceaselessly outside of nature toward something invisible to any eye but his own and indeed not surely to be glimpsed by him.

To propound that Henry David Thoreau is a process philosopher, it is necessary first to understand something of the concepts entertained by early nineteenth-century science and philosophy, and also to consider something of the way in which these intellectual currents were changing. New England's ties to English thought preponderated, although, as is well known, some of the ideas had their roots on the continent. An exhaustive analysis is unnecessary to the present purpose. Thoreau was a child of his time but he also reached beyond it.

In early-nineteenth-century British science there was a marked obsession with Baconian induction. The more conservative-minded, who dreaded the revelations of the new geology, sought, in their emphatic demand for facts, to drive wide-ranging and useful hypotheses out of currency. The thought of Bacon, actually one of the innovators of scientific method, was being perverted into a convenient barrier against the advance of irreligious science. Robert Chambers, an early evolutionist, had felt the weight of this criticism, and Darwin, later on, experienced it beyond the midcentury. In inexperienced hands it led to much aimless fact-gathering under the guise of proper inductive procedures for true scientists. Some, though not all, of Thoreau's compendiums and detailed observations suggest this view of science, just as do his occasional scornful remarks about museum taxonomy.

In a typical Thoreauvian paradox he could neither leave his bundles of accumulated fact alone, nor resist muttering "it is ebb tide with the scientific reports." Only toward the close of his journals does he seem to be inclining toward a 'more perceptive scientific use of his materials under the influence of later reading. It is necessary to remember that most of Thoreau's intellectual contacts were with literary men, though Emerson was a wide and eclectic reader who saw clearly that the new uniformitarian geology had transformed our conceptions of the world's antiquity.

The one striking exception to Thoreau's lack of direct contact with the scientific world was his meeting with Louis Agassiz after the European glaciologist, taxonomist, and teacher had joined the staff at Harvard in the 1840S. Brilliant and distinguished naturalist though he was, Louis Agassiz was probably not the best influence upon Thoreau. He traced the structural relations of living things, he introduced America to comparative taxonomy, he taught Thoreau to observe such oddities as frozen and revived caterpillars. His eye, if briefly, was added to Thoreau's eye, not always to the latter's detriment. Typically, Agassiz warned against hasty generalizations while pursuing relentlessly his own interpretation of nature.

The European poet of the Ice Age was, in a very crucial sense, at the same time an anachronism. He did not believe in evolution; he did not grasp the significance of natural selection. "Geology," he wrote in 1857, "only shows that at different periods there have existed different species; but no transition from those of a preceding into those of a following epoch has ever been noticed anywhere." He saw a beneficent intelligence behind nature; he was a Platonist at heart, dealing with the classification of the eternal forms, seeing in the vestigial organs noted by the evolutionist only the direct evidence of divine plan carried through for symmetry's sake even when the organ was functionless.

It is this preternatural intelligence which Thoreau is led to see in the protective arrangement of moth cocoons in winter. "What kind of understanding," he writes, "was there between the mind ... and that of the worm that fastened a few of these leaves to its cocoon in order to disguise it?" Plainly he is following in the footsteps of the great biologist, who, like many other scholars, recognized a spiritual succession of forms in the strata, but not the genuine organic transformations that had produced the living world. It may be noted in passing that this Platonic compromise with reality was one easily acceptable to most transcendentalists. They were part of a far-removed romantic movement which was to find the mechanistic aspects of nineteenth-century science increasingly intolerable. One need not align oneself totally with every aspect of the Darwinian universe, however, to see that Agassiz's particular teleological interpretation of nature could not be long sustained. Whatever might lie behind the incredible profusion of living forms would not so easily yield its secrets to man.

The mystery in nature Thoreau began to sense early. A granitic realism forced from him the recognition that the natural world is indifferent to human morality, just as the young Darwin had similarly brooded over the biological imperfections and savagery of the organic realm. "How can [man]" protested Thoreau, "perform that long journey who has not conceived whither he is bound, ... who has no passport to the end?" This is a far cry from the expressions of some of the contemporary transcendentalists who frequently confused nature with a hypostatized divine reason which man could activate within himself. By contrast, Thoreau remarks wearily, "Is not disease the rule of existence?" He had seen the riddled leaf and the worm-infested bud.

If one meditates upon the picture of nature presented by both the transcendental thinkers such as Emerson and the evolutionary doctrine drawn from Darwin, one is struck by the contrast between what appears to be a real and an ideal nature. The transcendentalist lived in two worlds at once, in one of which he was free to transform himself; he could escape the ugly determinism of the real. In Emerson's words, "two states of thought diverge every moment in wild contrast."

The same idea is echoed in the first volume of his journals when the young Thoreau ventures, "On one side of man is the actual and on the other the ideal." These peculiar worlds are simultaneously existent. Life is bifurcated between the observational world and another more ideal but realizable set of "instructions" implanted in our minds, again a kind of Platonic blueprint. We must be taught through the proper understanding of the powers within us. The transcendentalist possessed the strong optimism of the early Republic, the belief in an earthly Eden to be created.

If we examine the Darwinian world of change we recognize that the nature of the evolutionary process is such as to deny any relationships except those that can be established on purely phyletic grounds of uninterrupted descent. The Platonic abstract blueprint of successive types has been dismissed as a hopeful fiction. Vestigial organs are really what their name implies -- remnants lingering from a former state of existence. The tapeworm, the sleeping-sickness trypanosome, are as much a product of natural selection as man himself. All currently existing animals and plants have ancestral roots extending back into Archeozoic time. Every species is in some degree imperfect and scheduled to vanish by reason of the very processes which brought it into being. Even in this world of endless struggle, however, Darwin is forced to introduce a forlorn note of optimism which appears in the final pages of the Origin of Species. It is his own version of the ideal. Out of the war of nature, of strife unending, he declares, all things will progress toward perfection.

The remark rings somewhat hollowly upon the ear. Darwin's posited ideal world, such as it is, offers no immediate hope that man can embrace. Indeed, it is proffered on the same page where Darwin indicates that of the species now living very few will survive into the remote future. Teleological direction has been read out of the universe. It would re-emerge in the twentieth century in more sophisticated guises that would have entranced Thoreau, but for the moment the "Great Companion" was dead. The Darwinian circle had introduced process into nature but had never paused to examine nature itself. In the words of Alfred North Whitehead, "Science is concerned not with the causes but the coherence of nature." Something, in other words, held the thing called nature together, gave it duration in the midst of change and a queer kind of inhuman rationality.

It may be true enough that Thoreau in his last years never resolved his philosophical difficulties. (Indeed, what man has?) It may also be assumed that the confident and brilliant perceptions of the young writer began to give way in his middle years to a more patient search for truth. The scientist in him was taking the place of the artist. To some of the literary persuasion this may seem a great loss. Considering, however, the toils from which he freed himself, the hope that he renewed, his solitary achievement is remarkable.

One may observe that there are two reigning models involving human behavior today: a conservative and a progressive version. The first may be stated as regarding man in the mass as closely reflecting his primate origins. He is the "ape and tiger" of Huxley's writing. His origins are sufficiently bestial that they place limits upon his ethical possibilities. Latent aggression makes him an uncertain and dangerous creature.

Unconsciously, perhaps, the first evolutionists sought to link man more closely to the animal world from which he had arisen. Paradoxically this conception would literally freeze man upon his evolutionary pathway as thoroughly as though a similar argument had been projected upon him when he was a Cretaceous tree shrew. Certainly one may grant our imperfect nature. Man is in process, as is the whole of life. He may survive or he may not, but so long as he survives he will be part of the changing, onrushing future. He, too, will be subject to alteration. In fact, he may now be approaching the point of consciously inducing his own modification.

How did Thoreau, who matured under the influence of the transcendentalists and the design arguments of Louis Agassiz, react to this shifting, oncoming world of contingency and change? It is evident he was familiar with Charles Lyell's writings, that he knew about the development (that is, evolution) theories of Robert Chambers. The final volume of his journals even suggests that he may have meditated upon Darwin's views before his death in 1862.

Now, in the final years, he seems to gather himself for one last effort. "The development theory implies a greater vital force in nature," he writes, "because it is more flexible and accommodating and equivalent to a sort of constant new creation."

He recognizes the enormous waste in nature but tries carefully to understand its significance just as he grasps the struggle for existence. His eyes are open still to his tenderly cherished facts of snow and leaves and seasons. He counts tree rings and tries to understand forest succession. The world is perhaps vaster than he imagined, but, even from the first, nature was seen as lawless on occasion and capable of cherishing unimaginable potentials. That was where he chose to stand, at the very edge of the future, "to anticipate," as he says in Walden, "nature herself."

This is not the conservative paradigm of the neo-Darwinian circle. Instead it clearly forecasts the thought of twentieth-century Alfred North Whitehead. Thoreau strove with an unequaled intensity to observe nature in all its forms, whether in the raw shapes of mountains or the travelings of seeds and deer mice. His consciousness expanded like a sunflower. The more objects he beheld, the more immortal he became. "My senses," he wrote, "get no rest." It was as though he had foreseen Whitehead's dictum that "passage is a quality not only of nature, which is the thing known, but also of sense awareness, which is the procedure of knowing." Thoreau had constituted himself the Knower. "All change," he wrote, "is a miracle to contemplate, but it is a miracle that is taking place every instant." He saw man thrust up through the crust of nature "like a wedge and not till the wound heals ... do we begin to discover where we are." He viewed us all as mere potential; shadowy, formless perhaps, but as though about to be formed. He had listened alone to the "unspeakable rain"; he had sought in his own way to lead others to a supernatural life in nature. He had succeeded. He had provided for others the passport that at first he thought did not exist; a passport, he finally noted, "earned from the elements."


To follow the involved saunterings of the journals is to observe a man sorting, selecting, questioning less nature than his own way into nature, to find, as Thoreau expressed it, "a patent for himself." Thoreau is never wholly a man of the transcendental camp. He is, in a sense, a double agent. He is drawn both to the spiritual life and to that of the savage. "Are we not all wreckers," he asks, "and do we not contract the habits of wreckers?" The term "wreckers," of course, he uses in the old evil sense of the shore scavengers who with false lights beckoned ships to their doom. And again he queries, "Is our life innocent enough?" It would appear he thinks otherwise, for he writes, "I have a murderer's experience ... " and he adds, a trifle scornfully, "there is no record of a great success in history."

Thoreau once said disconsolately that he awaited a Visitor who never came, one whom he referred to as the "Great Looker." Some have thought that pique or disappointment shows in these words and affects his subsequent work. I do not choose to follow this line of reasoning, since, on another page of Walden, he actually recollects receiving his guest as the "old settler and original proprietor who is reported to have dug Walden pond ... and fringed it with pine woods." As a somewhat heretical priest once observed, "God asks nothing of the highest soul but attention."

Supplementing that remark Thoreau had asserted, "There has been nothing but the sun and the eye since the beginning." That eye, in the instance of Thoreau, had missed nothing. Even in the depths of winter when nature's inscriptions lay all about him in the snow, he had not faltered to recognize among them the cruel marks of a farmer's whip, steadily, even monotonously, lashing his oxen down the drift-covered road. The sight wounded him. Nature, he knew, was not bound to be kind to man. In fact, there was a kind of doubleness in nature as in the writer. The inner eye was removed; its qualities were more than man, as natural man, could long sustain. The Visitor had come in human guise and looked out upon the world a few brief summers. It is remembered that when at last an acquaintance came to ask of Thoreau on his deathbed if he had made his peace with God, the Visitor in him responded simply, "We have never quarreled."

Thoreau had appropriated the snow as "the great revealer." On it were inscribed all the hieroglyphs that the softer seasons concealed. Last winter, trudging in the woods, I came to a spot where freezing, melting, and refreezing had lifted old footprints into little pinnacles of trapped oak leaves as though a shrub oak had walked upon some errand. Thoreau had recorded the phenomenon over a century ago. There was something uncanny about it, I thought, standing attentively in the snow. A visitor, perhaps the Visitor, had once more passed.

In the very first volume of his journals Thoreau had written, "There is always the possibility, the possibility, I say, of being all, or remaining a particle in the universe." He had, in the end, learned that nature was not an enlarged version of the human ego, that it was not, to use Emerson's phrase, "the immense shadow of man." Toward the close of his life he had turned from literature to the growing, formidable world of the new science -- the science that in the twentieth century was destined to reduce everything to infinitesimal particles and finally these to a universal vortex of wild energies.

But the eye persisted, the unexplainable eye that gave even Darwin a cold shudder. All it experienced were the secondary qualities, the illusions that physics had rejected, but the eye remained, just as Thoreau had asserted -- the sun and the eye from the beginning. Thoreau was gone, but the eye was multitudinous, ineradicable.

I advanced upon the fallen oak leaves. We were all the eye of the Visitor -- the eye whose reason no physics could explain. Generation after generation the eye was among us. We were particles but we were also the recording eye that saw the sunlight -- that which physics had reduced to cold waves in a cold void. Thoreau's life had been dedicated to the unexplainable eye.

I had been trained since youth against the illusions, the deceptions of that eye, against sunset as reality, against my own features as anything but a momentary midge swarm of particles. Even this momentary phantasm I saw by the mind's eye alone. I no longer resisted as I walked. I went slowly, making sure that the eye momentarily residing in me saw and recorded what was intended when Thoreau spoke of the quality of the eye as belonging more to God than man.

But there was a message Thoreau intended to transmit. "I suspect," he had informed his readers, "that if you should go to the end of the world, you would find somebody there going further." It is plain that he wanted a message carried that distance, but what was it? We are never entirely certain. He delighted in gnomic utterances such as that in which he pursued the summer on snowshoes.

"I do not think much of the actual," he had added. Is this then the only message of the great Walden traveler in the winter days when the years "came fast as snowflakes"? Perhaps it is so intended, but the words remain cryptic. Thoreau, as is evidenced by his final journals, had labored to lay the foundations of a then unnamed science -- ecology. In many ways he had outlived his century. He was always concerned with the actual, but it was the unrolling reality of the process philosopher, "the universe," as he says, "that will not wait to be explained."

For this reason he tended to see men at a distance. For the same reason he saw himself as a first settler in nature, his house the oldest in the settlement. Thoreau reflected in his mind the dreamers of the westward crossing; in this he is totally American.

Yet Thoreau preferred to the end his own white winter spaces. He lingers, curvetting gracefully, like the fox he saw on the river or the falcon in the morning air. He identifies, he enters them, he widens the circumference of life to its utmost bounds. "One world at a time," he jokes playfully on his deathbed, but it is not, in actuality, the world that any of us know or could reasonably endure. It is simply Thoreau's world, "a prairie for outlaws." Each one of us must seek his own way there. This is his final message, for each man is forever the eye and the eye is the Visitor. Whatever remedy exists for life is never to be found at Walden. It exists, if at all, where the real Walden exists, somewhere in the incredible dimensions of the universal Eye.
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Re: Starthrower, by Loren Eiseley

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Walden: Thoreau's Unfinished Business


The life of Henry David Thoreau has been thoroughly explored for almost a century by critics and biographers, yet the mystery of this untraveled man who read travel literature has nowhere been better expressed than by his own old walking companion Ellery Channing, who once wrote: "I have never been able to understand what he meant by his life. Why was he so disappointed with everybody else? Why was he so interested in the river and the woods ... ? Something peculiar here I judge."

If Channing, his personal friend, was mystified, it is only to be expected that as Thoreau's literary stature has grown, the ever-present enigma of his life and thought has grown with it. Wright Morris, the distinguished novelist and critic, has asked, almost savagely, the same question in another form. Putting Channing's question in a less personal but more formidable and timeless literary context he ventures, quoting from Thoreau who spent two years upon the Walden experiment and then abandoned it, "If we are alive let us go about our business." "But," counters Morris brutally, "what business?" Thoreau fails to inform us. In the words of Morris, Walden was the opening chapter of a life, one that enthralls us, but with the remaining chapters missing.

For more than a decade after Walden was composed, Thoreau continued his intensive exploration of Concord, its inhabitants and its fields, but upon the "business" for which he left Walden he is oddly cryptic. Once, it is true, he muses in his journal that "the utmost possible novelty would be the difference between me and myself a year ago." He must then have been about some business, even though the perceptive critic Morris felt he had already performed it and was at loose ends and groping. The truth is that the critic, in a timeless sense, can be right and in another way wrong, for looking is in itself the business of art.

In a studied paragraph Carl Jung, with no reference to Thoreau, perhaps pierced closest to Thoreau's purpose without ever revealing it. He says in his alchemical studies, "Medieval alchemy prepared the greatest attack on the divine order of the universe which mankind has ever dared. Alchemy is the dawn of the age of natural sciences which, through the daemonium of the scientific spirit, drove nature and her forces into the service of mankind to a hitherto unheard of degree .... Technics and science have indeed conquered the world, but whether the soul has gained thereby is another matter."

Thoreau was indeed a spiritual wanderer through the deserts of the modern world. Almost by instinct he rejected that beginning wave of industrialism which was later to so entrance his century. He also rejected the peace he had found on the shores of Walden Pond, the alternate glazing and reflection of that great natural eye which impartially received the seasons. It was, in the end, too great for his endurance, too timeless. He was a restless pacer of fields, a reader who, in spite of occasional invective directed against those who presumed to neglect their homes for far places, nevertheless was apt with allusions drawn from travel literature, and quick to discern in man uncharted spaces.

"Few adults," once remarked Emerson, Thoreau's one-time mentor and friend, "can see nature." Thoreau was one of those who could. Moreover he saw nature as another civilization, a thing of vaster laws and vagaries than that encompassed by the human mind. When he visited the Maine woods he felt its wind upon him like the closing of a dank door from some forgotten cellar of the past.

Was it some curious midnight impulse to investigate such matters that led Thoreau to abandon the sunny hut at Walden for "other business"? Even at Walden he had heard, at midnight, the insistent fox, the "rudimental man," barking beyond his lighted window in the forest. The universe was in motion, nothing was fixed. Nature was "a prairie for outlaws:' violent, unpredictable. Alone in the environs of Walden Thoreau wandered in the midst of that greater civilization he had discovered as surely as some monstrous edifice come suddenly upon in the Mayan jungles. He never exclaimed about the Indian trails seen just at dusk in a winter snowfall -- neither where they went, nor upon what prairie they vanished or in what direction. He never ventured to tell us, but he was one of those great artist-scientists who could pursue the future through its past. This is why he lives today in the heart of young and old alike, "a man of surfaces," one critic has said, but such surfaces -- the arrowhead, the acorn, the oak leaf, the indestructible thought-print headed toward eternity -- plowed and replowed in the same field. Truly another civilization beyond man, nature herself, a vast lawless mindprint shattering traditional conceptions.

Thoreau, in his final journals, had said that the ancients with their gorgons and sphinxes could imagine more than existed. Modern men, by contrast, could not imagine so much as exists. For more than one hundred years that statement has stood to taunt us. Every succeeding year has proved Thoreau right. The one great hieroglyph, nature, is as unreadable as it ever was and so is her equally wild and unpredictable offspring, man. Like Thoreau, the examiner of lost and fragile surfaces of flint, we are only by indirection students of man. We are, in actuality, students of that greater order known as nature. It is into nature that man vanishes. "Wildness is a civilization other than our own:' Thoreau had ventured. Out of it man's trail had wandered. He had come with the great ice, drifting before its violence, scavenging the flints it had dropped. Whatever he was now, the ice had made him, the breath from the dank door, great cold, and implacable winters.

Thoreau in the final pages of Walden creates a myth about a despised worm who surmounts death and bursts from his hidden chamber in a wooden table. Was the writer dreaming of man, man freed at last from the manacles of the ice? No word of his intention remains, save of his diligent experiments with frozen caterpillars in his study -- a man preoccupied with the persistent flame of life trapped in the murderous cold. Is not the real business of the artist to seek for man's salvation, and by understanding his ingredients to make him less of an outlaw to himself, civilize him, in fact, back into that titanic otherness, that star's substance from which he had arisen? Perhaps encamped sufficiently in the great living web we might emerge again, not into the blind snow-covered eye of Walden's winter, but into the eternal spring man dreams of everywhere and nowhere finds.

Man, himself, is Walden's eye of ice and eye of summer. What now makes man an outlaw, with the fox urgent at his heels, is the fact that one of his eyes is gray and wintry and blind, while with the other is glimpsed another world just tantalizingly visible and dismissed as an illusion. What we know with certainty is that a creature with such disparate vision cannot long survive. It was that knowledge which led Thoreau to strain his eyesight till it ached and to record all he saw. A flower might open a man's mind, a box tortoise endow him with mercy, a mist enable him to see his own shifting and uncertain configuration. But the alchemist's touchstone in Thoreau was to give him sight, not power. Only man's own mind, the artist's mind, can change the winter in man.


There are persons who, because of youthful associations, prefer harsh-etched things before their eyes at morning. The foot of an iron bedstead perhaps, or a weathered beam on the ceiling, an abandoned mine tipple, or even a tombstone. On July 14 of the year 1973, I awoke at dawn and saw above my head the chisel marks on an eighteenth-century beam in the Concord Inn. As I strolled up the street toward the cemetery I saw a few drifters, black and white, stirring from their illegal night's sleep among the gravestones. Later I came to the Thoreau family plot and saw the little yellow stone marked "Henry" that no one is any longer sure indicates the precise place where he lies. Perhaps there is justice in this obscurity because the critics are also unsure of the contradictions and intentions of his journal, even of the classic Walden. A ghost then, of shifting features, peers out from between the gravestones, unreal, perhaps uninterpreted still.

I turned away from the early morning damp for a glimpse of the famous pond which in the country of my youth would have been called a lake. I walked its whole blue circumference with an erudite citizen of Concord. It was still an unearthly reflection of the sky, even if here and there beer bottles were bobbing in the shallows. I walked along the tracks of the old railroad where Thoreau used to listen to the telegraph wires. He had an eye for the sharp-edged artifact, I thought. The bobbing bottles, the keys to beer cans, he would have transmitted into cosmic symbols just as he had sensed all past time in the odors of a swamp. "All the ages are represented still," he had said, with nostrils flaring above the vegetation-choked water, "and you can smell them out."

It was the same, he found, with the ashes of Indian campfires, with old bricks and cellarholes. As for arrowheads, he says in a memorable passage, "I landed on two spots this afternoon and picked up a dozen. You would say it had rained arrowheads for they lie all over the surface of America. They lie in the meeting house cellar, and they lie in the distant cowpasture. They are sown like grain ... over the earth. Each one;' Thoreau writes, "yields me a thought. ... It is humanity inscribed on the face of the earth. It is a footprint -- rather a mindprint -- left everywhere .... They are not fossil bones, but, as it were, fossil thoughts forever reminding me of the mind that shaped them. I am on the trail of mind."

Some time ago in a graduate seminar met in honor of the visit of an eminent prehistorian I watched the scholar and his listeners try to grapple with the significance of an anciently shaped stone. Not one of those present, involved as they were with semantic involutions, could render up so simple an expression as "mindprint." The lonely follower of the plow at Concord had provided both art and anthropology with an expression of horizon-reaching application which it has inexplicably chosen to ignore.

Mindprints are what the first men left, mindprints will be what the last man leaves, even if it is only a beer can dropped rolling from the last living hand, or a sagging picture in a ruined house. Cans, too, have their edges, a certain harshness; they too represent a structure of the mind, perhaps even an attitude. Thoreau might have seen that, too. Indeed he had written long ago: "If the outside of a man is so variegated and extensive, what must the inside be? You are high up the Platte river," he admonished, "traversing deserts, plains covered with soda, with no deeper hollow than a prairie dog hole tenanted by owls.... "

Perhaps in those lines he had seen the most of man's journey through the centuries. At all events he had coined two incomparable phrases, the "mindprint" which marked man's strange passage through the millennia and which differentiated him completely from the bones of all those creatures that lay strewn in the basement rocks of the planet, and that magnificent expression "another civilization," coined to apply to nature. That "civilization" contained for Thoreau the mysterious hieroglyphs left by a deer mouse, or the preternatural winter concealment of a moth's cocoon in which leaves were made to cooperate. He saw in the dancing of a fox on snow-whipped Walden ice "the fluctuations of some mind."

Thoreau had extended his thought-prints to something beyond what we of this age would call the natural. He would read them into nature itself, see, in other words, some kind of trail through that prairie for outlaws that had always intimidated him. On mountain tops, he had realized a star's substance, sensed a nature "not bound to be kind to man." Nevertheless he confided firmly to his diary, "the earth which I have seen cannot bury me." He searches desperately, all senses alert, for a way to read these greater hieroglyphs in which the tiny interpretable minds of our forerunners are embedded. We, with a sharper knowledge of human limitations and a devotion to the empirical fact, may deny to ourselves the reality of this other civilization within whose laws and probabilities we exist. Thoreau reposed faith in the consistency of nature's habits, but only up to a point, for he was a student of change.

As Alfred North Whitehead was to remark long afterward, "We are in the world and the world is in us" -- a phrase that all artists should contemplate. Something, some law of a greater civilization, sustains nature from moment to moment within and above the void of non-being. "I hold," maintains the process philosopher, "that these unities of existence, these occasions of experience are the really real things which in their collective unity compose the evolving universe." In spite of today's emphasis upon the erratic nature of the submicroscopic particle there is, warns Whitehead the mathematician, "no valid inference from mere possibility to matter of fact; or, in other words, from mere mathematics to concrete nature .... Apart from metaphysical presupposition there can be no civilization." I doubt if Whitehead had ever perused Thoreau's journals, yet both return to the word "civilization," that strange on-going otherness of interlinked connections that makes up the nature that we know, just as human society and its artistic productions represent it in miniature, even to its eternal novelty.

Now Thoreau was a stay-at-home who traveled much in his mind, both in travel literature and beside Walden Pond. I, by circumstance, directly after delivering a lecture at Concord and gazing in my turn at Walden, was forced immediately to turn and fly west to the badlands and dinosaur-haunted gulches of Montana, some of its natives wild, half-civilized, still, in the way that Thoreau had viewed one of his Indian guides in Maine: "He shall spend a sunny day, and in this century be my contemporary. Why read history, then, if the ages and the generations are now? He lives three thousand years deep into time, an age not yet described by poets." As I followed our mixed-breed Cheyenne, as ambivalent toward us as the savage blood in his veins demanded, it came to me, as it must have come to many others, that seeing is not the same thing as understanding.

One man sees with indifference a leaf fall; another with the vision of Thoreau invokes the whole of that nostalgic world which we call autumn. One man sees a red fox running through a shaft of sunlight and lifts a rifle; another lays a restraining hand upon his companion's arm and says, "Please. There goes the last wild gaiety in the world. Let it live, let it run." This is the role of the alchemist, the true, if sometimes inarticulate artist. He transmutes the cricket's song in an autumn night to an aching void in the heart; snowflakes become the flying years. And when, as archaeologist, he lifts from the encrusting earth those forgotten objects Thoreau called "fossil thoughts," he is giving depth and tragedy and catharsis to the one great drama that concerns us most, the supreme mystery, man. Only man is capable of comprehending all he was and all that he has failed to be.

On those sun-beaten uplands over which we wandered, every chip of quartzite, every patinized flint, gleamed in our eyes as large as the monuments of other lands. Our vision in that thin air was incredibly enhanced and prolonged. Thoreau had conceived of nature as a single reflecting eye, the Walden eye of which he strove to be a solitary part, to apprehend with an his being. It was chance that had brought me in the span of a day to the dinosaur beds of Montana. Thoreau would have liked that. He had always regarded such places as endowed with the vapors of Nox, places where rules were annulled. He had caned arrowheads mindprints. What then would he have termed a tooth of Tyrannosaurus rex held in my palm? The sign of another civilization, another order of mind? Or that tiny Cretaceous mammal which was a step on the way to ourselves? Surely it represented mind in embryo, our mind, but not of our devising. What would he have caned it -- that miracle of a bygone moment, the annulment of what had been, to be replaced by an eye, the artist's eye, that nature had never heretofore produced among her creatures? Would these have answered for him on this giant upland, itself sleeping like some tired dinosaur with outspread claws? Would he have simply caned it "nature," as we sometimes do, scarcely knowing how to interpret the looming inchoate power out of which we have been born? Or would he have labeled nature itself a mindprint beyond our power to read or to interpret?

A man might sketch Triceratops, but the alphabet from which it was assembled had long since disappeared. As for man, how had his own alphabet been constructed? The nature in which he momentarily resided was a journal in which the script was always changing, like the dancing footprints of the fox on icy Walden Pond. Here, exposed about me, was the great journal Thoreau had striven to read, the business, in the end, that had taken him beyond Walden. He would have been too wise, too close to earth, too intimidated, to have caned such a journal human. It was palpably inscribed from a star's substance. Tiny and brief in that journal were the hieroglyphs of man. Like Thoreau, we had come to the world's end, but not to the end of nature, not to the end of time. An that could be read was that we had a past; that was something no other life on the planet had learned. There was, we had also ascertained, a future.

In the meantime, Thoreau would have protested, there is the eye, the sun and the eye. "Nothing must be postponed; find eternity in each moment." But how few of us are endowed to sustain Thoreau's almost diabolical vision. Here and here alone the true alchemist of Jung's thought must come to exist in each of us. It is ours to transmute, not iron, not copper, not gold, but our tracks through nature, see them final1yattended by self-knowledge, by the vision of the universal eye, that faculty possessed by the alchemist at Walden Pond.

"Miasma and infection come from within," he once wrote. It was as if he sought the cleanliness of flint patinized by the sun of ages, the artifact, the mindprint from which the mind itself had departed. It is something that perhaps only a few artists like Piranesi have understood amidst cromlechs, shards, and broken cities. It is man's final act as an alchemist to find the philosopher's stone in a desert-varnished flint and to watch himself, his mind, his species, evaporate into the air and sun that once had nourished the dinosaurs. Man alone knows the way he came; man alone is the alchemical animal who can vaporize himself in an utter cleansing, either by the powers of art alone, or, more terribly, by that dread device which began its active life at Los Alamos more than thirty years ago.

On a great hill in Montana on the day I had flown from Walden, I picked up a quartz knife that had the look of ten thousand years about it. It was as clean as the sun and I knew suddenly what Thoreau had been thinking about his arrowheads, his mindprints. They were free at last. They had aged out of human history, out of corruption. They were joined to that other civilization, evidence of some power that ran al1 through nature. They were a sign now beyond man, like al1those other traceries of the frost that Thoreau had studied so avidly for evidence of some greater intel1igence.

For just a moment I was back at Walden with a mind beyond infection by man, the mind of an alchemist who knew instinctively how laws might be annulled and great civilizations rise evanescent as toadstools on an autumn night. I too had taken on a desert varnish. I might have been a man but, if so, a man from whom centuries had been flayed away. I was being transmuted, worn down. There was flint by my hand that had not moved for millennia. It had ceased to radiate a message and whatever message I, as man, had carried there from Walden was also forgotten.

I lay among logs of petrified wood and found myself already stiffening. Nature was bound somewhere; the great mind was readying some new experiment but not, perhaps, for man. I sighed a little with the cleanliness of that release. I slept deep under the great sky. I slept sound. For a moment as I drowsed I thought of the little stone marked "Henry" in the Concord cemetery. He would have known, I thought -- the great alchemist had always known -- and then I slept. It was Henry who had once written "the best philosophy is all untrue," untrue, that is, for man. Across an untamed prairie one's footprints must always be altering, that was the condition of the world, the only one that mattered, the only one for art.


But why, some midnight questioner persisted in my brain, why had he left that sunny doorway of his hut in Walden for unknown mysterious business? Had he not written as though he had settled down forever? Why had Channing chronicled Thoreau's grievous disappointments? What had he been seeking and how had it affected him? If Walden was the opening chapter of a life, might not there still be a lurking message, a termination, a final chapter beyond his recorded death?

It was evident that he had seen the whole of American culture as copper-tinted by its antecedents, its people shadowy and gigantic as figures looming indistinctly in some Indian-summer haze. He had written of an old tree near Concord penetrated by a flying arrow with the shaft still attached. Some of the driving force of that flint projectile still persisted in his mind. Perhaps indeed those points that had once sung their message through every glade of the eastern woodland had spoken louder than the telegraph harp to which his ears had been attuned at Walden. Protest as he would, cultivate sauntering as he would, abhor as he would the rootless travelers whose works he read by lamplight, he was himself the eternal traveler. On the mountains of New Hampshire he had found "small and almost uninhabited ponds, apparently without fish, sources of rivers, still and cold, strange as condensed clouds." He had wandered without realizing it back into the time of the first continental ice recession.

"It is not worth the while to go around the world to count the cats in Zanzibar," he once castigated some luckless explorer, but why then this peering into lifeless tarns or engrossing himself with the meteoritic detritus of the Appalachians? Did he secretly wish to come to a place of no more life, where a man might stiffen into immobility as I had found myself freezing into the agate limbs of petrified trees in Montana? A divided man, one might say with surety. The bold man of abrasive village argument, the defender of John Brown, the advocate of civil disobedience, the spokesman who supplied many of the phrases which youthful revolutionaries hurled at their elders in the sixties of this century, felt the world too large for him.

As a college graduate he wept at the thought of leaving Concord. Emerson's well-meant efforts to launch him into the intellectual life of New York had failed completely. He admitted that he would gladly fall "into some crevice along with leaves and acorns." To Emerson's dismay he captained huckleberry parties among children and was content to be a rural surveyor, wandering over the farms and woodlots he could not own, save for his all-embracing eye. "There is no more fatal blunderer," he protested, "than he who consumes the greater part of life getting a living." He had emphasized that contemplative view at Walden, lived it, in fact, to the point where the world came finally to accept him as a kind of rural Robinson Crusoe who, as the cities grew, it might prove wise to emulate.

"I sat in my sunny doorway," he ruminated, "from sunrise till noon, rapt in a revery, amidst the pines and hickories and sumachs, in undisturbed solitude and stillness, while the birds sang around or flitted noiseless through the house, until by the sun falling in at my west window, or the noise of some traveller's wagon on the distant highway, I was reminded of the lapse of time. I grew in those seasons like corn in the night."

This passage would seem to stand for the serene and timeless life of an Oriental sage, a well-adjusted man, as the psychiatrists of our day would have it. Nevertheless this benign facade is deceptive. There is no doubt that Thoreau honestly meant what he said at the time he said it, but the man was storm-driven. He would not be content with the first chapter of his life; he would, like a true artist, dredge up dreams even from the bottom of a pond.

In the year 1837 Thoreau confided abruptly to his journal: "Truth strikes us from behind, and in the dark." Thoreau's life was to be comparatively short and ill-starred. Our final question must, therefore, revolve, not about wanderings in autumn fields, not the drowsing in pleasant doorways where time stood still forever, but rather upon the leap of that lost arrow left quivering in an ancient oak. It was, in symbol, the hurtling purposeful arrow of a seemingly aimless life. It has been overlooked by Thoreau's biographers, largely because they have been men of the study or men of the forest. They have not been men of the seashore, or men gifted with the artist's eye. They have not trudged the naturalist's long miles through sea sand, where the war between two elements leaves even the smallest object magnified, as the bleached bone or broken utensil can be similarly magnified only on the dead lake beaches of the west.

Thoreau had been drawn to Cape Cod in 1849, a visit he had twice repeated. It was not the tourist resort it is today. It was still the country of men on impoverished farms, who went to sea or combed the beaches like wreckers seeking cargo. On those beaches, commented Thoreau, in a posthumous work which he was never destined to see in print, "a house was rarely visible ... and the solitude was that of the ocean and the desert combined." The ceaseless roar of the surf, the strands of devil's-apron, the sun jellies, the stories of the drowned cast on the winter coast awoke in Thoreau what must have been memories of Emerson's shipwrecked friend Margaret Fuller. Here, recorded the chronicler, was a wilder, less human nature. Objects on the beach, he noted, were always more grotesque and dilated than upon approach they proved to be. A cast-up pair of gloves suggested the reality of hands.

Thoreau's account in Cape Cod of the Charity House to which his wanderings led him takes on a special meaning. I think it embodies something of a final answer to Channing's question about Thoreau's disappointment in his fellow men. Published two years after his death, it contains his formulation of the end of his business, or perhaps I should say of his quest. Hidden in what has been dismissed as a mere book of travel is an episode as potentially fabulous as Melville's great white whale.

First, however, I must tell the story of another coast because it will serve to illuminate Thoreau's final perception. A man, a shore dweller on Long Island Sound, told me of his discovery in a winter dawn. All night there had been a heavy surf and freezing wind. When he came to stroll along his beach at morning he had immediately seen a lifeboat cast upon the shingle and a still, black figure with the eastern sun behind it on the horizon. Gripped by a premonition he ran forward. The seaman in oilskins was alone and stiffly upright. A compass was clutched in his numb fingers. The man was sheeted in ice. Ice over his beard, his clothing, his hands, ice over his fixed, open eyes. Had he made the shore alive but too frozen to move? No one would ever know, just as no one would ever know his name or the sinking vessel from which he came. With desperate courage he had steered a true course through a wild night of breakers only to freeze within sight of help.

In those fishing days on Cape Cod, Thoreau came to know many such stories -- vessels without weather warnings smashed in the winter seas, while a pittance of soaked men, perhaps, gained the shore. The sea, the intolerable sea, tumbled with total indifference the bodies of the dead or the living who were tossed up through the grinding surf of winter. These were common events in the days of sail.

The people who gained a scant living along that coast entertained, early in the nineteenth century, the thought that a few well-stocked sheds, or "Charity Houses," might enable lost seamen who made the shore to warm and feed themselves among the dunes till rescued. The idea was to provide straw and matches and provender, supervised and checked at intervals by some responsible person. Impressed at first by this signal beneficence of landsmen, Thoreau noted the instructions set down for the benefit of mariners. Finally, he approached one such Charity House. It appeared, he commented, "but a stage to the grave." The chimney had fallen. As he and his companion wished to gain an idea of a "humane house," they put their eyes, by turns, to a knothole in the door. "We had," Thoreau comments ironically, "some practice at looking inward -- the pupil becomes enlarged. Nature is never so dark that a patient eye may not prevail over it."

So there, at last, he saw the end of his journey, of the business begun at Walden. He was peering into the Charity House of man, upon a Cape Cod beach. For frozen, shipwrecked mariners he saw a fireplace with no matches, no provisions, no straw upon the floor. "We looked," he said, "into the bowels of mercy, and for bread we found a stone." Shivering like castaways, "we looked through the knothole into that night without a star, until we concluded it was not a humane house at all." The arrow Thoreau had followed away from Walden had pierced as deep as Captain Ahab's lance. No wonder the demoniacal foxes leaping at Thoreau's window had urged him to begone. He had always looked for a crevice into the future. He had peered inward instead. It was ourselves who were rudimental men.

Recently I had a letter from one of my students who is working in the Arctic and who has a cat acquired somewhere in his travels. The cat, he explained to me, hunts in the barrens behind the Eskimo village. Occasionally it proudly brings in a lemming or a bird to his hut. The Eskimo were curious about the unfamiliar creature.

"Why does he do that?" my friend was asked.

"Because he is a good cat," my student explained. "He shares his game."

"So, so." The old men nodded wisely. "It is true for the man and for the beast -- the good man and the good beast. They share, yes indeed. They share the game."

I think my young quick-witted friend had momentarily opened the eye of winter. Before laying aside his letter, I thought of the eye of Walden as I had seen it under the summer sun. It was the sharing that had impressed the people of the ice and it was a great sharing of things seen that Thoreau had attempted at his pond. A hundred years after his death people were still trying to understand what he was about. They were still trying to get both eyes open. They were still trying to understand that the town surveyor had brought something to share with his fellows, something that, if they partook of it, might transpose them to another world.

I had thought, staring across an angular gravestone at Concord and again as I held my wind-varnished flint in Montana, that "sharing" could be the word. It was appropriate, even though Thoreau in a final bitterness had felt sharing to be as impoverished as the Charity House for sailors -- a knothole glimpse into the human condition. How then should the artist see? By an eye applied to a knothole? By a magnification of sand-filled gloves washed up on a beach? Could this be the solitary business that led Thoreau on his deathbed to mutter, whether in irony or confusion, "one world at a time"?

This is the terror of our age. How should we see? In what world are we? For we have fallen out of nature and see sometimes more and sometimes less. We see the past, the looming future, and then, so fearfully is the eye confused, that it stares inverted into a Charity House that appears to reflect a less than human heart. Is this Thoreau's final surrealist vision, his glance through the knothole into the "humane house"? It would appear at least to be a glimpse from one of those two great alternating eyes at Walden Pond from which in the end he had fled -- the blind eye of winter and that innocent blue pupil beside which he had once drowsed when time seemed endless. Both are equally real, as the great poets and prophets have always known, but it was Thoreau's tragic destiny to see with eyes strained beyond endurance man subsiding into two wrinkled gloves grasping at the edge of infinity. It is his final contribution to literature, the final hidden conclusion of an unwritten life whose first chapter Morris had rightly diagnosed as Walden.

There is an old Biblical saying that our days are prolonged and every vision fails us. This I would dispute. The vision of the great artist does not fail. It sharpens and refines with age until everything extraneous is pared away. "Simplify," Thoreau had advocated. Two gloves, devoid of flesh, clutching the stones of the ebbing tide become, transmuted, the most dreadful object in the world.

"There has been nothing but the sun and eye from the beginning," Thoreau had written when his only business was looking and he grew, as he expressed it, "like corn in the night." The sun and the eye are the two aspects of nature which are irremediably linked. But the eye of man constitutes an awesome crystal whose diffractions are far greater than those of any Newtonian prism.

We see, as artists, as scientists, each in his own way, through the inexorable lens we cannot alter. In a nature which Thoreau recognized as unfixed and lawless anything might happen. The artist's endeavor is to make it happen -- the unlawful, the oncoming world, whether endurable or mad, but shaped, shaped always by the harsh angles of truth, the truth as glimpsed through the terrible crystal of genius. This is the one sure rule of that other civilization which we have come to know is greater than our own. Thoreau called it, from the first, "unfinished business," when he turned and walked away from his hut at Walden Pond.
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Re: Starthrower, by Loren Eiseley

Postby admin » Mon May 02, 2016 2:57 am

The Lethal Factor

The Great Olduvai Gorge in East Africa has been appropriately called the Grand Canyon of human evolution. Here a million, perhaps two million, years of human history are recorded in the shape of successive skulls and deposits of stone tools. The elusive story of the long road man has traveled is glimpsed momentarily in eroded strata and faded bone. Olduvai is now famous all over the world. Only to those who have the habit of searching beyond the obvious, however, may it have occurred that this precipitous rift through time parallels and emphasizes a similar rift in ourselves -- a rift that lies like a defacing crack across our minds and consequently many of our institutions. From its depths we can hear the rumble of the torrent from which we have ascended and sense the disastrous ease with which both individual men and civilizations can topple backward and be lost.

Brooding upon the mysteries of time and change, a great and thoughtful scholar, Alfred North Whitehead, many years ago recorded his thoughts in a cryptic yet profound observation. He said, in brief, "We are ... of infinite importance, because as we perish we are immortal." Whitehead was not speaking in ordinary theological terms. He was not concerned in this passage with the survival of the human personality after death -- at least as a religious conception. He was, instead, struggling with that difficult idea which he describes as the "prehension of the past," the fact that the world we know, even as it perishes, remains an elusive, unfixed element in the oncoming future.

The organic world, as well as that superorganic state which exists in the realm of thought, is, in truth, prehensile in a way that the inorganic world is not. The individual animal or plant in the course of its development moves always in relation to an unseen future toward which its forces are directed: the egg is broken and a snake writhes away into the grass; the acorn seedling, through many seasons, contorts itself slowly into a gnarled, gigantic oak. Similarly, life moves against the future in another, an evolutionary, sense. The creature existing now -- this serpent, this bird, this man -- has only to leave progeny in order to stretch out a gray, invisible hand into the evolutionary future, into the nonexistent.

With time, the bony fin is transformed into a paw, a round, insectivore eye into the near-sighted gaze of a scholar. Moreover, all along this curious animal extension into time, parts of ourselves are flaking off, breaking away into unexpected and unforeseen adventures. One insectivore fragment has taken to the air and become a vampire bat, while another fragment draws pictures in a cave and creates a new prehensile realm where the shadowy fingers of lost ideas reach forward into time to affect our world view and, with it, our future destinies and happiness.

Thus, since the dawn of life on the planet, the past has been figuratively fingering the present. There is in reality no clearly separable past and future either in the case of nerve and bone or within the less tangible but equally real world of history. Even the extinct dead have plucked the great web of life in such a manner that the future still vibrates to their presence. The mammalian world was for a long time constricted and impoverished by the dominance of the now vanished reptiles. Similarly, who knows today what beautiful creature remains potential only because of man's continued existence, or what renewed manifestations of creative energy his presence inhibits or has indeed destroyed forever.

As the history of the past unrolls itself before the eyes of both paleontologists and archaeologists, however, it becomes evident, so far as the biological realm is concerned, that by far the greater proportion of once-living branches on the tree of life are dead, and to this the archaeologist and historian must add dead stone, dead letters, dead ideas, and dead civilizations. As one gropes amid all this attic dust it becomes ever more apparent that some lethal factor, some arsenical poison, seems to lurk behind the pleasant show of the natural order or even the most enticing cultural edifices that man has been able to erect.

In the organic world of evolution three facts, so far as we can perceive, today seem to determine the death of species: the irreversibility of the organic process in time; high specialization which, in the end, limits new adaptive possibilities; the sudden emergence of spectacular enemies or other environmental circumstances which overwhelm or ambush a living form so suddenly that the slow adjustive process of natural selection cannot be made to function. This third principle, one could say, is the factor which, given the other two limitations upon all forms of life, will result in extinction. As a drastic example one could point to the destruction of many of the larger creatures as man has abruptly extended his sway over both hemispheres and into many different environmental zones.

The past century has seen such great accessions of knowledge in relation to these natural events, as well as a growing consciousness of man's exposure to similar dangers, that there is an increasing tendency to speculate upon our own possibilities for survival. The great life web which man has increasingly plucked with an abruptness unusual in nature shows signs of "violence in the return," to use a phrase of Francis Bacon's. The juvenile optimism about progress which characterized our first scientific years was beginning early in this century to be replaced by doubts which the widely circulated Decline of the West by Oswald Spengler documents only too well. As the poet J. C. Squire says, we can turn

the great wheel backward until Troy unburn,
... and seven Troys below
Rise out of death and dwindle ...

We can go down through the layers of dead cities until the gold becomes stone, until the jewels become shells, until the palace is a hovel, until the hovel becomes a heap of gnawed bones.

Are the comparisons valid? The historians differ. Is there hope? A babble of conflicting voices confuses us. Are we safe? On this point I am sure that every person of cultivation and intelligence would answer with a resounding "No!" Spengler -- not the optimist -- was right in prophesying that this century would be one marked by the rise of dictators, great wars, and augmented racial troubles. Whether he was also right in foreseeing this century as the onsetting winter of Western civilization is a more difficult problem.

Faustian, space-loving man still hurls his missiles skyward. His tentacular space probes seem destined to palpate the farthest rim of the solar system. Yet honesty forces us to confess that this effort is primarily the product of conflict, that millions are now employed in the institutions erected to serve that conflict, that government and taxes are increasingly geared to it, that in another generation, if not now, it will have become traditional. Men who have spent their lives in the service of these institutions will be reluctant to dissolve them. A vested interest will exist on both sides of the iron curtain. The growing involution of this aspect of Western culture may well come to resemble the ingrowth and fantasies of that ritualized belief in mana which characterized late Polynesian society.

It is upon this anthropological note that I should like to examine the nature of the human species -- the creature who at first glance appears to have escaped from the specialized cul-de-sac which has left his late-existing primate relative, the gorilla, peering sullenly from the little patch of sheltered bush that yet remains to him. I have said that some lethal factor seems to linger in man's endeavors. It is for this reason that I venture these words from a discipline which has long concerned itself with the origins, the illusions, the symbols, and the folly as well as the grandeur of civilizations whose records are lost and whose temples are fallen. Yet the way is not easy. As Herman Melville has written in one great perceptive passage:

By vast pains we mine into the pyramid; by
horrible gropings we come to the central room;
with joy we espy the sarcophagus; but we lift
the lid -- and no body is there! -- appallingly
vacant, as vast, is the soul of man!

I have spent a sizable number of my adult years among the crude stones of man's Ice Age adventurings. The hard, clean flint in the mountain spring defines and immortalizes the race that preceded us better than our own erratic fabrications distinguish our time. There is as yet no sharp edge to our image. Will it be, in the end, the twisted gantrys on the rocket bases, or telephone wires winding voiceless through the high Sierras, or the glass from space-searching observatories pounded into moonstones in the surf on a sinking coast?

What makes the symbol, finally, for another age as the pyramids for theirs -- writing for five thousand years man's hope against the sky? Before we pass, it is well to think of what our final image as a race may be -- the image that will give us a kind of earthly immortality or represent, perhaps, our final collective visage in eternity. But it is to the seeds of death within us that we must address ourselves before we dare ask this other final question of what may stand for us when all else is fallen and gone down. We shall not begin with Western society, we shall begin with man. We shall open that symbolic sepulcher of which Melville speaks. We shall grope in the roiling, tumultuous darkness for that unplumbed vacancy which Melville termed so ironically the soul of man.

Since the days of Lyell and Hutton, who perceived, beneath the romantic geological catastrophism of their age, that the prosaic and unnoticed works of wind and sun and water were the real shapers of the planet, science has been adverse to the recognition of discontinuity in natural events. (It should be said in justice to Sir Charles Lyell, however, that in combating the paroxysmal theories which preoccupied his contemporaries he maintained, nevertheless, that "minor convulsions and changes are ... a vera causa, a force and mode of operation which we know to be true.") Nevertheless the rise of modern physics, with its emphasis on quantum theory in the realm of particles, and even certain aspects of Mendelian genetics serve to remind us that there are still abroad in nature hidden powers which, on occasion, manifest themselves in an unpredictable fashion. On a more dramatic scale no one to date has been quite able to account satisfactorily for that series of rhythmic and overwhelming catastrophes which we call the Ice Age. It is true that we no longer cloak such mysteries in an aura of supernaturalism, but they continue to remind us, nevertheless, of the latent forces still lurking within nature.

Another of these episodes is reflected in the origins of the human mind. It represents, in a sense, a quantum step: the emergence of genuine novelty. It does so because the brain brought into being what would have been, up until the time of its appearance, an inconceivable event -- the world of culture. The mundus alter -- this other intangible, faery world of dreams, fantasies, invention -- has been flowing through the heads of men since the first ape-man succeeded in cutting out a portion of his environment and delineating it in a transmissible word. With that word a world arose which will die only when the last man utters the last meaningful sound.

It is a world that lurks, real enough, behind the foreheads of men; it has transformed their natural environment. It has produced history, the unique act out of the natural world about us. "The foxes have their holes," the words are recorded of the apostle Matthew, "the wild birds have their nests, but the Son of Man has no where to lay his head." Two thousand years ago in the Judean desert men recognized that the instinctive world of the animals had been lost to man. Henceforward he would pass across the landscape as a wanderer who, in a sense, was outside of nature. His shadow would grow large in the night beside the glare of his red furnaces. Fickle, erratic, dangerous, he would wrest from stone and deep-veined metal powers hitherto denied to living things. His restless mind would try all paths, all horrors, all betrayals. In the strange individual talents nourished in his metropolises, great music would lift him momentarily into some pure domain of peace. Art would ennoble him; temptation and terror pluck his sleeve. He would believe all things and believe nothing. He would kill for shadowy ideas more ferociously than other creatures kill for food, then, in a generation or less, forget what bloody dream had so oppressed him.

Man stands, in other words, between the two most disparate kingdoms upon earth: the flesh and the spirit. He is lost between an instinctive mental domain he has largely abandoned and a realm of thought through which still drift ghostly shadows of his primordial past. Like all else that lingers along the borders of one world while gazing into another, he is imperfectly adapted. It is not only the sea lion from the deep waters that inches itself painfully up the shore into the unfamiliar sunlight. So does man in the deep interior of his mind occasionally clamber far up into sunlit meadows where his world is changed and where, in the case of some few, for such is the way of evolution, there is no return to lower earth. It has taken us far longer to discover the scars of evolution in our brains than to interpret the vestigial organs tucked into odd crannies of our bodies or the wounds and aches that reveal to us that we have not always walked upon two feet.

Alfred Russel Wallace perceived in 1864 that in man the rise of the most remarkable specialization in the organic world -- the human brain -- had to a considerable degree outmoded the evolution of specialized organs. The creature who could clothe himself in fur or take it off at will, who could, by extension of himself into machines, fly, swim, or roll at incredible speeds, had simultaneously mastered all of earth's environments with the same physical body. Paradoxically, this profound biological specialization appeared to have produced an organ devoted to the sole purpose of escaping specialization. No longer could man be trapped in a single skin, a single climate, a single continent, or even a single culture. He had become ubiquitous. The wind wafted his little craft to the ends of the earth, seeds changed their substance under his hands, the plague hesitated and drew back before his cities. Even his body appeared destined to remain relatively stable since he had become the supremely generalized animal whose only mutability lay in his intelligence as expressed upon his instruments and weapons.

A creature who sets out upon a new road in the wilderness, however, is apt to encounter unexpected dangers, particularly if he ventures into that invisible and mysterious environmental zone, that "other world" which has been conjured up by the sheer power of thought. Man, when he moved from the animal threshold into dawning intellectual consciousness, no longer could depend upon the instinctive promptings that carry a bird upon the wing.

Although it is difficult to penetrate into that half-world of the past, it is evident that order, simple order, must have rapidly become a necessity for survival in human groups across whose members the inchoate thoughts and impulses of the freed mind must have run as alarming vagaries. Man must, in fact, have walked the knife edge of extinction for untold years. As he defined his world he also fell victim to the shadows that lay behind it. He did not accept it, like the animal, as a thing given. He bowed to stone and heard sprites in running water. The entire universe was talking about him and his destiny. He knew the powers and heard the voices. He formulated their wishes for himself. He shaped out of his own drives and timidities the rules and regulations which reintroduced into his world a kind of facsimile of his lost instinctive animal order and simplicity.

By means of custom, strengthened by supernatural enforcement, the violent and impulsive were forced into conformity. There was a way -- the way of the tribe. The individual conformed or perished. There was only one way, and one people, the tribe. That there were many tribes and many ways into the future no one knew, and at first in the wide emptiness of the world it scarcely mattered. It was enough that there was some kind of way or path. Even the Neanderthals had known this and had provided meat and tools that the dead might need upon their journey.

If we pause and contemplate this dim and unhistorical age for a moment it is, as I have intimated, with the thought that it reveals a rift or schism in man's endeavors that runs through his life in many aspects and throughout his history. The great historians have spoken of universal history as, in the words of Lord Acton, "an illumination of the soul." They have ventured to foresee the eventual reunion of man and the meeting of many little histories, ultimately, in the great history of man's final unification. It may be so. Yet whether we peer backward into the cloudy mirror of the past or look around us at the moment, it appears that behind every unifying effort in the life of man there is an opposite tendency to disruption, as if the force symbolized in the story of the Tower of Babel had been felt by man since the beginning. Eternally he builds, and across the smooth facade of his institutional structures there runs this ancient crack, this primordial flaw out of old time. We of this age have not escaped it.

Scarcely had man begun dimly and uncertainly to shape his new- found world of culture than it split into many facets. Its "universal" laws were unfortunately less than those of the nature out of which he had emerged. The customs were, in reality, confined to this island, that hill fort, or the little tribe by the river bank. The people's conception of themselves was similarly circumscribed. They were the people. Those who made strange sounds in a different tongue or believed in other gods were queer and, at best, tolerated for trading purposes if they did not encroach upon tribal territory.

In some parts of the world this remote life, untouched by self-questioning of any sort, this ancient way of small magical dealings with animals and wood spirits and man, has persisted into modern times. It is a comparatively harmless but ensorcelled world in which man's innate capacities are shut up in a very tiny ring and held latent through the long passage of millennia. There are times when one wonders whether it is only a very rare accident that releases man from the ancient, hypnotic sleep into which he so promptly settled after triumphing in his first human endeavor -- that of organizing a way of life, controlling the seasons, and, in general, setting up his own microscopic order in the vast shadow of the natural world. It is worth a passing thought upon primitive capacities that perhaps no existing society has built so much upon so little.

Nevertheless the rift persisted and ran on. The great neolithic empires arose and extended across the old tribal boundaries. The little peoples were becoming the great people. The individual inventor and artist, released from the restrictions of a low-energy society, enriched the whole culture. The arts of government increased. As wealth arose, however, so war, in a modern sense, also arose. Conquest empires, neolithic and classic, largely erased the old tribalism, but a long train of miseries followed in their wake. Slavery, merciless exploitation such as our paleolithic ancestors never imagined in their wildest dreams, disrupted the society and in the end destroyed both the individual and the state.

There began to show across the face of these new empires not alone the symptoms of a bottomless greed but what, in the light of times to come, was more alarming: the very evident fact that, as human rule passed from the village to the empire, the number of men who could successfully wield power for long-term social pur- poses grew less. Moreover, the long chain of bureaucracy from the ruler to the ruled made for greater inefficiency and graft. Man was beginning to be afflicted with bigness in his affairs, and with bigness there often emerges a dogmatic rigidity. The system, if bad, may defy individual strength to change it and simply run its inefficient way until it collapses. It is here that what we may call involution in the human drama becomes most apparent.

There tend to arise in human civilization institutions which monopolize, in one direction or another, the wealth and attention of the society, frequently to its eventual detriment and increasing rigidity. These are, in a sense, cultural overgrowths, excessively ornate societal excrescences as exaggerated as some of the armor plate that adorned the gigantic bodies of the last dinosaurs. Such complications may be as relatively harmless as a hyperdeveloped caste system in which no social fluidity exists, or as dangerous as military institutions that employ increasingly a disproportionate amount of the capital and attention of the state and its citizens.

In one of those profound morality plays which C. S. Lewis is capable of tossing off lightly in the guise of science fiction, one of his characters remarks that in the modern era the good appears to be getting better and the evil more terrifying. It is as though two antipathetic elements in the universe were slowly widening the gap between them. Man, in some manner, stands at the heart of this growing rift. Perhaps he contains it within himself. Perhaps he feels the crack slowly widening in his mind and his institutions. He sees the finest intellects, which in the previous century concerned themselves with electric light and telephonic communication, devote themselves as wholeheartedly to missiles and supersonic bombers. He finds that the civilization which once assumed that only barbarians would think of attacking helpless civilian populations from the air has, by degrees, come to accept the inevitability of such barbarism.

Hope, if it is expressed by the potential candidates for mass extermination in this age of advanced destruction, is expressed, not in terms of living, but in those of survival, such hope being largely premised on confidence in one's own specialists to provide a nuclear blanket capable of exceeding that of the enemy. All else gives way before the technician and the computer specialist running his estimates as to how many million deaths it takes, and in how many minutes, before the surviving fragment of a nation -- if any -- sues for peace. Nor, in the scores of books analyzing these facts, is it easy to find a word spared to indicate concern for the falling sparrow, the ruined forest, the contaminated spring -- all, in short, that still spells to man a life in nature.

One of these technicians wrote in another connection involving the mere use of insecticides, which I here shorten and paraphrase: "Balance of nature? An outmoded biological concept. There is no room for sentiment in modem science. We shall learn to get along without birds if necessary. After all, the dinosaurs disappeared. Man merely makes the process go faster. Everything changes with time." And so it does. But let us be as realistic as the gentleman would wish. It may be we who go. I am just primitive enough to hope that somehow, somewhere, a cardinal may still be whistling on a green bush when the last man goes blind before his man-made sun. If it should turn out that we have mishandled our own lives as several civilizations before us have done, it seems a pity that we should involve the violet and the tree frog in our departure.

To perpetrate this final act of malice seems somehow disproportionate, beyond endurance. It is like tampering with the secret purposes of the universe itself and involving not only man but life in the final holocaust -- an act of petulant, deliberate blasphemy.

It is for this reason that Lewis's remark about the widening gap between good and evil takes on such horrifying significance in our time. The evil man may do has this added significance about it: it is not merely the evil of one tribe seeking to exterminate another. It is, instead, the thought-out willingness to make the air unbreathable to neighboring innocent nations and to poison, in one's death throes, the very springs of life itself. No greater hypertrophy of the institution of war has ever been observed in the West. To make the situation more ironic, the sole desire of every fifth-rate nascent nationalism is to emulate Russia and America, to rattle rockets, and, if these are too expensive, then at least to possess planes and a parade of tanks. For the first time in history a divisive nationalism, spread like a contagion from the West, has increased in virulence and blown around the world.

A multitude of states are now swept along in a passionate hunger for arms as the only important symbol of prestige. Yearly their number increases. For the first time in human history the involutional disease of a single civilization, that of the West, shows signs of becoming the disease of all contemporary societies. Such, it would appear, is one of the less beneficial aspects of the communications network that we have flung around the world. The universal understanding which has been the ultimate goal sought by the communications people, that shining Telstar through which we were to promote the transmission of wisdom, bids fair, instead, to promote unsatisfied hunger and the enthusiastic reception of irrationalities that embed themselves all too readily in the minds of the illiterate.

Man may have ceased to teeter uncertainly upon his hind legs; his strange physical history may be almost over. But within his mind he is still hedged about by the shadows of his own fear and uncertainty; he still lingers at the borders of his dark and tree-filled world. He fears the sunlight, he fears truth, he fears himself. In the words of Thomas Beddoes, who looked long into that world of shadows:

Nature's polluted.
There's man in every secret corner of her
Doing damned wicked deeds. Thou art, old world,
A hoary, atheistic, murdering star.

This is the dark murmur that rises from the abyss beneath us and that draws us with uncanny fascination.

If I were to attempt to spell out in a sentence the single lethal factor at the root of declining or lost civilizations up to the present, I would be forced to say adaptability. I would have to remark, paradoxically, that the magnificent specialization of gray matter which has opened to us all the climates of the earth, which has given us music, surrounded us with luxury, entranced us with great poetry, has this one flaw: it is too adaptable. In breaking free from instinct and venturing naked into a universe which demands constant trial and experiment, a world whose possibilities were unexplored and are unlimited, man's hunger for experience became unlimited also. He has the capacity to veer with every wind or, stubbornly, to insert himself into some fantastically elaborated and irrational social institution only to perish with it.

It may well be that some will not call this last piece of behavior adaptation. Yet it is to be noted that only extreme, if unwise, adaptability would have allowed man to contrive and inhabit such strange structures. When men in the mass have once attached themselves to a cultural excrescence that grows until it threatens the life of the society, it is almost impossible to modify their behavior without violence. Yet along with this, as I have remarked, fervid waves of religious or military enthusiasm may sweep through a society and then vanish with scarcely a trace.

It would take volumes to chronicle the many facets of this problem. It is almost as though man had at heart no image, but only images, that his soul was truly as vacant and vast as Melville intimated in the passage I quoted earlier. Man is mercurial and shifting. He can look down briefly into the abyss and say, smiling, "We are beasts from the dark wood. We will never be anything else. We are not to be trusted. Never on this earth. We have come from down there." This view is popular in our time. We speak of the fossil ape encrusted in our hearts. This is one image of many that man entertains of himself. Another was left by a man who died 2000 years ago.

I have mentioned before the collective symbol that a civilization sometimes leaves to posterity and the difficulty one has with our own because of the rapidity with which our technology has altered and the restless flickering of our movement from one domain of life to another. A few months ago I read casually in my evening newspaper that our galaxy is dying. That great wheel of fire of which our planetary system is an infinitesimal part was, so the report ran, proceeding to its end. The detailed evidence was impressive. Probably, though I have not attempted to verify the figures, the spiral arm on which we drift is so vast that it has not made one full circle of the wheel since the first man-ape picked up and used a stone.

I saw no use in whispering behind my hand at the club, next morning, "They say the galaxy is dying." I knew well enough that man, being more perishable than stars, would be gone billions of years before the edge of the Milky Way grew dark. It was not that aspect of the human episode which moved me. Instead it was the sudden realization of what man could do on so gigantic a scale even if, as yet, his personal fate eluded him. Out there millions of light-years away from earth, man's hands were already fumbling in the coal-scuttle darkness of a future universe. The astronomer was foreshortening time -- just as on a shorter scale eclipses can be foretold, or an apparently empty point in space can be shown as destined to receive an invisibly moving body. So man, the short-lived midge, is reaching into and observing events he will never witness in the flesh. In a psychological second, on this elusive point we call the present, we can watch the galaxy drift into darkness.

The materiality of the universe, Alfred North Whitehead somewhere remarks, is measured "in proportion to the restriction of memory and anticipation." With consciousness, memory, extended through the written word and the contributions of science, penetrates further and further into both aspects of time's unknown domain -- that is, the past and the future. Although individual men do not live longer, we might say that the reach of mind in the universe and its potential control of the natural order is enormously magnified.

Material substance no longer dominates the spiritual life. There is not space here to explore all aspects of this fascinating subject, or the paradoxes with which our burgeoning technology have presented us. This strange capacity of the mind upon which we exercise so little thought, however, means that man both remains within the historical order, and, at the same time, passes beyond it.

We are present in history, we may see history as meaningless or purposeful, but as the heightened consciousness of time invades our thinking, our ability to free our intellects from a narrow and self-centered immediacy should be intensified. It is this toward which Whitehead was directing his thought: that all responsible decisions are acts of compassion and disinterest; they exist within time and history but they are also outside of it, unique and individual and, because individual, spiritually free. In the words of Erich Frank, "History and the world do not change, but man's attitude to the world changes."

I wonder if we understand this point, for it is the crux of this essay, and though I have mentioned modern thinkers, it leads straight back to the New Testament. A number of years ago in a troubled period of my life I chanced to take a cab from an airport outside a large eastern city. My route passed through the back streets of a run-down area of dilapidated buildings. I remember passing a pathetic little cemetery whose smudged crosses, dating from another era, were now being encroached upon and overshadowed by the huge gray tanks of an oil refinery. The shadow of giant machines now fell daily across the hill of the dead. It was almost a visible struggle of the symbols to which I have earlier referred -- the cross that marks two thousand years of Western culture, shrinking, yet still holding its little acre in the midst of hulking beams and shadows where now no sunlight ever fell.

I felt an unreasoned distaste as we jounced deeper into these narrow alleyways, or roared beneath giant bridges toward a distant throughway. Finally, as we cut hastily through a slightly more open section, I caught a glimpse of a neighborhood church -- a church of evident poverty, of a sect unknown, and destined surely to vanish from that unsavory spot. It was an anachronism as doomed as the cemetery. We passed, and a moment later, as though the sign had been hanging all that time in the cab before me, instead of standing neatly in the yard outside the church, my conscious mind unwillingly registered the words:

Christ died to save mankind.
Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by?

I looked at that invisible hanging sign with surprise, if not annoyance. By some I have been castigated because I am an evolutionist. In one church which I had attended as the guest of a member I had been made the covert object of a sermon in which I had recognizably played the role of a sinning scientist. I cannot deny that the role may have fitted me, but I could not feel that the hospitality, under the circumstances, was Christian. I had seen fanatical sectarian signs of ignorant and contentious sects painted on rocks all over America, particularly in desert places. I had gazed unmoved on them all.

But here on a plain white board that would not remove itself from my eyes, an unknown man in the shadow of one of the ugliest neighborhoods in America had in some manner lifted that falling symbol from the shadow of the refinery tanks and thrust it relentlessly before my eyes. There was no evading it. "Is it nothing to you?" I was being asked -- I who passed by, who had indeed already passed and would again ignore much more sophisticated approaches to religion.

But the symbol, one symbol of many in the wilderness of modern America, still exerted its power over me; a dozen lines of thinking, past and present, drew in upon me. Nothing eventful happened in the outside world. Whatever took place happened within myself. The cab sped on down the throughway.

But before my mind's eye, like an ineradicable mote, persisted the vision of that lost receding figure on the dreadful hill of Calvary who whispered with his last breath, "It is finished." It was not for himself he cried -- it was for man against eternity, for us of every human generation who perform against the future the acts which justify creation or annul it. This is the power in the mind of man, a mindprint, if you will, an insubstantial symbol which holds like a strained cable the present from falling into the black abyss of nothingness. This is why, if we possess great fortitude, each one of us can say against the future he has not seen, "It is finished."

At that moment we will have passed beyond the reach of time into a still and hidden place where it was said, "He who loses his life will find it." And in that place we will have found an ancient and an undistorted way.
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Re: Starthrower, by Loren Eiseley

Postby admin » Mon May 02, 2016 2:58 am

The Illusion of the Two Cultures

Not long ago an English scientist, Sir Eric Ashby, remarked that "to train young people in the dialectic between orthodoxy and dissent is the unique contribution which universities make to society." I am sure that Sir Eric meant by this remark that nowhere but in universities are the young given the opportunity to absorb past tradition and at the same time to experience the impact of new ideas -- in the sense of a constant dialogue between past and present -- lived in every hour of the student's existence. This dialogue, ideally, should lead to a great winnowing and sifting of experience and to a heightened consciousness of self which, in turn, should lead on to greater sensitivity and perception on the part of the individual.

Our lives are the creation of memory and the accompanying power to extend ourselves outward into ideas and relive them. The finest intellect is that which employs an invisible web of gossamer running into the past as well as across the minds of living men and which constantly responds to the vibrations transmitted through these tenuous lines of sympathy. It would be contrary to fact, however, to assume that our universities always perform this unique function of which Sir Eric speaks, with either grace or perfection; in fact our investment in man, it has been justly remarked, is deteriorating even as the financial investment in science grows.

More than thirty years ago, George Santayana had already sensed this trend. He commented, in a now-forgotten essay, that one of the strangest consequences of modern science was that as the visible wealth of nature was more and more transferred and abstracted, the mind seemed to lose courage and to become ashamed of its own fertility. "The hard-pressed natural man will not indulge his imagination," continued Santayana, "unless it poses for truth; and being half-aware of this imposition, he is more troubled at the thought of being deceived than at the fact of being mechanized or being bored; and he would wish to escape imagination altogether."

"Man would wish to escape imagination altogether." I repeat that last phrase, for it defines a peculiar aberration of the human mind found on both sides of that bipolar division between the humanities and the sciences, which C. P. Snow has popularized under the title of The Two Cultures. The idea is not solely a product of this age. It was already emerging with the science of the seventeenth century; one finds it in Bacon. One finds the fear of it faintly foreshadowed in Thoreau. Thomas Huxley lent it weight when he referred contemptuously to the "caterwauling of poets."

Ironically, professional scientists berated the early evolutionists such as Lamarck and Chambers for overindulgence in the imagination. Almost eighty years ago John Burroughs observed that some of the animus once directed by science toward dogmatic theology seemed in his day increasingly to be vented upon the literary naturalist. In the early 1900s a quarrel over "nature faking" raised a confused din in America and aroused W. H. Hudson to some dry and pungent comment upon the failure to distinguish the purposes of science from those of literature. I know of at least one scholar who, venturing to develop some personal ideas in an essay for the layman, was characterized by a reviewer in a leading professional journal as a worthless writer, although, as it chanced, the work under discussion had received several awards in literature, one of them international in scope. More recently, some scholars not indifferent to humanistic values have exhorted poets to leave their personal songs in order to portray the beauty and symmetry of molecular structures.

Now some very fine verse has been written on scientific subjects, but, I fear, very little under the dictate of scientists as such. Rather there is evident here precisely that restriction of imagination against which Santayana inveighed; namely, an attempt to constrain literature itself to the delineation of objective or empiric truth, and to dismiss the whole domain of value, which after all constitutes the very nature of man, as without significance and beneath contempt.

Unconsciously, the human realm is denied in favor of the world of pure technics. Man, the tool user, grows convinced that he is himself only useful as a tool, that fertility except in the use of the scientific imagination is wasteful and without purpose, even, in some indefinable way, sinful. I was reading J. R. R. Tolkien's great symbolic trilogy, The Fellowship of the Ring, a few months ago, when a young scientist of my acquaintance paused and looked over my shoulder. After a little casual interchange the man departed leaving an accusing remark hovering in the air between us. "I wouldn't waste my time with a man who writes fairy stories." He might as well have added, "or with a man who reads them."

As I went back to my book I wondered vaguely in what leafless landscape one grew up without Hans Christian Andersen, or Dunsany, or even Jules Verne. There lingered about the young man's words a puritanism which seemed the more remarkable because, as nearly as I could discover, it was unmotivated by any sectarian religiosity unless a total dedication to science brings to some minds a similar authoritarian desire to shackle the human imagination. After all, it is this impossible, fertile world of our imagination which gave birth to liberty in the midst of oppression, and which persists in seeking until what is sought is seen. Against such invisible and fearful powers, there can be found in all ages and in all institutions -- even the institutions of professional learning -- the humorless man with the sneer, or if the sneer does not suffice, then the torch, for the bright unperishing letters of the human dream.

One can contrast this recalcitrant attitude with an .890 reminiscence from that great Egyptologist Sir Flinders Petrie, which steals over into the realm of pure literature. It was written, in unconscious symbolism, from a tomb:

"I here live, and do not scramble to fit myself to the requirements of others. In a narrow tomb, with the figure of Nefermaat standing on each side of me -- as he has stood through all that we know as human history -- I have just room for my bed, and a row of good reading in which I can take pleasure after dinner. Behind me is that Great Peace, the Desert. It is an entity -- a power -- just as much as the sea is. No wonder men fled to it from the turmoil of the ancient world."

It may now reasonably be asked why one who has similarly, if less dramatically, spent his life among the stones and broken shards of the remote past should be writing here about matters involving literature and science. While I was considering this with humility and trepidation, my eye fell upon a stone in my office. I am sure that professional journalists must recall times when an approaching deadline has keyed all their senses and led them to glance wildly around in the hope that something might leap out at them from the most prosaic surroundings. At all events my eyes fell upon this stone.

Now the stone antedated anything that the historians would call art; it had been shaped many hundreds of thousands of years ago by men whose faces would frighten us if they sat among us today. Out of old habit, since I like the feel of worked flint, I picked it up and hefted it as I groped for words over this difficult matter of the growing rift between science and art. Certainly the stone was of no help to me; it was a utilitarian thing which had cracked marrow bones, if not heads, in the remote dim morning of the human species. It was nothing if not practical. It was, in fact, an extremely early example of the empirical tradition which has led on to modern science.

The mind which had shaped this artifact knew its precise purpose. It had found out by experimental observation that the stone was tougher, sharper, more enduring than the hand which wielded it. The creature's mind had solved the question of the best form of the implement and how it could be manipulated most effectively. In its day and time this hand ax was as grand an intellectual achievement as a rocket.

As a scientist my admiration went out to that unidentified work· man. How he must have labored to understand the forces involved in the fracturing of flint, and all that involved practical survival in his world. My un calloused twentieth-century hand caressed the yellow stone lovingly. It was then that I made a remarkable discovery.

In the mind of this gross-featured early exponent of the practical approach to nature -- the technician, the no-nonsense practitioner of survival -- two forces had met and merged. There had not been room in his short and desperate life for the delicate and supercilious separation of the arts from the sciences. There did not exist then the refined distinctions set up between the scholarly percipience of reality and what has sometimes been called the vaporings of the artistic imagination.

As I clasped and unclasped the stone, running my fingers down its edges, I began to perceive the ghostly emanations from a long-vanished mind, the kind of mind which, once having shaped an object of any sort, leaves an individual trace behind it which speaks to others across the barriers of time and language. It was not the practical experimental aspect of this mind that startled me, but rather that the fellow had wasted time.

In an incalculably brutish and dangerous world he had both shaped an instrument of practical application and then, with a virtuoso's elegance, proceeded to embellish his product. He had not been content to produce a plain, utilitarian implement. In some wistful, inarticulate way, in the grip of the dim aesthetic feelings which are one of the marks of man -- or perhaps I should say, some men -- this archaic creature had lingered over his handiwork.

One could still feel him crouching among the stones on a long-vanished river bar, turning the thing over in his hands, feeling its polished surface, striking, here and there, just one more blow that no longer had usefulness as its criterion. He had, like myself, enjoyed the texture of the stone. With skills lost to me, he had gone on flaking the implement with an eye to beauty until it had become a kind of rough jewel, equivalent in its day to the carved and gold-inlaid pommel of the iron dagger placed in Tutankhamen's tomb.

All the later history of man contains these impractical exertions expended upon a great diversity of objects, and, with literacy, breaking even into printed dreams. Today's secular disruption between the creative aspect of art and that of science is a barbarism that would have brought lifted eyebrows in a Cro-Magnon cave. It is a product of high technical specialization, the deliberate blunting of wonder, and the equally deliberate suppression of a phase of our humanity in the name of an authoritarian institution, science, which has taken on, in our time, curious puritanical overtones. Many scientists seem unaware of the historical reasons for this development or the fact that the creative aspect of art is not so remote from that of science as may seem, at first glance, to be the case.

I am not so foolish as to categorize individual scholars or scientists. I am, however, about to remark on the nature of science as an institution. Like all such structures it is apt to reveal certain behavioral rigidities and conformities which increase with age. It is no longer the domain of the amateur, though some of its greatest discoverers could be so defined. It is now a professional body, and with professionalism there tends to emerge a greater emphasis upon a coherent system of regulations. The deviant is more sharply treated, and the young tend to imitate their successful elders. In short, an "Establishment" -- a trade union -- has appeared.

Similar tendencies can be observed among those of the humanities concerned with the professional analysis and interpretation of the works of the creative artist. Here too, a similar rigidity and exclusiveness make their appearance. It is not that in the case of both the sciences and the humanities standards are out of place. What I am briefly cautioning against is that too frequently they afford an excuse for stifling original thought or constricting much latent creativity within traditional molds.

Such molds are always useful to the mediocre conformist who instinctively castigates and rejects what he cannot imitate. Tradition, the continuity of learning, are, it is true, enormously important to the learned disciplines. What we must realize as scientists is that the particular institution we inhabit has its own irrational accretions and authoritarian dogmas which can be as unpleasant as some of those encountered in sectarian circles -- particularly so since they are frequently unconsciously held and surrounded by an impenetrable wall of self-righteousness brought about because science is regarded as totally empiric and open-minded by tradition.

This type of professionalism, as I shall label it in order. to distinguish it from what is best in both the sciences and humanities, is characterized by two assumptions: that the accretions of fact are cumulative and lead to progress, whereas the insights of art are, at best, singular, and lead nowhere, or, when introduced into the realm of science, produce obscurity and confusion. The convenient label "mystic" is, in our day, readily applied to men who pause for simple wonder, or who encounter along the borders of the known that "awful power" which Wordsworth characterized as the human imagination. It can, he says, rise suddenly from the mind's abyss and enwrap the solitary traveler like a mist.

We do not like mists in this era, and the word imagination is less and less used. We like, instead, a clear road, and we abhor solitary traveling. Indeed one of our great scientific historians remarked not long ago that the literary naturalist was obsolescent if not completely outmoded. I suppose he meant that with our penetration into the biophysical realm, life, like matter, would become increasingly represented by abstract symbols. To many it must appear that the more we can dissect life into its elements, the closer we are getting to its ultimate resolution. While I have some reservations on this score, they are not important. Rather, I should like to look at the symbols which in the one case denote science and in the other constitute those vaporings and cloud wraiths that are the abomination, so it is said, of the true scientist but are the delight of the poet and literary artist.

Creation in science demands a high level of imaginative insight and intuitive perception. I believe no one would deny this, even though it exists in varying degrees, just as it does, similarly, among writers, musicians, or artists. The scientist's achievement, however, is quantitatively transmissible. From a single point his discovery is verifiable by other men who may then, on the basis of corresponding data, accept the innovation and elaborate upon it in the cumulative fashion which is one of the great triumphs of science.

Artistic creation, on the other hand, is unique. It cannot be twice discovered, as, say, natural selection was discovered. It may be imitated stylistically, in a genre, a school, but, save for a few items of technique, it is not cumulative. A successful work of art may set up reverberations and is, in this, just as transmissible as science, but there is a qualitative character about it. Each reverberation in another mind is unique. As the French novelist Francois Mauriac has remarked, each great novel is a separate and distinct world operating under its own laws with a flora and fauna totally its own. There is communication, or the work is a failure, but the communication releases our own visions, touches some highly personal chord in our own experience.

The symbols used by the great artist are a key releasing our humanity from the solitary tower of the self. "Man," says Lewis Mumford, "is first and foremost the self-fabricating animal." I shall merely add that the artist plays an enormous role in this act of self-creation. It is he who touches the hidden strings of pity, who searches our hearts, who makes us sensitive to beauty, who asks questions about fate and destiny. Such questions, though they lurk always around the corners of the external universe which is the peculiar province of science, the rigors of the scientific method do not enable us to pursue directly.

And yet I wonder.

It is surely possible to observe that it is the successful analogy or symbol which frequently allows the scientist to leap from a generalization in one field of thought to a triumphant achievement in another. For example, Progressionism in a spiritual sense later became the model contributing to the discovery of organic evolution. Such analogies genuinely resemble the figures and enchantments of great literature, whose meanings similarly can never be totally grasped because of their endless power to ramify in the individual mind.

John Donne gave powerful expression to a feeling applicable as much to science as to literature when he said devoutly of certain Biblical passages: "The literall sense is alwayes to be preserved; but the literall sense is not alwayes to be discerned; for the literall sense is not alwayes that which the very letter and grammar of the place presents." A figurative sense, he argues cogently, can sometimes be the most "literall intention of the Holy Ghost."

It is here that the scientist and artist sometimes meet in uneasy opposition, or at least along lines of tension. The scientist's attitude is sometimes, I suspect, that embodied in Samuel Johnson's remark that, wherever there is mystery, roguery is not far off.

Yet surely it was not roguery when Sir Charles Lyell glimpsed in a few fossil prints of raindrops the persistence of the world's natural forces through the incredible, mysterious aeons of geologic time. The fossils were a symbol of a vast hitherto unglimpsed order. They are, in Donne's sense, both literal and symbolic. As fossils they merely denote evidence of rain in a past era. Figuratively they are more. To the perceptive intelligence they afford the hint of lengthened natural order, just as the eyes of ancient trilobites tell us similarly of the unchanging laws of light. Equally, the educated mind may discern in a scratched pebble the retreating shadow of vast ages of ice and gloom. In Donne's archaic phraseology these objects would bespeak the principal intention of the Divine Being -- that is, of order beyond our power to grasp.

Such images drawn from the world of science are every bit as powerful as great literary symbolism and equally demanding upon the individual imagination of the scientist who would fully grasp the extension of meaning which is involved. It is, in fact, one and the same creative act in both domains.

Indeed evolution itself has become such a figurative symbol, as has also the hypothesis of the expanding universe. The laboratory worker may think of these concepts in a totally empirical fashion as subject to proof or disproof by the experimental method. Like Freud's doctrine of the subconscious, however, such ideas frequently escape from the professional scientist into the public domain. There they may undergo further individual transformation and embellishment. Whether the scholar approves or not, such hypotheses are now as free to evolve in the mind of the individual as are the creations of art. All the resulting enrichment and confusion will bear about it something suggestive of the world of artistic endeavor.

As figurative insights into the nature of things, such embracing conceptions may become grotesquely distorted or glow with added philosophical wisdom. As in the case of the trilobite eye or the fossil raindrop, there lurks behind the visible evidence vast shadows no longer quite of that world which we term natural. Like the words in Donne's Bible, enormous implications have transcended the literal expression of the thought. Reality itself has been superseded by a greater reality. As Donne himself asserted, "The substance of the truth is in the great images which lie behind."

It is because these two types of creation -- the artistic and the scientific -- have sprung from the same being and have their points of contact even in division that I have the temerity to assert that, in a sense, the "two cultures" are an illusion, that they are a product of unreasoning fear, professionalism, and misunderstanding. Because of the emphasis upon science in our society, much has been said about the necessity of educating the layman and even the professional student of the humanities upon the ways and the achievements of science. I admit that a barrier exists, but I am also concerned to express the view that there persists in the domain of science itself an occasional marked intolerance of those of its own membership who venture to pursue the way of letters. As I have remarked, this intolerance can the more successfully clothe itself in seeming objectivity because of the supposed open nature of the scientific society. It is not remarkable that this trait is sometimes more manifest in the younger and less secure disciplines.

There was a time, not too many centuries ago, when to be active in scientific investigation was to invite suspicion. Thus it may be that there now lingers among us, even in the triumph of the experimental method, a kind of vague fear of that other artistic world of deep emotion, of strange symbols, lest it seize upon us or distort the hard-won objectivity of our thinking -- lest it corrupt, in other words, that crystalline and icy objectivity which, in our scientific guise, we erect as a model of conduct. This model, incidentally, if pursued to its absurd conclusion, would lead to a world in which the computer would determine all aspects of our existence; one in which the bomb would be as welcome as the discoveries of the physician.

Happily, the very great in science, or even those unique scientist-artists such as Leonardo, who foreran the emergence of science as an institution, have been singularly free from this folly. Darwin decried it even as he recognized that he had paid a certain price in concentrated specialization for his achievement. Einstein, it is well known, retained a simple sense of wonder; Newton felt like a child playing with pretty shells on a beach. All show a deep humility and an emotional hunger which is the prerogative of the artist. It is with the lesser men, with the institutionalization of method, with the appearance of dogma and mapped-out territories, that an unpleasant suggestion of fenced preserves begins to dominate the university atmosphere.

As a scientist, I can say that I have observed it in my own and others' specialties. I have had occasion, also, to observe its effects in the humanities. It is not science per se; it is, instead, in both regions of thought, the narrow professionalism which is also plainly evident in the trade union. There can be small men in science just as there are small men in government or business. In fact it is one of the disadvantages of big science, just as it is of big government, that the availability of huge sums attracts a swarm of elbowing and contentious men to whom great dreams are less than protected hunting preserves.

The sociology of science deserves at least equal consideration with the biographies of the great scientists, for powerful and changing forces are at work upon science, the institution, as contrasted with science as a dream and an ideal of the individual. Like other aspects of society, it is a construct of men and is subject, like other social structures, to human pressures and inescapable distortions.

Let me give an illustration. Even in learned journals, clashes occasionally occur between those who would regard biology as a separate and distinct domain of inquiry and the reductionists who, by contrast, perceive in the living organism only a vaster and more random chemistry. Understandably, the concern of the reductionists is with the immediate. Thomas Hobbes was expressing a similar point of view when he castigated poets as "working on mean minds with words and distinctions that of themselves signifie nothing, but betray (by their obscurity) that there walketh ... another kingdome, as it were a kingdome of fayries in the dark." I myself have been similarly criticized for speaking of a nature "beyond the nature that we know."

Yet consider for a moment this dark, impossible realm of "fayrie." Man is not totally compounded of the nature we profess to understand. He contains, instead, a lurking unknown future, just as the man-apes of the Pliocene contained in embryo the future that surrounds us now. The world of human culture itself was an unpredictable fairy world until, in some pre-ice-age meadow, the first meaningful sounds in all the world broke through the jungle babble of the past, the nature, until that moment, "known."

It is fascinating to observe that, in the very dawn of science, Francis Bacon, the spokesman for the empirical approach to nature, shared with Shakespeare, the poet, a recognition of the creativeness which adds to nature, and which emerges from nature as "an art which nature makes." Neither the great scholar nor the great poet had renounced this "kingdome of fayries." Both had realized what Henri Bergson was later to express so effectively, that life inserts a vast "indetermination into matter." It is, in a sense, an intrusion from a realm which can never be completely subject to prophetic analysis by science. The novelties of evolution emerge; they cannot be predicted. They haunt, until their arrival, a world of unimaginable possibilities behind the living screen of events, as these last exist to the observer confined to a single point on the time scale.

Oddly enough, much of the confusion that surrounded my phrase, "a nature beyond the nature that we know," resolves itself into pure semantics. I might have pointed out what must be obvious even to the most dedicated scientific mind -- that the nature which we know has been many times reinterpreted in human thinking, and that the hard, substantial matter of the nineteenth century has already vanished into a dark, bodiless void, a web of "events" in space-time. This is a realm, I venture to assert, as weird as any we have tried, in the past, to exorcise by the brave use of seeming solid words. Yet some minds exhibit an almost instinctive hostility toward the mere attempt to wonder or to ask what lies below that microcosmic world out of which emerge the particles which compose our bodies and which now take on this wraithlike quality.

Is there something here we fear to face, except when clothed in safely sterilized professional speech? Have we grown reluctant in this age of power to admit mystery and beauty into our thoughts, or to learn where power ceases? I referred earlier to one of our own forebears on a gravel bar, thumbing a pebble. If, after the ages of building and destroying, if after the measuring of light-years and the powers probed at the atom's heart if after the last iron is rust-eaten and the last glass lies shattered in the streets, a man, some savage, some remnant of what once we were, pauses on his way to the tribal drinking place and feels rising from within his soul the inexplicable mist of terror and beauty that is evoked from old ruins -- even the ruins of the greatest city in the world-then, I say, all will still be well with man.

And if that savage can pluck a stone from the gravel because it shone like crystal when the water rushed over it, and hold it against the sunset, he will be as we were in the beginning, whole -- as we were when we were children, before we began to split the knowledge from the dream. All talk of the two cultures is an illusion; it is the pebble which tells man's story. Upon it is written man's two faces, the artistic and the practical. They are expressed upon one stone over which a hand once closed, no less firm because the mind behind it was submerged in light and shadow and deep wonder.

Today we hold a stone, the heavy stone of power. We must perceive beyond it, however, by the aid of the artistic imagination, those humane insights and understandings which alone can lighten our burden and enable us to shape ourselves, rather than the stone, into the forms which great art has anticipated.
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Re: Starthrower, by Loren Eiseley

Postby admin » Mon May 02, 2016 3:01 am

How Natural Is "Natural"?


In the more obscure scientific circles which I frequent there is a legend circulating about a late distinguished scientist who, in his declining years, persisted in wearing enormous padded boots much too large for him. He had developed, it seems, what to his fellows was a wholly irrational fear of falling through the interstices of that largely empty molecular space which common men in their folly speak of as the world. A stroll across his living-room floor had become, for him, something as dizzily horrendous as the activities of a window washer on the Empire State Building. Indeed, with equal reason he could have passed a ghostly hand through his own ribs.

The quivering network of his nerves, the awe-inspiring movement of his thought, had become a vague cloud of electrons interspersed with the light-year distances that obtain between us and the farther galaxies. This was the natural world which he had helped to create, and in which, at last, he had found himself a lonely and imprisoned occupant. All around him the ignorant rushed on their way over the illusion of substantial floors, leaping, though they did not see it, from particle to particle, over a bottomless abyss. There was even a question as to the reality of the particles which bore them up. It did not, however, keep insubstantial newspapers from being sold, or insubstantial love from being made.

Not long ago I became aware of another world perhaps equally natural and real, which man is beginning to forget. My thinking began in New England under a boat dock. The lake I speak of has been pre-empted and civilized by man. All day long in the vacation season high-speed motorboats, driven with the reckless abandon common to the young Apollos of our society, speed back and forth, carrying loads of equally attractive girls. The shores echo to the roar of powerful motors and the delighted screams of young Americans with uncounted horsepower surging under their hands. In truth, as I sat there under the boat dock, I had some desire to swim or to canoe in the older ways of the great forest which once lay about this region. Either notion would have been folly. I would have been gaily chopped to ribbons by teen-age youngsters whose eyes were always immutably fixed on the far horizons of space or upon the dials which indicated the speed of their passing. There was another world, I was to discover, along the lake shallows and under the boat dock, where the motors could not come.

As I sat there one sunny morning when the water was peculiarly translucent, I saw a dark shadow moving swiftly over the bottom. It was the first sign of life I had seen in this lake, whose shores seemed to yield little but washed-in beer cans. By and by the gliding shadow ceased to scurry from stone to stone over the bottom. Unexpectedly, it headed almost directly for me. A furry nose with gray whiskers broke the surface. Below the whiskers green water foliage trailed out in an inverted V as long as his body. A muskrat still lived in the lake. He was bringing in his breakfast.

I sat very still in the strips of sunlight under the pier. To my surprise the muskrat came almost to my feet with his little breakfast of greens. He was young, and it rapidly became obvious to me that he was laboring under an illusion of his own, and that he thought animals and men were still living in the Garden of Eden. He gave me a friendly glance from time to time as he nibbled his greens. Once, even, he went out into the lake again and returned to my feet with more greens. He had not, it seemed, heard very much about men. I shuddered. Only the evening before I had heard a man describe with triumphant enthusiasm how he had killed a rat in the garden because the creature had dared to nibble his petunias. He had even showed me the murder weapon, a sharp-edged brick.

On this pleasant shore a war existed and would go on until nothing remained but man. Yet this creature with the gray, appealing face wanted very little: a strip of shore to coast up and down, sunlight and moonlight, some weeds from the deep water. He was an edge-of-the- world dweller, caught between a vanishing forest and a deep lake pre-empted by unpredictable machines full of chopping blades. He eyed me near-sightedly, a green leaf poised in his mouth. Plainly he had come with some poorly instructed memory about the lion and the lamb.

"You had better run away now," I said softly, making no movement in the shafts of light. "You are in the wrong universe and must not make this mistake again. I am really a very terrible and cunning beast. I can throw stones." With this I dropped a little pebble at his feet.

He looked at me half blindly, with eyes much better adjusted to the wavering shadows of his lake bottom than to sight in the open air. He made almost as if to take the pebble up into his forepaws. Then a thought seemed to cross his mind -- a thought perhaps telepathically received, as Freud once hinted, in the dark world below and before man, a whisper of ancient disaster heard in the depths of a burrow. Perhaps after all this was not Eden. His nose twitched carefully; he edged toward the water.

As he vanished in an oncoming wave, there went with him a natural world, distinct from the world of girls and motorboats, distinct from the world of the professor holding to reality by some great snowshoe effort in his study. My muskrat's shoreline universe was edged with the dark wall of hills on one side and the waspish drone of motors farther out, but it was a world of sunlight he had taken down into the water weeds. It hovered there, waiting for my disappearance. I walked away, obscurely pleased that darkness had not gained on life by any act of mine. In so many worlds, I thought, how natural is "natural" -- and is there anything we can call a natural world at all?


Nature, contended John Donne in the seventeenth century, is the common law by which God governs us. Donne was already aware of the new science and impressed by glimpses of those vast abstractions which man was beginning to build across the gulfs of his ignorance. Donne makes, however, a reservation which rings strangely in the modern ear. If nature is the common law, he said, then Miracle is God's Prerogative.

By the nineteenth century, this spider web of common law had been flung across the deeps of space and time. "In astronomy," meditated Emerson, "vast distance, but we never go into a foreign system. In geology, vast duration, but we are never strangers. Our meta physic should be able to follow the flying force through all its transformations."

Now admittedly there is a way in which all these worlds are real and sufficiently natural. We can say, if we like, that the muskrat's world is naive and limited, a fraction, a bare fraction, of the world of life: a view from a little pile of wet stones on a nameless shore. The view of the motor speedsters in essence is similar and no less naive. All would give way to the priority of that desperate professor, striving like a tired swimmer to hold himself aloft against the soft and fluid nothingness beneath his feet. In terms of the modern temper, the physicist has penetrated the deepest into life. He has come to that place of whirling sparks which are themselves phantoms. He is close upon the void where science ends and the manifestation of Cod's Prerogative begins. "He can be no creature," argued Donne, "who is present at the first creation."

Yet there is a way in which the intelligence of man in this era of science and the machine can be viewed as having taken the wrong turning. There is a dislocation of our vision which is, perhaps, the product of the kind of creatures we are, or at least conceive ourselves to be. Man, as a two-handed manipulator of the world about him, has projected himself outward upon his surroundings in a way impossible to other creatures. He has done this since the first half-human man-ape hefted a stone in his hand. He has always sought mastery over the materials of his environment, and in our day he has pierced so deeply through the screen of appearances that the age-old distinctions between matter and energy have been dimmed to the point of disappearance. The creations of his clever intellect ride in the skies and the sea's depths; he has hurled a great fragment of metal at the moon, which he once feared. He holds the heat of suns within his hands and threatens with it both the lives and the happiness of his unborn descendants.

Man, in the words of one astute biologist, is "caught in a physiological trap and faced with the problem of escaping from his own ingenuity." Pascal, with intuitive sensitivity, saw this at the very dawn of the modern era in science. "There is nothing which we cannot make natural," he wrote, and then, prophetically, comes the full weight of his judgment upon man: "there is nothing natural which we do not destroy." Homo faber, the toolmaker, is not enough. There must be another road and another kind of man lurking in the mind of this odd creature, but whether the attraction of that path is as strong as the age-old primate addiction to taking things apart remains to be seen.

We who are engaged in the life of thought are likely to assume that the key to an understanding of the world is knowledge, both of the past and of the future -- that if we had that knowledge we would also have wisdom. It is not my intention here to decry learning, but only to say that we must come to understand that learning is endless and that nowhere does it lead us behind the existent world. It may reduce the prejudices of ignorance, set our bones, build our cities. In itself it will never make us ethical men. Yet because ours, we conceive, is an age of progress, and because we know more about time and history than any men before us, we fallaciously equate ethical advance with scientific progress in a point-to-point relationship. Thus as society improves physically, we assume the improvement of the individual and are all the more horrified at those mass movements of terror which have so typified the first half of the twentieth century.

On the morning of which I want to speak, I was surfeited with the smell of mortality and tired of the years I had spent in archaeological dustbins. I rode out of a camp and across a mountain. I would never have believed, before it happened, that one could ride into the past on horseback. It is true I rode with a purpose, but that purpose was to settle an argument within myself.

It was time, I thought, to face up to what was in my mind -- to the dust and the broken teeth and the spilled chemicals of life seeping away into the sand. It was time I admitted that life was of the earth, earthy, and could be turned into a piece of wretched tar. It was time I consented to the proposition that man had as little to do with his fate as a seed blown against a grating. It was time I looked upon the world without spectacles and saw love and pride and beauty dissolve into effervescing juices. I could be an empiricist with the best of them. I would be deceived by no more music. I had entered a black cloud of merciless thought, but the horse, as it chanced, worked his own way over that mountain.

I could hear the sudden ring of his hooves as we came cautiously treading over a tilted table of granite, past the winds that blow on the high places of the world. There were stones there so polished that they shone from the long ages that the storms had rushed across them. We crossed the divide then, picking our way in places scoured by ancient ice action, through boulder fields where nothing moved, and yet where one could feel time like an enemy hidden behind each stone.

If there was life on those heights, it was the thin life of mountain spiders who caught nothing in their webs, or of small gray birds that slipped soundlessly among the stones. The wind in the pass caught me head on and blew whatever thoughts I had into a raveling stream behind me, until they were all gone and there was only myself and the horse, moving in an eternal dangerous present, free of the encumbrances of the past.

We crossed a wind that smelled of ice from still higher snowfields, we cantered with a breeze that came from somewhere among cedars, we passed a gust like Hell's breath that had risen straight up from the desert floor. They were winds and they did not stay with us. Presently we descended out of their domain, and it was curious to see, as we dropped farther through gloomy woods and canyons, how the cleansed and scoured mind I had brought over the mountain began, like the water in those rumbling gorges, to talk in a variety of voices, to debate, to argue, to push at stones or curve subtly around obstacles. Sometimes I wonder whether we are only endlessly repeating in our heads an argument that is going on in the world's foundations among crashing stones and recalcitrant roots.

"Fall, fall, fall," cried the roaring water and the grinding pebbles in the torrent. "Let go, come with us, come home to the place without light." But the roots clung and climbed and the trees pushed up, impeding the water, and forests filled even the wind with their sighing and grasped after the sun. It is so in the mind. One can hear the rattle of falling stones in the night, and the thoughts like trees holding their place. Sometimes one can shut the noise away by turning over on the other ear, sometimes the sounds are as dreadful as a storm in the mountains, and one lies awake, holding, like the roots that wait for daylight. It was after such a night that I came over the mountain, but it was the descent on the other side that suddenly struck me as a journey into the aeons of the past.

I came down across stones dotted with pink and gray lichens -- a barren land dreaming life's last dreams in the thin air of a cold and future world.

I passed a meadow and a meadow mouse in a little shower of petals struck from mountain flowers. I dismissed it -- it was almost my own time -- a pleasant golden hour in the age of mammals, lost before the human coming. I rode heavily toward an old age far backward in the reptilian dark.

I was below timber line and sinking deeper and deeper into the pine woods, whose fallen needles lay thick and springy over the ungrassed slopes. The brown needles and the fallen cones, the stiff, endless green forests, were a mark that placed me in the Age of Dinosaurs. I moved in silence now, waiting a sign. I saw it finally, a green lizard on a stone. We were far back, far back. He bobbed his head uncertainly at me, and I reined in with the nostalgic intent, for a moment, to call him father, but I saw soon enough that I was a ghost who troubled him and that he would wish me, though he had not the voice to speak, to ride on. A man who comes down the road of time should not expect to converse -- even with his own kin. I made a brief, uncertain sign of recognition, to which he did not respond, and passed by. Things grew more lonely. I was coming out upon the barren ridges of an old sea beach that rose along the desert floor. Life was small and grubby now. The hot, warning scarlet of peculiar desert ants occasionally flashed among the stones. I had lost all trace of myself and thought regretfully of the lizard who might have directed me.

A turned-up stone yielded only a scorpion who curled his tail in a kind of evil malice. I surveyed him reproachfully. He was old enough to know the secret of my origin, but once more an ancient, bitter animus drawn from that poisoned soil possessed him and he raised his tail. I turned away. An enormous emptiness by degrees possessed me. I was back almost, in a different way, to the thin air over the mountain, to the end of all things in the cold starlight of space.

I passed some indefinable bones and shells in the salt-crusted wall of a dry arroyo. As I reined up, only sand dunes rose like waves before me and if life was there it was no longer visible. It was like coming down to the end -- to the place of fires where we began. I turned about then and let my gaze go up, tier after tier, height after height, from crawling desert bush to towering pine on the great slopes far above me.

In the same way animal life had gone up that road from these dry, envenomed things to the deer nuzzling a fawn in the meadows far above. I had come down the whole way into a place where one could lift sand and ask in a hollow, dust-shrouded whisper, "Life, what is it? Why am I here? Why am I here?"

And my mind went up that figurative ladder of the ages, bone by bone, skull by skull, seeking an answer. There was none, except that in all that downrush of wild energy that I had passed in the canyons there was this other strange organized stream that marched upward, gaining a foothold here, tossing there a pine cone a little farther upward into a crevice in the rock.

And again one asked, not of the past this time, but of the future, there where the winds howled through open space and the last lichens clung to the naked rock, "Why did we live?" There was no answer I could hear. The living river flowed out of nowhere into nothing. No one knew its source or its departing. It was an apparition. If one did not see it there was no way to prove that it was real.

No way, that is, except within the mind itself. And the mind, in some strange manner so involved with time, moving against the cutting edge of it like the wind I had faced on the mountain, has yet its own small skull-borne image of eternity. It is not alone that I can reach out and receive within my head a handsbreadth replica of the far fields of the universe. It is not because I can touch a trilobite and know the fall of light in ages before my birth. Rather, it lies in the fact that the human mind can transcend time, even though trapped, to all appearances, within that medium. As from some remote place, I see myself as child and young man, watch with a certain dispassionate objectivity the violence and tears of a remote youth who was once I, shaping his character, for good or ill, toward the creature he is today. Shrinking, I see him teeter at the edge of abysses he never saw. With pain I acknowledge acts undone that might have saved and led him into some serene and noble pathway. I move about him like a ghost, that vanished youth. I exhort, I plead. He does not hear me. Indeed, he too is already a ghost. He has become me. I am what I am. Yet the point is, we are not wholly given over to time -- if we were, such acts, such leaps through that gray medium, would be impossible. Perhaps God himself may rove in similar pain up the dark roads of his universe. Only how would it be, I wonder, to contain at once both the beginning and the end, and to hear, in helplessness perhaps, the fall of worlds in the night?

This is what the mind of man is just beginning to achieve-a little microcosm, a replica of whatever it is that, from some unimaginable "outside," contains the universe and all the fractured bits of seeing which the world's creatures see. It is not necessary to ride over a mountain range to experience historical infinity. It can descend upon one in the lecture room.

I find it is really in daylight that the sensation I am about to describe is apt to come most clearly upon me, and for some reason I associate it extensively with crowds. It is not, you understand, an hallucination. It is a reality. It is, I can only say with difficulty, a chink torn in a dimension life was never intended to look through. It connotes a sense beyond the eye, though the twenty years' impressions are visual. Man, it is said, is a time-binding animal, but he was never intended for this. Here is the way it comes.

I mount the lecturer's rostrum to address a class. Like any work-worn professor fond of his subject, I fumble among my skulls and papers, shuffle to the blackboard and back again, begin the patient translation of three billion years of time into chalk scrawls and uncertain words ventured timidly to a sea of young, impatient faces. Time does not frighten them, I think enviously. They have, most of them, never lain awake and grasped the sides of a cot, staring upward into the dark while the slow clock strokes begin.

"Doctor." A voice diverts me. I stare out nearsightedly over the class. A hand from the back row gesticulates. "Doctor, do you believe there is a direction to evolution? Do you believe, Doctor ... Doctor, do you believe? ... " Instead of the words, I hear a faint piping, and see an eager scholar's face squeezed and dissolving on the body of a chest-thumping ape. "Doctor, is there a direction?"

I see it then -- the trunk that stretches monstrously behind him. It winds out of the door, down dark and obscure corridors to the cellar, and vanishes into the floor. It writhes, it crawls, it barks and snuffles and roars, and the odor of the swamp exhales from it. That pale young scholar's face is the last bloom on a curious animal extrusion through time. And who among us, under the cold persuasion of the archaeological eye, can perceive which of his many shapes is real, or if, perhaps, the entire shape in time is not a greater and more curious animal than its single appearance?

I too am aware of the trunk that stretches loathsomely back of me along the floor. I too am a many-visaged thing that has climbed upward out of the dark of endless leaf falls, and has slunk, furred, through the glitter of blue glacial nights. I, the professor, trembling absurdly on the platform with my book and spectacles, am the single philosophical animal. I am the unfolding worm, and mud fish, the weird tree of Igdrasil shaping itself endlessly out of darkness toward the light.

I have said this is not an illusion. It is when one sees in this manner, or a sense of strangeness halts one on a busy street to verify the appearance of one's fellows, that one knows a terrible new sense has opened a faint crack into the Absolute. It is in this way alone that one comes to grips with a great mystery, that life and time bear some curious relationship to each other that is not shared by inanimate things.

It is in the brain that this world opens. To our descendants it may become a commonplace, but me, and others like me, it has made a castaway. I have no refuge in time, as others do who troop homeward at nightfall. As a result, I am one of those who linger furtively over coffee in the kitchen at bedtime or haunt the all-night restaurants. Nevertheless, I shall say without regret: there are hazards in all professions.


It may seem at this point that I have gone considerably round about in my examination of the natural world. I have done so in the attempt to indicate that the spider web of law which has been flung, as Emerson indicated, across the deeps of time and space and between each member of the living world has brought us some quite remarkable, but at the same time disquieting, knowledge. In rapid summary, man has passed from a natural world of appearances invisibly controlled by the caprice of spirits to an astronomical universe visualized by Newton, through the law of gravitation, as operating with the regularity of a clock.

Newton, who remained devout, assumed that Cod, at the time of the creation of the solar system, had set everything to operating in its proper orbit. He recognized, however, certain irregularities of planetary movement which, in time, would lead to a disruption of his perfect astronomical machine. It was here, as a seventeenth- century scholar, that he felt no objection to the notion that Cod interfered at periodic intervals to correct the deviations of the machine.

A century later Laplace had succeeded in dispensing with this last vestige of divine intervention. Hutton had similarly dealt with supernaturalism in earth-building, and Darwin, in the nineteenth century, had gone far toward producing a similar mechanistic explanation of life. The machine that began in the heavens had finally been installed in the human heart and brain. "We can make everything natural," Pascal had truly said, and surely the more naive forms of worship of the unseen are vanishing.

Yet strangely, with the discovery of evolutionary, as opposed to purely durational, time, there emerges into this safe-and-sane mechanical universe something quite unanticipated by the eighteenth-century rationalists -- a kind of emergent, if not miraculous, novelty.

I know that the word "miraculous" is regarded dubiously in scientific circles because of past quarrels with theologians. The word has been defined, however, as an event transcending the known laws of nature. Since, as we have seen, the laws of nature have a way of being altered from one generation of scientists to the next, a little taste for the miraculous in this broad sense will do us no harm. We forget that nature itself is one vast miracle transcending the reality of night and nothingness. We forget that each one of us in his personal life repeats that miracle.

Whatever may be the power behind those dancing motes to which the physicist has penetrated, it makes the light of the muskrat's world as it makes the world of the great poet. It makes, in fact, all of the innumerable and private worlds which exist in the heads of men. There is a sense in which we can say that the planet, with its strange freight of life, is always just passing from the unnatural to the natural, from that Unseen which man has always reverenced to the small reality of the day. If all life were to be swept from the world, leaving only its chemical constituents, no visitor from another star would be able to establish the reality of such a phantom. The dust would lie without visible protest, as it does now in the moon's airless craters, or in the road before our door.

Yet this is the same dust which, dead, quiescent, and unmoving, when taken up in the process known as life, hears music and responds to it, weeps bitterly over time and loss, or is oppressed by the looming future that is, on any materialist terms, the veriest shadow of nothing. How natural was man, we may ask, until he came? What forces dictated that a walking ape should watch the red shift of light beyond the island universes or listen by carefully devised antennae to the pulse of unseen stars? Who, whimsically, conceived that the plot of the world should begin in a mud puddle and end -- where, and with whom? Men argue learnedly over whether life is chemical chance or antichance, but they seem to forget that the life in chemicals may be the greatest chance of all, the most mysterious and unexplainable property in matter.

"The special value of science," a perceptive philosopher once wrote, "lies not in what it makes of the world, but in what it makes of the knower." Some years ago, while camping in a vast eroded area in the West, I came upon one of those unlikely sights which illuminate such truths.

I suppose that nothing living had moved among those great stones for centuries. They lay toppled against each other like fallen dolmens. The huge stones were beasts, I used to think, of a kind that man ordinarily lived too fast to understand. They seemed inanimate because the tempo of the life in them was slow. They lived ages in one place and moved only when man was not looking. Sometimes at night I would hear a low rumble as one drew itself into a new position and subsided again. Sometimes I found their tracks ground deeply into the hillsides.

It was with considerable surprise that while traversing this barren valley I came, one afternoon, upon what I can only describe as a very remarkable sight. Some distance away, so far that for a little space I could make nothing of the spectacle, my eyes were attracted by a dun-colored object about the size of a football, which periodically bounded up from the desert floor. Wonderingly, I drew closer and observed that something ropelike which glittered in the sun appeared to be dangling from the ball-shaped object. Whatever the object was, it appeared to be bouncing faster and more desperately as I approached. My surroundings were such that this hysterical dance of what at first glance appeared to be a common stone was quite unnerving, as though suddenly all the natural objects in the valley were about to break into a jig. Going closer, I penetrated the mystery.

The sun was sparkling on the scales of a huge blacksnake which was partially looped about the body of a hen pheasant. Desperately the bird tried to rise, and just as desperately the big snake coiled and clung, though each time the bird, falling several feet, was pounding the snake's body in the gravel. I gazed at the scene in astonishment. Here in this silent waste, like an emanation from nowhere, two bitter and desperate vapors, two little whirlwinds of contending energy, were beating each other to death because their plans -- something, I suspected, about whether a clutch of eggs was to turn into a thing with wings or scales -- this problem, I say, of the onrushing nonexistent future, had catapulted serpent against bird.

The bird was too big for the snake to have had it in mind as prey. Most probably, he had been intent on stealing the pheasant's eggs and had been set upon and pecked. Somehow in the ensuing scuffle he had flung a loop over the bird's back and partially blocked her wings. She could not take off, and the snake would not let go. The snake was taking a heavy battering among the stones, but the high-speed metabolism and tremendous flight exertion of the mother bird were rapidly exhausting her. I stood a moment and saw the bloodshot glaze deepen in her eyes. I suppose I could have waited there to see what would happen when she could not fly; I suppose it might have been worth scientifically recording. But I could not stand that ceaseless, bloody pounding in the gravel. I thought of the eggs somewhere about, and whether they were to elongate and writhe into an armor of scales or eventually to go whistling into the wind with their wild mother.

So I, the mammal, in my way supple, and less bound by instinct, arbitrated the matter. I unwound the serpent from the bird and let him hiss and wrap his battered coils around my arm. The bird, her wings flung out, rocked on her legs and gasped repeatedly. I moved away in order not to drive her farther from her nest. Thus the serpent and I, two terrible and feared beings, passed quickly out of view.

Over the next ridge, where he could do no more damage, I let the snake, whose anger had subsided, slowly uncoil and slither from my arm. He flowed away into a little patch of bunch grass -- aloof, forgetting, unaware of the journey he had made upon my wrist, which throbbed from his expert constriction. The bird had contended for birds against the oncoming future; the serpent writhing into the bunch grass had contended just as desperately for serpents. And I, the apparition in that valley -- for what had I contended? -- I who contained the serpent and the bird and who read the past long written in their bodies.

Slowly, as I sauntered dwarfed among overhanging pinnacles, as the great slabs which were the visible remnants of past ages laid their enormous shadows rhythmically as life and death across my face, the answer came to me. Man could contain more than himself. Among these many appearances that flew, or swam in the waters, or wavered momentarily into being, man alone possessed that unique ability.

The Renaissance thinkers were right when they said that man, the Microcosm, contains the Macrocosm. I had touched the lives of creatures other than myself and had seen their shapes waver and blow like smoke through the corridors of time. I had watched, with sudden concentrated attention, myself, this brain, unrolling from the seed like a genie from a bottle, and casting my eyes forward, I had seen it vanish again into the formless alchemies of the earth.

For what then had I contended, weighing the serpent with the bird in that wild valley? I had struggled, I am now convinced, for a greater, more comprehensive version of myself.


I am a man who has spent a great deal of his life on his knees, though not in prayer. I do not say this last pridefully, but with the feeling that the posture, if not the thought behind it, may have had some final salutary effect. I am a naturalist and a fossil hunter, and I have crawled most of the way through life. I have crawled downward into holes without a bottom, and upward, wedged into crevices where the wind and the birds scream at you until the sound of a falling pebble is enough to make the sick heart lurch. In man, I know now, there is no such thing as wisdom. I have learned this with my face against the ground. It is a very difficult thing for a man to grasp today, because of his power; yet in his brain there is really only a sort of universal marsh, spotted at intervals by quaking green islands representing the elusive stability of modern science -- islands frequently gone as soon as glimpsed.

It is our custom to deny this; we are men of precision, measurement and logic; we abhor the unexplainable and reject it. This, too, is a green island. We wish our lives to be one continuous growth in knowledge; indeed, we expect them to be. Yet well over a hundred years ago Kierkegaard observed that maturity consists in the discovery that "there comes a critical moment where everything is reversed, after which the point becomes to understand more and more that there is something which cannot be understood."

When I separated the serpent from the bird and released them in that wild upland, it was not for knowledge; not for anything I had learned in science. Instead, I contained, to put it simply, the serpent and the bird. I would always contain them. I was no longer one of the contending vapors; I had embraced them in my own substance and, in some insubstantial way, reconciled them, as I had sought reconciliation with the muskrat on the shore. I had transcended feather and scale and gone beyond them into another sphere of reality. I was trying to give birth to a different self whose only expression lies again in the deeply religious words of Pascal, "You would not seek me had you not found me."

I had not known what I sought, but I was aware at last that something had found me. I no longer believed that nature was either natural or unnatural, only that nature now appears natural to man. But the nature that appears natural to man is another version of the muskrat's world under the boat dock, or the elusive sparks over which the physicist made his trembling passage. They were appearances, specialized insights, but unreal because in the constantly onrushing future they were swept away.

What had become of the natural world of that gorilla-headed little ape from which we sprang -- that dim African corner with its chewed fish bones and giant Ice Age pigs? It was gone more utterly than my muskrat's tiny domain, yet it had given birth to an unimaginable thing -- ourselves -- something overreaching the observable laws of that far epoch. Man since the beginning seems to be awaiting an event the nature of which he does not know. "With reference to the near past," Thoreau once shrewdly commented, "we all occupy the region of common sense, but in the prospect of the future we are, by instinct, transcendentalists." This is the way of the man who makes nature "natural." He stands at the point where the miraculous comes into being, and after the event he calls it "natural." The imagination of man, in its highest manifestations, stands close to the doorway of the infinite, to the world beyond the nature that we know. Perhaps, after all, in this respect man constitutes the exertion of that act which Donne three centuries ago called God's Prerogative.

Man's quest for certainty is, in the last analysis, a quest for meaning. But the meaning lies buried within himself rather than in the void he has vainly searched for portents since antiquity. Perhaps the first act in its unfolding was taken by a raw beast with a fearsome head who dreamed some difficult and unimaginable thing denied his fellows. Perhaps the Rashes of beauty and insight which trouble us so deeply are no less prophetic of what the race might achieve. All that prevents us is doubt -- the power to make everything natural without the accompanying gift to see, beyond the natural, to that inexpressible realm in which the words "natural" and "supernatural" cease to have meaning.

Man, at last, is face to face with himself in natural guise. "What we make natural, we destroy," said Pascal. He knew, with superlative insight, man's complete necessity to transcend the worldly image that this word connotes. It is not the outward powers of man the toolmaker that threaten us. It is a growing danger which has already afflicted vast areas of the world -- the danger that we have created an unbearable last idol for our worship. That idol, that uncreate and ruined visage which confronts us daily, is no less than man made natural. Beyond this replica of ourselves, this countenance already grown so distantly inhuman that it terrifies us, still beckons the lonely figure of man's dreams. It is a nature, not of this age, but of the becoming -- the light once glimpsed by a creature just over the threshold from a beast, a despairing cry from the dark shadow of a cross on Golgotha long ago.

Man is not totally compounded of the nature we profess to understand. Man is always partly of the future, and the future he possesses a power to shape. "Natural" is a magician's word -- and like all such entities, it should be used sparingly lest there arise from it, as now, some unglimpsed, unintended world, some monstrous caricature called into being by the indiscreet articulation of worn syllables. Perhaps, if we are wise, we will prefer to stand like those forgotten humble creatures who poured little gifts of flints into a grave. Perhaps there may come to us then, in some such moment, a ghostly sense that an invisible doorway has been opened -- a doorway which, widening out, will take man beyond the nature that he knows.
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Re: Starthrower, by Loren Eiseley

Postby admin » Mon May 02, 2016 3:03 am

The Inner Galaxy

There is strong archaeological evidence to show that with the birth of human consciousness there was born, like a twin, the impulse to transcend it.

-- Alan McGlashan


Many years ago, I, with another youth of my own age whom I had persuaded to make the journey with me, walked throughout the day up a great mountain. There was a famous astronomical observatory upon the mountain. On certain nights, according to the guidebooks, the lay public might come to the observatory and look upon some remote planetary object. They could also hear a lecture.

The youth and I, who had much eager interest but no money, were unable to join one of the numerous tours organized from the tourist hotels in the valley. Instead, we had trudged for many hours in order to arrive before the crowds of visitors might frustrate our hopes for a glimpse of those far worlds about which we had read so avidly.

This was long ago, and we were naive young men. We thought that, though we were poor, we would be welcome upon the mountain because of our desire to learn. There were reputed to dwell in the observatory men of wisdom who we hoped would receive us kindly since we, too, wished to gaze upon the wonders of outer space. We were, indeed, very unskilled in the ways of the adult world. As it turned out, we were never permitted to see the men of wisdom, or to gaze through the magic glass into outer space. I rather suspect that the eminent astronomers had not taken youths like us into their calculations. There was, it seemed, a relationship we had never suspected between the hotels in the valley and the men who inhabited the observatory upon the mountain.

Although by laborious effort we had succeeded in arriving before the busloads of tourists from the hotels, we were thrust forth and told to take our chances after the tourists had been accommodated. As busload after busload of people roared up before the observatory, we saw that this was an indirect dismissal. It would be dawn before our turn came, if, indeed, they chose to accept us at all.

The guard eyed us and our clothes with sullen distaste. Though it was freezing cold upon the mountain, it was plain we were not welcome in the inn that catered to the tourists. Reluctantly, with a few coins from our little store of change we purchased a bit of chocolate. We looked at each other. Wearily and without a word, we turned and began our long descent through the dark. It would take many hours; nor were we sustained by having seen the shining planet upon which our hopes were fixed.

This was my first experience of the commercial side of outer space, and though I now serve upon a committee that encourages the young in a direction once denied me, I feel that this youthful experience contributed to a certain growing introspection and curiosity about the relationship of science to the world about it.

Something was seriously wrong upon that mountain and among the wise men who flourished there. Knowledge, I had learned in the bleak wind by the shut door, was not free, and many to whom that observatory was only a passing curiosity had easier access to it than we who had climbed painfully for many hours. My memory is from the far days of the 1920s, and I realize that we now beckon enticingly to the youth interested in space where before we ignored him. I still have an uncomfortable feeling, however, that it is the circumstances, and not the actors, which have changed. I remain oppressed by the thought that the venture into space is meaningless unless it coincides with a certain interior expansion, an ever-growing universe within, to correspond with the far flight of the galaxies our telescopes follow from without.

Upon that desolate peak my mind had turned finally inward. It is from that domain, that inner sky, that I choose to speak -- a world of dreams, of light and darkness that we will never escape, even on the far edge of Arcturus. The inward skies of man will accompany him across any void upon which he ventures and will be with him to the end of time. There is just one way in which that inward world differs from outer space. It can be more volatile and mobile, more terrible and impoverished, yet withal more ennobling in its self-consciousness, than the universe that gave it birth. To the educators of this revolutionary generation, the transformations we may induce in that inner sky loom in at least equal importance with the work of those whose goals are set beyond the orbit of the moon.

No one needs to be told that different and private worlds exist in the heads of men. But in a day when some men are listening by radio telescope to the rustling of events at the ends of the universe, the universe of others consists of hopeless poverty amidst the filthy garbage of a city lot. A taxi man I know thinks that the stars are just "up there" and as soon as our vehicles are perfected we can all take off like crowds of summer tourists to Cape Cod. This man expects, and I fear has been encouraged to expect, that such flights will solve the population problem. Again, while I was sitting one night with a poet friend watching a great opera performed in a tent under arc lights, the poet took my arm and pointed silently. Far up, blundering out of the night, a huge Cecropia moth swept past from light to light over the posturings of the actors.

"He doesn't know," my friend whispered excitedly. "He's passing through an alien universe brightly lit but invisible to him. He's in another play; he doesn't see us. He doesn't know. Maybe it's happening right now to us. Where are we? Whose is the real play?"

Between the universe of the moth and the poet, I sat confounded. My mind went back to the heads of alabaster that the kings of the old Egyptian empire sought to endow with eternal life, replacing thus against accident their own frail and perishable brains for the passage through eternity. The pharaohs, like the moth among the arc lights, had been entranced by the flaming journey of the sun. Some had even constructed, hopefully, their own solar boats. Perhaps, I thought, those boats symbolized the frail vessel of which Plato was later to speak -- that vessel on which to risk the voyage of life, or, rather, eternity, which was inevitably man's compulsive interest. As for me, I had come to seek wisdom no longer upon the improvised rafts of proud philosophies. I had seen the moth bum in its passage through the light. I had seen all the vessels fail but one -- that word which Plato sought, and which none could long identify or hold.

There was a real play, but it was a play in which man was destined always to be a searcher, and it would be his true nature he would seek. The fragile vessel was himself, and not among the stars upon the mountain. Was not that what Plotinus had implied? Then if a man were to write further, I considered, he would write of that -- of the last things.


Several years ago, a man in a small California town suffered an odd accident. The accident itself was commonplace. But the psychological episode accompanying it seems so strange that I recount it here. I had been long engaged upon a book I was eager to finish. As I walked, abstracted and alone, toward my office one late afternoon, I caught the toe of my shoe in an ill-placed drain. Some trick of mechanics brought me down over the curb with extraordinary violence. A tremendous crack echoed in my ears. When I next opened my eyes I was lying face down on the sidewalk. My nose was smashed over on one side. Blood from a gash on my forehead was cascading over my face.

Reluctantly I explored further, running my tongue cautiously about my mouth and over my teeth. Under my face a steady rivulet of blood was enlarging to a bright red pool on the sidewalk. It was then, as I peered nearsightedly at my ebbing substance there in the brilliant sunshine, that a surprising thing happened. Confusedly, painfully, indifferent to running feet and the anxious cries of witnesses about me, I lifted a wet hand out of this welter and murmured in compassionate concern, "Oh, don't go. I'm sorry, I've done for you."

The words were not addressed to the crowd gathering about me. They were inside and spoken to no one but a part of myself. I was quite sane, only it was an oddly detached sanity, for I was addressing blood cells, phagocytes, platelets, all the crawling, living, independent wonders that had been part of me and now, through my folly and lack of care, were dying like beached fish on the hot pavement. A great wave of passionate contrition, even of adoration, swept through my mind, a sensation of love on a cosmic scale, for mark that this experience was, in its way, as vast a catastrophe as would be that of a galaxy consciously suffering through the loss of its solar systems.

I was made up of millions of these tiny creatures, their toil, their sacrifices, as they hurried to seal and repair the rent fabric of this vast being whom they had unknowingly, but in love, compounded. And I, for the first time in my mortal existence, did not see these creatures as odd objects under the microscope. Instead, an echo of the force that moved them came up from the deep well of my being and flooded through the shaken circuits of my brain. I was their galaxy, their creation. For the first time, I loved them consciously, even as I was plucked up and away by willing hands. It seemed to me then, and does now in retrospect, that I had caused to the universe I inhabited as many deaths as the explosion of a supernova in the cosmos.

Weeks later, recovering, I paid a visit to the place of the accident. A faint discoloration still marked the sidewalk. I hovered over the spot, obscurely troubled. They were gone, utterly destroyed -- those tiny beings -- but the entity of which they had made a portion still persisted. I shook my head, conscious of the brooding mystery that the poet Dante impelled into his great line: "the love that moves the sun and other stars."

The phrase does not come handily to our lips today. For a century we have chosen to talk continuously about the struggle for existence, about man the brawling half-ape and bestial fighter. We have explored with wavering candles the dark cellars of our subconscious and been appalled by the faces we have encountered there. It will do no harm, therefore, if we choose to examine the history of that great impulse -- love, compassion, call it what one will -- which, however discounted in our time, moved the dying Christ on Golgotha with a power that has reached across two thousand weary years.

"The conviction of wisdom," wrote Montaigne in the sixteenth century, "is the plague of man." Century after century, humanity studies itself in the mirror of fashion, and ever the mirror gives back distortions, which for the moment impose themselves upon man's real image. In one period we believe ourselves governed by immutable laws; in the next, by chance. In one period angels hover over our birth; in the following time we are planetary waifs, the product of a meaningless and ever-altering chemistry. We exchange halos in one era for fangs in another. Our religious and philosophical conceptions change so rapidly that the theological and moral exhortations of one decade become the wastepaper of the next epoch. The ideas for which millions yielded up their lives produce only bored yawns in a later generation.

"We are, I know not how," Montaigne continued, "double in ourselves, so that what we believe we disbelieve, and cannot rid ourselves of what we condemn."

This complex, many-faceted, self-conscious creature now examines himself in the mirror held up to him by the modern students of prehistory. Increasingly he asks of the bony fragments recovered from pre-ice-age strata, not whether they are related to himself, but what manner of creature they proclaim us to be. Of the answer that may come up from underground we are all too evidently afraid. There are even those who have dared prematurely to announce the verdict. "Look," they say, "at the dark instincts that drive you. Look deep into your bloody, fossil, encrusted hearts. Then you will know man. You will know him from the caves to the Berlin wall. Thus he is and thus he will remain. It is written in his bones."

Yet the moment the words are said and documented, either the data are seized upon to give ourselves a fearsome picture to delight and excuse the black side of our natures or, strangely, even beautifully, the picture begins to waver and to change. St. Francis of the birds broods by the waters; Gilbert White of Selborne putters harmlessly with the old pet tortoise in his garden. Ishi, the primitive gentle philosopher, steps real as life from the Sierra forest -- the idyllic man denounced as an invention of Rousseau's, yet the product of a world more primitive than black Africa today.

"Double in ourselves" we are, said Montaigne. Now with that doubleness in mind let us look once more into the fossil past, full into the hollow sockets of the half-men from whom we sprang. Their bones are known; their remains have been turning up for over a century in almost every area of the Old World land mass. They have been found in the caves and gravels of Ice Age Europe, in the cemented breccias of deposits near Peking, in Asian coastal isles like Java, shaken at intervals by turbulent volcanoes. They have been found, as well, in the high uplands of eastern Africa and in the grottoes of the Holy Land.

Nevertheless, the faces of our ancestors remain forever unknown to us even as they stare from the illustrations of the poorest and most obscure textbook. The color of their skins is lost, the texture of their hair unknown, the expression of their once living features is as masked as those of the anonymous cadaver that represents collective humanity in the pages of medical textbooks. It is the same gray anonymity in which man's formidable enemy, the saber-toothed tiger, is lost, or even the dinosaur.

In the case of man, the representations are particularly ungratifying. Man is a creature volatile of expression, and across his features in a day may flow happiness and remorse, rage and charity. Individually, as on a modern street, one should be able to sight the sly, the brutal, and the benignant. If, in the world of fossils, however, we seek the soul of man himself, we are forced to draw it from the empty sockets of skulls or the representations of artists quick to project their own conceptions of the past upon the indifferent dead.

It is man's folly, as it is perhaps a sign of his spiritual aspirations, that he is forever scrutinizing and redefining himself. A mole, so far as we can determine, is content with its dim world below the grass roots, a snow leopard with being what he is -- a drifting ghost in a blizzard. Man, by contrast, is marked by a restless inner eye, which in periods of social violence such as characterize our age, grow~ clouded with anxiety. There are times when our bodies seem to waver from within and bulge lumpishly with the shape of contending forces.

There is danger as well as wisdom, however, in such self-scrutiny. Man, unlike the lower creatures locked safely within their particular endowed natures, possesses freedom. He can define and redefine his own humanity, his own conception of himself. In so doing, he may give wings to the spirit or reshape himself into something more genuinely bestial than any beast of prey obeying its own nature. In this ability to take on the shape of his own dreams, man extends beyond visible nature into another and stranger realm. It is part of each person's individual evolutionary status that he possesses this power in unequal degrees.

Few of us can be saints; few of us are total monsters. To the degree that we let others project upon us erroneous or unbalanced conceptions of our natures, we may unconsciously reshape our own image to less pleasing forms. It is one thing to be "realistic," as many are fond of saying, about human nature. It is another thing entirely to let that consideration set limits to our spiritual aspirations or to precipitate us into cynicism and despair. We are protean in many things, and stand between extremes. There is still great room for the observation of John Donne, however, that "no man doth refine and exalt Nature to the heighth it would beare."

As one surveys the artistic conceptions of the past, whether sculptured or drawn, one frequently encounters an adenoidal, openmouthed brute with a club representing Neanderthal man. Then, by contrast, we encounter a neatly groomed model of Peking man, looking as clear-eyed and intelligent as a broker on his way to the Stock Exchange. Something is obviously wrong here. The well-groomed Peking specimen belongs on the same anatomical level as Pithecanthropus, sometimes represented in older illustrations as possessing snarling fangs. The fangs are a figment of the artist's imagination. They have been stolen from our living relative, the gorilla. The mispictured adenoidal moron with the club is known to have buried his dead with offerings and to have cared for the injured and maimed among his kind.

Men are subjects of society. It is true that they carry bits and pieces of their past about with them, but they also covertly examine in the social mirror of their minds the way they look. Thus there is a quality of illusion about all of us. Emerson knew this well when he asked, in one of his more profound moments, "Why do men feel that the natural history of man has never been written, but he is always leaving behind what you have said of him, and it becomes old and books of metaphysics worthless?"

This comment of Emerson's is perhaps one of the most difficult pieces of wisdom that man has to learn. We are inclined to visualize our psychological make-up as fixed -- as something bestowed upon the first man. In pre-evolutionary times, the human mind, with its reason, its conscience, its free will, was regarded as divinely and immediately created in the human organism just as it stands today.

With the rise of Darwinian evolution in the mid-nineteenth century, the concept of the stably endowed species correctly gave way to the notion of man and other animal forms as transient, imperfect, forever moving from one set of conditions to another. "Cosmic nature," wrote Thomas Huxley, Darwin's colleague and defender, "is no school of virtue .... For his successful progress as far as the savage state, man has been largely indebted to those qualities which he shares with the ape and the tiger."

No intelligent person today, surveying the low skull vault and heavy brow ridges of fossil man, can deny that man has changed through the aeons of prehistory, however difficult may seem the road he has traveled. Natural selection has undoubtedly played a leading role in that process. Here we must proceed with care, if we are not to fall into fallacious reasoning. Otherwise we will emerge from our survey of the past with another set of stereotypes as to the nature of man, which may well prove to be just as rigid and dogmatic as those developed in pre-evolutionary thought -- stereotypes that have been thrust forward even today as evidence of man's bestial nature.

Man's altruistic and innately cooperative character has brought him along the road to civilization far more than the qualities of the ape and tiger of Huxley's analysis. These are bad metaphors at best. The ape is a largely inoffensive social animal, the tiger a solitary carnivorous hunter. To lump them in a comparison with man is spectacular but confusing. As for the fearful war of nature painted by the early evolutionists and symbolized by the tiger, we know today that even the great carnivores exist, normally, in balance with their prey. When satiated and not involved in the hunt, they may stroll scarcely noticed among the herd creatures they stalk.

Some members of the Darwinian circle could only conceive of man achieving his high intellect through the heavy selection of incessant war. Today we know that early man was small and scant in numbers and that most of his efforts must have been given over to food-getting rather than conflict. This is not to minimize his destructive qualities, but his long-drawn-out, helpless childhood, during which his growing brain matured, could only have flourished in the safety of a stable family organization -- groups marked by altruistic and long-continued care of the young.

The nineteenth-century evolutionists, and many philosophers still today, are obsessed by struggle. They try to define natural selection in one sense only -- something that Darwin himself avoided. They ignore all man's finer qualities -- generosity, self-sacrifice, universe searching wisdom -- in the attempt to enclose him in the small capsule that contained the brain of proto-man. Such writers often fail to explore man's growing sense of beauty, the language that has opened and defined his world, the little gifts he came to lay beside his dead.

None of these acts could have been prophesied before man came. They reveal something other than what the pure materialist would be able to draw out of the dark concourse of matter before the genuine emergence of these novel human phenomena into time. There is no definition or description of man possible by reducing him to ape or tree shrew. Once, it is true, the shrew contained him, but he is gone. He has broken from the opened seed pod of the prehominid brain, a thistledown now drifting toward the empty spaces of the universe. He is full of the lights and visions -- yes, and the fearful darknesses -- of the next age of man.

The world we now know is open-ended, unpredictable. Man has partially domesticated himself; in this lies the story of his strange nature, of that love which transcends the small Darwinian matters of tribal cooperation and safety. For man, be it noted, can love the music of Ariel's isle, or, in his heart, that ideal city of the Greeks which is not and yet is forever.

The law of selection that acts upon living creatures in the wild is frequently repressive. A coat color a little off tone and visible, a variation in instinct, may make for death. The powerful creative surge from the under-darkness of nature is held in check, awaiting, perhaps, a season that never comes; the white stag is struck down by the hunter. It is this unending struggle that those who would picture man from the beginning as a monster of terror would delineate -- the man with the stone striking down in barbaric rage, not only his game, but his brother and his son.

Natural selection is real but at the same time it is a shifting chimera, less a "law" than making its own law from age to age. Let us see, before we approach what I shall call domesticated man, what mutual aid can mean in the life of a European sea bird, the common tern. This bird lacks the careful concealing coloration of some of nature's species. It is variable in matters of egg form and nest shape. Capricious deviation in all these features prevails among the terns. The conformist pressures of natural selection have here given way to the creative forces of random mutation. The potential hidden in nature has flowered into a greater variety of behavior. Thus what we call natural selection, "the war of nature," can either enclose living creatures in specialized prisons or, on occasion, open amazing doorways into unsuspected worlds. Even such a lowly relative of man as the existing lemur Propithecus, which lives in groups, may exhibit marked individual variation, because these animals recognize and behave differently toward one another. Conformity has here given way to selective pressure for at least limited physical diversity and corresponding individuality of behavior.

Though the case of man is complicated, it seems evident that just such a remarkable doorway opened when man, as a social animal, fell under selective forces that no longer severely channeled the nature of his mind or the minds of his aberrant offspring. Through language, this creature could communicate his dreams around the cave fires. Inevitably, a great wealth of intellectual diversity, and consequent selective mating, based upon mutual attraction, would emerge from the dark storehouse of nature. The cruel and the gentle would sit at the same fireside, dreaming already in the Stone Age the different dreams they dream today.

The visionary was already awaiting the eternal city; the gifted musician sat hearing in his brain sounds that did not yet exist. All waited upon and yet possessed, in some dim way, the future in their heads. Abysmal darkness and great light lay invisibly about their camps. The phantom cities of the far future awaited latent talents for which, in that unspecialized time, there was no name.

Above all, some of them, a mere handful in any generation perhaps, loved- -- hey loved the animals about them, the song of the wind, the soft voices of women. On the flat surfaces of cave walls the three dimensions of the outside world took animal shape and form. Here -- not with the ax, not with the bow -- man fumbled at the door of his true kingdom. Here, hidden in times of trouble behind silent brows, against the man with the flint, waited St. Francis of the birds -- the lovers, the men who are still forced to walk warily among their kind.


I am middle-aged now, and like the Egyptian heads of buried stone, or like the gentle ones who came before me, I am resigned to wait out man's lingering barbarity. I have walked much to the sea, not knowing what I seek. The west headland I visit is always boiling, even on calm days. Spume leaps up from the sea caverns of buried reefs and the blue and purple of the turbulent waters are roiled and twisted with clashing and opposed currents. I go there frequently and sit for hours on an old whiskey crate half-buried in the sand.

Staring into those uncertain and treacherous waters with their unexpected and lifting apparitions is like looking into the future. You can see its forces constantly gathering, expending themselves, streaming away and streaming back, contorting or violently lifting into huge and grotesque shapes. The meaning escapes one, but day after day the harpy gulls scream and mew over it and the crabs scuttle like spiders along its edge, waving threatening pincers.

But I wander.

On one occasion, there was just this broken crate in the sand, myself, and the sea -- and then this other. I only became aware of him after several days had passed. I first encountered him when I had ventured at low tide up to the verge of the reef beyond which burst that leaping, spouting thunder, which, in my isolated wanderings, I had come to conceive of as containing the future. As I reached the flat, slippery stones over which passed a constant surf, I saw a gray wing tilt upward and move a few feet farther on. It was a big gray-backed gull, who slid quietly down again amidst the encrusted sea growth. He moved just enough, out of old and wise judgment, to keep me at arm's length, no more. He was no longer with his kind, hovering and mewing over the outer rock masses of a dubious future. He had a space of his own on the last edge of the present. He fed there upon such things as the sea brought. He was old and he rested, if one could be said to rest amidst such waters.

I disturbed him once by coming closer, whereupon he rose and tilted slightly in the blast from over the reef. If I did not move, neither did he. Since I am not one to go rushing over dangerous crevices, we achieved, after some days, a dignified relationship. We were both gray, and disinclined toward a future that had come to have little meaning to either of us. We stood or sat a little apart and ignored each other, being, after all, creatures diverse.

Every morning when I came he was there. He was growing thinner, but he still rose at my coming and hovered low upon his great seagoing wings. Then I would seek my box and he would swoop back to the little space that contained his last of life. I came to look for this bird as though we shared some sane, enormously simple secret amidst a little shingle of hard stones and broken beach.

After several days he was gone. A sector of my own life had been sheared away with his going. I shied a stone uncertainly toward the still-spouting future. Nothing came of it; no hand reached out, no shape emerged. The only rational shape had been that aged gull, too wise to venture more than a tilting wing's length upward in such air. Finally, the extremest edge of his space had hesitantly touched mine. Neither of us had much farther to go, and the harsh simplicity of it was somehow appropriate and gratifying. A little salt-washed rock had contained us both.

Here, I thought, is where I shall abide my ending, in the mind at least. Here where the sea grinds coral and bone alike to pebbles, and the crabs come in the night for the recent dead. Here where everything is transmuted and transmutes, but all is living or about to live.

It was here that I came to know the final phase of love in the mind of man -- the phase beyond the evolutionists' meager concentration upon survival. Here I no longer cared about survival -- I merely loved. And the love was meaningless, as the harsh Victorian Darwinists would have understood it or even, equally, those harsh modern materialists of whom Lord Dunsany once said: "It is very seldom that the same man knows much of science, and about the things that were known before ever science came."

I felt, sitting in that desolate spot upon my whiskey crate, a love without issue, tenuous, almost disembodied. It was a love for an old gull, for wild dogs playing in the surf, for a hermit crab in an abandoned shell.

It was a love that had been growing through the unthinking demands of childhood, through the pains and rapture of adult desire. Now it was breaking free, at last, of my worn body, still containing but passing beyond those other loves. Now, at last, it was truly "the bright stranger, the foreign self," of which Emerson had once written.

Through shattered and receding skulls, growing ever smaller behind us in the crannies' of a broken earth, a stranger had crept and made his way. But precisely how he came, and what might be his destiny, except that it is not wholly of our time or this our star, we do not know.

Perhaps it is always the destined role of the compassionate to be strangers among men. To fail and pass, to fail and come again. For the seed of man is thistledown, and a puff of breath may govern it, or a word from a poet torment it into greatness. There are few among us who can notice the passage of a moth's wing across an opera tent at midnight and ask ourselves, "Whose is the real play?"

I had turned to the young man who spoke those words as to one whose eye reached farther than the giant lens upon the mountain in my youth. Before us had seemed to stretch the infinite pathways of space down which, like the questing moth. it was henceforth man's doom to wander. But the void had become to me equally an interior void -- the void of our own minds -- a sea as infinite as the one before which I had been meditating.

Amidst the fall of waters on that desolate shore I watched briefly an exquisitely shaped jellyfish pumping its little umbrella sturdily along only to subside with the next wave on the strand. "Love makyth the lover and the living matters not," an old phrase came hesitantly to my lips. We would win, I thought steadily, if not in human guise then in another, for love was something that life in its infinite prodigality could afford. It was the failures who had always won, but by the time they won they had come to be called successes. This is the final paradox, which men call evolution.
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Re: Starthrower, by Loren Eiseley

Postby admin » Mon May 02, 2016 3:06 am



Athenaeum Of Philadelphia Literary Award, Literary Award Committee, Athenaeum of Philadelphia, for Darwin s Century, 1959

Science Award, Phi Beta Kappa, for Darwin s Century, 1959

Page One Award, Newspaper Guild of Philadelphia, for literary work, 1960

Burroughs Medal, the John Burroughs Memorial Association, Inc., American Museum of Natural History, for The Firmament of Time, 1961

Le Comte du Nouy Award, American Foundation, for The Firmament of Time, 1961

Award in literature at the Philadelphia Arts Festival, 1962

Citation for outstanding accomplishment as a teacher and scholar, Department of Public Instruction, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, 1962

Philadelphia Art Alliance Award for distinguished achievement in literature, 1967

Athenaeum of Philadelphia Literary Award, for The Night Country, 1973

Distinguished Nebraskan Award, Nebraska Society of Washington, D.G., 1974

Bradford Washburn Award, Boston Museum of Science, for outstanding contribution toward public understanding of science, 1976

Christopher Award, The Christophers, for All the Strange Hours, 1976

Joseph Wood Krutch Medal, Humane Society of the United States, for significant contribution towards the improvement of life and environment, 1976

National Award of Distinction, Graduate School of Education Alumni Association, University of Pennsylvania, 1976


Western Reserve University 1959 L.H.D.
Franklin & Marshall College 1960 SC.D.
New York University 1960 L.H.D.
University of Nebraska 1960 Litt.D.
Alfred University 1963 LL.D.
Washington College 1963 L.H.D.
Brown University 1964 Litt.D.
Pace College 1964 L.H.D.
Hahnemann Medical College 1965 SC.D.
Northern Michigan University 1966 L.H.D.
Kalamazoo College 1967 L.H.D.
University of British Columbia 1967 SC.D.
University of Chattanooga 1968 Litt.D.
University of Puget Sound 1968 SC.D.
Southern Methodist University 1969 SeD.
Hope College 1970 L.H.D.
St. Lawrence College 1970 SC.D.
University of Bridgeport 1970 LL.D.
Ursinus College 1971 Litt.D.
Clarkson College of Technology 1972 SC.D.
Hamilton College 1972 SC.D.
LaSalle College 1972 SeD.
Lewis & Clark College 1972 L.H.D.
Monmouth College 1972 Litt.D.
St. Joseph's College 1972 Sc.D.
Butler University 1973 L.H.D.
Dickinson College 1973 LL.D.
Medical College of Pennsylvania 1973 L.H.D.
Middlebury College 1973 Doctor of Civil Law
Kenyon College 1974 L.H.D.
Lehigh University 1974 Sc.D.
Southampton College of Long Island University 1974 Sc.D.
Regis College 1975 F.A.D.
Trinity College 1975 L.H.D.
Muhlenberg College 1976 Litt.D.
University of Wisconsin, Green Bay 1976 (special citation)



American Academy of Arts and Sciences
American Anthropological Association (Vice President, 1948)
American Association for the Advancement of Science (Vice President
and chairman, history of science section, 1969)
World Academy of Arts and Sciences


American Association of Physical Anthropologists
American Institute of Human Paleontology (President 1949-1952)
American Philosophical Society
National Institute of Arts and Letters
National Research Council
Philadelphia Anthropological Society (Vice President 1947, President 1948)
Sigma Upsilon
Sigma Xi (President, University of Pennsylvania chapter, 1975-1976)
Society for American Archaeology
Wistar Society
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Re: Starthrower, by Loren Eiseley

Postby admin » Mon May 02, 2016 3:06 am

Honorary Member

Phi Beta Kappa Acknowledgments

"Concerning the Unpredictable," by W.H. Auden, copyright @ 1970 by The New Yorker Magazine, Inc. Reprinted by permission of Curtis Brown Ltd.

"The Judgment of the Birds," copyright @ 1956 by Loren Eiseley, "The Bird and the Machine," copyright @ 1955 by Loren Eiseley, and "How Flowers Changed the World," copyright @ 1957 by Loren Eiseley, reprinted from The Immense Journey, by Loren Eiseley, by permission of Random House, Inc.

The following selections by Loren Eiseley are from his volume The Unexpected Universe and are reprinted by permission of Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc.; @ 1964, 1969 by Loren Eiseley: "The Inner Galaxy," "The Hidden Teacher," "The Last Neanderthal," "The Star Thrower," and "The Innocent Fox."

"How Natural is 'Natura!'?" from The Firmament of Time by Loren Eiseley. Copyright @ 1960 by Loren Eiseley, @ 1960 by Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania. Reprinted by permission of Atheneum Publishers.

"The Long Loneliness," copyright @ 1960 by Loren Eiseley, and "The Illusion of the Two Cultures," copyright @ 1964 by Loren Eiseley, originally appeared in The American Scholar.

"Man the Firemaker," copyright @ 1954 by Scientific American, Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

"The Fire Apes," copyright © 1949 by Harper's Magazine. All rights reserved.

"Easter: The Isle of Faces," copyright © 1962 by Loren Eise1ey,originally appeared in Holiday.

"The Winter of Man," © 1972 by The New York Times Company. Reprinted by permission.

"Thoreau's Vision of the Natural World," afterword by Loren Eise1ey for The Illustrated World of Thoreau, edited by Howard Chapnick, copyright © 1974 by Howard Chapnick. Used by permission of Grosset & Dunlap, Inc.

"Man: The Lethal Factor," copyright © 1963 by American Scientist. Reprinted by permission.

The poems, copyright © 1930,1935,1936,1939,1941,1942,1943,1964 by Loren Eiseley, first appeared in the following publications: American Mercury: "Leaving September." American Poetry Journal: "Nocturne in Silver." Ladies' Home Journal: "Let the Red Fox Run." New York Herald Tribune: "Dusk Interval." Poetry: "The Spider" and "Tasting the Mountain Spring." Prairie Schooner: "Winter Sign," "October Has the Heart," and "The Fishers." Voices: "Things Will Go."


LOREN EISELEY was born on September 2, 1907, the son of a prairie artist and a sometime itinerant actor, both descendants of pioneers. In spite of poverty and hardship, he early gained from his mother a feeling for natural beauty, and from his father an appreciation of poetry. After a boyhood among the sunflower forests of eastern Nebraska and the high plains farther west, he spent the depression years doing odd jobs, riding the rails, sporadically attending college, until he found a vocation in science. His career culminated as Benjamin Franklin Professor of Anthropology and the History of Science at the University of Pennsylvania, where he also served a term as Provost and was Curator of Early Man at the University Museum.

Eiseley was widely known as a naturalist, a humanist, and a poet. In addition to his own books, his work has appeared in numerous anthologies of English prose, as well as in scientific journals. For many years he lectured frequently at leading universities throughout the United States. He died in 1977.  
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