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object:01.04 - The Secret Knowledge
author class:Sri Aurobindo
book class:Savitri
subject class:Integral Yoga

On a height he stood that looked towards greater heights.
Our early approaches to the Infinite
Are sunrise splendours on a marvellous verge
While lingers yet unseen the glorious sun.
What now we see is a shadow of what must come.
The earth's uplook to a remote Unknown
Is a preface only of the epic climb
Of human soul from its flat earthly state
To the discovery of a greater self
And the far gleam of an eternal Light.
This world is a beginning and a base
Where Life and Mind erect their structured dreams;
An unborn Power must build reality.
A deathbound littleness is not all we are:
Immortal our forgotten vastnesses
Await discovery in our summit selves;
Unmeasured breadths and depths of being are ours.
Akin to the ineffable Secrecy,
Mystic, eternal in unrealised Time,
Neighbours of Heaven are Nature's altitudes.
To these high-peaked dominions sealed to our search,
Too far from surface Nature's postal routes,
Too lofty for our mortal lives to breathe,
Deep in us a forgotten kinship points
And a faint voice of ecstasy and prayer
Calls to those lucent lost immensities.
Even when we fail to look into our souls
Or lie embedded in earthly consciousness,
Still have we parts that grow towards the light,
Yet are there luminous tracts and heavens serene
And Eldorados of splendour and ecstasy
And temples to the godhead none can see.
A shapeless memory lingers in us still
And sometimes, when our sight is turned within,
Earth's ignorant veil is lifted from our eyes;
There is a short miraculous escape.
This narrow fringe of clamped experience
We leave behind meted to us as life,
Our little walks, our insufficient reach.
Our souls can visit in great lonely hours
Still regions of imperishable Light,
All-seeing eagle-peaks of silent Power
And moon-flame oceans of swift fathomless Bliss
And calm immensities of spirit space.
In the unfolding process of the Self
Sometimes the inexpressible Mystery
Elects a human vessel of descent.
A breath comes down from a supernal air,
A Presence is born, a guiding Light awakes,
A stillness falls upon the instruments:
Fixed, motionless like a marble monument,
Stone-calm, the body is a pedestal
Supporting a figure of eternal Peace.
Or a revealing Force sweeps blazing in;
Out of some vast superior continent
Knowledge breaks through trailing its radiant seas,
And Nature trembles with the power, the flame.
A greater Personality sometimes
Possesses us which yet we know is ours:
Or we adore the Master of our souls.
Then the small bodily ego thins and falls;
No more insisting on its separate self,
Losing the punctilio of its separate birth,
It leaves us one with Nature and with God.
In moments when the inner lamps are lit
And the life's cherished guests are left outside,
Our spirit sits alone and speaks to its gulfs.
A wider consciousness opens then its doors;
Invading from spiritual silences
A ray of the timeless Glory stoops awhile
To commune with our seized illumined clay
And leaves its huge white stamp upon our lives.
In the oblivious field of mortal mind,
Revealed to the closed prophet eyes of trance
Or in some deep internal solitude
Witnessed by a strange immaterial sense,
The signals of eternity appear.
The truth mind could not know unveils its face,
We hear what mortal ears have never heard,
We feel what earthly sense has never felt,
We love what common hearts repel and dread;
Our minds hush to a bright Omniscient;
A Voice calls from the chambers of the soul;
We meet the ecstasy of the Godhead's touch
In golden privacies of immortal fire.
These signs are native to a larger self
That lives within us by ourselves unseen;
Only sometimes a holier influence comes,
A tide of mightier surgings bears our lives
And a diviner Presence moves the soul;
Or through the earthly coverings something breaks,
A grace and beauty of spiritual light,
The murmuring tongue of a celestial fire.
Ourself and a high stranger whom we feel,
It is and acts unseen as if it were not;
It follows the line of sempiternal birth,
Yet seems to perish with its mortal frame.
Assured of the Apocalypse to be,
It reckons not the moments and the hours;
Great, patient, calm it sees the centuries pass,
Awaiting the slow miracle of our change
In the sure deliberate process of world-force
And the long march of all-revealing Time.
It is the origin and the master-clue,
A silence overhead, an inner voice,
A living image seated in the heart,
An unwalled wideness and a fathomless point,
The truth of all these cryptic shows in Space,
The Real towards which our strivings move,
The secret grandiose meaning of our lives.
A treasure of honey in the combs of God,
A Splendour burning in a tenebrous cloak,
It is our glory of the flame of God,
Our golden fountain of the world's delight,
An immortality cowled in the cape of death,
The shape of our unborn divinity.
It guards for us our fate in depths within
Where sleeps the eternal seed of transient things.
Always we bear in us a magic key
Concealed in life's hermetic envelope.
A burning Witness in the sanctuary
Regards through Time and the blind walls of Form;
A timeless Light is in his hidden eyes;
He sees the secret things no words can speak
And knows the goal of the unconscious world
And the heart of the mystery of the journeying years.

  But all is screened, subliminal, mystical;
It needs the intuitive heart, the inward turn,
It needs the power of a spiritual gaze.
Else to our waking mind's small moment look
A goalless voyage seems our dubious course
Some Chance has settled or hazarded some Will,
Or a Necessity without aim or cause
Unwillingly compelled to emerge and be.
In this dense field where nothing is plain or sure,
Our very being seems to us questionable,
Our life a vague experiment, the soul
A flickering light in a strange ignorant world,
The earth a brute mechanic accident,
A net of death in which by chance we live.
All we have learned appears a doubtful guess,
The achievement done a passage or a phase
Whose farther end is hidden from our sight,
A chance happening or a fortuitous fate.
Out of the unknown we move to the unknown.
Ever surround our brief existence here
Grey shadows of unanswered questionings;
The dark Inconscient's signless mysteries
Stand up unsolved behind Fate's starting-line.
An aspiration in the Night's profound,
Seed of a perishing body and half-lit mind,
Uplifts its lonely tongue of conscious fire
Towards an undying Light for ever lost;
Only it hears, sole echo of its call,
The dim reply in man's unknowing heart
And meets, not understanding why it came
Or for what reason is the suffering here,
God's sanction to the paradox of life
And the riddle of the Immortal's birth in Time.
Along a path of aeons serpentine
In the coiled blackness of her nescient course
The Earth-Goddess toils across the sands of Time.
A Being is in her whom she hopes to know,
A Word speaks to her heart she cannot hear,
A Fate compels whose form she cannot see.
In her unconscious orbit through the Void
Out of her mindless depths she strives to rise,
A perilous life her gain, a struggling joy;
A Thought that can conceive but hardly knows
Arises slowly in her and creates
The idea, the speech that labels more than it lights;
A trembling gladness that is less than bliss
Invades from all this beauty that must die.
Alarmed by the sorrow dragging at her feet
And conscious of the high things not yet won,
Ever she nurses in her sleepless breast
An inward urge that takes from her rest and peace.
Ignorant and weary and invincible,
She seeks through the soul's war and quivering pain
The pure perfection her marred nature needs,
A breath of Godhead on her stone and mire.
A faith she craves that can survive defeat,
The sweetness of a love that knows not death,
The radiance of a truth for ever sure.
A light grows in her, she assumes a voice,
Her state she learns to read and the act she has done,
But the one needed truth eludes her grasp,
Herself and all of which she is the sign.
An inarticulate whisper drives her steps
Of which she feels the force but not the sense;
A few rare intimations come as guides,
Immense divining flashes cleave her brain,
And sometimes in her hours of dream and muse
The truth that she has missed looks out on her
As if far off and yet within her soul.
A change comes near that flees from her surmise
And, ever postponed, compels attempt and hope,
Yet seems too great for mortal hope to dare.
A vision meets her of supernal Powers
That draw her as if mighty kinsmen lost
Approaching with estranged great luminous gaze.
Then is she moved to all that she is not
And stretches arms to what was never hers.
Outstretching arms to the unconscious Void,
Passionate she prays to invisible forms of Gods
Soliciting from dumb Fate and toiling Time
What most she needs, what most exceeds her scope,
A Mind unvisited by illusion's gleams,
A Will expressive of soul's deity,
A Strength not forced to stumble by its speed,
A Joy that drags not sorrow as its shade.
For these she yearns and feels them destined hers:
Heaven's privilege she claims as her own right.
Just is her claim the all-witnessing Gods approve,
Clear in a greater light than reason owns:
Our intuitions are its title-deeds;
Our souls accept what our blind thoughts refuse.
Earth's winged chimaeras are Truth's steeds in Heaven,
The impossible God's sign of things to be.
But few can look beyond the present state
Or overleap this matted hedge of sense.
All that transpires on earth and all beyond
Are parts of an illimitable plan
The One keeps in his heart and knows alone.
Our outward happenings have their seed within,
And even this random Fate that imitates Chance,
This mass of unintelligible results,
Are the dumb graph of truths that work unseen:
The laws of the Unknown create the known.
The events that shape the appearance of our lives
Are a cipher of subliminal quiverings
Which rarely we surprise or vaguely feel,
Are an outcome of suppressed realities
That hardly rise into material day:
They are born from the spirit's sun of hidden powers
Digging a tunnel through emergency.
But who shall pierce into the cryptic gulf
And learn what deep necessity of the soul
Determined casual deed and consequence?
Absorbed in a routine of daily acts,
Our eyes are fixed on an external scene;
We hear the crash of the wheels of Circumstance
And wonder at the hidden cause of things.
Yet a foreseeing Knowledge might be ours,
If we could take our spirit's stand within,
If we could hear the muffled daemon voice.
Too seldom is the shadow of what must come
Cast in an instant on the secret sense
Which feels the shock of the invisible,
And seldom in the few who answer give
The mighty process of the cosmic Will
Communicates its image to our sight,
Identifying the world's mind with ours.
Our range is fixed within the crowded arc
Of what we observe and touch and thought can guess
And rarely dawns the light of the Unknown
Waking in us the prophet and the seer.
The outward and the immediate are our field,
The dead past is our background and support;
Mind keeps the soul prisoner, we are slaves to our acts;
We cannot free our gaze to reach wisdom's sun.
Inheritor of the brief animal mind,
Man, still a child in Nature's mighty hands,
In the succession of the moments lives;
To a changing present is his narrow right;
His memory stares back at a phantom past,
The future flees before him as he moves;
He sees imagined garments, not a face.
Armed with a limited precarious strength,
He saves his fruits of work from adverse chance.
A struggling ignorance is his wisdom's mate:
He waits to see the consequence of his acts,
He waits to weigh the certitude of his thoughts,
He knows not what he shall achieve or when;
He knows not whether at last he shall survive,
Or end like the mastodon and the sloth
And perish from the earth where he was king.
He is ignorant of the meaning of his life,
He is ignorant of his high and splendid fate.
Only the Immortals on their deathless heights
Dwelling beyond the walls of Time and Space,
Masters of living, free from the bonds of Thought,
Who are overseers of Fate and Chance and Will
And experts of the theorem of world-need,
Can see the Idea, the Might that change Time's course,
Come maned with light from undiscovered worlds,
Hear, while the world toils on with its deep blind heart,
The galloping hooves of the unforeseen event,
Bearing the superhuman Rider, near
And, impassive to earth's din and startled cry,
Return to the silence of the hills of God;
As lightning leaps, as thunder sweeps, they pass
And leave their mark on the trampled breast of Life.
Above the world the world-creators stand,
In the phenomenon see its mystic source.
These heed not the deceiving outward play,
They turn not to the moment's busy tramp,
But listen with the still patience of the Unborn
For the slow footsteps of far Destiny
Approaching through huge distances of Time,
Unmarked by the eye that sees effect and cause,
Unheard mid the clamour of the human plane.
Attentive to an unseen Truth they seize
A sound as of invisible augur wings,
Voices of an unplumbed significance,
Mutterings that brood in the core of Matter's sleep.
In the heart's profound audition they can catch
The murmurs lost by Life's uncaring ear,
A prophet-speech in Thought's omniscient trance.
Above the illusion of the hopes that pass,
Behind the appearance and the overt act,
Behind this clock-work Chance and vague surmise,
Amid the wrestle of force, the trampling feet,
Across the cries of anguish and of joy,
Across the triumph, fighting and despair,
They watch the Bliss for which earth's heart has cried
On the long road which cannot see its end
Winding undetected through the sceptic days
And to meet it guide the unheedful moving world.
Thus will the masked Transcendent mount his throne.
When darkness deepens strangling the earth's breast
And man's corporeal mind is the only lamp,
As a thief's in the night shall be the covert tread
Of one who steps unseen into his house.
A Voice ill-heard shall speak, the soul obey,
A Power into mind's inner chamber steal,
A charm and sweetness open life's closed doors
And beauty conquer the resisting world,
The Truth-Light capture Nature by surprise,
A stealth of God compel the heart to bliss
And earth grow unexpectedly divine.
In Matter shall be lit the spirit's glow,
In body and body kindled the sacred birth;
Night shall awake to the anthem of the stars,
The days become a happy pilgrim march,
Our will a force of the Eternal's power,
And thought the rays of a spiritual sun.
A few shall see what none yet understands;
God shall grow up while the wise men talk and sleep;
For man shall not know the coming till its hour
And belief shall be not till the work is done.

A Consciousness that knows not its own truth,
A vagrant hunter of misleading dawns,
Between the being's dark and luminous ends
Moves here in a half-light that seems the whole:
An interregnum in Reality
Cuts off the integral Thought, the total Power;
It circles or stands in a vague interspace,
Doubtful of its beginning and its close,
Or runs upon a road that has no end;
Far from the original Dusk, the final Flame
In some huge void Inconscience it lives,
Like a thought persisting in a wide emptiness.
As if an unintelligible phrase
Suggested a million renderings to the Mind,
It lends a purport to a random world.
A conjecture leaning upon doubtful proofs,
A message misunderstood, a thought confused
Missing its aim is all that it can speak
Or a fragment of the universal word.
It leaves two giant letters void of sense
While without sanction turns the middle sign
Carrying an enigmatic universe,
As if a present without future or past
Repeating the same revolution's whirl
Turned on its axis in its own Inane.
Thus is the meaning of creation veiled;
For without context reads the cosmic page:
Its signs stare at us like an unknown script,
As if appeared screened by a foreign tongue
Or code of splendour signs without a key
A portion of a parable sublime.
It wears to the perishable creature's eyes
The grandeur of a useless miracle;
Wasting itself that it may last awhile,
A river that can never find its sea,
It runs through life and death on an edge of Time;
A fire in the Night is its mighty action's blaze.
This is our deepest need to join once more
What now is parted, opposite and twain,
Remote in sovereign spheres that never meet
Or fronting like far poles of Night and Day.
We must fill the immense lacuna we have made,
Re-wed the closed finite's lonely consonant
With the open vowels of Infinity,
A hyphen must connect Matter and Mind,
The narrow isthmus of the ascending soul:
We must renew the secret bond in things,
Our hearts recall the lost divine Idea,
Reconstitute the perfect word, unite
The Alpha and the Omega in one sound;
Then shall the Spirit and Nature be at one.
Two are the ends of the mysterious plan.
In the wide signless ether of the Self,
In the unchanging Silence white and nude,
Aloof, resplendent like gold dazzling suns
Veiled by the ray no mortal eye can bear,
The Spirit's bare and absolute potencies
Burn in the solitude of the thoughts of God.
A rapture and a radiance and a hush,
Delivered from the approach of wounded hearts,
Denied to the Idea that looks at grief,
Remote from the Force that cries out in its pain,
In his inalienable bliss they live.
Immaculate in self-knowledge and self-power,
Calm they repose on the eternal Will.
Only his law they count and him obey;
They have no goal to reach, no aim to serve.
Implacable in their timeless purity,
All barter or bribe of worship they refuse;
Unmoved by cry of revolt and ignorant prayer
They reckon not our virtue and our sin;
They bend not to the voices that implore,
They hold no traffic with error and its reign;
They are guardians of the silence of the Truth,
They are keepers of the immutable decree.
A deep surrender is their source of might,
A still identity their way to know,
Motionless is their action like a sleep.
At peace, regarding the trouble beneath the stars,
Deathless, watching the works of Death and Chance,
Immobile, seeing the millenniums pass,
Untouched while the long map of Fate unrolls,
They look on our struggle with impartial eyes,
And yet without them cosmos could not be.
Impervious to desire and doom and hope,
Their station of inviolable might
Moveless upholds the world's enormous task,
Its ignorance is by their knowledge lit,
Its yearning lasts by their indifference.
As the height draws the low ever to climb,
As the breadths draw the small to adventure vast,
Their aloofness drives man to surpass himself.
Our passion heaves to wed the Eternal's calm,
Our dwarf-search mind to meet the Omniscient's light,
Our helpless hearts to enshrine the Omnipotent's force.
Acquiescing in the wisdom that made hell
And the harsh utility of death and tears,
Acquiescing in the gradual steps of Time,
Careless they seem of the grief that stings the world's heart,
Careless of the pain that rends its body and life;
Above joy and sorrow is that grandeur's walk:
They have no portion in the good that dies,
Mute, pure, they share not in the evil done;
Else might their strength be marred and could not save.
Alive to the truth that dwells in God's extremes,
Awake to a motion of all-seeing Force,
The slow outcome of the long ambiguous years
And the unexpected good from woeful deeds,
The immortal sees not as we vainly see.
He looks on hidden aspects and screened powers,
He knows the law and natural line of things.
Undriven by a brief life's will to act,
Unharassed by the spur of pity and fear,
He makes no haste to untie the cosmic knot
Or the world's torn jarring heart to reconcile.
In Time he waits for the Eternal's hour.
Yet a spiritual secret aid is there;
While a tardy Evolution's coils wind on
And Nature hews her way through adamant
A divine intervention thrones above.
Alive in a dead rotating universe
We whirl not here upon a casual globe
Abandoned to a task beyond our force;
Even through the tangled anarchy called Fate
And through the bitterness of death and fall
An outstretched Hand is felt upon our lives.
It is near us in unnumbered bodies and births;
In its unslackening grasp it keeps for us safe
The one inevitable supreme result
No will can take away and no doom change,
The crown of conscious Immortality,
The godhead promised to our struggling souls
When first man's heart dared death and suffered life.
One who has shaped this world is ever its lord:
Our errors are his steps upon the way;
He works through the fierce vicissitudes of our lives,
He works through the hard breath of battle and toil,
He works through our sins and sorrows and our tears,
His knowledge overrules our nescience;
Whatever the appearance we must bear,
Whatever our strong ills and present fate,
When nothing we can see but drift and bale,
A mighty Guidance leads us still through all.
After we have served this great divided world
God's bliss and oneness are our inborn right.
A date is fixed in the calendar of the Unknown,
An anniversary of the Birth sublime:
Our soul shall justify its chequered walk,
All will come near that now is naught or far.
These calm and distant Mights shall act at last.
Immovably ready for their destined task,
The ever-wise compassionate Brilliances
Await the sound of the Incarnate's voice
To leap and bridge the chasms of Ignorance
And heal the hollow yearning gulfs of Life
And fill the abyss that is the universe.
Here meanwhile at the Spirit's opposite pole
In the mystery of the deeps that God has built
For his abode below the Thinker's sight,
In this compromise of a stark absolute Truth
With the Light that dwells near the dark end of things,
In this tragi-comedy of divine disguise,
This long far seeking for joy ever near,
In the grandiose dream of which the world is made,
In this gold dome on a black dragon base,
The conscious Force that acts in Nature's breast,
A dark-robed labourer in the cosmic scheme
Carrying clay images of unborn gods,
Executrix of the inevitable Idea
Hampered, enveloped by the hoops of Fate,
Patient trustee of slow eternal Time,
Absolves from hour to hour her secret charge.
All she foresees in masked imperative depths;
The dumb intention of the unconscious gulfs
Answers to a will that sees upon the heights,
And the evolving Word's first syllable
Ponderous, brute-sensed, contains its luminous close,
Privy to a summit victory's vast descent
And the portent of the soul's immense uprise.

  All here where each thing seems its lonely self
Are figures of the sole transcendent One:
Only by him they are, his breath is their life;
An unseen Presence moulds the oblivious clay.
A playmate in the mighty Mother s game,
One came upon the dubious whirling globe
To hide from her pursuit in force and form.
A secret spirit in the Inconscient's sleep,
A shapeless Energy, a voiceless Word,
He was here before the elements could emerge,
Before there was light of mind or life could breathe.
Accomplice of her cosmic huge pretence,
His semblances he turns to real shapes
And makes the symbol equal with the truth:
He gives to his timeless thoughts a form in Time.
He is the substance, he the self of things;
She has forged from him her works of skill and might:
She wraps him in the magic of her moods
And makes of his myriad truths her countless dreams.
The Master of being has come down to her,
An immortal child born in the fugitive years.
In objects wrought, in the persons she conceives,
Dreaming she chases her idea of him,
And catches here a look and there a gest:
Ever he repeats in them his ceaseless births.
He is the Maker and the world he made,
He is the vision and he is the Seer;
He is himself the actor and the act,
He is himself the knower and the known,
He is himself the dreamer and the dream.
There are Two who are One and play in many worlds;
In Knowledge and Ignorance they have spoken and met
And light and darkness are their eyes' interchange;
Our pleasure and pain are their wrestle and embrace,
Our deeds, our hopes are intimate to their tale;
They are married secretly in our thought and life.
The universe is an endless masquerade:
For nothing here is utterly what it seems;
It is a dream-fact vision of a truth
Which but for the dream would not be wholly true,
A phenomenon stands out significant
Against dim backgrounds of eternity;
We accept its face and pass by all it means;
A part is seen, we take it for the whole.
Thus have they made their play with us for roles:
Author and actor with himself as scene,
He moves there as the Soul, as Nature she.
Here on the earth where we must fill our parts,
We know not how shall run the drama's course;
Our uttered sentences veil in their thought.
Her mighty plan she holds back from our sight:
She has concealed her glory and her bliss
And disguised the Love and Wisdom in her heart;
Of all the marvel and beauty that are hers,
Only a darkened little we can feel.
He too wears a diminished godhead here;
He has forsaken his omnipotence,
His calm he has foregone and infinity.
He knows her only, he has forgotten himself;
To her he abandons all to make her great.
He hopes in her to find himself anew,
Incarnate, wedding his infinity's peace
To her creative passion's ecstasy.
Although possessor of the earth and heavens,
He leaves to her the cosmic management
And watches all, the Witness of her scene.
A supernumerary on her stage,
He speaks no words or hides behind the wings.
He takes birth in her world, waits on her will,
Divines her enigmatic gesture's sense,
The fluctuating chance turns of her mood,
Works out her meanings she seems not to know
And serves her secret purpose in long Time.
As one too great for him he worships her;
He adores her as his regent of desire,
He yields to her as the mover of his will,
He burns the incense of his nights and days
Offering his life, a splendour of sacrifice.
A rapt solicitor for her love and grace,
His bliss in her to him is his whole world:
He grows through her in all his being's powers;
He reads by her God's hidden aim in things.
Or, a courtier in her countless retinue,
Content to be with her and feel her near
He makes the most of the little that she gives
And all she does drapes with his own delight.
A glance can make his whole day wonderful,
A word from her lips with happiness wings the hours.
He leans on her for all he does and is:
He builds on her largesses his proud fortunate days
And trails his peacock-plumaged joy of life
And suns in the glory of her passing smile.
In a thousand ways he serves her royal needs;
He makes the hours pivot around her will,
Makes all reflect her whims; all is their play:
This whole wide world is only he and she.

  This is the knot that ties together the stars:
The Two who are one are the secret of all power,
The Two who are one are the might and right in things.
His soul, silent, supports the world and her,
His acts are her commandment's registers.
Happy, inert, he lies beneath her feet:
His breast he offers for her cosmic dance
Of which our lives are the quivering theatre,
And none could bear but for his strength within,
Yet none would leave because of his delight.
His works, his thoughts have been devised by her,
His being is a mirror vast of hers:
Active, inspired by her he speaks and moves;
His deeds obey her heart's unspoken demands:
Passive, he bears the impacts of the world
As if her touches shaping his soul and life:
His journey through the days is her sun-march;
He runs upon her roads; hers is his course.
A witness and student of her joy and dole,
A partner in her evil and her good,
He has consented to her passionate ways,
He is driven by her sweet and dreadful force.
His sanctioning name initials all her works;
His silence is his signature to her deeds;
In the execution of her drama's scheme,
In her fancies of the moment and its mood,
In the march of this obvious ordinary world
Where all is deep and strange to the eyes that see
And Nature's common forms are marvel-wefts,
She through his witness sight and motion of might
Unrolls the material of her cosmic Act,
Her happenings that exalt and smite the soul,
Her force that moves, her powers that save and slay,
Her Word that in the silence speaks to our hearts,
Her silence that transcends the summit Word,
Her heights and depths to which our spirit moves,
Her events that weave the texture of our lives
And all by which we find or lose ourselves,
Things sweet and bitter, magnificent and mean,
Things terrible and beautiful and divine.
Her empire in the cosmos she has built,
He is governed by her subtle and mighty laws.
His consciousness is a babe upon her knees,
His being a field of her vast experiment,
Her endless space is the playground of his thoughts;
She binds to knowledge of the shapes of Time
And the creative error of limiting mind
And chance that wears the rigid face of fate
And her sport of death and pain and Nescience,
His changed and struggling immortality.
His soul is a subtle atom in a mass,
His substance a material for her works.
His spirit survives amid the death of things,
He climbs to eternity through being's gaps,
He is carried by her from Night to deathless Light.
This grand surrender is his free-will's gift,
His pure transcendent force submits to hers.
In the mystery of her cosmic ignorance,
In the insoluble riddle of her play,
A creature made of perishable stuff,
In the pattern she has set for him he moves,
He thinks with her thoughts, with her trouble his bosom heaves;
He seems the thing that she would have him seem,
He is whatever her artist will can make.
Although she drives him on her fancy's roads,
At play with him as with her child or slave,
To freedom and the Eternal's mastery
And immortality's stand above the world,
She moves her seeming puppet of an hour.
Even in his mortal session in body's house,
An aimless traveller between birth and death,
Ephemeral dreaming of immortality,
To reign she spurs him. He takes up her powers;
He has harnessed her to the yoke of her own law.
His face of human thought puts on a crown.
Held in her leash, bound to her veiled caprice,
He studies her ways if so he may prevail
Even for an hour and she work out his will;
He makes of her his moment passion's serf:
To obey she feigns, she follows her creature's lead:
For him she was made, lives only for his use.
But conquering her, then is he most her slave;
He is her dependent, all his means are hers;
Nothing without her he can, she rules him still.
At last he wakes to a memory of Self:
He sees within the face of deity,
The Godhead breaks out through the human mould:
Her highest heights she unmasks and is his mate.
Till then he is a plaything in her game;
Her seeming regent, yet her fancy's toy,
A living robot moved by her energy's springs,
He acts as in the movements of a dream,
An automaton stepping in the grooves of Fate,
He stumbles on driven by her whip of Force:
His thought labours, a bullock in Time's fields;
His will he thinks his own, is shaped in her forge.
Obedient to World-Nature's dumb control,
Driven by his own formidable Power,
His chosen partner in a titan game,
Her will he has made the master of his fate,
Her whim the dispenser of his pleasure and pain;
He has sold himself into her regal power
For any blow or boon that she may choose:
Even in what is suffering to our sense,
He feels the sweetness of her mastering touch,
In all experience meets her blissful hands;
On his heart he bears the happiness of her tread
And the surprise of her arrival's joy
In each event and every moment's chance.
All she can do is marvellous in his sight:
He revels in her, a swimmer in her sea,
A tireless amateur of her world-delight,
He rejoices in her every thought and act
And gives consent to all that she can wish;
Whatever she desires he wills to be:
The Spirit, the innumerable One,
He has left behind his lone eternity,
He is an endless birth in endless Time,
Her finite's multitude in an infinite Space.

The master of existence lurks in us
And plays at hide-and-seek with his own Force;
In Nature's instrument loiters secret God.
The Immanent lives in man as in his house;
He has made the universe his pastime's field,
A vast gymnasium of his works of might.
All-knowing he accepts our darkened state,
Divine, wears shapes of animal or man;
Eternal, he assents to Fate and Time,
Immortal, dallies with mortality.
The All-Conscious ventured into Ignorance,
The All-Blissful bore to be insensible.
Incarnate in a world of strife and pain,
He puts on joy and sorrow like a robe
And drinks experience like a streng thening wine.
He whose transcendence rules the pregnant Vasts,
Prescient now dwells in our subliminal depths,
A luminous individual Power, alone.

The Absolute, the Perfect, the Alone
Has called out of the Silence his mute Force
Where she lay in the featureless and formless hush
Guarding from Time by her immobile sleep
The ineffable puissance of his solitude.
The Absolute, the Perfect, the Alone
Has entered with his silence into space:
He has fashioned these countless persons of one self;
He has built a million figures of his power;
He lives in all, who lived in his Vast alone;
Space is himself and Time is only he.
The Absolute, the Perfect, the Immune,
One who is in us as our secret self,
Our mask of imperfection has assumed,
He has made this tenement of flesh his own,
His image in the human measure cast
That to his divine measure we might rise;
Then in a figure of divinity
The Maker shall recast us and impose
A plan of godhead on the mortal's mould
Lifting our finite minds to his infinite,
Touching the moment with eternity.
This transfiguration is earth's due to heaven:
A mutual debt binds man to the Supreme:
His nature we must put on as he put ours;
We are sons of God and must be even as he:
His human portion, we must grow divine.
Our life is a paradox with God for key.

But meanwhile all is a shadow cast by a dream
And to the musing and immobile spirit
Life and himself don the aspect of a myth,
The burden of a long unmeaning tale.
For the key is hid and by the Inconscient kept;
The secret God beneath the threshold dwells.
In a body obscuring the immortal Spirit
A nameless Resident vesting unseen powers
With Matter's shapes and motives beyond thought
And the hazard of an unguessed consequence,
An omnipotent indiscernible Influence,
He sits, unfelt by the form in which he lives
And veils his knowledge by the groping mind.
A wanderer in a world his thoughts have made,
He turns in a chiaroscuro of error and truth
To find a wisdom that on high is his.
As one forgetting he searches for himself;
As if he had lost an inner light he seeks:
As a sojourner lingering amid alien scenes
He journeys to a home he knows no more.
His own self's truth he seeks who is the Truth;
He is the Player who became the play,
He is the Thinker who became the thought;
He is the many who was the silent One.
In the symbol figures of the cosmic Force
And in her living and inanimate signs
And in her complex tracery of events
He explores the ceaseless miracle of himself,
Till the thousandfold enigma has been solved
In the single light of an all-witnessing Soul.

This was his compact with his mighty mate,
For love of her and joined to her for ever
To follow the course of Time's eternity,
Amid magic dramas of her sudden moods
And the surprises of her masked Idea
And the vicissitudes of her vast caprice.
Two seem his goals, yet ever are they one
And gaze at each other over bourneless Time;
Spirit and Matter are their end and source.
A seeker of hidden meanings in life's forms,
Of the great Mother s wide uncharted will
And the rude enigma of her terrestrial ways
He is the explorer and the mariner
On a secret inner ocean without bourne:
He is the adventurer and cosmologist
Of a magic earth's obscure geography.
In her material order's fixed design
Where all seems sure and, even when changed, the same,
Even though the end is left for ever unknown
And ever unstable is life's shifting flow,
His paths are found for him by silent fate;
As stations in the ages' weltering flood
Firm lands appear that tempt and stay awhile,
Then new horizons lure the mind's advance.
There comes no close to the finite's boundlessness,
There is no last certitude in which thought can pause
And no terminus to the soul's experience.
A limit, a farness never wholly reached,
An unattained perfection calls to him
From distant boundaries in the Unseen:
A long beginning only has been made.

This is the sailor on the flow of Time,
This is World-Matter's slow discoverer,
Who, launched into this small corporeal birth,
Has learned his craft in tiny bays of self,
But dares at last unplumbed infinitudes,
A voyager upon eternity's seas.
In his world-adventure's crude initial start
Behold him ignorant of his godhead's force,
Timid initiate of its vast design.
An expert captain of a fragile craft,
A trafficker in small impermanent wares,
At first he hugs the shore and shuns the breadths,
Dares not to affront the far-off perilous main.
He in a petty coastal traffic plies,
His pay doled out from port to neighbour port,
Content with his safe round's unchanging course,
He hazards not the new and the unseen.
But now he hears the sound of larger seas.
A widening world calls him to distant scenes
And journeyings in a larger vision's arc
And peoples unknown and still unvisited shores.
On a commissioned keel his merchant hull
Serves the world's commerce in the riches of Time
Severing the foam of a great land-locked sea
To reach unknown harbour lights in distant climes
And open markets for life's opulent arts,
Rich bales, carved statuettes, hued canvases,
And jewelled toys brought for an infant's play
And perishable products of hard toil
And transient splendours won and lost by the days.
Or passing through a gate of pillar-rocks,
Venturing not yet to cross oceans unnamed
And journey into a dream of distances
He travels close to unfamiliar coasts
And finds new haven in storm-troubled isles,
Or, guided by a sure compass in his thought,
He plunges through a bright haze that hides the stars,
Steering on the trade-routes of Ignorance.
His prow pushes towards undiscovered shores,
He chances on unimagined continents:
A seeker of the islands of the Blest,
He leaves the last lands, crosses the ultimate seas,
He turns to eternal things his symbol quest;
Life changes for him its time-constructed scenes,
Its images veiling infinity.
Earth's borders recede and the terrestrial air
Hangs round him no longer its translucent veil.
He has crossed the limit of mortal thought and hope,
He has reached the world's end and stares beyond;
The eyes of mortal body plunge their gaze
Into Eyes that look upon eternity.
A greater world Time's traveller must explore.
At last he hears a chanting on the heights
And the far speaks and the unknown grows near:
He crosses the boundaries of the unseen
And passes over the edge of mortal sight
To a new vision of himself and things.
He is a spirit in an unfinished world
That knows him not and cannot know itself:
The surface symbol of his goalless quest
Takes deeper meanings to his inner view;
His is a search of darkness for the light,
Of mortal life for immortality.
In the vessel of an earthly embodiment
Over the narrow rails of limiting sense
He looks out on the magic waves of Time
Where mind like a moon illumines the world's dark.
There is limned ever retreating from the eyes,
As if in a tenuous misty dream-light drawn,
The outline of a dim mysterious shore.
A sailor on the Inconscient's fathomless sea,
He voyages through a starry world of thought
On Matter's deck to a spiritual sun.
Across the noise and multitudinous cry,
Across the rapt unknowable silences,
Through a strange mid-world under supernal skies,
Beyond earth's longitudes and latitudes,
His goal is fixed outside all present maps.
But none learns whither through the unknown he sails
Or what secret mission the great Mother gave.
In the hidden strength of her omnipotent Will,
Driven by her breath across life's tossing deep,
Through the thunder's roar and through the windless hush,
Through fog and mist where nothing more is seen,
He carries her sealed orders in his breast.
Late will he know, opening the mystic script,
Whether to a blank port in the Unseen
He goes or, armed with her fiat, to discover
A new mind and body in the city of God
And enshrine the Immortal in his glory's house
And make the finite one with Infinity.
Across the salt waste of the endless years
Her ocean winds impel his errant boat,
The cosmic waters plashing as he goes,
A rumour around him and danger and a call.
Always he follows in her force's wake.
He sails through life and death and other life,
He travels on through waking and through sleep.
A power is on him from her occult force
That ties him to his own creation's fate,
And never can the mighty Traveller rest
And never can the mystic voyage cease
Till the nescient dusk is lifted from man's soul
And the morns of God have overtaken his night.
As long as Nature lasts, he too is there,
For this is sure that he and she are one;
Even when he sleeps, he keeps her on his breast:
Whoever leaves her, he will not depart
To repose without her in the Unknowable.
There is a truth to know, a work to do;
Her play is real; a Mystery he fulfils:
There is a plan in the Mother s deep world-whim,
A purpose in her vast and random game.
This ever she meant since the first dawn of life,
This constant will she covered with her sport,
To evoke a Person in the impersonal Void,
With the Truth-Light strike earth's massive roots of trance,
Wake a dumb self in the inconscient depths
And raise a lost Power from its python sleep
That the eyes of the Timeless might look out from Time
And the world manifest the unveiled Divine.
For this he left his white infinity
And laid on the spirit the burden of the flesh,
That Godhead's seed might flower in mindless Space.

  End of Book I - Canto IV
object:1.01 - Newtonian and Bergsonian Time
subject class:Cybernetics
book class:Cybernetics, or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine
author class:Norbert Wiener

There is a little hymn or song familiar to every German child.
It goes:
“Weisst du, wieviel Sternlein stehen
An dem blauen Himmelszelt?
Weisst du, wieviel Wolken gehen
Weithin über alle Welt?
Gott, der Herr, hat sie gezählet
Dass ihm auch nicht eines fehlet
An der ganzen, grossen Zahl."
W. Hey
In English this says: “Knowest thou how many stars stand in the
blue tent of heaven? Knowest thou how many clouds pass far
over the whole world? The Lord God hath counted them, that
not one of the whole great number be lacking."
This little song is an interesting theme for the philosopher
and the historian of science, in that it puts side by side two sci-
ences which have the one similarity of dealing with the heav-
ens above us, but which in almost every other respect offer
an extreme contrast. Astronomy is the oldest of the sciences,
while meteorology is among the youngest to begin to deserve
the name. The more familiar astronomical phenomena can44
Chapter I
be predicted for many centuries, while a precise prediction of
tomorrow’s weather is generally not easy and in many places
very crude indeed.
To go back to the poem, the answer to the first question is
that, within limits, we do know how many stars there are. In
the first place, apart from minor uncertainties concerning some
of the double and variable stars, a star is a definite object, emi-
nently suitable for counting and cataloguing; and if a human
Durchmusterung of the stars—­as we call these catalogues—­stops
short for stars less intense than a certain magnitude, there is
nothing too repugnant to us in the idea of a divine Durchmuster-
ung going much further.
On the other hand, if you were to ask the meteorologist to give
you a similar Durchmusterung of the clouds, he might laugh in
your face, or he might patiently explain that in all the language
of meteorology there is no such thing as a cloud, defined as an
object with a quasi-­permanent identity; and that if there were,
he neither possesses the facilities to count them, nor is he in fact
interested in counting them. A topologically inclined meteo-
rologist might perhaps define a cloud as a connected region of
space in which the density of the part of the water content in the
solid or liquid state exceeds a certain amount, but this definition
would not be of the slightest value to anyone, and would at most
represent an extremely transitory state. What really concerns
the meteorologist is some such statistical statement as, “Boston:
January 17, 1950: Sky 38% overcast: Cirrocumulus."
There is of course a branch of astronomy which deals with
what may be called cosmic meteorology: the study of galaxies
and nebulae and star clusters and their statistics, as pursued for
example by Chandrasekhar, but this is a very young branch of
astronomy, younger than meteorology itself, and is somethingNewtonian and Bergsonian Time
outside the tradition of classical astronomy. This tradition,
apart from its purely classificatory, Durchmusterung aspects, was
originally concerned rather with the solar system than with the
world of the fixed stars. It is the astronomy of the solar system
which is that chiefly associated with the names of Copernicus,
Kepler, Galileo, and Newton, and which was the wet nurse of
modern physics.
It is indeed an ideally simple science. Even before the exis-
tence of any adequate dynamical theory, even as far back as the
Babylonians, it was realized that eclipses occurred in regular
predictable cycles, extending backward and forward over time.
It was realized that time itself could better be measured by the
motion of the stars in their courses than in any other way. The
pattern for all events in the solar system was the revolution of a
wheel or a series of wheels, whether in the form of the Ptolemaic
theory of epicycles or the Copernican theory of orbits, and in
any such theory the future after a fashion repeats the past. The
music of the spheres is a palindrome, and the book of astron-
omy reads the same backward as forward. There is no difference
save of initial positions and directions between the motion of an
orrery turned forward and one run in reverse. Finally, when all
this was reduced by Newton to a formal set of postulates and a
closed mechanics, the fundamental laws of this mechanics were
unaltered by the transformation of the time variable t into its
Thus if we were to take a motion picture of the planets,
speeded up to show a perceptible picture of activity, and were
to run the film backward, it would still be a possible picture of
planets conforming to the Newtonian mechanics. On the other
hand, if we were to take a motion-­picture photograph of the tur-
bulence of the clouds in a thunderhead and reverse it, it would46
Chapter I
look altogether wrong. We should see downdrafts where we
expect updrafts, turbulence growing coarser in texture, lightning
preceding instead of following the changes of cloud which usu-
ally precede it, and so on indefinitely.
What is the difference between the astronomical and the
meteorological situation which brings about all these differ-
ences, and in particular the difference between the apparent
reversibility of astronomical time and the apparent irreversibil-
ity of meteorological time? In the first place, the meteorological
system is one involving a vast number of approximately equal
particles, some of them very closely coupled to one another,
while the astronomical system of the solar universe contains
only a relatively small number of particles, greatly diverse in
size and coupled with one another in a sufficiently loose way
that the second-­order coupling effects do not change the general
aspect of the picture we observe, and the very high order cou-
pling effects are completely negligible. The planets move under
conditions more favorable to the isolation of a certain limited
set of forces than those of any physical experiment we can set up
in the laboratory. Compared with the distances between them,
the planets, and even the sun, are very nearly points. Compared
with the elastic and plastic deformations they suffer, the planets
are either very nearly rigid bodies, or, where they are not, their
internal forces are at any rate of a relatively slight, significance
where the relative motion of their centers is concerned. The
space in which they move is almost perfectly free from imped-
ing matter; and in their mutual attraction, their masses may be
considered to lie very nearly at their centers and to be constant.
The departure of the law of gravity from the inverse square law
is most minute. The positions, velocities, and masses of the bod-
ies of the solar system are extremely well known at any time,Newtonian and Bergsonian Time
and the computation of their future and past positions, while
not easy in detail, is easy and precise in principle. On the other
hand, in meteorology, the number of particles concerned is so
enormous that an accurate record of their initial positions and
velocities is utterly impossible; and if this record were actually
made and their future positions and velocities computed, we
should have nothing but an impenetrable mass of figures which
would need a radical reinterpretation before it could be of any
service to us. The terms “cloud," “temperature," “turbulence,"
etc., are all terms referring not to one single physical situation
but to a distribution of possible situations of which only one
actual case is realized. If all the readings of all the meteorologi-
cal stations on earth were simultaneously taken, they would not
give a billionth part of the data necessary to characterize the
actual state of the atmosphere from a Newtonian point of view.
They would only give certain constants consistent with an infin-
ity of different atmospheres, and at most, together with certain
a priori assumptions, capable of giving, as a probability distribu-
tion, a measure over the set of possible atmospheres. Using the
Newtonian laws, or any other system of causal laws whatever, all
that we can predict at any future time is a probability distribu-
tion of the constants of the system, and even this predictability
fades out with the increase of time.
Now, even in a Newtonian system, in which time is per-
fectly reversible, questions of probability and prediction lead to
answers asymmetrical as between past and future, because the
questions to which they are answers are asymmetrical. If I set up
a physical experiment, I bring the system I am considering from
the past into the present in such a way that I fix certain quanti-
ties and have a reasonable right to assume that certain other
quantities have known statistical distributions. I then observe48
Chapter I
the statistical distribution of results after a given time. This is not
a process which I can reverse. In order to do so, it would be nec-
essary to pick out a fair distribution of systems which, without
intervention on our part, would end up within certain statistical
limits, and find out what the antecedent conditions were a given
time ago. However, for a system starting from an unknown posi-
tion to end up in any tightly defined statistical range is so rare
an occurrence that we may regard it as a miracle, and we can-
not base our experimental technique on awaiting and counting
miracles. In short, we are directed in time, and our relation to
the future is different from our relation to the past. All our ques-
tions are conditioned by this asymmetry, and all our answers to
these questions are equally conditioned by it.
A very interesting astronomical question concerning the
direction of time comes up in connection with the time of astro-
physics, in which we are observing remote heavenly bodies in a
single observation, and in which there seems to be no unidirec-
tionalness in the nature of our experiment. Why then does the
unidirectional thermodynamics which is based on experimental
terrestrial observations stand us in such good stead in astrophys-
ics? The answer is interesting and not too obvious. Our obser-
vations of the stars are through the agency of light, of rays or
particles emerging from the observed object and perceived by us.
We can perceive incoming light, but cannot perceive outgoing
light, or at least the perception of outgoing light is not achieved
by an experiment as simple and direct as that of incoming light.
In the perception of incoming light, we end up with the eye or
a photographic plate. We condition these for the reception of
images by putting them in a state of insulation for some time
past: we dark-­condition the eye to avoid after-­images, and we
wrap our plates in black paper to prevent halation. It is clearNewtonian and Bergsonian Time
that only such an eye and only such plates are any use to us:
if we were given to pre-­images, we might as well be blind; and
if we had to put our plates in black paper after we use them
and develop them before using, photography would be a very
difficult art indeed. This being the case, we can see those stars
radiating to us and to the whole world; while if there are any
stars whose evolution is in the reverse direction, they will attract
radiation from the whole heavens, and even this attraction from
us will not be perceptible in any way, in view of the fact that we
already know our own past but not our future. Thus the part of
the universe which we see must have its past-­future relations, as
far as the emission of radiation is concerned, concordant with
our own. The very fact that we see a star means that its thermo-
dynamics is like our own.
Indeed, it is a very interesting intellectual experiment to
make the fantasy of an intelligent being whose time should run
the other way to our own. To such a being, all communication
with us would be impossible. Any signal he might send would
reach us with a logical stream of consequents from his point of
view, antecedents from ours. These antecedents would already
be in our experience, and would have served to us as the natu-
ral explanation of his signal, without presupposing an intelli-
gent being to have sent it. If he drew us a square, we should see
the remains of his figure as its precursors, and it would seem to
be the curious crystallization—­always perfectly explainable—­of
these remains. Its meaning would seem to be as fortuitous as
the faces we read into mountains and cliffs. The drawing of the
square would appear to us as a catastrophe—­
sudden indeed,
but explainable by natural laws—­by which that square would
cease to exist. Our counterpart would have exactly similar ideas50
Chapter I
concerning us. Within any world with which we can communicate,
the direction of time is uniform.
To return to the contrast between Newtonian astronomy and
meteorology: most sciences lie in an intermediate position, but
most are rather nearer to meteorology than to astronomy. Even
astronomy, as we have seen, contains a cosmic meteorology. It
contains as well that extremely interesting field studied by Sir
George Darwin, and known as the theory of tidal evolution. We
have said that we can treat the relative movements of the sun
and the planets as the movements of rigid bodies, but this is not
quite the case. The earth, for example, is nearly surrounded by
oceans. The water nearer the moon than the center of the earth
is more strongly attracted to the moon than the solid part of the
earth, and the water on the other side is less strongly attracted.
This relatively slight effect pulls the water into two hills, one
under the moon and one opposite to the moon. In a perfectly
liquid sphere, these hills could follow the moon around the
earth with no great dispersal of energy, and consequently would
remain almost precisely under the moon and opposite to the
moon. They would consequently have a pull on the moon
which would not greatly influence the angular position of the
moon in the heavens. However, the tidal wave they produce on
the earth gets tangled up and delayed on coasts and in shallow
seas such as the Bering Sea and the Irish Sea. It consequently
lags behind the position of the moon, and the forces producing
this are largely turbulent, dissipative forces, of a character much
like the forces met in meteorology, and need a statistical treat-
ment. Indeed, oceanography may be called the meteorology of
the hydrosphere rather than of the atmosphere.
These frictional forces drag the moon back in its course about
the earth and accelerate the rotation of the earth forward. TheyNewtonian and Bergsonian Time
tend to bring the lengths of the month and of the day ever closer
to one another. Indeed, the day of the moon is the month, and
the moon always presents nearly the same face to the earth. It
has been suggested that this is the result of an ancient tidal evo-
lution, when the moon contained some liquid or gas or plastic
material which could give under the earth’s attraction, and in so
giving could dissipate large amounts of energy. This phenome-
non of tidal evolution is not confined to the earth and the moon
but may be observed to some degree throughout all gravitating
systems. In ages past it has seriously modified the face of the
solar system, though in anything like historic times this modi-
fication is slight compared with the “rigid-­body" motion of the
planets of the solar system.
Thus even gravitational astronomy involves frictional proc-
esses that run down. There is not a single science which con-
forms precisely to the strict Newtonian pattern. The biological
sciences certainly have their full share of one-­way phenomena.
Birth is not the exact reverse of death, nor is anabolism—­the
building up of tissues—­the exact reverse of catabolism—­their
breaking down. The division of cells does not follow a pattern
symmetrical in time, nor does the union of the germ cells to
form the fertilized ovum. The individual is an arrow pointed
through time in one way, and the race is equally directed from
the past into the future.
The record of paleontology indicates a definite long-­
trend, interrupted and complicated though it might be, from
the simple to the complex. By the middle of the last century this
trend had become apparent to all scientists with an honestly
open mind, and it is no accident that the problem of discovering
its mechanisms was carried ahead through the same great step
by two men working at about the same time: Charles Darwin52
Chapter I
and Alfred Wallace. This step was the realization that a mere for-
tuitous variation of the individuals of a species might be carved
into the form of a more or less one-­directional or few-­directional
progress for each line by the varying degrees of viability of the
several variations, either from the point of view of the individual
or of the race. A mutant dog without legs will certainly starve,
while a long thin lizard that has developed the mechanism of
crawling on its ribs may have a better chance for survival if it
has clean lines and is freed from the impeding projections of
limbs. An aquatic animal, whether fish, lizard, or mammal, will
swim better with a fusiform shape, powerful body muscles, and
a posterior appendage which will catch the water; and if it is
dependent for its food on the pursuit of swift prey, its chances of
survival may depend on its assuming this form.
Darwinian evolution is thus a mechanism by which a more
or less fortuitous variability is combined into a rather definite
pattern. Darwin’s principle still holds today, though we have a
much better knowledge of the mechanism on which it depends.
The work of Mendel has given us a far more precise and dis-
continuous view of heredity than that held by Darwin, while
the notion of mutation, from the time of de Vries on, has com-
pletely altered our conception of the statistical basis of muta-
tion. We have studied the fine anatomy of the chromosome and
have localized the gene on it. The list of modern geneticists is
long and distinguished. Several of these, such as Haldane, have
made the statistical study of Mendelianism an effective tool for
the study of evolution.
We have already spoken of the tidal evolution of Sir George
Darwin, Charles Darwin’s son. Neither the connection of the
idea of the son with that of the father nor the choice of the
name “evolution" is fortuitous. In tidal evolution as well as inNewtonian and Bergsonian Time
the origin of species, we have a mechanism by means of which
a fortuitous variability, that of the random motions of the waves
in a tidal sea and of the molecules of the water, is converted by
a dynamical process into a pattern of development which reads
in one direction. The theory of tidal evolution is quite definitely
an astronomical application of the elder Darwin.
The third of the dynasty of Darwins, Sir Charles, is one of the
authorities on modern quantum mechanics. This fact may be
fortuitous, but it nevertheless represents an even further inva-
sion of Newtonian ideas by ideas of statistics. The succession
of names Maxwell-­
Gibbs represents a progressive
reduction of thermodynamics to statistical mechanics: that is, a
reduction of the phenomena concerning heat and temperature
to phenomena in which a Newtonian mechanics is applied to
a situation in which we deal not with a single dynamical sys-
tem but with a statistical distribution of dynamical systems;
and in which our conclusions concern not all such systems
but an overwhelming majority of them. About the year 1900,
it became apparent that there was something seriously wrong
with thermodynamics, particularly where it concerned radia-
tion. The ether showed much less power to absorb radiations
of high frequency—­as shown by the law of Planck—­than any
existing mechanization of radiation theory had allowed. Planck
gave a quasi-­atomic theory of radiation—­the quantum theory—­
which accounted satisfactorily enough for these phenomena,
but which was at odds with the whole remainder of physics;
and Niels Bohr followed this up with a similarly ad hoc theory
of the atom. Thus Newton and Planck-­
Bohr formed, respec-
tively, the thesis and antithesis of a Hegelian antinomy. The
synthesis is the statistical theory discovered by Heisenberg in
1925, in which the statistical Newtonian dynamics of Gibbs is54
Chapter I
replaced by a statistical theory very similar to that of Newton
and Gibbs for large-­scale phenomena, but in which the com-
plete collection of data for the present and the past is not suf-
ficient to predict the future more than statistically. It is thus not
too much to say that not only the Newtonian astronomy but
even the Newtonian physics has become a picture of the aver-
age results of a statistical situation, and hence an account of an
evolutionary process.
This transition from a Newtonian, reversible time to a
Gibbsian, irreversible time has had its philosophical echoes.
Bergson emphasized the difference between the reversible time
of physics, in which nothing new happens, and the irreversible
time of evolution and biology, in which there is always some-
thing new. The realization that the Newtonian physics was not
the proper frame for biology was perhaps the central point in the
old controversy between vitalism and mechanism; although this
was complicated by the desire to conserve in some form or other
at least the shadows of the soul and of God against the inroads of
materialism. In the end, as we have seen, the vitalist proved too
much. Instead of building a wall between the claims of life and
those of physics, the wall has been erected to surround so wide
a compass that both matter and life find themselves inside it. It
is true that the matter of the newer physics is not the matter of
Newton, but it is something quite as remote from the anthropo-
morphizing desires of the vitalists. The chance of the quantum
theoretician is not the ethical freedom of the Augustinian, and
Tyche is as relentless a mistress as Ananke.
The thought of every age is reflected in its technique. The
civil engineers of ancient days were land surveyors, astronomers,
and navigators; those of the seventeenth and early eighteenth
centuries were clockmakers and grinders of lenses. As in ancientNewtonian and Bergsonian Time
times, the craftsmen made their tools in the image of the heav-
ens. A watch is nothing but a pocket orrery, moving by necessity
as do the celestial spheres; and if friction and the dissipation of
energy play a role in it, they are effects to be overcome, so that
the resulting motion of the hands may be as periodic and regular
as possible. The chief technical result of this engineering after
the model of Huyghens and Newton was the age of navigation,
in which for the first time it was possible to compute longitudes
with a respectable precision, and to convert the commerce of the
great oceans from a thing of chance and adventure to a regular
understood business. It is the engineering of the mercantilists.
To the merchant succeeded the manufacturer, and to the chro-
nometer, the steam engine. From the Newcomen engine almost
to the present time, the central field of engineering has been
the study of prime movers. Heat has been converted into usable
energy of rotation and translation, and the physics of Newton
has been supplemented by that of Rumford, Carnot, and Joule.
Thermodynamics makes its appearance, a science in which time
is eminently irreversible; and although the earlier stages of this
science seem to represent a region of thought almost without
contact with the Newtonian dynamics, the theory of the con-
servation of energy and the later statistical explanation of the
Carnot principle or second law of thermodynamics or principle
of the degradation of energy—­that principle which makes the
maximum efficiency obtainable by a steam engine depend on
the working temperatures of the boiler and the condenser—­all
these have fused thermodynamics and the Newtonian dynam-
ics into the statistical and the non-­statistical aspects of the same
If the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries are the age
of clocks, and the later eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries56
Chapter I
constitute the age of steam engines, the present time is the age
of communication and control. There is in electrical engineer-
ing a split which is known in Germany as the split between the
technique of strong currents and the technique of weak cur-
rents, and which we know as the distinction between power and
communication engineering. It is this split which separates the
age just past from that in which we are now living. Actually,
communication engineering can deal with currents of any size
whatever and with the movement of engines powerful enough
to swing massive gun turrets; what distinguishes it from power
engineering is that its main interest is not economy of energy
but the accurate reproduction of a signal. This signal may be the
tap of a key, to be reproduced as the tap of a telegraph receiver
at the other end; or it may be a sound transmitted and received
through the apparatus of a telephone; or it may be the turn of
a ship’s wheel, received as the angular position of the rudder.
Thus communication engineering began with Gauss, Wheat-
stone, and the first telegraphers. It received its first reasonably
scientific treatment at the hands of Lord Kelvin, after the failure
of the first transatlantic cable in the middle of the last century;
and from the eighties on, it was perhaps Heaviside who did the
most to bring it into a modern shape. The discovery of radar
and its use in the Second World War, together with the exigen-
cies of the control of anti-­aircraft fire, have brought to the field
a large number of well-­trained mathematicians and physicists.
The wonders of the automatic computing machine belong to
the same realm of ideas, which was certainly never so actively
pursued in the past as it is at the present day.
At every stage of technique since Daedalus or Hero of Alexan-
dria, the ability of the artificer to produce a working simulacrum
of a living organism has always intrigued people. This desire toNewtonian and Bergsonian Time
produce and to study automata has always been expressed in
terms of the living technique of the age. In the days of magic, we
have the bizarre and sinister concept of the Golem, that figure
of clay into which the Rabbi of Prague breathed life with the
blasphemy of the Ineffable Name of God. In the time of Newton,
the automaton becomes the clockwork music box, with the little
effigies pirouetting stiffly on top. In the nineteenth century, the
automaton is a glorified heat engine, burning some combusti-
ble fuel instead of the glycogen of the human muscles. Finally,
the present automaton opens doors by means of photocells, or
points guns to the place at which a radar beam picks up an air-
plane, or computes the solution of a differential equation.
Neither the Greek nor the magical automaton lies along
the main lines of the direction of development of the modern
machine, nor do they seem to have had much of an influence on
serious philosophic thought. It is far different with the clockwork
automaton. This idea has played a very genuine and important
role in the early history of modern philosophy, although we are
rather prone to ignore it.
To begin with, Descartes considers the lower animals as
automata. This is done to avoid questioning the orthodox Chris-
tian attitude that animals have no souls to be saved or damned.
Just how these living automata function is something that Des-
cartes, so far as I know, never discusses. However, the impor-
tant allied question of the mode of coupling of the human soul,
both in sensation and in will, with its material environment is
one which Descartes does discuss, although in a very unsatisfac-
tory manner. He places this coupling in the one median part
of the brain known to him, the pineal gland. As to the nature
of his coupling—­whether or not it represents a direct action of
mind on matter and of matter on mind—­he is none too clear.58
Chapter I
He probably does regard it as a direct action in both ways, but he
attributes the validity of human experience in its action on the
outside world to the goodness and honesty of God.
The role attributed to God in this matter is unstable. Either
God is entirely passive, in which case it is hard to see how
Descartes’ explanation really explains anything, or He is an
active participant, in which case it is hard to see how the guar-
antee given by His honesty can be anything but an active partici-
pation in the act of sensation. Thus the causal chain of material
phenomena is paralleled by a causal chain starting with the
act of God, by which He produces in us the experiences corre-
sponding to a given material situation. Once this is assumed, it
is entirely natural to attribute the correspondence between our
will and the effects it seems to produce in the external world to
a similar divine intervention. This is the path followed by the
Occasionalists, Geulincx and Malebranche: In Spinoza, who is
in many ways the continuator of this school, the doctrine of
Occasionalism assumes the more reasonable form of asserting
that the correspondence between mind and matter is that of two
self-­contained attributes of God; but Spinoza is not dynamically
minded, and gives little or no attention to the mechanism of
this correspondence.
This is the situation from which Leibniz starts, but Leibniz
is as dynamically minded as Spinoza is geometrically minded.
First, he replaces the pair of corresponding elements, mind and
matter, by a continuum of corresponding elements: the monads.
While these are conceived after the pattern of the soul, they
include many instances which do not rise to the degree of self-­
consciousness of full souls, and which form part of that world
which Descartes would have attributed to matter. Each of them
lives in its own closed universe, with a perfect causal chain fromNewtonian and Bergsonian Time
the creation or from minus infinity in time to the indefinitely
remote future; but closed though they are, they correspond one
to the other through the pre-­established harmony of God. Leib-
niz compares them to clocks which have so been wound up as
to keep time together from the creation for all eternity. Unlike
humanly made clocks, they do not drift into asynchronism;
but this is due to the miraculously perfect workmanship of the
Thus Leibniz considers a world of automata, which, as is nat-
ural in a disciple of Huyghens, he constructs after the model of
clockwork. Though the monads reflect one another, the reflec-
tion does not consist in a transfer of the causal chain from one
to another. They are actually as self-­contained as, or rather more
self-­contained than, the passively dancing figures on top of a
music box. They have no real influence on the outside world,
nor are they effectively influenced by it. As he says, they have
no windows. The apparent organization of the world we see is
something between a figment and a miracle. The monad is a
Newtonian solar system writ small.
In the nineteenth century, the automata which are humanly
constructed and those other natural automata, the animals and
plants of the materialist, are studied from a very different aspect.
The conservation and the degradation of energy are the ruling
principles of the day. The living organism is above all a heat
engine, burning glucose or glycogen or starch, fats, and proteins
into carbon dioxide, water, and urea. It is the metabolic balance
which is the center of attention; and if the low working tempera-
tures of animal muscle attract attention as opposed to the high
working temperatures of a heat engine of similar efficiency, this
fact is pushed into a corner and glibly explained by a contrast
between the chemical energy of the living organism and the60
Chapter I
thermal energy of the heat engine. All the fundamental notions
are those associated with energy, and the chief of these is that
of potential. The engineering of the body is a branch of power-­
engineering. Even today, this is the predominating point of view
of the more classically minded, conservative physiologists; and
the whole trend of thought of such biophysicists as Rashevsky
and his school bears witness to its continued potency.
Today we are coming to realize that the body is very far from
a conservative system, and that its component parts work in
an environment where the available power is much less lim-
ited than we have taken it to be. The electronic tube has shown
us that a system with an outside source of energy, almost all of
which is wasted, may be a very effective agency for perform-
ing desired operations, especially if it is worked at a low energy
level. We are beginning to see that such important elements as
the neurons, the atoms of the nervous complex of our body, do
their work under much the same conditions as vacuum tubes,
with their relatively small power supplied from outside by the
circulation, and that the bookkeeping which is most essential to
describe their function is not one of energy. In short, the newer
study of automata, whether in the metal or in the flesh, is a
branch of communication engineering, and its cardinal notions
are those of message, amount of disturbance or “noise"—­a term
taken over from the telephone engineer—­quantity of informa-
tion, coding technique, and so on.
In such a theory, we deal with automata effectively coupled to
the external world, not merely by their energy flow, their metab-
olism, but also by a flow of impressions, of incoming messages,
and of the actions of outgoing messages. The organs by which
impressions are received are the equivalents of the human and
animal sense organs. They comprise photoelectric cells andNewtonian and Bergsonian Time
other receptors for light; radar systems, receiving their own
short Hertzian waves; hydrogen-­ion-­potential recorders, which
may be said to taste; thermometers; pressure gauges of various
sorts; microphones; and so on. The effectors may be electrical
motors or solenoids or heating coils or other instruments of very
diverse sorts. Between the receptor or sense organ and the effec-
tor stands an intermediate set of elements, whose function is to
recombine the incoming impressions into such form as to pro-
duce a desired type of response in the effectors. The information
fed into this central control system will very often contain infor-
mation concerning the functioning of the effectors themselves.
These correspond among other things to the kinesthetic organs
and other proprioceptors of the human system, for we too have
organs which record the position of a joint or the rate of con-
traction of a muscle, etc. Moreover, the information received by
the automaton need not be used at once but may be delayed or
stored so as to become available at some future time. This is the
analogue of memory. Finally, as long as the automaton is run-
ning, its very rules of operation are susceptible to some change
on the basis of the data which have passed through its receptors
in the past, and this is not unlike the process of learning.
The machines of which we are now speaking are not the
dream of the sensationalist nor the hope of some future time.
They already exist as thermostats, automatic gyrocompass ship-­
steering systems, self-­propelled missiles—­especially such as seek
their target—­
aircraft fire-­
control systems, automatically
controlled oil-­cracking stills, ultra-­rapid computing machines,
and the like. They had begun to be used long before the war—­
indeed, the very old steam-­
engine governor belongs among
them—­but the great mechanization of the Second World War
brought them into their own, and the need of handling the62
Chapter I
extremely dangerous energy of the atom will probably bring
them to a still higher point of development. Scarcely a month
passes but a new book appears on these so-­called control mech-
anisms, or servomechanisms, and the present age is as truly
the age of servomechanisms as the nineteenth century was the
age of the steam engine or the eighteenth century the age of
the clock.
To sum up: the many automata of the present age are coupled
to the outside world both for the reception of impressions and
for the performance of actions. They contain sense organs, effec-
tors, and the equivalent of a nervous system to integrate the
transfer of information from the one to the other. They lend
themselves very well to description in physiological terms. It is
scarcely a miracle that they can be subsumed under one theory
with the mechanisms of physiology.
The relation of these mechanisms to time demands careful
study. It is clear, of course, that the relation input-­output is a
consecutive one in time and involves a definite past-­future order.
What is perhaps not so clear is that the theory of the sensitive
automata is a statistical one. We are scarcely ever interested in
the performance of a communication-­engineering machine for
a single input. To function adequately, it must give a satisfac-
tory performance for a whole class of inputs, and this means a
statistically satisfactory performance for the class of input which
it is statistically expected to receive. Thus its theory belongs to
the Gibbsian statistical mechanics rather than to the classical
Newtonian mechanics. We shall study this in much more detail
in the chapter devoted to the theory of communication.
Thus the modern automaton exists in the same sort of Bergso-
nian time as the living organism; and hence there is no reason in
Bergson’s considerations why the essential mode of functioningNewtonian and Bergsonian Time
of the living organism should not be the same as that of the
automaton of this type. Vitalism has won to the extent that
even mechanisms correspond to the time-­structure of vitalism;
but as we have said, this victory is a complete defeat, for from
every point of view which has the slightest relation to morality
or religion, the new mechanics is fully as mechanistic as the old.
Whether we should call the new point of view materialistic is
largely a question of words: the ascendancy of matter character-
izes a phase of nineteenth-­century physics far more than the
present age, and “materialism" has come to be but little more
than a loose synonym for “mechanism." In fact, the whole
mechanist-­vitalist controversy has been relegated to the limbo
of badly posed questions.

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