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1



FOREWORD
BY PROFESSOR SIR CYRIL BURT

From time immemorial the gift of creativity has been venerated
almost as if it were divine. There is more than a grain of truth in
the romance of old Euhemerus, which relates how the gods and
demigods of the ancient myths were really 'men of pre-eminent
accomplishments deified out of flattery or gratitude'. Prometheus, the
discoverer of fire, Vulcan, the first of the smiths, Hermes, the inventor
of writing, Aesculapius, the founder of the most ancient school of
medicine each was welcomed into the classical Pantheon, much as
today an outstanding scientist is elected to the Royal Society. In the
Middle Ages the scientific pioneers the leading alchemists, anatomists,
and physicists were almost as frequendy suspected of owing dieir
miraculous knowledge and skill to the devil rather than to the deity.
Even as late as the nineteenth century relics of the old superstitious awe
still lingered on, translated into the biological jargon of the day. These
intellectual prodigies, it was argued, were plainly endowed, not with
supernatural, but certainly with superhuman powers: they must there-
fore be either congenital sports or members of a rare anthropological
species. Cynics, like Nordau and Lombroso, retorted that the much-
vaunted superman was nothing but an unbalanced pathological freak,
suffering from a hypertrophied cerebrum, or else the victim of some
mental degeneracy, akin no doubt to the 'sacred disease* of epilepsy.
'After all,* it was said, 'who could be more original than a lunatic,
and what is more imaginative than a dream?' Perhaps the so-called
genius is just a 'sleepwalker' whose dreams have hit upon the truth.

As Mr, Koestler has so clearly indicated in his earlier volumes, in
Insight and Outlook, and again in The Sleepwalkers, each of these views
once we have allowed for naivetes resulting from the system of
thought in which it appeared brings out an important aspect of the
problem. It is therefore curious, as he goes on to observe, that not until
the close of the nineteenth century were any systematic attempts made

13



FOREWORD



to investigate the matter scientifically. By collecting pedigrees,
measuring abilities, and applying statistical techniques, Sir Francis
Galton proved, or thought he could prove, that the most important
element in genius was simply an exceptionally high degree of the all-
round mental capacity which every human being inherits 'general
intelligence'. And, reviving a proposal that originated with Plato, he
contended that the surest way to manufacture geniuses would be to
breed them, much as we breed prize puppies, Derby winners, and
pedigree bulls.

Galton, however, in his later years came to lay almost equal stress
on certain supplementary qualitites, which he believed were likewise
very largely the outcome of innate disposition. Of these 'special
aptitudes' the most important was what he called 'fluency* that is,
'an unusual and spontaneous flow of images and ideas': the creative
mind seemed 'always pullulating with new notions'. He added two
further characteristics^-'receptivity' and 'intuition or insight', i.e.
what James has called 'sagacity' and T. S. Eliot 'sense of fact'
characteristics that are said to distinguish the 'useful inventiveness' of
the genius from the 'useless fancies of the eccentric and the crank'.
McDougall, Galton' s most enthusiastic follower, discerned a fourth
and still more elusive characteristic which he described as 'productive*
or 'deviant association'. (What all these terms really cover is still a
problem for intensive inquiry.) And then finally, as they all insist,
there is also a motivational ingredient which Galton described by the
somewhat ambiguous label 'zeal': the enthusiasm of the genius over
his problems keeps him working late into the night long after the
clerks and the factory-workers have gone home to their evening
relaxations.

Galton's view, or rather the oversimplified version of it which
appears in the popular textbooks, has of late been vigorously challenged
by psychologists and educationists in America. To begin with, as
might be expected in a democracy founded on the thesis that 'all men
are created equal', many of them insist that genius is 'not born but
made'. 'Give me', said Professor Watson* the aposde of behaviourism,
'half a dozen healthy infants and my own world to bring them up in,
and I will guarantee to turn each one of them into any kind of man you
please artist, scientist, captain of industry, soldier, sailor, beggar-man,
or thief.' We may willingly grant that without the necessary environ-
ment and the appropriate training even those who are most richly
endowed by nature will fail to bring their gifts to full fruition. Heredity



FOREWORD



15



at best can provide only the seed; the seed must be planted in suitable
soil, tended, watered, and cultivated before it can mature and blossom.
But the question then arises what kind of soil is needed? What sort
of a world would Watson have provided? What type of training or
what special brand of education can we ourselves supply to develop
these latent potentialities to the utmost?

On all these points there is a conflict of doctrine which Mr. Koesder's
arguments should do much to resolve. And there is a further point of
disagreement. According to what has been called the British view, and
contrary to the traditional notion, the difference between the creative
genius and the plain man is not qualitative but merely quantitative:
the so-called genius owes his outstanding achievements merely to the
fortunate concurrence of a variety of factors, partly innate and partly
environmental, all quite ordinary in themselves, but in his case develo-
ped to an exceptional degree. During the past few years, however, an
alternative view has been put forward in America, which maintains
that there are two distinct types of intellectual ability, differing not in
degree but in kind. The commoner intelligence tests, it is argued
those, for example, which are in regular use in our 11-plus examina-
tion measure only one rather superficial type of ability. There is a
second, which Professor Guilford, as a result of his researches on 'high-
level personnel', has suggested should be christened 'creativity'; and
this in his opinion is 'far more fundamental'. As to what exactly is the
nature of this second capacity we are still left rather in the dark. If you
look up this useful word in the earlier editions of the Oxford English
Dictionary you will fail to find it; and yet during the last two or three
years it has attained something of the status of a glamour term among
both English and American educationists.

At the moment, therefore, the views of professional psychologists
regarding 'the act of creation seem mainly to be in a state of bewildered
confusion; and there is a crying need for an entirely fresh examination
of the subject from top to bottom. However, psychologists are by no
means the only people to maintain that 'creativity' (or whatever we
like to term it) is in some sense or other an 'individual property'. In
most civilized countries the importance attached to its results has been
recognized by the laws of patent and of copyright. Both in war and in
peace rewards have been offered and bestowed for what are known as
'original inventions'. And the various legal arguments to which these
proprietary rights have led may furnish some preHminary notion of
what such phrases are intended to convey. First, there must be the



16 FOREWORD

basic idea or conception; secondly, the idea must be embodied in
concrete and articulate form a literary, musical, or dramatic work,
the specifications for a machine, a manufacturing process, or a material
product; thirdly, the outcome as thus embodied must be new; and
finally a point which, curiously enough, is often forgotten in psycho-
logical and educational discussions it must have value; the novelty
must be a useful novelty.

If there is such a thing as creativity as thus defined, then it is clear that
dvilization must owe much, if not everything, to the individuals so
gifted. The greater the number and variety of genuinely creative minds
a nation can produce and cultivate, the faster will be its rate of progress.
However, the pastime of debunking the 'cult of great men', which
became so popular when Spencer and Buckle were laying the founda-
tions of social and political theory, has once again become fashionable;
and in these egalitarian days it requires some courage to pick up a pen
and defend the concept of 'creative genius' against the onslaughts of
the scientific sceptic. It is, so the critics assure us, not the gifted indi-
vidual, but the spirit of the age and the contemporary trends of
society what Goethe called the Zeitgeist that deserve the credit for
these cumulative achievements; had Julius Caesar's grand-nephew
succumbed to the illness which dogged his early youth, another
son of Rome would have reorganized the State, borne the proud title
of Augustus, and been duly deified. Had Copernicus, Kepler, and
Newton fallen victims to the plague, one of their contemporaries would
sooner or later have hit upon the scientific laws now coupled with their
names. Certainly, Aut Caesar aut nullus is not an axiom to which the
modern historian would subscribe either in these or any other in-
stances. Yet to build up an empire on the ruins of a republic, to devise
the theories which govern modern astronomy, would still have needed
the vigour and the brain of an individual genius. And can anyone
believe that, if William Shakespeare, like his elder sisters, had died in the
cradle, some other mother in Stratford-upon-Avon or Stratford-atte-
Bow would have engendered his duplicate before the Elizabethan
era ended?

However, it is scarcely profitable to discuss the relative importance
of genetic constitution and social environment until we have first
determined in what precisely the 'act of creation really consists. Here,
as it seems to me, is one of the greatest gaps in the psychology of today.
It is not an issue that can be satisfactorily solved by the tools and
techniques which present-day psychologists commonly employ



FOREWORD



17



mental testing, experimental research, planned observations on men
and animals. What is really needed is a systematic study carried out by
one of those rare individuals who himself happens to possess this
peculiar gift of creativity. And here, I venture to suggest, Mr. Koestler
enjoys an advantage which few, if any, of the professional psycholo-
gists who have touched upon the subject can genuinely claim. This
does not mean that the book is just based on the author's 'introspec-
tive reflections' about his methods of working as an essayist or novelist;
on the contrary, he has been at pains to keep personal introspection,
as the phrase is commonly understood, out of his chapters. The ground
which he has covered and the evidence which he offers for his main
conclusions are very much wider and more varied. He has in fact
undertaken a new and comprehensive analysis of the whole problem;
and is, so I believe, the first to make such an attempt.

The impartial reader will scarcely need any independent witness to
testify in advance that Mr. Koestler is admirably equipped for the
task. Although most widely known as a creative artist in the field of
general literature, he received his early training as a scientist at the
University of Vienna. In the course of travels in both hemispheres he
has visited most of the more progressive places of learning where
psychological research is being carried out. His knowledge of the
relevant literature, both psychological and non-psychological, is
unusually extensive and fully up to date. Moreover, he has enjoyed
the intimate friendship of some of the most original investigators in
contemporary branches of science, from nuclear physics to experi-
mental neurology; and he has thus been able to watch the daily
workings of their minds.

He begins with human creativity as exemplified in art, science, and
literature; and to these fascinating topics the first half of his book is
devoted. But he holds that creativity is by no means a peculiarly human
gift; it is merely the highest manifestation of a phenomenon which is
discernible at each successive level of the evolutionary hierarchy, from
die simplest one-celled organism and the fertilized egg to the adult
man and the highest human genius. It is, to adopt his phraseology, an
Actualization of surplus potentials' of capacities, that is to say, which
are untapped or dormant under ordinary conditions, but which, when
the conditions are abnormal or exceptional, reveal themselves in
original forms of behaviour. This 'actualization he seeks to trace
through morphogenesis, neurogenesis, and regeneration, and the
various departures from simple instirictive behaviour in lowlier



18



FOREWORD



creatures, up to the more 'insightful* forms of learning and of problem-
solving exhibited by animals and man. At every stage, so he maintains,
much the same 'homologue principles', derived from the hierarchical
nature of the basic part-whole relation, can be seen to operate. This
is of necessity the most technical and the most controversial part of his
work, but it is also the most original and iUuminating. The outcome
is a wide and an entirely novel synthesis; and Mr. Koestlers book will
at once take its place as a classic among recent contributions to the
science of the human mind.

Technicalities are unavoidable, particularly when we pass from
first-hand observation to explanatory interpretations couched in pre-
cise biological, neurological, or psychological terms. Mr, Koestler
has overcome the problem by relegating the more erudite and specu-
lative parts of his exposition to the second half of his book; and in his
prefatory remarks he suggests that those who feel more at home in the
Arts and Humanities than in the Sciences can skip the more technical
chapters. I hope, however, that all such readers will disregard this
advice as merely a symptom of the authors own modesty. Psychology,
more than any other branch of study, requires us to break down the
barriers between the two cultures. In my youth psychology was
regarded as a department of philosophy; and in my own university
the only way of studying it was by registering as an Arts student and
taking a degree in what were traditionally styled the Humaner
Letters. But the true student of humanity must study, not the Humani-
ties only, but the relevant branches of science as well. However, I
suspect that my advice will turn out to be superfluous: most readers
on reaching the end of Book One will find themselves so intrigued
that they will be unable to resist pushing on to the next.

On the other hand, the specialist may perhaps feel tempted to turn
to the second half first of all: for, now that the pendulum has swung in
the opposite direction, the royal road to psychology usually starts
from elementary science. And, since the science taught in the pre-
Imiinary stages is not only elementary but too often out of date, the
intending psychologist is still more severely penalized. A scientific
training may suffice for studying the behaviour of rats and robots.
The student of human nature is nowadays too apt to forget that most
of what we know about the mind of man is to be learnt from the
writings not of scientists but of men of letters the poets and the
philosophers, the biographers and the historians, the novelists and the
literary critics. I teH my own students to read Pope's Essay on Man as



FOREWORD



19



well as Skinner's textbook on Science and Human Behaviour. But
indeed the modern psychologist, like the youthful Bacon, needs to
'take all knowledge for his province'.

Many of those who find Mr. Koestler's arguments completely
convincing on all essential points may nevertheless be inclined, as I
myself, to query minor details here and there. My own hesitations
arise, not so much from definable objections, but rather from doubts
requiring further information or factual evidence which is at present
unobtainable. Indeed, the most valuable feature of Mr. Koestler's book
is that it suggests so many problems and provisional hypotheses for
direct scientific inquiry in a deplorably neglected field. In particular it
would be highly instructive to note how far the views he has indepen-
dently reached resemble those already outlined, in their own cum-
bersome language, by earlier British writers such as Bain, Ward,
Stout, and McDougall, and, more important still, where precisely they
differ.

Meanwhile, his theory of the creative process carries with it a
number of practical corollaries of first importance to the teacher and
the social and educational reformer. Most of the earlier discussions of
creativity were based on accounts of the intellectual processes of
creative adults. It is, however, with the work of children in our
schools that we ought really to begin. Viewed in the light of Mr.
Koesders analysis, three salient questions call urgently for special
investigation. How can we best detect the individuals who are en-
dowed by nature with creative ability of this or that specific type?
How are they to be trained and educated? And what are the existing
social and scholastic barriers which hide or hinder the emergence of
creative talent? Educational psychologists have of late woken up to
the fact that the kind of examinations and intelligence tests which they
still habitually employ tend to select the efficient learner and the
verbal reasoner rather than inaiitive observers or constructive and
critical thinkers. "With most of the mechanically scored tests handed
out year by year, the child who gives an original answer, or hits on an
alternative solution which the psychologist has missed (by no means
a rare occurrence), is automatically marked wrong. Even when by
some happy chance our methods of selection have picked out a
potential inventor or a budding genius, we still have no notion how he
should be encouraged and instructed so as to develop to the utmost
his unusual latent powers. The problem has at last been recognized;
but the remedy is still to seek. During the past year or two there have



20



FOREWORD



been an increasing number of conferences and papers, especially in
the United States, devoted to 'the identification of creative individuals'
and 'the cultivation of creative talents'. There has, too, been a small but
growing amount of experimental research. Nevertheless, apart from
a few unconvincing speculations, varying with the prepossessions of
each writer, there is as yet no sound psychological basis either for the
theorise or the practitioner. Mr. Koestler's eclectic survey is thus as
timely in its appearance as it is far-reaching in its implications. It
supplies a fertile set of premisses from which the practical teacher
as well as the psychological research-worker can reap a rich harvest of
fruitful ideas.

But his book is not merely a highly original contribution to present-
day psychology. It is also a richly documented study in the history of
scientific discovery and an essay in the analysis of literary and artistic
creation. It will, therefore, present an irresistible challenge, and should
appeal, not only to psychological or educational specialists, but also to
every cultivated reader who is interested in 'the proper study of
mankind'.




AUTHOR'S PREFACE

The first part of this book proposes a theory of the act of creation
of the conscious and unconscious processes underlying
scientific discovery, artistic originality, and comic inspiration.
It endeavours to show that all creative activities have a basic pattern in
common, and to outline that pattern.

The aim of Book Two is to show that certain basic principles operate
throughout the whole organic hierarchy from the fertilized egg to
the fertile brain of the creative individual; and that phenomena analo-
gous to creative originality can be found on all levels.

Anyone who writes on a complex subject must learn that he cannot
aim one arrow at two targets. Book One is aimed at the general reader;
some of the chapters in Book Two presuppose a closer acquaintance
with current trends in biology and experimental psychology, and are
rather technical. There is an unavoidable difference in style between the
two parts: in the first I avoided pedantry at the cost of occasional lapses
into a loose terminology; in the second this was not possible. Readers
who find certain passages in the second part too technical can safely skip
them and pick up the thread later on without losing sight of the general
idea. Its leitmotifs are restated on various levels throughout the book.

It may seem a presumptuous undertaking to inquire into the bio-
logical origins of mental creativity when we are still unable to define
the chemistry of a simple muscle twitch. But often in the history of
ideas we find two opposite methods at work: the 'downward* approach
from the complex to the elementary, from the whole to its component
parts, and the 'upward' approach from part to whole. The emphasis on
cither of these methods may alternate according to philosophical
fashion, until they meet and merge in a new synthesis. It would have
been as impossible to build theoretical physics on a foundation of its
elementary particles (which turn out to be more and more bafBing)
as it has proved impossible to build a theory of psychology on 'ele-
mentary reflexes' and 'atoms of behaviour'. Vice versa, without the

21



22



THE ACT OF CREATION



assumption that complex matter consisted of atomic parts, whatever
they are, physics and chemistry could not have evolved.

I have tried to combine both methods by choosing as my starting
point a phenomenon which is at the same time complex and simple,
in which a subde intellectual process is signalled by a gross physiological
reflex: the phenomenon of laughter. Humour is an elusive thing, so is
the rainbow; yet the study of coloured spectra provided clues to the
elementary structure of matter.

A preliminary outline of this theory was published in 1949 under the
title Insight and Otttlook, It was intended as the first of two volumes, and
its preface contained the optimistic sentence: * Volume Two is in
preparation and will, it is hoped, appear twelve months after the first/

The twelve months have grown into fifteen years. Partly because I
became involved with other subjects; but mainly because I felt dis-
satisfied with that first attempt, and felt the need to base the theory on
a broader foundation. I kept returning to it in between other books,
but each time the broadening process necessitated an excursion into some
related field and, as often happens, these excursions acquired a momen-
tum of their own. One chapter on 'man's changing vision of the
universe* grew into a separate book of more than six hundred pages; 1
so did another chapter, on Eastern mysticism. 2 And when at last I
felt ready to write that long-postponed second volume I found that I
had to scrap the first and begin again at the beginning. The whole
theoretical framework had to be revised and even the terminology
changed. Readers acquainted with Insight and Outlook will notice,
however, that I have taken over, or paraphrased, passages from it
which seem to have weathered the time; to avoid tedium I have omitted
quotation marks. I have also incorporated into the text extracts from
lectures given at English and American universities, with the kind
permission of the authorities concerned*

Summaries appear at irregular intervals at the ends of chapters or
sections where I felt that they might be helpful* Asterisks refer to text
notes, index numbers to source references.

I have no illusions about the prospects of the theory I am proposing:
it will suffer the inevitable fate of being proven wrong in many, or
most, details, by new advances in psychology and neurology. What I
am hoping for is that it will be found to contain a shadowy pattern of
truth, and that it may stimulate those who search for unity in the
diverse manifestations of human thought and emotion.



author's preface



23



I am deeply indebted to Professor Sir Cyril Burt, and to Professor
Holger Hyden, University of Gothenburg, for reading the manuscript,
for their corrections, criticisms and encouragement; to Professor
Dennis Gabor, Imperial College, London, Dr. Alan McGlashan, St.
George's Hospital, and Professor Michael Polanyi, Oxford, for many
stimulating discussions on the subject of this book. My grateful thanks
are further due to Dr. J. D. Cowan, Imperial College, for his criticism
from the standpoint of Communication Theory; to Dr. Rodney
Maliphant for surveying the literature on the psycho-physiology of
weeping; to Dr. Christopher Wallis for compiling a bibliography on
the same subject; and to Miss Edith Horsley for her patient and careful
editorial work.

London, December 1963



BOOK ONE
THE ART OF DISCOVERY
AND THE DISCOVERIES OF ART



PART ONE

THE JESTER



I

THE LOGIC OF LAUGHTER
The Triptych

The three panels of the rounded triptych shown on the frontis-
piece indicate three domains of creativity which shade into
each other without sharp boundaries: Humour, Discovery, and
Art. The reason for this seemingly perverse order of arrangement the
Sage flanked by the Jester and the Artist on opposite sides will become
apparent as the argument unfolds.

Each horizontal line across the triptych stands for a pattern of
creatiye^ac!iyity_which. is represented on all three panels; for instance:
comic comparison objective analogy poetic image. The first is
intended to make us laugh; the second to make us understand; the
third to make us marvel. The logical pattern of the creative process is
the same in all three cases; it consists in the discovery of hidden similari-
ties. But the emotional climate is different in the three panels: the comic
simile has a touch of aggressiveness; the scientist's reasoning by
analogy is emotionally detached, i.e. neutral; the poetic image is sym-
pathetic or admiring, inspired by a positive kind of emotion. I shall
try to show that all patterns of creative activity are tri-valent: they can
enter the service of humour, discovery, or art; and also, that as we
travel across the triptych from left to right, the emotional climate
changes by gradual transitions from aggressive to neutral to sym-
pathetic and ldentdficatory^-or, to put it another way, from *ah
absurd through an abstract to a tragic or lyric ykw of existence. This
may look like a basketful of wild generalizations but is meant only as a
first indication of the direction in which the inquiry will move.

The panels on the diagram meet in curves to indicate that there are
no clear dividing lines between them. The fluidity of the boundaries
between Science and Art is evident, whether we consider Architec-
ture, Cooking, Psychotherapy, or the writing of History. The mathe-
matician talks of 'elegant' solutions, the surgeon of a 'beautiful'

27



28



THE ACT OP CREATION



operation, the literary critic of 'two-dimensional' characters. Science
is said to aim at Truth, Art at Beauty; but the criteria of Truth (such
as verifiability and refutability) are not as clean and hard as we tend to
believe, and the criteria of Beauty are, of course, even less so. A glance
at the chart on p. 332 will indicate that we can arrange neighbouring
provinces of science and art in series which show a continuous gradient
from 'objective' to 'subjective', from 'verifiable truth' to 'aesthetic
experience'. One gradient, for instance, leads from the so-called exact
sciences like chemistry through biochemistry to biology, then through
medicine which is, alas, a much less exact science to psychology,
through anthropology to history, through biography to the biographi-
cal novel, and so on into the abyss of pure fiction. As we move along
the sloping curve, the dimension of 'objective verifiability' is seen to
cUminish steadily, and the intuitive or aesthetic dimension to increase.
Similar graded series lead from construction engineering through
architecture and interior design to the hybrid 'arts and crafts' and
finally to the representative arts; here one variable of the curve could
be called 'utility', the second 'beauty'. The point of this game is to
show that regardless of what scale of values you choose to apply, you
will move across a continuum without sharp breaks; there are no
frontiers where the realm of science ends and that of art begins, and
the uomo universale of the Renaissance was a citizen of both.

On the other side of the triptych the boundaries between discovery
and comic invention are equally fluidas the present chapter will show
although at first sight this is less obvious to see. That the Jester
should be brother to the Sage may sound like blasphemy, yet our
language reflects the close relationship: the word 'witticism' is derived
from *wit' in its original sense of ingenuity, inventiveness.* Jester and
savant must both 'live on their wits'; and we shall see that the Jester's
riddles provide a useful back-door entry, as it were, into the inner
workshop of creative originality.

The Laughter Reflex

Laughter is a reflex. The word reflex, as Sir Charles Sherrington said,
is a useful fiction. However much its definitions and connotations
,, differ according to various schools it has in fact been the central
fead^pund of psychology for the last fifty years no one is likely
io; 4u#|^ w|th the statement that we are the more justified to call an



THE LOGIC OF LAUGHTER



29



organism's behaviour 'reflex* the more it resembles the action of a
mechanical slot-machine; that is to say, the more instantaneous,
predictable, and stereotyped it is. We may also use the synonyms
'automatic', 'involuntary', etc., which some psychologists dislike;
they are in fact implied in the previous sentence.

Spontaneous laughter is produced by the co-ordinated contraction
of fifteen facial muscles in a stereotyped pattern and accompanied by
altered breathing. The following is a description abridged from Sully's
classic essay on the subject.

Smiling involves a complex group of facial movements. It may
suffice to remind the reader of such characteristic changes as the
drawing back and slight lifting of the corners of the mouth, the
raising of the upper lip, which partially uncovers the teeth,
and the curving of the furrows betwixt the corners of the
mouth and the nostrils (the naso-labial furrows). To these must be
added the formation of wrinkles under the eye, which is a further
result of the first movement . . . and the increased brightness of the
eyes.

These facial changes are common to the smile and the laugh,
though in the more violent forms of laughter the eyes are apt to lose
under their lachrymal suffusion the sparkle which the smile brings.

We may now pass to the larger experience of the audible laugh.
That this action is physiologically continuous with the smile has

already been suggested How closely connected are smiling and

moderate laughing may be seen by the tendency we experience
when we reach the broad smile and the fully open mouth to start the
respiratory movements of laughter. As Darwin and others have
pointed out, there is a series of gradations from the faintest and most
decorous smile up to the full explosion of the laugh,

. . . The series of gradations here indicated is gone through, more
or less rapidly, in an ordinary laugh. . . . The recognition of this
identity of the two actions is evidenced by the usages of speech. We
see in the classical languages a tendency to employ the same word for
the two. . . . This is particularly clear in the case of the Latin ridere,
which means to smile as well as to laugh, the form subridere being rare
(Italian, ridere and sorridere; French rire and sourire; German lachen
and lacheln).

We may now turn to the distmguishing characteristics oflaughing;
that is, the production of the familiar series of sounds .*



30



THE ACT OF CREATION



But these do not concern us yet. The point to retain is the con-
tinuity of the scale leading from the faint smile to Homeric laughter,
confirmed by laboratory experiments. Electrical stimulation of the
zygomatic major, the main lifting muscle of the upper lip, with currents
of varying intensity, produces expressions ranging from smile to
broad grin to the facial contortions typical of loud laughter. 2 Other
researchers made films of tickled babies and of hysterics to whom
tickling was conveyed by suggestion. They again showed the reflex
swifdy increasing from the first faint facial contraction to paroxysms
of shaking and choking as the quicksilver in a thermometer, dipped
into hot water, rapidly mounts to the red mark.

These gradations of intensity not only demonstrate the reflex
character of laughter but at the same time provide an explanation for
the rich variety of its forms from Rabelaisian laughter at a spicy joke
to the rarefied smile of courtesy. But there are additional reasons to
account for this confusing variety. Reflexes do not operate in a vacuum;
they are to a greater or lesser extent interfered with by higher nervous
centres; thus civilized laughter is rarely quite spontaneous. Amusement
can be feigned or suppressed; to a faint involuntary response we may
add at will a discreet chuckle or a leonine roar; and habit-formation
soon crystallizes these reflex-plus-pretence amalgams into characteris-
tic properties of a person.

Furthermore, the same muscle contractions produce different
effects according to whether they expose a set of pearly teeth or a
toothless gap producing a smile, a simper, or smirk. Mood also super-
imposes its own facial patternhence gay laughter, melancholy smile,
lascivious grin. Lastly, contrived laughter and smiling can be used as a
conventional signal-language to convey pleasure or embarrassment,
friendliness or derision. We are concerned, however, only with
spontaneous laughter as a specific response to the comic; regarding
which we can conclude with Dr. Johnson that 'men have been wise
in very different modes; but they have always laughed in the same
way*.

The Paradox of Laughter

I have taken pains to show that laughter is, in the sense indicated above,
a true reflex, because here a paradox arises which is the starting point
of our inquiry , Motor reflexes, usually exemplified in textbooks by



THE LOGIC OF LAUGHTER



31



knee-jerk or pupillary contraction, are relatively simple, direct res-
ponses to equally simple stimuli which, under normal circumstances,
function autonomously, without requiring the intervention of higher
mental processes; by enabling the organism to counter disturbances of
a frequently met type with standardized reactions, they represent
eminently practical arrangements in the service of survival. But what
is the survival value of the involuntary, simultaneous contraction of
fifteen facial muscles associated with certain noises which are often
irrepressible? Laughter is a reflex, but unique in that it serves no
apparent biological purpose; one might call it a luxury reflex. Its only
utilitarian function, as far as one can see, is to provide temporary
relief from utilitarian pressures. On the evolutionary level where
laughter arises, an element of frivolity seems to creep into a humour-
less universe governed by the laws of thermodynamics and the survival
of the fittest.

The paradox can be put in a different way. It strikes us as a reasonable
arrangement that a sharp light shone into the eye makes the pupil
contract, or that a pin stuck into one's foot causes its instant with-
drawal because both the 'stimulus' and the response' are on the same
physiological level. But that a complicated mental activity like the
reading of a page by Thurber should cause a specific motor response
on the reflex level is a lopsided phenomenon which has puzzled philoso-
phers since antiquity.

There are, of course, other complex intellectual and emotional activi-
ties which also provoke bodily reactions frowning, yawning, sweat-
ing, shivering, what have you. But the effects on the nervous system
of reading a Shakespeare sonnet, working on a mathematical problem,
or listening to Mozart are diffuse and indefinable. There is no clear-
cut predictable response to tell me whether a picture in the art gallery
strikes another visitor as 'beautiful'; but there is a predictable facial
contraction which tells me whether a caricature strikes him as 'comic*.

Humour is the only domain of creative activity where a stimulus on a high
level of complexity produces a massive and sharply defined response on the
level of physiological reflexes. This paradox enables us to use the res-
ponse as an indicator for the presence of that elusive quality, the
comic, which we are seeking to define as the tell-tale clicking of the
geiger-counter indicates the presence of radioactivity. And since the
comic is related to other, more exalted, forms of creativity, the back-
door approach promises to yield some positive results. We all know
that there is only one step from the sublime to the ridiculous; the more



32



THE ACT OF CREATION



surprising that Psychology has not considered the possible gains which
could result from the reversal of that step.

The bibliography of Greig's Psychology of Laughter and Comedy,
published in 1923, mentioned three hundred and sixty-three tides of
works bearing partly or entirely on the subject from Plato and
Aristode to Kant, Bergson, and Freud. At the turn of the century
T. A. Ribot summed up these attempts at formulating a theory of the
comic: 'Laughter manifests itself in such varied and heterogeneous
conditions . . . that the reduction of all these causes to a single one
remains a very problematical undertaking. After so much work spent
on such a trivial phenomenon, the problem is still far from being
completely explained/ 3 This was written in 1896; since then only two
new theories of importance have been added to the list: Bergson s
Le Rire and Freud's Wit and its Relations to the Unconscious, I shall have
occasion to refer to them.*

The dimculty lies evidendy in the enormous range of laughter-
producing situations from physical tickling to mental titillation of
the most varied kinds. I shall try to show that there is unity in this
variety; that the common denominator is of a specific and specifiable
pattern which is of central importance not only in humour but in all
domains of creative activity. The bacillus of laughter is a bug difHcult to
isolate; once brought under the microscope, it will turn out to be a
yeast-like, universal ferment, equally useful in making wine or vinegar,
and raising bread.

The Logic of Laughter: A First Approach

Some of the stories that follow, including the first, I owe to my late
friend John von Neumann, who had all the makings of a humorist:
he was a mathematical genius and he came from Budapest.

Two women meet while shopping at the supermarket in the
Bronx, One looks cheerful, the other depressed. The cheerful one
inquires:

"What's eating you?'

'Nothing's eating me.*

'Death in the family?' -

*No, God forbid!*



THE LOGIC OF LAUGHTER



33



'Worried about money?'

'No . . . nothing like that.'

'Trouble with the kids?'

'Well, if you must know, it's my little Jimmy.'

'What's wrong with him, then?'

'Nothing is wrong. His teacher said he must see a psychiatrist/
Pause. 'Well, well, what's wrong with seeing a psychiatrist?'
'Nothing is wrong. The psychiatrist said he's got an Oedipus
complex.'

Pause. 'Well, well, Oedipus or Shmoedipus, I wouldn't worry so
long as he's a good boy and loves his mamma.'

The next one is quoted in Freud's essay on the comic.

Chamfort tells a story of a Marquis at the court of Louis XIV who,
on entering his wife's boudoir and finding her in the arms of a
Bishop, walked calmly to the window and went through the motions
of blessing the people in the street.

'What are you doing?' cried the anguished wife.

'Monseigneur is performing my % functions,' replied the Marquis,
'so I am performing his.'

Both stories, though apparently quite different and in their origin
more than a century apart, follow in fact the same pattern. The
Chamfort anecdote concerns adultery; let us compare it with a tragic
treatment of that subject say, in the Moor of Venice. In the tragedy
the tension increases until the climax is reached: Othello smothers
Desdemona; then it ebbs away in a gradual catharsis, as (to quote
Aristotle) 'horror and pity accomplish the purgation of the emotions*
(see Fig. i, a, on next page).

In the Chamfort anecdote, too, the tension mounts as the story pro-
gresses, but it never reaches its expected climax. The ascending curve
is brought to an abrupt end by the Marquis* unexpected reaction,
which debunks our dramatic expectations; it comes like a bolt out of
the blue, which, so to speak, decapitates the logical development of the
situation. The narrative acted as a channel directing the flow of emo-
tion; when the channel is punctured the emotion gushes out like a
liquid through a burst pipe; the tension is suddenly relieved and
exploded in laughter (Fig. i, b):



THE LOGIC OF LAUGHTER



35



I said that this effect was brought about by the Marquis' unexpected
reaction. However, unexpectedness alone is not enough to produce a
comic effect. The crucial point about the Marquis* behaviour is that
it is both unexpected and perfectly logical but of a logic not usually
applied to this type of situation. It is the logic of the division of labour,
the quid pro quo, the give and take; but our expectation was that the
Marquis' actions would be governed by a different logic or code of
behaviour. It is the clash of the two mutually incompatible codes, or
associative contexts, which explodes the tension.

In the Oedipus story we find a similar clash. The cheerful woman's
statement is ruled by the logic of common sense: if Jimmy is a good
boy and loves his mamma there can't be much wrong. But in the
context of Freudian psychiatry the relationship to the mother carries
entirely different associations.

The pattern underlying both stories is the perceiving of a situation or
idea, L, in two self-consistent but habitually incompatible frames of reference,
M 1 and M 2 (Fig. 2). The event L, in which the two intersect, is made
to vibrate simultaneously on two different wavelengths, as it were.
While this unusual situation lasts, L is not merely linked to one
associative context, but bisociated with two.

I have coined the term 'bisociation* in order to make a distinction
between the routine skills of thinking on a single 'plane*, as it were,
and the creative act, which, as I shall try to show, always operates on




Figure 2



3



THE ACT OF CREATION



more than one plane. The former may be called smgle-minded, the
latter a double-minded, transitory state of unstable equilibrium where
the balance of both emotion and thought is disturbed. The forms which
this creative instability takes in science and art will be discussed later;
first we must test the validity of these generalizations in other fields of
the comic.

At the time when John "Wilkes was the hero of the poor and
lonely, an ill-wisher informed him gleefully: 'It seems that some of
your faithful supporters have turned their coats.' 'Impossible,'
Wilkes answered. 'Not one of them has a coat to turn.'

In the happy days of La Ronde, a dashing but penniless young
Austrian officer tried to obtain the favours of a fashionable courtesan.
To shake off this unwanted suitor, she explained to him that her
heart was, alas, no longer free. He replied politely: 'Mademoiselle, I
never aimed as high as that.'

'High' is bisociated with a metaphorical and with a topographical
context. The coat is turned first metaphorically, then literally. In
both stories the literal context evokes visual images which sharpen the
clash.

A convict was playing cards with his gaolers. On discovering that
he cheated they kicked him out of gaol.

This venerable chestnut was first quoted by Schopenhauer and has
since been roasted over and again in the literature of the comic. It can
be analysed in a single sentence: two conventional rules ('offenders
are punished by being locked up' and 'cheats are punished by being
kicked out'), each of them self-consistent, collide in a given situation
as the ethics of the quid pro quo and of matrimony collide in the
Chamfort story. But let us note that the conflicting rules were merely
implied in the text; by making them explicit I have destroyed the story's
comic effect.

Shortly after the end of the war a memorable statement appeared
in a fashion article in the magazine Vogue:

Belsen and Buchenwald have put a stop to the too-thin woman
age, to the cult of undernourishment.*



THE LOGIC OF LAUGHTER



37



It makes one shudder, yet it is funny in a ghastly way, foreshadow-
ing the 'sick jokes' of a later decade. The idea of starvation is bi-
sociated with one tragic, and another, utterly trivial context. The
following quotation from Time magazine 5 strikes a related chord:

REVISED VERSION

Across the first page of the Christmas issue of the Catholic Universe
Bulletin, Cleveland's official Catholic diocesan newspaper, ran this
eight-column banner head:

It's a boy in Bethlehem.

Congratulations God congratulations Mary congratulations
Joseph/

Here the frames of reference are the sacred and the vulgarly pro-
fane. A technically neater version if we have to dwell on blasphemy
is the riposte which appeared, if I remember rightly, in the New
Yorker:

'We wanted a girV

The samples discussed so far all belong to the class of jokes and
anecdotes with a single point of culmination. The higher forms of
sustained humour, such as the satire or comic poem, do not rely on
a single effect but on a series of minor explosions or a continuous state
of mild amusement. Fig. 3 is meant to indicate what happens when a




Figure 3



38



THE ACT OP CREATION



humorous narrative oscillates between two frames of reference say,
the romantic fantasy world of Don Quixote, and Sancho's cunning
horse-sense.

Matrices and Codes

I must now try the reader's patience with a few pages (seven, to be
exact) of psychological speculation in order to introduce a pair of
related concepts which play a central role in this book and are indis-
pensable to all that follows. I have variously referred to the two planes
in Figs. 2 and 3 as 'frames of reference', 'associative contexts', 'types of
logic', 'codes of behaviour', and 'universes of discourse'. Henceforth I
shall use the expression 'matrices of thought' (and 'matrices of be-
haviour') as a unifying formula. I shall use the word 'matrix' to denote
any ability, habit, or skill, any pattern of ordered behaviour governed
by a ' code of fixed rules. Let me illustrate this by a few examples on
different levels.

The common spider will suspend its web on three, four, and up to
twelve handy points of attachment, depending on the lie of the land,
but the radial threads will always intersect the laterals at equal angles,
according to a fixed code of rules built into the spider's nervous system;
and the centre of the web will always be at its centre of gravity. The
matrix the web-building skill is flexible: it can be adapted to en-
vironmental conditions; but the rules of the code must be observed
and set a limit to flexibility. The spider's choice of suitable points of
attachment for the web are a matter of strategy, depending on the en-
vironment, but the form of the completed web will always be poly-
gonal, determined by the code. The exercise of a skill is always under
the dual control (a) of a fixed code of rules (which may be innate or ac-
quired by learning) and (b) of a flexible strategy, guided by environ-
mental pointers the 'lie of the land'.

As the next example let me take, for the sake of contrast, a matrix
on the lofty level of verbal thought. There is a parlour game where
each contestant must write down on a piece of paper the names of all
towns he can think of starting with a given letter say, the letter *L\
Here the code of the matrix is defined by the rule of the game; and the
members of the matrix are the names of all towns beginning with 'U
which the participant in question has ever learned, regardless whether
at the moment he remembers them or not. The task before him is to
fish these names out of his memory. There are various strategies for



THE LOGIC OF LAUGHTER



39



doing this. One person will imagine a geographical map, and then scan
this imaginary map for towns with *L\ proceeding in a given direction
say west to east. Another person will repeat sub-vocally the syllables
Li, La, Lo, as if striking a tuning fork, hoping that his memory circuits
(Lincoln, Lisbon, etc.) will start to vibrate' in response. His strategy
determines which member of the matrix will be called on to perform,
and in which order. In the spider's case the 'members' of the matrix
were the various sub-skills which enter into the web-building skill:
the operations of secreting the thread, attaching its ends, judging the
angles. Again, the order and manner in which these enter into action
is determined by strategy, subject to the 'rules of the game' laid down
by the web-building code.

All coherent thinking is equivalent to playing a game according to a
set of rules. It may, of course, happen that in the course of the parlour
game I have arrived via Lagos in Lisbon, and feel suddenly tempted to
dwell on the pleasant memories of an evening spent at the night-club
La Cucaracha in that town. But that would be not playing the game',
and I must regretfully proceed to Leeds. Drifting from one matrix to
another characterizes the dream and related states; in the routines of
disciplined thinking only one matrixes active at a time.

In word-association tests the code consists of a single command, for
instance 'name opposites'. The subject is then given a stimulus word
say, 'large' and out pops the answer: 'small'. If the code had been
'synonyms', the response would have been 'big' or 'tall', etc. Associa-
tion tests are artificial simplifications of the thinking process; in actual
reasoning the codes consist of more or less complex sets of rules and
sub-rules. In mathematical thinking, for instance, there is a great array
of special codes, which govern different types of operations; some of
these are hierarchically ordered, e.g. addition multiplication ex-
ponential function. Yet the rules of these very complex games can
be represented in 'coded' symbols: x + y, or x.y or x y or x^/y, the
sight of which will 'trigger off' the appropriate operation as
reading a line in a piano score will trigger off a whole series of very
complicated finger-movements. Mental skills such as arithmetical
operations, motor skills such as piano-playing or touch-typing, tend
to become with practice more or less automatized, pre-set routines,
which are triggered off by 'coded signals' in the nervous system
as the trainer's whistle puts a performing animal through its paces.

This is perhaps the place to explain why I have chosen the ambiguous
word 'code' for a key-concept in the present theory. The reason is



40



THB ACT OF CREATION



precisely its nice ambiguity. It signifies on the one hand a set of rules
which must be obeyed like the Highway Code or Penal Code; and
it indicates at the same time that it operates in the nervous system
through coded signals' like the Morse alphabet which transmit
orders in a kind of compressed 'secret language'. "We know that not
only the nervous system but all controls in the organism operate in
this fashion (starting with the fertilized egg, whose 'genetic code'
contains the blue-print of the future individual. But that blue-print in
the cell nucleus does not show the microscopic image of a little man;
it is 'coded' in a kind of four-letter alphabet, where each letter is
represented by a different type of chemical molecule in a long chain;
see Book Two, I).*

Let us return to reasoning skills. Mathematical reasoning is governed
by specific rules of the game multiplication, differentiation, integra-
tion, etc. Verbal reasoning, too, is subject to a variety of specific codes:
we can discuss Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo 'in terms of (a) historic
significance, (b) military strategy, (c) the condition of his liver, (d) the
constellation of the planets. We can call these 'frames of reference* or
'universes of discourse' or 'associative contexts' expressions which I
shall frequently use to avoid monotonous repetitions of the word
'matrix'. The jokes in the previous section can all be described as
universes of discourse colliding, frames getting entangled, or contexts
getting confused. But we must remember that each of these ex-
pressions refers to specific patterns of activity which, though flexible,
are governed by sets of fixed rules.

A chess player looking at an empty board with a single bishop on it
does not see the board as a uniform mosaic of black and white squares,
but as a kind of magnetic field with lines of force indicating the bishops'
possible moves: the board has become patterned, as in Fig. 4 a; Fig. 4 b
shows the pattern of the rook.

When one thinks of 'matrices' and 'codes' it is sometimes helpful to
bear these figures in mind. The matrix is the pattern before you, rep-
resenting the ensemble of permissible moves. The code which governs
the matrix can be put into simple mathematical equations which con-
tain the essence of the pattern in a compressed, 'coded' form; or it can
be expressed by the word 'diagonals'. The code is the fixed, invariable
factor in a skill or habit; the matrix its variable aspect. The two words
do not refer to different entities, they refer to different aspects of the
same activity. When you sit in front of the chessboard your code is
the rule of the game determining which moves are permitted, your



42



THE ACT OF CREATION



matrix is the total of possible choices before you. Lastly, the choice of
the actual move among the variety of permissible moves is a matter
of strategy, guided by the He of the land the 'environment* of other
chessmen on the board. We have seen that comic effects are produced
by the sudden clash of incompatible matrices: to the experienced chess
player a rook moving bishop wise is decidedly 'funny'.

Consider a pianist playing a set-piece which he has learned by heart.
He has incomparably more scope for 'strategy* (tempo, rhythm,
phrasing) than the spider spinning its web. A musician transposing a
tune into a different key, or improvising variations of it, enjoys even
greater freedom; but he too is still bound by the codes of the diatonic
or chromatic scale. Matrices vary in flexibility from reflexes and more
or less automatized routines which allow but a few strategic choices,
to skills of almost unlimited variety; but all coherent thinking and
behaviour is subject to some specifiable code of rules to which its
character of coherence is due even though the code functions partly
or entirely on unconscious levels of the mind, as it generally does. A
bar-pianist can perform in his sleep or while conversing with the
barmaid; he has handed over control to the automatic pilot, as it were.



Hidden Persuaders

Everybody can ride a bicycle, but nobody knows how it is done. Not
even engineers and bicycle manufacturers know the formula for the
correct method of counteracting the tendency to fall by turning the
handlebars so that 'for a given angle of unbalance the curvature of
each winding is inversely proportional to the square of the speed at
which the cyclist is proceeding'. 6 The cyclist obeys a code of rules
which is specifiable, but which he cannot specify; he could write on
his number-plate Pascal's motto: 'Le coeur a ses raisons que la raison ne
connait point! Or, to put it in a more abstract way:

The controls of a skilled activity generally function below the level
of consciousness on which that activity takes place. The code is a
hidden persuader.

This applies not only to our visceral activities and muscular skills,
but also to the skill of perceiving the world around us in a coherent
and meaningful manner. Hold your left hand six inches, the other
twelve inches, away from your eyes; they will look about the same
size, although the retinal image of the left is twice the size of the right.



THE LOGIC -OF LAUGHTER



43



Trace the contours of your face with a soapy finger on the bathroom
mirror (it is easily done by closing one eye). There is a shock waiting:
the image which looked life-size has shrunk to half-size, like a head-
hunter's trophy. A person walking away does not seem to become a
dwarf as he should; a black glove looks just as black in the sunlight
as in shadow though it should not; when a coin is held before the eyes
in a tilted position its retinal projection will be a more or less flattened
ellipse; yet we see it as a circle, because we know it to be a circle; and it
takes some effort to see it actually as a squashed oval shape. Seemg is
believing, as the saying goes, but the reverse is also true: knowing is
seeing. 'Even the most elementary perceptions', wrote Bartlett, 7 'have
the character of inferential constructions.' But the inferential process,
which controls perception, again works unconsciously. Seeing is a
skill, part innate, part acquired in early infancy.* The selective codes
in this case operate on the input, not on the output. The stimuli im-
pinging on the senses provide only the raw material of our conscious
experience the dooming, buzzing confusion' of William James;
before reaching awareness the input is filtered, processed, distorted,
interpreted, and reorganized m a series of relay-stations at various levels
of the nervous system; but the processing itself is not experienced by
the person, and the rules of the game according to which the controls
work are unknown to him.

The examples I mentioned refer to the so-called Visual constancies 9
which enable us to recognize that the size, brightness, shape of objects
remain the same even though their retinal image changes all the time;
and to 'make sense 1 out of our sensations. They are shared by all people
with normal vision, and provide the basic structure on which more
personal 4 frames of perception* can be built. An apple looks different to
Picasso and to the greengrocer because their visual matrices are different-
Let me re.turn once more to verbal thinking. When a person dis-
,cusses, saj, the problem of capital punishment he may do so 'in terms
. of 1 social utility or religious morality or psychopathology. Each of
these universes of discourse is governed by a complex set of rules, some
of which operate on conscious, others on unconscious levels. The latter
are axiomatic beliefs and prejudices which are taken for granted and
implied in the code. Further implied, hidden in the space between the
words, are the rules of grammar and syntax. These have mostly been
learned not from textbooks but 'by ear', as a young gypsy learns to
fiddle without knowing musical notation. Thus when one is engaged
in ordinary conversation, not only do the codes of grammar and



44



THE ACT OF CREATION



syntax, of courtesy and common-or-garden logic function uncon-
sciously, but even if consciously bent on doing so we would find it
extremely difficult to define these rules which define our thinking. For
doing that we need the services of specialists the semanticists and
logicians of language. In other words, there is less difference between
the routines of thinking and bicycle-riding than our self-esteem would
make us believe. Both are governed by implicit codes of which we are
only dimly aware, and which we are unable to specify.*

Habit and Originality

Without these indispensable codes we would fall off the bicycle, and
thought would lose its coherence as it does when the codes of normal
reasoning are suspended while we dream. On the other hand, thinking
which remains confined to a single matrix has its obvious limitations.
It is the exercise of a more or less flexible skill, which can perform
tasks only of a kind already encountered in past experience; it is not
capable of original, creative achievement.

We learn by assimilating experiences and grouping them into
ordered schemata, into stable patterns of unity in variety. They enable
us to cope with events and situations by applying the rules of the
game appropriate to them. The matrices which pattern our percep-
tions, thoughts, and activities are condensations of learning into habit.
The process starts in infancy and continues to senility; the hierarchy of
flexible matrices with fixed codes from those which govern the
breathing of his cells, to those which determine the pattern of his
signature, constitute that creature of many-layered habits whom we
call John Brown. When the Duke of Wellington was asked whether
he agreed that habit was man's second nature he exclaimed: 'Second
nature? It's ten times nature!'

Habits have varying degrees of flexibility; if often repeated under
unchanging conditions, in a monotonous environment, they tend to
become rigid and automatized. But even an elastic strait-jacket is still
a strait-jacket if the patient has no possibility of getting out of it.
Behaviourism, the dominant school in contemporary psychology, is
inclined to take a view of man which reduces him to the station of that
patient, and the human condition to that of a conditioned automaton.
I believe that view to be depressingly true up to a point. The argument
of this book starts at the point where, I believe, it ceases to be true.



THE LOGIC OP LAUGHTER



45



There are two ways of escaping our more or less automatized
routines of thinking and behaving. The first, of course, is the plunge
into drearning or dream-like states, when the codes of rational thinking
are suspended. The other way is also an escape from boredom,
stagnation, intellectual predicaments, and emotional frustration but
an escape in the opposite direction; it is signalled by the spontaneous
Hash of insight which shows a familiar situation or event in a new
light, and elicits a new response to it. The bisociative act connects
previously unconnected matrices of experience; it makes us 'under-
stand what it is to be awake, to be living on several planes at once* (to
quote T. S. Eliot, somewhat out of context).

The first way of escape is a regression to earlier, more primitive
levels of ideation, exemplified in the language of the dream; the
second an ascent to a new, more complex level of mental evolution.
Though seemingly opposed, the two processes will turn out to be
mtamately related.

Man and Machine

When two^ independent matrices of perception or reasoning interact
with each other the result (as I hope to show) is either a collision ending
in laughter, or their fusion in a new intellectual synthesis, or their con-
frontation in an aesthetic experience. The bisociative patterns found in
any domain of creative activity are tri-valent: that is to say, the same
pair of matrices can produce comic, tragic, or intellectually challenging
effects.

Let me take as a first example 'man' and 'machine' . A favourite
trick of the coarser type of humour is to exploit the contrast between
these two frames of reference (or between the related pair 'mind' and
'matter'). The dignified schoolmaster lowering himself into a rickety
chair and crashing to the floor is perceived simultaneously in two in-
compatible contexts: authority is debunked by gravity. The savage,
wistfully addressing the carved totem figure 'Don't be so proud, I
know you from a plum-tree' expresses the same idea: hubris of mind,
earthy materiality of body. The variations on this theme are inex-
haustible: the person slipping on a banana skin; the sergeant-major
attacked by diarrhoea; Hamlet getting the hiccoughs; soldiers march-
ing like automata; the pedant behaving like a mechanical robot; the
absent-minded don boiling his watch while clutching the egg, like a
machine obeying the wrong switch. Fate keeps playing practical jokes



46 THE ACT OF CREATION

to deflate the victim's dignity, intellect, or conceit by demonstrating
his dependence on coarse bodily functions and physical laws by
degrading him to an automaton. The same purpose is served by the
reverse technique of making artefacts behave like humans: Punch and
Judy, Jack-in-the-Box, gadgets playing tricks on their masters, hats in
a gust of wind escaping the pursuer as if with calculated malice.

In Henri Bergson's book on the problem of laughter this dualism
of subde mind and inert matter ('the mechanical encrusted on the
living') is made to serve as an explanation of all forms of the comic;
whereas in the present theory it applies to only one variant of it among
many others. Surprisingly, Bergson failed to see that each of the
examples just mentioned can be converted from a comic into a tragic
or purely intellectual experience, based on the same logical pattern
i.e. on the same pair of bisociated matrices by a simple change of
emotional climate. The fat man slipping and crashing on the icy pave-
ment will be either a comic or a tragic figure according to whether the
spectator's attitude is dominated by malice or pity: a callous schoolboy
will laugh at the spectacle, a sentimental old lady may be inclined to
weep. But in between these two there is the emotionally balanced
attitude of the physician who happens to pass the scene of the mishap,
who may feel both amusement and compassion, but whose primary
concern is to find out the nature of the injury. Thus the victim of the
crash may be seated in any of the three panels of the triptych. Don
Quixote gradually changes from a comic into a puzzling figure if,
instead of rehshing his delusions with arrogant condescension, I become
interested in their psychological causes; and he changes into a tragic
figure as detached curiosity turns into sympathetic identification as I
recognize in the sad knight my brother-in-arms in the fight against
windmills. The stock characters in the farce the cuckold, the miser,
the stutterer, the hunchback, the foreigner appear as comic, intel-
lectually challenging, or tragic figures according to the different
emotional attitudes which they arouse in spectators of different mental
age, culture, or mood.

The 'mechanical encrusted on the living' symbolizes the contrast
between man's spiritual aspirations and his all-too-solid flesh subject
to the laws of physics and chemistry. The practical joker and the clown
specialize in tricks which exploit the mechanical forces of gravity and
inertia to deflate his humanity. But Icarus, too, like the dinner guest
whose chair collapsed, is the victim of a practical joke the gods,
instead of breaking the legs of his chair, have melted away his wings.



THE LOGIC OF LAUGHTER



47



The second appeals to loftier emotions than the first, but the logical
structure of the two situations and their message is the same: whatever
you fancy yourself to be you are subject to the inverse square law like
any other lump of clay. In one case it is a comic, in the other a tragic
message. The difference is due to the different character of the emotions
involved (malice in the first case, compassionate admiration in the
second); but also to the fact that in the first case the two frames of
reference collide, exploding the tension, while in the second they
remain juxtaposed in a tragic confrontation, and the tension ebbs away
in a slow catharsis. The third alternative is the reconciliation and syn-
thesis of the two matrices; its effect is neither laughter, nor tears, but
the arousal of curiosity: just how is the mechanical encrusted on the
living? How much acceleration can the organism stand, and how does
zero gravity affect it?

According to Bergson, the main sources of the comic are the mecha-
nical attributes of inertia, rigidity, and repetitiveness impinging on life;
among his favourite examples are the man-automaton, the puppet on
strings, Jack-in-the-Box, etc. However, if rigidity contrasted with
organic suppleness were laughable in itself, Egyptian statues and Byzan-
tine mosaics would be the best jokes ever invented. If automatic
repetitiveness in human behaviour were a necessary and sufficient
condition of the comic there would be no more amusing spectacle
than an epileptic fit; and if we wanted a good laugh we would merely
have to feel a person's pulse or listen to his heart-beat, with its mono-
tonous tick-tack. If we laugh each time a person gives us the impres-
sion of being a thing' 8 there would be nothing more funny than a
corpse.

In fact, every one of Bergson's examples of the comic can be trans-
posed, along a horizontal line as it were, across the triptych, into the
panels of science and art. His homme-automate, man and artefact at the
same time, has its lyric counterpart in Galatea the ivory statue which
Pygmalion made, Aphrodite brought to life, and Shaw returned to
the comic domain. It has its tragic counterpart in the legends of Faust's
Homunculus, the Golem of Prague, the monsters of Frankenstein; its
origins reach back to Jehovah manufacturing Adam out of adamah,
the Hebrew word for earth. The reverse transformation life into
mechanism has equally rich varieties: the pedant whom enslavement
to habit has reduced to an automaton is- comic because we despise him;
the compulsion-neurotic is not, because we are puzzled and try to
understand him; the catatonic patient, frozen into a statue, is tragic



48



THE ACT OF CREATION



because we pity him. And so again back to mythology: Lot's wife
turned into a pillar of salt, Narcissus into a flower, the poor nymph
Echo wasting away until nothing is left but her voice, and her bones
changed into rocks.

In the middle panel of the triptych the homme-automate is the focal,
or rather bi-focal, concept of all sciences of life. From their inception
they treated, as the practical joker does, man as both mind and machine.
The Pythagoreans regarded the body as a musical instrument whose
soul-strings must have the right tension, and we still unwittingly refer
to our mortal frame as a kind of stringed guitar when we speak of
'muscle tone \ or describe John as 'good tempered'. The same bifocal
view is reflected in the four Hippocratic 'humours' which were both
liquids of the body and moods of the spirit; and spiritus itself is, like
pnewna, ambiguous, meaning also breath. The concept of catharsis
applied, and still does, to the purgation of either the mind or the bowels.
Yet if I were to speak earnesdy of halitosis of the soul, or of laxatives
to the mind, or call an outburst of temper a humourrhage, it would
sound ludicrous, because I would make the implicit ambiguities
explicit for the purpose of maliciously contrasting them; I would tear
asunder two frames of reference that our Greek forbears had managed
to integrate, however tentatively, into a unified, psychosomatic view
which our language still reflects.

In modern science it has become accepted usage to speak of the
'mechanisms' of digestion, perception, learning, and cognition, etc.,
and to lay increasing or exclusive stress on the automaton aspect of the
homme-automate. The mechanistic trend in physiology reached its
symbolic culmination at the beginning of the century in the slogan
'Man a machine* the programmatic tide of a once famous book by
Jacques Loeb; it was taken over by behaviouristic psychology, which
has been prominent in the Anglo-Saxon countries for half a century.
Even a genial naturalist like Konrad Lorenz, whose King Solomons
Ring has delighted millions, felt impelled to proclaim that to regard
Newton and Darwin as automata was the only permissible view for
*the inductive research worker who does not believe in miracles'. 9
It all depends, of course, on what one's definition of a miracle is:
Galileo, the ideal of all 'inductive research workers', rejected Kepler's
theory that the tides were due to the moon's attraction as an 'occult
fancy'. 10 The intellectual climate created by these attitudes has been
summed up by Cyril Burt, writing about 'The Concept of Con-
sciousness' (which behaviourists have banned, as another 'occult



THE LOGIC OF LAUGHTER



49



fancy', from the vocabulary of science): 'The result, as a cynical on-
looker might be tempted to say, is that psychology, having first
bargained away its soul and then gone out of its mind, seems now, as
it faces an untimely end, to have lost all consciousness.' 11

I have dwelt at some length on Bergsons favourite example of the
comic, because of its relevance to one of the leitmotifs of this book.
The man-machine duality has been epitomized in a laconic sentence
'man consists of ninety per cent water and ten per cent minerals'
which one can regard, according to taste, as comic, intellectually
challenging, or tragic. In the first case one has only to think of a
caricature showing a fat man under the African sun melting away into
a puddle; in the second, of the 'inductive research worker' bent over
his test-tube; in the third, of a handful of dust.

Other examples of Bergsons man-automaton need be mentioned
only briefly. The puppet play in its naive Punch and Judy version is
comic; the sophisticated marionette theatre is a traditional form of
art; life-imitating contraptions are used in various branches of science
and technology: from the dummy figures of dressmakers to the
anatomical models in medical schools; from the artificial limbs of the
orthopaedist to robots imitating the working of the nervous system
(such as Grey Walter's electronic tortoises). In the metaphorical sense
the puppet on strings is a timeless symbol, either comic or tragic, of
man as a plaything of destiny whether he is jerked about by the
gods or suspended on his own chromosomes and glands. In the neutral
zone between comedy and tragedy philosophers have been tireless in
their efforts to reconcile the two conflicting aspects of the human
puppet: his experience of free will and moral responsibility on the one
hand; the strings of determinism, religious or scientific, on the other.

An extreme variant of the puppet motif is Jack-in-the-Box, symbol
of the stubborn, mechanical repetitiveness, but also of the indestruc-
tibility, of life. Its opposite number is the legendary monster who
instantly grows a new tentacle or head when the hero has cut it off;
or the old woman in Raskolnikof 's dream who, after each stroke of
the axe on her skull, turns round and laughs in his face. In the bio-
logical sciences Jack-in-the-Box is a familiar figure, represented in all
processes of the trigger-release type the muscle-twitch, the epileptic
fit, the 'sign-releasers' of the animal kingdom, whose symbolic
message activates the springs of hopping mad or tenderly amorous,
innate behaviour patterns.



NOTES



To p. 28. 'Wit' stems from witan, understanding; whose roots go back
(via videre and eeSco) to the Sanskrit veda, knowledge. The German Wltz means
both joke and acumen; it comes from wissen, to know; Wissenschaft science, is
a close kin to Fiirwitz and Aberwitz presumption, cheek, and jest. French teaches
the same lesson. Spirituet may either mean witty or spiritually profound; to
amuse comes from to muse \a-muser), and a witty remark is a jeu d* esprit a
playful, mischievous form of discovery.

The word 'jester', too, has a respectable ancestry. The chansons degeste played a
prominent part in medieval literature from the eleventh to the fifteenth centuries.
They were epics centred on heroic events; their name is derived from the Latin
gesta : deeds, exploits. With the coming of the Renaissance, satire tended to re-
place the epics of chivalry, and in the sixteenth century the heroic 'geste' turned
into *jest\

To p. 32. A critical discussion of both theories can be found in Appendix I
of Insight and Outlook.

To p. 40. The choice of the term 'matrix* is less easy to explain. In an
earlier version I used 'field' and 'framework', but 'field' is too vague, and 'frame'
too rigid. 'Matrix' is derived from the Latin for womb and is figuratively used
for any pattern or mould in which things are shaped and developed, or type is
cast. Thus the exercise of a habit or skill is 'moulded' by its matrix. In mathematics,
matrices are rectangular arrays of numbers capable of all sorts of magic; they can
be subjected to various transformations without losing their identity i.e. they
are both 'flexible' and 'stable'. Also, matrices have a constant attached to them,
called their 'determinant', which remains unaffected by any of these trans-
formations. But the analogy between 'determinant' and 'code' is extremely loose
and in more than one respect misleading.

To p. 43. Congenitally blind patients, who acquire vision after surgical
operations at a mature age, have great difficulties in recognizing patterns and
faces, and in orienting themselves in space. Cf. Senden (1932), quoted by Hebb
(1949).

To p. 44. The dual concepts of matrices and codes were designed with one
eye on psychology, the other on physiology. Their theoretical implications in
this wider context are discussed in Book Two.

The reader versed in experimental psychology will have been reminded by
now of such old fnends from the Wurzburg School as Aufgabe, Einstellung,
Bewusstseinstage; and of their Anglo-Saxon relatives: 'determining tendency',
'expectancy*, 'task', 'schema' and 'set*. He will probably also remember that
J.J. Gibson in a famous article (quoted by Humphrey, 1951, p. 105) listed some
forty different meanings in which the word 'set' was used. I hope to show that
'matrices' and 'codes' are concepts at the same time more precise, and of more
general validity, than Aufgaben or 'sets'.



50



II

LAUGHTER AND EMOTION

The sudden bisociation of an idea or event with two habitually
incompatible matrices will produce a comic effect, provided
that the narrative, the semantic pipeline, carries the right kind
of emotional tension. When the pipe is punctured, and our expectations
are fooled, the now redundant tension gushes out in laughter, or is
spilled in the gentler form of the sou-rire.

Aggression and Identification

Laugher, as the cliche has it, is 'liberating*, i.e. tension-relieving.
Relief from stress is always pleasurable, regardless whether it was
caused by hunger, sex, anger, or anxiety. Under ordinary circum-
stances such relief is obtained by some purposeful activity which is
appropriate to the nature of the tension. When we laugh, however, the
pleasurable relief does not derive from a consummatory act which
satisfies some specific need. On the contrary: laughter prevents the
satisfaction of biological drives, it makes a man equally incapable of
killing or copulating; it deflates anger, apprehension, and pride* The
tension is not consummated it is frittered away in an apparently
purposeless reflex, in facial grimaces, accompanied by over-exertion
of the breathing mechanism and aimless gestures. To put it the other
way round: the sole function of this luxury reflex seems to be the dis-
posal of excitations which have become redundant, which cannot be
consummated in any purposeful manner.

But why has the excitation suddenly become 'redundant*; and why is
it discharged in laughter and not, say, in weeping which is an equally
'purposeless* activity? The answer to the second half of the question

51



52



THE ACT OF CREATION



seems obvious: the kind of excitation exploded in laughter has a
different quality or chemical composition, as it were, from the emo-
tions which overflow in tears. But the very obviousness of this answer
is deceptive, for the attempt to define this difference in 'quality and
composition* necessitates a new approach to the theory of human
emotions.

At first sight there seems to be a bewildering variety of moods in-
volved in different types of humour. The practical joke is frankly
aggressive; the lavatory jokes of children are scatological; blue jokes
are sexual; the Charles Addams type of cartoon and the 'sick* joke
play on feelings of horror and disgust; the satirist on righteous in-
dignation. Moreover, the same type of semantic pipeline can be made
to carry different types of fluid under varying degrees of pressure: for
instance, 'they haven't got a coat to turn' and 'I never aimed as high
as that' are both bisociations of metaphorical and direct meaning
jokes of the same logical pattern but with different emotional colour-
ing. The more sophisticated forms of humour evoke mixed, and some-
times contradictory, feelings; but whatever the mixture, it must con-
tain one ingredient whose presence is indispensable: an impulse, how-
ever faint, of aggression or apprehension. It may be manifested in the
guise of malice, derision, the veiled cruelty of condescension, or merely
as an absence of sympathy with the victim of the joke a 'momentary
anaesthesia of the heart', as Bergson put it. I propose to call this
common ingredient the aggressive-defensive or self-asserting tendency
the reasons for choosing this clumsy term will be seen later on. In
the subtler types of humour this tendency is so faint and discreet that
only careful analysis will detect it, like the presence of salt in a well-
prepared dish- which, however, would be tasteless without it.

It is the aggressive element, the detached malice of the parodist,
which turns pathos into bathos, tragedy into comedy. It may be com-
bined with affection, as in friendly teasing; in civilized humour aggres-
sion is sublimated and often unconscious. But in jokes which appeal to
children and primitives cruelty and boastful self-assertion are much in
evidence, and the same is true of the historically earlier forms and
theories of the comic. 'As laughter emerges with man from the mists of
antiquity it seems to hold a dagger in its hand. There is enough brutal
triumph, enough contempt, enough striking down from superiority
in the records of antiquity and its estimates of laughter to presume that
original laughter may have been wholly animosity/ 1 In the Old
Testament there are (according to Mitchell 2 ) twenty-nine references to



LAUGHTER AND EMOTION



53



laughter, out of which thirteen are linked with scorn, derision,
mocking, or contempt, and only two are 'born out of a joyful and
merry heart'. A survey among American schoolchildren between the
ages of eight and fifteen led to the conclusion (which could hardly have
surprised anybody) that 'mortification or discomfort or hoaxing of
others very readily caused laughter, while a witty or funny remark
often passed unnoticed'. 3

Among the theories of laughter that have been proposed since the
days of Aristotle, the 'theory of degradation' appears as the most
persistent. For Aristotle himself laughter was closely related to ugliness
and debasement; for Cicero 'the province of the ridiculous ... lies in
a certain baseness and deformity'; for Descartes laughter is a mani-
festation of joy 'mixed with surprise or hate or sometimes with both';
in Francis Bacon's list of laughable objects, the first place is taken by
'deformity'. The essence of the 'theory of degradation' is defined in
Hobbes's Leviathan:

The passion of laughter is nothing else but sudden glory arising
from a sudden conception of some eminency in ourselves by com-
parison with the infirmity of others, or with our own formerly.

Bain, one of the founders of modern psychology, followed on the
whole the same theory: 'Not in physical effects alone, but in everything
where a man can achieve a stroke of superiority, in surpassing or
discomforting a rival, is the disposition of laughter apparent.' 4

For Bergson laughter is the corrective punishment inflicted by society
upon the unsocial individual: 'In laughter we always find an unavowed
intention to humiliate and consequently to correct our neighbour.' 5
Max Beerbohm found 'two elements in the public's humour: delight
in suffering, contempt for the unfamiliar'. McDougall believed that
'laughter has been evolved in the human race as an antidote to sym-
pathy, a protective reaction shielding us from the depressive influence
of the shortcomings of our fellow men.' 6

Thus on this one point there is agreement among the theorists,
ancient and modern; and not only agreement but exaggeration. One
has only to think of Aristophanes or Calderon; A Midsummer Night's
Dream or Chateaubriand's Maximes et Pensies, to realize that the aggres-
sive charge detonated in laughter need not be gunpowder; a grain of
Attic salt is enough to act as a catalyst. Furthermore, we must remember



54



THE ACT OF CREATION



that aggression and self-defence, rage and fear, hostility and appre-
hension, are as pairs of twins in their psychology and physiology. One
of the typical situations in which laughter occurs is the moment of the
sudden cessation of danger, real or imaginary; and rarely is the character
of laughter as a discharge-mechanism for redundant tensions more
strikingly manifested than in the sudden change of expression on the
small child's face from anxious apprehension to the happy laugh of
relief.

Whatever the composition of the emotional charge which a narra-
tive carries, it will produce a comic effect only if an aggressive-defensive
tendency, however sublimated, is present in it. You may be deeply
moved by a persons predicament, and yet unable to suppress a smile
at its ludicrous aspect; and the impression of the 'ludicrousness' of
another persons behaviour always implies an assertion conscious
or unconscious of your own superiority; you smile at his ex-
pense.

The emotions which dominate on the opposite side of the triptych
do not concern us as yet; but I must briefly mention them for the sake
of contrast. Listening to Mozart, watching a great actor's performance,
being in love or some other state of grace, may cause a welling up of
happy emotions which moisten the eye or overflow in tears. Com-
passion and bereavement may have the same physical effect. The
emotions of this class, whether joyous or sad, include sympathy,
identification, pity, admiration, awe, and wonder. The common
denominator of these heterogeneous emotions is a feeling of participa-
tion, identification, or belonging; in other words, the self is experienced
as being a part of a larger whole, a higher unity which may be Nature,
God, Mankind, Universal Order, or the Anitna Mundi; it may be an
abstract idea, or a human bond with persons living, dead, or imagined.
I propose to call the common element in these emotions the partici-
patory or self-transcending tendencies. This is not meant in a mystical
sense (though mysticism certainly belongs to this class of emotion); the
term is merely intended to convey that in these emotional states the
need is felt to behave as a part of some real or imaginary entity which
transcends, as it were, the boundaries of the individual self; whereas
when governed by the self-assertive class of emotions the ego is ex-
perienced as a self-contained whole and the ultimate value.

As a rule our emotions are complex mixtures in which both ten-
dencies participate. Thus the emotion called 'love' whether sexual
or maternal usually contains an aggressive or possessive, self-asserting



LAUGHTER AND EMOTION



55



component, and an identificatory or self-transcending component. If
emotions were represented by different colours, then the two opposite
tendencies would appear as brightness values (black-white mixtures)
superimposed on them.

The subject will be discussed in more detail later (Chapters XI-XV);
readers irritated by these repeated anticipatory excursions may find
some excuse for them in the consideration that the painful vivisection
of the comic, in which they are asked to participate, is not an end in
itself, but a means to uncover the pattern which unites the apparently
so heterogeneous creative activities in humour, art, and discovery.

The Inertia of Emotion

The first to make the suggestion that laughter is a discharge mechanism
for 'nervous energy* seems to have been Herbert Spencer. His essay on
the 'Physiology of Laughter* (i860) starts with the proposition:
'Nervous energy always tends to beget muscular motion; and when it
rises to a certain intensity always does beget it Emotions and sensa-
tions tend to generate bodily movements, and . . . the movements are
violent in proportion as the emotions or sensations are intense.'
Hence, he concludes, 'when consciousness is unawares transferred
from great things to small' the 'liberated nerve force' will expend itself
along the channels of least resistance, which are the muscular move-
ments of laughter.

The details of Spencer's theory (parts of which Freud incorporated
into his own) 7 have become obsolete; but its basic thesis that 'emotion
tends to beget bodily motion' has not only been confirmed, but has
become so much of a commonplace in contemporary neurophysiology
that the need to qualify it is often forgotten. For there exist, of course,
emotional states looking at the sea, or engaging in religious contem-
plation which, on the contrary, tend to promote relaxation and
bodily passivity. The title of Walter B. Cannon's pioneer work, which
had a decisive influence on the modern approach to the problem of
emotions Bodily Changes in Pain, Hunger, Fear, and Rage ought to
have acted as a warning that the emotions- which mobilize the body
into action all belong to an important, but nevertheless limited, cate-
gory that which enters the service of the self-assertive tendencies.
Cannon himself warnedwith little success against the lumping
together of all emotions into a kind of red rag drenched with



56



THE ACT OF CREATION



adrenalin.* However, for the moment we are concerned only with
precisely this limited categorythe aggressive-defensive type of
emotion which enters into the comic.

"When the Marquis in the Chamfort story rushes to the window, our
intellect turns a somersault and enters with gusto into the new game;
but the piquant expectations which the narrative carried, including
perhaps an unconscious admixture of sadism, cannot be transferred to
the other, the quid-pro-quo matrix; they are disposed of through
channels of least resistance. When Othello, on the point of strangling
Desdemona, breaks into hiccoughs and is transformed into a poor,
sodden ham, our thoughts are again capable of performing the jump
from one associative context into another, but our tension, now de-
prived of its logical justification, must somehow be worked off. In a
word, laughter is aggression (or apprehension) robbed of its logical
raison d'etre; the puffing away of emotion discarded by thought.

To give another example: one of the popular devices of sustained
humour is impersonation. Children imitating adults, the comedian
impersonating a public figure, men disguised as women and women as
men in all these cases the impersonator is perceived as himself and
somebody else at the same time. While this situation lasts the two
matrices are bisodated in the spectator's mind; and while his intellect
is capable of swiftly oscillating from one matrix to the other and back,
his emotions are incapable of following these acrobatic turns; they are
spilled into the gutters of laughter as soup is spilled on a rocking ship.

What these metaphors are meant to convey is that the aggressive-
defensive class of emotions has a greater inertia, persistence, or mass momentum
than reason. This assumption is tacidy shared by most psychological
theories, but it needs to be explicidy stated in order to appreciate its
consequences. The most important among these is that quite fre-
quently our emotions are incapable of keeping step with our reason
and become divorced from reason. In psychopathology this pheno-
menon is taken for granted, but its significance in less extreme situa-
tions is generally overlooked although both common experience
and neurophysiology ought to make it obvious. Emotions of the self-
asserting type involve a wide range of bodily changes, such as in-
creased secretion of the adrenal glands, increase of blood sugar,
acceleration of heart rate, speedier clotting of the blood, altered
breathing, inhibition of digestive activity, changes in electric skin
resistance, sweating, 'goose-pimples' which make the hair of the skin
stand on end, dilation of the pupils, muscle tension, and tremor. The



LAUGHTER AND EMOTION



57



joint effect of these so-called emergency reactions is to put the whole
organism into a state of readiness for come what may; sweating, for
instance, disposes of the heat generated by fight or flight, and the
abundance of blood sugar in the circulation provides the muscles with
excess energy. Hence the remarkable feats of force of which people
are capable in danger; but more important from our point of view is
the lowering of the threshhold of motor responses the increased
excitability of the muscles by nervous impulses, and the resulting
tendency to violent movement, to 'work off', or at least 'shake off', the
physiological effects of emotion. The chief mediators of this general
mobilization of the resources of the body are the so-called sympathetic
division of the autonomous nervous system, and the hormones secreted
by the medulla of the suprarenal glands: adrenalin and nor-adrenalin,
the 'humours' of fear and anger. Since these nervous and glandular
processes are interrelated, it is convenient to refer to them jointly as
activities of the sympathico-adrenal system. (To avoid confusion, I
must underline that the sympathetic nervous system has nothing to do
with the friendly emotion of sympathy; rather, as I have just said, with
its opposites: rage and fear. However, by a lucky coincidence the
initials of Sympathico-adrenal system are the same as those of the
Self-^issertive emotions which are aroused by it.)

It follows from the above that these emotions involve incom-
parably heavier machinery, acting on the whole body, than the pro-
cess of thinking which, physiologically speaking, is confined to the
roof of the brain. The chemical and visceral states induced by the
action of the sympathico-adrenal system tend to persist; once this
massive apparatus is set in motion it cannot be called off or 'change
its direction at a moment's notice. Common observation provides
daily, painful confirmation of this. We are literally 'poisoned* by our
adrenal humours; reason has little power over irritability or anxiety;
it takes time to talk a person out of a mood, however valid the argu-
ments; passion is blind to better judgement; anger and fear show
physical after-effects long after their causes have been removed. If we
could change our moods as quickly as we jump from one thought to
another we would be acrobats of emotion.

Thinking, in its physiological aspect, is based on electro-chemical
activities in the cerebral cortex and related regions of the brain, in-
volving energy transactions which are minute compared to the massive
glandular, visceral, and muscular changes that occur when emotions
are aroused. These changes are governed by phylogenetically much



58



THE ACT OF CREATION



older parts of the brain than the roof-structures which enable man to
think in verbal symbols. Behaviour at any moment is the outcome
of complex processes which operate simultaneously on several levels of
the nervous system, from the spinal cord to our latest acquisition, the
pre-frontal lobes. There is probably no formal thinking without some
affective colouring; but it is nevertheless legitimate to distinguish
between form and colour in our case between the logical pattern of a
comic narrative and the emotive charge which it carries.

The sympathico-adrenal system might be compared to the body of
a piano which gives resonance to the cortical strings of thought. When
all is well the huge wooden box lends depth and colour and warmth
to the vibrations of the strings. But if you play a humorous scherzo
with full pedal on, the resonating body is unable to follow the swift
modulations of the chords thought and emotion have become dis-
sociated. It bjmotion des erted by tho ughLsMd&is disc ha rged in laughter.
For e motion, c jwjng^ to its greatgLmas&uiicunentum, is unable to
follow th e sudden switch oj jdejts,to a HifFfTcat type of logic o r a new
~ru!e of the game; less nimble than tho ught, it tends to persist in a straight
line.^Ariel leads CaEGaiTbn tjy r lKe nose: she jumps on a branch,
he crashes into the tree.

It could be objected that the faint emotive charge of a joke, the slight
malice or salaciousness which it arouses, would not be sufficient to
bring the massive sympathico-adrenal machinery into action. The
answer lies in the anachronistic character of our autonomous responses
to stimuli which carry an echo, however faint, of situations that held
a threat or promise in the remote past of the species; which once were
biologically relevant, though they no longer are. These reactions lag
by many rnillermia behind the conditions in which we live: we jump
at a sudden sound; we develop gooseflesh in response to a screeching
noise, to make our long-lost body hair bristle at the attack of some
extinct beast; we sweat before an examination to dispose of the
excessive heat our bodies might develop in the impending struggle
with the examiner. I like to call these innate, anachronistic responses
the over-statements of the body. One of the remarkable things about them
is that they can be triggered off by certain stimuli in minute, quasi-
homeopathic doses.

To sum up, the grain of salt which must be present in the narrative
to make us laugh turns out to be a drop of adrenalin.



The Mechanism of Laughter



In the first chapter I discussed the logic of humour; in the previous
section its emotional dynamics. Fitting the two together, we can now
expand the formula on page 35 as follows: The sudden bisociation of a
mental event with two habitually incompatible matrices results in an
abrupt transfer of the train of thought from one associative context to
another. The emotive charge which the narrative carried cannot be so
transferred owing to its greater inertia and persistence; discarded by
reason, the tension finds its outlet in laughter.

But that still leaves the question open why the excess energy should
be worked off in the particular form of laughter and not, say, by
flapping one's arms or wiggling one's toes. The somewhat tentative
answer is that the muscular contractions and breathing actions in
laughter seem to offer natural channels of least resistance for the over-
flow. To quote Freud:

According to the best of my knowledge, the grimaces and
contortions of the corners of the mouth that characterize laughter
appear first in the satisfied and over-satiated nursling when he
drowsily quits the breast. . . . They are physical expressions of the
determination to take no more nourishment, an 'enough' so to
speak, or rather a 'more than enough*. . . . This primal sense of
pleasurable saturation may have provided the link between the smile
that basic phenomenon underlying laughter and its subsequent
connection with other pleasurable processes of de-tension. 8

In other words, the muscle-contractions of the smile, as the earliest
manifestations of relief from tension, would thereafter become
channels of least resistance.

The peculiar breathing in laughter, with its repeated, explosive ex-
halations, seems designed to 'puff away' surplus tension in a kind of
respiratory gymnastics; and the vigorous gestures and slapping of
thighs obviously serve the same function. Often these massive reactions
seem to be quite out of proportion to the feeble stimuli which provoke
them particularly when we do not like the type of joke which causes
such- hilarity in others:

A thousand Edinburgh schoolchildren burst into laughter when
David Oistrakh, the Russian violinist, snapped a string while playing

59



<5o



THE ACT OF CREATION



Schubert's Fantasy in C Major during a recital of a city housing
estate yesterday. Their studious attention broke when Mr. Oistrakh
guest of honour at the Edinburgh Festival held up the violin and
looked with consternation at his accompanist. 9

Let us try to understand what those brats found so funny. Firstly,
there is the familiar pattern of the practical joke which the laws of
physics play on the artist, suddenly revealing that his magic strings
are made of common cat-gut 'I know you from a plum-tree'. The
'consternation on Oistrakh' s face is the consternation of the man
slipping on the banana skin; exaltation is debunked by the sudden
impact of triviality. But all this does not account for that unexpected,
barbaric outburst of hilarity which schoolmasters know only too well
unless one realizes that what I call, somewhat abstracdy, 'the
emotional charge of the narrative' contains here a mass of resentment,
mosdy perhaps unconscious, at having to sit still and listen 'with
studious attention* to that Russian with the unpronouncable name; a
repressed emotion, tending to beget fidgety motions, until the tension
snaps with the string, releasing the outburst, instantly transforming the
hushed class into a horde of savages.

In other words, all discussions of the comic remain bloodless abstrac-
tions unless we bear in mind that laughter is a phenomenon of the
trigger-release type, where a minute cause can open the tap of sur-
prisingly large stores of energy from various sources: repressed sadism;
repressed sex; repressed fear; even repressed boredom. Here is a list
of 'occasions for laughter' recorded by American undergraduates in
reply to a questionnaire:

A pillow fight in the dormitory

A girl friend tore her dress

I fell during skating

A dog came in during a lecture

A mispronounced word in rhetoric class

Being teased about my corpulence

Lizzie trying to do a fairy dance

My opponents in a bridge game bidding four spades when I held

two aces and the king, jack and five of spades
An article by a priest on the sex life of H. G. Wells. 10

This ought to be enough to make one realize that laughter may be



LAUGHTER AND EMOTION



61



entirely mirthless and humourless;* it can be contrived as a means of
social communication or in lieu of a rude noise. It can also serve to
cover up sexual or sadistic gloating, as in the forced, tumescent laughter
of the spectators at a strip-tease or in the jolly manifestations of
English popular humour at public hangings in the last century.

Surprisingly, Bergson believed that one can only laugh in the
presence of others presumably because this fitted his theory of
laughter as an act of social correction ('one has no taste for the comic
when one feels isolated. It seems that laughter needs an echo. Our
laughter is always the laughter of a group.'). 11 No doubt, collective
giggling fits do occur in dormitories at girls' schools, and no doubt one
laughs with more gusto in company than alone. But the infectiousness
of emotive manifestations is a well-known phenomenon in group
behaviour, which equally applies to hysteria, panic, even to infectious
coughing of theatre audiences; it is not a specific characteristic of
laughter, and contributes nothing to its explanation.

Lastly, laughter or smiling frequendy occur in response to stimuli
which in themselves are not comic, but merely signs or symbols for
comic stimuli, or even symbols of symbols Chaplin's boots, Groucho
Marx's cigar, caricatures of celebrities reduced to a few visual hints,
catch-phrases and allusions to familiar situations. The analysis of these
oblique cases often requires tracing back a long and involved thread of
associations to its source, which is not much fun; yet the procedure is
essentially the same as the literary critic's or the art historian's when
they try to analyse the evocative power of a poetic image or a land-
scape. The task is made more complicated by the fact that the effect of
such comic symbols the sight of Colonel Blimp on a cartoon, the
appearance of FalstafT on the stage appears to be instantaneous; there
seems to be no time for first accumulating and then discharging ten-
sion. But in these cases memory serves as an accumulator, a storage
battery whose electric charge can be sparked off any time: the smile
which greets Papageno strutting on to the scene is derived from a
mixture of memories and expectations. All of which goes to show that
to find the explanation why we laugh may be a task as delicate as
analysing the chemical composition of a perfume, with its multiple
ingredients some of which are never perceived, while others,
sniffed in isolation, would make us wince.



The Importance of not being Earnest



Discussing the problem of man's innate aggressive tendencies,
Aldous Huxley once said:

On the physiological level I suppose the problem is linked with the
fact that we carry around with us a glandular system which was
admirably well adapted to life in the Paleolithic times but is not very
well adapted to life now. Thus we tend to produce more adrenalin
than is good for us, and we either suppress ourselves and turn
destructive energies inwards or else we do not suppress ourselves
and we start hitting people. 12

A third alternative, which Huxley overlooked, is to laugh at
people. There are, of course, other outlets for tame aggression:
sport, politics, book-reviewing, and so forth; but these are conscious,
voluntary activities, whereas laughter is a spontaneous, physiological
reflex, a gift of nature included in our native equipment as part of the
evolutionary package deal. Not only the functions of our glands, but
the whole autonomous nervous system and the emotion-controlling
centres in the mid-brain, are much older than the Paleolithic Age,
and reflect conditions at a stage of human evolution when the struggle
for existence was more deadly than at present and when any unusual
sight or sound had to be answered by jumping, bristling, fight, or
flight. As security and comfort increased in the species, the afFect-
generating emergency mechanisms of the sympathico-adrenal system
gradually became an anachronism. But organs and their functions do
not atrophy at the rate at which they become redundant; and thus the
biological evolution ofhomo sapiens (if it has not stopped altogether)
lags dangerously behind his mental evolution. One consequence of
this is that our brains have become 'divided houses of faith and reason,
of thinking at odds with emotions; another, that our emotive respon-
ses have become 'over-statements of the body* out of all proportion
with the reactions biologically required or socially permitted and
cannot be worked off through their original channels. Fortunately, at
some point along the evolutionary line, the luxury reflexes of laughter
and weeping emerged as overflow mechanisms for the disposal of at
least part of our redundant emotions. They are obviously twin re-
flexes: laughter serving the disposal of aggressive emotions cast off
by the intellect, while crying (to anticipate once more) facilitates the
overflow of participatory emotions accepted by the intellect.

62



LAUGHTER AND EMOTION



63



It follows that two conditions had to be fulfilled before homo Helens,
the laughing animal, could emerge: first a relative security of existence,
which called for new outlets for excess energies; second and more
important, a level of evolution had to be reached where reasoning had
gained a certain degree of autonomy from the 'blind* urges of emotion;
where thought had acquired that independence and nimbleness which
enable it to detach itself from feeling and to confront its glandular
humours with a sense of humour. Only at this stage of 'cortical emanci-
pation could man perceive his own emotions as redundant, and make
the smiling admission 'I have been fooled'.

Beneath the human level there is neither the possibility nor the
need for laughter; it could arise only in a biologically secure species
with redundant emotions and intellectual autonomy.* The sudden
realization that one's own excitement is 'unreasonable' heralds the
emergence of self-criticism, of the ability to see one's very own self
from outside; and this bisociation of subjective experience with an ob-
jective frame of reference is perhaps the wittiest discovery of homo
sapiens.

Thus laughter rings the bell of man's departure from the rails of
instinct; it signals his rebellion against the smglemindedness of his
biological urges, his refusal to remain a creature of habit, governed by
a single set of 'rules of the game'. Animals are fanatics; but 'O / How
the dear litde children laugh / When the drums roll and the lovely
Lady is sawn in half. . . ,' 13

NOTES

To p. 56. Criticizing a paper read by a neurologist to a learned society, he
remarked: 'The author spoke of emotions in very general terms. . . . There are
features which he mentioned which I could recognize as characteristic of major

emotions, as anger and rage; but after all, love is an emotion I think that

when we discuss emotion we ought to specify the sorts of emotion we have in
mind* (Cannon, 1929).

To p. 61. The article in which this list appeared is characteristic of the
behaviourist approach; it ennumerated three 'basic principles' of laughter: (a)
'as an expression of joy', (b) 'laughter makes for group cohesion through homo-
geneity of feeling within the group', (c) 'laughing can be used as a weapon in
competitive situations*. The word 'humour' was not mentioned in the article;
laughing at 'jokes, antics, etc.*, was mentioned only in passing, as obviously nor
a phenomenon worthy of the psychologists' attention.

To p. 63. Some domesticated animals dogs, chimpanzees seem to be
capable of a humorous expression and to engage in teasing activities. These may
be regarded as evolutionary forerunners of laughter.



Ill

VARIETIES OF HUMOUR

The tools have now been assembled which should enable the
reader to dissect any specimen of humour. The procedure to
be followed is: first, determine the nature of M 2 and M 2 in
the diagrams on pages 35 and 37 by discovering the type of logic, the
rules of the game, which govern each matrix. Often these rules are
implied, as hidden axioms, and taken for granted the code must be
de-coded. The rest is easy: find the 'link* the focal concept, word, or
situation which is bisociated with both mental planes; lastly, define
the character of the emotive charge and make a guess regarding the
unconscious elements that it may contain. In the sections which follow
I shall apply this technique to various types of humour.

Pun and Witticism

Our spacemen, Mrs. Lamport fears, are 'heading for the "lunar
bin".' The ageing libertine, she tells us, 'feels his old Krafft Ebbing*.
The Reverend Spooner had a great affection, or so he said, for 'our
queer old dean'.

One swallow, the proverb says, does not make a summer nor
quench the thirst. Elijah's ravens, according to Milton, were 'though
ravenous taught to abstain from what they brought*. Not so Napoleon,
who, shortly after his coronation, confiscated the estates of the house
of Orleans, which caused a contemporary to remark: *C*est le premier
vol de Vaigle* Equally to the point was Mr. Paul Jenkin's discovery re-
garding the pros and cons of Britain's entry into the Common Market:
'The Cons were pro, while Lab has turned con.'

The pun is the bisociation of a single phonetic form with two

64



VARIETIES OF HUMOUR



<55



meanings two strings of thought tied together by an accousric knot.
Its immense popularity with children, its prevalence in certain forms
of mental disorder ('punning mania') , and its frequent occurrence in
the dream, indicate the profound unconscious appeal of association
based on pure sound. Its opposite number is the rhyme. In between
these two, on the central panel, the bisociation of sound and sense
assumes a playful form in word games like Lexicon, anagram, and
crossword puzzle; and a serious form in comparative philology and
paleography, the deciphering of ancient inscriptions (pp. 186-7).

Whether the two meanings associated with the pun are derived from
the same root as in 'lunar bin'; or are homonyms as vol = flight and
vol = theft, is irrelevant provided the two derivations have drifted
apart far enough to become incompatible. In fact, there is a con-
tinuous series stretching from the pun through the play of words
(Jen de mots) to the play of ideas (jett a" esprit). Let me quote a few more
examples of the latter.

'The super-ego is that part of the personality which is soluble in
alcohol/ The concept 'soluble' is bisociated (a) with the context of the
chemical laboratory and (b) with the (metaphorical) dissolution of
one's high principles in one's cups. The first few words of the sentence
arouse perhaps a mild irritation with the Freudian jargon or appre-
hension, as the case may be; which is then tittered away through the
now familiar mechanism.

Here is another sample from this game of definitions: 'What is a
sadist? A sadist is a person who is kind to a masochist.' The link-concept
is 'kindness', bisociated with two diametrically opposed meanings;
moreover the whole definition is open to two different interpretations:

(a) the sadist does a kindness to the masochist by torturing him;

(b) the sadist is torturing the masochist by being kind to him.

In both cases the sadist must go against his own nature, and the
definition turns out to be in fact a variant of the logical paradox about
the Cretan who asserts that all Cretans are liars. But we can get around
it by deciding that in either interpretation 'kind' should be understood
both literally and metaphorically at the same time; in other words, by
playing simultaneously two games governed by opposite rules. We
shall see that such reversals of logic play a considerable part in scientific
discovery (pp. 191-9). They are also a recurrent motif in poetry and
literature. One of my favourite Donne quotations is a line from the
Litany: 'For O, for some, not to be martyrs is a martyrdom.'

I have given examples of the bisociation of professional with



66 THE ACT OF CREATION

commonsense logic, of metaphorical with literal meaning, of contexts
linked by sound affinities, of trains of reasoning travelling, happily
joined together, in opposite directions. The list could be extended
beyond the limits of patience. In fact any two matrices can be made to
yield a comic effect of sorts, by finding an appropriate link between
them and infusing a drop of adrenalin. Take as a random example
two associative contexts centred on the unpromising key-words
< alliteration , and 'hydrotherapy*. (The example actually originated in
a challenge following a discussion; I am merely quoting it, with
apologies, to show that in principle it can be done):

Gossip Column Item: Lady Smith-Everett, receiving me in her
sumptuous boudoir, explained that she had always suffered from 'the
most maddening rashes' until she met her present physician, a former
professor of psycho-hydrotherapy at the University of Bucharest. By
employing a new test which he invented, the Professor discovered
that she had 'a grade 4 allergy' against sojourning in spas and
holiday resorts with the initial letter C. No more visits to Capri and
Carlsbad for Lady S-E.!

It is not even necessary that the two matrices should be governed
by incompatible codes. One can obtain comic effects by simply con-
fronting quantitatively different scales of operations, provided that
they differ sufficiently in order of magnitude for one scale to become
negligible compared with the other. The result is the type of joke made
according to the formula: the mountains laboured, the birth was a
mouse.

With an added twist you get this kind of dotty dialogue between a
nervous bus-passenger and the conductor:
'What's the time?'
'Thursday.'

*Good Lord! I must get off.'

This is a serial affair in which not two but three matrices are suc-
cessively involved, each with a different scale of measurement, M x
has a grid of hours and minutes; M 2 of days of the week. The two differ
in fact only in quantity but provide qualitatively different frames of
reference; the third matrix has spatial instead of temporal co-ordinates
where to get off, not when. It would be impossible to orientate one's
behaviour with reference to these three different grids at the same
time; yet that is precisely what the tri-sociated passenger is trying to do .



VARIETIES OF HUMOUR



67



Let me repeat: any two universes of discourse can be used to fabri-
cate a joke. Lewis Carroll sent the following contribution to a philo-
sophical symposium:

'Yet what mean all such gaieties to me
"Whose life is full of indices and surds?
X* + 7 X+53
= II/3'

The universes of verbal and mathematical symbols are linked by
pure sound-affinity with rhyme but without reason. When T. E.
Lawrence joined the ranks as Private Shaw, Noel Coward wrote to
him that famous letter beginning 'Dear 338171 (may I call you 338?)'.

Man and Animal

In the previous chapter I discussed the bisociation of man and
machine; related to it is the hybrid man-animal. Disney's creatures
behave as if they were human without losing their animal appearance,
they live on the line of intersection of the two planes; so do the car-
toonist's piggy or mousy humans. This double-existence is comic,
but only so long as the confrontation has the effect of a slighdy de-
grading exposure of one or the other. If sympathy prevails over malice
even poor Donald Duck's misfortunes cease to be laughable; and as you
move over to the right-hand panel of the triptych, the man-animal
undergoes a series of transformations: from the cloying lyricism of
Bambi to the tragedy of Orwell's Boxer; from the archetypal menace
of the werewolf to the Metamorphosis of Kafka's hero into a filth-
devouring cockroach. As for science, the importance of learning about
man by the experimental study of animal physiology need not be
stressed; in psychology it has been rather overstressed to the point
where the salivary reflexes of dogs came to be regarded as paradig-
matic for human behaviour.



Impersonation

The various categories of the comic shade into each other: Disney's
ariimals acting like humans could as well be classified under the



68



THE ACT OF CREATION



heading 'imitation, impersonation, and disguise'. The impersonator is
two different people at one time. If the result is degrading, the spec-
tator will laugh. If he is led to sympathize or identify himself with the
impersonated hero, he will experience that state of split-rnindedness
known as dramatic illusion or the magic of the stage. Which of the
two possibilities will occur depends of course partly on the actor, but
ultimately 'a jest's prosperity lies in the ear / Of him that hears it, never
in the tongue / Of him that makes it'. 1 The same 'narrative', a
Victorian melodrama or a Chinese opera, acted in both cases in pre-
cisely the same way, will make some spectators giggle, others weep.
The same dramatic devices may serve either a comic or a tragic purpose:
Romeo and Juliet are the victims of absurd coincidences, Oedipus's
marriage to his mother is due to mistaken identity; Rosalind in As
You Like It and Leonora in Fidelio are both disguised as men, yet in
one case the result is drama, in another comedy. The technique of
creating character-types is also shared by both: in the classical form of
tragedy, whether Greek, Indian, or Japanese, characterization is often
achieved by standardized masks; in the comedy, down to Moliere,
by the creation of types: the miser, the glutton, the hypocrite, the
cuckold. In the centre panel (where impersonation appears in the
form of empathy, the act of self-projection which enables one to
understand others, see below pp. 187-8) the classification of character-
types has been the aim of incessant efforts from the 'four tempera-
ments' of the Greeks, to Kretschmer, Jung, Sheldon, and so on.



The Child-Adult

Why are puppies droll? Firstly, their helplessness, trustingness, attach-
ment, and puzzled expression make them more 'human' than grown-
up dogs; in the second place the ferocious growl of the puppy strikes
us as an impersonation of adult behaviour (like the little boy with
stuck-on beard and bowler-hat, pretending to be the family doctor);
thirdly, the puppy's waddling and tumbling makes it a choice victim
of nature's practical jokes; furthermore, its bodily disproportions, the
huge padded paws, wrinkled brow, and Falstaffian belly, give it the
appearance of a caricature; and so on. The delighted laughter which
greets the puppy's antics seems so simple to explain; but when we try
to analyse it we find several interlocking causes; and while the word
'delighted' indicates a pure emotion, free from the ugly taint of



VARIETIES OF HUMOUR



69



aggressiveness, the grain of self-satisfied condescension, the conviction
of our own superiority is nevertheless present, even if we are not
aware of it.

A simple shift of emphasis will move the bisociation of child and
adult into the centre panel where it becomes a concern of pedagogues
and psychiatrists. A further shift to the right, and the relation will be
reversed, the child will be seen as an adult in disguise, immersed in the
hidden tragedies of the nursery and boarding school an inexhaustible
subject of the autobiographical novel.

The Trivial and the Exalted

Parody is the most aggressive form of impersonation, designed not only
to deflate hollow pretence but also to destroy illusion in all its forms;
and to imdermine pathos by harping on the trivial, all-too-human
aspects of the victim. Stage props collapsing, wigs falling off, public
speakers forgetting their lines, dramatic gestures remaining suspended
in the air the parodist's favourite points of attack are all situated on
the line of intersection between two planes: the Exalted and the
Trivial.

The artist reverses this technique by conferring on trivial experiences
a new dignity and wonder: Rembrandt painting the carcass of a
flayed ox, Manet his skinny, insipid Olympia; Hemingway drawing
tragedy out of the repetitive, inarticulate stammer of his characters;
Chekhov focussing the reader's attention on a fly crawling on a lump
of sugar while Natasha is contemplating suicide.

When 'consciousness is unawares transferred from great things to
small' which Spencer regarded as the prime cause of laughter the
result will be either a comic or an aesthetic experience, depending on
whether the persons emotions are of the type capable of participating
in the transfer or not. The artist, reversing the parodist's technique,
walks on a tightrope, as it were, along the line where the exalted and
the trivial planes meet; he 'sees with equal eye, as God of all, / A hero
perish or a sparrow fall*. The scientist's attitude is basically similar in
situations where he suddenly discovers the connection between a
banal event and a general law of nature Newton's apple or the
boiling kettle of James Watt.

* When F. W. H. Myers became interested in people's attitudes to
religion he questioned an elderly widow on what she thought about



70



THE ACT OF CREATION



the whereabouts of her departed husband's soul. She replied: 'Oh well,
I suppose he is enjoying eternal bliss, but I wish you wouldn't talk
about such unpleasant subjects.' I would call this an illustration of the
peaceful coexistence of the tragic and trivial planes in our humble
minds. Equally convincing is this statement made by a schoolboy to
his mathematics master:
'Infinity is where things happen which don't.' 2

Caricature and Satire

The political cartoon, at its best, is a translation into visual imagery of
a witty topical comment; at its worst, a manipulation of symbols
John Bull, Uncle Sam, the Russian bear which, once comic, have
degenerated into visual cliches. The symbols trigger off memories
and expectations; the narrative content of the cartoon is taken in by
visual scanning, with possibly a delayed-action effect due to the time
needed for 'seeing the joke*. The analysis of such mixed forms is a
lengthy affair.*

The portrait caricature, on the other hand, relies for its effects on
purely visual means. Its method recalls the distorting mirrors at fun-
fairs, which reflect the human form elongated into a candle-shape, or
absurdly compressed, or as a vague phantom with wavy outlines. As
a result we see ourselves and yet something else; our familiar shapes
being transformed as if the body were merely an elastic surface that
can be stretched in all directions.

The mirror distorts by exaggerating mechanically in one spatial
direction at the expense of others; the caricaturist distorts by exaggera-
ting features which he considers characteristic of his victim's appearance
or personality. His second main trick is over-simplification: he mini-
mizes or leaves out features which are not relevant for his purpose. A
prominent nose, for instance, such as General de Gaulle's, can be
exploited to the extent that the rest of the face shrinks to insignificance:
the part has been detached from the whole and has become a nose an
sick The product of the clever caricaturist's distortions is something
physiologically impossible, yet at the same time visually convincing
he has superimposed his frame of perception on our own. For a
caricature is comic only if we know something of the victim, if we
have a mental image, however vague, of the person, or type of person,
at which it is aimed even if it is an Eskimo, a cave-man, or a Martian



VARIETIES OF HUMOUR



71



robot. The unknown cannot be distorted or misrepresented. The
caricature of the more ferocious type is the rape of an image, an optical
debunking of the victim; in its gender form, a semi-afFectionate kick
at the heel of Achilles.

Thus the malicious pleasure derived from a good caricature origin-
ates in the confrontation of a likeness, distorted according to the
artist's rules of the game, with reality or our image thereof. But it is a
rather harmless form of malice because we know that the caricaturist's
monster with the cucumber nose or enormous belly is a biological im-
possibility, that it is not real Illustrations of elephantiasis and patholo-
gical obesity are not comic because these distortions of the human
shape are known to be real, and therefore arouse pity. The knowledge
that the deformities of the caricature are merely pretence acquits us of
all charitable obligations and allows us to laugh at the victim's expense.

The exaggeration and simplification of features selected according to
his judgement of what is to be considered relevant is a technique
shared by both the caricaturist and the artist who calls it stylization.
(Needless to say, a caricature is also a form of art; but for convenience'
sake I am using throughout this book the term 'art' to refer to its non-
comic varieties.) Stylization has been carried to extreme length in a
number of ancient and modern art forms without destroying the
aesthetic effect: that is to say, without sliding from art into caricature.
The elongated skulls of certain Egyptian sculptures reflect a con-
temporary practice of deforming the princely babies' heads, but they
obviously exaggerate the result. Nevertheless it would hardly occur to
one to call Tutankhamen an egghead because one feels that the
sculptor exaggerated not with a hostile but with a worshipful intent,
and this attitude is communicated to the spectator. Once more the
polarity between comic and aesthetic experience is seen to derive from
the polarity between the self-assertive and self-transcending tendencies.

This still holds true even when communication between artist and
spectator breaks down. In the eyes of the Philistine all experimental art
is ludicrous, because the PhiHstine's attitude is aggressive-defensive.
When Picasso shuffles round the eyes and limbs of his figures in a
manner which is biologically impossible and yet has a visual logic of
its own, he juxtaposes the seen and the known he is walking, pre-
cariously balanced, on the borderline between two universes of ex-
perience, each governed by a different code. The conservative-minded
spectator, unable to follow, suspects the artist of pulling his leg by
deliberately distorting the human shape as the caricaturist does; and



72



THB ACT OP CREATION



so the two-faced woman with three breasts becomes in his eyes a
caricature. The ambiguity is perhaps most strikingly illustrated in
some of the character-studies by Leonardo, Hogarth, and Daumier.
The passions reflected in them are so violent, the grimaces so ferocious,
that it is impossible to tell whether they were meant as portraits or
caricatures, and the distinction becomes a purely theoretical one. If
you feel that such distortions of the human face do not really exist,
that Daumier, deliberately exaggerating, merely pretended that they
exist, then you are absolved from horror and pity and can laugh at his
grotesques. But if you feel that this is indeed what Daumier saw in
those de-humanized faces, then you are looking at a work of art. The
humorist thrives on deformity; the artist deforms the world to re-
create it in his own image.

The technique of exaggerating the relevant and simplifying or
ignoring the irrelevant aspects of reality is shared not only by the
artist and caricaturist but is equally indispensable to the scientist. The
motivations of each of the three differ, of course, and with them their
criteria of relevance. The humorist's motives are aggressive, the
artist's participatory, the scientist's exploratory. The scientist's criteria
of relevance are 'objective' in the sense of being emotionally neutral,
but they still depend on the particular aspect of reality in which he
is interested. Every drawing on the blackboardwhether it is meant
to represent the wiring diagram of a radio set or the circulation of the
blood, the structure of a molecule or the weather over the Adantic
is based on the same method as the cartoonist's: selective emphasis on
the relevant factors and omission of the rest. A map bears the same
relation to a landscape as a character-sketch to a face; every chart,
diagram, or model, every schematic or symbolic representation of
physical or mental processes, is an unemotional caricature of reality.
At least, 'unemotional' in the sense that the bias is not of an obvious
kind; although some models of the universe as a rigid, mechanical
clockwork which, once wound up, must follow its unalterable course,
or of the human mind as a slot-machine, have turned out to be crude
caricatures inspired by unconscious bias.

The satire is a verbal caricature which distorts characteristic features
of an individual or society by exaggeration and simplification. The
features picked out for enlargement by the satirist are, of course, those
of which he disapproves: 'If Nature's inspiration fails', wrote Juvenal,
* indignation will beget the poem.* The comic efFect of the satire is
derived from the simultaneous presence, in the reader's mind, of the



VARIETIES OP HUMOUS



73



social reality with which he is familiar, and of its reflection in the
distorting mirror of the satirist. It focusses attention on abuses and
deformities in society of which, blunted by habit, we were no longer
aware; it makes us suddenly discover the absurdity of the familiar
and the familiarity of the absurd.

The same effect is achieved if, instead of magnifying objectionable
features in customs and institutions, the satirist projects them by means
of the allegory onto a different background, such as an animal society
e.g. Aristophanes, Swift, Orwell. In either case we are made suddenly
conscious of conventions and prejudices which we have unquestion-
ingly accepted, which were tacidy implied in the codes in control of
our thinking and behaviour. The confrontation with an alien matrix
reveals in a sharp, pitiless light what we failed to see in following our
dim routines; the tacit assumptions hidden in the rules of the game are
dragged into the open. The bisociative shock shatters the frame of
complacent habits of thinking; the seemingly obvious is made to yield
its secret.

'In this world of perfect justice, rich and poor alike have the right to
sleep under bridges/ Anatole France's classic epigram is a confrontation
of abstract democracy with the brutal facts of life; it conjures up the
image of a well-dressed bourgeois making use of his constitutional
rights to doss down, in the name of Liberte, Egalite, and Fratemite,
under the arches of the Pont de la Concorde. In its higher reaches the
satirist's art merges into the social scientist's quest for truth; Brave New
World and 1984 are extrapolations of present trends into the future;
Gulliver s Travels and Erewhon, on the other hand, follow the method
of the anthropologist, who deepens our understanding of our own
society by confronting it with the equally 'self-evident* beliefs and
customs of exotic civilizations.

Thus, as we travel across the triptych, satire shades into social science;
and this, in turn, branches out into the tragic allegory Plato's Cave
and Kafka's Casde or into poetic Utopia. The artistic hazards of the
latter are perhaps due to a conflict of emotions. Writers of Utopias are
motivated by revulsion against society as it is, or at least by a rejection
of its values; and since revulsion and rejection are aggressive attitudes,
it comes more naturally to them to paint a picture of society with a
brush dipped in adrenalin than in syrup or aspirin. Hence the contrast
between Huxley's brilliant, bitter Brave New World and the goody-
goody bores on his Island.

The satirist's most effective weapon is irony. Its aim is to defeat the



74



THE ACT OF CREATION



opponent on his own ground by pretending to accept his premisses,
his values, his methods of reasoning, in order to expose their implicit
absurdity. 'All animals are equal, but some are more equal than
others/ Irony purports to take seriously what it does not; it enters into
the spirit of the other person's game to demonstrate that its rules are
stupid or vicious. It is a subtle weapon, because the person who wields
it must have the imaginative power of seeing through the eyes of his
opponent, of projecting himself into the others mental world. The
psychiatrist who goes patiently along with the patient's fantasies, the
teacher who adapts his language to the level of comprehension of the
child, the dramatist who speaks through his characters' voices, employ
the same procedure with the opposite intent and effect.

The Misfit

Both Cicero and Francis Bacon gave deformity a high place on their
lists of causes for laughter. The princes of the Renaissance collected
midgets, hunchbacks, monsters, and Blackamoors for their merriment.
We have become too civilized for that kind of thing, but children still
jeer and laugh at people with a limp or a stammer, at foreigners with a
funny pronunciation, at people oddly dressed at any form of appear-
ance or behaviour which deviates from the familiar norm. The more
backwoodish a social group, juvenile or adult, the stricter its concep-
tion of the normal, and the readier it will ridicule any departure from it.

Consider for a moment the curious fact that to a civilized person a
stutterer causes sympathetic embarrassment, whereas a person of
normal speech giving an imitation of stuttering makes us laugh. So
does the youngster in love who stutters only under the effect of a
momentary surge of emotion. Again, a person with a foreign accent
is accepted with tolerance, but the imitation of a foreign accent is
comic. The explanation is that we know the imitator's stutter or mis-
prononunciation to be mere pretence; this makes sympathy both un-
necessary and impossible, and enables us to be childishly cruel with a
clear conscience. We have met the same phenomenon (page 71) in
our attitude towards the bodily deformities imputed by the caricaturist
to his victim.

The tolerant acceptance of physical or mental malformations in
our fellow creatures, though of relatively recent origin, has become
deeply engrained in Western society; we are no longer aware of the



VARIETIES OF HUMOUR



75



fact that it requires a certain imagination and a good deal of empathy
to recognize in a dwarf, or a 'thick-lipped Blackamoor', a human
being which, though different in appearance, exists and feels as one-
self does. In the small child this kind of projective mechanism is
absent or rudimentary. Piaget, among others, has strikingly shown
how late the child accords to its fellow beings a conscious ego like its
own. The more a person deviates from the familiar norm of the
child's surroundings, the more difficult it is for the child to project into
him life and feelings, to grant him the faculty of having experiences
like his own. The same applies to the attitudes shown by tribal or
parochial societies to foreigners, slaves, members of the lower classes'
(almost inevitably treated as comic figures in literature up to and in-
cluding Dickens); as well as to criminals, the mentally disordered and
physically deformed. The creature who does not 'belong' to the
tribe, clan, caste, or parish is not really human; he only aspires or
pretends to be 'like us'. To civilized man, a dwarf is comic only if he
struts about pretending to be tall, which is he not; in the primitive's
eye the dwarf is comic because he pretends to be human, which he is
not. The Greek word 'barbarian' means both foreigner and stutterer
(bar-bar-ous); the uncouth, repetitive, barking sounds he uttered
were a grotesque imitation of true human speech. Bodily and func-
tional deformities are laughable to the uncouth mind for the same
reasons as impersonation and caricature.



The Paradox of the Centipede

However, an additional factor enters into the comic effect of some dis-
orders of behaviour such as stuttering, mispronunciation, misspelling:
one might call it the bisociation of structure and function, or of part
and whole. The stammering barbarian was a comic figure to the Greeks
for reasons just mentioned; but the comedian's stage-stutter is funny in
a different way. When he struggles with a consonant, trying to take
the same hurdle again and again, eyes bulging and face convulsed, we
become suddenly aware of the complicated motions of lips and tongue
required to produce the sound 'M'; our attention becomes focussed
on these physiological details torn from their functional context and
placed under a magnifying glass, as it were. Much the same happens
when the gramophone needle gets stuck in a groove, and the soprano's
voice keeps repeating the same word on the same quaver. The part has



76



THE ACT OF CREATION



become detached from the whole and monopolizes attention as if it
existed in its own right, as an independent structural entity, regardless
of its function in the larger context from which alone its meaning is
derived. In one of Silone's novels an innocent peasant boy from the
Abruzzi drifts into a crowd in front of Mussolini's new forum, and
cannot understand why everybody keeps chanting in a chorus: 'Ce-du,
ce~du, ce-du, ce-du . . / The isolated quaver or consonant which has made
a declaration of independence, the syllables *du and *ce* torn from
their context, are examples of the conflict which can arise between part
and whole, structure and function, when to put it in a different way
the dependent part pretends to be an independent whole and forces
our attention to regard it as such.

When we exercise a well-practised skill the parts must function
smoothly and automatically they must never occupy the focus of
attention. This is true whether the skill in question is riding a bicycle,
playing the violin, ennunciating the letter *M', or forming sentences
according to the rules of grammar and syntax. The code which
controls the performance functions, as we repeatedly saw, on a
lower level of consciousness than the performance itselfon the
fringes of awareness or, in completely automatized skills, even beyond
the fringe. The moment attention is focussed on a normally auto-
matized part-function such as ennunciating consonants, the matrix
breaks down, the needle gets stuck, and the performance is paralysed
like the centipede who was asked in which order he moved his hundred
legs, and could walk no more.

The paradox of the centipede is a consequence of the hierarchic
organization of the nervous system which demands that the highest
centres should be occupied with the task in hand conceived as a whole,
and leave the execution of the component sub-tasks and sub-sub-tasks
to the sub-centres, etc., on lower levels of the nervous system. A
brigadier does not give orders to, and concentrate his attention on,
individual soldiers during action; if he does the action goes haywire.
The paradox of the centipede will be seen to play an important part
in discovery and the theory of thinking in general; in humour, apart
from the examples mentioned, it accounts for the comic effect of
the 'self-conscious* (in fact, detail-conscious) behaviour of the person
who does not know what to do with his hands; and also explains
why the comedian's clothes, and some foreign or bygone fashions, are
funny. Conventional articles of apparel are perceived as parts of a
person's appearance as a whole, whereas the comedian's checked



VARIETIES OF HUMOUR



77



trousers and the Victorian lady's busde disrupt the unity and force
attention on textiles and starched draperies leading an independent
life. Except when we are in a romantic mood: then a historical costume
on the stage is no longer seen detached from its wearer but attaches him
to the period.

Since I mentioned mispronunciation, I must add the obvious remark
that if the maltreated word assumes a different meaning, we get the
involuntary pun; and even if it does not, mispronunciation can be
funny if it follows its own logic which exposes the absurdities of con-
ventional spelling. Try on an innocent foreigner the sequence: a
coughing plough and a soughing trough; then see what happens.



Displacement

A car dealer is boosting a new sports model to a prospective client:

'You get into this car at midnight and at 4 a.m. you are in
Grimsby/

The customer is indignant: 'And what am I to do in the middle of
the night in Grimsby}*

The question is perfecdy logical, but irrelevant to the subject under
discussion, which is the speed of the car. The link-concept is * Grimsby
at 4 a.m.' which in one context plays the accidental part of an im-
provised example, in the second an essential part. This sudden shift
of emphasis or displacement of attention to a seemingly irrelevant
aspect of a bisociated concept is frequently found not only in humour,
but also in art and discovery (Chapters VIII, XXIII). It is related to the
paradox of the centipede, but instead of displacing attention from the
whole to the part it is displaced from a dominant to a previously neg-
lected aspect of the whole, showing it in a new light.

In the Ballad of Reading Gaol there are two unforgettable lines:

How else but through a broken heart
May Lord Christ enter in?

The broken heart has become such a cliche that its physical implica-
tions splitting apart and creating a gap are never thought of. Wilde
shifts our attention to that forgotten physical image; he lets salvation
enter through the aching gap, like a thief in the night. When the White



78



THE ACT OF CREATION



Queen complains: 'It's a poor sort of memory which only works
backwards,' she is putting her finger on an aspect of reality the
irreversibility of time which we normally take for granted; her
apparently silly remark carries metaphysical intimations, and appeals
to our secret yearning for the gift of prophecy matters which would
never occur to Alice, that little paragon of stubborn common sense.

Coincidence

It was once usual to classify comedies into those relying on situations,
manners, or characters. In his discussion of the first, Bergson came
closest to the essence of humour: 'A situation is always comic', he
wrote, 'if it participates simultaneously in two series of events which
are absolutely independent of each other, and if it can be interpreted
in two quite different meanings.' One feels like crying 'Fire', but a
couple of pages further on Bergson has dropped the clue and gone
back to his hobby: the interference of two independent series in a given
situation is merely a further example of the 'mechanization of life'.

In fact the crossing of two independent causal chains through
coincidence, mistaken identity, confusion of time and occasion, is the
most clean-cut example of bisociated contexts. The chance-coincidence
on which they are hinged is the dens ex machina, the intervention of
providence in both tragedy and comedy; and, needless to say, lucky
hazards play an equally conspicuous part in the history of scientific
discovery.

Nonsense

One type of comic verse lives on the bisociation of exalted form with
trivial content. Certain metric forms, such as hexameter and Alexan-
drine, arouse expectations of pathos, of the heroic and exalted; the
pouring of homely, trivial contents into these epic moulds 'beautiful
soup, so rich and green' creates a comic effect of the same type as the
parody. The rolling dactyls of the first line of the limerick, carrying,
instead of Hector and Achilles, a young lady from Stockton as their
passenger, make her already appear ridiculous, regardless of the calami-
tics which are sure to befall her. In this atmosphere of malicious ex-
pectation whatever witticism the text has to offer will have a much
enhanced effect.



VARIETIES OF HUMOUR 79

Instead of an epic mould, a soft, lyrical one will equally do:

. . . And what could be moister
Than tears from an oyster?

Another variant is what one might call the pseudo-proverb: 'The
rule is: jam tomorrow and jam yesterday but never jam today.* Two
logically incompatible statements have been telescoped into a line
whose rhythm and syntax gives the impression of being a popular
adage or golden rule of life. Sometimes the trick is done by the sub-
stitution of a single word in a familiar text: 'One should never work
between meals.' The homely, admonitory structure lulls the mind
into bored acquiescence until the preposterous subterfuge is discovered.
Oscar Wilde was a master of this form: 'In married life three is com-
pany and two none'; 'the only way to get rid of a temptation is to
yield to it', etc., etc. My own favourite coinage is: 'One should not
carry moderation to extremes/

Nonsense humour as Max Eastman has pointed out is only
effective if it, pretends to make sense: 'It's a fact the whole world knows
That Pobbles are happier without their toes.' Even with rhymed
gibberish the illusion of meaning is essential. 'The slithy toves' that
'gyre and gimble in the wabe' evoke sound associations which suggest
some kind of action even though we are unable to say what exactly the
action is perhaps some small creatures gyrating and gambolling on a
brilliant day in the web of some flowery bush. The meaning varies
with the person as the interpretation of the ink blots in a Rohrschach
test; but without this illusory meaning projected into the phonetic
pattern, without the simultaneous knowledge of being fooled, and of
fooling oneself, there would be no enjoyment of *the jabberwock with
eyes of flame' who 'came whiffling through the tulgey wood / And
burbled as it came'.

Tickling

The harmless game of tickling has resisted all attempts to find a unitary
formula for the causes of laughter; it has been the stumbling block
which made the theorists of the comic give up, or their theories break
down.

It was at one time believed that the laughter caused by tickling is a
purely mechanical reflex in response to a purely physical stimulation.



8o



THE ACT OF CREATION



But as Darwin has pointed out the response to tickling is
squirming, wriggling, and straining to withdraw the tickled part
activities which may or may not be accompanied by laughter. The
squirming response was interpreted by Darwin and Crile as an innate
defence mechanism to escape a hostile grip on vulnerable areas which
are not normally exposed to attack: the soles of the feet, the neck,
arm-pits, belly, and flank. If a fly settles on the belly of a horse a kind of
contractile wave may pass over the skin the equivalent of the
squkming of the tickled child. But the horse does not laugh when
tickled, and the child not always. As Gregory has put it:

A child fingers the pepper-pot, waves pepper into its nose, and
sneezes violently. Touch it under the arm-pits, or finger its waist,
and it wriggles vigorously. It sneezes to dislodge the pepper from its
nose, and its wriggle suggests a sneeze to relieve its whole body. The
violent squirm of the tickled child so obviously tries to avoid the
tickling hand that, when the truth is perceived, it is difficult to
understand how tickling and laughter could ever be identified or
confused. 3

Thus tickling a child will call out a wriggling and squirming
response. But the child will laugh only and this is the crux of the
matter if an additional condition is fulfilled: it must perceive the
1 tickling as a mack attack, a caress in a mildly aggressive disguise. This
; explains why people laugh only when tickled by others but not when
they tickle themselves. (The question why this should be so was once
put to a B.B.C. Brains Trust which, after some humming, hawing,
and giggling, decided that it was one of the insoluble mysteries of
human nature.) Not only must there be a second person to do the
tickling, but her expression and attitude must be mock-aggressive as
mothers and nurses instinctively know. Battle cries like peekaboo*
and 'bow-wow' pay guaranteed dividends, like the comedian's
imitation of the lion's roar. As in every attack, the element of surprise
plays an important part: the expert tickler's tactics never let the victim
guess when and where the next pressure or pincer movement will occur.
Experiments in tickling on babies under one year old showed that
babies laughed fifteen times more often when tickled by their mothers
than when they were tickled by strangers. For naturally the mock-
attack will make the baby laugh only if it knows that it is a mock-
attack; and with strangers one never knows. Even with its own mothf



VARIETIES OF HUMOUR



8l



there is an ever-so-slight feeling of uncertainty and apprehension, the
expression of which alternates with laughter in the baby's behaviour;
and it is precisely this element of apprehension between two tickles
which is relieved in the laughter accompanying the squirm. The rule
of the game is let me be just a little frightened so that I can enjoy the
relief.

Thus the mechanism is essentially the same as in comic impersona-
tion: the tickler impersonates an aggressor, but is simultaneously known
not to be one. It is probably the first situation encountered in life which
makes the infant live on two planes at once, the first delectable ex-
perience in bisociation a foretaste of pleasures to come at the panto-
mime show, of becoming a willing victim to the illusions of the stage,
of being tickled by the horror-thriller.

In adolescence, erotic elements enter into the game, and tickling
assumes the role of a sexual mock-attack acknowledged with
giggles which betray their origin in infantile apprehensions. Some
homosexuals claim to be extremely ticklish and display a tendency to
squirming and wriggling as an expression of mock-fright. But these
are secondary developments which partly iUuminate, partly confuse
the original pattern the tickled child's laughter is a discharge of
apprehensions recognized as unfounded by the intellect.

The Clown

Most of the comic techniques I have discussed can be found in the
repertory of the circus clown the classic incarnation of the coarser
type of humour. His face is a richly exaggerated caricature of stupidity,
sometimes with an infectious grimace of laughter painted on it; in
each piece of his apparel form battles against function; each of his
movements is a parody of grace. He is the victim and perpetrator of
preposterous practical jokes; he is both human and inert matter, for to
survive all the slaps, whacks, and cracks, his skull must be made of
ebony. He is the image in the distorting mirror, the clumsy imper-
sonator of acrobats, ballet dancers, and fairies: Caliban imitating Ariel.
He is a collection of deformities, bodily and functional; he stumbles
over obstacles and words; he is timid, gauche, eccentric, and absent-
minded. Above all, he is the man of gigantic efforts and diminutive
accomplishments: the midwife who aids the mountain to deliver the
mouse.



82



THE ACT OF CREATION



The clown's domain is the coarse, rich, overt type of humour: he
leaves nothing to be guessed, he piles it on. A good deal of the enjoy-
ment he causes is a mild gloating, the discharge of sadistic, sexual,
scatalogical impulses by way of the purifying channels of laughter.
One means of producing and prolonging this effect is repetition. The
clown and the clowning kind of music-hall comedian will tell, or act
out, a long-drawn narrative in which the same type of flash, the same
pattern, the same situation, the same key-words, recur again and
again. Although repetition diminishes the effect of surprise, it has a
cumulative effect on the emotive charge. The logical pattern is the
same in each repeat, but new tension is easily drawn into the familiar
channel. It is as if more and more liquid were being pumped into the
same punctured pipeline.



Originality, Emphasis, Economy

I have discussed the logic of humour and its emotive dynamics, and
have tried to indicate how to analyse a joke. But nothing has been said
so far about the criteria which decide whether it is a good, bad, or
indifferent joke. These are, of course, pardy a matter of personal taste,
partly dependent on the technique of the humorist; only the second is
our concern.

There are, I shall suggest, three main criteria of comic technique:
originality, emphasis, and economy. In the light of the previous
chapters we shall expect them to play also a significant part in the
techniques of scientific theorizing and artistic creation.

An art dealer (this story is authentic) bought a canvas signed
'Picasso' and travelled all the way to Cannes to discover whether it
was genuine. Picasso was working in his studio. He cast a single look
at the canvas and said: 'It's a fake'.

A few months later the dealer bought another canvas signed
Picasso. Again he travelled to Cannes and again Picasso, after a single
glance, grunted: It's a fake.'

'But cher mattre' expostulated the dealer, 'it so happens that I saw
you with my own eyes working on this very picture several
years ago.'

Picasso shrugged: 'I often paint fakes.'



VARIETIES OP HUMOUR



83



One measure of originality is its surprise effect. Picasso's reply
as the Marquis' in the Chamfort story is truly unexpected; with its
perverse logic, it cuts through the narrative like the blade of the
guillotine.

But creative originality is not so often met with either in art or in
humour. One substitute for it is suggestiveness through emphasis.
The cheap comedian piles it on; the competent craftsman plays in a
subtler way on our memories and habits of thought. Whenever in the
Contes Drolatiques Balzac introduces an abbe or a monk, our associa-
tions race ahead of the narrative in the delectable expectation of some
venal sin to be committed; yet when the point of the story is reached
we still smile, sharing the narrator's mock-indignation and pretended
surprise. In other words, anticipations of the type of joke or point to
come do not entirely destroy the comic effect, provided that we do not
know when and how exactly it will strike home. It is rather like a
game: cover my eyes and I shall pretend to be surprised. Besides, the
laughter provoked by spicy jokes is, as already said, only partly
genuine, partly a cloak to cover publicly less demonstrable emotions
regardless whether the story in itself is comic or not.

Suggestive techniques are essential; they create suspense and fac-
ilitate the listener's flow of associations along habit-formed channels.
A comic idea of a given logical pattern can be transposed into any
number of different settings; local colour and dialect help to establish
the atmosphere. The most effective stories are regional: Scottish,
Marseilles, Cockney; the mere mention of 'a man from Aberdeen'
establishes the matrix, the desired frame of mind. Thus suggestiveness
depends firstly on the choice of relevant stimuli as the biologist would
say. Next, all non-essential elements should be omitted, even at the
price of a certain sketchiness, otherwise attention will be sidetracked,
the tension frittered away: this is the technique of simplification. In
the third place the effect is increased by certain emphatic gestures,
inflections, a stress on dialect and slang: in a word, by exaggeration.
We have met these three related factors: selection, exaggeration,
simplification, in the technique of the caricature (and of the portrait
and blue-print); taken together they provide the means of high-
lighting aspects of reality considered to be significant. It is not sur-
prising that the same techniques enter into the artist's and humorist's
efforts to communicate with his audience.

However, except in the coarsest type of humour and the trashiest
forms of art, ^suggestion. through emphasises not enough; and it can



84



THE ACT OF CREATION



defeat its own purpose. It must be compensated by the opposite kind
of virtue: the exercise of economy, or, more precisely: the technique of
implication,

Picasso's *I often paint fakes' is at the same time original, emphatic,
and implicit. He does not say: * Sometimes, like other painters, I do
something second-rate, repetitive, an uninspired variation on a theme,
which after a while looks to me as if somebody had imitated my
technique. It is true that this somebody happened to be myself, but
that makes no difference to the quality of the picture, which is no
better than if it were a fake; in fact you could call it that an uninspired
J Picasso apeing the style of the true Picasso.'

None of this was said; all of it was implied. But the listener has to
, work out by himself what is implied in the laconic hint; he has to make
an imaginative effort to solve the riddle. If the answer were explicitly
given, on the lines indicated in the previous paragraph, the listener
would be both spared the effort and deprived of its reward; there would
be no anecdote to tell.

To a sophisticated audience any joke sounds stale if it is entirely
explicit. If this is the case the listeners thoughts will move faster than
tie narrator's tale or the unfolding of the plot; instead of tension it
will generate boredom. 'Economy' in this sense means the use of
hints in lieu of statements; instead of moving steadily on, the narrative
jumps ahead, leaving logical gaps which the listener has to bridge by
his own effort: he is forced to co-operate.

The operation of bridging a logical gap by inserting the missing
links is called interpolation. The series A, C, E, . . . K, M, O shows a
gap which is filled by interpolating G and I. On the other hand, I can
extend or extrapolate the series by adding to it R, T, V, etc. In the more
sophisticated forms of humour the listener must always perform either
or both of these operations before he can 'see the joke'. Take this
venerable example, quoted by Freud:

The Prince, travelling through his domains, noticed a man in the
cheering crowd who bore a striking resemblance to himself. He
beckoned him over and asked: 'Was your mother ever employed
in my palace?'

'No, Sire,' the man replied. 'But my father was.'

The logical pattern of the story is quite primitive. Two implied
codes of behaviour are brought into collision: feudal lords were



VARIETIES OF HUMOUR



85



supposed to have bastards; feudal ladies were not supposed to have
bastards; and there is a particularly neat, quasi-geometrical link pro-
vided by the reversible symmetry of the situation. The mild amuse-
ment which the story oiFers is partly derived from the malicious
pleasure we take in the Prince's discomfiture; but mainly from the
fact that it is put in the form of a riddle, of two oblique hints which the
listener must complete under his own steam, as it were. The dotted
lines in the figure below indicate the process (the arrow in M 1 may be
taken to represent the Prince's question, the other arrow, the reply).



I i 1

4


1

I

\-vntarpo(k
extmpodi


in*

MM/

dm/




H F "P

1111111 |T II Mill llli


JiJi



Figure 5



Incidentally, Wilde has coined a terser variation on the same theme:
'Lord Illingworth: "You should study the Peerage, Gerald. ... It is the
best thing in fiction the English have ever done." '

Nearly all the stories that I have quoted show the technique of
implication the hint, the oblique allusion in varying degrees: the
good litde boy who loves his mama; the man who never aimed as
high as that; the kind sadist, etc. Apart from inter- and extrapolation
(there is no need for our purposes to make a distinction between them)
a third type of operation is often needed to enable one to 'see the joke':
transformation, or reinterpretation, of the given data into some analogous
terms. These operations comprise the transformation of metaphorical
into literal statements, of verbal hints into visual terms, and the in-
terpretation of visual riddles of the New Yorker cartoon type. A good



86



THE ACT OF CREATION



example ('good', I am afraid, only from a theoretical point of view)
is provided by another story, quoted from Freud:

Two shady business men have succeeded in making a fortune and
were trying to elbow their way into Society. They had their portraits
painted by a fashionable artist; framed in gold, these were shown at
a reception in the grand style. Among the guests was a well-known
art critic. The beaming hosts led him to the wall on which the two
portraits were hanging side by side. The critic looked at them for a
long time, then shook his head as if he were missing something. At
length he pointed to the bare space between the pictures and asked:
'And where is the Saviour?'

A nice combination of transformation with interpolation.

Economy, in humour as in art, does not mean mechanical brevity
but implicitness. Implicit* is derived from the Latin word for 'folded
in'. To make a joke like Picasso's 'unfold', the listener must fill in the
gaps, complete the hints, trace the hidden analogies. Every good joke
contains an element of the riddle it may be childishly simple, or
subtle and challenging which the listener must solve. By doing so,
he is lifted out of his passive role and compelled to co-operate, to
repeat to some extent the process of inventing the joke, to re-create
it in his imagination. The type of entertainment dished out by the mass
media makes one apt to forget that true recreation is re-creation.

Emphasis and implication are complementary techniques. The first
bullies the audience into acceptance; the second entices it into mental
collaboration; the first forces the offer down the consumer s throat;
the second tantalizes, to whet his appetite.

In fact, both techniques have their roots in the basic mechanisms of
communicating thoughts by word or sign. Language itself is never
completely explicit. Words have suggestive, evocative powers; but
at the same time they are merely stepping stones for thought Economy
means spacing them at intervals just wide enough to require a signi-
ficant effort from the receiver of the message; the artist rules his sub-
jects by turning them into accomplices.

NOTE

To p. 70. C the analysis of an Osbert Lancaster cartoon in Insight and
Outlook, p. 80 f.



IV

FROM HUMOUR TO DISCOVERY
Explosion and Catharsis

Primitive jokes arouse crude, aggressive, or sexual emotions by
means of a minimum of ingenuity. But even the coarse laughter
in which these emotions are exploded often contains an additional
element of admiration for the cleverness of the joke and also of
satisfaction with one's own cleverness in seeing the joke. Let us call this
additional element of admiration plus self-congratulation the intellec-
tual gratification offered by the joke.

Satisfaction presupposes the existence of a need or appetite. Intellec-
tual curiosity, the desire to understand, is derived from an urge as
basic as hunger or sex: the exploratory drive (see below, XI, and
Book Two, VIII). It is the driving power which makes the rat learn
to find its way through the experimental maze without any obvious
incentive being offered in the form of reward or punishment; and also
the prime-mover behind human exploration and research. Its 'detached*
and 'cttsmtejrested' character the scientists' self-transcending absorption
hi the riddles of nature is, of course, often combined with ambition,
competition, vanity. But these self-assertive tendencies must Be restrained
and highly sublimated to find fulfilment in the mostly unspectacular
rewards of his slow and patient labours. There are, after all, more direct
methods of asserting one's ego than the analysis of ribonucleic acids.

When I called discovery the emotionally 'neutral' art I did not mean
by neutrality the absence of emotion which would be equivalent to
apathy but that nicely balanced and sublimated blend of motivations,
where self-assertiveness is harnessed to the task; and where on the other
hand heady speculations about the Mysteries of Nature must be
submitted to the rigours of objective verification.

We shall see that there are two sides to the manifestation of emotions
at the moment of discovery, which reflect this polarity of motivations.

87



88



THE ACT OF CREATION



One is the triumphant explosion of tension which has suddenly become
redundant since the problem is solved so you jump out of your bath
and run through the streets laughing and shouting Eureka! In the
second place there is the slowly fading after-glow, the gradual catharsis
of the self-transcending emotions a quiet, contemplative delight in
the truth which the discovery revealed, closely related to the artist's
experience of beauty. The Eureka cry is the explosion of energies which
must find an oudet since the purpose for which they have been
mobilized no longer exists; the carthartic reaction is an inward un-
folding of a kind of 'oceanic feeling*, and its slow ebbing away. The
first is due to the fact that T made a discovery; the second to the fact
that a discovery has been made, a fraction of the infinite revealed. The
first tends to produce a state of physical agitation related to laughter;
the second tends towards quietude, the 'earthing' of emotion, some-
times a peaceful overflow of tears. The reasons for this contrast will be
discussed later; for the time being, let us remember that, physiologically
speaking, the self-assertive tendencies operate through the massive
sympadiico-adrenal system which galvanizes the body into activity
whereas the seltranscending emotions have no comparable trigger-
mechanism at their disposal, and their bodily manifestations are in
every respect the opposite of the former: pulse and breathing are
slowed down, the muscles relax, the whole organism tends towards
tranquillity and catharsis. Accordingly, this class of emotions is devoid
of the inertial momentum which makes the rage-fear type of reactions
so often fall out of step with reasoning; the participatory emotions do
not become dissociated from thought. Rage is immune to understand-
ing; love of the self-transcending variety is based on understanding,
and cannot be separated from it.

Thus the impact of a sudden, bisociative surprise which makes
reasoning perform a somersault will have a twofold effect: part of the
tension will become detached from it and exploded while the remain-
ing part will slowly ebb away. The symbols



Figure 6 ~
on the triptych are meant to refer to these two modes of the discharge



FROM HUMOUR TO DISCOVERY



8 9



of tension: the explosion of the aggressive-defensive and the gradual
catharsis, or 'earthing', of the participatory emotions.

'Seeing the Joke' and 'Solving the Problem*

The dual manifestation of emotions at the moment of discovery is
reflected on a minor and trivial scale in our reactions to a clever joke.
The pleasant after-glow of admiration and intellectual satisfaction,
gradually fading, reflects the cathartic reaction; while the self-con-
gratulatory impulse a faint echo of the Eureka cry supplies added
voltage to the original charge detonated in laughter: that 'sudden
glory* (as Hobbes has it) 'arising out of our own eminency'.

Let our imagination travel once more across the triptych of creative
activities, from left to right, as it were. We can do this as we have seen,
by taking a short-cut from one wing to another, from the comic to the
tragic or sublime; or alternatively by following the gradual transitions
which lead from the left to the centre panel.

On the extreme left of the continuum the infra-red end of the
emotive spectrum we found the practical joke, the smutty story, the
lavatory humour of children, each with a heavy aggressive or sexual or
scatalogical load (which may be partly unconscious) ; and with a logical
structure so obvious that it required only a minimum of intellectual
effort to 'see the joke*. Put into a formula, we could say that the ratio
A : I where A stands for crude emotion, and I for intellectual stimu-
lation is heavily loaded in favour of the former.

As we move across the panel towards the right, this ratio changes, and
is ultimately reversed. In the higher forms of comedy, satire, and irony
the message is couched in implicit and oblique terms; the joke gradually
assumes the character of an epigram or riddle, the witticism becomes a
challenge to our wits:

'Psychoanalysis is the disease for which it pretends to be the cure/

'Philosophy is the systematic abuse of a terminology specially
invented for that purpose/

'Statistics are like a bikini. What they reveal is suggestive. What they
conceal is vital/

Or, Heine's description of a young virgin:

'Her face is like a palimpsest beneath the Gothic lettering of the
monk's sacred text lurks the pagan poet's hahveffaced erotic verse/
The crude aggression of the practical joke has been sublimated into



90



THE ACT OF CREATION



malicious ingenuity; gross sexuality into subtle eroticism. Incidentally,
if I had not mentioned that the last quotation was by Heine, whose
name combined with 'virgin arouses ominous expectations, but had
pretended instead that it was from a novel by D. H. Lawrence, it would
probably have impressed the reader as profoundly poetic instead of
malicious a short-cut from wing to wing, by reversal of the charge
from minus to plus. Again, imagine for a moment that the quotation
occurred in an essay by a Jungian psychologist and it will turn into an
emotionally neutral illustration of 'the intrusion of archetypes into
perception.

In cases like this the wording of the narrative (or the picture on the
canvas) can remain unaltered, and its transformation from a comic into
a poetic or intellectually enlightening message depends entirely on the
subjective attitude of the percipient.* However, the lines of correspon-
dence across the panels are meant to indicate more general patterns of
creative activity. Thus, as we move from coarse humour towards the
neutral zone, we find the bisociation of sound and meaning first exempli-
fied in the pun, then in word games (ranging from the crossword
puzzle to the decyphering of the Rosetta stone); lastly in alliteration,
asonance, and rhyme. The mind-matter theme we found expressed in
countless variations on all three panels; and each variation of it the
puppet on strings or Jack-in-the-Box was again seen as tri-valent.
Impersonation is used both in comedy and tragedy; but in between them
the medicine man in his mask, the cassocked priest in the confessional,
the psychiatrist in the role of the father, each impersonate a person or
power other than himself. The distorting mirror, with its emphasis on
one significant aspect to the exclusion of others, is used alike in the
caricature and in the scientist's diagrams and schemata; when Clavdia in
the Magic Mountain offers her lover an X-ray portrait of her chest as a
souvenir we hardly know on which of the three panels we are. Nor can
we draw a sharp line between social satire and sociological discovery:
Animal Farm and 1 984 taught a whole generation more about the nature
of totalitarianism than academic science did. One last example:

In i960 an anecdote in the form of an imaginary dialogue circulated
in the satellite countries of the East:

*Te51 me, Comrade, what is capitalism?'

'The exploitation of man by man/

'And what is Communism?'

'The reverse.'



FROM HUMOUR TO DISCOVERY



91



The double entendre on reverse* 'it pretends to be the opposite, but it
comes down to the same, only the exploiting is done by a different
gang' casts a new, sharp light on a hoary problem; it has the same
power of sudden iMumination as an epigram by Voltaire.

Similar borderline cases are brain-twisters, logical paradoxes,
mathematical games. Even chess problems can be both 'witty* and
'funny' if they contain some sudden reversal of logic, an ironical twist,
or an affront to chess common sense; the connoisseur will smile, or even
laugh, when he is shown the solution, and the tension suddenly snaps.
His laughter may signify 'how stupid of me not to have seen it* or 'not
to have seen it at once' or 'how clever of me', etc. To distinguish
between these cases would be splitting hairs, for the basic process is the
same: the tension has been dissociated from its original purpose and
must find some other oudet. When the string of the guitar snaps it
gives out a twang for precisely the same reason.

But this tension is no longer comparable to the emotions aroused in
the grosser types of humour. The intellectual challenge, which in the
coarse joke played such a subsidiary part, now dominates the picture;
the A : I ratio has been reversed. There may be vanity and competitive-
ness in rising to the challenge; but they are sublimated and held in
balance by a self-forgetting absorption in the problem.

As we cross the fluid boundary leading into the central panel of the
triptych, the task of 'seeing the joke* becomes the task of 'solving the
problem*. And when we succeed we no longer roar with laughter as at
the clowns antics; laughter gradually shades into an amused, then an
admiring smile reflecting the harmonic balance of opposites, the
sudden glory and quiet glow of intellectual satisfaction.

The Creation of Humour

Up to now I have been discussing the effects of humour on the
audience: the reader, listener, spectator. Let me turn from the con-
sumer's reactions to the processes which go in on the mind of the
producer the inventor of the joke, the creator of humour.

Humour depends primarily on its surprise effect: the bisociative
shock. To cause surprise the humorist must have a modicum of
originality the ability to break away from the stereotyped routines of
thought. Caricaturist, satirist, the writer of nonsense-humour, and even
the expert tickler, each operates on more than one plane. Whether his



92



THE ACT OF CREATION



purpose is to convey a social message, or merely to entertain, he must
provide mental jolts, caused by the collision of incompatible matrices.
To any given situation or subject he must conjure up an appropriate
or appropriately inappropriate intruder which will provide the jolt.

The first schoolboy to have the idea of sawing through the legs of
the master's chair must have been a genius (such practices were not
uncommon in my school-days in Hungary). His habitual outlets for
aggression being barred by the heavy penalties they would entail, he
must have been labouring under a creative stress which initiated his
search for an original solution of his problem. A chance observation
like the fall of Newton's apple may have provided the link to a
different frame of reference, where the object of his resentment was
merely a mass subject to the pull of gravity. Now all he had to do was
to transfer the scene of operations from the blocked matrix M 2 to this
auxiliary matrix M 2 . If this sounds facetious let us remember that
Bergson's theory of humour is based on this single facet.

In all forms of malicious wit there is an aggressive tendency at work
which, for one reason or another, cannot be satisfied by the usual
methods of reasoned argument, physical violence, or straight invective.
I shall call a matrix 'blocked' when its rules of the game' prove in-
applicable to the existing situation or problem in hand; when none of
the various ways of exercising a skill, however plastic and adaptable
that skill is, leads to the desired goal. The young officer in the Viennese
anecdote, resenting the courtesan's pretentious reply, is in the same
position as the frustrated schoolboy: he cannot reply: 'Come off the
high horse, I know that cash is all that matters to you,' without incur-
ring the penalties of vulgarity. Chamfort's Marquis cannot kill the
Bishop it would be an unpardonable lack of savoir-faire. Picasso
cannot tell the dealer that he is an insufferable bore who does not know
a Kokoschka from a Klee; that would be unkind.

But how do they discover the inspired reposte which saves the
situation? It sounds a simple question, but if psychology knew the
answer to it there would be no point in writing this book.

As a first step let us note a trivial fact: the officer's mental leap from
the metaphorical to the literal plane indicates a phenomenon already
discussed: the displacement of attention to a seemingly irrelevant feature
in this case from the poetic connotations of the lady's heart to its
concrete spatial location. (We remember that Wilde used a similar
displacement effect for a different purpose in 'How else but through a
broken heart . . .'). The Marquis achieves his aim to kill by ridicule



FROM HUMOUR TO DISCOVERY



93



by transferring his attention from the glaringly obvious consideration
that the Bishop is usurping his privileges, to an irrelevant side-line that
he is doing another man's job; as if the issue were a demarcation dispute
between the Boilermakers' and the Shipwrights' Unions on who should
drill the holes.

Thus in some of the cases we have discussed, the solution is arrived
at by a kind of 'thinking aside', a shift of attention to some feature of
the situation, or an aspect of the problem, which was previously
ignored, or only present on the fringes of awareness. The humorist
may stumble on it by chance; or, more likely, guided by some intuition
which he is unable to define. This gives us a first intimation of un-
conscious processes intervening in the creative act. The humorist's
achievement, represented on the neat diagrams in previous chapters,
appears as an exercise in pure intellectual geometry: 'Construct two
planes inclined at a given angle and generate two curves which intersect
in a given point.' In actual fact, however, the bisociative act, in humour
as in other branches of creativity, depends in varying degrees on
assistance from fringe-conscious or unconscious processes. Picasso's
illuminating grunt was certainly inspired by a process of this kind. On
the other hand, the mediocre cartoonist and other professional crafts-
men of the comic operate mostly with the same familiar matrices, fixed
at a given angle, as it were, governed by familiar rules of the game; and
their task is reduced to devising new links puns, gags, pegs for
parody. It is a mechanized kind of bisociative technique, which also has
its practitioners in science and art.



Paradox and Synthesis

There is an obvious contrast between the emotive reactions of creator
and consumer: the person who invents the joke or comic idea seldom
laughs in the process. The creative s tress under which he labours is not
of the same kind as T fe~emotIons aroused in te~aucUence. He is
cngage3 in an intellectual exercise, a feat of mental acrobatics; even if
motivated by sheer venom it must be distilled and sublimated. Once he
has hit on the idea and worked out the logical structure, the basic
pattern of the joke, he uses his tricks of the trade suspense, emphasis,
implication to work up the audience's emotions; and to make these
explode in laughter when he springs his surprise-effect on them.
Now the humorist may also experience surprise at the moment



94



THE ACT OF CREATION



when the idea hits him particularly if it was generated by the un-
conscious. But there is a basic difference between a shock imposed from
outside and a quasi seladniinistered shock. The humorist has solved
his problem by joining two incompatible matrices together in a para-
doxical synthesis. His audience, on the other hand, has its expectations
shattered and its reason affronted by the impact of the second matrix
on the first; instead of fusion there is collision; and in the mental dis-
array which ensues, emotion, deserted by reason, is flushed out in
laughter.

In the humorist's mind no such divorce occurs; he has nothing to
laugh about. At most he may, at the moment of inspiration, hit his
desk: 'I have got it.' But the creative stress which is relieved in such
minor gestures, symbolic of victory, of opposition vanquished, is of a
sublimated nature quite unlike the more primitive emotions puffed
away in the massive laughter of the audience. The contrast is further
illustrated in situations where a person fails to find the solution of a
brain-teaser and, on being told it, starts hitting, not the desk, but his
own benighted head. The redundant tension is worked off in a sym-
bolic gesture of self-punishment again a more specific oudet for
energies harnessed to intellectual tasks, than the laughter-channels of
least resistance.

The less suggestive and the more implicit the joke, the more will the
consumer's reactions approximate the producer's whose mental
effort he is compelled to re-create. When the witticism is transformed
into epigram, and teasing into challenge, the overflow reflex for
primitive emotions is no longer needed, and de-tension assumes more
individualized and sophisticated forms; the roar of Homeric laughter is
superseded by Archimedes's piercing cry or Kepler's holy ravings.

The creative act of the humorist consisted in bringing about a
momentary fusion between two habitually incompatible matrices,
i Scientific discovery, as we shall presendy see, can be described in very
similar terms as the permanent fusion of matrices of thought previ-
ously believed to be incompatible. Until the seventeenth century the
Copernican hypothesis of the earth's motion was considered as
obviously incompatible with commonsense experience; it was accord-
ingly treated as a huge joke by the majority of Galileo's contemporaries.
One of them, a famous wit, wrote: 'The disputes of Signor Galileo
have dissolved into alchemical smoke. So here we are at last, safely
back on a solid earth, and we do not have to fly with it as so many ants
crawling around a balloon.* 1



PROM HUMOUR TO DISCOVERY



95



The history of science abounds with examples of discoveries greeted
with howls of laughter because they seemed to be a marriage of in-
compatibles until the marriage bore fruit and the alleged incompati-
bility of the partners turned out to derive from prejudice. The humorist,
on the other hand, deliberately chooses discordant codes of behaviour
or universes of discourse to expose their hidden incongruities in the
resulting clash. Comicdiscovery is paradox stated scientific discovery
is paradox resolved.

gut here again we find, instead of a cleiu:.j3iyiding line, ^continuous
transitions. The paradoxes of Achilles and the Tortoise, or of the Cretan
Liar, have, during two millennia, tickled philosophers and teased
mathematicians into creative efforts; and Juvenal's 67 Natura negaujacit
indignatio versum remains as true as ever.

Summary

I have started this inquiry with an analysis of humour because it is
the only domain of creative activity where a complex pattern of
intellectual stimulation elicits a sharply defined response in the nature
of a physiological reflex.

The pattern underlying all varieties of humour is 'bisociative'
perceiving a situation or event in two habitually incompatible associa-
tive contexts. This causes an abrupt transfer of the train of thought from
one matrix to another governed by a different logic or 'rule of the
game'. But certain emotions, owing to their greater inertia and per-
sistence, cannot follow such nimble jumps of thought; discarded by
reason, they are worked off along channels of least resistance in
laughter.

The emotions in question are those of the self-assertive, aggressive-
defensive type, which are based on the sympathico-adrenal system and
tend to beget bodily activity. Their counter-parts are the participatory
or self-transcending emotions compassion, identification, raptness
which are mediated by physiological processes of a different type, and
tend to discharge not in laughter but in tears. As a rule our emotions
are a rnixture of both; but even in the more subtle or affectionate
varieties of humour, an element of aggression a drop of adrenalin
must be present to trigger off the reaction. Laughter is a luxury reflex
which could arise only in a creature whose reason has gained a
degree of autonomy from the urges of emotion, and enables him to



96



THE ACT OF CREATION



perceive his own emotions as redundant to realize that he has been
fooled.

After applying the theory to various types of the comic, I discussed
the criteria of the humorist's technique: originality or unexpectedness;
emphasis through selection, exaggeration and simplification; and
economy or implicitness which calls for extrapolation, interpolation
and transposition.

The term 'matrix' was introduced to refer to any skill or ability, to
any pattern of activity governed by a set of rules its 'code'. All
ordered behaviour, from embryonic development to verbal thinking,
is controlled by 'rules of the game', which lend it coherence and
stability, but leave it sufficient degrees of freedom for flexible strategies
adapted to environmental conditions. The ambiguity of the term 'code'
('code of laws' 'coded message*) is deliberate, and reflects a character-
istic property of the nervous system: to control all bodily activities by
means of coded signals.

The concept of matrices with fixed codes and adaptable strategies,
proposed as a unifying formula, appears to be equally applicable to
perceptual, cognitive, and motor skills and to the psychological
structures variously called 'frames of reference*, 'associative contexts',
'universes of discourse', mental 'sets', or 'schemata', etc. The validity of
the formula will be tested in the chapters which follow, on various
levels from morphogenesis to symbolic thought.

Matrices vary from fully automatized skills to those with a high
degree of plasticity; but even the latter are controlled by rules of the
game which function below the level of awareness. These silent codes
can be regarded as condensations of learning into habit. Habits are the
indispensable core of stability and ordered behaviour; they also have a
tendency to become mechanized and to reduce man to the status of a
conditioned automaton. The creative act, by co nnecting previous ly
unrelated dimensions of ex perience, enaTfl eTnim to attain to a higher
lev^rc7m"ental evo IuttonTiris ; an ."act of liberation the defeat of habit
byS3g!naTity? fE ~~~ """"* *



NOTES

To p. po. This, of course, equally applies to pictures. The same Rubens
nude will call forth different responses from a schoolboy, an art critic, and a nun.
In the National Gallery in Vienna there was once to be seen an admirable Leda of
the Venetian school, which bore the inscription: Nackend Weib von boser Gam
Gebissen (Naked Wench Bitten by Angry Goose).



FROM HUMOUR TO DISCOVERY



97



To. p. 96. As this book was nearing completion, Professor Burt kindly
brought to my attention a paper he wrote on "The Psychology of Laughter' for
a seminar of his post-graduate students, in which he had come to somewhat
similar conclusions:

'Laughter may be regarded as providing a safety-valve for the overflow of
emotional energy, instinctively excited by the perception of some specific situa-
tion which automatically tends to stimulate the instinct, but which on closer
examination is seen not to require energetic action. . . . Every stimulus to laughter
thus involves a double-entendre: there is first the superficial or manifest meaning
which tends to arouse an emotion appropriate to some serious situation (and
thus momentarily disturbing equilibrium), and secondly the deeper or latent
meaning (which contradicts the first impression); and the outlet of laughter is
provided to give immediate relief to the superfluous emotional excitement. . . .*
(Burt, 1945).







PART TWO

THE SAGE



V

MOMENTS OF TRUTH

The Chimpanzee and the Stick

That animals can display originality and inventiveness has been
asserted since Aesop, but experimentally demonstrated for the
first time by the German psychologist Wolfgang Kohler. In
19 1 8 Kohler published The Mentality of Apes, an account of his experi-
ments with chimpanzees on TenerifFe, which has since become a classic.
Here is a characteristic description of an animal discovering the use of
tools (my italics):

Nueva, a young female chimpanzee, was tested 3 days after her
arrival (nth March, 1914). She had not yet made the acquaintance of
the other ammals but remained isolated in a cage. A little stick is
introduced into her cage; she scrapes the ground with it, pushes the
banana skins together in a heap, and then carelessly drops the stick
at a distance of about three-quarters of a metre from the bars. Ten
minutes later, fruit is placed outside the cage beyond her reach. She
grasps at it, vainly of course, and then begins the characteristic
complaint of the chimpanzee: she thrusts both lips especially the
lower forward, for a couple of inches, gazes imploringly at the
observer, utters whimpering sounds, and finally flings herself on to
the ground on her back a gesture most eloquent of despair, which
may be observed on other occasions as well. Thus, between
lamentations and entreaties, some time passes, until about seven
minutes after the fruit has been exhibited to her she suddenly casts
a look at the stick, ceases her moaning, seizes the stick, stretches it out
of the cage, and succeeds, though somewhat clumsily, in drawing the
bananas within arm's length. Moreover, Nueva at once puts the end of
her stick behind and beyond her objective. The test is repeated after an
hour's interval; on this second occasion, the ariimal has recourse to

xox



102



THE ACT OF CREATION



the stick much sooner, and uses it with more skill; and at a third
repetition, the stick is used immediately, as on all subsequent
occasions. 1

It is obvious that Nueva was not led to her discovery by any process
of conditioning, or trial and error. Her behaviour from the moment
when her eyes fell on the stick was, in Kohler's words, 'unwaveringly
purposeful' : she seized the stick, carried it without hesitation to the bars,
stretched it out of the cage, and placed it behind the banana a
smooth, integrated sequence of actions, quite different from the erratic,
hit-and-miss behaviour of rats trying to find their way through a maze,
or cats trying to get out of a puzzle-box. It was an original, self-taught
accomplishment, which had no precedent in the chimpanzee's past. The
process which led to her discovery can be described as a synthesis of two
previously unconnected skills, acquired in earlier life. In the first place,
Nueva had learned to get at bananas outside her cage by squeezing an
arm or foot through the bars; the ensemble of variations of this simple
skill constitutes matrix number one. She had also acquired the habit
matrix number two of scraping the earth with a stick and of pushing
objects about with it. But in this playful activity the stick was never
used for any utilitarian purpose; to throw, push, or roll things about is
a habit common to a variety of young animals. Nueva's discovery
consisted in applying this playful habit as an auxiliary matrix to get at
the banana. The moment of truth occurred when Nueva's glance fell
on the stick while her attention was set on the banana. At that moment
the two previously separate matrices fused into one, and the 'stick to
play with* became a 'rake to reach with' an implement for obtaining
otherwise unobtainable objects.

Like many other discoveries, Nueva's seems a simple and obvious
one but only after the fact. A dog, for instance, will carry a stick
between his teeth, but he will never learn to use it as a rake. Moreover,
chimpanzees are not the only species which finds it difficult to apply a
'playful* technique to a utilitarian purpose with which it had not been
connected in previous experience; a number of discoveries in the
history of human science consisted in just that. Galileo astonished the
world when he turned the telescopic toys, invented by Dutch opticians,
to astronomic use; the invention of the steam engine as a mechanical
toy by Hero of Alexandria in the second century B.C. had to wait two
thousand years before it was put to practical use; the geometry of conic
sections which Apollonius of Perga had studied in the fourth century



MOMENTS OF TRUTH



103



B.C. just for the fun of it, gave Kepler, again two thousand years later,
his elliptical orbits of the planets; the passion for dice of the Chevalier
de Mere, made him approach Pascal for advice on a safe gambling
system, and thus was the theory of probability born, that indispensable
tool of modern physics and biology, not to mention the insurance
business. 'It is remarkable', wrote Laplace, 'that a science which began
with considerations of play has risen to the most important objects of
human knowledge.' Thus at the very start of our inquiry we hit on a
pattern the discovery that a playful or Vart pour Van technique
provides an unexpected clue to problems in a quite different field
which is one of the leitmotifs in the history of science.

Nueva's discovery was the use of tools; the next one to be described
is the making of tools. Its hero is Sultan, the genius among Kohler's
chimpanzees:

(17.2. 1914) Beyond some bars, out of arm's reach, lies an objective
[a banana]; on this side, in the background of the experiment room,
is placed a sawn-off castor-oil bush, whose branches can be easily
broken off. It is impossible to squeeze the tree through the railings, on
account of its awkward shape; besides, only one of the bigger apes
could drag it as far as the bars. Sultan is let in, does not immediately
see the objective, and, looking about him indifferently, sucks one of
the branches of the tree. But, his attention having been drawn to the
objective, he approaches the bars, glances outside, the next moment
turns round, goes straight to the tree, seizes a thin slender branch,
breaks it off with a sharp jerk, runs back to the bars, and attains the
objective. From the turning round upon the tree up to the grasping
of the fruit with the broken-off branch, is one single quick chain of
action, without the least 'hiatus', and without the slightest movement
that does not, objectively considered, fit into the solution described. 2

Had Sultan known Greek he would certainly have shouted Eureka!
Kohler comments:

For adult man with his mechanized methods of solution, proof is
sometimes needed, as here, that an action was a real achievement, not
something self-evident; that the breaking off a branch from a whole
tree, for instance, is an achievement over and above the simple use of a
stick, is shown at once by animals less gifted than Sultan, even when
they understand the use of sticks beforehand. 3



104



THE ACT OF CREATION



It has been said that discovery consists in seeing an analogy which
nobody had seen before. Solomon discovered the analogy between the
Shulamite's neck and a tower of ivory. Sultan discovered that a
twisted branch on a tree with leaves on it had something in common
with a straight, lifeless bamboo-pole lying on the ground. What they
had in common was very little: let us say that both looked 'hardish' and
longish', but that is all. The branch, which previously was part and
parcel of the tree, was wrenched out of its visual context both
figuratively and literally speaking and made into a part of another,
functional, context.

The now familiar shift of awareness to the previously unimportant
'pole-like* aspect of the branch was very prettily demonstrated by
another of Kohler's chimpanzees, Koko. It took Koko much longer
to make the same discovery as Sultan; and when at last he had broken
off a branch from the tree to use it as a stick, and marched with it
towards the banana outside the cage, he:

eagerly picked off one leaf after the other, so that only the long, bare
stem was left . . . The pulling off of the leaves is both correct and
incorrect; incorrect because it does not make the stem any longer,
correct because it makes its length show up better and the stem thus
becomes optically more like a stick. . . . There can be no doubt that
Koko did not pull off the leaves in play only; his look and his move-
ments prove distinctly that throughout the performance his attention
is wholly concentrated on the banana; he is merely concerned now
with preparing the implement. Play looks quite different; and I have
never seen a chimpanzee play while (like Koko in this case) he was
showing himself distinctly intent upon his ultimate purpose. 4

Before the chimpanzee actually broke off the branch there must
have been a moment when he perceived it as a member of both matrices
at the same time still a part of the tree but already a detached tool. Thus
one could say that Sultan had seen a visual pun: a single form (the
branch) attached to two different functions.

The act of discovery has a disruptive and a constructive aspect. It
must disrupt rigid patterns of mental organization to achieve the new ,
synthesis. Sultan's habitual way of looking at the tree as a coherent, j
visual whole had to be shattered. Once he had discovered that branches
can be made into tools he never again forgot it, and we may assume
that a tree never again looked the same to him as before. He had lost



MOMENTS OF TRUTH



105



the innocence of his vision, but from this loss he derived an immense
gain: the perception of 'branches' and the manipulation of 'tools' were
now combined into a single, sensory-motor skill; and when two
matrices have become integrated they cannot again be torn asunder.
This is why the discoveries of yesterday are the commonplaces of today,
and why we always marvel how stupid we were not to see what pos^
factum appears to be so obvious.



Archimedes

Let me illustrate the last point by a human discovery which has much
in common with Sultan's: the Principle of Archimedes. I must tell the
story in a somewhat simplified form.

Hiero, tyrant of Syracuse and protector of Archimedes, had been
given a beautiful crown, allegedly of pure gold, but he suspected that
it was adulterated with silver. He asked Archimedes's opinion.
Archimedes knew, of course, the specific weight of gold that is to
say, its weight per volume unit. If he could measure the volume of the
crown he would know immediately whether it was pure gold or not;
but how on earth is one to determine the volume of a complicated
ornament with all its filigree work? Ah, if only he could melt it down
and measure the liquid gold by the pint, or hammer it into a brick of
honest rectangular shape, or . . . and so on. At this stage he must have
felt rather like Nueva, flinging herself on her back and uttering
whimpering sounds because the banana was out of her grasp and the
road to it blocked.

Blocked situations increase stress. Under its pressure the chimpanze e
reverts to erratic and repetitive! random a ttemp ts ; in Archimedes's ca se
we can imagine his th oughts movin g round in circles w itHn the frame
o f his geometricalTaiowle d ge; and finding all approaches to th e target
Socked, returning again and again to the starting point. This
frustrating situation, familiar to everybody trying to solve a difficult
problem, may be schematized as in the following diagram, where 'S'
represents the starting point, the loops are trains of thought within the
blocked matrix, and "T represents the target (that is: a method of
measuring the volume of the crown') which, unfortunately, is
located outside the plane of the matrix.

One day, while getting into his bath, Archimedes watched absent-
rnindedly the familiar sight of the water-level rising from one smudge




Figure 7



on the basin to the next as a result of the immersion of his body, and
it occurred to him in a flash that the volume of water displaced was
equal to the volume of the immersed parts of his own body which
therefore could simply be measured by the pint. He had melted his
body down, as it were, without harming it, and he could do the same
with the crown.

Once more, as in the case of the chimpanzee, the matter is childishly
simple after the fact but let us try to put ourselves in Archimedes's
place. He was in the habit of taking a daily bath, but the experiences
and ideas associated with it moved along habit-beaten tracks: the
sensations of hot and cold, of fatigue and relaxation, and a pretty slave-
girl to massage his limbs. Neither to Archimedes nor to anybody else
before him had it ever occurred to connect the sensuous and trivial
occupation of taking a hot bath with the scholarly pursuit of the
measurement of solids. No doubt he had observed many times that the
level of the water rose whenever he got into it; but this fact, and the
distance between the two levels, was totally irrelevant to him until it
'suddenly became bisociated with his problem. At that instant he
realized that the amount of rise of the water-level was a simple measure
of the volume of his own complicated body.
The discovery may now be schematized as follows (Figure 8):
M x is the same as in the preceding diagram, governed by the habitual
rules of the game, by means of which Archimedes originally tried to
solve the problem; M 2 is the matrix of associations related to taking a
bath; m 2 represents the actual train of thought which effects die
connection. The Link L may have been a verbal concept (for instance:

106





II

1


1 III

1 1?

IL


-T rr

. :


a

11/


Z^C^ Kid




III


III


fl


ii' 1


! liil



Figure 8



'rise of water-level qw
equally well have been a visual impression in which the water-level
was suddenly seen to correspond to the volume of the immersed parts
of the body and hence to that of the crown whose image was
constandy lurking on the fringe of his consciousness. The essential
point is, that at the critical moment both matrices M t and M 2 were
simultaneously active in Archimedes's mind though presumably on
different levels of awareness. The creative stress resulting from the
blocked situation had kept the problem on the agenda even while the
beam of consciousness was drifting along quite another plane. With-
out this constant pressure, the favourable chance-constellation would
have passed unnoticed and joined the legion of man's missed
opportunities for a creative departure from the stale habits of thought
which numb his mental powers.

The sequel to the discovery is well known; because of its picturesque A
appeal I shall occasionally refer to discovery in its psychological aspect
as the 'Eureka process' or 'Eureka act'.

Let us look at Archimedes's discovery from a different angle.
When one climbs into a bath one knows that the water-level will
rise owing to its displacement by the body, and that there must be as
much water displaced as there is body immersed; moreover, one
mechanically estimates the amount of water to be let into the bath
because of this expectation. Archimedes, too, must have known all this

107



io8



THE ACT OF CREATION



but he had probably never before verbalized, that is, consciously
formulated that bit of knowledge. Yet implicitly it was there as part of
his mental equipment; it was, so to speak, included in the code of
rules of bath-taking behaviour. Now we have seen that the rules which
govern the matrix of a skill function on a lower level of awareness than
the actual performance itself whether it is playing the piano, carrying
on a conversation, or taking a bath. We have also seen that the
bisociative shock often has the effect of making such implicit rules
explicit, of suddenly focussing awareness on aspects of experience
which had been unverbalized, unconsciously implied, taken for
granted; so that a familiar and unnoticed aspect of a phenomenon like
the rise of the water-level is suddenly perceived at an unfamiliar and
significant angle. Discovery often means simply the uncovering of
something which has always been there but was hidden from the eye
by the blinkers of habit.

This equally applies to the discoveries of the artist who makes us see
familiar objects and events in a strange, new, revealing light as if
piercing the cataract which dims our vision. Newton's apple and
Cezanne's apple are discoveries more closely related than they seem.

Chance and Ripeness

Nearly all of Kohler's chimpanzees sooner or later learned the use of
implements, and also certain methods of making implements. But a dog,
however skilful in carrying a stick or a basket around, will never learn
to use the stick to get a piece of meat placed outside its reach. We might
say that the chimpanzees were ripe to discover the use of tools when a
favourable chance-opportunity presented itself such as a stick lying
around just when needed. The factors which (among others) constitute
ripeness for this type of discovery are the primates' manual dexterity
and advanced oculo-motor co-ordination, which enable them to
develop the playful habit of pushing objects about with branches and
sticks. Each of the separate skills, whose synthesis constitutes the new
discovery, was well established previously and frequently exercised. In
a similar way Archimedes's mental skill in manipulating abstract
concepts like volume and density, plus his acute powers of observation,
even of trivia, made him 'ripe' for his discovery. In more general terms:
the statistical probability for a relevant discovery to be made is the
greater the more firmly established and well exercised each of the still



MOMENTS OF TRUTH



109



separate skills, or thought-matrices, are. This explains a puzzling but
recurrent phenomenon in the history of science: that the same discovery
is made, more or less at the same time, by two or more people; and it
may also help to explain the independent development of the same
techniques and similar styles of art in different cultures.

Ripeness in this sense is, of course, merely a necessary, not a sufficient,
condition of discovery. But it is not quite such an obvious concept as
it might seem. The embittered controversies between different schools
in experimental psychology about the nature of learning and under-
standing can be shown to derive to a large extent from a refusal to take
the factor of ripeness seriously. The propounders of Behaviouristic
psychology were wont to set their animals tasks for which they were
biologically ill-fitted, and thus to prove that new skills could be
acquired only through conditioning, chaining of reflexes, learning by
rote. Kohler and the Gestalt school, on the other hand, set their
chimpanzees tasks for which they were ripe or almost ripe, to prove that
all learning was based on insight. The contradictory conclusions at
which they arrived need surprise us no more than the contrast between
the learning achievements of a child of six months and a child of six
years. This is a necessarily over-simplified description (for a detailed
treatment see Book Two, XII); the only point I wish to make is that
the more ripe a situation is for the discovery of a new synthesis, the
less need there is for the helping hand of chance.

Archimedes's eyes falling on the smudge in the bath, or the
chimpanzee's eyes falling upon the tree, are chance occurrences of such
high probability that sooner or later they were bound to occur; chance
plays here merely the part of triggering off the fusion between two
matrices by hitting on one among many possible appropriate links. We
may distinguish between the biological ripeness of 'a species to form a new
adaptive habit or acquire a new skill, and the ripeness of a culture t o
make and to exploit a ne w discovery. Hero's steam e ngine could^
o bviously fee exploitednToTrn duscrial purposes on
technological and social conditions mack k bo^
Lastly (or firstly), there is the personal factor the role of the creative
individual in achieving a synthesis for which the time is more or less ripe.

The emphasis is on the 'more or less*. If ripeness were all as
Shakespeare and the Marxist theory affirm the role of Renins, in
history would be r educed from hero to mi3w ife. who assists th e
inevitable birt h; and the act of cre atio n would be merely a consumma-
ttonoTthe preordained. But the old controversy whether individuals



110



THE ACT OF CREATION



make or are made by history acquires a new twist in the more limited
field of the history of science. The twist is provided by the phenomenon
of multiple discoveries. Historical research into this curious subject is
of fairly recent origin; it came as a surprise when, in 1922, Ogburn and
Thomas published some hundred and fifty examples of discoveries and
inventions which were made independently by several persons; and,
more recently, Merton came to the seemingly paradoxical conclusion
that 'the pattern of independent multiple discoveries in science is . . .
the dominant pattern rather than a subsidiary one'. 5 He quotes as an
example Lord Kelvin, whose published papers contain 'at least thirty-
two discoveries of his own which he subsequendy found had also been
made by others'. The 'others' include some men of genius such as
Cavendish and Helmholtz, but also some lesser lights.

The endless priority disputes which have poisoned the supposedly
serene atmosphere of scientific research throughout the ages, and the
unseemly haste of many scientists to establish priority by rushing into
print or, at least, depositing manuscripts in sealed envelopes with
some learned society point in the same direction. Some among them
Galileo and Hooke even went to the length of publishing half-
completed discoveries in the form of anagrams, to ensure priority
without letting rivals in on the idea. Kohlers chimpanzees were of a
more generous disposition.

Thus one should not underestimate ripeness as a factor facilitating
discoveries which, as the saying goes, are 'in the air' meaning, that
the various components which will go into the new synthesis are all
lying around and only waiting for the trigger-action of chance, or the
catalysing action of an exceptional brain, to be assembled and welded
together. If one opportunity is missed, another will occur.

But, on the other hand, although the infinitesimal calculus was
developed independendy by Leibniz and by Newton, and a long line
of precursors had paved the way for it, it still required a Newton or a
Leibniz to accomplish the feat; and the greatness of this accomplish-
ment is hardly diminished by the fact that two among millions, instead
of one among millions, had the exceptional genius to do it. We are
concerned with the question how they did it the nature of creative
originality and not with the undeniable, but trivial consideration that
if they had not lived somebody else would have done it some time; for
that leaves the same question to be answered, to wit, how that someone
else did it. I shall not presume to guess whether outstanding individuals
such as Plato and Aristode, Jesus of Nazareth and Paul of Tarsus,



MOMENTS OF TRUTH



III



Aquinas, Bacon, Marx, Freud, and Einstein, were expendable in the
above sense, so that the history of ideas in their absence would have
taken much the same course or whether it is the creative genius who
determines the course of history. I merely wish to point out that some
of the major break-throughs in the history of science represent such
dramatic tours de force, that 'ripeness* seems a very lame explanation,
and chance* no explanation at all. Einstein discovered the principle of
relativity 'unaided by any observation that had not been available for at
least fifty years before*; 6 the plum was overripe, yet for half a century
nobody came to pluck it. A less obvious example is Everist Galois, one
of the most original mathematicians of all times, who was killed in an
absurd duel in 1832, at the age of twenty. In the night before the duel
he revised a paper to the Academie des Sciences (which had previously
rejected it as unintelligible); then, in a letter to a friend, he hurriedly
put down a number of other mathematical discoveries. 'It was only
after fifteen years, that, with admiration, scientists became aware of the
memoir which the Academy had rejected. It signifies a total transforma-
tion of higher algebra, projecting a full light on what had been only
glimpsed thus far by the greatest mathematicians . . .' 7 Furthermore, in
the letter to his friend, Galois postulated a theorem which could not
have been understood by his contemporaries because it was based on
mathematical principles which were discovered only a quarter century
after his death. It must be admitted,* another great mathematician
commented, 'first, that Galois must have conceived these principles in
some way; second, that they must have been unconscious in his mind
since he makes no allusion to them, though they by themselves
represent a significant discovery.* 8

This leads us to the problem of the part played by unconscious
processes in the Eureka act.

Pythagoras, according to tradition, is supposed to have discovered
that musical pitch depends on the ratio between the length of vibrating
chords the starting point of mathematical physics by passing in
front of the local blacksmith on his native island of Samos, and
noticing that rods of iron of different lengths gave different sounds
under the blacksmith's hammer. Instead of ascribing it to chance, we *
suspect that it was some obscure intuition which made Pythagoras stop
at the blacksmith's shop. But how does that kind of intuition work?
Here is the core of the problem of discovery both in science and in art.



Logic and Intuition



I shall briefly describe, for the sake of contrast, two celebrated discov-
eries of entirely different kinds: the first apparently due to conscious,
logical reasoning aided by chance; the second a classic case of the
intervention of the unconscious.

Eighteen hundred and seventy-nine was the birth-year of immun-
ology the prevention of infectious diseases by inoculation. By that
time Louis Pasteur had already shown that cattle fever, rabies, silkworm
disease, and various other afflictions were caused by micro-organisms,
and had firmly established the germ theory of disease. In the spring of
1879 he was fifty-seven at that time Pasteur was studying chicken
cholera. He had prepared cultures of the bacillus, but for some reason
this work was interrupted, and the cultures remained during the whole
summer unattended in the laboratory. In the early autumn, however,
he resumed his experiments. He injected a number of chickens with the
bacillus, but unexpectedly they became only slightly ill and recovered.
He concluded that the old cultures had been spoilt, and obtained a new
culture of virulent bacilli from chickens afflicted by a current outbreak
of cholera. He also bought a new batch of chickens from the market
and injected both lots, the old and the new, with the fresh culture. The
newly bought chicks all died in due time, but, to his great surprise the
old chicks, who had been injected once already with the ineffective
culture, all survived. An eye-witness in the lab described the scene
which took place when Pasteur was informed of this curious develop-
ment. He 'remained silent for a minute, then exclaimed as if he had
seen a vision: "Don't you see that these animals have been vaccinated?' 9

Now I must explain that the word vaccination was at that time
already a century old. It is derived from v acca, cow. Some time in the
1760s a young medical student, Edward Jenner, was consulted by a
Gloucester dairymaid who felt out of sorts. Jenner thought that she
might be suffering from smallpox, but she prompdy replied: 'I cannot
take the smallpox because I have had the cow-pox/ After nearly
twenty years of struggle against the scepticism and indifference of the
medical profession, Jenner succeeded in proving the popular belief that
people who had once caught the cow-pox were immune against
smallpox. Thus originated Vaccination' the preventive inoculation of
human beings against the dreaded and murderous disease with material
taken from the skin sores of afflicted catde. Although Jenner realized
that cow-pox and smallpox were essentially the same disease, which

112



MOMENTS OF TRUTH



113



became somehow modified by the organism which carried it, he did
not draw any general conclusions from his discovery. 'Vaccination'
soon spread to America and became a more or less general practice in
a number of other countries, yet it remained limited to smallpox, and
the word itself retained its exclusively bovine connotations.

The vision which Pasteur had seen at that historic moment was, once
again, the discovery of a hidden analogy: the surviving chicks of the
first batch were protected against cholera by their inoculation with the
'spoilt* culture as humans are protected against smallpox by inoculation
with pox bacilli in a modified, bovine form.

Now Pasteur was well acquainted with Jenner's work. To quote one
of his biographers, Dr. Dubos (himself an eminent biologist): 'Soon
after the beginning of his work on infectious diseases, Pasteur became
convinced that something similar to "vaccination" was the best ap-
proach to their control. It was this conviction that made him per-
ceive immediately the meaning of the accidental experiment with
chickens.'

In other words, he was 'ripe' for his discovery, and thus able to
pounce on the first favourable chance that offered itself. As he himself
said:jFortune favours the prepared mind.' Put in this way, there seems
to be nothing very awe-inspiring in Pasteur's discovery. Yet for about
three-quarters of a century Vaccination had been a common practice
in Europe and America; why, then, did nobody before Pasteur hit on
the 'obvious' idea of extending vaccination from smallpox to other
diseases? Why did nobody before him put two and two together?
Because, to answer the question literally, the first 'two* and the second
'two' appertained to different frames of reference. The first was the
technique of vaccination; the second was the hitherto quite separate
and independent research into the world of micro-organisms: fowl-
parasites, silkworm-bacilli, yeasts fermenting in wine-barrels, invisible
viruses in the spittle of rabid dogs. Pasteur succeeded in combining
these two separate frames because he had an exceptional grasp of the
rules of both, and was thus prepared for the moment when chance
provided an appropriate link.

He knew what Jenner knew not that the active agent in Jenner's
'vaccine* was the microbe of the same disease against which the subject
was to be protected, but a microbe which in its bovine host had under-
gone some kind of 'attenuation'. And he further realized that the
cholera bacilli left to themselves in the test-tubes during the whole
summer had undergone the same kind of 'attenuation' or weakening.



114



THE ACT OF CREATION



as the pox bacilli in the cow's body. This led to the surprising, almost
poetic, conclusion, that life inside an abandoned glass tube can have
the same debilitating effect on a bug as life inside a cow. From here
on the implications of the Gloucestershire dairymaid's statement
became gloriously obvious: 'As attenuation of the bacillus had oc-
curred spontaneously in some of his cultures [just as it occurred
inside the cow], Pasteur became convinced that it should be possible
to produce vaccines at will in the laboratory. Instead of depending upon
the chance of naturally occurring immunizing agents, as cow-pox was
for smallpox, vaccination could then become a general technique
applicable to all infectious diseases.' 9

One of the scourges of humanity had been eliminated to be
replaced in due time by another. For the story has a sequel with an
ironic symbolism, which, though it does not strictly belong to the
subject, I cannot resist telling. The most famous and dramatic applica-
tion of Pasteur's discovery was his anti-rabies vaccine. It was tried for
the first time on a young Alsatian boy by name of Josef Meister, who
had been savagely bitten by a rabid dog on his hands, legs, and thighs.
Since the incubation period of rabies is a month or more, Pasteur hoped
to be able to immunize the boy against the deadly virus which was
already in his body. After twelve injections with rabies vaccine of
increasing strength the boy returned to his native village without
having suffered any ill effects from the bites. The end of the story is
told by Dubos: 'Josef Meister later became gatekeeper at the Pasteur
Institute in Paris. In 1940, fifty-five years after the accident that gave
him a lasting place in medical history, he committed suicide rather
than open Pasteur's burial crypt for the German invaders.' 9 * He was
evidently predestined to become a victim of one form of rabidness
or another.

Now for a discovery of a diametrically opposite kind, where
intuition plays the dominant part. The extracts which follow are from
a celebrated lecture by Henri Poincare at the Societi de Psychologie in
Paris, and concern one of his best-known mathematical discoveries: the
theory of the so-called 'Fuchsian functions'. To reassure the reader I
hasten to quote from Poincare's own introductory remarks:

I beg your pardon; I am about to use some technical expressions,
but they need not frighten you for you are not obliged to understand
them. I shall say, for example, that I have found the demonstration



MOMENTS OB TRUTH



115



of such a theorem under such circumstances. This theorem will
have a barbarous name unfamiliar to many, but that is unimportant;
what is of interest for the psychologist is not the theorem but
the circumstances. . . .

And now follows one of the most lucid introspective accounts of
the Eureka act by a great scientist:

For fifteen days I strove to prove that there could not be any
functions like those I have since called Fuchsian functions. I was
then very ignorant; every day I seated myself at my work table,
stayed an hour or two, tried a great number of combinations, and
reached no results. One evening, contrary to my custom, I drank
black coffee and could not sleep. Ideas rose in crowds; I felt them
collide until pairs interlocked, so to speak, making a stable com-
bination. By the next morning I had established the existence of a
class of Fuchsian functions, those which come from the hypergeo-
metric series; I had only to write out the results, which took but a
few hours.

Then I wanted to represent these functions by the quotient of two
series; this idea was perfecdy conscious and deliberate, the analogy
with elliptic functions guided me. I asked myself what properties
these series must have if they existed, and I succeeded without diffi-
culty in forming the series I have called theta-Fuchsian.

Just at this time I left Caen, where I was then living, to go on a
geologic excursion under the auspices of the school of mines. The
changes of travel made me forget my mathematical work. Having
reached Coutances, we entered an omnibus to go some place or
other. At the moment when I put my foot on the step the idea came
to me, without anything in my former thoughts seeming to have
paved the way for it, that the transformations I had used to define
the Fuchsian functions were identical with those of non-Euclidean
geometry. I did not verify the idea; I should not have had time, as,
upon taking my seat in the omnibus, I went on with a conversation
already commenced, but I felt a perfect certainty. On my return to
Caen, for conscience' sake I verified the result at my leisure.

Then I turned my attention to the study of some arithmetical
questions apparently without much success and without a suspicion
of any connection with my preceding researches. Disgusted with my
failure, I went to spend a few days at the seaside, and thought of



Il6 THE ACT OF CREATION

something else. One morning, walking on the bluff, the idea came to
me, with just the same characteristics of brevity, suddenness, and
immediate certainty, that the arithmetic transformations of indeter-
minate ternary quadratic forms were identical with those of non-
Euclidean geometry.

Returned to Caen, I meditated on this result and deduced the
consequences. The example of quadratic forms showed me that there
were Fuchsian groups other than those corresponding to the hyper-
geometric series; I saw that I could apply to them the theory of
theta-Fuchsian series and that consequendy there existed Fuchsian
functions other than those from the hypergeometric series, the ones
I then knew. Naturally I set myself to form all these functions. I made
a systematic attack upon them and carried all the outworks, one after
another. There was one, however, that still held out, whose fall
would involve that of the whole place. But all my efforts only served
at first the better to show me the difficulty, which indeed was
something. All this work was perfectly conscious.

Thereupon I left for Mont-Valcrien, where I was to go through
my military service; so I was very differendy occupied. One day,
going along the street, the solution of the difficulty which had
stopped me suddenly appeared to me. I did not try to go deep into
it immediately, and only after my service did I again take up the
question. I had all the elements and had only to arrange them and
put them together. So I wrote out my final memoir at a single stroke
and without difficulty.

I shall limit myself to this single example; it is useless to multiply
them. In regard to my other researches I would have to say
analogous things . . .

Most striking at first is this appearance of sudden illumination, a
manifest sign of long, unconscious prior work. The role of this
unconscious work in mathematical invention appears to me
incontestable. . . . 10

Similar experiences have been reported by other mathematicians.
They seem to be the rule rather than the exception. One of them is
Jacques Hadamard: 11

. . . One phenomenon is certain and I can vouch for its absolute
certainty: the sudden and immediate appearance of a solution at the
very moment of sudden awakening. On being very abruptly



MOMENTS OF TRUTH



117



awakened by an external noise, a solution long searched for appeared
to me at once without the slightest instant of reflection on my part
the fact was remarkable enough to have struck me unforgettably
and in a quite different direction from any of those which I had
previously tried to follow.

A few more examples. Andre Marie Ampere (1775-18 3 6), after
whom the unit of electric current is named, a genius of childlike
simplicity, recorded in his diary the circumstances of his first
mathematical discovery:

On April 27, 1802, he tells us, I gave a shout of joy ... It was seven
years ago I proposed to myself a problem which I have not been able
to solve directly, but for which I had found by chance a solution, and
knew that it was correct, without being able to prove it. The matter
often returned to my mind and I had sought twenty times unsuccess-
fully for this solution. For some days I had carried the idea about
with me continually. At last, I do not know how, I found it, together
with a large number of curious and new considerations concerning
the theory of probability. As I think there are very few math-
ematicians in France who could solve this problem in less time, I have
no doubt that its publication in a pamphlet of twenty pages is a good
method for obtaining a chair of mathematics in a college. 12

The memoir did in fact get him a professorship at the Lycee in
Lyon. It was called Considerations of the Mathematical Theory of Games of
Chance, and demonstrated, among other things, that habitual gamblers
are, in the long run, bound to lose.

Another great mathematician, Karl Friedrich Gauss, described in a
letter to a friend how he finally proved a theorem on which he had
worked unsuccessfully for four years:

At last two days ago I succeeded, not by dint of painful effort but
so to speak by the grace of God. As a sudden flash of light, the

enigma was solved For my part I am unable to name the nature

of the thread which connected what I previously knew with that
which made my success possible. 13

On another occasion Gauss is reported to have said: 'I have had my
solutions for a long time, but I do not yet know how I am to arrive at



n8



THE ACT OF CREATION



them/ Paraphrasing him, Polya a contemporary mathematician
remarks: 'When you have satisfied yourself that the theorem is true,
you start proving it.' 14

We have seen quite a few cats being let out of the bag the mathe-
matical mind, which is supposed to have such a dry, logical, rational
texture. As a last example in this chapter I shall quote the dramatic case
of Friedrich August von Kekule, Professor of Chemistry in Ghent,
who, one afternoon in 1865, fell asleep and dreamt what was probably
the most important dream in history since Joseph's seven fat and seven
lean cows:

I turned my chair to the fire and dozed, he relates. Again the
atoms were gambolling before my eyes. This time the smaller
groups kept modestly in the background. My mental eye, rendered
more acute by repeated visions of this kind, could now distinguish
larger structures, of manifold conformation; long rows, sometimes
more closely fitted together; all twining and twisting in snakelike
motion. But look ! What was that? One of the snakes had seized
hold of its own tail, and the form whirled mockingly before my eyes.
As if by a flash of Hghtning I awoke ... Let us learn to dream,
gentlemen. 15

The serpent biting its own tail gave Kekule the clue to a discovery
which has been called 'the most brilliant piece of prediction to be
found in the whole range of organic chemistry' and which, in fact, is
one of the cornerstones of modern science. Put in a somewhat
simplified manner, it consisted in the revolutionary proposal that the
molecules of certain important organic compounds are not open
structures but closed chains or 'rings' like the snake swallowing its
tail.

Summary

When life presents us with a problem it will be attacked in accordance
with the code of rules which enabled us to deal with similar problems
in the past. These rules of the game range from manipulating sticks to
operating with ideas, verbal concepts, visual forms, mathematical
entities. When the same task is encountered under relatively un-
changing conditions in a monotonous environment, the responses will
become stereotyped, flexible skills will degenerate into rigid patterns,



MOMENTS OF TRUTH



119



and the person will more and more resemble an automaton, governed
by fixed habits, whose actions and ideas move in narrow grooves. He
may be compared to an engine-driver who must drive his train along
fixed rails according to a fixed timetable.

Vice versa, a changing, variable environment will tend to create
flexible behaviour-patterns with a high degree of adaptability to
circumstances the driver of a motor-car has more degrees of freedom
than the engine-driver. But novelty can be carried to a point by life
or in the laboratory where the situation still resembles in some respects
other situations encountered in the past, yet contains new features or
complexities which make it impossible to solve the problem by the
same rules of the game which were applied to those past situations.
"When this happens we say that the situation is blocked though the
subject may realize this fact only after a series of hopeless tries, or never
at all. To squeeze the last drop out of the metaphor: the motorist is
heading for a frontier to which all approaches are barred, and all his
skill as a driver will not help him short of turning his car into a
helicopter, that is, playing a different kind of game.

A blocked situation increases the stress of the frustrated drive. What
happens next is much the same in the chimpanzee's as in Archimedes's
case. When all hopeful attempts at solving the problem by traditional
methods have been exhausted, thought runs around in circles in the
blocked matrix like rats in a cage. Next, the matrix of organized,
purposeful behaviour itself seems to go to pieces, and random trials
make their appearance, accompanied by tantrums and attacks of
despair or by the distracted absent-mindedness of the creative obses-
sion. That absent-mindedness is, of course, in fact smgle-mindedness;
for at this stage the 'period of incubation the whole personality,
down to the unverbalized and unconscious layers, has become saturated
with the problem, so that on some level of the mind it remains active,
even while attention is occupied in a quite different field such as
looking at a tree in the chimpanzee's case, or watching the rise of the
water-level; until either chance or intuition provides a link to a quite
different matrix, which bears down vertically, so to speak, on the
problem blocked in its old horizontal context, and the two previously
separate matrices fuse. But for that fusion to take place a condition must
be fulfilled which I called 'ripeness'.

Concerning the psychology of the creative act itself, I have men-
tioned the following, interrelated aspects of it: the displacement of
attention to something not previously noted, which was irrelevant in



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THE ACT OF CREATION



the old and is relevant in the new context; the discovery of hidden
analogies as a result of the former; the bringing into consciousness of
tacit axioms and habits of thought which were implied in the code and
taken for granted; the un-covering of what has always been there.

This leads to the paradox that the more original a discovery the more
obvious it seems afterwards. The creative act is not an act of creation
in the sense of the Old Testament. It does not create something out of
nothing; it uncovers, selects, re-shuffles, combines, synthesizes already
existing facts, ideas, faculties, skills. The more familiar the parts, the
more striking the new whole. Man's knowledge of the changes of the
tides and the phases of the moon is as old as his observation that apples
fall to earth in the ripeness of time. Yet the combination of these and
other equally familiar data in Newton's theory of gravity changed
mankind's outlook on the world.

'It is obvious', says Hadamard, 'that invention or discovery, be it in
mathematics or anywhere else, takes place by combining ideas. . . .
The Latin verb cogito for "to think" etymologically means "to shake
together". St. Augustine had already noticed that and also observed
that intelligo means "to select among"/

The 'ripeness' of a culture for a new synthesis is reflected in the
recurrent phenomenon of multiple discovery, and in the emergence
of similar forms of art, handicrafts, and social institutions in diverse
cultures. But when the situation is ripe for a given type of discovery
it still needs the intuitive power of an exceptional mind, and sometimes
a favourable chance event, to bring it from potential into actual exist-
ence. On the other hand, some discoveries represent striking tours de
force by individuals who seem to be so far ahead of their time that their
contemporaries are unable to understand them.

Thus at one end of the scale we have discoveries which seem to be
due to more or less conscious, logical reasoning, and at the other end
sudden insights which seem to emerge spontaneously from the depth of
the unconscious. The same polarity of logic and intuition will be found
to prevail in the methods and techniques of artistic creation. It is
summed up by two opposite pronouncements: Bernard Shaw's 'Ninety
per cent perspiration, ten per cent inspiration, on the one hand,
Picasso's 'I do not seek I find* (je ne cherchepasje trouve), on the other.



i



VI

THREE ILLUSTRATIONS

Before proceeding further, let me return for a moment to the
^ basic, bisociative pattern of the creative synthesis: the sudden
' interlocking of two previously unrelated skills, or matrices of
thought I shall give three somewhat more detailed examples which
display this pattern from various angles: Gutenberg's invention of
printing with movable types; Kepler's synthesis of astronomy and
physics; Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection.

i. The Printing Press

At the dawn of the fifteenth century printing was no longer a novelty
in Europe. Printing from wooden blocks on vellum, silk, and cloth
apparendy started in the twelfth century, and printing on paper was
widely practised in the second half of the fourteenth. The blocks were
engraved in relief with pictures or text or both, then thoroughly wetted
with a brown distemper-like substance; a sheet of damp paper was laid
on the block and the back of the paper was rubbed with a so-called
frotton a dabber or burnisher until an impression of the carved relief
was transferred to it. Each sheet could be printed on only one side by
this method, but the blank backs of the sheets could be pasted together
and then gathered into quires and bound in the same manner as
manuscript-books. These 'block books' or xylographs circulated already
in considerable numbers during Gutenberg's youth.

He was born in 1398 at Mainz and was really called Gensfleisch,
meaning gooseflesh, but preferred to adopt the name of his mother's
birthplace. The story of his life is obscure, highlighted by a succession
of lawsuits against money-lenders and other printers; his claim to

121



122



THE ACT OF CREATION



priority is the subject of a century-old controversy. But there exists a
series of letters to a correspondent, Frere Cordelier, which has an
authentic ring and gives a graphic description of the manner in which
Gutenberg arrived at his invention. 1 Whether others, such as Costa of
Haarlem, made the same invention at the same time or before
Gutenberg is, from our point of view, irrelevant.

Oddly enough, the starting point of Gutenberg's invention was not
the block-books he does not seem to have been acquainted with them
but playing-cards. In his first letter to Cordelier he wrote:

For a month my head has been working; a Minerva, fully armed,

must issue from my brain You have seen, as I have, playing-cards

and pictures of saints. . . . These cards and pictures are engraved on
small pieces of wood, and below the pictures there are words and

entire lines also engraved A thick ink is applied to the engraving;

and upon this a leaf of paper, slightly damp, is placed; then this wood,
this ink, this paper is rubbed and rubbed until the back of the paper is
polished. This paper is then taken off and you see on it the picture
just as if the design had been traced upon it, and the words as if they
had been written; the ink applied to the engraving has become
attached to the paper, attracted by its softness and by its moisture

Well, what has been done for a few words, for a few lines, I must
succeed in doing for large pages of writing, for large leaves covered
entirely on both sides, for whole books, for the first of all books, the
Bible. . . .

How? It is useless to think of engraving on pieces of wood the
whole thirteen hundred pages. . . .

What am I to do? I do not know: but I know what I want to do: I
wish to manifold the Bible, I wish to have the copies ready for the
pilgrimage to Aix la Chapelle.

Here, then, we have matrix or skill No. i: the printing from wood-
blocks by means of rubbing.

In the letters which follow we see him desperately searching for a
simpler method to replace the laborious carving of letters in wood:

Every coin begins with a punch. The punch is a little rod of steel,
one end of which is engraved with the shape of one letter, several
letters, all the signs which are seen in relief on a coin. The punch is
moistened and driven into a piece of steel, which becomes the



THREE ILLUSTRATIONS



'hollow' or 'stamp'. It is into these coin-stamps, moistened in their
turn, that are placed the little discs of gold, to be converted into
coins, by a powerful blow.

This is the first intimation of the method of type-casting. It leads
Gutenberg, by way of analogy, to the seal: 'When you apply to the
vellum or paper the seal of your community, everything has been said,
everything is done, everything is there. Do you not see that you can
repeat as many times as necessary the seal covered with signs and
characters?'

Yet all this is insufficient. He may cast letters in the form of coins,
or seals, instead of engraving the wood, yet they will never make a
clear print by the clumsy rubbing method; so long as his search remains
confined to this one and only traditional method of making an
'imprint', the problem remains blocked. To solve it, an entirely
different kind of skill must be brought in. He tries this and that; he
thinks of everything under the sun: it is the period of incubation.
When the favourable opportunity at last offers itself he is ready
for it:

I took part in the wine harvest. I watched the wine flowing, and
going back from the effect to the cause, I studied the power of this
press which nothing can resist. . . .

At this moment it occurs to him that the same, steady pressure might
be applied by a seal or coin preferably of lead, which is easy to cast
on paper, and that owing to the pressure, the lead would leave a trace
on the paper Eureka!

... A simple substitution which is a ray of light. ... To work then!
God has revealed to me the secret that I demanded of Him. ... I have
had a large quantity of lead brought to my house and that is the pen
with which I shall write.

'The ray of light' was the bisociation of wine-press and seal which,
added together, become the letter-press. The wine-press has been lifted
out of its context, the mushy pulp, the flowing red liquid, the jolly
revelry as Sultan's branch was wrenched out of the context of the
tree and connected with the stamping of vellum with a seal. From
now onward these separate skills, which previously had been as



124 THE ACT OF CREATION

different as the butchers, the baker's, and the candlestick-maker's, will
appear integrated in a single, complex matrix:

One must strike, cast, make a form like the seal of your commun-
ity; a mould such as that used for casting your pewter cups; letters in
relief like those on your coins, and the punch for producing them
like your foot when it multiplies its print. There is the Bible!

2. Gravity and the Holy Ghost

c If I have been able to see farther than others,' said Newton, 'it was
because I stood on the shoulders of giants.' One of the giants was
Johannes Kepler (1471-1530) whose three laws of planetary motion
provided the foundation on which the Newtonian universe was built.
They were the first 'natural laws' in the modern sense: precise,
verifiable statements expressed in mathematical terms; at the same
time, they represent the first attempt at a synthesis of astronomy and
physics which, during the preceding two thousand years, had developed
on separate lines.

Astronomy before Kepler had been a purely descriptive geometry
of the skies. The motion of stars and planets had been represented by
the device of epicycles and eccentrics an imaginary clockwork of
circles turning on circles turning on circles. Copernicus, for instance,
had used forty-eight wheels to represent the motion of the five known
planets around the sun. These wheels were purely fictitious, and meant
as such they enabled astronomers to make more or less precise
predictions, but, above all, they satisfied the dogma that all heavenly
motion must be uniform and in perfect circles. Though the planets
moved neither uniformly nor in perfect circles, the imaginary cog-
wheels did, and thereby 'saved the appearances'.

Kepler's discoveries put an end to this state of affairs. He reconciled
astronomy with physics, and substituted for the fictitious clockwork a
universe of material bodies not unlike the earth, freely floating and
turning in space, moved by forces acting on them. His most important
book bears the provocative tide: A New Astronomy Based on Causation
Or Physics of the Sky (1609). It contains the first and second of Kepler's
three laws. The first says that the planets move around the sun not in
circles but in elliptic orbits; the second says that a planet moves in its
orbit not at uniform speed but at a speed that varies according to its



THREE ILLUSTRATIONS



125



position, and is defined by a simple and beautiful law: the line connect-
ing planet and sun sweeps over equal areas in equal times. The
third law establishes an equally elegant mathematical correlation
between the length of a planet's year and its mean distance from the
sun.

Kepler did not start his career as an astronomer, but as a student of
theology (at the Lutheran University of Thuebingen); yet already as a
student he was attracted by the Copernican idea of a sun-centred
universe. Now Canon Copernicus's book, On the Revolutions of the
Heavenly Spheres, had been published in the year of his death, 1543;
that is, fifty years before Kepler first heard of him; and during that half
century it had attracted very little attention. One of the reasons was its
supreme unreadability, which made it into an all-time worst-seller:
its first edition of a thousand copies was never sold out. Kepler was the
first Continental astronomer to embrace the Copernican theory. His
Mysterium Cosmographicum, published in 1597 (fifty-four years after
Copernicus's death), started the great controversy Galileo entered the
scene fifteen years later.

The reason why the idea of a sun-centred universe appealed to Kepler
was repeatedly stated by himself: 'I often defended the opinions of
Copernicus in the disputations of the candidates and I composed a
careful disputation on the first motion which consists in the rotation of
the earth; then I was adding to this the motion of the earth around the
sun for physical or, if you prefer \ metaphysical reasons. 9 2 1 have emphasized
the last words because they contain the leitmotif of Kepler's quest, and
because he used the same expression in various passages in his works.
Now what were those physical or, if you prefer, metaphysical
reasons' which made Kepler prefer to put the sun into the centre of the
universe instead of the earth?

My ceaseless search concerned primarily three problems, namely,
the number, size, and motion of the planets why they are just as
they are and not otherwise arranged. I was encouraged in my daring
inquiry by that beautiful analogy between the stationary objects,
namely, the sun, the fixed stars, and the space between them, with
God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. I shall pursue this
analogy in my future cosmographical work. 8

Twenty-five years later, when he was over fifty, Kepler repeated his
credo: 'It is by no means permissible to treat this analogy as an empty



126



THE ACT OF CREATION



comparison; it must be considered by its Platonic form and archetypal
quality as one of the primary causes.'

He believed in this to the end of his life. Yet gradually the analogy
underwent a significant change:

The sun in the middle of the moving stars, himself at rest and yet the
source of motion, carries the image of God the Father and Creator.
He distributes his motive force through a medium which contains
the moving bodies, even as the Father creates through the Holy
Ghost. 4

Thus the 'moving bodies' that is, the planets are now brought
into the analogy. The Holy Ghost no longer merely fills the space
between the motionless sun and the motionless fixed stars. It has
become an active force, a vis motrix, which drives the planets. Nobody
before Kepler had postulated, or even suspected, the existence of a
physical force acting between the sun and the planets. Astronomy was
not concerned with physical forces, nor with the causes of the heavenly
motions, merely with their description. The passages which I have just
quoted are the first intimation of the forthcoming marriage between
physics and astronomy the act of betrothal, as it were. By looking at
the sky, not through the eyes of the geometrician only, but of the
physicist concerned with natural causes, he hit upon a question which
nobody had asked before, The question was: 'Why do the planets
closer to the sun move faster than those which are far away? What is
the mathematical relation between a planet's distance from the sun and
the length of its year?'

These questions could only occur to one who had conceived the
revolutionary hypothesis that the motion of the planet and therefore
its velocity and the duration of its year was governed by a physical
force emanating from the sun. Every astronomer knew, of course, that
the greater their distance from the sun the slower the planets moved.
But this phenomenon was taken for granted, just as it was taken for
granted that boys will be boys and girls will be girls, as an irreducible
fact of creation. Nobody asked the cause of it because physical causes
were not assumed to enter into the motion of heavenly bodies. The
greatness of the philosophers of the scientific revolution consisted not
so much in finding the right answers but in asking the right questions;
in seeing a problem where nobody saw one before; in substituting a
'why' for a 'how*.



THREE ILLUSTRATIONS



127



Kepler's answer to the question why the outer planets move slower
than the inner ones, and how the speed of their motion is related to
their distance from the sun, was as follows:

There exists only one moving soul in the centre of all the orbits;
that is the sun which drives the planets the more vigorously the closer
the planet is, but whose force is quasi-exhausted when acting on the
outer planets because of the long distance and the weakening of the
force which it entails. 5

Later on he commented: 'If we substitute for the word "soul" the
word "force", then we get just the principle which underlies my
"Physics of the Skies". As I reflected that this cause of motion diminishes
in proportion to distance just as the light of the sun diminishes in
proportion to distance from the sun, I came to the conclusion that this
force must be substantial "substantial" not in the literal sense but . . .
in the same manner as we say that light is something substantial,
meaning by this an unsubstantial entity emanating from a substantial
body.' 6

We notice that Kepler's answer came before the question that it was
the answer that begot the question. The answer, the starting point, was
the analogy between God the Father and the sun the former acting
through the Holy Ghost, the latter through a physical force. The
planets must obey the law of the sun the law of God the mathe-
matical law of nature; and the Holy Ghost's action through empty
space diminishes, as the light emanating from the sun does, with
distance. The degenerate, purely descriptive astronomy which
originated in the period of the Greek decline, and continued through
the Dark and Middle Ages until Kepler, did not ask for meaning and
causes. But Kepler was convinced that physical causes operate between
heavenly, just as between earthly, bodies, and more specifically that
the sun exerts a physical force on the planets. It was this conviction
which enabled him to formulate his laws. Physics became the auxiliary
matrix which secured his escape from the blocked situation into which
astronomy had manoeuvred itself.

The blockage to cut a very long story short was due to the fact
that Tycho de Brahe had improved the instruments and methods of
star-gazing, and produced observational data of a hitherto unequalled
abundance and precision; and the new data did not fit into the
traditional schemes. Kepler, who served his apprenticeship under



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THE ACT OF CREATION



Tycho, was given the task of working out the orbit of Mars. He spent
six years on the task and covered nine thousand folio-sheets with
calculations in his small handwriting without getting anywhere. When
at last he believed he had succeeded he found to his dismay that certain
observed positions of Mars differed from those which his theory
demanded by magnitudes up to eight minutes arc. Eight minutes arc
is approximately one-quarter of the apparent diameter of the moon.

This was a catastrophe. Ptolemy, and even Copernicus, could afford
to neglect a difference of eight minutes, because their observations were
accurate only within a margin of ten minutes, anyway. 'But/ Kepler
wrote in the New Astronomy, 'but for us, who by divine kindness were
given an accurate observer such as Tycho Brahe, for us it is fitting that

we should acknowledge this divine gift and put it to use Henceforth

I shall lead the way towards that goal according to my ideas. For if I
had believed that we could ignore these eight minutes, I would have
patched up my hypothesis accordingly. But since it was not permissible
to ignore them, those eight minutes point the road to a complete
reformation of astronomy. . . . ,?

Thus a theory, built on years of labour and torment, was instantly
thrown away because of a discord of eight miserable minutes arc.
Instead of cursing those eight minutes as a stumbling block, he
transformed them into the cornerstone of a new science. For those
eight minutes arc had at last made him realize that the field of
astronomy in its traditional framework was weD and truly blocked.

One of the recurrent frustrations and tragedies in the history of
thought is caused by the uncertainty whether it is possible to solve a
given problem by traditional methods previously applied to problems
which seem to be of the same nature. Who can say how many lives
were wasted and good minds destroyed in futile attempts to square the
circle, or to construct a perpetuum mobile? The proof that these problems
are insoluble was in each case an original discovery in itself (such as
Maxwell's second law of thermodynamics) ; and such proofs could only
be found by looking at the problem from a point of view outside its
traditional matrix. On the other hand, the mere knowledge that a
problem is soluble means that half the game is already won.

The episode of the eight minutes arc had convinced Kepler that his
problem the orbit of Mars was insoluble so long as he felt bound by
the traditional rules of sky-geometry. Implied in those rules was the
dogma of 'uniform motion in perfect circles'. Uniform motion he had
already discarded before the crisis; now he felt that the even more



THREE ILLUSTRATIONS



129



sacred one of circular morion must also go. The impossibility of
constructing a circular orbit which would satisfy all existing observa-
tions suggested to him that the circle must be replaced by some other
curve.

The conclusion is quite simply that the planet's path is not a circle
it curves inward on both sides and outward again at opposite ends.
Such a curve is called an oval. The orbit is not a circle but an oval
figure. 8

This oval orbit was a wild, frightening new departure for him. To
be fed up with cycles and epicycles, to mock the slavish imitators of
Aristode was one thing; to assign an entirely new, lopsided, implausible
path for the heavenly bodies was quite another. Why indeed an oval?
There is something in the perfect symmetry of spheres and circles
which has a deep, reassuring appeal to the unconscious mind other-
wise it could not have survived two millennia. The oval lacks that
archetypal appeal. It has an arbitrary, distorted form. It destroyed the
dream of the 'harmony of the spheres', which lay at the origin of the
whole quest. At times he felt like a criminal, or worse: a fool. All he
had to say in his own defence was: 'I have cleared the Augean stables
of astronomy of cycles and spirals, and left behind me only a single
cartful of dung.' 9

That cartful of dung non-uniform motion in non-circular orbits
could only be justified and explained by arguments derived not
from geometsy, but from physics. A phrase kept humming in his ear
like a catchy tune, and crops up in his writings over and again: there
is a force in the sun which moves the planets, there is a force in the sun.
. . . And since there is a force in the sun, there must exist some simple
relationship between the planet's distance from the sun, and its speed.
A light shines the brighter the nearer one is to its source, and the same
must apply to the force of the sun: the closer the planet to it, the
quicker it will move. This had been his instinctive conviction; but now
he thought that he had found the proof for it. 'Ye physicists, prick your
ears, for now we are going to invade your territory.' The next six
chapters in the Astronomia Nova are a report on that invasion into
celestial physics, which had been out of bounds for astronomy since
Plato. He had found the second matrix which would unblock his.
problem.

That excursion was something of a comedy of errors which



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THE ACT OF CREATION



nevertheless ended with finding the truth. Since he had no notion of
the principle of inertia, which makes a planet persist in its tangential
motion under its own momentum, and had only a vague intuition of
gravity, he had to invent a force which, emanating from the sun,
sweeps the planet round its path like a broom. In the second place, to
account for the eccentricity of the orbits he had to postulate that the
planets were 'huge round magnets' whose poles pointed always in the
same direction so that they would alternately be drawn closer to and
be repelled by the sun. But although today the whole thing seems
cockeyed, his intuition that there are two antagonistic forces acting on the
planets, guided him in the right direction. A single force, as previously
assumed the divine Prime Mover and its allied hierarchy of angels
would never produce elliptic orbits and periodic changes of speed.
These could only be the result of some dynamic tug of war going on in
the sky as indeed there is. The concept of two antagonistic forces
provided rules for a new game in which elliptic orbits and velocities
depending on solar distance had their legitimate place.

He made many mistakes during that wild flight of thought; but as
if by miracle' as he himself remarked the mistakes cancelled out. It
looks as if at times his conscious critical faculties had been anaesthetized
by the creative impulse, by the impatience to get to grips with the
physical forces in the solar system. The problem of the planetary orbits
had been hopelessly bogged down in its purely geometrical frame of
reference, and when he realized that he could not get it unstuck he tore
it out of that frame and removed it into the field of physics. That there
were inconsistencies and impurities in his method did not matter to
"him in the heat of the moment, hoping that somehow they would
J right themselves later on as they did. This inspired cheating or,
rather, borrowing on credit is a characteristic and recurrent feature in
the history of science. The latest example is sub-atomic physics, which
may be said to live on credit in the pious hope that one day its inner
contradictions and paradoxes will somehow resolve themselves.

Kepler's determination of the orbit of Mars became the unifying
link between the two formerly separate realms of physics and astron-
omy* His was the first serious attempt at explaining the -mechanism of
the solar system in terms of physical forces; and once the example was
set, physics and cosmology could never again be divorced.



J. Darwin and Natural Selection



Charles Darwin is perhaps the most outstanding illustration of the
thesis that 'creative originality' does not mean creating or originating
a system of ideas out of nothing but rather out of the combination of
well-established patterns of thought by a process of cross-fertilization,
as it were. With a pinch of salt it could be said that Darwin's essen-
tial achievement was to combine the evolutionary philosophy of
Anaximander, who taught that man's ancestor was an aquatic animal
and that the earth and its inhabitants were descended from the same
Prime Material, with the philosophy of Empedokles who taught the
survival of the fittest among the random aggregations of organic forms.
Aristotle the naturalist believed that nature fashions organs in the order
of their necessity, whereas Aristotle the Platonist asserted that the
species are immutable and denied the continuity between homo sapiens
and the animal kingdom.

From this point onward two basic metaphysical doctrines of
opposite nature can be more or less clearly discerned throughout the
history of European thought; one might call them provided the
words are not taken too literally the 'descending' and 'ascending*
views of the universe. The former is represented by Plato, the
Neoplatonists, and by the fundamentalist trend in Christianity from
the Fathers to the Victorians; it postulates an absolute act of creation,
followed by a descent (Plato's cave, the Fall), followed by a static,
immutable, deep-freeze state of affairs, a marking of time until the
Last Judgement. The ascending or evolutionary doctrine, which had
flourished during the heroic age of Greek science and was still partially
upheld by Epicureans such as Lucretius, went into a long period of
hibernation, but awoke with renewed vigour at the dawn of the
Scientific Revolution. Tycho, Kepler, Galileo, destroyed the dogma of
immutabiHty; Newton in his Optics declared that nature was 'delighted
with transmutations'; and from there onward through Leibniz, de
Maillet, Locke to Kant (to mention only a few), the idea of a growing
'Tree of Nature', on which the species branched out from a common
root, gained increasing support among the leading spirits.

The conflict between the two doctrines came to a head a century
before the Darwin scandalin the great controversy between
Linnaeus and BufFon, who were both born in the same year, 1707. Carl
von Linne's published works amount to a hundred and eighty
volumes; the Comte de Buffons Histoire Naturelle had forty-four

131



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THE ACT OF CREATION



quarto volumes, and took fifty years to publish. Linne, who laid down
the laws for defining genera and species, and whose system of
classification survives to this day, started as a believer in immutability;
but later in life he admitted that new species may arise as 'daughters of
Time'. BufFon attacked not only Linnaeus's classification, but the
principles underlying it; he denied the existence of rigid boundaries
between one species and another, between vegetable and animal,
between animal and man: species arose, transformed themselves, and
became extinct according to climatic and other changes in nature.
Judged by the form and organization of its body, he wrote, 'the
orangutang would approach nearer to man than to any other animal*.
A century later Darwin admitted that 'whole pages [in BufFon] are
laughably like mine'.

By the end of the eighteenth century the cumulative evidence from
'the genera] facts in the affinities, embryology, rudimentary organs,
geological history, and geographical distribution of organic beings'
(Darwin to Asa Gray) 10 led to the simultaneous appearance of
evolutionary theories in a number of European countries. It is a rather
singular instance,' he remarked elsewhere, 'of the manner in which
similar views arise at about the same time, that Goethe in Germany,
Dr. [Erasmus] Darwin in England and Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire in France
. . . came to the same conclusion on the origin of the species, in the
years 1794-95' 11 that is, fifteen years before Charles Darwin was born.

The second great public controversy between evolutionists and anti-
evolutionists originated in the fateful years 2 and 3 according to the
calendar of the French Revolution when the three main protagonists
in the drama were all given chairs at the University of Paris by the
Revolutionary Government. They were Lamarck, Cuvier, Geoffroy
Saint-Hilaire. The climax came in 1830, when Geoffroy, the evolu-
tionist, and Cuvier, who denied evolution, confronted each other in
public debate before the French Academy of Sciences. Cuvier won the
debate and rightly so because Geoffroy had tried to demonstrate a
good cause by a badly chosen example but the outcome' mattered
less than the debate itself, which Goethe declared to be an event far
more memorable than the French Revolution. This was a quarter of a
century before Darwin submitted his first paper on evolution to the
Royal Society.

A further scandal broke in 1844 still fifteen years before the
publication of The Origin of Specieswhen Robert Chambers
published anonymously his Vestiges of Creation, an impassionate if



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dilettantic plea for the evolutionary doctrine. Its impact may be
gathered from a scene in Disraeli's Tancred, in which the heroine sings
the book's praises: 'You know, all is development. The principle is
perpetually going on. First, there was nothing, then there was some-
thing; then I forget the next I think there were shells, then fishes;
then we came let me see did we come next? Never mind that; we
came at last. And at the next change there will be something very
superior to us something with wings. Ah! that's it: we were fishes,
and I believe we shall be crows. But you must read it ... it is all proved
. . . You understand, it is all science; it is not like those books in which
one says one thing and another the contrary, and both may be wrong.
Everything is proved . .

The passage has that particular flavour which we have come to
associate with the Darwinian controversy. Even Tancred's rejoinder to
the enthusiastic lady: 'I do not believe I ever was a fish/ has the familiar
ring of music-hall jokes about my grandpa was an ape'. And yet, I
repeat, all this excitement pre-dates the publication of Darwin's first
paper by more than ten years.

Thus Darwin originated neither the idea nor the controversy about
evolution, and in his early years was fully aware of this. When he
decided to write a book on the subject, he jotted down several versions
of an apologetic disclaimer of originality for the preface of the future
work:

State broadly [that there is] scarcely any novelty in my theory . . .
The whole object of the book is its proof, its extension, its adaptation
to classification and affinities between species.

Seeing what von Buch (Humboldt), G. H. Hilaire [sic] and
Lamarck have written I pretend to no originality of idea (though I
arrived at them quite independently and have read them since). The
line of proof and reducing facts to law [is the] only merit, if merit
there be, in following work. 12

The remark that he had arrived at his ideas independendy from his
predecessors should not perhaps be taken at face value, for Darwin's
own notebooks are conclusive proof that he had certainly read
Lamarck, the greatest among his precursors, and a number of other
works on evolution, before he arrived at formulating his own theory.
Even so, the intended apology never found its way into the book which
it was meant to preface. In his early notebooks, not intended for



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THE ACT OP CREATION



publication, Darwin paid grateful tribute to Lamarck as a source of
inspiration, endowed with the prophetic spirit in science, the highest
endowment of lofty genius'. Later on he called Lamarck's work
Veritable rubbish* which did the cause 'great harm' and insisted that
he had got 'not a fact or idea' from Lamarck. 13 In this respect he
resembled Copernicus and Galileo who also excelled in denying credit
where credit was due, and other great men who, at the beginning of
their career, gratefully acknowledged indebtedness to their spiritual
forbears, but later on quietly forgot or denied them. In some cases, of
which Galileo is a striking example, the motive was an overwhelming
vanity; in others, a subtler form of self-deception seemed to operate.
Once one embraces an idea and lives with it day and night, one can no
longer bear the thought that she, the idea, has formerly belonged to
someone else; to possess her completely and be possessed by her, one
must extinguish her past. That seems to have been Darwin's case; for,
throughout the decisive ten years in which the battle was fought, he
behaved like a jealous husband about his theory; but once the battle
was won he relented and gave others their due including Lamarck,
whose ghost was never to be exorcized from the edifice that Darwin
built.

On his own account, Darwin became an evolutionist after his voyage
on the Beagle, which ended in 1836, when he was twenty-seven; but
The Origin of Species was only published twenty-three years later. It
opens with the statement:

When on board H.M.S. Beagle as naturalist, I was much struck
with certain facts in the distribution of the organic beings inhabiting
South America, and in the geological relations of the present to the
past inhabitants of that continent. These facts, as will be seen in the
latter chapters of this volume, seemed to throw some light on the
origin of species that mystery of mysteries, as it has been called by
one of our great philosophers.

After my return to England it appeared to me that ... by collect-
ing all facts which bore in any way on the variation of animals and
plants under domestication and nature, some light might perhaps be
thrown on the whole subject. My first notebook was opened in
July 1837. I worked on true Baconian principles and without any
theory, collected facts on a wholesale scale . . . After five years' work
I allowed myself to speculate on the subject and drew up some
short notes.



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135



As Darwin's own notebooks show, the last two sentences in this
account again should not be taken at face value they are pious Hp-
service to the fashionable image of the scientist collecting facts with an
unprejudiced mind', without permitting himself, God forbid, to
speculate on them. In reality, as the notebooks show, shortly after his
return from the voyage (and not 'five years later), Darwin became
committed to the evolutionary theory and then set out to collect facts
to prove it. A month after publication of The Origin, in December 1859,
he admitted this apparently forgetting what he had said m the
Preface in a letter eloquently defending the procedure of 'inventing a
theory and seeing how many classes of facts the theory would ex-
plain'. 14 In another letter he remarks that 'no one could be a good
observer unless he was an active theorizer'; and again: 'How odd it is
that anyone should not see that all observation must be for or against
some view if it is to be of any service.' 15 I am stressing this point
because scientists adhering to the positivist tradition take a perverse
pride in seeing themselves in the role of rag-pickers in the dustbin of
'empirical data' unaware that even the art of rag-picking is guided
by intuition.

How, then, did Darwin become an evolutionist? The answer is in
the notebooks for 1837-8, written after his return. The five years spent
on the Beagle had taught him a wealth of lessons about living and
extinct species, and about the gradual shading of one species into
another. While the voyage lasted he did not draw any conscious
conclusions from this; much later he wrote that although 'vague
doubts occasionally flitted' across his mind, he still believed, while on
the voyage, in the doctrine of the immutability of all species. 16 Yet the
rich experiences of those five years must have sunk in, together with
the Vague doubts'. When, on his return, he read Lamarck and other
standard works on evolution, the seeds began to germinate, the
accumulated facts began to whirl through his head, then arrange
themselves into a meaningful pattern. The notebooks start with the
drawing of analogies between individuals and whole species:

If [the] individual cannot propagate he has no issue so with
species.

l species generate other species, their race is not utterly cut off-
otherwise all die.



Absolute knowledge that species die and others replace them.



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THE ACT OF CREATION



. . . The permanent variations produced by confined breeding and
changing circumstances are continued and produced according to the
adaptation [to] such circumstances and therefore . . . death of species
is a consequence . . . of non-adaptation [to] circumstances.

If we choose to let conjecture run wild, then animals, our fellow
brethren in pain, disease, death, suffering and famine our slaves in
the most laborious works, our companions in our amusements
they may partake our origin in one common ancestor we may be
all melted away.

. . . Organized beings represent [a] tree irregularly branched . . .
[This is probably an echo of Lamarck's 'branching series irregularly
graded'.]

Species according to Lamarck disappear as collections made
perfect.

If all men were dead, then monkeys may make men, men make
angels.

Let man visit orang-outang in domestication, hear expressive
whine, see its intelligence when spoken, as if it understood every
word ... see its affection to those it knows, see its passion and rage,
sulkiness and . . . despair; let him look at savage, roasting his parent,
naked, artless, not improving yet improvable; and then let him dare
to boast of his proud preeminence.

Man in his arrogance thinks himself a great work, worthy the
interposition of a deity. More humble and I believe true to consider
him created from animals.

By now he is fully committed. Moreover (after all, he is only
twenty-eight) he sees himself in the future role of a hero and possible
martyr:

Mention persecution of early astronomers. Then add chief good
of individual scientific men is to push their science a few years in
advance of their age (differently from literary men). Must remember
that if they believe and do not openly avow their belief, they do as
much to retard.



THREE ILLUSTRATIONS



137



That was easily said, but in fact Darwin did retard the publication of
his theory by twenty years, until his hand was forced. The reasons were
chronic illness, other pressing work, and, in his own words: 'I was so
anxious to avoid prejudice, that I determined not for some time to
write even the briefest sketch of it.' To counteract prejudice' he had to
assemble and build massive pillars of fact in support of the slender
bridge of his theory. For, contrary to the pious assertions in the preface,
the bridge had come first and the pillars afterwards as was nearly
always the case in the history of scientific thought. The result proved
that this caution was justified. Without those pillars, assembled with
heroic patience and effort, the bridge would have collapsed in the
ensuing storm. Here is one of the cases where the process of elaboration,
verification, and confirmation the long donkey-work following the
brief flash of insight is more decisive than the discovery itself. That is
why Darwin is remembered, whereas Wallace, who made the same
discovery, is all but forgotten.

Given the long line of evolutionists, from Anaximander to Charles's
own grandfather Erasmus, wherein lies Darwin's greatness, the
originality of his contribution? In picking up, one might say, the
disjointed threads, plaiting them into a braid, and then weaving an
enormous carpet around it. The main thread was the evolutionist's
credo that the various species in the animal and vegetable kingdom
'had not been independently created, but had descended, like varieties,
from other species'. 17 Now this doctrine disposed of the idea of the
Creator putting down separately the first serpent, giraffe and walrus as
ready-made products on the earth; but it gave no explanation of the
reasons which caused the common ancestor to transform itself gradually
into serpents, walruses, and giraffes. Only Lamarck had attempted to
provide a comprehensive reason for evolution in his four 'laws'. They
said, in essence, that an animal's physical characteristics and particu-
larities of behaviour are shaped by its needs, that is, by adaptation to
its natural environment; that specialized organs grow and decline in
proportion to their use or disuse; and that these adaptive changes which
the animal acquires in its lifetime are inherited by its offspring.

Contrary to popular belief, Darwin had no objection against the last
point, the 'inheritance of acquired characteristics' decried as a mortal
heresy by necnDarv/inians. On the contrary, in his Variations of Animals
and Plants under Domestication, and in the later editions of the Origin, he
gave a series of examples of what he believed to be inherited character-
istics in the offspring, due to adaptive changes in their ancestors. But he



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THE ACT OF CREATION



refused to accept such direct adaptations as the only, or even the main
cause of evolution, because the evidence seemed to speak against it.
Evidence showed that a great variety of species lived under identical
environmental conditions; and vice versa, that the same species could
be found under widely varying conditions. If species evolved, as
Lamarck's theory proposed, by direct adaptations to the environment,
then their variety remained unexplained. Evolution was a fact; but
what caused it? What was the nature of the force which transformed
animals and plants into new shapes?

The second thread that he picked up was of almost as trivial a nature
for a country-bred English gentleman as Archimedes's daily bath:
domestic breeding. The improvement of domestic breeds is achieved
by the selective mating of favourable variations:

It seemed to me probable that a careful study of domesticated
animals and of cultivated plants would offer the best chance of
making out this complicated problem. Nor have I been disappointed;
in this and in all other perplexing cases I have invariably found that
our knowledge, imperfect though it be, of variation under
domestication, afforded the best and safest clue. I may venture to
express my conviction of the high value of such studies, although they
have been very commonly neglected by naturalists. 18 (my italics)

We might say that Darwin had discovered Evolution through
artificial selection'. Incidentally the discovery is again not quite as
original as the last sentence might suggest. Darwin's notebooks of that
period show that he had been reading and pondering Lamarck; and
twenty years earlier, in his Philosophie Zoologique, Lamarck had written:
What nature does in the course of long periods we do every day
when we suddenly change the environment in which some species of
living plants is situated . . . Where in nature do we find our cabbages,
lettuces, etc., in the same state as in our kitchen gardens? And is not
the case the same with regard to many animals which have been
altered or greatly modified by domestication? 19

Whether Darwin read this passage from Lamarck, or similar
passages, we do not know. But the question is irrelevant except for
historians who specialize in priority claims. At any rate,, Darwin now
set out to collect facts about domestic breeding patiently and indiscrim-
inately*, not only from technical journals but from 'skilful breeders and
gardeners*. A great number of the 'facts* were spurious, and some of his



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theorizings were as wild and fantastic as Kepler's speculations on the
broom-like sweeping force emanating from the sun:

The cat had its tail cut off at Shrewsbury and its kittens had all
short tails; but one a little longer than the rest; they all died. She had
kittens before and afterwards with tails.

My father says on authority of Mr. Wynne, the bitch's offspring is
affected by previous marriages with impure breed . . .

Dr. Smith says he is certain that when white men and Hottentots
or Negroes cross at Cape of Good Hope, the children cannot be made
intermediate. The first children partake more of the mother, the later
ones of the father.

In his book on Variations of Animals and Plants under Domestication
we are further informed that a cow having lost its horn owing to an
infected wound, gave birth 'to three calves, each with a small bony
lump in place of a horn'.

A contemporary biologist has commented on Darwin's 'amiable
credulity'. 20 It is a character trait which he shared with Tycho, Kepler,
Freud, Pasteur, and a large number of other great scientists. Ernest
Jones 21 remarked in an essay about Freud that creative genius seems to
be a mixture of scepticism and naivete: scepticism regarding the
dogmas implied in traditional modes of thought, combined with the
willingness of a wide-open mind to consider far-fetched theories.
Darwin himself, as one of his biographers remarked, 'was able to give
ultimate answers because he asked ultimate questions. His colleagues,
the systematizers, knew more than he about particular species and
varieties, comparative anatomy and morphology. But they had delib-
erately eschewed such ultimate questions as the pattern of creation, or
the reasons for any particular form, on the grounds that these were not
the proper subjects of science. Darwin, uninhibited by these restrictions,
could range more widely and deeply into the mysteries of Nature. . . .
It was with the sharp eyes othe primitive, the open mind of the
innocent, that he looked at his subject, daring to ask questions that his
more learned and sophisticated colleagues could not have thought to
ask' (Himmelfarb). 28

However, the study of domestic breeding led into another cul-de-
sac; for, in the case of domestic animals, man acts as the agent of



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THE ACT OF CREATION



selection; but who or what selects the favourable variations for breed-
ing in the case of undomesticated animals or plants? 'How selection
could be applied to organisms living m a state of nature remained for
some time a mystery to me.'

The deadlock lasted a year and three months. He tried a number of
hypotheses, but none of them worked. He toyed with the idea of
some universal law, according to which species were born, matured, and
died, just as individuals do. 'There is nothing stranger in the death of a
species than in the death of individuals.' Then he assumed, by a
perverse analogy, that since nothing is preserved of an individual who
dies without leaving offspring, so a species too will die out unless it
gives rise to another species. But they were wrong guesses, and his
thoughts kept running in circles in the blocked matrix as Sultan's did
until his eyes fell on the stick.

In Darwin's case the stick was Malthus's An Essay on the Principle of
Population. It had been published in 1797 more than forty years earlier.
When Darwin read the essay among other books which he read 'for
amusement', as he said he saw in a flash the 'natural selector', the
causative agent of evolution, for which he had been searching:

As many more individuals of each species are born than can
possibly survive; and as consequently there is a frequently recurring
struggle for existence, it follows that any being, if it vary ever so
slightly in a manner profitable to itself. . . will have a better chance
of survival, and thus be naturally selected (Darwin's italics). Thus
, favourable variations would tend to be preserved, and unfavourable
ones to be destroyed. Here, then, I had at last got a theory by which
to work. 23

He had found the third thread. Now the pattern of the theory was
complete: what remained to be done was its elaboration the weaving
of the huge carpet which took him most of the rest of his life.

The odd thing about the story is as others have pointed out that
Darwin had completely misunderstood Malthus. The struggle for
existence, in which Darwin discovered the causative mechanism of
evolutionary improvement, Malthus himself had regarded as a cause
of misery, frustration, and decline. The increase of population was for
Malthus an unmitigated evil and an obstacle to progress. The-essay had
actually been written as a polemic against Condorcet and Godwin, who
had argued the perfectability of the human species. Domestic breeding,



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141



Malthus retorted, could improve animals and plants only to a very
limited degree; but a carnation could never be made to reach the size
of a cabbage, and similar limits were set to human progress. Thus the
struggle for existence was for Malthus not the whiphand of evolution,
but a scourge. What Darwin found in Malthus' s essay he had read into
it himself as Kepler had read his brooms and planetary lodestones
into the skies.

Even odder is the fact that Wallace arrived at the same discover/
also by way of Malthus. Alfred Russell Wallace was even more
gullible, and at the beginning of his career even more of a dilettante
than the young Darwin. He was fourteen years younger than Darwin;
he had been educated at an indifferent grammar school and learned the
trade of land-surveying. Before he took up that occupation, he had
shown no interest in nature, and 'it took another four years for him to
advance beyond the recognition of rose and buttercup, and to learn,
from a shilling booklet published by the Society for the Diffusion of
Useful Knowledge, the elementary classifications of botany'. 24

At twenty-one he became a schoolteacher of sorts. In that year he
read, among other books, Darwin's Journal of a Naturalist's Voyage on
the Beagle and Malthus's Essay on Population. But his mind did not
click. He struck up a friendship with the entymologist Henry Walter
Bates and became an expert collector of beetles. This led him to
speculate about 'the almost infinite number of specific forms [among
beetles], the endless modifications of structure, shape, colour, and
surface-markings . . . and their innumerable adaptations to diverse
environments'; he was 'bitten by the passion for species', 25 and the
secret of their origin. Like Darwin he became an evolutionist by an act
of faith; like Darwin he was searching for its cause; like Darwin he
embarked with his friend Bates on a naturalist expedition to collect
insects, shells, birds, and animals; like Darwin he wrote a book about it
(Traueb on the Amazon and Rio Negro).

The expedition lasted four years; two years later, in 1854, he
published an article in a scientific journal in which he postulated that
'every species has come into existence coincident both in space and
time with a pre-existing, closely allied species'; all species together thus
formed a 'branching tree*. But, like Darwin earlier on, he did not know
what made the tree grow: 'the question of how changes of species
could have been brought about was rarely out of my mind'. Darwin
read the paper and wrote to Wallace that he agreed with 'almost every
word* in it; he added that he himself had been working for twenty



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THE ACT OF CREATION



years on the problem and had a 'distinct and tangible idea of its
solution*.

One year later the same 'distinct and tangible idea* came to Wallace.
In his autobiography Wallace described how he was 'lying muffled in
blankets in the cold fit of a severe attack of intermittent fever at
Ternate' (an island near New Guinea) when he suddenly remembered
Malthus's essay on population which he had read 'twelve or more years
earlier'. 26

The effect was analogous to that of friction upon the specially
prepared match, producing that flash of insight which led immediately
to the simple but universal law of the 'survival of the fittest' ... 'It
suddenly flashed upon me that this self-action process [i.e. the struggle
for existence] would necessarily improve the race, because in every genera-
tion the inferior would inevitably be killed off and the superior would
remain that is, the fittest would survive. The more I thought over it the
more I became convinced that I had at length found the long-sought-
for law of nature that solved the problem of the origin of the species.' 27
In the course of the next two evenings, 'in a few feverish hours', he
put his theory into a paper of four thousand words and sent it off to
Darwin, in the pleasant belief that it would be a surprise to him since
Darwin had not yet published his own theory, although he had put it
on paper years earlier in several versions and shown it to his friends.

'I never saw a more striking coincidence', Darwin wrote. 'If Wallace
had my manuscript sketch written out in 1842, he could not have made
a better short abstract.'

Luckily, both Wallace and Darwin acted with a generosity and
reasonableness rare in the annals of science; the result was the presenta-
tion on 1 July 1848 of a joint memoir by Darwin and Wallace to
the Linnean Society, under the tide 'On the Tendency of Species to
form Varieties; and on the Perpetuation of Varieties and Species by
Natural Means of Selection'. Neither author was present; Wallace was
overseas, Darwin ill in bed. When the paper was read out there was
no discussion and no sign of interest. At the end of the year the
President of the Society said in his annual report: 'The year which has
passed ... has not, indeed, been marked by any of those striking dis-
coveries which at once revolutionize, so to speak, the department of
science on which they bear.' 28 In November next year The Origin of
Species was published, and only then did the storm break.

Though both men were constantly ailing from real and perhaps
also from imaginary diseases, Darwin lived to be seventy-three, and



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143



Wallace ninety. Though they differed on some points of theory and
though their opponents tried to play them out against each other, they
managed to remain life-long friends; towards the end of his life Darwin
obtained a pension for Wallace from Mr. Gladstone, and Wallace was
one of Darwin's pall-bearers. At the fiftieth anniversary, in 1909,
commemorating the joint publication of the Darwin- Wallace papers,
Wallace modesdy declared that their relative contributions 'could be
jusdy estimated as the proportion of twenty years to one week* 29
which was an exaggeration, as Wallace's later works, particularly the,
'Contributions' and 'Darwinism' were of considerable importance.

The psychologically fascinating aspect of the story is that the same
bisociative process was triggered off in Darwin's case by reading
Malthus, in Wallace's by the buried memory of Malthus, whom he
had read many years earlier, popping into consciousness at a feverish
moment. Thus Darwin's discovery strikes one as more rational,
Wallace's as more dramatic and bizarre, and this is in keeping with the
character of the two men. If Darwin had more patience and clarity of
mind, Wallace had more fantasy and perhaps even more depth. His
remark that selection through survival of the fittest was a 'self-acting
process' anticipated the concept of negative feed-back. His conviction
that the rise of organic life, the rise of consciousness, and the rise of man
represent jumps' in the evolutionary series, due to some 'unknown
reality' which has to be added to the mechanical operation of natural
selection, had a religious flavour; yet his conclusion that 'man and his
rise now appear short in time explosively short' has been confirmed
by contemporary anthropology. If Darwin had an 'amiable credulity',
Wallace believed, among other things, in phrenology and in the cruder
forms of mesmerism and spiritualism. No wonder he had to dive
into the depths of his unconscious mind to bring up the same trophy
which Darwin spied drifting on the surface, and secured with a boat-
hook.

That both read Malthus is not much of a coincidence as his essay
was well known and discussed at the time; and had it not been
Malthus, they could have extracted the same idea from other sources
from Erasmus Darwin, for instance, or from certain passages in
Lamarck. The time was ripe; 'it was not the coincidence of discovery
that is surprising but rather the fact that the coincidence was so long
delayed*. 30 This remark by one of Darwin's biographer's is not based
on hind-sight, but on the opinion of Darwin's friends and contem-
poraries:



144 THE ACT OP CREATION

'How extremely stupid not to have thought of that,' was Huxley's
first reaction, reflecting that 'Columbus' companions had probably
felt the same way when he made the egg stand on end*. The same
thought suggested itself to the ornithologist Alfred Newton, who
did not know whether to be 'more vexed at the solution not having
occurred to me, than pleased that it had been found at all', partic-
ularly since it was 'a perfectly simple solution of the problem that
had been plaguing him for months. . . . Many of Darwin's friends
must have felt as Huxley did . . . and many of his enemies must have
agreed with Samuel Butler: 'Buffon planted, Erasmus Darwin and
Lamarck watered, but it was Mr. Darwin who said "that fruit is
ripe", and shook it into his lap/ 31



I



VII

THINKING ASIDE
Limits of Logic

In an old Alchemist's Rosarium, whose author I have forgotten, I once
saw two pieces of advice for finding the Philosopher's Stone
printed side by side:

The Stone can only be found when the search lies heavily on the
searcher. Thou seekest hard and findest not. Seek not and thou
wilst find.

The introspective reports of artists and scientists on their sources of
inspiration and methods of work often display the same contradiction.
'Saturate yourself through and through with your subject . . . and
wait' was Lloyd Morgan's advice. 'Chance only favours invention for
minds which are prepared for discoveries by patient study and persever-
ing efforts.' This was said by Pasteur, and his meaning goes here beyond
what I have called the factor of 'ripeness': he seems to regard chance as
a kind of legitimate reward, causally related to the effort an almost
mystic conception. Souriau's famous 'to invent you must think aside'
'pour inventef ilfaut penser & c$ti* quoted with approval by Poincare,
points in the same direction. The consensus, at least among mathe-
maticians, seems to be that if you strive hard enough to get to India
you are bound to get to some America or other. 'One sometimes
finds,' Fleming once said, 'what one is not looking for. For instance, the
technician who set out to find a way to synchronize the rate of fire of a
machine-gun with the revolutions of an air-screw discovered an
excellent way of imitating the lowing of a cow.'

The history of discovery is full of such arrivals at unexpected
destinations, and arrivals at the right destination by the wrong boat.
Kepler set out to prove that the universe is built on simple geometrical
or musical principles and found that it was built 'on a cartload of

145



146



THE ACT OF CREATION



dung*: the elliptic orbits. He celebrated his discovery with a quotation
from Virgil's Eclogues where Truth appears as a teasing hussy: you
chase after her until you almost collapse; then when you have given
up she smilingly surrenders.

At times one almost suspects that all these references to mysterious
inspirations and sudden flashes of insight, all these protestations about
'I have no idea how I did it' and 'je ne cherche pas, je trouve, may stem
from an unconscious desire to appear as the privileged master of some
Socratic demon. Yet the evidence for large chunks of irrationality
embedded in the creative process, not only in art (where we are ready
to accept it) but in the exact sciences as well, cannot be disputed; and it
is particularly conspicuous in the most rational of all sciences: mathe-
matics and mathematical physics. From Kepler and Descartes to
Planck and de Broglie, the working methods of the great pioneers
seem to have been inspired by Einstein's jingle, improvised for the
benefit of an unknown lady who asked him for a dedication on a
photograph:

A thought that sometimes makes me hary:
Am I or are the others crazy?

In the popular imagination these men of science appear as sober
ice-cold logicians, electronic brains mounted on dry sticks. But if one
were shown an anthology of typical extracts from their letters and
autobiographies with no names mentioned, and then asked to guess
their profession, the likeliest answer would be: a bunch of poets or
musicians of a rather romantically naive kind. The themes that
reverberate through their intimate writings are: the belittling of logic
and deductive reasoning (except for verification after the act); horror
of the one-track mind; distrust of too much consistency ('One should
carry one's theories lightly', wrote Titchener); scepticism regarding
all-too-conscious thinking (It seems to me that what you call full
consciousness is a limit case which can never be fully accomplished.
This seems to me connected with the fact called the narrowness of
consciousness Bnge des Bewusstseins, 1 Einstein). This sceptical reserve
is compensated by trust in intuition and in unconscious guidance by
quasi-religious or by aesthetic sensibilities. 1 cannot believe that God
plays dice with the world,' Einstein repeated on several occasions,
rejecting the tendency in modern physics to replace causality by
statistical probabilities. 'There is a scientific taste just as there is a



THINKING ASIDE



147



literary or artistic one*, wrote Renan. Hadamard emphasized that the
mathematician is in most cases unable to foresee whether a tentative
line of attack will be successful; but he has a 'sense of beauty that can
inform us, and I cannot see anything else allowing us to foresee. This is
undoubtedly the way the Greek geometers thought when they
investigated the ellipse, because there is no other conceivable way.*
Poincare was equally specific: f It may be surprising to see emotional
sensibility invoked a propos of mathematical demonstrations which, it
would seem, can interest only the intellect. This would be to forget the
feeling of mathematical beauty, of the harmony of numbers and forms,
of geometric elegance. This is a true aesthetic feeling that all real
mathematicians know. The useful combinations [of ideas] are precisely
the most beautiful, I mean those best able to charm this special sensibil-
ity.' Max Planck, the father of quantum theory, wrote in his autobiog-
raphy that the pioneer scientist must have *a vivid intuitive imagination
for new ideas not generated by deduction, but by artistically creative
imagination. The quotations could be continued indefinitely, yet I
cannot recall any explicit statement to the contrary by any eminent
mathematician or physicist.

Here, then, is the apparent paradox. A branch of knowledge which
operates predominantly with abstract symbols, whose entire rationale
and credo are objectivity, verifiability, logicality, turns out to be depen-
dent on mental processes which are subjective, irrational, and verifiable
only after the event.

The Unconscious before Freud

The apparent paradox arises out of certain misconceptions about the
process of thinking and about the methods of science. Both originated
in the Age of Enlightenment, and hardened into a dogmatic creed
during the nineteenth century; the rapid expansion of thd area of
knowledge exacted its price in a temporary loss of depth. The depth-
psychologies of men like Nietzsche, Freud, and Jung bore through the
shallow crust, but each drove its shafts into one particular direction
inhabited by demons of a particular breed. The concept of the uncon-
scious acquired a mystical halo and a clinical odour; it became a kind of
Pandora's box, which sceptical psychologists asserted to be empty,
while to others it served as a stage-magician's trunk, equipped with a
trapdoor underneath and secret drawers. A good many of these violent



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THE ACT OF CREATION



reactions originated in the mistaken belief that 'the unconscious mind'
was, like the Relativity Theory and sub-atomic physics, an invention of
the twentieth century.

In fact, however, the unconscious was no more invented by Freud
than evolution was invented by Darwin, and has an equally impressive
pedigree, reaching back to antiquity; a brief historic retrospect may
help to see it in a broader perspective and a more balanced context. The
larger part of the quotations which follow are taken from L. L.
Whyte's book on The Unconscious Before Freud (1962) a remarkable
contribution to that neglected branch of historiography, the History
of Ideas.

I shall not bore the reader with obscure quotations from the
Upanishads, or ancient Egypt and Greece. At the dawn of Christian
Europe the dominant influence were the Neoplatonists; foremost
among them Plotinus, who took it for granted that 'feelings can be
present without awareness of them', that 'the absence of a conscious
perception is no proof of the absence of mental activity', and who
talked confidently of a 'mirror' in the mind which, when correctly
aimed, reflects the processes going on inside it, when aimed in another
direction, fails to do so but the process goes on all the same. Augustine
marvelled at man's immense store of unconscious memories 'a
spreading, limidess room within me who can reach its limitless
depth?'

The knowledge of unconscious mentation had always been there,
as can be shown by quotations from theologians like St. Thomas
Aquinas, mystics like Jacob Boehme, physicians like Paracelsus,
astronomers like Kepler, writers and poets as far apart as Dante,
Cervantes, Shakespeare, and Montaigne. This in itself is in no way
remarkable; what is remarkable is that this knowledge was lost during
the scientific revolution, more particularly under the impact of its most
influential philosopher, Rene Descartes, who flourished in the first half
of the seventeenth century.

As modem phy&ics started with the Newtonian revolution, so
modem philosophy starts with what one might call the Cartesian
Catastrophe. The catastrophe consisted in the splitting up of the world
into the realms of matter and mind, and the identification of 'mind' with
conscious thinking. The result of this identification was the shallow
rationalism oV esprit Cartesien, and an impoverishment of psychology
which it took three centuries to remedy even in part. But it also had a
further, unexpected consequence. To quote Whyte:



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149



Prior to Descartes and Lis sharp definition of the dualism there was
no cause to contemplate the possible existence of unconscious men-
tality as part of a separate realm of mind. Many religious and spec-
ulative thinkers had taken for granted factors lying outside but
influencing immediate awareness. . . . Until an attempt had been
made (with apparent success) to choose awareness as the defining
characteristic of mind, there was no occasion to invent the idea of
unconscious mind ... It is only after Descartes that we find, first the
idea and then the term 'unconscious mind' entering European
thought. 1

Only gradually did the reaction set in the realization that 'if there
are two realms, physical and mental, awareness cannot be taken as the
criterion of mentality [because] the springs of human nature He in the
unconscious ... as the realm which links the moments of human
awareness with the background of organic processes within which they
emerge 4 . 2

Among the first to take up the cudgels against Descartes's 'Cogito
ergo sum was the Cambridge philosopher Cudworth:

. , . Those philosophers themselves who made the essence of the
soul to consist in cogitation, and again, the essence of cogitation in
clear and express consciousness, cannot render it in any way
probable, that the souls of men in all profound sleeps, lethargies, and
apoplexies ... are never so much as one moment without expressly
conscious cogitations; which, if they were, according to the principles

of their philosophy, they must, ipso facto, cease to have any being

It is certain, that our human souls themselves are not always conscious
of whatever they have in them; for even the sleeping geometrician
hath, at that time, all his geometrical theorems some way in him; as
also the sleeping musician, all his musical skills and songs. . . . We
have all experience of our doing many animal actions non-attend-
ingly, which we reflect upon afterwards; as, also, that we often
continue a long series of bodily motions, by a mere virtual intention
of our minds, and as it were by half a cogitation. . . . 3

John Locke sided with Descartes, declaring boldly: 'It is impossible
to perceive without perceiving that he does perceive/ John Norris
(1657-1711) retorted with equal boldness:



150



THE ACT OP CREATION



We may have ideas of which we are not conscious. . . . There are
infinitely more ideas impressed on our rninds than we can possibly
attend to or perceive. . . . There may be an impression of ideas
without any actual perception of them. 4

This was written in 1690.

At about the same time the Earl of Shaftesbury wrote:

One would think, there was nothing easier for us, than to know
our own minds. . . . But our thoughts have generally such an
obscure implicit language, that it is the hardest thing in the world to
make them speak out distinctly. 5

Leibniz Newton's rival as a mathematician, and Descartes's oppo-
nent as a philosopher tried to determine quantitative thresholds of
awareness. He came to the conclusion:

Our clear concepts are like islands which arise above the ocean of

o'bscure ones. 6

We now enter the eighteenth century. Leibniz's concept of the
unconscious found many followers in Germany, among them
Christian Wolff:

Let no-one imagine that I would join the Cartesians in asserting
that nothing can be in the mind of which it is not aware. That is a
prejudice which impedes the understanding of the mind. 7

Lichtenberg, a hunch-backed genius, satirical writer, and professor
of physics at Goettingen, regarded dreams as a means to self-know-
ledge, and thoughts as products of the Id:

It thinks, one ought to say. We become aware of certain
representations which do not depend on us; others depend on us, or
at least so we believe; where is the boundary? One should say, it
thinks, just as one says, it rains. To say cogito is already too much if
one translates it by I think'.

The same protest is echoed by Lamartine: e I never think my
thoughts think for me.'

Kant is probably the driest among the great philosophers who
would have suspected him among the forerunners of Freud? :

The field of our sense-perceptions and sensations, of which we are
not conscious, though we. undoubtedly can infer that we possess
them, that is, the dark ideas in man, is immeasurable. The clear ones



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151



in contrast cover infinitely few points which he open to conscious-
ness; so that in fact on the great map of our spirit only a few points
are iUuminated. 8

The German physician and philosopher E. Platner of whom I
confess never to have heard before was, according to Whyte, the first
to use the term Unhewusstsein, unconsciousness, and to assert that
thinking is a constant oscillation between conscious and unconscious
processes:

Consciousness is no essential part of an idea. Ideas with conscious-
ness I call apperceptions following Leibniz; ideas without conscious-
ness perceptions, or dark images. The life of the mind is an unbroken
series of actions, a continuous series of ideas of both kinds. For
apperceptions alternate with perceptions throughout life. Ideas with
consciousness are often the psychological results of ideas without
consciousness. 9

As we approach the nineteenth century, the single voices grow into
a chorus in praise of the creative faculties of the unconscious mind. It is
perhaps most audible in Germany; among those who join in are, to
mention only a few, Herder, Schelling, Hegel, Goethe, Fichte. Here,
for instance, is Goethe:

Man cannot persist long in a conscious state, he must throw himself
back into the Unconscious, for his root lives there. . . . Take for
example a talented musician, composing an important score:
consciousness and unconsciousness will be Eke warp and weft. 10

Jean-Paul Richter, an outstanding novelist (unfortunately little
known in England):

The unconscious is really the largest realm in our minds, and just
on account of this unconsciousness it is an inner Africa, whose
unknown boundaries may extend far away. Why should everything
come to consciousness that lies in the mind since, for example, that
of which it has already been aware, the whole great realm of
memory, only appears to it iUurriinated in small areas while the
entire reniaining world stays invisible in the shadows? And may
there not be a second half world of our mental moon which never
turns towards consciousness?

The most powerful thing in the poet, which blows the good and
the evil spirit into his works, is precisely the unconscious. . . . u



152



THE ACT OF CREATION



I. H. Echte (a psychologist, son of the philosopher) postulated the
existence of pre-conscious states:

Beneath active consciousness there must He consciousness in a
merely potential state, that is a middle condition of the mind, which
though not yet conscious, none the less positively carries the specific
character of Intelligence; from those conditions of preconscious
existence the true consciousness must be explained and developed
step by step. 12

in France the Cartesian spirit survived longest until the second half
of the nineteenth century in fact, when Charcot and his colleagues
revolutionized psychiatry (Freud, at one time, had studied under
Charcot). But in England the concept of the unconscious had a long
and distinguished line of ancestors, some of whom I have already
quoted. Here is Abraham Tucker, an influential philosopher, writing
around 1750:

. . . our mental organs do not stand idle the moment we cease to
employ them, but continue the motions we put into them after
they have gone out of our sight, thereby working themselves to a
glibness and smoothness and falling into a more regular and orderly
posture than we could have placed them with all our skill and
industry. 13

The term 'unconscious cerebration* was coined by W. B. Carpenter,
a nineteenth-century physician and naturalist:

. . . That action of the brain which, through unconscious cerebra-
tion, produces results w T hich might never have been produced by
thought. 14

Other characteristic English coinages are Wordsworth's 'caverns in
the mind which sun can never penetrate*, Coleridge's 'twilight realm
of consciousness', William James's 'fringe consciousness', and Myers's
'subliminal self'. In i860 Sir Thomas Laycock wrote that

no general fact is so well established by the experience of mankind or

so universally accepted as a guide in the affairs of life, as that of

unconscious life and action 16

And Maudsley, writing a few years later:

The most important part of mental action, the essential process on
which thinking depends, is unconscious mental activity. 16



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153



For the climax of this story we must return to Germany in the
second half of the nineteenth century. The pioneers of German
experimental psychology were Fechner ('Fechner 's law') and Wilhelm
Wundt. Fechner's attitude is summed up in his famous metaphor of
the mind as an iceberg, with only a fraction of it above the surface of
consciousness, moved by the winds of awareness, but mostly by hidden
under-water currents. Wundt continued where Fechner had left off:
Our mind is so fortunately equipped, that it brings us the most
important bases for our thoughts without our having the least know-
ledge of this work of elaboration. Only the results of it become
conscious. This unconscious mind is for us like an unknown being
who creates and produces for us, and finally throws the ripe fruits in
our lap. 17

At about the same time, in 1868, Erich von Hartmann published his
Philosophy of the Unconscious, which became a best-seller. From a period
novel by the popular Spielhagen we learn that in 1870 two main topics
dominated conversation in the intellectual salons of Berlin: Wagner
and the Unconscious. We are reminded of the scene in the London
salon of Disraeli's play, where the fashionable topic of Evolution is
discussed fifteen years before anybody had heard the name of
Darwin. Whyte lists six philosophical works published within ten
years after von Hartmann' s which carry the word 'unconscious' in
their tides. In the literature of the period Nietzsche was the towering
giant. He took over the unconscious Id from Lichtenberg (which
Groddeck then took over from Nietzsche, and Freud from Groddeck);
it is one of the leitmotifs in Nietzsche's work:

Where are the new doctors of the soul?. . . Consciousness is the last
and latest development of the organic, and is consequendy the most
unfinished and least powerful of these developments. Every extension
of knowledge arises from making conscious the unconsciousness. The
great basic activity is unconscious. For it is narrow, this room of
human consciousness.

Whyte concludes: 'The general conception of unconscious mental
process was conceivable (in post-Cartesian Europe) around 1700, topical
around 1800, and fashionable around 1870-1880. ... It cannot be
disputed that by 1870-1880 the general conception of the unconscious
mind was a European commonplace and that many special applications
of this general idea had been vigorously discussed for several decades.* 18



154



THE ACT OF CREATION



I have confined this digest to unconscious thinking] there is an equal
abundance in relevant quotations which refer to the motivational,
affective, and pathological aspects of the unconscious, and of the dream.
My intent was not to belitde either the greatness or the originality of
Freud that would be as stupid as trying to run down Newton because
he had 'stood on the shoulders of giants'. But while Newton was aware
of this the expression is his own Freud, curiously, was not. He never
realized how respectable the idea was on which he built his edifice.

The Mechanization of Habits

The feeling of mystery or of wary scepticism which mention of
'the unconscious' evokes is part of our mental heritage, derived from
the Cartesian tradition. The tenacity of that tradition, deeply engrained
in our thinking habits, makes us constantly forget the obvious fact
rubbed in by everyday experience that awareness is a matter of
degrees. Conscious and unconscious experiences do not belong to
different compartments of the mind; they form a continuous scale of
gradations, of degrees of awareness. .We may call, as Leibniz did,
conscious events 'light', unconscious ones 'dark* provided that we
remember the infinite shadings from lighter to darker grey between
them. The dark end of the scale extends well below the human level to
an unknown limit which may possibly be some form of 'proto-
plasmic consciousness'; Bergson even asserted that 'the unconscious-
ness of a falling stone is something different from the unconsciousness
of a growing cabbage*.

In human beings we find at the bottom of the scale the self-
regulating activities which control the viscera and glands, the circula-
tion of the blood and other physiological processes of which we are
normally unaware; yet in their ensemble they may supply that
vegetative or bovine consciousness of being warmly alive and kicking.
From here on the scale of awareness ascends to the more or less
mechanical i.e. less or more conscious exercise of practised skills:
from walking along a road to picking one's way through puddles in
the rain, to climbing an exposed rock-face; from tying one's shoe-
strings to knotting a broken shoe-string; humming a tune absent-
mindedly singing it to an audience; adding up a column of figures
mechanically checking it, after a mistake has been discovered, with
great attention. At the top of the scale we find the quasi-hypnotic state



THINKING ASIDB



155



of utter concentration on a problem, or absorption in a thriller, blind
and deaf to one's surroundings.

Equally continuous gradients of awareness are found in the exercise
of perceptual and cognitive skills, the working of memory, the ebbs
and tides of emotion. We are conscious only of a fraction of the input
into our eyes, ears, and skin; yet the intake is registered nevertheless.
We are unaware of the ticking of the clock, but aware that it has
stopped. While reading we are unaware of the shape of the letters
because the skill of transforming them into words is fully automatized*
and awareness is focussed on the meaning behind the shapes a pheno-
menon known as the 'transparency' of language. We summon
memories asleep in the dormitory of the mind, while others barge in
uninvited. Oddest of all, we hold ourselves and others responsible for
forgetting something which ought to have been remembered. The
schoolboy who has left his gym-shoes at home, the maid who has
forgotten to put sugar on the breakfast tray, are held responsible for
unconscious acts of omission.

The greater mastery and ease we gain in the exercise of a skill, the
more automatized it will tend to become, because the code of rules
which controls it now operates below the threshold of awareness. But
the degree of conscious attention which accompanies the performance
depends also on a second factor: the prevailing environmental condi-
tions, the lie of the landwhether it is familiar, or contains unusual
features. The inexperienced driver must concentrate even on an empty
road. The experienced driver functions automatically; but he must
concentrate in heavy traffic.

We may then, somewhat paradoxically, describe awareness as that
experience which decreases and fades away with our increasing mastery
of a skill exercised under monotonous conditions. Mastery of the code
and stability of environment are the two factors which lead to the
formation of habit; and habit-formation is accompanied by a gradual
dimming and darkening of the lights of awareness. On the other hand,
we may regard this tendency towards the progressive automatization
of skills as an act of mental parsimony, as a handing-down of the
controls to lower levels in the hierarchy of nervous functions, enabling
the higher levels to turn to more challenging tasks. Thus the typist can
go on transcribing letters while t&inking of her boy friend; and the boy
friend can drive the car while discussing with her their weekend plans
thanks to the benevolent workings of the principle of parsimony,
which seems to be an essential factor in mental progress.



THE ACT OF CREATION



To revert to an earlier example: the beginner, hopefully facing a
chessboard, feels uncertain about the manner in which bishops and
rooks are permitted to move, and has to consult his textbook or his
teacher. After some practice it becomes impossible for him to move a
rook diagonally without a feeling of aesthetic and moral revulsion, of
having committed an obscenity or violated a sacred taboo: the rules
have become automatized, encoded in the circuitry of his nervous
system. At a still later stage he learns to apply certain stratagems just as
automatically: to avoid 'pins' and 'forks', not to expose the king, to
seek open rook files, etc. In games simpler than chess the same type of
situation will recur over and again, and the appropriate stratagems will
be codified in their turn. Computer engineers have actually built elec-
tronic brains in which both the rules and the stratagems of simple board
games, such as noughts and crosses, are built into the memory' of the
machine. They can beat any opponent if he blunders, and draw if he
plays a correct game. The machine illustrates the process of relegating
familiar tasks to lower levels of the mental hierarchy which function
as unawares or nearly as involuntary reflexes.

But how does all this relate to mental creativity? Only indirectly.
The intervention of unconscious processes in the creative act is a
phenomenon quite different from the automatization of skills; and our
unawareness of the sources of inspiration is of a quite different order
from the unawareness of what we are doing while we tie our shoe-
strings or copy a letter on the typewriter. In the creative act there is an
upward surge from some unknown, fertile, underground layers of the
mind; whereas the process I have described is a downward relegation of
the controls of skilled techniques.

In fact I have so far discussed only one aspect or dimension of
consciousness: let us call it the linear scale, or linear gradient of aware-
ness. At one end of the scale we found routines performed without
awareness; at the opposite end the smgle-minded, hyper-awake
concentration on a problem, where consciousness is focussed into a
narrow beam with darkness all round. But such a one-dimensional
interpretation of the varieties of consciousness, as a line running from
automatism to obsession, seems highly unsatisfactory. Consciousness
is a multi-dimensional affair, as I hope to show in the pages that follow.
The 'linear* gradient of awareness which I have discussed is only one of
these dimensions though nevertheless an important one. It is along
that gradient that learning is transformed into habit, that the control
of new skills, once mastered, slides down under its own gravity



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157



as it were, into the basement, making room upstairs for new
acquisitions.

A pianist, after practising a piece for some time, can reel it off 'in his
sleep*, as the saying goes. The exact opposite of this process is illustrated
by the famous case of Tartini composing the Devil's Trill Sonata while
asleep. The first example shows the unconscious as a repository of
habits which no longer need being attended to'; the second, as a
breeding ground of novelties.

It is essential to bear both processes in mindand not to confuse
them. Most Behaviourists accept only the first: they regard habit-
formation as the essence of mental progress; original ideas, on this
view, are lucky hits among random tries, retained because of their
utility value just as biological evolution is held to be the outcome of
random mutations retained because of their survival value.

Among those prepared to accept the positive role of the unconscious,
there is a frequent tendency to confuse downward' and 'upward*
traffic to equate automatism with intuition. Some highly developed,
semi-automatized skills have a great amount of flexibility the result of
years of hard trairiing; but their practitioners are devoid of originality.
Tightrope walkers, acrobats, night-club pianists, and calculating
prodigies display virtuosity; a virtuoso is denned by the Oxford
Dictionary as a person skilled in the mechanical part of a fine art*.
Needless to say, virtuosity may combine in the same person with
creativity; but in itself it is no more than the highest elaboration of a
routine with fixed, automatized rules of the game and a malleable
strategy.

Such mechanical virtuosity has probably reached its highest devel-
opment in the Japanese arts inspired by Zen Buddhism: swordsmanship,
archery, Judo, calligraphic painting. The method to reach perfection
has been authoritatively described as practice, repetition, and repetition
of the repeated with ever-increasing intensity', 19 until the adept
'becomes a kind of automaton, so to speak, as far as his own
consciousness is concerned*. 20 * That is the method by which Professor
Skinner of Harvard University, a leader of the Behaviourist school,
trained pigeons to perform circus acts, intended as an explanation of
mental development in man.



i



Exploring the Shallows



We have heard conscious thoughts being compared to icebergs, or
islands in the ocean of unconscious mentation; we have heard Einstein
affirm that 'full consciousness is a limit case which can never be fully
accomplished'. Let me proceed from these metaphors to a closer
analogy, which may help to dispel common illusions about the clarity
of conscious thought.

Most people with normal eyesight tend to the flattering belief that
they see the world around them at any time in sharp focus; in fact,
however, they see a blur. Only a minute fraction of tie visual field
about one-thousandth of it is seen distinctly; outside of this centre
vision becomes increasingly vague and hazy. If you gaze fixedly at a
single word in the centre of the page you are reading, and try to
prevent your gaze from straying along the line (which is not easy
because reading is an automatized skill), you will see only about, a
couple of words sharp in focus, the rest of the line on both sides trails
off into a haze. And how about the whole page, and the rest of the
room around you?

Focal vision subtends an angle of only about four degrees, less than
the angle at the point of a pin, out of a total field of a hundred and
eighty degrees. Yet we are unaware of this, because we constandy scan
the field with, mostly unconscious, movements of the eye, to bring the
blurred periphery into the narrow beam of focal vision pinpointed at
the fovea, the tiny spot at the centre of the retina which alone conveys
true and distinct sight.

This much every schoolboy learns (and forgets); but in i960
experiments at McGill University led to the rather surprising discovery
that the unconscious movements of the eye are not merely aids to
clearer vision, but a sine qua non of vision. When the subject's gaze
remained really fixed on a stationary object (by means of a mechanical
device, see Book Two, X), his vision went haywire, the image
of the object disintegrated and disappeared then reappeared after a
while but in distorted shape or in fragments. Static vision does not
exist; there is no seeing without exploring.

With due caution we can draw a limited analogy between visual
scanning and mental scamiing between the blurred, peripheral vision
outside the focal beam, and the hazy, half-formed notions which
accompany thinking on the fringes of consciousness. 'Every definite
image in the mind', wrote William James, 'is steeped and dyed in the

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THINKING ASIDE



159



free water that flows round it. With it goes the sense of its relations,
near and remote, the dying echo of whence it came to us, the dawning
sense of whither it is to lead. The significance, the value of the image,
is all in this halo or penumbra that surrounds and escorts it'. 21

If one attempts to hold fast to a mental image or concept to hold it,
immobile and isolated, in the focus of awareness, it will disintegrate,
like the static, visual image on the fovea: a word, constantly repeated,
becomes meaningless; an idea, stripped of its hazy penumbra, vanishes
like the Cheshire Cat, Thinking is never a sharp, neat, linear process;
it could rather be compared to the progress of a boat on a lake. When
you day-dream you drift before the wind; when you read or listen to a
narrative you travel like a barge towed by a tug. But in each case the
progress of the boat causes ripples on the lake, spreading in all directions
memories, images, associations; some of these move quicker than the
boat itself and create anticipations; others penetrate into the deep. The
boat symbolizes focal awareness, the ripples on the surface are the
fringes of consciousness, and you can furnish the deeps, according to
taste, with the nasty eddies of repressed complexes, the deep-water
currents of the collective unconscious, or with archetypal coral-reefs.
When thinking is in the tow of a narrative, focal awareness must stick to
its course and cannot follow the ripples on their journey across the lake;
but it is their presence all round the horizon,on the peripheries of aware-
ness, which provides resonance, colour, and depth, the atmosphere
and feel of the story. When it comes to productive thinking, however,
the metaphor breaks down unless we equip it with an outboard
motor, a gyro-compass, servo-steering, and other paraphernalia.

The existence of an intermediary region between the 'limit case' of
sharp, narrow focal awareness and the vast unconscious regions of the
mind has been recognized for a long time. Fichte (and later Freud)
called it the pre-conscious (das Vorbewusstsein), James called it the
fringe; Polanyi 'subsidiary awareness'; the analogy with vision yielded
'peripheral awareness'; but since awareness is a matter of degrees, it
would be mistaken to draw a sharp line between pre- and unconscious
processes, between the shallows and the deep. What matters is the
distinction between the single event (the percept, or concept, or word,
or muscle-action) which for a fleeting moment occupies the focus of*
attention and the processes on the periphery which define the context,
the purpose and meaning of the former.

But how do they interact? How do pre- or unconscious processes
influence the direction of thought; how do some enter focal awareness



i6o



THE ACT OF CREATION



and sink back again into twilight and darkness; how do they assist
mental creativity? The answers we have heard up to now were of
a general nature; they all asserted that such assistance was indispensable
and did in fact occur; but they had little to say regarding the concrete
mechanism or procedure through which it was rendered. Perhaps the
most lucid attempt in this direction was made by that versatile genius
Francis Galton in a famous analogy:

When I am engaged in trying to think anything out, the process
of doing so appears to me to be this: the ideas that lie at any
moment within my full consciousness seem to attract of their own
accord the most appropriate out of a number of other ideas that are
lying close at hand, but imperfectly within the range of my
consciousness. There seems to be a presence-chamber in my mind
where full consciousness holds court, and where two or three ideas
are at the same time in audience, and an ante-chamber full of more
or less allied ideas, which is situated just beyond the full ken of
consciousness. Out of this ante-chamber the ideas most nearly allied
to those in the presence-chamber appear to be summoned in a
mechanically logical way, and to have their turn of audience. 22

The italics are mine, and are meant to register protest. Assuming the
idea in the presence-chamber of my mind is, as it happens to be, Mr.
Galton himself, I can recall six distinct occasions in the last few months
when I thought of him. He helped to ease the gloom of my last birth-
day because Galton lived to the age of eighty-nine; and the idea
'most nearly allied', which was summoned from the ante-chamber
'in a mechanically logical way', was 'Methuselah*. On another occasion
I read about the acquittal of a woman who had been tried for the
mercy-killing of her malformed baby; Galton was summoned because
he had invented the word 'eugenics'; next came, logically, the 'most
nearly allied' idea of Adolf Hider, whose S.S. men practised eugenics
after their own fashion. On yet another occasion the closest association
was 'colour-blindness' first studied by Dalton which rhymes with
Galton; and so forth. Each summons into the presence-chamber had
its own 'mechanical logic', if you wish to call it that; and the choice of
the 'most nearly allied idea', the order of precedence in the ante-
chamber, depended on what sort of logic, or rule of the game, was at
the time in control of the mind. Galton was a pioneer of the experimen-
tal method in word-association tests; but as a follower of the English



THINKING ASIDE l6l

associationist school, he failed to realize that association is always con-
trolled by a code of rules, whether the subject is aware of it or not; and
that different codes are active at different times.

Thus the famous analogy of the ante-chamber of the mind does not
get us much further; but it helps us to ckrify the problem by showing
the pitfalls of the mechanistic approach, and leading us back, as it were,
to our starting point. It was the comparison between the blurred
periphery of the visual field and the vague intimations which pass
through the twilight of the pre-conscious. We can now venture a step
further, and draw a parallel between the part-automatic visual scanning
of a landscape, and the mental scanning of a land of inner landscape
in purposive thinking. In both cases, the scanning process is controlled
by a specific, selective code that determines which features in the
landscape are relevant and which are not. Scanning a panorama
through my window purely for pleasure corresponds to the aimless
drift of thought along the most gratifying features memories,
images, pleasurable anticipations of the inner landscape. But if I
explore with my eyes the mountain before me for the safest route to
the summit, or the amount of timber it will yield; for a sign of
edelweiss, or a strategic gun-site safe from air attack, the whole visual
field will in each case become organized and patterned in different ways;
and the scanning motions of my eyes, guiding the beam of focal vision,
will automatically be governed by certain rules which I am unable to
name, and by a purposeful strategy determined by the He of the land.

In this example visual exploration and mental exploration are
actually indistinguishable; the observational data derived from looking
at the rock face, and the lessons derived from previous experience
combine into one. In other situations, the exploratory process may be
confined to the inner landscape, to the exclusion of all stimuli from
the world outside. The poet's or the mathematician's trance-like
condition while he concentrates on a problem, the vivid fantasies of
the day-dreamer, the delusions of the insane, the dreams of the sleeper,
are products of widely different games of the mind; but they all have
this in common, that the beam of focal awareness is exploring the inner
environment, and ignoring the input from the senses. The features on
which the beam alights are images of a pictorial or verbal nature,
memories in abstracted, conceptualized, or distorted shape; in a word,
they are past experiences internalized. The inner landscape may be
regarded as a kind of private, miniature model or caricature of the
world in the subject's brain-mind (see Book Two).



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THE ACT OF CREATION



Thus the objects of the scanning process are ultimately the individual's
past experiences (including his pre-natal past) incorporated in one form
or another into his mental landscape. And the rules which control the
scanning process (the pattern of 'mental eye motions 5 , as it were) are
also derived from past experiences by abstraction and generalization;
they are the results of learning compressed into the operational codes
of thinking skills.

As an example, take the parlour game 'Towns with M' (see page 38).
The moment I start playing it a fixed code takes control of my mental
processes, and their freedom is whittled down to strategic choices.
These may be based on exploring an imagined geographical map, or
on the 'tuning-fork' method. The mental map is a blurred, ha2y, and
distorted replica of what I learned in school and on travels; but as I
proceed to scan it, from west to east with the mind's eye, name after
name emerges from the misty twilight: Manchester, Munich, Moscow,
Murmansk, Michigan, etc. If, on the other hand, I apply the tuning-
fork method, Manchester will call out Mannheim, Madrid, Madras,
and so forth. All of these names were learned in the past; all of them were
members of the 'M' matrix (otherwise they could not have been
summoned on the 'wavelength' of that particular code); all of them
were unconscious or pre-conscious the moment before the beam of
focal awareness alighted on them. The beam was guided firstly by the
rule of the game (Tind towns with M, not rivers with 5'), and secondly
by strategy ('move from west to east'). The rule was fixed, the strategy
variable. A further point to note is (though it does not concern us yet)
that strategy operates by a kind of feed-back from the lie of the land:
I was searching for towns with 'M' between Munich and Moscow,
but found none: so I moved on. Other factors enter: I might have
remembered Mannheim, but did not because of an unpleasant exper-
ience there: emotional disturbances interfering with 'mechanical logic'.
Incidentally, the forming of a sentence in ordinary conversation
follows a similar pattern. Instead of scanning a map for towns with 'M',
you must scan your vocabulary for words which will fit a given
meaning.

Take an even simpler practical example. I live in London and have
to spend a day in Paris some time next week to see my French publisher.
If this were a pleasure-trip the fringes of my consciousness would at
once be crowded with half-remembered, floating images of bistros,
streets, galleries, metro stations; but, as it is a business trip, a different
code enters into action and the matrix is cluttered with timetables,



THINKING ASIDE



appointment books, galley proofs, and dustcovers, which strategic
planning must co-ordinate into the proper sequence.

Purposive thinking, even of this ordinary, humdrum kind, proceeds
in several steps. First, the code of rules appropriate to the task is 'tuned
in' by dint of analogy with similar tasks encountered in the past. As
a result, a matrix will emerge, a kind of patterned mental grid or chess-
board, which provides a preliminary selection of permissible moves, a
first guidance for the exploratory process. Next comes strategy,
dependent upon the particulars of the situation.

Each step involves processes more or less removed from focal
awareness. The code which guides the focal beam of consciousness
functions more or less unconsciously. (It could not be otherwise, for if
the beam were guided by the beam, we would be landed in the
paradox of a little man inside the brain with a little man inside his
brain, and so forth.) The codes of grammar and syntax function
unconsciously; the meaning you wish to express provides the strategy
for selecting the proper word. The words just like the towns with
*M' were lying in darkness before the beam searched them out and
lit them up for a fleeting moment; then they sink back into darkness
again.

Thus all reasoning, even of a trivial order, is steeped in unconscious
processes. But when the task is of a more complex order, thinking may
run into difficulty at each of the steps which I have outlined. A situation
may share certain features with other situations encountered in the past,
yet the code of rules which enabled us to cope with them proves
mysteriously inadequate in the new situation. Bleeding and purging the
patient proved beneficial in a number of cases, so it came to be regarded
as an all-cure; why did it not work? We can bisect an angle with
compass and ruler, so it was assumed that we can trisect angles by the
same method; but it did not work. Sound waves are propagated in thin
air, so it was assumed that light waves are propagated in a thin ether;
but the analogy provided the wrong matrix. Circles turning upon
circles yielded an adequate description of heavenly morions, until
Tycho perfected the methods of observation; the new data disrupted
the pattern, and the matrix was blocked.

When a situation is blocked, straight thinking must be superseded
by 'thinking aside* the search for a new, auxiliary matrix which will
unblock it, without having ever before been called to perform such a
task. The essence of discovery is to hit upon such a matrix as
Gutenberg hit on the wine-press and Kepler on the sun-force.



164



THE ACT OF CREATION



In the trivial routines of thinking, we are exploring the shallows
on the twilight periphery of awareness, guided by a more or less
automatized scanning procedure. In creative thinking we are exploring
the deeps, without any obvious guidance. Yet some guidance there
must be unless all novelty is due to random hits produced by the
patient monkey on the typewriter.

The 'Hooked Atoms of Thought*

Let me return once more to Henri Poincare, who proposed a theory
concerning the nature of this unconscious guidance. We have heard
him describe how, on three different occasions, the solution of a
problem popped up spontaneously and ready-made, as it were, from
the depths of the unconscious. Further on in that famous lecture from
which I have quoted (pp. 114-16) he tried to give an explanation of
this phenomenon. His starting point was that mathematical discovery
consists in a 'combination of ideas'; and his description of this process
stresses the characteristic features of what I have called the bisociative
act:

Among chosen combinations the most fertile will often be those
formed of elements drawn from domains which are far apart. . . .
Most combinations so formed would be entirely sterile; but certain
among them, very rare, are the most fruitful of all.

Now these combinations are engineered by the unconscious or, as
he calls it, the Subliminal self*; but how? There are, he says, two
possibilities. The first is that the unconscious 'is capable of discernment;
it has tact, delicacy; it knows how to choose, to divine. What do I say?
It knows better how to divine than the conscious self since it succeeds
where that has failed. In a word, is not the subliminal self superior to
the conscious self? I confess that, for my part, I should hate to accept
this. . . .* So he rejects this first hypothesis in favour of the second:
the unconscious is an automaton which mechanically runs through all
possible combinations:

Figure the future elements of our combinations as something like
the hooked atoms of Epicurus. During the complete repose of the
mind, these atoms are motionless, they are, so to speak, hooked to the



THINKING ASIDE



wall. During a period of apparent rest and unconscious work,
certain of them are detached from the wall and put in motion. They
flash in every direction through the space ... as would, for example,
a swarm of gnats, or if you prefer a more learned comparison, like
the molecules of gas in the kinematic theory of gases. Then their
mutual impacts may produce new combinations.

But two objections come to his mind. Firstly, is not the number of
possible combinations infinite, and the chance of hitting on a favourable
one infinitesimal? No, he answers, because during the conscious
preparatory work which preceded the period of unconscious incuba-
tion, a first selection was already made of those atoms which are to be
unhooked from the wall; and although no satisfactory combination of
them was found, 'after this shaking up imposed upon them by our will,
these atoms do not return to their previous rest. They freely continue
to dance* until the one favourable collision in a rnillion occurs. (This
is rather like saying that the chances of the monkey on the typewriter
hitting on a Shakespeare sonnet would be considerably improved by
building a typewriter which uses whole words as keys instead of
letters.)

The second objection which occurred to Poincare is as follows:
although coundess combinations are formed 'in consequence of the
automatism of the subliminal self, only the interesting ones . . . break
into the domain of consciousness*. But, if so, what is the nature of the
mysterious sieve which rejects the useless combinations and allows only
the lucky hits to pass into consciousness? Poincare's answer is that
the selection is done by 'the aesthetic sensibility of the real creator. The
useful combinations are precisely the most beautiful, I mean those best
able to charm this special sensibility*.

This is certainly a more attractive answer than Galton's, who sum-
mons ideas from the ante-chamber 'in a mechanically logical way'; yet
Poincare himself felt its unsatisfaaoriness. For it combines a mechanistic
theory about the random collision of atomic ideas in the unconscious,
with an aesthetic sensibility which resides in the conscious, and plays
the part of a deus ex machina* We do not doubt that this kind of
sensibility is present in the creative rnind, and to inquire into its nature
is precisely what we are after; but Poincare lets the matter rest just
where the problem starts.

Particularly fascinating in this lecture, delivered in 1908, is the fact
that Poincare, after acknowledging his debt to the 'subliminal self' and



I<5<5



THE ACT OF CREATION



singing its praises, confesses that he would 'hate to accept' that it might
in some respects be superior to the conscious self, and relegates it to the
role of an automatic mixing machine in the basement. He worked by
intuition, but for all his modesty and open-mindedness he was unable
to shake off the rationalist hubris of the nineteenth century.*

Exploring the Deeps

All we have gleaned from these excursions into the history of our
subject, from Plotinus to Poincare, is firsdy, a negative insight into the
narrow limitations of conscious thinking; and on the positive side,
affirmations of the superiority of unconscious mentation at certain
stages of creative work. But regarding the reasons for this superiority,
and the process by which it manifests itself, we got merely a few vague
intimations, or else unsatisfactory mechanistic hypotheses such as
Gallon's and Poincare's. Nor, I may add here, had Freud or Jung much
to say about the specific problem how unconscious processes lead to
new discoveries.

Let us at this stage follow the advice we have so often heard repeated,
and 'think aside' by turning, for a moment, from scientists to poets.
If we were to apply Poincare's hypothesis we would come to the
conclusion that the poet has a conscious mind endowed with aesthetic
sensibility, and an unconscious mind equipped with an automatic
rhyme-computer (built on the principle of rhyming lexicons), and also
with an image computer (a kind of magic lantern with an automatic
slide-changer). Out of the hundreds of rhymes and similes produced
per minute the vast majority would, of course, be, valueless, and the
aesthetic censor in the conscious mind would have a full-time job
rejecting them until he went out of his mind.

It seems neither an economical nor an inspired procedure. Now let
us listen to Coleridge's celebrated description of the genesis of Kubla
Khan. He is speaking of himself in the third person singular:

In the summer of the year 1797, the Author, then in ill health, had
retired to a lonely farm-house between Porlock and Linton. ... In
consequence of a slight indisposition, an anodyne had been
prescribed, from the effects of which he fell asleep in his chair at the
moment that he was reading the following sentence, or words of the
same substance, in Purchases Pilgrimage:



THINKING ASIDE



I67



'Here the Khan Kubla commanded a palace to be built, and a
stately garden thereunto. And thus ten miles of fertile ground were
enclosed with a wall/

The Author continued for about three hours in a profound sleep,
at least of the external senses [sic] during which time he has the most
vivid confidence, that he could not have composed less than from
two to three hundred lines; if that indeed can be called composition
in which all the images rose up before him as things with a parallel
production of the correspondent expressions, without any sensation
or consciousness of effort. On awakening he appeared to himself to
have a distinct recollection of the whole, and taking his pen, ink, and
paper, instantly and eagerly wrote down the lines that are here
preserved.

This, of course, is an extreme case of unconscious production even
if, in all likelihood, it did not originate in a dream, but in an intense day-
dream or hypnogogic state. (In another, and probably earlier, statement
Coleridge gives a different version: 'This fragment with a good deal
more, not recoverable, composed in a sort of Reverie brought on by
two grains of Opium, taken to check a dysentery.' The 'reverie*
version is strengthened by the words 'in a profound sleep, at least of the
external senses 9 which point towards some intermediary kind of
'waking dream'.)

But whether he was asleep or half asleep is unimportant; the point
to note is the emphasis he puts on visual images which rose up as
things'. Unfortunately, no sooner had he started on the actual writing
down of the poem than he was interrupted 'by a person on business
from Porlock, and detained by him above an hour, and on his return to
his room, found, to his no small surprise and mortification . . . that with
the exception of some eight or ten scattered lines and images, all the
rest had passed away like the images on the surface of a stream into which a
stone has been cast*. This incidental metaphor suddenly sets off in its
author another chain of visual imagery which illustrates how the dream
version of 'Kubla Khan' was lost, thanks to the gentleman from
Porlock, but reconstructed later on out of the remaining fragments.
After the 'stone had been cast*:

... all the charm
Is broken all that phantom-world so fair
Vanishes, and a thousand circlets spread,



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THE ACT OF CREATION



And each mis-shape the other. Stay awhile,
Poor youth! . . .

The stream will soon renew its smoothness, soon
The visions will return! And lo, he stays,
And soon the fragments dim of lovely forms
Come trembling back, unite, and now once more
The pool becomes a mirror.

The whole poem, with its rather striking allegory, grew out of a
hackneyed metaphor, which was meant to serve only as a visual
illustration to a verbal narrative. But all at once the servant becomes
master, the illustration takes over from the text; visual association, the
logic of the eye are in command, and the words must follow their
lead. ...

We further note that the whole sequence of not less than from two
to three hundred lines' of the Kubk Khan dream itself was triggered off
by a passage read in Purchases Pilgrimage, as indifferent as the simile of
the stone cast into the stream: 'Here the Khan Kubla commanded a
palace to be built', etc. But at that point his imagination caught on, the
opium took effect, visual thinking took over, and images rose up as
things'.

Thinking in pictures dominates the manifestations of the unconscious
the dream, the hypnogogic half-dream, the psychotic's hallucina-
tions, the artist's 'vision'. (The 'visionary' prophet seems to have been
a visualizer, and not a verbalizer; the highest compliment we pay to
those who trade in verbal currency is to call them 'visionary thinkers'.)

But, on the other hand, pictorial thinking is a more primitive form
of mentation than conceptual thinking, which it precedes in the
mental evolution of the individual and of the species. The language of
the primitive (and of the child) is, to borrow Kretschmer's simile, 'like
the unfolding of a picture-strip: each word expresses a picture, a
pictorial image, regardless of whether it signifies an object or an
action'. In Golding's novel The Inheritors the Neanderthal men always
say 'I had a picture' when they mean 'I thought of something'; and
anthropologists agree that for once a novelist got the picture right.

Thus the poet who reverts to the pictorial mode of thought is
regressing to an older and lower level of the mental hierarchy as we do
every night when we dream, as mental patients do when they regress
to infantile fantasies. But the poet, unlike the dreamer in his sleep,
alternates between two different levels of the mental hierarchy; the



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169



dreamer s awareness functions on one only. The poet thinks both in
images and verbal concepts, at the same time or in quick alternation;
each trouvaille, each original find, bisociates two matrices. The dreamer
floats among the phantom shapes of the hoary deep; the poet is a skin-
diver with a breathing tube.

Similar considerations apply and will be discussed in Part HI
to rhythm, metre, alliteration, assonance, rhyme. The rhythmic beat,
echoing the shaman's tom-tom, awakens archaic resonances and lulls
the mind into a waking trance' (Yeats). The rhyme appeals to the
tendency to vocal repetition in the language of primitives and children
(kala-kala, ma-ma), and to the equally deep-rooted tendency to
associate by sound punning. To conclude this anticipatory excursion:
the creative activity of the artist involves momentary regressions to
earlier stages in mental evolution, bringing forms of mentation into
play which otherwise manifest themselves only in the dream or dream-
like states.

The Word and the Vision

Let us return from poets to scientists, and to the question what
guidance the latter could possibly derive from the intervention of
unconscious processes. The answer which, by analogy, now suggests
itself is that the temporary relinquishing of conscious controls liberates the
mind from certain constraints which are necessary to maintain the disciplined
routines of thoughts hut may become an impediment to the creative leap; at
the same time other types of ideation on more primitive levels of mental
organization are brought into activity. The first part of this sentence
indicates an act of abdication, the second an act of promotion. It will
be useful to remember this dual aspect of the Eureka act; it will be seen,
later on, to correspond to the destructive-constructive character of all
great revolution in the history of thought.

The scientific counterpart of the Coleridge episode is the Kekule"
episode (p. 118). But the vision of the serpent biting its tail was only the
last one in a series, which extended over a period of seven or eight years.
This is how Kekule described one of the early but decisive quasi-
haHucinations, which led to his theory of molecular constitution he
was then living in London:

'One fine summer evening,' he relates, 'I was returning by the last
omnibus, "outside" as usual, through the deserted streets of the



THE ACT OF CREATION



metropolis, which are at other times so full of life. I fell into a reverie,
and lo! the atoms were gambolling before my eyes. Whenever,
hitherto, these diminutive beings had appeared to me, they had
always been in motion; but up to that time, I had never been able to
discern the nature of their motion. Now, however, I saw how,
frequently, two smaller atoms united to form a pair; how a larger one
embraced two smaller ones; how still larger ones kept hold of three
or even four of the smaller; whilst the whole kept whirling in a giddy
dance. I saw how the larger ones formed a chain ... I spent part
of the night putting on paper at least sketches of these dream
forms/ 23

The whirling, giddy vision reminds one of the hallucinations of
schizophrenics, as painted or described by them. Kekule's case is rather
exceptional, but nevertheless characteristic in one respect: the sudden
abdication of conceptual thought in favour of semi-conscious visual
conceits.

Another example is Michael Faraday, one of the greatest physicists
of all time, who also was a Visionary* not only in the metaphorical but
in the literal sense. He saw the stresses surrounding magnets and
electric currents as curves in space, for which he coined the name 'lines
of forces', and which, in his imagination, were as real as if they consisted
of solid matter. He visualized the universe patterned by these lines or
rather by narrow tubes through which all forms of 'ray- vibrations' or
energy-radiations are propagated. This vision of curved tubes which
'rose up before him like things' proved of almost incredible fertility: it
gave birth to the dynamo and the electric motor; it led Faraday to
discard the ether, and to postulate that light was electro-magnetic
radiation. Perhaps the most remarkable fact about Faraday is that he
lacked any mathematical education or gift, and was 'ignorant of all but
the merest elements of arithmetic'; and mathematics is of course
regarded as an indispensable tool of the physicist. In his Faraday
memorial lecture in 1881, von Helmholtz himself one of the greatest
mathematical physicists of the century remarked:

It is in the highest degree astonishing to see what a large number
of general theorems, the methodical deduction of which requires the
highest powers of mathematical analysis, he found by a kind of
intuition, with the security of instinct, without the help of a single
mathematical formula. 24



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171



Kekule's visions resemble hallucinatory flights; Faraday's, the stable
delusional systems of paranoia. Kekule's serpent reminds one of
paintings by Blake; the curves of force which crowd Faraday's universe
recall the vortices in Van Gogh's skies.

Around fifty like Newton, and at the same age Faraday had a
nervous breakdown. He had always hated writing letters and had
stopped lecturing; now he seemed to have developed an abhorrence of
language itself: 'This is to declare in the present instance, when I say I
am not able to bear much talking, it means really, and without any
mistake, or equivocation or oblique meaning, or implication, or
subterfuge, or omission, that I am not able, being at present rather weak
in the head and able to work no more.' 25 Distrust of words is a trait
often found among those who create with their eyes.

Let us leave the borderlands of pathology. Nobody could have been
further removed from it than the mild, sober, and saintly Einstein. Yet
we find in him the same distrust of conscious conceptual thought, and
the same reliance on visual imagery. In 1945 an inquiry was organized
among eminent mathematicians in America to find out their working
methods. In reply to the questionnaire which was sent to him, Einstein
wrote:

The words or the language, as they are written or spoken, do not
seem to play any role in my mechanism of thought. The physical
entities which seem to serve as elements in thought are certain signs
and more or less clear images which can be Voluntarily' reproduced
and combined.

. . . Taken from a psychological viewpoint, this combinatory play
seems to be the essential feature in productive thought before there
is any connection with logical construction in words or other kinds
of signs which can be communicated to others.

The above-mentioned elements are, in any case, of visual and some
of muscular type. Conventional words or other signs have to be
sought for laboriously only in a secondary stage, when the mentioned
associative play is sufficiently established and can be reproduced at
will.

According to what has been said, the play with the mentioned
elements is aimed to be analogous to certain logical connections one
is searching for.

In a stage when words intervene at all, they are, in my case, purely



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THE ACT OF CREATION



auditive, but they interfere only in a secondary stage as already
mentioned. 26

The inquiry was organized by Jacques Hadamard, whom I have
repeatedly quoted, since he is to my knowledge the only mathematician
who has made a systematic research into the psychology of mathe-
matical creation. Of himself he said:

I distinctly belong to the auditory type; and precisely on that
account my mental pictures are exclusively visual. The reason for
that is quite clear to me: such visual pictures are more naturally
vague, as we have seen it to be necessary in order to lead me without
misleading me.

He summed up the results of the inquiry as follows:

Among the mathematicians born or resident in America . . .
phenomena are mostly analogous to those which I have noticed in
my own case. Practically all of them . . . avoid not only the use of
mental words but also, just as I do, the mental use of algebraic or any
other precise signs; also as in my case, they use vague images. . . .*
The mental pictures ... are most frequently visual, but they may
also be of another kind for instance, kinetic. There can also be
auditive ones, but even these . . . quite generally keep their vague
character. 27

It rather sounds as if mathematical discoveries were born out of the
airy nothings of A Midsummer Night's Dream:

... as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet's pen
Turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.

The inquiry brought conclusive proof that among mathematicians,
verbal thinking plays only a subordinate part in the decisive phase of
the creative act; and there is a mass of evidence to show that this is also
the rule among original thinkers in other branches of science.

This is a rather startling discovery in view of the fact that language
is the proudest possession ohomo sapiens, and the very foundation on



THINKING ASIDE



173



which mental evolution could build. 'Logic' derives from logos, which
originally meant 'language', 'thought', and 'reason*, all in one. Think-
ing in concepts emerged out of thinking in images through the slow
development of the powers of abstraction and symbolization, as the
phonetic script emerged by similar processes out of pictorial symbols
and hieroglyphs. Most of us were brought up in the belief that
'thinking' is synonymous with verbal thinking, and philosophers
from Athens to Oxford have kept reasserting this belief. The early
Behaviourists went even further, asserting not only that words are
indispensable to thought, but also that thinking is nothing more than
the subliminal movements of the vocal chords, an inaudible whispering
to oneself. Yet if all thinking were verbal thinking Einstein would not
qualify as a thinker. In fact, the whole evidence points in the opposite
direction, summed up in a single sentence in Woodworth's classic
textbook of experimental psychology: 'Often we have to get away
from speech in order to think clearly/ And we heard one testimony
after another from great scientists, which show that in order to create
they had to regress at times from the word to the picture-strip, from
verbal symbolism to visual symbolism some, like Einstein, even to
the kinesthetic sensation of muscle-motions. The word 'regression is
appropriate, because the high aesthetic value which we put on visual
imagery should not obscure the fact that as vehicles of thought, pictorial
and other non-verbal representations are indeed earlier, both phylo-
genetically and ontogenetically older forms of ideation, than verbal
thinking. Kekule's 'Let us dream, gentlemen', is an invitation to regres-
sion and retreat -but a regression which prepares the forward leap, a
reader pour mieux sauter.



The Snares of Language

The necessity for this retreat derives from the fact that words are a
blessing which can turn into a curse. They crystallize thought; they
give articulation and precision to vague images and hazy intuitions.
But a crystal is no longer a fluid. 'Language is not only the foundation
for the whole faculty of thinking, but the central point also from which
proceed the misunderstandings of reason by herself.' 28 This was written
by Hamman, a German philosopher of the eighteenth century, who
had a great influence on Goethe. Roman Jakobson, a contemporary
linguist to quote one among many voices the same ancient doubt:



174



THE ACT OF CREATION



Signs are a necessary support of thought. For socialized thought
(stage of communication) and for the thought which is being socia-
lized (stage of formulation), the most usual system of signs is
language properly called; but internal thought especially when
creative, willingly uses other systems of signs which are more
flexible, less standardized than language and leave more liberty,
more dynamism to creative thought. 29

The vital importance of language as a thought-crystallizer was per-
fecdy described by little Alice who, on being admonished to think
carefully before she spoke, indignantly exclaimed: 'How can I know
what I think till I see what I say?' For it is, of course, undeniable that
in some forms of intellectual activity language is not only an indis-
pensable tool, but that the stream of language actually carries the
thought, so that the processes of ideation and verbal formulation
become indistinguishable. The same applies to certain phases in the
poet's and writer's work; but only to certain phases. The counterpart
to the little girl's predicament is the little boy's who said: 1 see what I
mean but I don't know how to say it.'

Not only scientists, painters, and musicians find it often difficult to
convert their ideas into verbal currency, but writers too. Even H. G.
Wells lamented: 'The forceps of our minds are clumsy things and
crush the truth a little in the course of taking hold of it.' The novelist
suffers among other things from the poverty of his vocabulary
when he tries to describe what his characters feel (as distinct from what
they think or do). He can write streams of what goes on in the cranial
cavity, but if it is a pain in the abdominal cavity, all he can say is,
'it hurts' or use some equally insipid synonym. Suffering is 'dumb';
the glandular and visceral processes which colour emotion do not
lend themselves to verbal articulation.

The scientist's trouble with language is of a different nature. He
suffers not from the poverty of his verbal tools but rather from their
over-precision, and the hidden snares in them.

Take, for example, the deceptively simple words 'Space' and 'Time'.
Before the dawn of the scientific revolution, medieval man lived hi a
closed universe with firm boundaries in space and time a few million
miles in diameter, and a few thousand yean of duration. Space taken
in itself, as an abstract concept, did not exist; it was merely an attribute
of material bodies their length, width, and depth; empty space was
unthinkable, a contradiction in terms; and infinite space even more so.



THINKING ASIDE



175



Time, similarly, was simply the duradon of an event. Nobody in his
senses would have said that things move throuoh space or in time how
can a thing move in or through an attribute of itself?

The over-precise meaning which these words carried had ensnared
scientific thought from Aristotle to the Renaissance. Even Galileo still
believed that a heavenly body, left to itself, would for ever continue
to move in a circular path, because a straight line would carry it towards
infinity which was unthinkable. And when he noticed that two
polished marble slabs stuck to each other with astonishing strength, he
ascribed this to nature's horror of empty space which would be created
at the moment of their separation and thus failed to discover the
phenomenon of surface-adherence.

The first thaw of these frozen word-crystals occurred in 1277, when
a council of theologians in Paris condemned the Aristotelian doctrine
that even God could not create empty or infinite space. Thus both
empty space and infinite space became at least thinkable which
previously they had not been. A few unorthodox thinkers did in fact
speculate about them; yet it took another four centuries until Space
and Time acquired a new meaning in the Newtonian universe.

For the next two hundred years after Newton Space meant the
rigid three-dimensional frame of the universe, which remained at
rest; so that the motion of a boat sailing up a river was relative measured
against the water or coast, but absohite motion measured against the
frame of Space. Time had an equally absolute nature; and that is what
to most of us the words Space and Time still mean except in our
dreams, when the rigid, Newtonian framework breaks down.

Einstein could never have transformed man's view of the universe,
had he accepted those two words as ready-made tools. 'When I asked
myself', he confided to a friend, 'how it happened that I in particular
discovered the Relativity Theory, it seemed to lie in the following
circumstance. The normal adult never bothers his head about space-
time problems. Everything there is to be thought about, in his opinion,
has already been done in early childhood. I, on the contrary, developed
so slowly that I only began to wonder about space and time when I
was already grown up. In consequence I probed deeper into the
problem than an ordinary child would have done.' 30 Modesty can
hardly be carried further; nor insight put into simpler terms.

'For me [the Relativity Theory] came as a tremendous surprise',
said Minkovsky, who had been one of Einstein's teachers, 'for in his
student days Einstein had been a lazy dog. He never bothered about



176



THE ACT OF CREATION



mathematics at all From now on "space in itself" and "time in

itself" must sink into the shade and only a union of the two will
preserve independence.* 31

The spelling of the two words had remained the same, but they now
signified something quite different from what they had signified
before.

Words are essential tools for formulating and communicating
thoughts, and also for putting them into the storage of memory; but
words can also become snares, decoys, or strait-jackets. A great
number of the basic verbal concepts of science have turned out at
various times to be both tools and traps: for instance, 'time', 'space',
'mass', 'force', weight', ether', 'corpuscle', 'wave', in the physical
sciences; 'purpose', 'will', 'sensation, 'consciousness', 'conditioning',
in psychology; 'limit', 'continuity', 'countability', 'divisibility', in
mathematics. For these were not simple verbal tags, as names attached
to particular persons or objects are; they were artificial constructs which
behind an innocent facade hid the traces of the particular kind of logic
which went into their making. As Sidney Hook has put it: 'When
Aristode drew up his table of categories which to him represented the
grammar of existence, he was really projecting the grammar of the
Greek language on the cosmos.' 32 That grammar has kept us to this
day ensnared in its paradoxes: it made the grandeur and misery of two
millennia of European thought. If Western philosophy, to quote
Popper, consisted in a series of footnotes to Plato, Western science
took a full two thousand years to liberate itself from the hypnotic
effect of Aristode, whose encyclopaedic philosophy penetrated
the very structure of our language. It determined not only what was
'science' but also what was 'common sense'. Each of the major
break-throughs in scientific thought had to be achieved not only in the
teeth of Aristotelian, Platonic, and Christian dogma, but also in the
teeth of what appeared to be self-evident and commonsensical the
implied rules of the code. Each revolution had to make a hole in the
established fabric of conceptual thought. Kepler destroyed the 'self-
evident' doctrine of uniform circular motion; Galileo the equally
commonsense notion that any moving body must have a 'mover'
which pulls or pushes it along. Newton, to his horror, had to go against
the obvious experience that action is only possible by contact; Ruther-
ford had to commit the contradiction in terms of asserting the divisi-
bility of the atom, which in Greek means 'indivisible'. Einstein des-
troyed our belief that clocks move at the same rate anywhere in the



THINKING ASIDE



177



universe; quantum physics has made the traditional meaning of words
like matter, energy, cause and effect, evaporate into thin air.

'The awkward fact', said L. L. Whyte, 'that reason, as we know it,
is never aware of its hidden assumptions has been too much for some
philosophers, and even many scientists to admit/ 33 One of the philoso-
phers who saw this clearly was Wittgenstein: 'Propositions cannot
represent the logical form: this mirrors itself in the propositions. That
which mirrors itself in language, language cannot represent. That
which expresses itself in. language, we cannot represent/ 34

The prejudices and impurities which have become incorporated
into the verbal concepts of a given 'universe of discourse* cannot be
undone by any amount of discourse within the frame of reference of
that universe. The rules of the game, however absurd, cannot be
altered by playing that game. Among all forms of mentation, verbal
thinking is the most articulate, the most complex, and the most
vulnerable to infectious diseases. It is liable to absorb whispered sug-
gestions, and to incorporate them as hidden persuaders into the code.
Language can become a screen which stands between the thinker and
reality. This is the reason why true creativity often starts where
language ends.

NOTES

Top. 157. Zen philosophy, in the form in which it is taught by its contemporary
propounders (foremost among them Prof. D. T. Suzuki and his Western
disciples), is a welter of confusions, derived from the failure to discriminate
between automatized skills and creative originality between the 'downward*
and the 'upward' traffic to and from the unconscious. The former results in
getting the 'knack' of a skill; the latter in the sudden flash of a new insight (the
*It'). The practitioner of the various applied Zen arts was trained to act 'spontan-
eously, unthinkingly* and this led to the added confusion between the pseudo-
spontaneity displayed by the responses of a well-oiled automaton, and the.
genuine spontaneity of original inspiration. (Cf. The "It" and the Knack*,
pp. 260 seq., in my The Lotus and the Robot, i960).

To p. 166. Less understandable is the case of Spearman, who wrote a book
on the Creative Mind (1030) with only passing mention of unconscious processes,
the main reference being a sneer at Freud's preoccupation with 'subconscious
bestiality*. This was written when Spearman was Professor of Psychology at the
University of London.

To p. 172. The exceptions were G. D. BirkhofF, Norbert "Wiener (who said
that 'he happens to think with or without words'), and G. Polya.



1



VIII

UNDERGROUND GAMES

The Importance of Dreaming

To recapitulate: ordered, disciplined thought is a skill governed
by set rules of the game, some of which are explicitly stated,
others implied and hidden in the code. The creative act, in so
far as it depends on unconscious resources, presupposes a relaxing of
the controls and a regression to modes of ideation which are indifferent
to the rules of verbal logic, unperturbed by contradiction, untouched
by the dogmas and taboos of so-called common sense. At the decisive
stage of discovery the codes of disciplined reasoning are suspended
as they are in the dream, the reverie, the manic flight of thought, when
the stream of ideation is free to drift, by its dWn emotional gravity,
as it were, in an apparently 'lawless* fashion.

The laws of disciplined thinking demand that we should stick to a
given frame of reference and not shift from one universe of discourse
to another. When I am arguing about Richard III and somebody
quotes 'my kingdom for a horse' I am not supposed to shift my
attention to my chances of drawing a winner in the Grand National,
however tempting it may be. The strain of concentrating on an
abstract subject derives mainly from the efibrt to inhibit emotionally
more tempting associations outside of its field. But when concentration
flags and primitive motivations take over, thought will shift from
one matrix to another, like a ball bouncing down a mountain stream,
each time an idea (like 'horse' in the above example) provides a link
to a more attractive context.

We might say that while dreaming we constantly bisociate in a passive
way by drift as it were; but we are, of course, unaware of it because
the coherence of the logical matrices is weakened, and the codes
which govern them are dormant. Hence, while dreaming, we do not
realize their incompatability; there is no simultaneous juxtaposition of
matrices, no awareness of conflict and incongruity; that comes only on

178



UNDERGROUND GAMES



179



awakening. To put it in another way: the dream associates by methods
which are impermissible in the waking state such as affinities of
sound detached from meaning, and similarities of form regardless of
function. It makes use of 'links' which, while awake we 'would not
dream' of using except where dream-logic intrudes into humour,
discovery, and art.

It is not surprising, then, that we find all the bisociative patterns that
I have discussed prominently displayed in the dream: the pun: two
strings of thought tied together by a purely accoustic knot; the optical
pun: one visual form bisociated with two functional contexts; the
phenomenon of displacement or shift of attention to a previously un-
noticed feature; the concretization of abstract and general ideas in a
particular image; and vice versa, the use of concrete images as symbols
for nascent, unverbalized concepts; the condensation in the same link-
idea of several associative contexts; the unearthing of hidden analogies;
impersonation and double identity being oneself and something else
at the same time, where the 'something else' might belong to the
animal, vegetable, or mineral kingdom. The ensemble of these and
related operations constitutes the grammar and logic of dream-
cognition. To go on with the list would be tedious, the more so as the
categories overlap; but one more trick ought to be added to the
repertory: the occasional reversal of causal sequences. This, however, is
putting the phenomenon into over-concrete terms, since 'causality*
(together with space, time, matter, identity, etc.) appear in the dream
in a semi-fluid shape like a half-melted snowman; yet even a snowman
may be standing on his head. Lastly, I must mention the obvious fact
of the dreamer's extreme gullibility. Hamlet's cloud merely resembles
a camel, weasel, or whale; to the dreamer the cloud actually becomes
a camel, a weasel, or whale without his turning a hair.

A child, watching a television thriller with flushed face and palpita-
ting heart, praying that the hero should realize in time the deadly trap
set for him, is at the same time aware that the hero is a shadow on the
screen. A day-dreamer like Thurber's Walter Mitty is aware of the
fantasies which he creates for his own benefit; but also aware, though
less intensely so, of the fact that he is creating them. He lives, like the
spectator in front of the screen, on two different levels, simultaneously
or in quick alternations by mental quantum-jumps, as it were. If he
settles for a single level then either the illusion ceases to function or
it grows into hallucinatory delusion.

The dream occupies a privileged position among these ambiguous



i8o



THE ACT OF CREATION



mental states; privileged, in that it is included in the normal daily cycle
in spite of or because of its pronounced hallucinatory, 'abnormal*
character. Dreaming is distinguished from other delusionary states by
being transitory, easily interrupted, and by being confined to the
'inner landscape', by a more or less complete shuttering of the senses
(whereas in pathological states the senses may continue to function,
but perception may be perverted). On the other hand, dreaming is
distinguished from day-dreaming in that the dreamer is aware of the
fantasies which he creates, but unaware of the fact that he is creating
them. He is the spectator passively watching the sequence of images
on one level, which he actively produces on another; he is the cinema
operator who works the projection machine, and the audience at the
same time. But while the spectacle on the screen is visible, the operator
is not. He operates in complete darkness, and there is a good reason for
it: the production is frequently childish, obscene, confusing, an affront
to logic and common sense.

There is no need to emphasize, in this century of Freud and Jung,
that the logic of the dream is not the logic of Aristotle; that it derives
from the magic type of causation found in primitive societies and the
fantasies of childhood; that it is indifferent to the laws of identity and
contradiction; that the dream's reasoning is guided by emotion, its
morality blush-making, its symbolism pre-verbal and archaic. If these
ancient codes which govern the games of the dreamer were allowed
to operate in the waking state they would play havoc with civilized
adult behaviour; they must be kept underground.

But these underground, in normal states subconscious, levels or
planes in the hierarchy of mental functions must not be confused with
the linear scale of awareness (pp. 154-7). The latter forms a con-
tinuous gradient from focal awareness, through peripheral awareness
to unawareness of a given event; whereas the levels of the mental
hierarchy form quasi-parallel (or concentric) layers, which are dis-
continuous, and are under normal conditions kept separate, as waking
is from learning. The codes which govern organic activities, auto-
matized habits, and routine skills, function unawares because they are
either inborn or have been mastered by practice; the 'underground'
codes function underground because they have been superseded by
the codes of rational thinking. In the first case we see the working of
mental economy ; in the second, of mental evolution. Automatized
codes serve the maintenance of normal functioning; underground
codes disrupt routine in a creative or destructive sense. We are con-



UNDERGROUND GAMES l8l

cerned with the creative aspect only; but I should mention in passing
that the underground layers of the mental hierarchy must not be con-
fused with repressed complexes'. The latter form a special category
within the much broader realm of subconscious phenomena. Com-
plexes originate in traumatic experiences; the underground games of
the mind reflect the facts of mental evolution.

The levels of mental organization have been compared to the
archaeological strata of ancient and prehistoric civilizations, buried,
but not irretrievably, under our contemporary towns. The analogy is
Freud's 1 but I would like to carry it one step further. Imagine for a
moment that all important written records and monuments pre-dating
the Industrial Revolution have been destroyed by some catastrophe
like the burning down of the library in Alexandria; and that know-
ledge of the past could be obtained only by archaeological excavations.
Without digging into the undergound strata, modern society, ig-
norant of the culture of the Renaissance, of Antiquity, Prehistory, and
the Age of the Dinosaurs, would be reduced to an unimaginably super-
ficial, two-dimensional existence: a species without a past and probably
for lack of comparative values without much future. An individual
deprived of his dreams, of irrational impulses, of any form of ideation
except articulate verbal thought, would be in much the same position.
Dreaming, in the literal and metaphorical sense, seems to be an essen-
tial part of psychic metabolism as essential as its counterpart, the
formation and automatization of habits. Without this daily dip into
the ancient sources of mental life we would probably all become
desiccated automata. "And without the more spectacular exploratory
dives of the creative individual, there would be no science and no art.

To sum up, there is a two-way traffic between conscious and un-
conscious. One traffic stream continually moves in a downward
direction: we concentrate on new experiences, arrange them
into patterns, develop new observational skills, muscular dexterities,
verbal aptitudes; and when these have been mastered by continued
practice, the controls are handed over to a kind of automation, and
the whole assembly is dispatched, along the gradients of awareness,
out of sight. The upward traffic stream moves in the small fluctuating
pulses from the unconscious which sustain the dynamic balance of the
mind and in the rare, sudden surges of creativity, which may lead
to a re-stracturing of the whole mental landscape.

I have illustrated this upward traffic by a number of examples. Irt



THE ACT OF CREATION



each case the creative act consisted in a new synthesis of previously un-
connected matrices of thought; a synthesis arrived at by 'thinking
aside', a temporary relinquishing of the rational controls in favour of
the codes which govern the underground games of the mind. We
have seen that the dream operates with a type of logic which is in-
admissible in the waking state, and which, for precisely that reason,
proved useful in critical situations where the matrices of conscious
thought are blocked. Thus the illogicality and apparent naivete of
visual associations, or the indifference of the dreaming mind to con-
vention and common sense, turned out to be of great value in forging
new combinations out of seemingly incompatible contexts. All the
bisociative mechanisms of the comic we found in the dream free-
wheeling as it were, without being harnessed to any obvious rational
purpose. But when the whole personality, on all its levels, becomes
saturated with the problem in hand during the period of incubation,
then the freewheeling machinery too is 'engaged* in its service and
goes into action not necessarily in the dream, but mosdy on some
intermediary, part-conscious level.

The examples in previous chapters had been meant to illustrate
various aspects of unconscious discovery. In the sections which follow
I shall try to show, a little more systematically, how the peculiarities of
subconscious ideation, reflected in the dream, facilitate the bisociative
click.

Concretization and Symbolization

The sleeper producing a Freudian dream, in which a broomstick
represents a phallus, has made an optical pun: he has connected a single
visual form with two different functional contexts. The same technique
is employed by the caricaturist who equates a nose with a cucumber,
the discoverer who sees a molecule as a snake, the poet who compares
a lip to a coral. When Jean Cocteau underwent a drug-withdrawal
cure, he drew human figures constructed out of the long, thin stalks
of opium pipes. William Harvey, watching the exposed heart-valve at
work in a living fish, suddenly visualized it as a pump but the analogy
between the gory mess he actually saw and the neat metallic gadget
existed in his mind's eye only.

These, however, are rather dramatic examples. As a rule, visual
imagery does not work in such precise fashion. The visualizer rather
feels his way around a problem and strokes it with his eye, as it were,



UNDERGROUND GAMES



I8 3



trying to fit it into some convincing or elegant shape; he plays around
with his vague forms like the couturier with his fabrics, draping and
undraping them on the model. Let me call on Einstein once more. We
remember that he described the 'physcical entities which seem to serve
as elements in thoughts' in terms of 'signs and more or less clear images
of visual, and some of muscular type'. On another occasion, he des-
cribed how the basic insight into the relativity of Time, to wit, 'the
knowledge that the events which are simultaneous for one observer
are not necessarily simultaneous for another', came to him early one
morning just as he got out of bed. But that sudden moment of truth
had been preceded 'by ten years of contemplation, of considering a
paradox which had struck me at the age of sixteen: if I pursue a ray of
light with the speed c the speed of light in a vacuum I must accept
such a ray of light as a stationary, spatially oscillating electro-magnetic
field'. 2 In other words, if you travel with the speed of light, you will
see no light you will be, roughly speaking, in the position of the
surf-rider in whose eyes the waves around him form a stationary pattern.
Yet 'intuitively it seemed clear to me that, judged by such an ob-
server, everything should follow the same laws as for a stationary
observer'. 3 hi other words, the traveller ought to see the world just
as the person sees it who remained at home on earth.

It is of course, not enough to visualize oneself as a passenger riding
on a ray of light; and the ride lasted ten years, even for Einstein. But
visual thinking enabled him to escape the snares of verbal thought, and
to brave the apparent logical contradiction that 'at the same time' for
A may mean 'at different times' for B. This apparent contradiction
derived from the axiom of absolute time, which had been built into
the codes of 'rational* meaning post-Newtonian thinking about
the physical world. In the pre-rational codes of the dream time is dis-
continuous, and the sequence of events can be reversed as in a film.
Needless to say, the relativity of psychological time has nothing to do
with the relativity of time in physics. I merely wished to point out
that to the visual thinker 'tune* loses the awesome, cast-iron character
which it automatically assumes in verbal thought. The Theory of
Relativity was an affront to conceptualized thinking, but not to
visualized thinking.

Let me take a more trivial example: a famous brain-teaser:

One morning, exacdy at sunrise, a Buddhist monk began to
climb a tall mountain. The narrow path, no more than a foot or



184



THE ACT OP CREATION



two wide, spiralled around the mountain to a glittering temple at
the summit.

The monk ascended the path at varying rates of speed, stopping
many times along the way to rest and to eat the dried fruit he
carried with him. He reached the temple shortly before sunset. After
several days of fasting and meditation he began his journey back
along the same path, starting at sunrise and again walking at variable
speeds with many pauses along the way. His average speed des-
cending was, of course, greater than his average climbing speed.

Prove that there is a spot along the path that the monk will
occupy on both trips at precisely the same time of day. 4

I used to amuse myself putting this to various friends scientists and
others. Some chose a mathematical approach; others tried to 'reason it
out* and came to the conclusion that it would be a most unlikely
coincidence for the monk to find himself at the same time of day, on
the same spot on the two different occasions. But others who evi-
dently belonged to the category of visualizers saw the solution in a
manner for which the following description of a young woman with-
out any scientific training is typical:

I tried this and that, until I got fed up with the whole thing, but
the image of that monk in his saffron robe walking up the hill kept
persisting in my mind. Then a moment came when, super-imposed
on this image, I saw another, more transparent one, of the monk
walking down the hill, and I realized in a flash that the two figures
must meet at some point some time regardless at what speed they
walk and how often each of them stops. Then I reasoned out what I
already knew: whether the monk descends two days or three days
later comes to the same; so I was quite justified in letting him
descend on the same day, in duplicate so to speak.

Now it is, of course, quite impossible for the monk to duplicate
himself, and to be walking up the mountain and down the mountain
at one and the same time. But in the visual image he does; and it is
precisely this ^difference to logical contradiction, the irrational,
dream-ike telescoping of the two images into one, which leads to the
solution.

^ We could call the double image of the monk, or Einstein's traveller
riding on a ray of light, a concretization of abstract problems as it



UNDERGROUND GAMES



sometimes occurs in dreams; and we could equally well call Kekule's
serpent which seizes its own tail 'to whirl mockingly before his eyes*,
the symbolization of a nascent, unformulated theory; these categories
overlap. The following example illustrates both; it refers to an incident
which has recently come to my knowledge:

Dr. X, a biologist, dreamed that as he was walking home from his
laboratory he was joined by the wife and two children of his colleague
Dr. Y , one a boy, the other an enchanting little girl. The little
girl seemed to take an immediate liking to X; she insisted on his
picking her up, and gave him a kiss, or rather a peck, on the cheek.
They all walked on with a feeling of friendly elation, but on arriving
at the house where X lived it had, unaccountably, become a big
railway-station hotel the girl declared peremptorily that she would
be staying with him; and as he looked at her he discovered that she was
no longer a child but an adolescent, 'almost fully developed', with a
provocative glint in her eye. Dr. Y's wife gave him a glance which
showed irony but no surprise; and the girl said to him mockingly:
'Don't worry, I am all brains' He felt both tempted and terribly em-
barrassed; at which he woke up.

The first thought that flashed through his mind was: 'She is Y's
brain-child'; and immediately the message of the dream was clear to
him. Some time earlier on Y had, in conversation, thrown out an
idea, which had taken root in X's mind, and had eventually set him
off on a line of research. The peck on his cheek had been 'the kiss of the
muse'; but by now the idea was 'almost fully developed* in fact, the
day before the dream, he had started drafting a paper on the pre-
liminary results of his research. But he had postponed telling Y about
it until he had something positive to show; and now he could neither
face owning up to Y that he had taken up his brain-child, nor could he
face stealing it (by omitting to give Y due credit in the paper). The
conversion of X's house into a railway hotel indicated that this state
of mind could not be a lasting one.

The dream solved his dilemma by producing a biological analogy
for the growth of a 'bram-child* from infancy to 'full development*.
The seminal idea had been Y's; but it was X who had done the work
and brought it to maturation; every scientist knows that it is quite a
different matter to throw out a casual suggestion which might or
might not lead somewhere and to follow it up by months of hard
work in the laboratory. The dream made him see the situation
in its proper perspective;, now all he had to do was to tell Y the



i86



THE ACT OF CREATION



simple facts of the matter, and to give due credit in his paper to Y's
paternity.

On one level of his mind X had, of course, known all this; discovery
in this case, as in many others, consisted in uncovering what had always
been there. But his knowledge had been buried under the rigid crust
of a conventional matrix, which made his conscious thoughts turn in a
vicious circle.

Punning for Profit

Charles Lamb once remarked in a letter that he wished 'to draw his
last breath through a pipe and exhale it in a pun.

The benefits which the humorist and the poet derive from two
meanings linked together by one sound are evident^ in the natural
sciences they are non-existent, for the simple reason that verbal formula-
tion, the choice of the particular words in which a theory is expressed,
is to a large extent irrelevant to its content. But in the sciences con-
cerned with language and meaning, the relations between sense and
sound play an important part. Homonyms and homophones, sound
affinities and transformations, are essential pointers in etymology and
comparative philology, in the study of the structure and development
of language. I have mentioned the 'divine pun' by which adam, man,
was created out ofadamah, earth. Eve's Hebrew name is Havvah, life;
while ahavvah is love; esh, a synonym for man, has the same root as
isk, fire; and milkhamah, war, is derived from lekhem, bread; so is the
village of Beth-lehem: the House of Bread.

Affinities of sound provide the threads which lead from contem-
porary words and concepts back to the Greek and Sanskrit womb.The
deciphering of the scripts of ancient languages is often aided by clues
such as the frequency with which a certain sign occurs, and other
'links' between sign, symbol, sound, and sense. Thus the links which,
in 1 821, enabled Champollion to break into the secret of hieroglyphics,
were the proper names Ptolemy, Cleopatra, and Alexander, which
appeared on the Rosetta Stone (and on various other documents)
bearing parallel inscriptions in Greek and in two different Egyptian
scripts. The three names, inscribed in conspicuous cartouches, pro-
vided Champollion with altogether fourteen alphabetic signs of as-
certained value certainly the greatest service which any Cleopatra
has rendered to history.

In the infantile and primitive imagination, the ties between sound



UNDERGROUND GAMES



187



and meaning are still very intimate; name and object form an almost
indivisible unity, shown in the universal practices of word magic,
incantations, and verbal spells. Related to this is the belief that the
letters contained in a word form secret connections according to cer-
tain hermeneutical rules a belief, shared by Judaism, several other
Oriental religions, and adopted by the Christian Fathers. It was thought,
for instance, that to extract their hidden meaning, certain texts in
Hebrew Scriptures should be arranged in vertical columns and read
downwards; or that the first and last letter in each word should be used
to form new words; or that the letters should be reduced to their
numerical value, and the sums so obtained should then be manipu-
lated according to the rules of mystic numberlore. Here we have the
archaic origins of the pun, the crossword puzzle, the acrostic, anagram,
and cryptogram, which have always exerted such a curious fascina-
tion in the most varied cultures from Pythagoras and Lao-Tse to
Champollion and Freud. The humorist's joke, the linguist's dis-
covery, the poet's euphony, all derive from that source.



The Benefits of Impersonation

*As far as my observations go', wrote C. G. Jung, 'I have not dis-
covered in the unconscious anything like a personality comparable to
the conscious ego. But . . . there are at least traces of personalities in the
manifestations of the unconscious. A simple example is the dream,
in which a variety of real and imaginery people enact the dream
thoughts The unconscious personates. 95

The boundaries of the self are fluid or blurred in the dream. I may
watch an execution, and the next moment become the person to be
executed. The actors on the stage are interchangeable; their cards of
identity are often reshuffled.

To be oneself and somebody else at the same time is an experience
shared by the dreamer, the Shaman impersonating the rain-god, the
patient possessed by demons. The same projective faculty is made use
of by the actor, to create the illusion in the audience that he is both
himself and Prince Hamlet; by the priest offering the eucharist in Holy
Communion; by the healer, who projects himself into the patient's
place, and at the same time acts as a father-figure.

The fluid boundaries of the self as represented in the unconscious
mind, confer on it the gift of empathy Hw/e/*/wttg--of entering into



i88



THE ACT OP CREATION



a kind of mental symbiosis with other selves. Empathy is a nicely sober,
noncommittal term for designating the rather mysterious processes
which enable one to transcend his boundaries, to step out of his skin
as it were, and put himself into the place of another. One reads the
mood of the other from such scant and crude pointers as the lifting or
lowering of the corners of the Hps, or almost imperceptible changes in
the muscles which control the eyes; but the interpretation of these
signs is not a conscious act. It belongs to the repertory of underground
games.

Empathy is at the source of our understanding how others think and
feel; it is the starting point of the art of medical diagnosis and of the
science of psychology. The medicine man, ancient and modern, has a
twofold relationship with the patient: he is trying to feel what the
patient feels, and he is, at the same time, acting a part: the exorcizer of
evil spirits himself endowed with divine powers; magician, witch,
saint, sage, hypnotist, faith-healer, confessor, father. The roles have
changed, but the principle has remained the same: to induce the patient
to an act of faith, to submission, worship, transference, catharsis.
Psychotherapy in its modern form expresses in explicit terms the
principle of ab-reaction, of the mental purge, which has always been
implied in the ancient cathartic techniques from the Dionysian and
Orphic mystery-cults to the rites of baptism and the confessional. The
psycho-analyst induces his patients to relive their conflicts in an illu-
sionary drama, where he himself impersonates the central figure half-
way between comedian and tragedian. The tragedian creates illusion,
the comedian debunks illusion; the therapist does both, in the dreams
of patients under Jungian therapy, supposed aspects of their under-
ground-personality anima, animus and 'shadow* keep appearing
under various disguises, like actors on a stage. Finally, the technique of
impersonation is used deliberately and explicidy in the form of group-
therapy known as 'psycho-drama'.

Some eminent psychiatrists among them Charcot, Freud, Jung,
and Theodor Reik -have expressed, or hinted at their belief that not
only empathy, but something akin to telepathy operates between
doctor and patient in the hothouse atmosphere of the analytical ses-
sion. But there is no need to go that far in order to realize that some of
the basic insights of medicine and psychology are derived from the
underground games which permit us to transcend the limits of per-
sonal identity while we dream or stare into the footlights of the
stage.



Displacement



We have seen that the sudden shift of attention to a seemingly irrele-
vant aspect of a phenomenon which was previously ignored or taken
for granted plays a vital part in humour, art, and discovery. In the
comic story, the abrupt displacement of emphasis ('What am I sup-
posed to do at 4 a.m. in Grimsby f) has the same effect as the matador's
nonchalant side-stepping while the bull charges at his muleta. In dis-
covery, it makes a familiar thing or idea appear under a new angle, in
an unexpected light. In the art of photography a shift in the direction
and focus of the lens may turn a trivial object into a thing of wonder.

In the waking state 'side-stepping', 'shift of emphasis', and related
expressions signify a change-over from one frame of reference to
another. But while we dream, the coherence of these frames is so
much loosened that the change is not experienced as such, and side-
stepping becomes almost the normal way of the dream's progress.
It is by virtue of its freedom from restraint that the 'dreamy' way
of thinking can benefit the creative person whether he is Archimedes
relaxing in his bath, or the chimpanzee gazing absent-mindedly at a
tree.

In one of his experiments, Carl Duncker the psychologist who
fathered the Buddhist monk problem set his experimental subjects
the task of making a pendulum. The subject was led to a table on which
had been placed, among some miscellaneous objects, a cord with a
pendulum-weight attached to its end, and a nail. All he had to do was
to drive the nail into the wall and hang the cord with the pendulum-
weight on the nail. But there was no hammer. Only fifty per cent of
the experimental subjects (all students) found the solution: to use the
pendulum-weight as a hammer.

Next, another series of students, of the same average age and in-
telligence, were given the same task under slightly altered conditions.
In the first series the weight on the table was attached to the cord, and
was expressly described to the students as a pendulum-weight'. In
the second series, weight and cord were lying separately on the table,
and the word pendulum-weight' was not used. Result: all students in
die second group found the solution without difficulty. They took in
the situation with an unprejudiced mind, saw a nail and a weight, and
hammered the nail in, then tied the cord to the nail and the weight
to the cord. But in the minds of the first group the weight was firmly
'embedded* into its role as a 'pendulum-weight' and nothing else,

189



190



THE ACT OF CREATION



because it had been verbally described as such and because visually it
formed a unit with the cord to which it was attached. Thus only half
of the subjects were able to wrench it out of that context to perform
the shift of emphasis which transformed a 'pendulum-weight' into a
'hammer as Sultan transformed a 'branch' into a 'stick.'

I have quoted only one among many experiments on similar lines.
The fact that fifty per cent of Duncker's presumably bright students
failed at this simple task is an illustration of the stubborn coherence
of the perceptual frames and matrices of thought in our minds. The
visual gestalt of weight-attached-to-cord, plus the verbal suggestion
of their venerated teacher, made that pendulum-weight stick to its
matrix like an insect caught in amber.

To undo wrong connections, faulty integrations, is half the game. To
acquire a new habit is easy, because one main function of the nervous
system is to act as a habit-forming machine; to break out of a habit is
an almost heroic feat of mind or character. The prerequisite of origin-
ality is the art of forgetting, at the proper moment, what we know.
Hence, once more, the importance of the Unconscious as an anaes-
thetist, who puts reason to sleep, and restores, for a transient moment,
the innocence of vision. Without the art of forgetting, the mind re-
mains cluttered up with ready-made answers, and never finds occa-
sion to ask the proper questions.

If forgetting can be an art, ignorance can be blissin the limited
sense, of course, of procuring for a certain type of mind freedom from
certain types of constraint. To Faraday, his ignorance of mathematics
was an asset; Edison benefited from his shocking ignorance of science.
As a child, 'his demands for explanations of what seemed obvious to his
elders created the belief that he was less than normally intelligent. As
his head was abnormally large, it was thought that he might have a
brain disease'. 0 At a time when his inventions were transforming the
pattern of our civilization, 'his ignorance of scientific theory raised
criticism and opposition, especially among highly trained scientists
and engineers without inventive talent'. 7 He was said to have carried
the art of forgetting to such extremes, that on one occasion, when he
had to queue at New York City Hall to pay his taxes, and an official
suddenly asked him his name, Edison could not at the moment
remember it, and lost his place in the queue.

Let me return from the laboratory of the Sorcerer at Menlo Park
to that blacksmith's workshop in Samos which, according to tradition,
was the birthplace of the first quantitative law in physics. One would



UNDERGROUND GAMES



191



expect that Pythagoras, as an acute and scientifically minded observer,
would concentrate on the techniques the men employed in the exercise
of their craft. Instead of this, his attention shifted to a phenomenon that
was totally irrelevant and adventitious to that craft the fact that
under the strokes of the hammer, iron bars of different size gave out
different sounds. The ear-splitting crashes and bangs in the workshop,
which, since the Bronze Age had yielded to the Iron Age, had been
regarded by ordinary mortals as a mere nuisance, were suddenly lifted
out of their habitual context: the 'bangs' became 'clangs' of music. In
the technical language of the communication engineer, Pythagoras had
turned 'noise' into 'information .

'The great field for new discoveries', wrote William James, 'is
always the unclassified residuum. Round about the accredited and
orderly facts of every science there ever flows a sort of dust-cloud of
exceptional observations, of occurrences minute and irregular and
seldom met with, which it always proves more easy to ignore than to
attend to/ 8 The genius of Sherlock Holmes manifested itself in shifting
his attention to minute clues which poor Watson found too obvious to
be relevant, and so easy to ignore. The psychiatrist obtains his clues
from the casual remark, the seemingly irrelevant drift of associations;
and he has learned to shift the emphasis from the patient's meaningful
statements to his meaningless slips of the tongue, from his rational
experiences to his irrational dreams. The Lord Almighty seems to be
fond of the trick which Poe's character employed when he let the
secret document he open on his desk where it was too obvious to be
seen.

Standing on Ones Head

A drastic form of displacement is the sudden shift of emphasis from one
aspect of a situation to its opposite, accompanied by a kind of 'reversal
of logic (p. 65).

'The dream', wrote Freud, 'neglects in a most conspicuous manner
the logical category of opposition and contradiction. The concept
"No" does not seem to exist in the dream. It likes to compress opposites
into a unity, or to represent them as one. It takes the further liberty of
representing any given entity by its emotional opposite, so that a
priori one never knows whether a reversible entity is thought of in the
dream with a plus or a minus sign/ 9 When a patient says to the doctor:
'You think that I am now going to say something offensive, but I



192 THE ACT OB CREATION

really have no intention of doing so,' then, says Freud, *y ou c* 11 take it
for granted that he did have that intention. Or, the patient will say:
"You are asking me who that person in my dream could be. It is not
my mother." We then correct him: "In other words, it's your mother."
... At times one can obtain information about unconscious repressed
processes by a very easy method. One asks: "What do you consider
to be the most unlikely aspect of that situation? What was it that you
least intended to do?" If the patient swallows the bait, and tells one
what he can believe least, then he has almost invariably conceded the
true answer/ 10

Freud seemed to believe (following Bain and others) that the reason
for the unconscious tendency to unify opposites is the relativity of
all scales by which attributes are measured: a 'hot' summer-day in
London is 'cold' to the visitor from the Sudan, and Gulliver is a
'giant' or a 'dwarf* according to the country he visits. He further
refers to the fact that in some ancient languages pairs of opposites are
designated by the same word: thus altus means both 'high' and 'deep',
and sacer both 'holy* and 'accursed'.

For once, however, Freud did not seem to have probed deep enough;
he did not mention the rites of the Saturnalia and other ancient festi-
vals, in which the roles of slaves and masters are reversed; nor the
constant afErmation of the unity' of opposites in most Oriental religions
and philosophies. It seems indeed that the tendency to stand things,
from time to time, on their head, has its deep, unconscious roots,
which probably reach down into the physiological peculiarities of the
nervous system.* One of its striking manifestations is the reversi-
bility of 'figure* and 'background' in visual perception about which
below.

I am not at all sure how far these considerations are relevant to a
certain pattern of discovery which recurs with curious insistence in the
biological sciences: we find, over and again, mishaps and minor
laboratory disasters which turn out to be blessings in disguise, and
spoilt experiments which perversely yield the solution by brutally
shifting die experimenter's attention from a 'plus' to a 'minus' aspect
of the problem, as it were. One might call this pattern 'discovery by
misadventure'. A classic case is that of the Abbe* Haiiy (1743-1822), a
humble teacher at the college at Lemoine, whose leisure hours were
devoted to collecting specimens of plants and minerals until a small,
embarrassing accident suddenly changed the direction of his interests
and his whole life:



UNDERGROUND GAMES



193



One day, when examining some minerals at the house of a
friend, he was clumsy enough to allow a beautiful cluster of prismatic
crystals of calcareous spar to fall on the ground. One of the prisms
broke in such a way as to show at the fracture faces which were no
less smooth than those elsewhere, but presented the appearance of a
new crystal altogether different in form from the prism. Haiiy picked
up this fragment and examined the faces with their inclinations and
angles. To his great surprise, he discovered that they are the same in
rhomboidal spar as in Iceland spar.

He wished to be able to generalize: he broke his own little collec-
tion into pieces; crystals lent by his friends were broken; everywhere
he found a structure which depended upon the same laws. u

The result was Haiiy's Traite de Mineralogie which made him a
member of the French Academy and a pioneer of the science of
crystallography.

Haiiy had a favourite pupil, Delafosse, who later became Pasteur s
teacher at the ficole Normale in Paris. Under his influence Pasteur
took up the study of crystallography; it was in this field that he made
his first important discoveries, which contained the germs of all his
later achievements. The decisive incident was again a laboratory
mishap.

Pasteur was studying his favourite mineral, Para-Tartrate, derived
from the red Tartar deposit in the vats of fermented wine. One day
one of his Tartrate solutions became affected by a mould, and spoiled.
This kind of thing frequendy happens in warm weather; the normal
reaction of chemists is to pour, with a gende oath, the turbid liquid
down the drain. Pasteur reversed the logic of the situation: he shifted
his attention to the accidental and irrelevant mould, and turned
'accident' into 'experiment' by studying the mould's action on the
Tartrate. The result was 'the first link in the chain of arguments which
led him into the study of fermentation, to the recognition that micro-
organisms play an essential role in the economy of nature, and even-
tually to his epoch-making discoveries in the field of infectious
diseases'.

In his later life Pasteur performed the same kind of mental head-stand
on at least two more momentous occasions. One I have already men-
tioned: the discovery of immunization by vaccines, which grew out of
a spoilt culture of chicken cholera. The other was the 'domestication' of
micro-organizms, their transformation from enemies into allies of man,



194



THE ACT OF CREATION



which led to industrial micro-biology and, eventually, to the anti-
biotics: microbes destroying microbes. 'In the inferior organisms,' he
wrote, 'still more than in the big animal and vegetable species, life
hinders life.' It sounds simple. But what a long way it was from the
enunciation of the principle to the discovery of penicillin ! It took more
than half a century; and it was again due to an almost ludicrous series
of misadventures. They started in 1922, when Alexander Fleming
caught a cold. A drip from his nose fell into a dish in his laboratory at
St. Mary's Hospital; the nasal slime killed off the bacilli in the culture;
Fleming isolated the active agent in the mucus, which was also present
in tears, and called it lyso2yme. That was the first step; but lysozyme
was not powerful enough as a germ-killer, and another seven years
had to pass until a gust of wind blew through the lab window a spore
of the mould penicillium notatum, which happened to setde in a culture
dish of staphylococci. But Fleming had been waiting for that stroke of
luck for fifteen years; and when it came, he was ready for it. As Lenin
has said somewhere: 'If you think of Revolution, dream of Revolution,
sleep with Revolution for thirty years, you are bound to achieve a
Revolution one day.'

I shall have to return to Fleming in a different context. The examples
of 'discovery by misadventure', which I have just given, were taken
from biology; but the same kind of perverse- or reverse-logic can also
be found operating in other branches of science and art.

Li 1 821 Faraday invented the electric motor, and constructed a crude
model of it. For more than fifty years no attention was paid to his
invention. In 183 1 he also invented (independently from, and roughly
simultaneously with Joseph Henry) the electrical dynamo. A motor
converts electric current into mechanical motion; a dynamo converts
mechanical motion into electricity. But, curiously, the" reciprocal
nature of the two machines was not realized until 1873. By that time
huge dynamo machines, driven by steam power, were in use to gener-
ate electrical current; but Faraday's earlier invention had been for-
gotten, and electric motors did not exist.

In 1873, at an exhibition in Vienna, several dynamo machines of an
improved type were displayed. In the happy-go-lucky manner of the
Austrians, one of the technicians mistakenly connected a dynamo,
driven by a steam-engine, with a second dynamo which was at rest.
The current fed into the resting dynamo promptly set it into motion
and thus the electrical motor came into existence. Electric trains, the
electrical transmission of power, one of the foundations of modern



UNDERGROUND GAMES



195



technology, originates in the accidental reversal of the function of a
single machine.

The history of photography and the early history of radiography
seem to hinge on fluorescent screens and photographic plates which
showed effects they were not supposed to show, and vice versa. Dagu-
erre put an exposed plate into an untidy cupboard full of various
bottles of chemicals ^including some mercury. The next morning he
found to his surprise that a perfect image had developed on the plate.
He repeated the experiment, systematically eliminating one chemical
after another in the cupboard until he knew that it was mercury
vapour which had done the trick. Prior to the discovery of mercury as
an ideal developer of latent images, Daguerre had written: 'The time
required to procure a photographic copy of a landscape is from seven
to eight hours; but single monuments, when strongly lighted by the
sun, or which are themselves very bright, can be taken in about three
hours/ 12 After the discovery the time of exposure was shortened to
between three and thirty minutes.

In 1895 Wilhelm Konrad Rontgen, Professor of Physics at the
University of Wtirzburg, noticed by accident that a paper-screen
covered with barium platinocyanide became fluorescent without any
apparent cause. He had at the time a cathode-ray tube going an
apparatus used to study the conduction of electricity through gases
which was enclosed in a box of black cardboard. But in those days
there was no radiation known hard enough to penetrate black card-
board, and such a thing was in fact considered to be impossible.
Rontgen immediately accepted the impossible as true: the fluorescent
glow which he saw on the screen must be caused by rays of an unknown
kind, emitted by the tube, and capable of traversing the bhck card-
board. Within a few weeks he had demonstrated that the rays were
equally capable of traversing human flesh and showing the outline of
the bones as shadows cast upon the luminous screen. He called them
X-rays.

Some few weeks later, Henri Becquerel saw a demonstration of
Rontgen s X-rays at a meeting of the French Academy of Sciences.
Becquerel's father and grandfather had also been professors of physics
and members of the Academy; they had taken a special interest in the
fluorescent glow which certain substances among .them uranium
compounds emit, when exposed to light. He therefore immediately
formed the wrong theory that X-rays were a normal accompani-
ment of the fluorescent glow, and he set out to prove this theory by



196



THE ACT OF CREATION



experiment. He wrapped a photographic plate into heavy black paper
to screen it from ordinary light. On top of the paper-wrapping he kid
some crystals of the uranium compound; between the crystals and the
wrapping he placed a bit of metal with holes in it. Then he placed this
whole arrangement outside his window so that the sun's rays should set
the uranium aglow with fluorescence, and thereby set the X-rays going
across the wrapper. This worked admirably: when he developed his
plates the rays had penetrated the wrapping and produced a photograph
of the holes in the metal. It was a wonderful example of an experiment
confinning a prediction based on a false hypothesis.

No sooner had he communicated his results to the Academy, when
the sky clouded over, and Becquerel put his plates and the uranium
into a dark drawer. Here the crystals were shut off from the sunlight;
hence there was no fluorescent glow; hence there could be no X-rays to
blacken the photographic plate. But when he took them out of the
drawer, the plates were blackened nevertheless. Once more the im-
possible had happened; and once more a reversal of logic brought the
solution. The fluorescent glow had been caused by the X-rays and not
the other way round. Becquerel now tried non-fluorescent uranium
compounds and found that they, too, produced rays. He tried other
fluorescent materials which did not contain uranium, and found
that they did not produce the rays. That clinched the matter: the source
of the rays, 'the radio-active agent, was the uranium itself. It was from
here that the Curies took over.

Perhaps the prettiest example of reasoning in reverse gear is the
invention of the phonograph.

As a young man Edison worked as a telegraphist. His main job was
the taking of messages from the Morse-ticker by ear; if the line was bad,
the ticking became blurred, and he had to rely on guessing. This
annoyed him all the more as, owing to an earlier accident, Edison was
partially deaf. So the young telegraphist invented a simple Morse-
signal-recording apparatus. It consisted mainly of a paper disc, which
was made to rotate like the gramophone disc of the future; on the disc
the incoming dots and dashes were recorded as indentations. But from
the telegraph company's point of view transcribing from the record
instead of doing it directly by ear from the ticker was a sheer waste of
time; Edison, then seventeen, lost his job.

Eleven years later, in the first laboratory of his own, he was working
on about fifty inventions simultaneously among them the typewriter
and an improved telegraph-recorder, on which the mcoming dots and



UNDERGROUND GAMES



197



dashes were embossed by a needle. When the message was to be sent on
to another station, the paper disc was placed on a transmitting machine
with a contact lever which moved up and down according to the
indentations on the disc. It was a gadget with the sole purpose of
recording and transmitting electrical impulses, and had nothing what-
soever to do with the production of sounds. Yet it did produce purely-
accidental sounds because the lever, while tracing the embossed dots
and dashes, was apt to rattle; and when the disc was rotated very quickly
this ratde became a hum, then something like a musical sound. A
sudden reversal of logic and the phonograph was born.

The rest was a matter of elaboration. Instead of a paper disc, Edison
proposed to use a cylinder covered with soft tin-foil; instead of attach-
ing the needle to a Morse-telegraph, he attached it to a membrane set
into vibration by the waves of sound. He made a sketch of the machine,
and gave it to one of his workmen, a certain John Kruesi. It cost
altogether eighteen dollars to build it, but Kruesi had no idea what the
contraption was for. When it was finished Edison shouted at it: 'Mary
had a Httle lamb.' Then he turned the handle of the recording cylinder:

'The rnachine reproduced perfectly. Everybody was astonished *

And that was that. To quote once more the jargon of communication
engineering: the background noise' of the vibrating lever had been
turned into 'information.

We have met the same kind of logical mirror-writing in humour a
sadist is a person who is kind to a masochist , , 'operation successful,
patient dead*. All jokes based on a tmning-the-tables technique show
the same pattern (for instance, the Prince and the Retainer story on
p. 84).

In the classical tragedy, on the other hand, it is the gods, or the stars,
who turn the tables on the mortal hero, or lure him into appointments
in Samara. They particularly like to use seemingly harmless coinci-
dences the blind gaps in the meaningful order of events as levers of
destiny. In later forms of literature, it is characters which are made to
stand on their heads, or are turned inside out like a glove. Prince
Mishkin, the 'Idiot', is revealed as a sage in reverse; saints are sinners,
sinners are saints, heroes are cowards, adults are children, and every
JekyH has something to Hyde.

In visual perception we find a parallel phenomenon in the reversible
figure-background relation. If one stares at the mosaic on the bathroom
floor, unconscious and often uncontrollable shifts in perception make
the pattern of black tiles stand out at one moment, and the pattern of



I98 THE ACT OF CREATION

white tiles at the next. A more dramatic illustration is the following,
found in many psychological textbooks:



Figure 9

Urn or profiles whichever is master for a while, will become slave
in turn, 'figure' will change into 'ground', 'noise' into 'information', in
a kind of visual saturnalia. The two perceptual matrices are reciprocal,
and their alternation seems to be determined by unconscious physio-
logical processes.

Some of the great revolutions in the history of painting entailed
almost equally brutal reversals of vision. Up to the late Venetians, the
landscape on the canvas was primarily perceived as a conventional
background against which human figures were displayed; roughly
from Giorgione onward it became possible to paint landscapes in which
the human figure played an accidental part. At different stages one fw.6s
similar reversals in the logic of the eye: from ornate drapery to personal
expression, from contours to surfaces, from naturalism to other isms of
perception. At each of these upheavals the cat without a grin was
superseded by the grin without a cat.

In the realm of music the relativity and reversibility of 'figure' and
'background* (accompaniment, counterpoint, fugue) is self-evident. It
is less obvious in modern theoretical physics, although it is implied in
one of its basic postulates: according to Niels Bohr's Principle of Com-
plementarity the dtimate constituents of the universeelectrons,



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199



protons, photons, etc. behave on some occasions as if they were
particles, that is, hard lumps of matter, on other occasions as if they
were ripples of energy without definite location. Although the two
descriptions are mutually exclusive in terms of traditional physics and
philosophy, the theory works remarkably well. As a matter of fact,
most physicists are not much bothered by the inherent contradiction,
and are quite content to believe that the wavicles', the actual stuff the
world is made of, are at one moment like the solid urn, and the next
like the empty space between the two profiles.

That the most brilliant scientists of this century should be capable of
accepting this paradox is a rather striking indication of the susceptibility
of the human mind for reversals of logic, and the unification of
opposites. The complementarity of energy and matter in quantum-
physics is not so far removed as it would seem from the dualism of
Yang and Yin, the feminine and masculine principles in Taoist philo-
sophy. I do not mean that Lao-Tse, in the sixth century B.C., foresaw
the behaviour of alpha-particles in a Wilson chamber; I mean that it is
a timeless characteristic of the unconscious mind to work in that way.

Analogy and Intuition

The great biologist Elie MechnikofF felt rather lonely one afternoon
in 1890 'when the whole family had gone to the circus to see some
extraordinary performing apes, and I remained alone with my micro-
scope'. 13 The microscope was in a laboratory of the cole Normale
which Pasteur had given him; MechnikofF was observing the life of the
mobile cells in the transparent larvae of starfish, and idly threw a few
rose-thorns among them. The thorns were prompdy surrounded by
the larvae and dissolved inside their transparent bodies they had been
gobbled up and digested. This reminded him of what happens when a
human finger is infected by a splinter: it will be surrounded by pus
which, like the starfish larvae, will attack and try to digest the intruder.
By this analogy MechnikofF discovered the organisms* main defence
mechanism against invading microbes: the 'phagocytes', cell-eaters, a
population of mobile cells among the white blood corpuscles.

The starting point of Kepler's discoveries was a supposed analogy
between the role of the Father in the Trinity and the role of the Sun in
the Universe. Lord Kelvin hit on the idea of the mirror galvanometer
when he noticed a reflection of light on his monocle. Sultan saw that a



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THE ACT OF CRBATION



branch was like a stick; Newton saw that the moon behaved like an
apple. Pasteur saw the analogy between a spoilt culture and a cow-pox
vaccine; Fleming saw the analogy between the action of a mould and
the action of a drip from his nose. Freud, on his own account, conceived
the idea of the sublimation of instincts by looking at a funny cartoon in
the Fliegende Blatter the one-time German equivalent of Punch. In the
first picture a little girl was herding a flock of goslings with a stick. In
the second she had grown into a governess herding a flock of young
ladies with a parasol. 14

Some writers identify the creative act in its entirety with the unearth-
ing of hidden analogies. 'The discoveries of science, the works of art
are explorations more, are explosions, of a hidden likeness', Bronow-
ski wrote. 15 But where does the hidden likeness hide, and how is it
found? Sultan's branch could literally be seen as a stick though even in
this case, a change of the perceptual frame was required to discover the
likeness. But in most truly original acts of discovery the 'seeing' is in
fact imagining; it is done in the mind's, and mostly the unconscious
mind's eye. The analogy between the life of one kind of microbe inside
a cow and another kind of microbe in a forgotten culture tube was not
'hidden' anywhere; it was 'created* by the imagination; and once an
analogy has been created, it is of course there for all to see just as a
poetic metaphor, once created, soon fades into a cliche.

Analogy, in logic, means a process of 'reasoning from parallel causes';
in common parlance it means that two situations or events are similar
in some respects, but not in all respects. The rub is in the words 'parallel'
and 'similar'; the latter, in particular, has bedevilled psychology ever
since the term 'association by similarity* was invented (by Bain, I
believe) as an explanation of how the mind works. A Chinaman who
collects stamps is 'similar* to a Negro in that both are males; he is
similar to a Chinese girl in that both are Chinese; and he is similar to
other stamp-coUeaors of any nationality. Mathematics began, wrote
Bertrand Russell, when it was discovered that a brace of pheasants and
a couple of days have something in common: the number two.
'Similarity* is not a thing offered on a plate (or hidden in a cupboard);
it is a relation established in the mind by a process of selective emphasis
on those features which overlap in a certain respect along one dimen-
sional gradient and ignoring other features. Even such a seemingly
simple process as recognizing the similarity between two letters V
written by different hands, involves processes of abstraction and
generalization in the nervous system which are largely unexplained.



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201



Thus the real achievement in discoveries of the type mentioned, in
this section is 'seeing an analogy where no one saw one before'. The
scientist who sets out to solve a problem looks at it from various angles,
through glasses of different colours, as it were in the jargon of the
present theory, he experiments with various matrices, hoping that one
will fit If it is a routine problem of a familiar type, he will soon discover
some aspect of it which is similar in some respect to other problems
encountered in the past, and thus allows him to come to grips with it.
Some of the mental operations involved in such routine cases we have
already encountered in discussing the solving of witty riddles (pp.
84-6): extrapolation, interpolation, transposition. These are 'rules of
the game' which enter as sub-codes into any complex mental skill. To
put it in a different way: solving a problem means bridging a gap; and
for routine problems there usually exist matrices various types of
prefabricated bridges which will do the job; though it may require a
certain amount of sweat to adjust them to the terrain.

But in original discoveries, no single pre-fabricated matrix is adequate
to bridge the gap. There may be some similarities with past situations,
but these may be more misleading than helpful, and lure the victim into
fruitless experimentation based on traditional rules of the game. Here
the only salvation lies in hitting on an auxiliary matrix in a previously
unrelated field the larvae of starfish or the Holy Ghost. One may call
the process which follows after the hit 'reasoning from a parallel case'
but the real achievement was to 'appoint', as it were, the larva as a
parallel case to the pus, and the action of the Holy Ghost as 'similar* to
the action of gravity. It is an achievement much closer to the birth of a
poetic simile than to a logical production. After all, the Walrus too was
arguing by analogy when he talked 'Of shoes and ships and sealing
wax/Of cabbages and kings/

The essence of discovery is that unlikely marriage of cabbages and
kings of previously unrelated frames of reference or universes of dis-
course whose union will solve the previously unsoluble problem. The
search for the improbable partner involves long and arduous striving
but the ultimate matchmaker is the unconscious. I have discussed
several tricks which qualify it for that role: the greater fluency and
freedom of unconscious ideation; its 'intellectual Hbertinage' as one
might call the dream's indifference towards logical niceties and mental
prejudices consecrated by tradition; its non-verbal, 'visionary' powers.
To these must be added, in our present context, the dream's tendency
towards creating unusual analogies. These may be verbal puns, or



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THE ACT OF CREATION



'optic puns' or visual symbols; but there is another type of vague and
cloudy analogy generated in the dream and half-dream, which dis-
integrates on awakening and cannot be put into words except by
muttering 'something rerninded me of something, but I don't know
what reminded me of what, and why'. Some dreams have a way of
dissolving in the wakening mind like solid crystals melting in a liquid*,
and if we reverse the process we get at least a speculative pointer to the
manner in which those 'somethings' vaguely reminding me of other
'somethings' condense into a nascent analogy. This may be a hazy,
tentative affair the dance of Poincare's unhooked atoms; and its shape
may be changing from camel to weasel, as Hamlet's cloud. The un-
conscious regions of fertile minds must be pullulating with such nascent
analogies, hidden likenesses, and the cloudy forms of things unknown.
But most clouds form and dissolve again; only a few intuitions reach
the stage of 'seeding the cloud' which results in the formation of verbal
drops; and cloud-bursts are a rarity.

Two final examples may serve to illustrate the actual process of
discovering hidden analogies. The first is related to clouds in a literal
sense Franklin's invention of the Hghtning conductor.

Benjamin Franklin became interested in electricity in 1746 when he
was forty, and began playing about with Leyden jars a kind of
electrified bottle which gave one fearful shocks. Within the next three
years he rediscovered by himself virtually everything that was known
about electricity to that date, and added several fundamental discoveries
of his own.

In 1749 he noted in his diary that he thought Hghtning and thunder
to be electrical phenomena.* He also found that when brought near to'
an electrified body, a pointed object, like a finger, will draw a much
stronger spark than a blunt one. 'To know this power of points', he
musingly wrote, 'may possibly be of some use to mankind, though we
should never be able to explain it.' He then drew an analogy between a
cloud and an electrified body, and concluded that Hghtning was an
electrical discharge phenomenon. But if that was the case, mankind
could protect itself against this cosmic scourge:

I say, if these things are so, may not the knowledge of this power of
points be of use to mankind, in preserving houses, churches, ships &
cont. from the stroke of Hghtning, by directing us to fix on the
highest parts of those edifices, upright rods of iron made sharp as a
needle, and gilt to prevent rusting, and from the foot of those rods a



UNDERGROUND GAMES



203



-wire down one of the shrouds of a ship, and down her side till it
reaches the water? Would not these pointed rods probably draw
the electrical fire silently out of a cloud before it came nigh enough to
strike, and thereby secure us from that most sudden and terrible
mischief? 16

However, before he could convince mankind to put 'Franklin rods*
on their houses he had to prove his fantastically sounding notion that
thunderclouds were in fact giant Leyden jars floating in the air. He
waited for some time hopefully for the erection of a tall spire at
Philadelphia, intending to fix a pointed rod on top of it, and so to
bring down the electricity from a passing thundercloud. But the
difficulties of the project proved insurmountable; it was during this
period of impatient waiting and restless searching for a simpler method
to prove his theory that he hit on the fantastic yet at the same time
astonishingly simple idea of the kite.

How did it happen? Franklin was an expert swimmer. On his first
sojourn in London, at the age of nineteen, he swam from Chelsea to
BlackfHars, a distance of three miles, performing on the way many
feats of activity both upon and under the water and was advised by
some English gendemen, who watched him, to open a swiniming
school. He did not do that, but he devised a new method of learning to
swim: 'Choosing a place where the water deepens gradually, walk
coolly into it till it is up to your breast, then turn around, your face to
the shore, and throw an egg into the water between you and the
shore.' The learner then must 'boldly retrieve the egg* and in the act
of retrieving acquires the art of swimming.

Even earlier on he had devised another aquatic sport: as a boy he used
to drift for hours on a lake, floating on his back, and towed by the
string of a kite. He suggested that this method might be utilized by
swimmers to cross the Channel from Dover to Calais with the
judicious addendum: 'The packet-boat, however, is still preferable.'

It is easy to imagine how, in a moment of weariness and 'thinking
aside' from that wretched spire in Philadelphia, a pleasant childhood
memory rose like a bubble to the surface of his consciousness: drifting
on the lake attached to the kite in the sky. Eureka! With the enthusi-
astic assistance of his young son, Franklin fabricated a kite out of a cross
of cedar wood and a silk handkerchief. All he needed now were a few
good thunderclouds which conveniently appeared in June 1752.
Father and son sent up the kite and, with due precaution, drained the



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THE ACT OF CREATION



clouds' electric charge into a Leyden jar; 'by the electric fire thus
obtained spirits were inflamed and other experiments performed'.

Such was the excitement caused all over the world that one of
Franklin's imitators, a certain Monsieur Riehmann, was killed in St.
Petersburg by the lightning discharge he drew from a cloud. He was
worshipped as a hero and found many would-be imitators; among
them the German inventor Herr Boze. Even Joseph Priestley, one of
the great British scientists of the century, rhapsodized about 'the
sentiments of the magnanimous Mr. Boze, who with a truly philo-
sophic heroism, worthy of the renowned Empedocles, said he wished he
might die by the electric shock, that the account of his death might
furnish an article for the memoirs of the French Academy of Sciences.
But it is not given to every electrician to die the death of the justly
envied Riehmann.' 17

There are two successive Eureka processes involved in this story. In
the first, the bisociative link was what Franklin called 'the power of
points'; it gave rise to the analogy: pointed ringer discharges Leyden
jar, pointed rod discharges cloud. It may have been attained by ideation
on a relatively conscious level, probably with the aid of visual imagina-
tion. The second stroke of genius was the use of the kite to reach the
thunderbolt. It illustrates the argument I have put forward earlier in this
chapter: one can hardly say that a hidden analogy was pre-existent in the
universe between a kite used as a sail by a boy floating on a lake, and a
lightrtirtg conductor. What actually happened was that Franklin was
desperately searching for a means to make contact with a thundercloud,
thinking in habitual terms of tall spires, long iron rods, and perhaps the
Tower of Babel. But all these approaches proved impracticable, and the
matrix was blocked until in a moment of lassitude and day-dreaming
the previously unrelated memory-train of swimming, egg-retrieving,
and kite-sailing was brought to bear on it.

The last example that I shall quote in this section is a particularly
impressive illustration of the unconscious in the role of rnatchmaker. I
am referring to the discovery, in 1920, of the chemical transmission of
nerve-impulses by Otto Loewi. Since the matter is somewhat technical,
I shall give a simplified account of it.

Before Loewi's discovery it was generally believed that nervous
control of bodily functions was exercised by a direct transmission of
electrical impulses from nerve-terminal to muscle or gland. But this
theory failed to account for the fact that the same type of electric
impulse travelling down a nerve had an excitatory eflect on some



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205



organs, an inhibitory effect on others. Now certain drugs were known
to have precisely the same effect. In a discussion with a friend in 1903,
it occurred to Loewi that the chemical agents which were contained in
these drugs may also be present at the nerve-terminals; the electric
impulse would initiate chemical action, which in its turn would act on
the muscle or gland. But Loewi could not think of an experimental
method to test the idea and forgot it for the next seventeen years.

Fifteen years later, for quite different purposes, he designed an
experiment. He made preparations of two frogs' hearts which were kept
beating in salt solutions to see whether their activities gave out any
chemical substance. In the sequel he forgot all about the experiment.

Another two years passed until the critical event:

The night before Easter Sunday of that year [1920] I awoke,
turned on the light, and jotted down a few notes on a tiny slip of thin
paper. Then I fell asleep again. It occurred to me at six o'clock in the
morning that during the night I had written down something most
important, but I was unable to decipher the scrawl. The next night,
at three o'clock, the idea returned. It was the design of an experiment
to determine whether or not the hypothesis of chemical trans-
mission that I had uttered seventeen years ago was correct. I got up
immediately, went to the laboratory, and performed a simple
experiment on a frog heart according to the nocturnal design. . . .

No lesser person that Walter B. Cannon, the discoverer of adrenalin,
has described this noctural design as 'one of the neatest, simplest, and
most definite experiments in the history of biology'. Loewi again
isolated two frog hearts, the first with its nerves, the second without.
He stimulated the vagus nerve of the first heart for a few minutes. The
vagus has an inhibitory effect on the heart, and its beats slowed down.
Loewi now removed the salt solution from the first heart and applied
it to the second. It slowed down just as if its own (no longer existent)

vagus had been stimulated He repeated the experiment, this time

stimulating the accelerator nerve of the first heart. When the liquid was
transferred to the second heart it accelerated He concludes:

These results unequivocally proved that the nerves do not
influence the heart directly but liberate from their terminals specific
chemical substances which, in their turn, cause the well-known
modifications of the function of the heart characteristic of the
stimulation of its nerves.



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THE ACT Of CREATION



The story of this discovery shows that an idea may sleep for
decades in the unconscious mind and then suddenly return. Further,
it indicates that we should sometimes trust a sudden intuition without
too much scepticism. If carefully considered in the daytime, I would
undoubtedly have rejected the kind of experiment I performed. It
would have seemed likely that any transmitting agent released by a
nervous impulse would be in an amount just sufficient to influence
the effector organ. It would seem improbable that an excess that could
be detected would escape into the fluid which filled the heart. It
was good fortune that at that moment of the hunch I did not think
but acted immediately.

For many years this nocturnal emergence of the design of the
crucial experiment to check the validity of a hypothesis uttered
seventeen years earlier was a complete mystery. 18

In 1955 twenty-five years after the discovery, which earned him
the Nobel Prize Loewi had to compile a bibliography:

I glanced over all the papers published from my laboratory. I
came across two studies made about two years before the arrival of
the nocturnal design in which, also in search of a substance given off
from the heart, I had applied the technique used in 1920. This
experience, in my opinion, was an essential preparation for the idea
of the finished design. In fact, the nocturnal concept represented a
sudden association of the hypothesis of 1903 with the method tested
not long before in other experiments. Most so-called 'intuitive'
discoveries are such associations suddenly made in the unconscious
mind. 1 *

Let me briefly recapitulate the three stages of this drama. The first is
the sudden emergence, during a conversation in 1903, of the hunch that
his problem could be solved by switching from a 'spark theory' to a
'soup theory* (in neurological jargon, 'spark' refers to electrical, 'soup'
to chemical transmission of nerve impulses). But a hunch of this kind
as often as not turns out to be a fallacious over-simplification; so the
idea went into the incubator for the next seventeen years, till 1920.

Act Two. In 1918, fifteen years after the hunch, Loewi performs
certain experiments for which purpose he has to design a technique
for the detection of fluids secreted by the frog's heart. He then forgets
all about it.



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207



On the night before Easter Sunday the two previously unrelated
memories meet; but their meeting place is so deep underground that
the next morning he can remember nothing, and cannot even decipher
his own scribbled note. He has to wait until the next night for another
underground excursion which takes place at 3 a.m., followed by the
rush to the laboratory.

After the event one wonders, of course, why one idea had to wait for
seventeen years, the second for two years, and then choose such a secret
place for their final rendezvous that the identity of the second was only
revealed another twenty-five years later. The first was a theory of the
transmission of nerve impulses to organs by a fluid; the second was a
technique for tracing fluids in an organ; what could be more logical
than that the twain should meet? Yet they did not meet through all
those years because mortal minds, even those of genius, are not
governed by logic but by habit, and the two ideas were embedded
each in its own habitual context. Wallace, too, had been thinking of
evolution for two years, and had read Malthus many years before the
two fused during an attack of tropical fever. It seems that encounters
of this kind can occur only when the normal rules of the game are
suspended and the unconscious match-maker enters into action. Loewi's
inability to read his own note, and other cases of 'snowblindness*
which I shall mention, indicate the stubborn resistance of habit against
such breaches of the rules and illicit liaisons.

"We are somewhat more than ourselves in sleep and the Slumber of
the Body seems to be but the Waking of the Soul', Sir Thomas Browne
wrote three centuries ago. Yet it is difficult and frustrating to write
consciously on the unconscious, rationally on the irrational. It is rather
like praising the beauties and expounding the grammar of the Sanskrit
language but a Sanskrit which you speak only in your sleep and the
command of which you lose when awake. Only fragments of it emerge
to the surface disjointed memories and the testimonies of creative
minds. When these fragments are pieced together, as best we can, they
do not form a coherent pattern but they do provide evidence that
such a pattern exists.

Sumtnary

The interlocking of two previously unrelated skills or matrices of
thought was again seen to constitute the basic pattern of discovery in
the illustrative cases of Gutenberg, Kepler, and Darwin-Wallace



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THE ACT OF CREATION



(Chapter VI). Gutenberg combined the techniques of the wine-press
and the seal; Kepler married physics to astronomy; Darwin connected
biological evolution with the struggle for survival.

On the question how the new synthesis comes into being, the evi-
dence indicates that verbal thinking, and conscious thinking in general,
plays only a subordinate part in the decisive phase of the creative act.
Hadamard's inquiry among leading mathematicians in America re-
vealed that 'practically all of them . . . avoid not only the use of mental
words but also ... the mental use of algebraic or any other signs'. On
the testimony of those original thinkers who have taken the trouble to
record their methods of work, this also seems to be the rule in other
branches of science. Their virtually unanimous emphasis on spontane-
ous intuitions, unconscious guidance, and sudden leaps of imagination
which they are at a loss to explain, suggests that the role of stricdy
rational thought-processes in scientific discovery has been vasdy over-
estimated since the Age of Enlightenment; and that, contrary to the
Cartesian bias in our beliefs, 'full consciousness', in the words of
Einstein, 'is a limit case*.

'Full consciousness' must indeed be regarded as the upper limit of a
continuous gradient from focal awareness through peripheral aware-
ness to total unawareness of an event. Awareness is a matter of degrees;
and only a fraction of our multi-levelled activities at any moment
enters the beam of focal consciousness. But this realisation in itself
provides no answer to the question how unconscious guidance works.

We have approached that question in several cautious steps. First, I
have tried to show that unconscious automatisms must not be con-
fused, as they often ate, with unconscious intuitions. To be able to
recite the lines of Kubla Khan 'in one's sleep* is not the same thing as
conceiving them in a dream; it is, in fact, the result of the opposite
process. The formation and gradual automatization of habits of all
kinds, of muscular, perceptual, tmnking skills, follows the principle of
economy. Once a new skill has been mastered, the controls begin to
function automatically and can be dispatched underground, out of
sight; and under stable conditions strategy too will tend to become
stereotyped. I called this the 'downward' stream of mental traffic.

The next step led us to inquire how in ordinary, routine thinking we
explore the 'shallows' of our minds operating on the twilight peri-
pheries of awareness, as it were. Galtons oft-quoted metaphor of the
ante-chamber, from which the 'most closely allied' idea is summoned
to the presence-chamber of the mind in a 'mechanically logical way',



UNDERGROUND GAMES



209



proved to be inadequate, because the order of precedence was seen to
depend firstly, on the specific rules of the game in which the mind is
engaged at the time, and secondly, on strategic considerations depen-
dent on the he of the land. Purposive thinking, then, may be compared
to the scanning of a landscape with the narrow beam of focal vision
whether it is a panorama, a chessboard, or an 'inner landscape*. Those
features which are relevant to the purpose of the operation will stand
out as 'members' of the matrix, while the rest sinks into the background.
Thus the first act in skilled routine-thinking and problem-solving is the
'turdng-in of the code appropriate to the task, guided by some obvious
similarity with situations encountered in the past. This leads to the
emergence of a matrix which provides a preliminary selection of
possible moves; the actual moves depend on strategy, guided by feed-
back, and distorted by emotional interferences.

However, the problems which lead to original discoveries are
precisely those which cannot be solved by any familiar rule of the game,
because the matrices applied in the past to problems of similar nature
have been rendered inadequte by new features or complexities in the
situation, by new observational data, or a new type of question. The
search for a clue, for Poincare's 'good combination which will
unlock the blocked problem, proceeds on several planes, involving
unconscious processes at various levels of depth.

In a general way this simultaneous activity on various levels, during
the period of incubatioii, in itself creates a state of receptivity, a readi-
ness of the 'prepared mind' to pounce on favourable chance-constella-
tions, and to profit from any casual hint (Gutenberg and the wine-
press, Archimedes, Pasteur, Darwin, Fleming). In discoveries of this
type, where both rational thinking and the trigger-action of chance
play a noticeable part, the function of the unconscious seems to be
mainly to keep the problem constantly on the agenda, even while
conscious attention is occupied elsewhere. In this context the word
'unconscious* refers primarily to processes (such as perceptions and
memories) which occur fairly low down on the gradient of awareness.

But in other types of discovery the unconscious plays a more
specific, guiding role by bringing forms of ideation into play which
otherwise manifest themselves only in dreaming and related states.
Their codes function more or less permanently 'underground', because
they govern the type of thinking prevalent in childhood and in primi-
tive societies, which has been superseded in the norm al adult by techni-
ques of thought which are more rational and realistic or are considered



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THE. ACT OF CREATION



as such. These ancient, quasi-archaeological layers in the mental hier-
archy form a world apart, as it were, glimpses of which we get in the
dream; their existence is a kind of historic record, which testifies to the
facts of mental evolution; and they must not he confused with auto-
matized skills which, once mastered, function unawares, for reasons of
mental economy. (It would perhaps be preferable to call these 'archeo-
logicaT strata of the mind the swfc-conscious', to distinguish them from
processes of which we are merely wfl-consrious because they happen
to rank low on the linear scale of awareness. But the Freudian connota-
tions of the word subconscious would probably lead to confusion of a
different kind.)

The period of incubation represents a reculerpour mieux sauter. Just as
in the dream the codes of logical reasoning are suspended, so 'thinking
aside' is a temporary liberation from the tyranny of over-precise verbal
concepts, of the axioms and prejudices engrained in the very texture of
specialized ways of thought. It allows the rnind to discard the strait-
jacket of habit, to shrug off apparent contradictions, to un-learn and
forgetand to acquire, in exchange, a greater fluidity, versatility, and
gullibility. This rebellion against constraints which are necessary to
maintain the order and discipline of conventional thought, but an
impediment to the creative leap, is symptomatic both of the genius and
the crank; what distinguishes them is the intuitive guidance which only
the former enjoys.

Though Poincare was doubtless one of its beneficiaries, I have quoted
his hypothesis regarding the nature of that guidance the automatic
mixing machine in the basement as an example of a mechanistic
explanation. In fact, however, the underground games of the mind were
seen to be of a highly sophisticated, visionary and witty nature, al-
though its rules are not those of formal logic. The dreamer constandy
bisociates innocently as it were frames of reference which are
regarded as incompatible in the waking state; he drifts effortlessly from
matrix to matrix, without being aware of it; in his inner landscape, the
bisociative techniques of humour and discovery are reflected upside
down, like trees in a pond. The most fertile region seems to be the
marshy shore, the borderland between sleep and full awakening
where the matrices of disciplined thought are already operating but
have not yet sufficiently hardened to obstruct the dreamlike fluidity of
imagination.*

I have discussed various bisociative devices in which the matchmaking
activities of the unconscious manifest themselves: the substitution of



UNDERGROUND GAMES



vague visual images for precise verbal formulations; symbolization,
conaetization, and impersonation; mergers of sound and sense, of form
and function; shifts of emphasis, and reasoning in reverse gear; guidance
by nascent analogies. In day-dream ing, and in most dreams of ordinary
mortals, these activities are free-wheeling or serving intimately per-
sonal ends; in the inspired moments of artists and scientists they are
harnessed to the creative purpose.

The moment of truth, the sudden emergence of a new insight, is an
act of intuition. Such intuitions give the appearance of miraculous
flashes, or short-circuits of reasoning. In fact they may be likened to an
immersed chain, of which only the beginning and the end are visible
above the surface of consciousness. The diver vanishes at one end of the
chain and comes up at the other end, guided by invisible links.

Habit and originality, then, point in opposite directions in the two-
way traffic between conscious and unconscious processes. The conden-
sation of learning into habit, and the automatization of skills constitute
the downward stream; while the upward traffic consists in the minor,
vitalizing pulses from the underground, and the rare major surges of
creation.

NOTES

To p, 192. Jung's emphasis on the mandala as the symbol of the coincidencia
oppositorum concerns the reconciliation of opposites in the fully integrated person
which is an altogether different question.

To p. 202. Half a century earlier, the cracklings and sparks produced by
rubbing a piece of amber had been compared to lightning and thunder by Wall,
a friend of Boyle's; but as the context shows, the comparison was meant in a
purely metaphorical way.

To p. 210. \ . . Einstein has reported that his profound generalization con-
necting space and time occurred to him while he was sick in bed. Descartes is
said to have made his discoveries while lying in bed in the morning and both
Cannon and Poincare report having got bright ideas when lying in bed unable to
sleep the only good thing to be said for insomnia! It is said that James Brindley,
the great engineer, when up against a difficult problem, would go to bed for
several days till it was solved. Walter Scott wrote to a friend:

4 "The half-hour between waking and rising has all my life proved propitious
to any task which was exercising my invention. ... It was always when I first
opened my eyes that the desired ideas thronged upon me." ' (Beveridge, W. I. B.,
1950, pp. 73-4).



IX

THE SPARK AND THE FLAME

False Inspirations

I have discussed the genesis of the Eureka act the sudden shaking
together of two previously unconnected matrices; let us now turn
to the aftermath of it.
If all goes well that single, explosive contact will lead to a lasting
fusion of the two matrices a new synthesis will emerge, a further
advance in mental evolution will have been achieved. On the other
hand, the inspiration may have been a mirage; or premature; or not
sumciendy impressive to be believed in.

A stimulating inquiry by the American chemists Piatt and Barker
showed that among those scientists who answered their questionnaire
eighty-three per cent claimed frequent or occasional assistance from
unconscious intuitions. But at the same time only seven pe* cent among
them asserted that their intuitions were always correct; the remainder
estimated the percentage of their 'false intuitions' variously at ten to
ninety per cent.

A false inspiration is not an ordinary error committed in the course
of a routine operation, such as making a mistake in counting. It is a kind
of inspired blunder which presents itself in the guise of an original
synthesis, and carries the same subjective conviction as Archimedes' s
cry did. Let me quote Poincare once more:

I have spoken of the feeling of absolute certitude accompanying
the inspiration; often this feeling deceives us without it being any

the less vivid When a sudden iHumriiiation seizes upon the mind

of the mathematician, it usually happens that it does not deceive him,
but it also sometimes happens, mat it does not stand the test of
verification; well, we almost always notice that this false idea, had it
been true, would have gratified our natural feeling for mathematical
elegance. 1

2X2



THE SPARK AND THE FLAME 213

The previous chapters may have given the mistaken impression that
the genius need only listen to his Socratian demon and all will be well.
But the demon is a great hoaxer precisely because he is not bound by
the codes of disciplined thought; and every original thinker who relies,
as he must, on his unconscious hunches, incurs much greater risks to his
career and sanity than his more pedestrian colleagues. 'The world little
knows', wrote Faraday, 'how many of the thoughts and theories which
have passed through the mind of a scientific investigator have been
crushed in silence and secrecy; that in the most successful instances not
a tenth of the suggestions, the hopes, the wishes, the preliminary
conclusions have been realized.' 2 Darwin, Huxley, and Planck, among
many others, made similar confessions; Einstein lost 'two years of hard
work' owing to a false inspiration. 'The imagination, wrote Beveridge,
'merely enables us to wander into the darkness of the unknown where,
by the dim light of the knowledge that we carry, we may glimpse
something that seems of interest. But when we bring it out and
examine it more closely it usually proves to be only trash whose
glitter had caught our attention. Imagination is at once the source of
all hope and inspiration but also of frustration. To forget this is to court
despair/ 3

All through his life Kepler hoped to prove that the motions of the
planets round the sun obeyed certain musical laws, the harmonies of the
spheres. When he was approaching fifty, he thought he had succeeded
The following is one of the rare instances on record of a genius des-
cribing the heady effect of a false inspiration Kepler never discovered
that he was the victim of a delusion:

The thing which dawned on me twenty-five years ago before I had
yet discovered the five perfect bodies between the heavenly orbits;
which sixteen years ago I proclaimed as the ultimate aim of all
research; which caused me to devote the best years of my life to
astronomical studies, to join Tycho Brahe and to choose Prague as
my residence that I have, with the aid of God, who set my en-
thusiasm on fire and stirred in me an irrepressible desire, who kept
my life and intelligence alert that I have now at long last brought
to light. Having perceived the first glimmer of dawn eighteen
months ago, the light of day three months ago, but only a few days
ago the plain sun of a most wonderful vision- nothing shall now
hold me back. Yes, I give myself up to holy raving. If you forgive
me, I shall rejoice. If you are angry, I shall bear it. Behold, I have



214



THE ACT OF CREATION



cast the dice, and I am writing a book either for my contemporaries,
or for posterity. It is all the same to me. It may wait a hundred
years for a reader, since God has also waited six thousand years for a
witness. 4

T. H. Huxley has said that the tragedies, of science are the slayings of
beautiful hypotheses by ugly facts. Against this tragedy, at least, the
artist seems to be immune. On the other hand, it is generally believed
that the scientist can at least rely on the verification of his intuitions by
experiment, whereas the artist has no such objective tests to decide
whether or not he should burn his manuscript, or slash his canvas to
pieces.

In fact, however, Verification by experiment' can never yield
absoulte certainty, and when it comes to controversial issues the data
can usually be interpreted in more than one way. The history of
medicine is full of obvious and distressing examples of this. In physics
and chemistry too, the best we can do by so-called 'crucial experiments'
is to confirm a prediction but not the theory on which the prediction
is based (see below, pp 270-6); and scientific controversies about the
interpretation of experimental results have been just as passionate and
subjective as controversies between theologians or art critics. If a hunch
is drastically contradicted by experiment, it will of course be aban-
doned. But, by and large, scientists are inclined to trust their intuitions;
and if confronted with experiments which give ambiguous or diver-
gent results, either to declare as Einstein once did- that 'the facts are
wrong*; oras Hobbes did that 'the instance is so particular and
singular, that 'tis scarce worth our observing' ; or to resort to the standard
phrase that the unfavourable experimental result is due 'to unknown
sources of error' hoping that some day, somehow, it will all work out.
Modern theoretical physics lives to a large extent on that hope. Thus
veriflability is a matter of degrees, and neither the artist, nor the
scientist who tries to break new ground, can hope ever to achieve
absolute certainty.

Premature Linkages

I have mentioned discoveries which were the happy outcome of a
comedy of errors. No less frequent are those tragedies in the history of
thought, where the right kind of intuition begets wrong results- faulty
integrations, premature births.



THE SPARK AND THE FLAME



215



The first attempt to describe physical reality by mathematical relations
was made in the sixth century B.C. by the Pythagorean Brotherhood
a religious, scientific, and political Order which wielded great power in
the south of Italy. They succeeded in explaining musical quality by
quantitative laws, and believed that ultimately 'all things are numbers'.

But they translated this prophetic intuition into a premature synthesis
between 'things' and 'numbers', based on the assumption that a line
consisted of a definable number of tiny dots, a plane of a definable
number of these lines, and so on. They soon discovered, however, that
the length of a line such as the diagonal of a square cannot be defined
by any countable number of dots; one can draw the diagonal in a jiffy,
but to write down the number defining its length one would have to
use an infinite series of decimals. To make the scandal worse, numbers
of this kind could be shown to be neither even nor odd or both.
Pythagoreans called these numbers arrketos, unspeakable (we call them,
more politely, irrational numbers), and tried to keep their existence
secret, because they were convinced that their assertion of a harmonious
mathematical order behind the untidy world of appearances was true
and correct; when a member of the Brotherhood, Hippasos, let the
secret leak out, he was reportedly put to death. The failure of this
premature attempt at a synthesis brought the quantitative approach to
nature into discredit. The physics of Aristotle, which ruled Europe for
two thousand years, paid no attention to quantity or measurement;
physics remained divorced from mathematics until the scientific
revolution in the seventeenth century a.d. brought them together
again.

Another premature synthesis, which I have already mentioned, was
the Keplerian cosmology, in which the sun sweeps the lazy planets
round their orbits with invisible heavenly brooms. But, in this case, the
error was a fertile one: physics and astronomy, once 'shaken together'
even though in the wrong way, could never again be separated.
Equally fertile was the alchemists' right intuition, supported by wrong
arguments, of the transmutability of chemical elements. On the other
hand, the phrenology of Franz Josef Gall had the opposite effect. Gall
thought that every mental faculty is seated in a definite region on the
surface of the brain, and that a person's abilities and character could be
assessed by the bumps on his skull. It was the first, premature, and naive
attempt to correlate psychology with brain-physiology. Though
phrenology was highly fashionable around a.d. 1800, it brought such
discredit in its wake that for a century or more psychologists would



216



THE ACT OP CREATION



have nothing to do with, speculations ahout the structure and function
of the brain.

Thus the premature integration of matrices which are not yet suffici-
ently consolidated has in some cases a wholesome effect, by stimulating
more mature attempts in the same direction; while in other cases it acts
as a deterrent and carries the stigma of superstition or 'un-scientific
thinking*. Taken in a wider sense, the category of premature intuitions
accommodates the whole body of folk-wisdom -herbal knowledge,
weather-lore, psychosomatic healing by hypnosis, suggestion, shock,
and abreaction down to Jenner's diarymaid who 'would not take the
pox\ We have learned to recognize in these intuitive insights and
techniques the forerunners of our more mature discoveries and re-
discoveries; and we thus arrive at a progression in several stages. In the
first stage the two matrices which will participate in the ultimate
synthesis are tentatively and inadequately joined together by the logic
of the unconscious. In the second the haphazard connection is severed
again, and a reaction may set in which keeps them apart for a consider-
able time. In the final stage, after the definite merger, the previously
separate matrices become mentally inseparable, and we marvel at our
former blindness.

Sncwblindness

*The mind', wrote 'Wilfred Trotter, 'likes a strange idea as little as
the body likes a strange protein and resists it with similar energy. It
would not perhaps be too fanciful to say that a new idea is the most
quickly acting antigen known to science. If we watch ourselves honestly
we shall often find that we have begun to argue against a new idea even
before it has been completely stated/ 5

I shall not dwell on the martyrology of genius; the title of this section
refers to that remarkable form of blindness which often prevents the
original thinker from perceiving the meaning and significance of his
own discovery. Jealousy apart, the anti-body reaction directed against
new ideas seems to be much the same whether the idea was let loose
by others or oneself. The defence mechanisms which protect habits
against the instrusion of novelty accounts both for our mental inertia
and mental stability.

Copernicus was an orthodox believer in the physics of Aristode, and
stubbornly clung to the dogma that all heavenly bodies must move in
perfect circles at uniform velocities. In the fourth chapter of the Third



THE SPAM AND TH2 FLAME



217



Book of the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres, the original manuscript
of the book contains the following lines:

It should be noticed, by the way, that if the two circles have
different diameters, other conditions remaining unchanged, then the
resulting movement will not be a straight line but . . . what mathe-
maticians call an ellipse, (my italics)

This is actually not true, for the resulting curve will be a cycloid
resembling an ellipse but the odd fact is that Copernicus had hit on the
ellipse which is the form of all planetary orbits had arrived at it for the
wrong reasons and by faulty deduction and having done so, promptly
dropped it: the passage is crossed out in the manuscript, and is not
contained in the printed edition of the Revolutions. The history of human
thought is full of triumphant eurekas; but only rarely do we hear of the
anti-climaxes, the missed opportunities, which leave no trace.

Kepler, too, nearly threw away the elliptic orbits; for almost three
years he held the solution in his hands without seeing it His conscious
mind refused to accept the 'cartload of dung' which the underground
had cast up. When the battle was over, he confessed: 'Why should I
mince my words? The truth of Nature, which I had rejected and
chased away, returned by stealth through the backdoor, disguising
itself to be accepted. Ah, what a foolish bird I have been!* 6

Poor Kepler, he was even more foolish than he thought: he actually
discovered universal gravitythen rejected it. In the Preface to the
New Astronomy he explains that the tides are due to the attraction of the
moon, and describes the working of gravity even that the attracting
force is proportionate to mass; but in the text of that book, and of all
subsequent works, he hasincredible as it sounds completely for-
gotten all about it. I have given elsewhere a detailed account of this
remarkable case of snowblindness. 7

Galileo revolutionized astronomy by the use of the telescope; but he
refused to believe in the reality of comets and declared them to be
optical illusions. For he too believed that heavenly bodies must move
in perfect circles; and since comets moved in very elongated elliptical
orbits, they could not be heavenly bodies.

Freud's revered master, Professor Brucke at the Vienna Medicine
Faculty, discovered, in 1849, a technique to illuminate the retina of the
eye; but the idea of observing the muminated retina through a lens did
not occur to him! It was his friend Helmholtz who hit on the idea



2l8



THE ACT OF CREATION



while preparing a lecture on Brucke's work and thus became the
inventor of the ophthalmoscope.

Freud himself had two narrow escapes, as it were, from achieving
world fame in his twenties. In the course of his physiological researches
at Brucke's Institute 'he was trembling on the very brink of the
important neurone theory, the basis of modern neurology'; but, as
Ernest Jones said, 'in the endeavour to acquire "discipline" he had not
yet perceived that in original scientific work there is an equally
important place for imagination. 8 It is strange indeed to hear the
founder of psychoanalysis being accused by his pupil and biographer of
having in his early years suffered from lack of imagination; but there it
is and worse to come.

The fantastic character of the 'Cocaine Episode' in Freud's life can be
appreciated only by comparing the silences in Freud's autobiography
with the revelations in Jones's biography. In the spring of 1884 Freud
then twenty-eight read in a German medical paper that an Army
doctor had been experimenting 'with cocaine, the essential constituent
of coca leaves which some Indian tribes chew to enable them to resist
privations and hardships*. He ordered a small quantity of the stuff from
a pharmaceutical firm, tried it on himself, his sisters, fiancee, and
patients, decided that cocaine was a 'magical drug', which procured
*the most gorgeous excitement', left no harmful after-effect, and was not
habit-forming! In several publications he unreservedly recommended
the use of cocaine against depression, indigestion, 'in those functional
states comprised under the name of neurasthenia', and during the with-
drawal-therapy of morphine addicts; he even tried to cure diabetes
with it. 'I am busy', he wrote to his future wife, 'collecting the literature
for a song of praise to this magical substance.' One is irresistibly
reminded of Aldous Huxley's songs of praise to mescaline; but Huxley
was neither a member of the medical profession nor the founder of a
new school in psychotherapy.

Two years after the publication of his first paper on the wonder-drug
Knapp, the great American ophthalmologist, greeted Freud 'as the man
who had introduced cocaine to the world, and congratulated him on
the achievement. In the same year, 1886, however, cases of cocaine
addiction and intoxication were being reported from all over the world,
and in Germany there was a general alarm 9 The man who had tried
to benefit humanity or at all events to create a reputation by curing
"neurasthenia" was now accused of unleashing evil on the world.'
Among Ireud's personal patients one died as a result of a large dose of



THE SPARK AND THE FLAME



219



the drug; another his close friend Fleischl whom he tried to cure from
morphine addiction, became cocaine-addicted instead, and developed
*a delirium tremens with white snakes creeping over his skin'. 10 A
leading neurologist, Erlenmeyer, described cocaine as 'the third scourge
of humanity ' the other two being alcohol and morphine. 11

I have said enough about the disasters of this episode. And yet Freud's
dabbling with cocaine became a blessing to humanity but not in the
way in which he had thought of it. Two of his colleagues at the
Medical Faculty, Koller and Koenigstein, both ophthalmologists, both
of incomparably smaller stature than Freud, read his 1884 paper,
experimented with cocaine, and saw almost at once what Freud's
snowblindness prevented him from seeing. Freud was not interested in
surgery; it did not enter into his habits of thought. He was fascinated
by the possible internal uses of cocaine, and, above all, its effects on
nervous disorders. Only in the final paragraph of his paper did he
casually mention some possible additional uses* of cocaine as a pain-
deadener in local infections; its uses as an anaesthetic in minor surgery
never occurred to him. He and Koller both noticed that after swallow-
ing cocaine their mouths and lips went numb the familiar sensation
after the dentist's injection. Koller took the hintFreud did not. Freud
suggested to Koenigstein that cocaine could be used to alleviate the pain
in certain eye-diseases; but it was Koenigstein who thought of using it
as an anaesthetic in eye-operations. Among the first of these, incident-
ally, was an operation on Freud's father for glaucoma carried out
by Koenigstein, with Koller administering the cocaine, and Freud
assisting. . . .

But even at that stage Freud still considered the tremendous benefits
of local anaesthetics as merely 'one more of the outlying applications of
which his beloved drug was capable. It took a long time before he
could assimilate the bitter truth that Roller's use of it was to prove
practically the only one of value and all the rest dust and ashes/ 12

Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Freud I have quoted only a few out-
standing examples of mental eye-cataract. How often did Archimedes
get into his bath and watch the rising water-level which gave a perfect
measure of the volume of his gnarled body? We must resign ourselves
to the fact that snowblindness is inherent in the human condition; if it
were not so, then everything we know today about the theory of
numbers, or analytical geometry, would have been discovered within
a few generations after Euclid.



Gradual Integrations



In some of the discoveries which I discussed earlier on a sudden
intuition sparked off the instant fusion of previously unrelated matrices.
In the cases described in the previous section the spark failed to ignite,
m yet other cases it initiates the fusion without completing it. Loewi
could not decipher the note relating^ to his dream, and had to dream, a
second time before he accepted its message. Kepler rejected the 'truth
of Nature', and only admitted it when it returned 'by the backdoor'.
Some of K6hler*s less gifted chimpanzees discovered, unaided, various
new techniques for making and using tools then seemed to forget
them again; but on the next test they rediscovered them after a much
shorter period of trying than the first time (See Book Two, XIII).
The human equivalent of this situation is a cry of distress: 'Blast it, I had
the solution, but now I have forgotten it again/

Cases of this kind make one think of a lighter whose wick has started
to glow, without properly burning. The struggle will have to go on, and
more sparks will have to be produced, before it bursts into flame. In
other words, intuition has established some tentative link between the
two distant frames of reference, but that link is insufficient to overcome
resistances and effect their fusion. It will have to be strengthened by
repetition (as in the case of Loewi) or else additional links will have to
be discovered to precipitate the integration.

The Dawn of Language

The most common example for this type of gradual process is the
way in which the child discovers that 'all things have names'. During
the first year of its life, the average baby progresses from spontaneous
babbling to the imitative repetition of syllables and words spoken by
adults with some vague intimations that these words are somehow
connected with the situation in which they are regularly used. It seems
that eager parents frequently teach their offspring its first words by a
process of repetitive 'stamping in', at an age when the baby is not yet
ripe to grasp the principles involved. Thus Watson conditioned an infant
to say 'da* whenever it was given the bottle, starting at five months,
twenty days that is, six months earlier than the first words normally
appear. The process took more than three weeks, at the end of
which the word 'da' became the first, mechanically established 1k

220



THE SPARS AND THE FLAME



221



between the two otherwise still unrelated matrices of 'sounds* and
'things'.

"With each month that passes, the acquisition of new word-links
becomes quicker and easier; the child is 'learning to learn'; until, usually
in the second half of the second year, it 'makes the most important
discovery of its whole life that everything has a name 9 . 23 As far as one
can generalize from the scant statistics, the vocabulary of the average
child at the close of the first year is three words; at eighteen months
twenty-two words. This seems to be the approximate age when the
'naming discovery* is made, for three months later the average vocabu-
lary has jumped to a hundred and eighteen:

Smith's Test 1 *


Average size of vocabularies




Age


Number of cases reported Number


of words


8


13


0


10


17


i


I 0


52


3


i 3


19


19


16


14


22


i9


14


118


2 0


25


272


26


14


446


3o


20


896


3-6


26


1222


4o


26


1540


4-6


32


187O


50


20


2072


5-6


27


2289


60


9


2562



The integration of the matrices is indicated not only by the steep rise
of the learning curve after the eighteenth month, but by the fact that
from now on the child, of its own initiative, will point at a thing and
ask to be told its name. Delighted with its discovery, it sometimes
develops a veritable 'naming mania': it indicates an object, calls out its
name, or, if it has forgotten it, invents a name of its own; for henceforth
a person or thing is felt to be incomplete if it has no name attached to it.

Thus the dawn of symbol-consciousness is a gradual, cumulative



222



THE ACT OF CREATION



event; a kind of diluted Eureka process, spread out in time, because the
final integration can take place only when the child's mental organiza-
tion has attained sufficient maturity. But the same process may occur in
a telescoped, highly dramatized form in rare cases such as Helen Keller's.
The blind, deaf, and mute litde girl was nearly seven when Miss
Sullivan took charge of her and taught her the first few words, c-a-k-e,
d-o-1-1, etc., by means of the manual alphabet, a kind of morse spelt by
finger-play. Since Helen was 'overripe' for learning a language, she
covered, within less than a month, the same ground which takes a
normal child about two years, from the imitative acquisition of the
first word ( e I did not know that I was spelling a word or even that
words existed; I was simply making my fingers go in monkey-like
imitation.') to the final discovery:

We walked down the path to the well-house, attracted by the
fragrance of the honeysuckle with which it was covered. Some one
was drawing water and my teacher placed my hand under the spout.
As the cool stream gushed over one hand she spelled into the other
the word water, first slowly, then rapidly. I stood still, my whole
attention fixed upon the motions of her fingers. Suddenly I felt a
misty consciousness as of something forgotten a thrill of returning
thought; and somehow the mystery of language was revealed to
me. I knew then that 'w-a-t-e-r' meant the wonderful cool some-
thing that was flowing over my hand. That living word awakened
my soul, gave it light, joy, set it free! . . .

I left the well-house eager to learn. Everything had a name, and
each name gave birth to a new thought. As we returned to the house
each object that I touched seemed to quiver with life. That was
because I saw everything with the strange new sight that had come
to me. 15

Here we have the undiluted bisociative act, the sudden synthesis of
the universe of signs and the universe of things. In its sequel each
matrix imparts a new significance, a new dimension to the other: the
words begin to *Iive\ to 'give birth to new thoughts*; and the objects
begin to 'quiver* under the touch of the magic wand of language.

Helen Keller's dramatic moment of truth is quite unlike the gradual
dawn of the name-relation in normal children, and much closer to the
sudden insight in discoveries of the type of Pasteur's. The normal child's
n a m in g discovery could be likened to the process known in logic as



THE SPARK AND THE FLAME



223



empirical induction: 'some things have names ergo I assume that all things
have names'. (Needless to say, I do not mean to impute any conscious
reasoning of this kind to the babe in its cradle.) The chick episode, on the
other hand, which made Pasteur jump to his conclusion and establish
the general principle of immunization, could be called 'induction from
a single case' a procedure usually illustrated in primers on logic by the
example 'all French waiters have red hair'. For a detailed discussion of
the relations of gradual learning to sudden discovery I must refer the
reader to Book Two.

Summary

New integrations arise by various processes which can be arranged in
a series. It ranges from faulty or premature integrations, through partial
blindness towards the meaning and significance of one's own dis-
coveries, to the gradual blending of matrices by dint of repetitive
experiences, which increase the number of links between them.
Finally, there is the sudden iUumination of 'spontaneous' discoveries,
sparked off by an unconscious intuition, or a chance observation, or a
combination of both.



X

THE EVOLUTION OF IDEAS

There is a theory, put forward by George Sarton, and held to be
self-evident by many scientists, which says, broadly speaking,
that the history of science is the only history which displays a
cumulative progress of knowledge; that, accordingly, the progress of
science is the only yardstick by which we can measure the progress of
mankind; and moreover, that the word 'progress* itself has no clearly
defined meaning in any field of activity except the field of science.

This is the kind of pronouncement where it is advisable to hold one's
breath and count to ten before expressing indignant protest or smug
agreement, according to one's allegiance to eggheads or engineers.
Personally I believe that there is a grain of truth in Sarton's proposition
but no more than that.

Separations and Reintegrations

There are certain analogies between the characteristic stages in the
history of an individual discovery, and the historical development of a
branch of science as a whole. Thus a 'blocked matrix* in the individual
mind reflects some kind of impasse into which a science has manoeuvred
itself. The 'period of incubation , with its frustrations, tensions, random
tries, and false inspirations, corresponds to the critical periods of 'fertile
anarchy* which recur, from time to time, in the history of every science.
These crises have, as we saw, a destructive and a constructive aspect.
In the case of the individual scientist, they involve a temporary retreat
to some more primitive form of ideation innocence regained through
the sacrifice of hard-won intellectual positions and established beliefs;
in the case of a branch of science taken as a whole, the crisis manifests
itself in a relaxation of the rigid rules of the game, a thawing of the

224



THE EVOLUTION OP IDEAS



225



collective matrix, the breakdown of mental Habits and absolute
frontiers a process of reader pour mieux sauter on an historic scale. The
Eureka act proper, the moment of truth experienced by the creative
individual, is paralleled on the collective plane by the emergence, out
of the scattered fragments, of a new synthesis, brought about by a
quick succession of individual discoveries where, characteristically,
the same discovery is often made by several individuals at the same
time (cf. p. 110 f).

The last stage verification, elaboration, consolidation is by far the
least spectacular, the most exacting, and occupies the longest periods of
time both in the life of the individual and in the historical evolution of
science. Copernicus picked up the ancient Pythagorean teaching of the
sun as the centre of all planetary motions when he was a student in
Renaissance Italy (where the idea was much discussed at the time), and
spent the rest of his life elaborating it into a system. Darwin hit on the
idea of evolution by natural selection at the age of twenty-nine; the
remaining forty-four years of his life were devoted to its corroboration
and exposition. Pasteur's life reads like a story divided into several
chapters. Each chapter represents a period which he devoted to one field
of research; at the beginning of each period stands the publication of a
short preliminary note which contained the basic discovery in a nut-
shell; then followed ten or fifteen years of elaboration, consolidation,
clarification.

The collective advances of science as a whole, and of each of its
specialized branches, show the same alternation between relatively
brief eruptions which lead to the conquest of new frontiers, and long
periods of consolidation. In the case of the individual, this protracted
chore has its natural limits at three score years and ten, or thereabouts;
but on the historical stage, the assimilation, consolidation, interpreta-
tion, and elaboration of a once revolutionary discovery may go on for
generations, and even centuries. The new territory opened up by the
impetuous advance of a few geniuses, acting as a spearhead, is subse-
quently occupied by the solid phalanxes of mediocrity; and soon the
revolution turns into a new orthodoxy, with its unavoidable symp-
toms of one-sidedness, over-specialization, loss of contact with other
provinces of knowledge, and ultimately, estrangement "from reality.
We see this happening unavoidably, it seems at various times in the
history of various sciences. The emergent orthodoxy hardens into a
'closed system' of thought, unwilling or unable to assimilate new
empirical data or to adjust itself to significant changes in other fields of



226



THE ACT OF CREATION



knowledge; sooner or later the matrix is blocked, a new crisis arises,
leading to a new synthesis, and the cycle starts again.

This does not mean, of course, that science does not advance; only
that it advances in a jerky, unpredictable, ^ unscientific , way. Although
'in the year 1500 Europe knew less than Archimedes who died in the
year 212 B.C.', 1 it would nevertheless be foolish to deny that today we
know considerably more than Archimedes. And I mean by that not
only the fantastic and threatening achievements of applied science
which have transformed this planet to a point where it is becoming
increasingly uninhabitable; but that we also know more than Archi-
medes in other, more worthwhile ways, by having gained deeper
insights into the structure of the universe, from the spiral nebulae to the
acid molecules which govern heredity.

But these insights were not gained by the steady advance of science
along a straight line. Mental evolution is a continuation of biological
evolution, and in various respects resembles its crooked ways. 'Evolu-
tion is known to be a wasteful, fumbling process characterized by
sudden mutations of unknown cause, by the slow grinding of selection,
and by the dead-ends of over-specialization and loss of adaptability.
"Progress'* can by definition never go wrong; evolution constantly does;
and so does the evolution of ideas, including those of "exact science".
New ideas are thrown up spontaneously like mutations; the vast
majority of them are useless, the equivalent of biological freaks without
survival-value. There is a constant struggle for survival between
competing theories in every branch of the history of thought. When we
call ideas "fertile" or "sterile", we are unconsciously guided by
biological analogy. . .

'Moreover, there occur in biological evolution periods of crisis and
transition when there is a rapid, almost explosive, branching out
in all directions, often resulting in a radical change in the dorninant
trend of development. After these stages of "adaptative radiations",
when the species is plastic and malleable, there usually follow periods
of stabilization and specialization along the new lineswhich again
often lead into dead ends of rigid over-specialization/ 2

But there the analogy ends. The br^ching of the evolutionist's tree
of life is a one-way process; giraffes and whales do not bisociate to give
rise to a new synthesis. The evolution of ideas, on the other hand, is a
tale of ever-repeated differentiation, specialization and reintegrations on
a higher level; a progression from primordial unity through variety to
more complex patterns of unity-in-variety.



Twenty-six Centuries of Science



If we could takes kind of grandstand view of the history of scientific
thought we would at once be struck by its discontinuity, its abrupt
changes of tempo and rhythm. The record starts in the sixth century
B.C. when we find suddenly, as if sprung from nowhere, a galaxy of
Philosophers of Nature in Miletus and Elea and Samos, discussing the
origins and evolution of the universe, its form and substance, its
structure and laws, in terms which have become forever incorporated
into our vocabulary and our matrices of thought. They were searching
for some simple, ultimate principles and primeval substances under-
lying all diversity: four elements, four humours, atoms of a single kind,
moving according to fixed laws. The Pythagoreans attempted the first
grand synthesis: they tried to weave the separate threads of religion,
medicine, astronomy, and music into a single carpet with an austere
geometrical design. That carpet is still in the making, but its basic
pattern was laid down in the three centuries of the heroic age of Greek
science between Thales and Aristotle.

After the Macedonian conquest of Greece there followed a period
of consolidation, orthodoxy, and decline. Aristode's categories
became the grammar of existence, his animal spirits ruled the
world of physics, everything worth knowing was already known, and
everything inventable already invented. The Heroic Age was guided
by the example of Prometheus stealing the fire of the gods; the
philosophers of the Hellenistic period dwelt in Plato's cave, drawing
epicycles on the wall, their backs turned to the daylight of reality.

After that there came a period of hibernation lasting for fifteen
centuries. During that time the march of science was not only halted,
but its direction reversed. M* Pyke, a contemporary philosopher of
science, wrote about 'the inability of science to go backwards once the
neutron has been discovered it remains discovered'. 3 Does it? In the
fifth century B.C. the educated classes knew that the earth was a
spherical body floating in space and spinning round its axis; a thousand
years later they thought that it was a flat disc, or a rectangle perhaps.
Similar, though less drastic examples of forgetfulness can also be shown
to have occurred in modern science.

In the twelfth century A..D. we observe the first signs of a thaw, and
during the next hundred years there are hopeful stirrings: it is the
century of Roger Bacon and Peter Peregrine, of the budding univer-
sities at Oxford and Cambridge, Salerno, Bologna, and Paris. But it is

327



228



THE ACT OF CREATION



also the century of the fatal mesalliance between Aristotelian physics and
the theology of St. Thomas Aquinas. Within a few generations this
'faulty synthesis' was to create a new orthodoxy, which led to another
three centuries of sterility and stagnation.

Then comes a.d. 1600 a landmark second in importance only to
600 B.C. which inaugurates the second heroic age of science: the
century of Dr. Gilbert, Kepler, Galileo, Pascal, Descartes, Leibniz,
Huyghens, Harvey, and Newton. In the next century, the eighteenth,
the speed of the advance is considerably reduced: it is a period of
assimilation, consolidation, and stock-taking, the age of the popular-
izes, classifiers, and systematizers; of Fontanelle, Linnaeus, and Buffon,
of the Philosophes and Encyclopidistes. As Pledge has remarked: 'An
observer born early in the century, and making the Grand Tour,
would have been an old man before he came across, in the Paris of
Lavoisier, anyone worthy of Newton/ 4

Finally, in the nineteenth century and in the first half of the twentieth,
we have an explosive development of ever-increasing momentum. The
nineteenth century was the age of the most spectacular syntheses in the
history of thought of royal marriages between previously unrelated
and often hostile dynasties. The science of electricity merged with that
of magnetism.* Then electro-magnetic radiations were discovered to
account for light, colour, radiant heat, Hertzian waves. Chemistry was
swallowed up by atomic physics. The control of the body by nerves and
glands was seen to rely on electro-chemical processes. The previously
independent effluvia' or powers of nature' which had been known as
'heat', 'light', 'electric fire', mechanical motion', 'magnetic flux' were
recognized to be all convertible one into another, and to be merely
different forms of 'energy', whose total amount contained in the
universe always remained the same. Soon afterwards, the various
forms of matter, the 'elements' of chemistry, suffered the same fate,
as they were all found to be constructed out of the same building blocks
in different combinations. And lastly, these building blocks themselves
seemed to be nothing but parcels of compressed energy, packed and
patterned according to certain mathematical formulae.

The Pythagorean aspiration, to reduce 'all things to numbers',
seemed to be at last on the point of fulfilment. The advance of science
in the last century offers the panorama of a majestic river-delta, where
the various branches first separate and diverge, then follow more or less
parallel courses, in a complex pattern of cross-connections and re-
unifications, as they approach their ultimate confluence in the sea.



Creative Anarchy



Even this short and breathless gallop through the twenty-six centuries
since the dawn of scientific thought, ought to be sufficient to show that
the progress of science is neither gradual nor continuous. Each basic
advance was effected by a more or less abrupt and dramatic change:
the breaking down of frontiers between related territories, the amal-
gamation of previously separate frames of reference or experimental
techniques; the sudden falling into pattern of previously disjointed
data. Let me illustrate this process by a few further examples no
longer of individual discoveries, but of episodes in the evolution of
the collective matrices of science.

In the recurrent cycle described in the previous section I mentioned
periods of crisis and creative anarchy (corresponding to the individual's
'period of incubation'), which precede the new synthesis. The first such
crisis occurred at the very beginning of our story when the ritualized
worship of the Olympian gods and demi-gods could no longer provide
answers to the ultimate questions after the meaning of existence.
Mythology had become a 'blocked matrix , ; from the whims of Vulcan
and Poseidon man's interest turned to the nature of fire and water;
from the chariot of Helios to the motions of the sun along the ecliptic;
from the antics of Zeus and Athena to the natural causes of physical
events. The result was mtoxicating. To quote Burnet: *No sooner did
an Ionian philosopher learn half a dozen geometrical propositions and
hear that the phenomena of the heavens recur in cycles man he set to
work to look for law everywhere in nature and with an audacity
amounting to hubris to construct a system of the universe.' 5

The same audacity and hubris characterized the early seventeenth cen-
tury, when the stranglehold of the Aristotelian Schoolmen was broken,
and the solid, walled-in universe of the Middle Ages lay in shambles,
exposed to the speculative depradations of hosts of Paracelsians, Gilbert-
ians, Copernicans, and Galileans. * 'Tis all in pieces, all coherence gone*,
lamented John Donne; it must have been an intoxicating age to live in.

Lastly, since the discoveries of the 1920s, theoretical physics, and with
it our picture of sub-atomic and extra-galactic reality, of substance and
causality, have again reverted to a state of creative anarchy. And so the
cycle keeps repeating itself:

Nature and Nature's laws lay hid in night:
God said let Newton be, and all was light . . .
229



230



THE ACT OF CREATION



But alas:

It did not last: the Devil howling 'Ho!
Let Einstein be!' restored the status quo?*

1 Connect, Always Connect

Out of the creative anarchy emerges the new synthesis.

I have given in previous chapters a series of examples to show how
new syntheses arise in the brains of original thinkers through the bi-
sociation of previously unconnected matrices. The parallel process on
the collective plane on the map of history is the confluence of two
branches of science which had developed independently, and did not
seem to have anything in common. 'Theprogress of science', Bronowski
wrote, 'is the discovery at each step of a new order which gives unity
to what had long seemed unlike/*

The new synthesis in the mind of the thinker may emerge suddenly,
triggered by a single 'link'; or gradually, by an accumulation of
linkages. On the map of history the 'links' are the discoveries of
individuals; and here again the process of integration may be sudden,
or the result of a series of discoveries by several people. The unification
of arithmetic and geometry analytical geometry was a one-man
show, accomplished by the formidable Descartes. The unification of
electricity and magnetism, on the other hand, took a hundred years
from 1820, when Hans Christian Oersted discovered by chance that an
electric current flowing through a wire deflected a compass needle
which happened to lie on the table, to io2r, when O. W. Richardson
explained ferro-magnetism in terms of electron-spin; and it needed a
whole series of original discoveries by Ampere, Faraday, Maxwell, and
others to act as links and bring the crowning synthesis about (see
Appendix I).

All decisive advances in the history of scientific thought can be
described in terms of mental cross-fertilization between different
disciplines. Some of these historic bisociations appear, even in retro-
spect, as surprising and far-fetched as the combination of cabbages and
kings. What lesson, for instance, could one expect neurophysiology to
derive from astronomy? And yet, here it is. In 1796 a minor scandal
occurred at the Greenwich Observatory: Maskelyne, the Astronomer
Royal, dismissed one of his assistants because the latter's observations
differed from his own by half a second to a whole second. Ten years



THE EVOLUTION OF IDEAS



231



later the German astronomer Bessel read about this incident in a
history of the Greenwich Observatory. Bessel, who combined a
highly original mind with meticulous precision in his observations,
was puzzled by the frequent occurrence of similar timing mistakes
by astronomers. It was a typical case of a 'shift of attention* from
the nuisance aspect of a trivial phenomenon to the investigation of its
causes.

After ten years of comparing his own records with those of several
other astronomers, Bessel was able to prove that there existed systematic
and consistent differences between the speed with which each of them
reacted to observed events; and he also succeeded in establishing the
characteristic reaction-time called 'the personal equation of several
of his colleagues.

These studies were continued by other astronomers over the next
thirty years, in the course of which the development of more precise,
automatic recording instruments made it possible to arrive at 'absolute
personal equations'. Finally, fifty years after Bessel's discovery, von
Helmholtz published a paper showing that the rate of conduction of
impulses in nerves was of a definite, measurable order and not, as had
previously been assumed, practically instantaneous. Helmholtz was well
acquainted with the work that astronomers had done on personal
equations, and his experiments on the propagation of impulses in motor
and sensory nerves followed their procedure and techniques. Helm-
holtz's discovery inaugurated the era of 'mental chronometry', and was
a decisive step in the progress of neurophysiology and experimental
psychology.

In a similar manner the basic advances in our knowledge of infectious
diseases were mostly due to the importation of experimental techniques
which had been developed for quite different purposes such as the use
of filtering procedures, microscopic techniques, tissue-cultures and the
statistical methods employed in genetics.

Bartlett, in Thinking An Experimental and Social Study (1958), gave
a series of similar illustrations. The conclusions at which he arrived
seem to paraphrase the thesis of the present theory that bisociation is
the essence of creative activity:

As experimental science has gained wider and wider fields, and
won increasing recognition, it has often happened that critical stages
for advance are reached when what has been called one body of
knowledge can be brought into close and en^ctive relationship with



232



THE ACT OF CREATION



what has been treated as a different, and a largely or wholly inde-
pendent, scientific discipline.

, . . The alert experimenter is always on the lookout for points and
areas of overlap, between things and processes which natural and
unaided observations has tended to treat merely, or chiefly, as
different. . . .

One of the most important features of these turning points in
experimental development is that they very often introduce methods
and instrumentation new to the field of research involved, but
already developed in some other region of investigation. . . .

The winding progress of any branch of experimental science is
made up essentially by a relatively small number of original inquiries,
which may be widely separated, followed, as a rule, by a very large
number of routine inquiries. The most important feature of original
experimental thinking is the discovery of overlap and agreement
where formerly only isolation and difference were recognized. This
usually means that when any experimental science is ripe for marked
advance, a mass of routine thinking belonging to an immediately
preceding phase has come near to wearing itself out by exploiting
a limited range of techniques to establish more and more minute and
specialized derail. A stage has been reached in which finding out
further details adds litde or nothing to what is known already. . . .

However, at the same time, perhaps in some other branch of
science, and perhaps in some hitherto disconnected part of what is
treated as the same branch, there are other techniques generating
their own problems, opening up their own gaps. An original mind,
never wholly contained in any one conventionally enclosed field of
interest, now seizes upon the possibility that there may be some
unsuspected overlap, takes the risk whether there is or not, and gives
the old subject-matter a new look. Routine starts again. . . .

The conditions for original thinking are when two or more
streams of research begin to offer evidence that they may converge
and so in some manner be combined. It is the combination which
can generate new directions of research, and through these it may
be found that basic units and activities may have properties not
before suspected which open up a lot of new questions for experi-
mental study. 6

But I must add to this a word of warning. Except when it is merely a
matter of borrowing, so to speak, an existing technique or laboratory



THE EVOLUTION OF IDEAS 233

equipment from a neighbouring science (as in most of Bartlett's
examples), the integration of matrices is not a simple operation of
adding together. It is a process of mutual interference and cross-
fertilization, in the course of which both matrices are transformed in
various ways and degrees. Hidden axioms, implied in the old codes,
suddenly stand revealed and are subsequently dropped; the rules of the
game are revised before they enter as sub-rules into the composite
game. When Einstein bisociated energy and matter, both acquired a
new look in the process.

The Thinking Cap

I have repeatedly mentioned 'shifts of attention' to previously
neglected aspects of experience which make familiar phenomena appear
in a new, revealing light, seen through spectacles of a different colour.
At the decisive turning points in the history of science, all the data in
the field, unchanged in themselves, may fall into a new pattern, and be
given a new interpretation, a new theoretical frame.

By stressing the importance of the interpretation (or reinterpretation)
of facts, I may have given the impression of underestimating the
importance of collecting facts, of having emphasized the value of theory-
making at the expense of the empirical aspect of science an unfor-
givable heresy in the eyes of Positivists, Behaviourists, and other
theorists of the anti-theory school. Needless to say, only a fool could
belittle the importance of observation and experiment or wish to
revert to Aristotelian physics which was all speculation and no experi-
ment. But the collecting of data is a discriminating activity, like the
picking of flowers, and unlike the action of a lawn-mower; and the
selection of flowers considered worth picking, as well as their arrange-
ment into a bouquet, are ultimately matters of personal taste. As T. H.
Huxley has said in an oft-quoted passage:

Those who refuse to go beyond fact rarely get as far as fact; and
anyone who has studied the history of science knows that almost
every step therein has been made by . . . the invention of a hypothesis
which, though verifiable, often had little foundation to start with

Sir Lawrence Bragg is the only physicist who shared a Nobel Prize
with his own fatherfor their joint work on analysing crystal



234



THE ACT OF CREATION



structures by means of X-rays, doubtless an eminently factual pre-
occupation, which took two lifetimes. Yet in his book on The History of
Science he too concluded that the essence of science 'lies not in dis-
covering facts, but in discovering new ways of diinking about them'. 7
New facts do emerge constantly; but they are found as the result of a
search in a definite direction, based on theoretical considerations as
Galle discovered the planet Neptune, which nobody had seen before, by
directing his telescope at the celestial region which Leverrier's calcula-
tions had indicated.* This is admittedly an extreme case of observation
guided by theory; but it remains nevertheless true that it is not enough
for the scientist to keep his eyes open unless he has an idea of what he is
looking for.

The telescope is, of course, the supreme eye-opener and fact-finder
in astronomy; but it is rarely appreciated that the Copernican revolu-
tion came before the invention of the telescope and so did Kepler's
New Astronomy. The instruments which Copernicus used for observing
the stars were less precise than those of the Alexandrian astronomers
Hipparchus and Ptolemy, on whose data Copernicus built his theory;
and he knew no more about the actual motions of stars and planets
than they had known:

Insofar as actual knowledge is concerned, Copernicus was no
better off, and in some respects worse off, than the Greek astronomers
of Alexandria who lived in the time of Jesus Christ. They had the
same data, the same instruments, the same know-how in geometry,
as he did. They were giants of *exact science'; yet they failed to see
what Copernicus saw after, and Aristarchus had. seen before them:
that the planets' motions were obviously governed by the sun. 8

Similarly, Harvey's revolutionary discoveries were made before the
microscope was developed into a serviceable tool; and Einstein
formulated his 'Special Theory of Relativity' in 1905 based on data
which, as I have already said, were by no means new. Poincare*, for
instance, Einstein's senior by twenty-five years, had held all the loose
threads in his hands, and the reasons for his failure to tie them together
are still a matter of speculation among scientists. To quote Taton:

Poincare, who had so much wider a mathematical background
than Einstein, then a young assistant in the Federal Patents Office of
Berne, knew all the elements required for such a synthesis, of which



THE EVOLUTION OF IDEAS



he had felt the urgent need and for which he had laid the first
foundations. Nevertheless, he did not dare to explain his thoughts,
and to derive all the consequences, thus missing the decisive step
separating him from the real discovery of the principle of relativity. 9

Without the hard Htde bits of marble which are called 'facts' or
'data' one cannot compose a mosaic; what matters, however, are not
so much the individual bits, but the successive patterns into which you
arrange them, then break them up and rearrange them. 'We shall
find', wrote Butterfield on the opening page of his history of the
Scientific Revolution, 'that in both celestial and terrestrial physics
which hold the strategic place in the whole movement change is
brought about, not by new observations or additional evidence in the
first instance, but by transpositions that were taking place inside the
minds of the scientists themselves. ... Of all forms of mental activity,
the most difficult to induce even in the minds of the young, who may
be presumed not to have lost their flexibility, is the art of handling the
same bundle of data as before, but placing them in a new system of
relations with one another by giving them a different framework, all
of which virtually means putting on a different kind of thinking-cap
for the moment. It is easy to teach anybody a new fact about Richelieu,
but it needs light from heaven to enable a teacher to break the old
framework in which the student has been accustomed to seeing his
Richelieu/ 10

Once more we are facing the stubborn powers of habit, and the anti-
thesis of habit and originality. New facts alone do not make a new
theory; and new facts alone do not destroy an outlived theory. In both
cases it requires creative originality to achieve the task. The facts which
proved that the planetary motions depended on the sun have been
staring into the face of astronomers throughout the ages but they
preferred to look away.

The Pathology of Thought

I have discussed 'snowblindness' and faulty integrations on the
individual level. In the evolution of the collective matrices of science,
similar aberrations occur on an historic scale, and are transmitted from
one generation to the next sometimes over a number of centuries.
Indeed, some of the most important discoveries consisted in the



236 THE ACT OF CREATION

elimination of psychological road-blocks in uncovering what had
always been there.

The classic example of a mental road-block, extending over two
millennia, is one to which I have repeatedly alluded before. If one had
to sum up the history of scientific ideas about the universe in a single
sentence, one could only say that up to the seventeenth century our
vision was Aristotelian, after that Newtonian. It would, of course, be
naive to blame the giant figure of the Stagyrite for crystallizing trends
in Greek thought which were originated by others, and reflected the
intellectual mood of Greece at the disastrous period before and im-
mediately after the Macedonian conquest. The reasons why his absurd
theory of physics acquired such a firm hold over medieval Europe I
have discussed elsewhere; 10 " they do not enter into our present
context.

The central postulate of the theory was that a moving body will
immediately revert to immobility when it ceases to be pushed or pulled
along by a second body, its 'mover'. Now an ox-cart on a muddy road
will indeed come to a halt when its movers, the oxen, are unyoked. But
an arrow will fly through the air once the initial impulse has been
imparted to it whereas, according to Aristotelian physics, it should
have dropped to earth the very instant it parted from the bow, its
mover. The answer to this objection was that the initial motion of the
arrow, while still on the bow, created a disturbance in the air, a kind of
vortex, which now became the arrow's 'mover', and pulled it along its
course. Not before the fourteenth century was the further objection
raised that if the arrow (or spear, or catapulted stone) was pulled by an
air-current, it could never fly against the wind.

This inability to perceive that a moving body tends to persist in its
course was the psychological road-block which prevented the emer-
gence of a true science of physics from the fourth century B.C. to the
seventeenth century A,D. Yet every soldier who threw a spear felt that
the thing had a momentum of its own and so, of course, did the
victim whom it hit; and every traveller in a post-coach which came to
an abrupt halt, had experienced to his sorrow that his motion con-
tinued after the mover's had stopped. The experience, the bodily 'feel'
of inertial momentum is as old as mankind but it was prevented from
becoming conscious and explicit knowledge by the mental block built
into the collective matrix. Even Galileo saw only part of the truth: he
thought that a moving body, left to itself in empty space, would persist
not in straight, but in circular motion. Such are the difficulties of



THE EVOLUTION OF IDEAS



237



clearing away the man-made heaps of rubble under which some simple
truth lies buried.

The necessity for every moving body to be constantly accompanied
and pushed along by a 'mover' also applied to the stars; it created a
'universe in which unseen hands had to be in constant operation. 11 The
planets had to be rolled along their orbits, like beer-barrels, by a host of
angels; even Kepler needed a heavenly broomstick, wielded by the sun,
to sweep them round their path. Yet here again, the knowledge of
centrifugal force has always existed, ever since children swung stones
round at the end of a string; and this knowledge had even been
explicitly formulated in antiquity. In his treatise On the Face in the Disc
of the Moon Plutarch, who took a great interest in science and particu-
larly in astronomy, wrote that the moon was of solid stuff, like the
earth; and that the reason why it did not fall down on the earth, in
spite of its weight, was as follows:

. . . The moon has a security against falling in her very motion and
the swing of her revolutions, just as objects put in slings are prevented
from falling by the circular whirl; for everything is carried along by the
motion natural to it if it is not deflected by anything else. Thus the moon
is not carried down by her weight because her natural tendency is
frustrated by her revolution. 12 (my italics)

The translation is by Heath, who remarks: 'This is practically
Newton's first Law of Motion.' It is curious that this passage has
aroused so little comment.

Perhaps the most disastrous feature of the Aristotelian system was its
denial that the whole universe was made out of the same basic stuff (as
Parmenides and the Atomists had asserted before him) and to split the
world into two parts, divided by a kind of metaphysical iron curtain.
The 'sublunary' region (the earth and its vicinity) was made of four
unstable elements, the sides of a fifth, permanent ether; the sublunary
region was infected with the vice of change an abominable slum where
generation, corruption, and decay never stopped, whereas on the other
side of the curtain fifty-five celestial intelligences were spinning round
as many pure, crystalline spheres, carrying the planets and stars in their
unchanging circular orbits.

It was the most dramatic splitting operation the world had seen since
Lucifer was expelled from heaven; and it was unavoidably followed by
a series of divorces and remarriages between incompatible partners.



2j8 THE ACT OF CREATION

Celestial mechanics became dissociated from sublunary physics and
married to theology when Aristotle's 'first mover' became identified
with God, and his star-spinning spirits with the hierarchy of angels.
Terrestrial physics, in its turn, was divorced from mathematics, and
married to animism. The most striking fact about pre-Renaissance
science is indeed its complete indifference to quantitative measurements
and numerical relations not to mention experiment and observation;
and its obsession with ascribing animate powers to inanimate objects.
Stones fell to earth because it was their natural home, as flames rose
upward because their home was in the sky; and the stone accelerated its
fall because it was hurrying home as horses hurry to their stable. All
motion, all change, was due to a purposeful striving of objects to realize
what was potentially inherent in their nature, to move 'from potency to
act' a principle derived by specious analogy from embryonic develop-
ment. It took about three centuries (from Occam to Newton) to undo
the tangled mess which these divorces and mesalliances had brought
about.

In the healthy evolution of a science, we observe a branching out of
specialized, relatively autonomous lines of research; and a parallel
process of confluences and integrations mediated by the discovery of
universal principles underlying variety. But we also find pathological
developments of a rather drastic and persistent kind in the history of
scientific thought collective mental blockages which keep apart what
belongs together, and lead to the segregation of 'closed systems'. The
healthy periods in the growth of a science remind one of the differentia-
tion of structure and integration of function in organic development.
In the unhealthy periods, on the other hand, we find dissociation instead
of differentiation, and faulty integrations.

Some of the latter were the result of shotgun-marriages, as it were
imposed from outside, by religious or political pressures. Medieval
astronomy had to embrace theology, Soviet biology was wedded to a
crude form of Lamarckism. The development of science cannot be
isolated from its historic context, from the climate of a given age or
civilization; it influences and is influenced by its philosophy, religion,
art, social organization, economic needs. But scientific thinking
nevertheless enjoys a considerable amount of autonomy; its tortuous
progress is unpredictable, its victories and defeats are of its own making.
The reason why Copernicus postponed the publication of his theory
till the end of his life was not fear of the Catholic Church (which
encouraged and protected him) but the fear of ridicule from his fellow



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239



astronomers. Galileos conflict with the Church could have probably
been avoided if he had been endowed with less passion and more
diplomacy; but long before that conflict started, he had incurred the
implacable hostility of the orthodox Aristotelians who held key-
positions at the Italian universities. Religious and political oppression
play only an incidental part in the history of science; its erratic course
and recurrent crises are caused by internal factors. 13

One of the conspicuous handicaps is the conservatism of the scientific
mind in its corporate aspect. The collective matrix of a science at a
given time is determined by a kind of establishment, which includes
universities, learned societies, and, more recendy, the editorial offices
of technical journals. Like other establishments, they are consciously or
unconsciously bent on preserving the status quo partly because un-
orthodox innovations are a threat to their authority, but also because
of the deeper fear that their laboriously erected intellectual edifice
might collapse under the impact. Corporate orthodoxy has been the
curse of genius from Aristarchus to Galileo, to Harvey, Darwin, and
Freud; throughout the centuries its phalanxes have sturdily defended
habit against originality. The uses of hypnotism in dental surgery,
child-birth, etc., are regarded as a modern discovery. In fact, Esdaile,
who lived from 1808 to 1859, carried out three hundred major opera-
tions under 'Mesmeric trance'; but since Mesmer had been declared an
impostor, medical journals refused to print Esdaile's papers. In 1842
Ward amputated a leg painlessly under hypnotic trance and made a
Report to the Royal Medical and Chirurgical Society. The Society
refused to believe him. One of its most eminent members argued that
the patient had merely pretended not to feel the pain, and the note of
the paper having been read was struck from the minutes of the
Society.

The martyrology of science mentions only a few conspicuous cases
which ended in public tragedies. Robert Mayer, co-discoverer of the
Principle of the Conservation of Energy, went insane because of lack
of recognition for his work. So did Ignaz Semmelweiss, who dis-
covered, in 1847, that the cause of childbed fever was infection of the
patient with the 'cadaveric materiar which surgeons and students
carried on their hands. As an assistant at the General Hospital in Vienna,
Semmelweiss introduced the strict rule of washing hands in chlorinated
lime water before entering the ward. Before this innovation, one out of
every eight women in the ward had died of puerperal fever; immedi-
ately afterwards mortality fell to one in thirty, and the next year to one



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THE ACT OF CREATION



in a hundred. Semmelweiss's reward was to be hounded out of Vienna
by the medical professionwhich was moved, apart from stupidity, by
resentment of the suggestion that they might be carrying death on their
hands. He went to Budapest, but made little headway with his doctrine,
denounced his opponents as murderers, became raving mad, was put
into a restraining jacket, and died in a mental hospital.

Apart from a few lurid cases of this kind we have no record of the
coundess lesser tragedies, no statistics on the numbers of lives wasted in
frustration and despair, of discoveries which passed unnoticed. The
history of science has its Pantheon of celebrated revolutionaries and
its catacombs, where the unsuccessful rebels lie, anonymous and
forgotten.

Limits of Confirmation

From the days of Greece to the present that history echoes with the
sound and fury of passionate controversies. This fact in itself is sufficient
proof that the same 'bundle of data*, and even the same 'crucial experi-
ment', can be interpreted in more than one way.

To mention only a few of the more recent among these historic
controversies: the cosmology of Tycho de Brahe explained the facts, as
they were known at the time, just as well as the system of Copernicus.
In the dispute between Galileo and the Jesuit Father Sarsi on the nature
of comets we now know that both were wrong, and that Galileo was
more wrong than his forgotten opponent. Newton upheld a corpus-
culary, Huyghens a wave-theory of light. La certain types of experiment
the evidence favoured Newton, in other types Huyghens; at present
we tend to believe that both are true. Leibniz derided gravity and
accused Newton of introducting 'occult qualities and rniracles' into
science. The theories of Kekule and Van t HofF on the structure of
organic molecules were denounced by leading authorities of the period
as a 'tissue of fancies/ 14 Liebig and Wohler who had synthesized
urea from anorganic materialswere among the greatest chemists of
the nineteenth century; but they poured scorn on those of their
colleagues who maintained that the yeast which caused alcoholic
fermentation consisted of living cellular organisms. They even went so
far as to publish, in 1839, an elaborate skit in the Annalen der Chemie, in
which yeast was described 'with a considerable degree of anatomical
realism, as consisting of eggs which developed into minute atiimaU



THE EVOLUTION OB IDEAS



shaped like distilling apparatus. These creatures took in sugar as food
and digested it into carbonic acid and alcohol, which were separately
excreted.' 15 The great controversy on fermentation lasted nearly forty
years, and overlapped with the even more passionate dispute on
'spontaneous generation the question whether living organisms
could be created out of dead matter. In both Pasteur figured promin-
endy; and in both controversies the philosophical preconceptions of
'vitalists' opposed to 'mechanists* played a decisive part in designing
and interpreting the experiments most of which wre inconclusive
and could be interpreted either way.

I have compared the nineteenth century to a majestic river-delta, the
great confluence o previously separate branches of knowledge. This
was the reason for its optimism and its hubris; the general convergence
of the various sciences created the conviction that within the foreseeable
future the whole world, including the mind of man, would be 'redu-
cible" to a few basic mechanical laws. Yet as we enter our present
century, we find that in spite of this great process of unification,
virtually every main province of science is torn by even deeper
controversies than before.

Thus, for instance, the most exact of the exact sciences has been split,
for the last twenty years, into two camps: those who assert (with Bohr,
Heisenberg, von Neumann) that strict physical causality must be
replaced by statistical probability because subatomic events are in-
determinate and unpredictable; and those who assert (with Einstein,
Planck, Bohm, and Vigier) that there is order hidden beneath the
apparent disorder, governed by as yet undiscovered laws, because they
'cannot believe that God plays with dice'. Another controversy
opposes the upholders of the *big-bang theory', according to which the
universe originated in the explosion of a single, densely packed mass
some thirty thousand million years ago and has been expanding ever
since and the upholders of the 'steady-state theory*, according to
which matter is continually being created in a stable cosmos. In genetics,
the neo-Darwinian orthodoxy maintains that evolution is the result of
chance mutations, against the neo-Lamarckian heretics, who maintain
that evolution is not a dice-game either that some of the improve-
ments due to adaptive effort can be transmitted by heredity to succes-
sive generations. In neuro-physiology, one school maintains that there
is rigid localization of functions in the brain, another, that the brain
works in a more flexible manner. In mathematics, 'mtrationists* are
aligned against 'formalists'; in the medical profession, opinions are



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THE ACT OF CREATION



divided regarding the psychological or somatological origin of a great
number of diseases; therapeutic methods vary accordingly, and each
school is subdivided into factions.

Some of these controversies were decided by cumulative evidence in
favour of one of the competing theories. In other cases the contradiction
between thesis and antithesis was resolved in a synthesis of a higher
order. But what we call 'scientific evidence' can never confirm that a
theory is true; it can only confirm that it is more true than another.

I have repeatedly emphasized this point not in order to run down
science, but to run down the imaginary barrier which separates 'science'
from 'art' in the contemporary mind. The main obstacle which
prevents us from seeing that the two domains form a single continuum
is the belief that the scientist, unlike the artist, is in a position to attain
to 'objective truth* by submitting theories to experimental tests. In
fact, as I have said before, experimental evidence can confirm certain
expectations based on a theory, but it cannot confirm the theory itself.
The astronomers of Babylon were able to make astonishingly precise
predictions: they calculated the length of the year with a deviation of
only o-ooi per cent from the correct value; their figures relating to
the motions of sun and moon, which form a continuous record starting
with the reign of Nabonasser 747 B.C., were the foundation on which
the Ptolemaic, and later the Copernican, systems were built. Theirs
was certainly an exact science, and it 'worked'; but that does not prove
the truth of their theories, which asserted that the planets were gods
whose motions had a direct influence on the health of men and the
fortunes of states. Columbus put his theories to a rather remarkable
experimental test; what did the evidence prove? He and his con-
temporaries navigated with the aid of planetary tables, computed by
astronomers who thought the planets ran on circles, knew nothing of
gravity and elliptic orbits, yet the theory worked though they had
the wrong idea why it worked. Time and again new drugs against
various diseases were tried in hospital wards, and improvement in the
patients' condition was considered experimental evidence for the
efikacity of the drug; until the use of dummy pills indicated that other
explanations were equally valid. Eysenck has questioned the value of
psychotherapy in general, by suggesting that the statistical evidence for
successful cures should be reinterpreted in the light of the corresponding
numbers of spontaneous recoveries of untreated patients. His conclu-
sions may be quite wrong; but his method of argument has many
honourable precedents in the history of science. To quote Polanyi:



THE EVOLUTION OF IDEAS



243



For many prehistoric centuries the theories embodied in magic and
witchcraft appeared to be strikingly confirmed by events in the eyes
of those who believed in magic and witchcraft. . . . The destruction
of belief in witchcraft during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries
was achieved in the face of an overwhelming, and still rapidly
growing body of evidence for its reality. Those who denied that
witches existed did not attempt to explain this evidence at all, but
successfully urged that it be disregarded. Glanvill, who was one of
the founders of the Royal Society, not unreasonably denounced
this proposal as unscientific, on the ground of the professed empiri-
cism of contemporary science. Some of the unexplained evidence for
witchcraft was indeed buried for good, and only struggled painfully
to light two centuries later when it was eventually recognized as the
manifestation of hypnotic powers. 16

It is generally thought that physical theories are less ambiguous than
medical and psychological theories, and can be confirmed or refuted by
harder and cleaner experimental tests. Speaking in relative terms, this
is, of course, true; physics is much closer to the 'ultra-violet' than to the
'infra-red' end of the continuous spectrum of the sciences and arts. But
a last example will show on what shaky empirical evidence* a generally
accepted theory can rest; and in this case I am talking of the cornerstone
of modern physics, Einstein's Theory of Relativity.

According to the story told in the textbooks, the initial impulse
which set Einstein's mind working was a famous experiment carried
out by Michelson and Morley in 1887. They measured the speed oflight
and found, so we are told, that it was the same whether the light
travelled in the direction of the earth or in the opposite direction;
although in the first case it ought to have appeared slower, in the
second faster, because in the first case the earth was 'catching up* with
the light-ray, in the second was racing away from it. This unexpected
result, so the story goes, convinced Einstein that it was nonsense to talk
of the earth moving through space which was at rest, as a body moves
through a stationary liquid (the ether); the 1 constancy of the speed of
light proved that Newton's concept of an absolute frame of space, which
allowed us to distinguish between 'motion and 'rest*, had to he dropped.

Now this official account of the genesis of Relativity is not fact but
fiction. In the first place, on Einstein's own testimony the Michelson-
Morley experiment 'had no role in the foundation of the theory*. That
foundation was laid on theoretical, indeed speculative, considerations.



244



THE ACT OF CREATION



And in the second place, the famous experiment did not in fact confirm,
but contradicted Einstein's theory. The speed of light was not at all the
same in all directions. Light-signals sent 'ahead* along the earth's orbit
travelled slower than signals 'left behind'. It is true that the difference
amounted to only about one-fourth of the magnitude to be expected
on the assumption that the earth was drifting through a stationary
ether. But the 'ether-drift' still amounted to the respectable velocity of
about five miles per second. The same results were obtained by D. C.
Miller and his collaborators, who repeated the Michelson-Morley
experiments, with more precise instruments, in a series of experiments
extending over twenty-five years (1902 to 1926). The rest of the story
is best told by quoting Polanyi again:

The layman, taught to revere scientists for their absolute respect
for the observed facts, and for the judiciously detached and purely
provisional manner in which they hold scientific theories (always
ready to abandon a theory at the sight of any contradictory evidence)
might well have thought that, at Miller's announcement of this
overwhelming evidence of a positive effect' in his presidential
address to the American Physical Society on December 29th, 1925,
his audience would have instandy abandoned the theory of relativity.
Or, at the very least, that scientists wont to look down from the
pinnacle of their intellectual humility upon the rest of dogmatic
mankind might suspend judgement in this matter until Miller's
results could be accounted for without impairing the theory of
relativity. But no: by that time they had so well closed their minds
to any suggestion which threatened the new rationality achieved by
Einstein's world-picture, that it was almost impossible for them to
think again in different terms. Little attention was paid to the
experiments, the evidence being set aside in the hope that it would
one day turn out to be wrong. 17

So it may. Or it may not. Miller devoted his life to disproving
Relativity -and on face value, so far as experimental data are concerned,
he succeeded.* A whole generation later, W. Kantor of the U.S. Navy
Electronics Laboratory repeated once more the 'crucial experiment'.
Again his instruments were far more accurate than Miller's, and again
they seemed to confirm that the speed of light was not independent from
the motion of the observeras Einstein's theory demands. And yet the
vast majority of physicists are convinced and I think rightly so that



THE EVOLUTION OF IDEAS



24s



Einstein's universe is superior to Newton's. Partly this trust is based on
evidence less controversial than the 'crucial' experiments that I have
mentioned; but mainly on the intuitive feeling that the whole picture
'looks right', regardless of some ugly spots that will, with God's help,
vanish some day. One of the most prominent among them, Max Born,
who inclines to a positivistic philosophy, betrayed his true feelings,
when he hailed the advent of Relativity because it made the universe of
science 'more beautiful and grander'.

Paul Dirac, undoubtedly the greatest living British physicist, was
even more outspoken on the subject. He and my late friend Erwin
Schrodinger shared the Nobel Prize in 1933 as founding fathers of
quantum mechanics. In an article 17 * on the development of modern
physics, Dirac related how Schrodinger discovered his famous wave
equation of the electron. 'Schrodinger got his equation by pure thought,
looking for some beautiful generalization . . . and not by keeping close
to the experimental developments of the subject', Dirac remarks
approvingly. He then continues to describe how Schrodinger, when he
tried to apply his equation, 'got results that did not agree with experi-
ment. The disagreement arose because at that time it was not known
that the electron has a spin.' This was a great disappointment to
Schrodinger, and induced him to publish, instead of his original
formula, an imperfect (non-relativistic) approximation. Only later on,
by taking the electron's spin into account, did he revert to his original
equation. Dirac concludes:

I think there is a moral to this story, namely that it is more
important to have beauty in one's equations than to have them fit
experiment. If Schrodinger had been more confident of his work, he
could have published it some months earlier, and he could have
published a more accurate equation ... It seems that if one is working
from the point of view of getting beauty in one's equations, and if
one has really a sound insight, one is on a sure line of progress. If
there is not complete agreement between the results of one's work
and experiment, one should not allow oneself to be too discouraged,
because the discrepancy may well be due to minor features that are
not properly taken into account and that will get cleared up with
further developments of the theory . . .



In other words, a physicist should not allow his subjective conviction
that he is on the right track to be shaken by contrary experimental



246 THE ACT OF CREATION

data. And vice versa, its apparent confirmation by experimental data
does not necessarily prove a theory to be right. There is a rather
hideous trick used in modern quantum mechanics called the 'renorma-
lization method*. Diracs comment on it is:

I am inclined to suspect that the renormalization theory is some-
thing that will not survive in the future, and that the remarkable
agreement between its results and experiment should be looked on
as a fluke . . .

I think I have said enough to show that 'scientific evidence' is a rather
elastic term, and that Verification' is always a relative affair. The criteria
of truth differ from the criteria of beauty in that the former refer to
cognitive, the latter to emotive processes; but neither of them are
absolute. 'The evidence proves' is a statement which is supposed to
confer on Science a privileged intimacy with truth which art can never
hope to attain. But 'the evidence proves' that the statement in quotes is
always based on an act of faith. To quote K. R. Popper:

The old scientific ideal of episteme -of absolutely certain, demon-
strable knowledge has proved to be an idol. The demand for
scientific objectivity makes it inevitable that every scientific state-
ment must remain tentative for ever. It may indeed be corroborated,
but every corroboration is relative to other statements which, again,
are tentative. Only in our subjective experiences of conviction, in
our subjective faith, can we be 'absolutely certain'. 18

Fashions in Science

Controversy is the yeast which keeps science in lively fermentation.
But its progress is also beset with pseudo-controversies which appear
to reflect differences of opinion, whereas in reality they only reflect
differences of emphasis on single aspects of a complex process at the
expense of others. Nature and nurture are evidently complementary
factors in shaping an individual's appearance and character; yet a whole
library could be filled with the disputes between proponents of 'here-
dity is all' and 'environment is all'. Quantitative measurements were
virtually ignored in pre-Newtonian physics; today even psychology is
obsessed with quantity, and presumes to measure human minds by



THE EVOLUTION OF IDEAS



247



LQ. ratings and character-parameters. Often a branch of science
assumes a new look* because its pundits have put on, not a new type
of thinking cap but a fashionable hat. We find in the history of science
as many fashions, crazes, and 'schools' as in the history of literature or
interior decoration. The Ionians loved discussing whether the basic
stuff of the universe was water, air, or fire; the alchemists were hypno-
tized by the properties of sulphur, salt, and mercury; the invention of
the Ley den jar threw scientists all over the world into such excitement
that to die by electric stroke appeared an enviable fate. In medicine,
fads, fashions, and fancies chase one another tirelessly, from the barber's
horror-shop to the serene citadels in Harley Street. They have always
been an easy target 'for satire; the difficulty in this disturbed border-
province is to distinguish between the quack who consciously deludes
the patient, and the sincere fanatic who deludes himself into believing
that one particular aspect, organ, or function represents the whole, and
that a partial remedy is an all-cure.

A more positive aspect of the changes of fashion is that its pendular
motions from one extreme to another occasionally result in establishing
a more balanced view. One of the remarkable achievements of Pasteur
was that, having established against considerable opposition the germ-
theory of disease and made the medical profession 'microbe-conscious',
he changed the emphasis in his writings from 'figure* to 'background 9 ,
from the microbe itself to the environment in which the microbe
operates. As Dubos puts it:

Far from being hypnotized with the idea that micro-organisms are
the only factors of importance in medicine, Pasteur knew that men
as well as animals, in health or in disease, must always be considered
as a whole and in relation to their environment hi all his public-
cations ... he repeatedly stated the thesis almost as an obsession
that the activities of micro-organisms can be controlled, not only by
acting on them direcdy, but also by modifying the environment in
which they operate. 19

'Environment' to Pasteur meant the whole range of conditions from
proper sanitation, through aseptic surgery, to the patient's bodily and
mental state. Much of this has become a fashionable truism today, but
it was not in the days of Victorian medicine; and even today the lesson
has not sunk in sufficiently, otherwise the mass-production of
'super-hygienic* food in sterilized wrappings would be recognized as



24$



THE ACT OF CREATION



detrimental to man's internal environmentby depriving it of the
imm unizing effect of ingesting a healthy amount of muck and bugs.

I have talked more about physics than the other sciences, because it is
regardedboth by its practitioners and the awe-stricken lay public, as
the paragon of objectivity. In the sciences of life the subjective, and
indeed emotive factor, is of course much more in evidence. When it
comes to psychology, fashion seems to be almost the dominant factor
which determines into which channels the research efforts of thousands
of hopeful graduates in the universities of the world will be directed. It
seems doubtful whether the doctrines of the hostile schools of analytical
psychotherapy differ as fundamentally as their practitioners believe, or
mainly by accent and emphasis; and it is becoming increasingly obvious
that the therapist's personality is a more decisive factor than the school
to which he belongs. But even on the apparently firmer ground of
Experimental Psychology and learning Theory, the history of the last
fifty years shows a bewildering succession of changing fashions in
experimental design, technical jargon, and field of interest. English
associanism; the Wurzburg school with its emphasis on introspection;
Watsonian Behaviourism which declared introspection a heresy;
Gestalt-theory stressing holism and insight; Neo-Behaviourism in its
more sophisticated guise none of them can claim to represent a com-
prehensive theory of the phenomenon Man or the phenomenon Rat,
Cat, Ape, for that matter. Rather it looks as if each school had focussed
its gaze, or collective squint, on a single aspect or slice of human
nature, designed its experiments and formulated its questions in such a
way that other aspects never had a chance to enter the picture. If one
goes on sowing cabbage seeds, one cannot expect them to grow into
mimosasbut that hardly gives one a right to denounce belief in the
existence of mimosas as a superstition; and if one puts a creature into a
Skinner Box, it will behave as one expects a creature in a Skinner Box
to behave with certain quantitative variations which are gratdfyingly
measurable, but still refer to behaviour in a Skinner Box.



Boundaries of Science

I have emphasized, at the risk of repetitiveness, the irrational factors
in scientific thought, first in their positive aspect: the intuitive leap, the
reader pour mtettx sauter, then in their negative aspects: snowblindness,
closed systems, faulty integrations.



THE EVOLUTION OF IDEAS



249



These features are reflected, on a magnified scale, in the evolution of
every science as a corporate body. Their histories refute the naive belief
that progress in science is an orderly, rational affair, represented by a
continuous curve which approaches the ultimate truth by ever closer
approximations; or as we are often told that our wisdom increases
in a cumulative manner, like the steady rise of the water-level in a
reservoir.

In reality progress is neither continuous nor cumulative in the strict
sense. If it were continuous, there would be no 'revolutionary' dis-
coveries, no discarding of discredited theories and sudden changes of
direction a continuous curve has no abrupt brakes, it is not a zig-zag
line.

Nor is progress cumulative in a simple and direct way. The walls of
the reservoir the frame of reference into which new data are poured
are periodically changing their shape: narrowing, expanding, curving
this way or that; pipes are built to connect with other reservoirs of
knowledge, while rusty connections are sealed off. Moreover, the
reservoir is leaky and wasteful: gallons of knowledge are forgotten,
discoveries 'stillborn or smothered at birth'.*

It is also asserted that science moves in progressively closer approxi-
mations to truth, like a curve approaching its asymptote, even though
it will reach it only in infinity. But this statement is rather ambiguous
and leads to the frequent confusion between progress in exactitude of
observations and measurements, with progress in the explanatory power
of theories which is an altogether different affair. Tycho de Brahe's
observations of the motions of the planets represent a definite advance
in so far as precision is concerned. Yet his theory of the solar system
was not an advance, but a retreat from Copernicus. Einstein's formula
of gravity looks like a small adjustment to Newton's approximation,
but it implies a radically different conception of the universe.

The bubble chamber is a kind of aquarium window into the sub-
atomic world. It provides us with photographs of the condensation
trails, like jet trails in the sky, of what we take to be the elementary
particles of matter: electrons, neutrons, mesons, muons, etc., of some
forty different varieties. But the particles themselves can of course
never be seen, their inferred lifespan often amounts to no more than
a millionth of a millionth second, they ceaselessly transform them-
selves into different kinds of particles, and the physicists ask us to re-
nounce thinking of them in terms of identity, causality, tangibility,
or shape in a word, to renounce thinking hi intelligible terms, and



250



THE ACT OF CHEATION



to confine it to mathematical symbols. The rapid, continuous increase
in the precision and power of our methods for exploring and ex-
ploiting nature is so impressive that we are apt to forget the discon-
tinuity and periodic upheavals in the formation of explanatory
theories.

No doubt the modern scientist knows more than Archimedes; and
no doubt the modern novelist has a wider range of experience than
Homer, and more precise tools to analyse human thoughts and emo-
tions. But neither of them arrived at their present station by the
shortest way; and though both of them have solved many riddles and
attained to important part-truths, neither of them is sure whether the
present direction of lis zig-zag course leads him towards a 'closer
approximation. Nor is the scientist in a much better position to as-
certain the correctness of his course. He, too, must ultimately rely on
his intuitions, and the interpretation which he puts on his bundle of
data will remain open to controversy.

In the symbolic year 1899 the foremost German biologist Ernst
Haeckel published a best-selling book The Riddles of the Universe,
which became the bible of my youth. Haeckel was die first propa-
gandist of Darwin in Germany, and the first to draw up a geneological
tree of the various orders of animals. Like Spencer and Huxley in
England, he was a typical representative of the buoyant and arrogant
optimism of the nineteenth century. His book enumerated seven
Great Riddles of the Universe, of which six were 'definitely solved*
including the Structure of Matter and the Origin of Life; the seventh
was man's experience of freedom of choice. However, this was not
really a riddle but 'a pure dogma, based on an illusion and having no
real existence , so there were no more riddles left. Science was 'dizzy
with success* as Stalin has said in a famous speech celebrating the
triumphs of rural collectivization on the eve of the great famine of
1932.

Other ages have been similarly dizzy with success, convinced that
they stood on the doorstep of the Temple of Truth. The Pythagoreans
believed it, before they stumbled into the 'Unspeakable Numbers' and
the Temple vanished in the mist. Again, in the seventeenth century,
intoxicated by the vista which the Scientific Revolution had opened
up, most of its pioneers thought that it would take only one or
possibly two generations until they wrested its last secret from nature.
'Give me matter and motion, and I will construct the world', wrote
Descartes. 'The particular phenomena of the arts and sciences are



THE EVOLUTION OF IDEAS



251



really but a handful,' wrote Francis Bacon, 'the invention of all causes
and all sciences would be a labour of but a few years.*

Within a generation after Haeckel had proclaimed that the Riddles
of the Universe had been solved, nearly all the solutions turned out
to be spurious. In 1925 Whitehead wrote that the physical theory of
matter 'got into a state which is strongly suggestive of the epicycles
of astronomy before Copernicus'; in the lifetime of the next genera-
tion it became a welter of paradoxa, compared to which the universe
of rotating crystal spheres had been a model of sanity.

I have written elsewhere about the great vanishing act which accom-
panied the process of unification in science. It started when Galileo
discarded colour, sound, smell, and taste as illusions of the senses which
could all be reduced to the 'primary qualities' of physics, to matter
and motion. But one after another these 'ultimate and irreducible*
entities vanished to the tune of the 'Ten Little Nigger Boys*. First the
indivisible atom went up in fireworks, then the atomic nucleus, then
the 'elementary particles' in the nucleus; matter evaporated in the
physicists' hands, and its ultimate constituents joined electricity, mag-
netism, and gravity as manifestations of excited states of 'fields' which
could be described only in mathematical terms. Theoretical physics is
no longer concerned with things, but with the mathematical relations
between abstractions which are the residue of the vanished things. To
quote Russell: 'Physics is mathematical not because we know so much
about the physical world, but because we know so little; it is only its
mathematical properties that we can discover/

For three centuries the reduction of qualities to quantities has been
spectacularly successful, and it was reasonable to hope that within a
generation or two the supreme synthesis which would enable us to
reduce all phenomena in the physical world to a few basic mathe-
matical formulae something of the nature of the Unified Held
Theory on which Einstein worked, unsuccessfully, throughout the
second half of his life. It is still not unlikely that this hope was well
founded, that in the foreseeable future subatomic physics will strike
rock bottom as it were, and obtain the answers to the questions it has
asked. But it is becoming increasingly evident that both the questions
and the answers of contemporary physics are couched in an elusive
symbol-language which has only a very indirect bearing on reality,
and has lkde to offer to satisfy man's craving for glimpses of the ulti-
mate truth. Eddington realized long ago that these symbols 'have as
much resemblance to the real qualities of the material world ... as



2$2



THE ACT OF CREATION



a telephone number has to a subscriber'. And two centuries before him,
in the jubilant days which followed the unveiling of Newton's uni-
verse, Swift, the passionate sceptic, had this prophetic intuition:

He said, that new Systems of Nature were but new Fashions, which
would vary in every Age; and even those who pretend to demon-
strate them from Mathematical Principles, would flourish but a short
Period of Time, and be out of Vogue when that was determined. 20

Perhaps that saturation point is not far away, and perhaps science
will then start asking a new type of question. One branch after another
of chemistry, physics, and cosmology has merged in the majestic river
as it approaches the estuary to be swallowed up by the ocean, lose
its identity, and evaporate into the clouds; the final act of the great
vanishing process, and the beginning, one hopes, of a new cycle. It
has been said that we know more and more about less and less. It
seems that the more universal the laws' which we discover, the more
elusive they become, and that the ultimate consummation of all rivers
of knowledge is in the cloud of unknowing.

Thus, contrary to appearances and beliefs, science, like poetry or
architecture or painting, has its genres, 'movements', schools, theories
which it pursues with increasing perfection until the level of saturation
is reached where all is done and said and then embarks on a new
approach, based on a different type of curiosity, a different scale of
values. Not only Newton, but Leonardo, Mozart, and Flaubert saw
further because they too stood on the shoulders of giants; and Ein-
stein's space is no closer to reality than Van Gogh's sky. The glory of
science is not in a truth *more absolute' than the truth of Bach or
Tolstoy, but in the act of creation itself. The scientist's discoveries
impose his own order on chaos, as the composer or painter imposes
his; an order that always refers to limited aspects of reality, and is
biassed by the observer's frame of reference, which differs from period
to period, as a Rembrandt nude differs from a nude by Manet.

Summary

The history of science shows recurrent cycles of differentiation and
specialization foEowed by reintegrations on a higher level; from unity
to variety to more generalized patterns of unity-in-variety. The
process also has certain analogies with biological evolution such as



THE EVOLUTION OP IDEAS



253



wastefulness, sudden mutations, the struggle for survival between
competing theories.

The various phases in the historic cycle correspond to the character-
istic stages of individual discovery: the periods of creative anarchy to
the period of incubation; the emergence of the new synthesis to the
bisociative act. It may emerge suddenly, sparked off by a single
individual discovery; or gradually, as in die history of electro-
magnetism, where a series of individual discoveries acted as 'links'.
Each revolutionary historic advance has a constructive and a destructive
aspect: the thaw of orthodox doctrines and the resulting fertile chaos
correspond to the regressive phase of the individual reader-pour-
mienx-sauter phenomenon. Lastly, the process of verification and
elaboration of individual discoveries is reflected on the map of history
as the consolidation of the new frontier followed by the develop-
ment of a new orthodoxy, a hardening of the collective matrix until
it gets blocked and the cycle starts again.

The decisive phase in the historic cycle, the dawn of the new
synthesis, appears as the confluence of previously separate branches of
science, or a cross-fertihzation between different mental disciplines or
experimental techniques. The collection of new empirical data is of
essential importance, but both the collection and interpretation of the
data are selective processes guided by theoretical considerations. The
history of every science proves that observations and experiments
which prima facie seem to contradict a theory do not necessarily lead
to its abandonment; and vice versa, successful theories (such as the
heliocentric system or Special Relativity) have been built on data which
had been available for a long time by rearranging the mosaic of hard
facts into a different pattern. I

'Snowblindness', faulty integrations, and other forms of the indi-
vidual pathology of thought, are reflected on a vasdy magnified scale
in the history of science; and the power of habit over the individual
mind is reflected in the conservatism of scientific bodies and schools
which has impeded progress for periods ranging from years to centuries.

Thus the progress of science is neither continuous, nor cumulative
in the strict sense. Its discoveries are often forgotten or ignored, and re-
discovered later on. Its history echoes with controversies which prove
that the same bundle of objective data* and even the same 'crucial
experiment* can be interpreted in more than one way. No experi-
mental test can provide the scientist with absolute certainty; and the
difference in the verifiability' between various types of scientific and



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THE ACT OF CREATION



artistic statements is a matter of degree (see also below, Chap. XVII).
Some scientific controversies are decided by cumulative weight of
evidence; others are resolved by a synthesis embracing both competing
theories; but still others are pseudo-controversies reflecting differences
in emphasis and fashions of thought and the latter are often as sub-
jective and emotional as fashions in art.

Lasdy, a distinction should be made between progress in the pre-
cision of scientific statements and their explanatory power. The latter
depends on the type of question the statement is meant to answer; and
history shows that the questions change with the changing values in
different periods and cultures.

NOTES

To p. 228. See Appendix I.

To p. 230. Bronowski (1961), p.27. Cf. also: *The most fortunate moments
in the history of knowledge occur when facts which have been as yet no more
than special data are suddenly referred to other apparently distant facts, and thus
appear in a. new light* (Wolfgang Kohler, 1940, p.89).

To p. 234. The French theoretical astronomer, Leverrier, had predicted
the existence of an eighth planet from disturbances in the motion of the seventh
planet, Uranus. The planet was discovered by the German astronomer Galle on
24 September 1846.

To p. 244. In his Presidential Address to Section 1 of the British Association,
Cambridge, 1938, C. G. Darwin said of D. C. Miller's experiments: 'We cannot
see any reason to think that this work would be inferior to Michelson*s work,
as he had at his disposal not only all the experience of Michelson's work, but also
the very great technical development of the intervening period, but in fact he
failed to verify the exact vanishing of the aether drift. What happened? Nobody
doubted relativity. There must therefore be some unknown source of error
which had upset Miller's work.'

To p. 240), It took two thousand yean until Archimedes and Euclid were
rediscovered. It took four hundred years until the Occamites' work on impetus
was appreciated. In the hectic nineteenth century, it took thirty-five years until
the significance of Mendel's work was recognized. In 1845 J. J. Waterston wrote
a paper on the molecular theory of gases which partly anticipated Maxwell: "The
referee of the Royal Society to whom the paper was submitted said: "The paper
is nothing but nonsense," and the work lay in utter oblivion until exhumed
forty-five years later. Waterston lived on disappointed and obscure for many
years and then mysteriously disappeared leaving no sign. As Trotter remarks, this
story must strike a chill upon anyone impatient for the advancement of know-
ledge. Many discoveries must have thus been stillborn or smothered at birth.
We know only those that survived* (Beveridge, op. cit., p. 108).

There may be thousands of relevant bits of information lying dormant in
hundreds of technical journals on dusty library shelves which, if remembered,
would act as Open Sesames.



XI

SCIENCE AND EMOTION
Three Character-Types

Iet me revert for a moment to our starring point, the triptych of
creative activities.
In folklore and popular literature the Artist is traditionally rep-
resented as an inspired dreamer a solitary figure, eccentric, im-
practical, unselfish, and quixotic.

His opposite number is the earthy and cynical Jester Falstaff or
Sancho Panza; he spurns the dreamer, refuses to be taken in by any
romantic nonsense, is wide-awake, quick to see his advantage and to
get the better of his fellows. His weapons range from the bludgeon of
peasant cunning to the rapier of irony; he always exercises his wits at
the expense of others; he is aggressive and self-asserting.

In between these antagonistic types once stood the Sage who com-
bined the qualities of both: a sagacious dreamer, with his head in the
clouds and his feet on the solid earth. But his modern incarnation, the
Scientist, is no longer represented by a single figure in the waxworks
of popular imagination; instead of one prototype, we had better
compose three.

The first is the Benevolent Magician, whose ancestry derives from
the rain-making Shamans and the calendar-making Priest-Astronomers
of Babylon. At the dawn of Greek science we find him assuming the
semi-mythical figure of Pythagoras, the only mortal who could hear
with ears of flesh the music made by the orbiting stars; and from there
onward, every century created its own savant-shamans whom it could
venerate even throughout the Dark Ages of science. The first millen-
nium was seen in by Sylvester II, the 'Magician Pope*, who reinstated
the belief that the earth was round. The Jews had their Maimonides,
the Arabs their Alkhazen, Christendom the Venerable Bede, before
St, Thomas Aquinas and Albert the Great revived the study of nature.

255



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From the Renaissance on there is an uninterrupted procession of
magicians whose names were legends, admired and worshipped by
a public which had only the vaguest notion of their achievements:
Paracelsus, Tycho on his Sorcerer's Island, Galileo with his telescope,
Newton who brought the Light, Franklin who tamed the thunder-
bolt, Mesmer who cured by magnetism; Edison, Pasteur, Einstein,
Freud. The popular image of the Magician has certain features in
common with that of the Artist: both are unselfishly devoted to
lofty tasks which frequently overlapped in the uomo universale of the
Renaissance.

The second archetype is the 'Mad Professor' who, in contrast to the
former, practises black instead of white magic for the sake of his own
aggrandizement and power. Empedokles jumped into the crater of Etna
to gain immortaHty; Paracelsus's rival, Agrippa, was allied to the devil
in the shape of an enormous black poodle; the Anatomists were allied
to body-snatchers for their sinister purposes. The alchemists distilled
witches' brews; electric rays became a favourite delusion in persecu-
tion manias; vivisection, and even compulsory vaccination, became
symbols of the scientist's blasphemous presumption and cruelty. The
Mad Professor either a sadist or obsessed with power looms large
in popular fiction from Jules Verne's Captain Nemo and H. G. Wells'
Dr. Moreau to Caligari, Frankenstein, and the monsters of the horror-
comics. He is -a Mephistophelian character, endowed with caustic wit;
he spouts sarcasm, a sinister jester plotting to commit some monstrous
practical joke on humanity. His place in the waxworks is next to the
malicious satirist's, as the Benevolent Magician's is next to the imagina-
tive Artist's.

The last of the three figures into which the popular image of the
scientist has split occupies the centre space and is of relatively recent
origin: the dry, dull, diligent, pedantic, uninspired, scholarly book-
worm or laboratory worker. He is aloof and detached, not because he
has outgrown passion but because he is devoid of temperament, desic-
cated, and hard of hearing yet peevish and petulant and jealous of
anybody who dares to interfere with his crabbed little world. This
imaginary type probably originates with the Schoolmen of the period
of decline, whom Erasmus lampooned: 'They smother me beneath
six hundred dogmas; they are surrounded with a bodyguard of
definitions, conclusions, corrolaries, propositions explicit and proposi-
tions implicit; they are looking in utter darkness for that which has no
existence whatsoever.'



SCIENCE AND EMOTION



257



Swift satirized the type in Gulliver in Laputa; then Goethe in his
Famulus Wagner: Mit Eifer hab 1 ich mich der Studien bejlissen Zwar
weiss ich viel, dock mocht* ich alles wissen. 'Thanks to my diligeace, my
wisdom is growing If I hut persevere I shall he all-knowing/ His
modern incarnations are the Herr Professor of German comedy,
and the mummified dons of Anglo-Saxon fiction. At his worst, he
incarnates the pathological aspects in the development of science:
rigidity, orthodoxy, snowhlindness, divorce from reality. But the
patience and dogged endurance of the infantrymen of science are as
indispensable as the geniuses who form its spearhead. 'The progress of
science', Schiller wrote, 'takes place through a few master-architects, or
in any case through a number of guiding brains which constantly set all
the industrious labourers at work for decades.' 1 That the industrious
labourers tend to form trade unions with a closed-shop policy and
restrictive practices, is an apparently unavoidable development. It is no
less conspicuous in the history of the arts: the uninspired versifiers, the
craftsmen of the novel and the stage, the mediocrities of academic
painting and sculpture, they all hang on for dear life to the prevailing
school and style which some genius initiated, and defend it with
stubbornness and venom against heretic innovators.

Thus we now have five figures facing us at our allegorical Madame
Tussaud's. They are from left to right: the malicious Jester; the Mad
Professor with his delusions of grandeur; the uninspired Pedant; the
Benevolent Magician; and the Artist.

At the moment only the three figures in the centre concern us. If
we strip them of the gaudy adornments which folklore and fiction
bestowed upon them, the figure of the Black Magician will turn out to
be an archetypal symbol of the self-assertive element in the scientist's
aspirations. In mythology, this element is represented by the Pro-
methean quest for omnipotence and immortality; in science-fiction it
is caricatured as a monstrous lusting for power; in actual life, it appears
as the unavoidable component of competitiveness, jealousy, and self-
righteousness in the scientist's complex motivational drive. 'Without
ambition and without vanity', wrote the biologist Charles Nicolle,
'no one would enter a profession so contrary to our natural appetites.' 2
Freud was even more outspoken: 'I am not really a man of science, not
an observer, not an experimenter, and not a thinker. I am by tempera-
ment nothing but a conquistador . . . with the curiosity, the boldness,
and the tenacity that belong to that type of person.' 3
The unassuming figure of the Pedant in the centre of the waxworks



258



THE ACT OP CREATION



is an indispensable stabilizing element; he acts as a restraining influence
on the selfcasserting, vainglorious conquistadorial urges, but also as a
sceptical critic of the inspired dreamer on his other side.

This last figure, the White Magician, symbolizes the self-transcend-
ing element in the scientist's motivational drive and emotional make-
up; his humble immersion into the mysteries of nature, his quest for the
harmony of the spheres, the origins of life, the equations of a unified
field theory. The conquistadorial urge is derived from a sense of power,
the participatory urge from a sense of oceanic wonder. 'Men were first
led to the study of natural philosophy', wrote Aristode, 'as indeed they
are today, by wonder.' 4 Maxwell's earliest memory was 'lying on the
grass, looking at the sun, and wondering . Einstein struck the same chord
when he wrote that whoever is devoid of the capacity to wonder,
'whoever remains unmoved, whoever cannot contemplate or know
the deep shudder of the soul in enchantment, might just as well be dead
for he has already closed his eyes upon life'. 5

This oceanic feeling of wonder is the common source of religious
mysticism, of pure science and art for art's sake; it is their common
denominator and emotional bond.

Magic and Sublimation

The creative scientist in actual life hardly resembles any of these
single wax-figures the Conquistador, the Pedant, or the inspired
Dreamer; he contains ingredients of all of them in varying proportions,
melted down as it were, and recast according to a personal formula. I
have said already (p. 87 f.) that by calling science the 'neutral art' I did
not mean that the scientist operates 'dispassionately' as the cliche goes;
but on the contrary, that he is motivated by a particular blend of
passions into which both the self-asserting and participatory drives
enter, but in a highly sublimated state, complementing each other. A
modicum of ambition or vanity or financial need, or even aggression,
is indispensable to the most 'disinterested' scientist or explorer but the
conquistadorial appetite must have undergone a great amount of
refinement if it is to find its satisfaction in the publication of a paper,
representing years of labour, in the columns of a technical journal.
Except for the chosen few who attain popular fame, the vast majority
of scientists spend their lifetime working in obscurity, and for paltry
rewards. In his private life, the scientist can indulge his ego; but in his



SCIENCE AND EMOTION



259



work, ambition and vanity are denied all but die most indirect and
tortuous outlets, in conformity with the complex rules of the game.
The compensation for this sacrifice is in the game itself in that
'enchantment of the soul' which makes interest disinterested, as it were.

The sublimation of the self-assertive, aggressive-defensive impulses
is easily understood, since we all have to go through this painful
process, abdicating the tyrannic powers of infancyincluding the
primitive fantasies of omnipotence, from which the figure of the Black
Magician is derived and accepting the rules of the game of civilized
society. But the self-transcending, participatory emotions are also
subject to the process of sublimation, both in the history of the indivi-
dual and in the evolution of cultures. One aspect of lie latter is the
sublimation of magic into art; another, of magic into science.

I have explained earlier on (p. 54 ) that the term 'self-transcending'
or participatory* tendencies is meant to refer to those emotional states
where the need is felt to behave as a part of some real or imaginary
entity which transcends the boundaries of the individual self (whereas
when governed by the self-assertive class of emotion, the ego is
experienced as a self-contained whole and the ultimate value). Now
ob\dously a person s character and pattern of behaviour is to a large
extent dependent on the nature of that higher entity of which he feels
himself to be a part. There is of course often a multitude of such
entities, some forming a hierarchy (family, tribe, nation), others
causing rival identifications; some are of the nature of social, others of
spiritual or mystical bonds. It is with the latter that we are concerned;
more precisely with the transition from one type of mystic partici-
pation in a universe governed by sympathetic magic, to another type
of mystic communion with a universe governed by a divine or
natural order. That transformation was never completed; but even
the partial transition which the Greeks achieved had a decisive in-
fluence on the pattern of Western culture. At the risk of repetitiveness
I must once more mention here the Pythagoreans, the chief engineers
of that epoch-making change. I have spoken in more detail elsewhere
of the inspired methods by which, in their religious order, they trans-
formed the Orphic mystery cult into a religion which considered
mathematical and astronomical studies as the main forms of divine
worship and prayer. The physical intoxication which had accompanied
the Bacchic rites was superseded by the mental intoxication derived
from pkib-sopkia, the love of knowledge. It was one of the many key
concepts they coined and which are still basic units in our verbal



2<5o



THE ACT OF CREATION



currency. The cliche about the 'mysteries of nature' originates in the
revolutionary innovation of applying the word referring to the secret
rites of the worshippers of Orpheus, to the devotions of stargazing.
'Pure science* is another of their coinages; it signified not merely a
contrast to the 'applied* sciences, hut also that the contemplation of the
new mysteria was regarded as a means of purifying the soul by its
immersion in the eternal. Finally, 'meorizing' comes from Theoria,
again a word of Orphic origin, meaning a state of fervent contempla-
tion and participation in the sacred rites (thea spectacle, theoris spectator,
audience). Contemplation of the 'divine dance of numbers' which held
both the secrets of music and of the celestial motions became the link
in the mystic union between human thought and the anima mundu
Its perfect symbol was the Harmony of the Spheres the Pythagorean
Scale, whose musical intervals corresponded to the intervals between-
the planetary orbits; it went on reverberating through 'soft stillness
and the night' right into the poetry of the Elizabethans, and into the
astronomy of Kepler.

It was indeed this sublimated form of Orphic mysticism which,
through the Pythagorean revival in Renaissance Italy, inspired the
Scientific Revolution. Galileo, Descartes, and Newton all regarded
God as a kind of 'chief mathematician' of the Universe. 'Geometry
existed before the Creation, is co-eternal with the mind of God, is
God himself', 6 wrote Kepler; and the other giants echoed his convic-
tion. The 'oceanic feeling' of religious mysticism had been distilled
into differential equations; the mind of the anima mundi was reflected
in the rainbow colours of the spectroscope, the ghostly spirals of
distant galaxies, the harmonious patterns of iron-filings around a mag-
net In all the 'great and generous minds', from Nicolas of Cusa down
to Einstein, we find this feeling of awe and wonder, an intellectual
ecstasy of distinctly religious flavour. Even those who professed to be
devoid of it based their labours on an act of faith: the belief that there
is a harmony of the spheres that the universe is not a tale told by an
idiot, but governed by hidden laws waiting to be discovered and
uttered. 'The mystic believes in an unknown God, the thinker and
scientist in an unknown order; it is hard to say which surpasses the
other in nonrational devotion (L. L. Whyte) 7 In a similar vein,
Butterfield wrote on the pioneers of the scientific revolution: 'The
aspiration to demonstrate that the universe ran like a piece of clock-
work . . . was itself initially a religious aspiration. It was felt that there
would be something defective in Creation itself something not quite



SCIENCE AND EMOTION



26l



worthy of God unless the whole system of the universe could be
shown to be interlocking, so that it carried the patttern of reasonable-
ness and orderliness. Kepler, inaugurating the scientist's quest for a
mechanistic universe in the seventeenth century, is significant here
his mysticism, his music of the spheres, his rational deity demand a
system which has the beauty of a piece of mathematics.' 8

It is the axiomatic belief that the pointers on his ^ afc do not move
at random, which makes the readings of his instruments meaningful
to the scientist. Though Eddington may have been justified in saying
that the dials, in the present state of physics, have no more bearing on
reality than telephone numbers, this takes nothing away from the
excitement of watching their motions. After all, to the worshipful
lover even her telephone number acquires some of the magic attraction
of the beloved.

The sublimation of the self-transcending emotions has transformed
'magic' into 'science'; but there is no hard-and-fast boundary between
the two. Unconscious, pre-rational, 'magical' thinking enters both into
the creative act and into the beliefs or superstitions of the scientist.
As Dubos said, 'the alchemist never entirely ceased to live and function
within the academician*. Not only Kepler's astronomy was derived
from belief in the Holy Trinity and the Harmony of the Spheres*, most
of the giants of science were similarly inspired by religious, mystical or
transcendental beliefs.

In Appendix II the reader will find this generalization exemplified
by a series of short character-sketches, from Copernicus and Galileo
to Franklin, Faraday, Maxwell, Darwin, and Pasteur. I shall close this
section with three quotations by men who played decisive parts in
shaping the scientific outlook of the twentieth century. The first is
Louis Pasteur, who was born a Roman Catholic and remained one
throughout his life. At the age of sixty he was elected a member of the
Academie Francaise; the wdcorning speech on that ceremonial
occasion was made, ironically, by that great and wise agnostic, Ernest
Renan. In his reply Pasteur explained that although an inescapable
conclusion of thinking, the notion of infinity is incomprehensible to
human reason indeed more incomprehensible than all the miracles of
religion: 'I see everywhere in the world the inevitable expression of the
concept of infinity. It establishes in the depths of our hearts a belief in
the supernatural The idea of God is nothing more than one form of die
idea of infinity. So long as the mystery of the infinite weighs on the
human mind, so long will temples be raised to the cult of the infinite,



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THE ACT OF CREATION



whether God be called Brahmah, Allah, Jehovah or Jesus The

Greeks understood the mysterious power of the hidden side of things.
They bequeathed to us one of the most beautiful words in our lan-
guage the word enthusiasm'e theosa god within. The grandeur
of human actions is measured by the inspiration from which they
spring. Happy is he who bears a god within an ideal of beauty and
who obeys it, an ideal of art, of science. All are lighted by reflection
from the infinite/

The second quotation is from Einstein who, when questioned about
his own religious views, described them as 'what in ordinary terms
one would call pantheistic'. On another occasion he talked of 'cosmic
religiousness':

... I maintain that cosmic religiousness is the strongest and most
noble driving force of scientific research. Only the man who can con-
ceive the gigantic effort and above all the devotion, without which
original scientific thought cannot succeed, can measure the strength
of the feeling from which alone such work . . . can grow. What a deep
belief in the intelligence of Creation and what longing for under-
standing, even if only of a meagre reflection in the revealed intelligence
of this world, must have flourished in Kepler and Newton, enabling
them as lonely men to unravel over years of work the mechanism of

celestial mechanics Only the man who devotes his life to such

goals has a living conception of what inspired these men and gave them
strength to remain steadfast in their aims in spite of countless failures.
It is cosmic religiousness that bestows such strength. A contemporary
has said, not unrightly, that the serious research scholar in our generally
materialistic age is the only deeply religious human being. 9

And ksdy here is Bertrand Russell, writing at the age of eighty-
nine;

I must, before I die, find some means of saying the essential thing
which is in me, which I have not yet said, a thing which is neither
love nor hate nor pity nor scorn but the very breath of life, shining
and coming from afar, which will link into human life the immensity,
the frightening, wondrous and implacable forces of the non-
human. 10



From the Pythagoreans onward, through the Renaissance to our



SCIENCE AND EMOTION



263



times, the oceanic feeling, the sense of participation in the mystery of
the infinite, was the principal inspiration of that winged and flat-
footed creature, the scientist.

The Boredom of Science

We have seen earlier on (pp. 87-89) that the emotional reaction
which follows the act of discovery is a complex one, reflecting the
complexity of the motivational drive. There is the sudden explosion
of tension, which has become redundant and must somehow be worked
off in gestures or shouts of jubilation an overflow-reaction continuous
with laughter, but of a more individual character because derived from
a more sublimated kind of emotion. Concurrent with it, there is pure
intellectual delight, the peaceful catharsis of the self-transcending
emotions. The first is derived from the fact that T made a discovery
the second from the fact that a discovery has been made, another
glimpse of the truth revealed.

Let me now turn from the creative person's emotional reactions to
those of the audience, to the 'consumer's* point of view. Whether he
listens to a joke, or reads a scientific work, or visits an art gallery, he
is supposed to participate in the intellectual and emotional experiences
of the producer to relive or re-create them. The bond between
them is the need for social communication. The consumer hopes that
by being allowed to share the creator's vision he will gain a deeper
and broader view of reality. The producer has an urge to share his own
experience with others to win accomplices to his malice, partners in
understanding, resonance for his emotions. In order to succeed, how-
ever, he must use appropriate techniques. In Chapter III (pp. 82-86) I
have discussed certain criteria by which to judge the impact of comic
inventions originality, emphasis, and economy. Are these criteria of
any value when applied to scientific discovery?

The importance of originality is self-evident. Selective emphasis on
one particular aspect of reality, with its concommitant exaggerations
and simplifications is, as we saw, the essence of model-making, and
plays almost as great a part in the changing fashions and 'schools' in
science as in art. Economy enters in various ways from Occam's
razor and the satisfaction derived from an 'elegant* solution to various
techniques of enticing the audience in the lecture-room into an
imaginative, re-creative effort.



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THE ACT OF CREATION



It is generally supposed that in this respect the creative scientist and
his audience are at a disadvantage. In contrast to the artist, the scientist
is not supposed to appeal to emotions, and the student of science not
to be guided by them. But we have seen that the equation of science
with logic and reason, of art with intuition and emotion, is a blatant
popular fallacy. No discovery has even been made by logical deduction;
no work of art produced without calculating craftsmanship; the emotive
games of the unconscious enter into both.

The aesthetic satisfaction derived from an elegant mathematical
demonstration, a cosmological theory, a map of the human brain,
or an ingenious chess problem, may equal that of any artistic ex-
perience given a certain connoisseurship. But connoisseurship is
equally required for the true appreciation of any but the most vulgar
forms of art; and particularly for ancient, alien, and 'modern' art.
However, the absurd division of our society into 'two cultures' pro-
duced the paradoxical phenomenon that the average educated person
will be reluctant to admit that a work of art is beyond the level of his
comprehension; but he will in the same breath and with a certain pride
confess his complete ignorance of the principles which make his radio
work, the forces which make the stars go round, the factors which
determine the heredity of his children, and the location of his own
viscera and glands.

One of the consequences of this attitude is that he utilizes the products
of science and technology in a purely possessive, exploitive manner
without comprehension or feeling. His relationship to the objects of
his daily use, the tap which supplies his bath, the pipes which keep
him warm, the switch which turns on the light in a word, to the
environment in which he lives, is impersonal and possessive like the
capitalist's attitude to his bank account, not the art collector's to his
treasures which he cherishes because he 'understands' them, because he
has a participatory relationship to them. Modern man lives isolated in
his artificial environment, not because the artificial is evil as such, but
because of his lack of comprehension of the forces which make it
workof the principles which relate his gadgets to the forces of nature,
to the universal order. It is not central heating which makes his exis-
tence 'unnatural*, but his refusal to take an interest in the principles
behind it. By being entirely dependent on science, yet closing his mind
to it, he leads the life of an urban barbarian.

The historical causes which led to the split between the two cultures



SCIENCE AND EMOTION



26s



are outside the scope of this book; but I must mention one specific
factor which is largely responsible for turning science into a bore, and
providing the humanist with an excuse for turning his back on it. It
is the academic cant, of relatively recent origin, that a self-respecting
scientist must be a bore, that the more dehydrated the style of his
writing, and the more technical the jargon he uses, the more respect he
will command. I repeat, this is a recent fashion, less than a century old,
but its effect is devastating. The pre-Socratics frequently wrote their
treatises in verse; the ancient Peruvian language had a single word
hamavec for both poet and inventor. Galileo's Dialogues and polemical
writings were literary masterpieces which had a lasting influence on
the development of Italian didactic prose; Kepler's New Astronomy is
a baroque tale of suspense; Vesalius' Anatomy was illustrated by
a pupil of Titian. Even the abstract symbol language of the mathe-
maticians lent itself to works of art. As the great Boltzmann wrote:
'A mathematician will recognize Cauchy, Gauss, Jacobi, or Helm-
holtz, after reading a few pages, just as musicians recognize, from the
first few bars, Mozart, Beethoven, or Schubert/ And Jeans compared
Maxwell's physics with an enchanted fairyland where no one knew
what was coming next.

I have given samples of Pasteur*s and Poincare's style; Franklin was
an accomplished stylist; Maxwell wrote commendably funny,* and
Erasmus Darwin unintentionally funny verse; as for William James, I
must confess that I find his style far more enjoyable than his brother
Henry's. In our present century Eddington, Jeans, Freud, Kretschmer,
Whitehead, Russell, Schrodinger, to mention only a few, gave con-
vincing proof that works on science can at the same time be works of
literary art. (One could also quote works by literary and art critics as
pedantic and desiccated as papers in a technical journal for applied
chemistry.) Needless to say, technical communications addressed to
specialists must employ technical language; but even here the over-
loading with jargon, the tortuous and cramped style, are largely a
matter of conforming to fashion.

The same inhuman in fact anti-humanistic trend pervades the
climate in which science is taught, the classrooms and the textbooks.
To derive pleasure from the art of discovery, as from the other arts,
the consumer in this case the student must be made to re-live, to
some extent, the creative process. In other words, he must be induced,
with proper aid and guidance, to make some of the fundamental dis-
coveries of science by himself) to experience in his own mind some of



266



THE ACT OF CREATION



those flashes of insight which have lightened its path. This means that
the history of science ought to be made an essential part of the curricu-
lum, that science should be represented in its evolutionary context
and not as a Minvera born fully armed. It further means that the
paradoxes, the 'blocked matrices' which confronted Archimedes,
Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, Harvey, Darwin, Einstein should be
reconstructed in their historical setting and presented in the form of
riddles with appropriate hints to eager young minds. The most
productive form of learning is problem-solving (Book Two, XIII-
XIX). The traditional method of confronting the student not with the
problem but with the finished solution, means depriving him of all
excitement, to shut off the creative impulse, to reduce the adventure of
mankind to a dusty heap of theorems.

Art is a form of communication which aims at eliciting a re-creative
echo. Education should be regarded as an art, and use the appropriate
techniques of art to call forth that echo. The novice, who has gone
through some of the main stages in the evolution of the race during his
pre-natal development, and of the evolution from savage to civilized
society by the time he reaches adolescence, should then be made to
continue his curriculum by re-capitulating some of the decisive episodes,
impasses, and turning points on the road to the conquest of knowledge.
Our textbooks and methods of teaching reflect a static, pre-evolu-
tionary concept of the world. For man cannot inherit the past; he has
to re-create it.



Summary

The scientist's motivational drive is a blend of passions in which both
the self-asserting and self-transcending tendencies participate sym-
bolized by the Mad Professor and the Benevolent Magician of folklore.
It is, however, a blend in which both tendencies are sublimated and
balance each other. This development is already foreshadowed in the
exploratory behaviour of clever animals. "When Kohler's chimpanzee
Sultan discovered, after many unsuccessful efforts, that he could rake
the banana into the cage by fitting two short hollow sticks into each
other, his motivation was obviously to get at the banana. But his new
discovery 'pleased him so immensely* that he kept repeating the trick
and forgot to eat the banana (for similar observations, see Book Two,
VHE), If Archimedes was originally motivated by the desire to obtain



SCIENCE AND EMOTION



2<57



money or favours from the tyrant of Syracuse, his jubilant shout was
certainly not due to anticipation of the reward.

Ambition, greed, vanity can enter the service of creativity only
through indirect channels; and the self-transcending emotions must
undergo a similar process of sublimation from mystic immersion in
the harmony of the spheres to the scrupulous attention paid to eight
minutes arc. The process is reflected in the gradual transformation of
magic into science.

The creative achievements of the scientist lack the 'audience appeal*
of the artist's for several reasons briefly mentioned technical jargon,
antiquated teaching methods, cultural prejudice. The boredom created
by these factors has accentuated the artificial frontiers between con-
tinuous domains of creativity.

NOTE

To page 2651 See Appendix II, p, 691.



PART THREE



A. THE PARTICIPATORY EMOTIONS



XII

THE LOGIC OF THE MOIST EYE

Laughter and Weeping

The classic responses to comedy and tragedy are laughter and
weeping. Both are overflow channels for the disposal of
emotions; luxury reflexes without apparent utility. This much
they have in common; in other respects they are direct opposites.

There is a vast literature on the psychology of laughter, but hardly
any on the psychology of weeping.* The theory of the comic which I
have proposed, however controversial, can at least be judged in the
light of earlier theories on similar or opposite lines; where weeping is
concerned we are on virgin territory. This indifference towards the
manifestation of emotions in weeping (which is after all neither an
uncommon nor a trivial phenomenon) is in itself symptomatic of the
contemporary trend in psychology about which later.

Weeping and crying confront us with an even more confusing variety
of expressions than laughter. There are variations in intensity; in mood;
in spontaneity. The bawling of a spoilt child, the contrived sobs of
public or private stagecraft are secondary derivatives which distort
the original pattern; cultural restraints and social infection are further
superimpositions on it. We must disregard these adventitious elements
and concentrate on spontaneous weeping in its pure form, as an auto-
matic 'reflex* (see pp. 28-29).

The first step is to distinguish between weeping and crying it is a
peculiarity of the English language to treat them as synonyms. Weeping
has two basic reflex-characteristics which are found in all its varieties:
the overflow of the tear-glands and a specific form of breathing. These
vary in intensity from a mere moistening of the eye and 'catching one's
breath* (or feeling *a lump in the throat') to a profusion of tears
accompanied by convulsive sobbing; just as laughter varies in intensity
from smiling to convulsions. Crying, on the other hand, is the emitting

271



272



THE ACT OF CREATION



of sounds signalling distress, protest, or some other emotion. It may be
combined with, or alternate with, weeping. Frequently when a child,
or a depressed patient, is said to be crying his head off* his eyes are in
fact dry: he is not weeping. On the other hand, when your char-lady
has a 'good cry' at the movies, she isn't crying at all but weeping.
Crying is a form of communication (even if the audience is only
imagined); weeping is not.

Let me now compare the external manifestations bodily changes
in weeping and in laughter. In weeping, the eyes are 'blinded* by
tears: they lose their focus and lustre. The laugher's eyes sparkle, the
corners are wrinkled, but brow and cheeks are taut and smooth, which
lends the face an expression of radiance; the lips are parted, the corners
lifted. In weeping, the features crinkle and crumple; even when
weeping for joy or in aesthetic rapture, the transfigured face reflects
a serene languidness.

The breathing pattern in weeping is a series of short, deep, gasping
inspirations, i.e. sobs, followed by long, sighing expirations, with the
glottis partially closed the lump in the throat. This is the exact
opposite of the breathing pattern of laughter with its bursts of ex-
piratory puffs sobs in reverse, followed by long, deep intakes re-
versed sighs. A prolonged, violent fit of laughter, however, may pro-
duce the sobbing type of respiration as an after-effect a phenomenon
which strengthens the hypothesis (see below) that laughter and crying
are mediated by rival branches of the autonomous nervous system
the first being sympathicotonic, the second vagotonic.

The third contrast is between bodily postures and motions. The
person who laughs tends to throw his head back by a vigorous con-
traction of the elevators in the neck; the person who weeps 'lets the
head droop' (into the hands, on the table, or on somebody's shoulder).
Laughter contracts the muscles and throws the body into violent
motion banging the table or slapping one's knees; in weeping, the
muscles go flabby, the shoulders slump forward, the whole posture
reflects a 'breaking down', a 'letting go'.

In the fourth place, vocalization in laughter roaring, giggling,
chuckling, etc. is expressive of joie de vivre with aggressive overtones;
but if weeping is accompanied by crying, the sounds express lament,
appeals for sympathy.

finally, in laughter tension is suddenly exploded, emotion debunked;
In weeping it is drained away in a gradual process which does not break
the continuity of mood; there is no disowning of emotion, thought and



THE LOGIC OF THE MOIST EYE



273



sentiment remain united to the end. Moreover, the gradual relief in
weeping does not prevent the simultaneous generation of more emo-
tion of the same type, so that the influx may balance the overflow,
and relief is incomplete, or not even experienced as such.

Why do we Weep?

Let me discuss a few typical situations which may cause the shedding
of tears.

A. Raptness. Listening to the organ in a cathedral, looking at a
majestic landscape from the top of a mountain, observing an infant
hesitantly returning a smile, being in love any of these experiences
may cause a welling-up of emotions, a moistening or overflowing of
the eyes, while the body is becalmed and drained of its tensions. A few
steps higher on the intensity-scale, and the T seems no longer to exist,
to dissolve in the experience like a grain of salt in water; awareness
becomes de-personalized and expands into 'the oceanic feeling of
limitless extension and oneness with the universe'.*

Here, then, we see the self-transcending emotions displayed in their
purest form. Once you start fondling the smiling baby and making a
fuss of it, an active, possessive element enters into the situation and the
spell is broken. The purely self-transcending emotions do not tend towards
action, but towards quiescence, tranquillity, and catharsis. Respiration and
pulse-rate are slowed down, muscle-tone is lowered; 'entrancement'
is a step towards the trance-like states induced by the contemplative
techniques of Eastern mysticism and by certain drugs. The experience
of 'the blending of the finite with the infinite' can become so intense
that it evokes Faust's prayer: O Augenblick verweile let this moment
last for eternity, let me die. But there is nothing morbid in this; it
is a yearning for an even more complete communion, the ultimate
catharsis or samadhu

The reason for their passive, quietistic nature is that the self-trans-
cending emotions cannot be consummated by any specific voluntary action.
You cannot take the mountain panorama home with you; the surest
method to break the charm is clicking your camera. You cannot merge
with the infinite or dissolve in the universe by any exertion of the
body; and even in the most sd&ess forms of love and communion each
individual remains an island. To be 'overwhelmed' by love, wonder,
devotion, 'enraptured' by a smile, 'entranced* by beautyeach verb



274



THE ACT OF CREATION



expresses a passive state, a surrender; the surplus of emotion cannot be
worked off in action it can be consummated only in internal, visceral
and glandular, processes.

These observations are again in keeping with the character of the
two divisions of the autonomous nervous system. We have seen that
the self-assertive emotions operate through the powerful adrenal-
sympathico system which galvanizes the body into action under the
stress of hunger, pain, rage, and fear. The parasympathetic division,
on the other hand, never goes into action as a compact unit; it does not
dispose of a powerful pep-hormone like adrenalin, acting direcdy on
the body as a whole. The sympathetic division has been compared to
the pedals of a piano, which affect all the notes sounded; the parasym-
pathetic to the separate keys which act locally on various organs.
In the main, its function is to counteract and to complement sympathico-
adrenal excitation: to lower blood-pressure and pulse-rate, neutralize
excesses of blood-sugar and acidity, to facilitate digestion and the dis-
posal of body-wastes, to activate the flow of tears, etc. In other words,
the general action of the para-sympathetic system is inward-directed,
calming, and cathartic. All this, and other arguments of a more technical
nature, point to the correlation of the participatory emotions with the
parasympathetic system.*

B. Mourning. A woman is notified of the sudden death ofher husband.
At first she is stunned, unable to believe the news; then she finds some
relief in tears.

Again, it is a situation in which nothing purposeful can be done,
which does not beget action, but passive surrender 'giving in to
grief*. And, again, the emotion originates in the experience of 'belong-
ing to', 'belonging together, of a communion which transcends the
boundaries of the self. Resentment, guilt, unconscious gratification,
may, of course, enter into the widow's mixed feelings, but we are
concerned at the moment only with her experience of identification
and belonging. That experience, and the emotions generated by it,
have not come to an end with the husband's death; on the contrary,
they have at the same time become more intense and frustrated. The
overflow of tears is insufficient to relieve her from this surplus of
emotions; she weeps 'in grief, whereas the euphoric experiences of
the previous section caused 'weeping in joy'.

But the difference is in fact a matter of degrees. The moist eyes in
the transfigured face of the young mother also reflect an emotion which



THE LOGIC OF THE MOIST EYE



275



cannot be completely consummated, lived out; the urge to transcend
the self's boundaries, to break out of its insulation always carries a
certain amount of frustration. Saints and mystics spend their lives trying
to escape the prison of the flesh; Hemingway, who was not a saint,
wrote of the 'heart-breaking profile' of his young Venetian contessa;
and to be overwhelmed by beauty may indeed be as 'heart-breaking'
as a widow's tears sweetened by self-pity. A long, enforced separation
may be as painful as a final one; and there are cases of mourning where
worship of the dead partner, with or without hope for a reunion in
after-life, creates a more harmonious, if imaginary, communion than
the actual partnership ever did.

These continuous transitions between * weeping in joy* and weeping
in sorrow' reflect the relative nature of 'pleasure' and 'unpleasure*
(Unlust, disphoria, as distinct from physical pain). Emotions have
been called overheated drives'. A drive becomes overheated* when it
has no immediate outlet; or when its intensity is so increased that the
normal outlets are insufficient; or for both reasons. A moderate amount
of overheating may be experienced as a pleasurable arousal, thrill,
excitement, or appetitewhile anticipating (or imagining) the con-
summatory act. Even physical discomfort and pain are readily tolera-
ted (for instance, in mounts-climbing or trout-fishing on an icy
morning) in the pleasurable anticipation of the reward. But when the
'overheating' exceeds a critical level it is experienced as tension, stress,
frustration, suffering. However, the pleasure-unpleasure tone is deter-
mined not only by the intensity of emotive pressure; it also depends on
whether the pressure is increasing or decreasing. Intense frustration
changes into incipient relief the moment the consummatory action
has started or has merely come into sight. Decrease of tension is
pleasurable up to a point If the water-level, so to speak, falls below a
critical point, there is a sensation of drying-up, of boredom and rest-
lessness. At this stage increases of emotion are induced by various
methods of seeking out thrills from wild-game hunting to horror
comics and other forms of what one might call 'emotional window-
shopping': the vicarious satisfactions derived from reading the social
gossip columns or watching a strip-tease. In these cases the pleasurable
experience is derived not from anticipating, but from imagining the
reward; and the satisfaction obtained such as it is consists in the
'internal consummation' of those components in the complex drive
which can be lived out in fantasy.

Thus pleasure-unpleasure form a continuous scale of 'feeling-tones'



THE ACT OF CREATION



which accompany emotion: the former indicating the progress (real,
anticipated, or imagined) of a drive towards its consummation, the
latter indicating its frustration.

This leads us to a quasi three-dimensional theory of emotions
(which sounds involved, but is probably still a woeful over-simpli-
fication). In the first place, we must obviously differentiate between the
various emotions according to the nature of the drive, originating in
various physiological, social, or 'psychogenic' 1 needs and urges
hunger, sex, protection of ofBpring, curiosity (the 'exploratory drive'),
conviviality, etc. To use a coarse but comfortable analogy, let each of
these be represented by a different tap in a saloon-bar, which is turned
on as the demand arises, each serving a beverage with a different flavour.
In the second place, we have the pleasure-unpleasure scale, correspond-
ing to the pressure in the tap whether the liquid flows smoothly, or
gurgles and splutters because of air-locks or excess pressure. In the
third place, we have the polarity between the self-assertive and par-
ticipatory tendencies which enter into each emotion (for instance,
possessiveness versus identification in maternal love); this could be rep-
resented by the relative proportion of alcohol and water in the liquid.
We can thus distinguish between three variables or 'parameters' in
every emotional experience: 'flavour ' (hunger, love, curiosity);
pressure', pleasant or unpleasant; and 'alcohol-content': toxic, i.e.
aggressive-defensive, or soothing and cathartic.

C. Relief A woman whose son has been reported by the War Office
as missing suddenly sees him walking into her room, safe and sound.
Again the first reaction is shock and rigidity; then she flings herself
into his arms, alternately laughing and weeping.

Obviously there are two processes involved here. The first is the
sudden, dramatic relief from anxiety; the other an overwhelming joy,
love, tenderness. Some writers on the subject are apt to confuse these
two reactions to regard all joyous emotion as due to relief from
anxious tension. But clearly a tender reaction would be expected in
any case from the mother on her son's return even if he were merely
returning from a day at school, and there had been no previous
anxiety. Vice versa, relief from anxiety in itself, though always
pleasant, does not create tender feelings overflowing in tears. What
happened in the present case is that the agony the woman endured had
increased the intensity of her yearning and love; and that relief from
anxiety had increased out of all proportion the gratification she



THE LOGIC OP THE MOIST EYE



277



would have felt on his return after an absence under normal circum-
stances.

Let me be a little more explicit for the situation has, as we shall
see, a direct bearing on the emotional reactions induced by works of
dramatic art. The mother's sudden relief from anxiety could be ver-
balized as 'thank God you are not dead'. Up to that moment she had
tried to control her fears, to banish from consciousness the terrible
images of what may have been happening to her boy. Now she can
let herself go, allow her emotions a free outlet. Hence the manic dis-
play of hugging, bustling, laughing, calling in the neighbours, and
upsetting the tea kettle: she is working off the adrenalin of all that
pent-up and suddenly released anxiety. But in the middle of these
hectic activities there are moments when she glances at the embarrassed
prodigal with a kind of incredulous, rapt expression and her eyes again
overflow with soothing, peaceful tears. The alternation and over-
lapping of the two patterns one eruptive and agitated, the other
gradual and cathartic indicate the now familiar two processes and
the nature of the emotions acted out.

These become even more evident in exclamations such as 'How silly
of me to cry', followed by more bustling and merriment. The unex-
pected return of the boy was like a the 'bolt out of the blue* which cut
short the tense narrative of her anxious fantasies; the tension has sud-
denly become redundant, and is disowned by reason. At other moments
she is still unable 'to believe her eyes' and emotion wells up again. This
may even include some unconscious resentment against the cause of so
much needless worry, who stands in her room, sunburnt and grinning,
unaware of the suffering he has caused: "What a fool I have been to
worry so much* may be translated as 'What a fool you have made of me*.

'Laughing through one's tears' is caused by quickly oscillating mental
states, where reason and emotion are alternately united and dissociated.
A sudden shock which demands a major emotional readjustment is
often followed by such oscilatory phases in which the subject alter-
nately believes and disbelieves her eyes, until a full grasp of reality is
reached on all levels. If instead of the happy ending, there had been a
tragic one a telegram informing the woman of her boy's death then,
instead of disbelieving her eyes, she would have been tempted to dis-
believe the news; and while the happy mother behaves at moments as
if the boy were still in danger, the bereaved mother may behave at
times as if he were still alive. In the former case, the successive flashes of
reality which disrupt the web of illusion bring happy relief; in the



278



THE ACT OF CREATION



latter, each flash brings renewed despair. A person with psychotic
dispositions may, however, cling to the illusion, and it will be the
matrix of reality which disintegrates instead. The 'hollow' laughter in
certain forms of insanity seems to echo the effort of reversing the pro-
cess of adjustment the effort of going mad in the teeth of a world that
is sane.

In the milder forms of paranoia induced by the stage and screen,
the oscillations between illusion and reality are deliberately created and
prolonged. The cathartic effect of the antique mysteries and of the
modern drama alike are derived from man's unique faculty of believ-
ing and disbelieving his eyes in the same blink.

D. When a woman weeps in sympathy with another persons sorrow
(or joy), she partially identifies herself with that person by an act of
projection, introjecrion, or empathy whatever you like to call it. The
same is true when the 'other person 9 is a heroine on the screen or in the
pages of a novel. But it is essential to distinguish here between two
emotional processes although they are experienced simultaneously
and mixed together.

The first is the act of identification itself the fact that the subject
has for the moment more or less forgotten her own existence and par-
ticipates in the existence of another, at another place and time. This in
itself is a self-transcending, gratifying and 'ennobling' experience for
the simple reason that while it lasts, the subject, Mrs. Smith, is pre-
vented from thinking of her own anxieties, ambitions, and grudges
against Mr. Smith. In other words, the act of identification tem-
porarily inhibits the self-asserting tendencies.

The second process is mediated by the first: the act of identification
leads to the experiencing of vicarious emotions. When Mrs. Smith is
'sharing Mrs. Brown's sorrow* there is in the first place the sharing,
and in the second, the sorrow. The first is an unselfish participatory
experience which makes her feel 'good' in the literal, not in the
cheap sense (when self-congratulatory or gloating sentiments are
present, there is no true identification). The second is the sorrow a
vicarious experience, but genuinely felt. It may of course be joy or
anxiety instead. The tears of Mrs. Smith at the happy ending when the
lovers on the screen are reunited or the baby's life is saved in the nick
of time, are released by the same process as the tears of the woman
whose son has suddenly returned: relief from anxiety, and a hot surge
of joy.



THE tOGIC OF THE MOIST EYE



279



The anxiety which grips the spectator of a thr&er-film, though
vicarious, is nevertheless real; it is reflected in the familiar physical
symptoms palpitations, tensed muscles, sudden jumps' of alarm.
The same applies to the anger felt at the machinations of the perfidious
villain on the screen, whom Mexican audiences have been known to
riddle with bullets. This leads us to an apparent paradox which is
basic to the understanding of all dramatic art forms. We have seen
that on the one hand the self-transcending emotionsparticipation,
projection, identification inhibit the self-asserting tendencies: they
soothe, calm, eliminate worry and desire, purge body and mind of its
tensions. On the other hand, the act of self-transcending identification
may stimulate the surge of anger, fear, cruelty, which, although ex-
perienced on behalf of somebody else, nevertheless belong to the sel-
assertive, aggressive-defensive class and display all their bodily symp-
toms. The mother's bustling, laughter, agitation on her son s return,
shows the classic 'adreno-toxk' pattern, characteristic of the self-
assertive emotions although her anxiety was centred not on herself,
but experienced on behalf of her son. Anger, fear, and the related
'emergency-reactions' use the same physiological mechanism whether
the threat is directed at one's own person, or the person with whom
one has identified oneself. They are always 'self-assertive' although
the 'self' has momentarily changed its address by being, for instance,
projected into the handsome and guileless heroine on the screen.
Righteous indignation about injustices inflicted on others can generate
behaviour just as fanatical as the sting of a personal insult. Self-sacri-
ficing devotion to a creed bred ruthless inquisitors 'the worst of
madmen is a saint run mad'.

The glory and the tragedy of the human condition are closely
related to the fact that under certain circumstances the participatory
tendencies may serve as mediators or vehicles for emotions belonging
to the opposite class; whereas under different circumstances the two
tendencies counteract and harmoniously balance each other. We shall
return to this subject, from a different angle, in the next section; but
let me note in passing that the preceding remarks on the various ways
in which the two tendencies interact on the psychological level are
again in keeping with the facts (as far as known) about the different
modes of interaction between the two divisions of the autonomous
nervous system, which may be antagonistic, compensatory, cathartic,
or catalytic, according to conditions. 2



280



THE ACT OF CREATION



E. Self-Pity. A litdy boy is beaten up by a gang of bullies. For a while
he tries to fight back, to hit, scratch, and kick, but his tormentors
immobilize him, and at last he begins to cry in 'impotent rage\

But the expression is misleading. Anybody who has watched child-
ren fight knows that weeping will start only after the victim has given
up struggling and wriggling and accepted defeat. After a while new
outbursts of rage may renew the struggle, but, each time this happens,
weeping is interrupted. It is not an expression of rage (although the
two may overlap) but an expression of helplessness after rage has been
exhausted and a feeling of being abandoned has set in a yearning for
love, sympathy, consolation. In other words, the tears once more
signify a frustration of the participatory emotions; and if no sym-
pathy is formcoming, self-pity will provide a substitute a mild dis-
sociation of the personality, in which the self is experienced almost
as an alien object of loving commiseration.

Similar considerations apply to so-called 'crying in pain*. In states of
violent physical pain, as in acute states of rage, the organism is fully
occupied coping with the emergency and has no time for tears.

'Great pain', wrote Darwin, 'urges all animals, and has urged them
during endless generations, to make the most violent and diversi-
fied efforts to escape from the cause of sufferings. Even when a limb
or other separate part of the body is hurt, we often see a tendency to
shake it as if to shake off the cause, though this obviously be im-
possible. Thus a habit of exerting with the utmost force all the
muscles will have been established whenever great suffering is
experienced.' 8

Camion has shown that the Bodily Changes in Pain, Hunger, Fear, and
Rage (the title of his classic work) all follow the same basic pattern,
that they are emergency responses of the sympathico-adrenal system.
Violent pain seems to be experienced by the unconscious mind as an
aggression, whether it is inflicted by an outside agent or not. When
the aggressor is a tooth or a cramp in the stomach we are apt to say 'it
hurts', as if the offending organ were not part of oneself and we try
to shake the aggressor off, as animals do, by writhing, or pressing
against it. Only when the pain has abated to a tolerably steady, 'dull'
level do we accept it as part of ourselves we 'have' a headache or 'are'
under the weather at the same time admitting that nothing can be
done about it; writhing and struggling cease in the admission of defeat,



THE LOGIC OF THE MOIST EYE



28l



as in the case of the child in the grip of its tormentors. * Weeping in
pain* starts only when the specific pain-behaviour stops, as 'weeping
with rage* starts when rage-behaviour stops, and for precisely the
same reasons: it is an abandoning of defences, an expression of help-
lessness, a craving for sympathy, and if accompanied by vocal cries
an appeal for help.

Another misconception is that children 'cry with fear', if crying' is
used as a synonym for weeping. A child may cry out, in the literal
sense, when suddenly frightened; it may run away, and if it cannot,
strain away from the threatening apparition, lift his hands in protec-
tion, and distort his face into a mask of terror. Once more, the tears
will come only after the acute fright and the specific strained fright-
reactions have ceased; they do not mean 'I am frightened* but 1 was
so frightened, and maybe still am a little, and now I want to be
comforted.'

Consider what happens when a little boy, running along a gravel
path, suddenly stumbles and falls. The fright-reaction consists in the
protective outstretching of hands, and related muscle-reflexes. Once the
contact with the earth is made and the first shock overcome, the acute
scare ebbs away, the muscles relax in surrender, the facial expression
changes from fear to the sympathy-begging grimace of incipient
weeping. If there is no witness to the drama, self-pity will again pro-
vide the overflow. If it is witnessed by the mother, who makes a fuss
and betrays her anxiety, this will increase the child's craving for tender-
ness and its tears will ask for more. If, on the other hand, she gently
but firmly debunks the drama, then, after a moment of puzzlement,
the child may break into rather hesitant laughter the residue of the
scare, and even the slight pain, are denied by reason and worked off,
while at the same time the sympathy-craving emotions are nipped in
the bud by the mother's matter-of-fact attitude.

Lasdy, 'crying in hunger'. A baby never weeps from hunger it
cries to signal hunger. The proof is that crying instantaneously stops
when the botde or breast is offered, before hunger can have ceased;
furthermore, once the child is weaned from breast and bottle, hunger
ceases to be expressed by crying or weeping. 4

Needless to say, when a baby cries to attract attention, to signal that
it is hungry or in distress, if often breaks into tears at the same time.
Yet in such situations we say 'the baby is crying', not *the baby is
weeping*, because the essence of the performance is the vocal protest
or appeal for help; the shedding of tears is merely an accompaniment.



282



THE ACT OF CREATION



The baby's bawling, kicking, and tossing is a typical and impressive
emergency-reaction in 'pain, hunger, fear, and rage' of a dramatically
self-asserting kind. The simultaneous overflow of the tear-glands may
be 'genuine' weeping longing for affection and tenderness as an
accompaniment to the bawling; it may also be due to physiological
causes. Watering of the eyes can be induced as a purely physiological
defence reflex against the intrusion of a foreign body a piece of grit
or the molecules which carry the smell of onions. (Lachrymation caused
by such local irritation is, by the way, unilateral it occurs initially in
the affected eye only). 5 It can also be caused by coughing, sneezing,
vomiting, and after prolonged fits of laughter. The physiological
mechanism is still somewhat obscure, except that all these violent
exertions affect the mucous membranes of the nose and throat, and
tend to dry them; the lachrymal glands may have the function of
restoring lubrication through tears entering the nose. 6 When one
sees a baby cry its head off with dry eyes until it gets hoarse, one in-
tuitively feels that tears would be a relief both psychologically and
physiologically. The same applies to adults in situations of extreme
distress.

Home they brought the warrior dead;
She nor swooned nor uttered cry.
All her maidens, watching said,
'She must weep or she will die'.

(Tennyson, The Princess)

Lastly, weeping may start in the child as a genuine, spontaneous
overflow-reflex, but once the power of tears has been consciously or
unconsciously recognized, the flow may be initiated automatically,
or even voluntarily, as a weapon more subde and more effective than
mere cries of complaint or protest.* 'We seem to acquire specific
visceral habits just as we pick up characteristic verbal and manual
habits,' Kling has remarked, 7 and we ought to include in 'visceral
habits* the exercise of the lachrymal glands. Weeping may be re-
cruited into the service of hysteria, emotional blackmail, and even
courtly behaviour (as a proof of sensibility less strenuous than swoon-
ing) ; it may be associated with convulsions, shrieks, and agitated display;
but its true character is manifested by the person who weeps alone
helpless in her surrender to an emotion which, by its nature, can find
no other outlet, whether it is caused by the thunder of a church organ,
or the fall of a sparrow.



NOTES



To p. 271. So scant arc the references of any significance to the subject in
the technical literature, that I thought it would be useful to future students to
list what I could find under a separate heading at the end of the bibliography.
My indebtedness to those who helped in this is acknowledged in the Preface.

To p. 273. Romain Rolland describing the character of religious experience
in a letter to Freud who regretfully professed never to have felt anything of the
sort.

To p. 274. "The characteristic anatomical organization of the parasym-
pathetic is correlated with absence of unitary action in this system. It is not sur-
prising therefore that the adrenal medulla ... has no counterpart in the para-
sympathetic system, and that no parasympathomimetic hormone capable of
acting extensively upon organs innervated by this system is liberated in the body.'
(Madeod, ed. Bard, 1941 ed.) *. . . In contrast to the sympathomimetic hormones,
the vagus substance is rapidly destroyed, and therefore produces very localized
response. These effects are in line with the general behaviour of the sympathetic
and parasympathetic systems of nerves.' (White and Smithwick, 1941, 2nd. ed.)

'AH the viscera can be influenced simultaneously in one direction or the other
by varying, up or down, the . . . tonic activity of the sympathetic division. And
any special viscus can be separately influenced ... by varying ... the tonic
activity of the special nerve of the opposed cranial or sacral [parasympathetic]
division. . . . The sympathetic is like the loud and soft pedals, modulating all the
notes together; the cranial and sacral [parasympathetic] innervations are like the
separate keys.* (Cannon, 1929, 2nd. ed.)

In the years since this has been written the significance for psychology of the
anatomical and physiological contrast between the two branches of the auto-
nomic nervous system has become more evident, to the extent that 'rage is
called the most adrenergic, and love the most cholinergic reaction' (Cobb, 1950).
A further correspondence between patterns of emotive behaviour and modes of
interaction between the two branches of the autonomic nervous system emerged
when it was shown that the vagoinsulin system may act, in different circum-
stances, as an inhibitory or a catalytic agent in the glucose-utilization process
and may also produce overcompensatory after effects (Gellhom, 1943, and 1957).
Hebb (1949) suggested that a distinction should be made between two categories
of emotions, 'those in which the tendency is to maintain or increase the original
stimulating conditions (pleasurable or integrative emotions)* and 'those in which
the tendency is to abolish or decrease the stimulus (rage, fear, disgust)*. Whereas
the latter have a disruptive effect on cortical behaviour, the former have not. A
few years later, Olds (1959 and i960) and others demonstrated the existence of
'positive' and '.negative' emotive systems by electric stimulation, and further
showed that they were activated respectively by the parasympathetic and sym-
pathetic centres in the hypothalamus.

These hints all seem to point in the same direction, but in fairness to the
general reader I ought to point out that, while there is ample experimental
proof that the hunger-rage-fear emotions are mediated by the sympathico-
adrenal division, there is no direct evidence for the symmetrical correlation pro-
posed here. Such proof can be forthcoming only when emotions outside the
hunger-rage-fcar class will be recognized as a worthwhile object of study by ex-
periment! d psychology which at present is not the case.

283



284



THE ACT OP CREATION



To p. 282. A psychoanalyst friend of mine, after reading the manuscript of
the preceding section* objected that his patients frequently weep during the
analytical hour 'in anger and frustration*. But he agreed that anger alone would
not have produced the tears, and that the frustration was due, metaphorically
speaking, to the analyst's refusal *to give the patient the breast and sing a lullaby*.



XIII



PARTNESS AND WHOLENESS

Stepchildren of Psychology

The self-txanscending emotions* are the stepchildren of con-
temporary psychology. One of the reasons is perhaps that they
do not tend towards observable muscular activity but towards
quietude; grief) longing, worship, raptness, aesthetic pleasure are
emotions consummated not in overt but in internalized, visceral be-
haviour, with weeping as its extreme manifestation. But even the
shedding of tears is not so much an activity but rather a 'passivity*.

The word 'emotion* is derived from 'motion*; and an emotion
which tends to calm down motion seems to be a contradiction in
terms. Yet the aesthetic or religious experiences which we call 'moving'
are precisely those which induce passive contemplation, silent en-
joyment. When the experimental psychologist talks of 'emotive be-
haviour', however, he nearly always refers to rage, fear, sex, and
hunger, whereas emotions which do not beget overt activity are
slurred over as 'moods* or sentiments with the implication that they
are a suspect category of pseudo-emotions unworthy of the scientist's
attention. This is probably a hangover of the great ideological currents
of the nineteenth century stressing the biological struggle for existence,
the survival of the fittest, the acquisitive and competitive aspects of
social behaviour. The ambiance of this 'Darwinistic psychology* is
reflected in passages like the following, from Crile's The Origin and
Nature of the Emotions, published in 1915:

When the business man is conducting a struggle for existence
against his rivals, and when the contest is at its height, he may
clench his fists, pound the table, perhaps show his teeth, and exhibit
every expression of physical combat. Fixing the jaw and showing
the teeth in anger merely emphasize the remarkable tenacity of
philogeny . . .

285



286



THE ACT OF CREATION



It must be admitted, though, that the social climate of the nineteenth
century did not favour the contemplative life, nor the arousal of
genuine self-transcending emotions. The Victorian versions of religion,
patriotism, and love were so thoroughly impregnated with prudery
and hypocrisy that the experimental psychologist, devoted to measur-
ing sensory threshholds and muscle twitches could hardly be expected
to take such attitudes seriously, and to put them on a par with die sex
and hunger drives. Around the turn of the century, the so-called James-
Lange theory of emotions emphasized the importance of visceral pro-
cesses, but it was nevertheless taken for granted that the 'true* or 'major'
emotions were characterized by impulses to muscular action mainly
to hit, run, or rape. "When Cannon showed that hunger, pain, rage, and
fear were, so to speak, variations on a single theme, it was tacidy taken
for granted that all emotions worthy of that name were of the active,
adreno-toxic, hit-run-mate-devour kind. Laughter and tears, awe and
wonder, religious and aesthetic feeling, the whole 'violet' side of the
rainbow of emotions was left to the poets to worry about; the so-
called behavioural sciences had no room for them. Hence the paucity
of the literature on weeping for instance although it is certainly an
observable behavioural phenomenon.

The emotions of the neglected half of the spectrum are as real as
rage and fear; that much we know for certain from everyday ex-
perience. The theory which I have proposed assumes that they form
a class, characterized by certain shared basic features. These are pardy
negative: the absence of adreno-sympathetic excitation alone puts
them in a category apart from the emergency responses. On the
positive side, emotional states as different as mourning and aesthetic
enchantment share the logic of the moist eye: they are passive, cathar-
tic, dominated by parasympathetic reactions. From the psycholo-
gical point of view, the selasserting emotions, derived from
emergency reactions, involve a narrowing of consciousness; the partici-
patory emotions an expanison of consciousness by identiflcatory
processes of various kinds.

There exist, however, considerations of a more precise and at the
same time, more general nature on which this theory of the emotions
is based. These arc discussed in Book Two, but I must briefly allude to
them. In that wider context, the polarity between the self-asserting and
participatory tendencies turns out to be merely a particular instance of
a general phenomenon: namely, that every member of a living organ-
ism or social body has the dual attributes of'wholeness' and partness'. It



FASTNESS AND WHOLENESS



287



acts as an autonomous, self-governing whole on its own subordinate
parts on lower levels of the organic or social hierarchy; but it is sub-
servient to the co-ordinating centre on the next higher leveL In other
words it displays both self-assertive and participatory tendencies.

The Concept of Hierarchy

The word 'hierarchy* is used here in a special sense. It does not mean
simply * order of rank' (as in the pecking hierarchy' of the farmyard);
it means a special type of organization (such as a military hierarchy) in
which the overall control is centralized at the apex of a kind of genea-
logical tree, which branches out downward. At the first branching-out,
the commanders of the land-, sea-, and air-forces would correspond to
the co-ordinating centres of, say, the digestive, respiratory, and re-
productive organ-systems; each of these is subdivided into units or
organs on lower levels of the hierarchy with their own co-ordinating
centres, C.O.S and N.C.O.s; the organs in turn are subdivided into
organ-parts; and so the branching-process goes on down to the
cellular level and beyond.

But each sub-organization, regardless on what level, retains a
certain amount of autonomy or self-government. "Without this dele-
gation of powers the organization could not function effectively: the
supreme commander cannot deal with individual privates; he must
transmit strategical orders through 'regulation channels*, which at
each level are translated into tactical and sub-tactical moves. In the
same way, information on what is happening in the various fields of
operation (the sensory input) is selectively filtered on each level before
being transmitted to the higher echelons. A living organism or social
body is not an aggregation of elementary parts or elementary processes;
it is an integrated hierarchy of semi-autonomous sub-wholes, consist-
ing of sub-sub-wholes, and so on. Thus the functional units on every
level of the hierarchy are double-faced as it were: they act as wholes
when facing downwards, as parts when facing upwards.

On the upper limit of the organic hierarchy, we find the same
double-aspect: the individual animal or man is a whole relative to the
parts of his body, but a part relative to the social organization to which
he belongs. All advanced forms of social organization are again
hierarchic: the individual is part of the family, which is part of the
clan, which is part of the tribe, etc.; but instead of 'part* we ought



288



THE ACT OF CREATION



in each case to say 'sub-whole* to convey the semi-autonomous
character and self-assertive tendency of each functional unit.

In the living organism, too, each part must assert its individuality,
for otherwise the organism would lose its articulation and efficiency
but at the same time the part must remain subordinate to the demands
of the whole. Let me give a few examples. The heart as an organ
enjoys, of course, an advanced form of self-government: it has its own
pacemakers' which regulate its rhythm; if one is knocked out a second
automatically takes over. But the kidneys, intestines, and stomach
also have their autonomous, self-regulating devices. Muscles, even
single muscle cells, isolated from the body, will contract in response to
appropriate stimulation. Any strip of tissue from an animal's heart will
go on beating in vitro in its own, intrinsic rhythm. Each of these organs
and organ-parts has a degree of self-sufficiency, a specific rhythm or
pattern of activity, governed by a built-in, organic 'code'. Even a
single cell has its organelles' which independendy look after its
growth, motion, reproduction, communication, energy-supply, etc.;
each according to its own sub-code of more or less fixed 'rules of the
game*. On the other hand, of course, these autonomous action-
patterns of the part are activated, inhibited or modified by controls on
higher levels of the hierarchy. The pacemaker-system of the heart, for
instance, is controlled by the autonomous nervous system and by
hormones; these in turn depend on orders from centres in the brain.
Generally speaking, each organ-matrix (e.g. a cell-organelle) has its
mtrinsic code which determines the fixed, invariant pattern of its
functioning; but it is at the same time a member of a matrix on a
higher level (e.g. the cell), which in turn is a member of an organ or
tissue, and so forth. Thus the two complementary pairs: matrix and
code, self-asserting and participatory tendencies, are both derived from
the hierarchic structure of organic life.

Complex skilk, too, have a hierarchic structure. However much
you try to disguise your handwriting, the expert will find you out by
some characteristic way of forming or connecting certain groups of
letters the pattern has become an automatized and autonomous
functional sub-whole which asserts itself against attempts of conscious
interference. People whose right hand has been injured and who learn
to write with the left soon develop a signature which is indistinguish-
able from the previous right-handed one 'the signature is in the brain',
as a neurologist has said. 1 Again, touch-typing is a hierarchically
ordered skill, where the 'letter habits' (finding the right key without



PABTNESS AND WHOLENESS



looking) enter as members into 'word-habits* (automatized move-
ment-sequences, each with a 'feel* of its own, which are triggered off
as wholes, c Book Two, XEE). Ask a skilled typist to misspell the
word 'the' as *hte* each time it occurs and watch how the code of the
correct sequence asserts its autonomy. Functional habits must have
some kind of structural representation in the neuron-matrices of the
brain; and these patterned circuits must be hierarchically organized
as organ-systems are to account for such complex and flexible skills
as, for instance, transposing a tune from one key into another.

Under normal conditions, the various parts of an organism nerves,
viscera, limbs perform their semi-autonomous functions as sub-
wholes, while at the same time submitting to the regulative control
of the higher centres. But under conditions of stress the part called on
to cope with the disturbance may become over-excited and get 'out of
control*. The same may happen if the organism's powers of control
are impairedby senescence, for instance, or by a physiological block-
age. In both cases the self-assertive tendencies of the part, isolated and
released from the restraining influence of the whole, will express them-
selves in deleterious ways; these range from the remorseless prolifera-
tion of cancer cells to the obsessions and delusions, beyond rational
control, in mental disorder (cf. Book Two, m, IV).

The single individual represents the top-level of the organismic
hierarchy and at the same time the lowest unit of the social hierarchy.
It is on this boundary line between physiological and social organiza-
tion that the two antagonistic tendencies, which are at work on every
level, even in a single cell, manifest themselves in the form of 'emotive
behaviour'. Under normal conditions the self-asserting tendencies of
the individual are dynamically balanced by his dependence on and
participation in the life of the community to which he belongs. In the
body social physiological controls are of course superseded by institu-
tional controls, which restrain, stimulate, or modify the autonomous
patterns of activity of its social sub-wholes on all levels, down to the
individual. When tensions arise, or control is impaired, a social 'organ*
(the barons, or the military, or the miners) may get over-excited and
out of control; the individual, for the same reasons, may give un-
restrained expression to rage, panic, or lust, and cease to obey the rules
of the game imposed by the social whole of which he is part.

The participatory tendencies are as firmly anchored in the organic
hierarchy as are their opponents. From the genetic point of view, the
duality is reflected in the complementary processes of difFerentiation



200



THE ACT OF CREATION



of structure and integration of function. We may extend the scope of
the inquiry even further downward, from animal to vegetable and
mineral, and discover analogous pairs of self-asserting and partici-
patory forces in inanimate nature. From the particles in an atom to
the planets circling the sun, we find relatively stable dynamic systems,
in which the disruptive, centrifugal forces are balanced by binding
forces which hold the system together as a whole. The metaphors we
commonly use reflect an intuitive awareness that the pairs of opposites
on various levels form a continuous series: when in rage, 'we fly off at
a tangent' as if carried away by a centrifugal force; and contrariwise, we
speak of social 'cohesion', personal 'affinities', and the 'attraction
exerted by an idea. These are no more than analogies; the 'attraction'
between two people of opposite sex does not obey the inverse square
law and is by no means proportionate to their mass; yet it remains
nevertheless true that on every level of the evolutionary hierarchy
stability is maintained by the equilibration of forces pulling in opposite
directions: centrifugal and centripetal, the former asserting the part's
independence, autonomy, individuaHty, the second keeping it in its
place as a dependent part in the whole. Kepler kept affirming that his
comparison between the moving force that emanates from the sun
and the Holy Ghost was more than an analogy; the cohesion between
the free-floating bodies in the solar system must have a divine cause.
Newton himself toyed with similar ideas.*

I must apologize for the seemingly sweeping generalizations in the
preceding section; the reader will find them substantiated in some detail
in the biological chapters of Book Two. For the time being, I only
meant to give some indication of the broader theoretical considerations
on which the proposed classification of emotions is based namely,
that 'part-behaviour 9 and 'whole-behaviour' are opposite tendencies in
dynamic equilibrium on every level of a living organism, and can be
extrapolated by way of analogy, both upwards into the hierarchies of
the body social, and downward into stable anorganic systems.

Such an approach does not imply any philosophical dualism; it is in
fact no more dualistic than Newton's law of action and reaction, or the
conventional method of 'thinking in opposites'. The choice of 'ultimate*
and 'irreducible' principles (such as Freud's Eros and Tanatos) is always
largely a matter of taste; partness* and 'wholeness' recommend them-
selves as a serviceable pair of complementary concepts because they are
derived from the ubiquitously hierarchic organization of all living
matter. They also enable us to discuss the basic features of biological,



PARTNESS AND WHOLENESS



291



social, and mental evolution in uniform terms as the emergence of more
differentiated and specialized structures, balanced by more complex
and delicate integrations of function.

Lastly, increased complexity means increased risks of breakdowns,
which can only be repaired by processes of the regenerative, reenter-
pour-mieux-sauter type that I have mentioned before and which will
occupy us again. I shall try to show that seen in the light of the relation
of part to whole, these processes assume a new significance as aids to
the understanding of the creative mind.

NOTES

To p. 285. I am using 'self-transcending emotions' as a short-hand expres-
sion for * emotional states in which the self-transcending tendencies dominate'.

To p. 2$o. In the only excursion into science fiction of which I am guilty, I
made a visiting maiden from an alien planet explain the basic doctrine of its
quasi-Kcplerian religion:

\ . . "We worship gravitation. It is the only force which does not travel
through space in a rush; it is everywhere in repose. It keeps the stars in their
orbits and our feet on our earth. It is Nature's fear of loneliness, the earth's
longing for the moon; it is love in its pure, inorganic form.* {Twilight Bar, 1945.)



XIV

ON ISLANDS AND WATERWAYS



In the chapter on the 'Logic of the Moist Eye* I have discussed
weeping as a manifestation of frustrated participatory emotions.
Let me now briefly consider the normal manifestations of this
class of emotions in childhood and adult life.

As Freud, Piaget, and others have shown, the very young child does
not differentiate between ego and environment. The mother's breast
seems to it a more intimate possession than the toes on its own body.
It is aware of events, but not for a long time of itself as a separate
entity. It lives in a state of mental symbiosis with the outer world, a
continuation of the biological symbiosis in the womb, a state which
Piaget calls 'protoplasmic consciousness'. 1 The universe is focussed
on the self, and the self is the universe; the outer environment is only
a kind of second womb.

From this original state of protoplasmic or symbiotic consciousness,
the development towards autonomous individuation is slow, gradual,
and will never be entirely completed. The initial state of consciousness
may be likened to a liquid, fluid universe traversed by dynamic currents,
by the rhythmic rise and fall of physiological needs, causing minor
storms which come and go without leaving any solid traces. Gradually
the floods recede and the first islands of objective reality emerge; their
contours grow firmer and sharper and are set off against the undifferen-
tiated flux. The islands are followed by continents, the dry territories
of reality are mapped out; but side by side with them the liquid world
co-exists, surrounding it, interpenetrating it by canals and inland
lakes, the relics of the erstwhile oceanic communion. In the words of
Freud:

Originally the ego includes everything, later it detaches from
itself the external world. The ego-feeling we are aware of now is
292



ON ISLANDS AND WATERWAYS



293



thus only a shrunken vestige of a far more extensive feelinga
feeling which embraced the universe and expressed an inseparable
connection of the ego with the external world. If we may suppose
that this primary ego-feeling has been preserved in the minds of
many people, to a greater or lesser extent, it would co-exist like a
sort of counterpart with the narrower and more sharply outlined
ego-feeling of maturity, and the ideational content belonging to it
would be precisely the notion of limitless extension and oneness with
the universe. 2

It is this 'oceanic feeling' which mystics and artists strive to recapture
on a higher level of development at a higher turn of the spiral.

Until the end of the second or third year, while the separation of ego
and non-ego is as yet incomplete, the child tends to confuse the sub-
jective and the objective, dream and reality, the perceived and the
imagined, its thoughts and the things thought about. Children and
primitives not only believe in the magical transformations which occur
in myths and fairy tales, but also believe themselves capable of per-
forming them. The child at play becomes at will transformed into a
horse, tie doctor, a burglar, or a locomotive. Some primitives believe
that they change at night into certain animals; if the animal is killed,
they have to die. Magic causation precedes physical causation; to wish
for an event is almost the same as producing it; children are great
believers in the omnipotence of thought. As thought becomes in-
creasingly centred in verbal and visual symbols, these become in-
struments of wishful evocation of word-magic and symbol-magic.

This erstwhile method of establishing magic connections between
events regardless of distance in space, succession in time, or physical
intermediaries, is a basic feature of primitive, but also of some highly
developed societies, particularly in the East. Levy-Bruhl an anthro-
pologist now somewhat out of fashion who greatly influenced Freud,
Piaget, and Jung had called this phenomenon participation mystique
or the 'Law of Participation'. 3 It is reflected in innumerable rites and
observances; in the individual's experience of a quasi-symbiotic com-
munion between himself, his tribe, and his totem; between a man and
his name, a man and his portrait, a man and his shadow; between the
deity and its symbol; between a desired event rain, or a successful
hunt and its symbolic enactment in dance, ritual play, or pictorial
representation. Here is the ancient, unitary source out of which the
dance and the song, the mystery plays of the Achaens, the calendars of



294



THE ACT OF CREATION



the Babylonian priest-astronomers, and the cave-paintings of Altaniira
were to branch out later on a magic source which, however great the
distance travelled, still provides artist and explorer with his basic
nourishment.

At an even earlier stage of social evolution, magic participation
could be achieved by still more direct methods: the physical prowess
of animals, the courage and wisdom of other men, the body and blood
of the sacrificed god, could be acquired and shared by the simple
means of eating them.* The sacrament of Holy Communion reflects,
in a symbolic and sublimated form, the ecstasies of the Dionysian and
Orphic mystery-rites: the devouring of the torn god. The partici-
patory magic of trans-substantiation operates here not only between
the communicant and his god, but also between all those who have
partaken in the rite, and incorporated the same substance into them-
selves. A ghastly degeneration of this ritual was revealed when the cir-
cumstances of taking the Mau-Mau oath became known. A more
harmless form of it is the 'blood-brother ceremony among Arab
tribes, performed by drinking a few drops of the elected brother's
blood; a socially valuable survival of it are the rites of conviviality
from the symbolic sharing of bread and salt, to the ceremonial ban-
queting of the Chevaliers du Taste-Vin. The emotions derived from
the feeding-drive seem to be of the purely self-assertive type; in fact,
commensality, with its archetypal echoes, invests them with a more
or less pronounced participatory character.

The progress from the historically earlier, or infantile forms of
symbiotic consciousness towards voluntary self-transcendence through
artistic, religious or social communion, reflects the sublimation of the
participatory tendencies emerging at the other end of the tunnel,
as it were. Needless to say, the culture in which we live is not very
favourable to this progress; the majority of our contemporaries never
emerge from the tunnel, and get only occasional mtimations of a
distant pinpoint of light The forces which effect the gradual replace-
ment of the child's subjective by objective reality arise through con-
tinuous friction between self and environment. Hard facts emerge
because objects are hard, and hurt if one bangs against them; wishes do
not displace mountains, not even rocking horses. A second type of
friction, between the self and other selves, drives home the fact that
these latter too exist in their own right. Biological communion with
the mother is dissolved by a succession of separative acts: expulsion
from the womb, weaning from the breast, the cessation of fondling



ON ISLANDS AND WATERWAYS



29$



and petting, Western man's 'taboo on tenderness*. Things and people
wage a continuous war of attrition on the magic forms of participation
until the floods recede, and the waterways dry up. Symbiotic con-
sciousness wanes with maturation, as it must; but modern education
provides hardly any stimuli for awakening cosmic consciousness to
replace it. The child is taught petitionary prayer instead of meditation,
religious dogma instead of contemplation of the infinite; the mysteries
of nature are drummed into his head as if they were paragraphs in the
penal code. In tribal societies puberty is a signal for solemn and severe
initiation rites, to impress upon the individual his collective ties, before
he is accepted as a part in the social whole. Vestiges of these rites still
survive in institutions such as the Church and the Army; yet the
majority of individuals take their place in the body social not by a
process of integration, but as a result of random circumstances and
pressures. The romantic bursts of enthusiasm in adolescence are like a
last, euphoric flicker of the self-transcending emotions before they
submit to atrophy and begin to shrivel away.

But they are never completely defeated. For one thing, the attritive
forces of the social environment affect different strata of the personality
in different ways. The most affected are the conscious, rational surface-
layers directly exposed to contact; whereas the non-socialized, non-
verbalized strata become the natural refuge of the thwarted partici-
patory tendencies. The more remote from the surface, the less sharp
the boundaries between the self and non-self; in those depths the sym-
biotic channels still remain navigable in the dream and other games of
the underground, from which mysticism, discovery, and art draw their
intuitions.

There exists, however, a whole range of more ordinary phenomena
through which the self-transcending emotions manifest themselves in
everyday life, and which I must briefly mention. The most banal of
these is perceptual projection, which does not properly belong in this
context except in so far as it demonstrates that the boundaries of the
self in our subjective experiences are not as clear-cut as we are wont to
believe. 'Projection* in this technical sense means that the processes
which take place in the retina and the brain are experienced as taking
place not where they actually do take place, but yards or miles away.
(This becomes at once obvious when one remembers that very low-
pitched sounds are experienced correctly as reverberations inside the
ear, and darling flashes, again correctly, as occurring in the retina^
Similarly, when you drive a nail into the wall you are aware, not that



296 THE ACT OF CREATION

the handle has struck your palm, but that its head has struck the nail,
as if the hammer had become part of your body. 4 These are not in-
ventions of psychologists to make the simple appear as complicated,
but examples of our tendency to confuse what happens in the self
with what happens outside it a kind of perceptual symbiosis* between
ego and environment.

Projective empathy again in a technical sense is based on a similar
confusion: an arrow drawn on paper is felt to manifest a dynamic
tendency to move (probably a consequence of our own unconscious
eye-movements); a church spire seems to 'soar* upwards, a picture has
'movement' and 'balance*, and so on. Not only motions, but emotions
too are projected from the self into lifeless objects; my car, climbing a
hill, 'groans' and 'pants* under its 'effort*; the weeping willow weeps,
the thunder growls. The tendency to animism, to project unconsciously
life and feeling into inanimate bodies, is well-nigh kresistible witness
the two millennia of Aristotelian physics; we can only conclude that
it is a basic feature of our psychic make-up.

Equally inveterate is the tendency to project our own emotions into
other living beings animals and people. The first leads to anthro-
pomorphism ascribing to our pet dogs, horses, and canaries reasoning
processes modelled on our own; the second to what one might call
'egomorphism* the illusion that others must feel on any subject
exactly as I do. A more complicated projective transaction is trans-
ference where A projects his feelings, originally aimed at B, on to a
substitute, C: a father figure, sister figure, or what have you, each
further transferable to D, E, etc. The Who's Who of the subconscious
seems to be printed with coloured inks on blotting paper.

Introjection is meant to signify the reverse of projection, though the
two phenomena are often ^distinguishable from each other.* When
somebody bangs his head on the doorpost, I wince; when a forward
in a soccer game has a favourable opportunity to shoot, I kick my
neighbour's shin. Adolescents unconsciously ape their hero's man-
nerisms; our super-egos were supposedly moulded by our parents at a
time when the self was still in a fluid state. Throughout his life, the
individual keeps introjecting chunks and patterns of other people's
existence into his own; he suffers and enjoys vicariously the emotions
of those with whom be becomes entangled in identiflcatory rapports.
Some of these personality-transactions have lasting effects; others are
more transitory, but at the same time more dramatic. Laughter and
yawning have an instantly infectious effect; so have cruelty, hysteria,



ON ISLANDS AND WATERWAYS 297

hallucinations, religious trances. In the hypnotic state 'the functions of
the ego seem to be suspended, except those which communicate with
the hypnotizer as though through a narrow slit in a screen* (Kret-
schmer); the personality of the hypnotizer has been substituted for the
dormant parts of the ego; the 'slit* acts as a gap in the frontier between
the self and non-self, letting in the contraband.

Freud, though disappointed at an early stage with hypno-therapy,
kept stressing the affinities between hypnosis and love on die one hand,
hypnosis and mass-behaviour on the other. In states of extreme en-
amouredness (the German technical term is Horigkeit bondage,
servitude, subjection) its object replaces the super-ego or the hypno-
tist. The poetry or pathology of the condition lies in the total
fascination of the bondsman by the bond, an attenuated but protracted
variant of the hypnotic rapport. Awareness is focussed on the object of
worship, the rest of the world is blurred or screened. The perfect symbol
of the hypnotic effect is in Stendhal's Charterhouse of Parma: young Fab-
rice, in his prison cell, stares for hours on end through a narrow slit in the
screen covering his window, at the figure of Clelia across the street.

The 'hypnotic effect* of political demagogues has become a cliche,
but one aspect of mass-psychology must be briefly mentioned. The
type of crowd or mob to which Le Bon's classic descriptions still apply,
is fanatical and 'single-minded' because the subtler individual differences
between its members are temporarily suspended; the whole mass is
thus intellectually adjusted to its lowest common denominator,* but
in terms of dynamic action it has a high emcacity, because the impulses
of its members are aligned through narrow slits or blinkers all
pointing in the same direction; hence their experience of being parts
of an irresistible power. This experience of partness within a dynamic
whole leads to a temporary suspension of individual responsibility
which is replaced by unconditional subordination to the 'controlling
centre*, the leader of the crowd. It further entails the temporary
effacement of all self-assertive tendencies: the total surrender of the
individual to the collectivity is manifested in altruistic, heroic, self-
sacrificing acts and at the same time in bestial cruelty towards the
enemy or victim of the collective whole. This is a further example of
the self-transcending emotions serving as catalysts or triggers for their
opponents. But let us note that the brutality or heroism displayed by a
fanaticized crowd is quasi-impersonal, and unselfish; it is exercised in
the interest, or supposed interest, of the whole. The same S.S* detach-
ments which mowed down the whole male population of Lidice were



298



THE ACT OF CREATION



capable of dying at Oradur like the defenders of Thermopylae. The
self-assertive behaviour of a mass is based on the participatory be-
haviour of the individual, which often entails sacrifice of his personal
interest and even his life. Theories of ethics based on enlightened self-
interest fail to provide an answer why a man should sacrifice his life
in the defence of his family- not to mention country, liberty, beliefs.
The fact that men have always been prepared to die for (good, bad, or
futile) causes, proves that the self-transcending tendencies are as basic
to his mental organization as the others. And since the individual
cannot survive without some form of social integration, self-preserva-
tion itself always implies a component of self-transcendence.

Excepting saints and maniacs, our emotions nearly always consist of
mixed feelings, where both tendencies (and both branches of the
autonomous nervous system) participate in the mixture. Love, of
course, is a many-splendoured thing, both with regard to its variety
(sexual, platonic, parental, oedipal, narcissistic, patriotic, canine-
directed, or feline-oriented as the technicians would say), and also with
regard to the extraordinary cocktail of emotions which each variety
represents. Much less obvious is the fact, that even such a simple and
scientifically respectable drive as hunger should give rise to mixed
emotions. If I may return to the subject (p. 294) for a moment: on the
one hand, food is 'attacked'; it is 'wolfed'; one 'puts one's teeth into it';
biting and snapping are the very prototypes of aggression. On the
other hand, the 'feeding drive* is stimulated or inhibited by the com-
pany participating in the meal; and the sacred element in the rituals of
mensality (still surviving, for instance, in the funeral and wedding
feasts) I have already mentioned. The teeth are tools of aggression,
but tie mouth is a preferential zone of affectionate bodily contact in
billing and kissing. The German idiom 'Ich habe dick zum Fressen gerne
I love you so much I could eat you and the English 'devouring
love* are symbolized by the behaviour of young mothers mock-
devouring the baby's fingers and toes; it may be a distant echo of the
gentle cannibal. Incidentally, we are told that among certain tribes
practising ritual cannibalism, to be eaten is regarded as a great compli-
ment; perhaps the male of the praying mantis feels the same way.

Lasdy, the seemingly most altruistic social behaviour may have an
admixture of conscious or unconscious self-assertion. Professional do-
gooders, charity tigresses, hospital matrons, prison visitors, mission-
aries, and social workers are indispensable to society, and do an



ON ISLANDS AND WATERWAYS



299



admirable amount of good; to pry into their motives, often hidden
to themselves, would be ungrateful and churlish.

Sumtnary

Weeping is an overflow reflex for an excess of the participatory
emotions, as laughter is for the self-asserting emotions. Its nervous
mechanism and bodily manifestations are the opposites of those of
laughter with regard to facial expression, respiratory pattern, bodily
posture. In laughter tension is exploded, emotion denied; in weeping
it is gradually drained away without break in the continuity of mood;
thought and emotion remain united. The self-asserting emotions worked
off in laughter depend on the sympathico-adrenal system, which
galvanizes the body into activity; lachrymation is controlled by the
parasympathetic division whose action is inward-directed and cathartic.
The self-transcending emotions which overflow in tears cannot be
satisfied by any specific muscular activity; they tend towards passivity
and self-abandonment, and are consummated in glandular and visceral
reactions.

The various causes of weeping which have been discussed raptness,
weeping in sorrow, in joy, in sympathy, or in self-pity all have a
basic element in common: a craving to transcend the island boundaries
of the individual, to enter into a symbiotic communion with a human
being or some higher entity, real or imaginary, of which the self is
felt to be a part. Owing to the peculiarities of our cultural climate, the
participatory emotions have been virtually ignored by contemporary
psychology, although they are as real and observable in their mani-
festations as hunger, rage, and fear. They are grounded in the hierarchic
order of life where every entity has the dual attributes of partness and
wholeness, and the dual potentialities of behaving as an autonomous
whole or a dependent part. The classification of emotions which I
have proposed is based on this general principle of polarity, to be found
on every level of the organic and social heirarchies (cf. Book Two).
The dual concept of adaptable matrices with fixed invariant codes is
derived from the same principle.

In the development of the individual, as in the evolution of cultures,
the manifestations of the participatory tendencies show a progression,
comparable to that of the aggressive-defensive emotions from primi-
tive and infantile to adult forms. The 'symbiotic consciousness' of



THE ACT OF CREATION



infancy, with its fluid ego boundaries, is partly relegated to the sub-
conscious strata from which the artist and the mystic draw their
inspirations; partly superseded by the phenomena of projection and
introjection, empathy and identification, transference and hypnosis.
Similarly, the participatory bonds of primitive magic are gradually
transformed into symbolic rituals, mythological epics, and mystery
plays: into the magic of illusion. The shadows in Plato's cave are
symbols of mans loneliness; the paintings in the Lascaux caves are
symbols of his magic powers.

The participatory emotions, like their opposites, can be accom-
panied by feelings of pleasure or un-pleasure which form a con-
tinuous scale, and add a third dimension to emotional experience.
Lasdy, identification, in itself a seltranscending experience, can serve
as a vehicle (or trigger) for vicarious emotions of anger and fear.

NOTES

To p. 294. The point has been succinctly made by Walter de la Mare:

It's a very odd thing
As odd as can be
That whatever Miss T. eats
Turns into Miss T.

Top. 296. *In relation to the dissolution of the ego complex, identification
can receive a somewhat different interpretation according as ego-components are
projected into the outside world or as elements from the outside world are in-
corporated into the personality. In very fluid dream processes such a distinction
cannot usually be very accurately drawn; but in schizophrenia, for example, both
possibilities can be most clearly experienced/ (Kretschmer, 1954, p. 93.)

To p. 297. The expression 'lowest common denominator* is mathematically
nonsensical; it should, of course, be 'highest*. But the "highest common deno-
minator* in a crowd of large numbers is still pretty low; thus the faulty idiom
conveys the right idea, and the correct expression would only create confusion.



I



B. VERBAL CREATION
XV

ILLUSION
The Power of Illusion

Iiterature begins with the telling of a tale. The tale represents
certain events by means of auditory and visual signs. The
events thus represented are mental events in the narrator's
mind. His motive is the urge to communicate these events to others,
to make them relive his thoughts and emotions; the urge to share. The
audience may be physically present, or an imagined one; the narrator
may address himself to a single person or to his god alone, but his
basic need remains the same: he must share his experiences, make
others participate in them, and thus overcome the isolation of the self.

To achieve this aim, the narrator must provide patterns of stimuli as
substitutes for the original stimuli which caused the experience to
occur. This, obviously, is not an easy task, for he is asking his audience
to react to things which are not there, such as the smell of grass on a
summer morning. Since the dawn of civilization, bards and story-
tellers have produced bags of tricks to provide such Ersatz-stiimdL
The sum of these tricks is called the art of literature.

The oldest and most fundamental of all tricks is to disguise people
in costumes and to put them on a stage with masks or paint on their
faces; the audience is thereby given the impression that the events
represented are happening here and now, regardless of how distant they
really are in space and time. The effect of this procedure is to induce a
very lively bisociated condition in the minds of the audience. The
spectator knows, in one compartment of his mind, that the people on
the stage are actors, whose names are familiar to him; and he knows
that they are 'acting' for the express purpose of creating an illusion in
him, the spectator. Yet in another compartment of his mind he ex-
periences fear, hope, pity, accompanied by palpitations, arrested
breathing, or tears all induced by events which he knows to be pure
make-believe. It is indeed a remarkable phenomenon that a grown-up

301



302



THE ACT OP CREATION



person, knowing all the time that he faces a screen onto which shadows
are projected by a machine, and knowing furthermore quite well what
is going to happen at the end for instance, that the police will arrive
just in die nick of time to save the hero should nevertheless go through
agonies of suspense, and display the corresponding hodily symptoms.
It is even more remarkable that this capacity for living in two universes
at once, one real, one imaginary, should be accepted without wonder
as a commonplace phenomenon. The following extract from a London
newspaper report may help to restore our sense of wonder: 1

Twice a week, with a haunting, trumpeted signature tune and
a view of terraced roofs stretching away into infinity, Coronation
Street, Granada Televisions serial of North Country life, goes on
the air. It has now had 200 issues and is coming up to its second
birthday next week. It is one of Britain's most popular television
programmes. Enthusiasts call it a major sociological phenomenon.
In fact all marathon TV serials with fixed settings and regular
characters are cunningly designed to turn the viewer into an addict.
Coronation Street eschews glamour and sensational curtains and
concentrates on trapping the rugged smug ambience on North
Country working and lower middle-class life. It will follow a local
event like a council election or an amateur theatrical through instal-
ment after instalment with the tenacity of a parish magazine. Its
characters provide parts that actors can sink their teeth into and
digest and assimilate. They have become deeply planted, like the
permanent set of seven terraced houses, the shop on the corner, the
Mission Hall, and the pub.

The characters have devotees who insist on believing in their
reality. When the buxom Elsie Tanner was involved with a sailor
who, unknown to her, was married, she got scores of letters warning
her of the danger. Jack Watson, the actor who played the sailor, was
stopped outside the studio by one gallant mechanic who threatened
to give him a hiding if he didn't leave Elsie alone.

Hie strongest personality of them all, the sturdy old bulldog
bitch, Ena Sharpies, has a huge following. When she was sacked
feom the Mission Hall of which she was caretaker, viewers from all
over the country wrote offering her jobs. When she was in hospital
temporarily bereft of speech, a fight broke out in Salford between a
gang of her fens and an Irish detractor who said he hoped the old
bag would stay dumb till Kingdom come.



ILLUSION



303



Moreover, when one of the seven houses on the set became Vacant*
because its owner was said to have moved in fact because the actor
in question had been dropped from the programme there were several
applications for renting the house; and when at a dramatic moment of
the serial the barmaid in the 'Rover's Return* smashed an ornamental
plate, several viewers sent in replacements to comfort her.

Of course, these people know that they are watching actors. Do they
nevertheless believe that the characters are real? The answer is neither
yes nor no, but yes and no. The so-called law of contradiction in
logic that a thing is either A or not-A but cannot be both is a late
acquisition in the growth of individuals and cultures (Book Two,
XV). The unconscious mind, the mind of the child and the primi-
tive, are indifferent to it. So are the Eastern philosophies which teach
the unity of opposites, as well as Western theologians and quantum
physicists. The addicts of Coronation Street who insist on believing in
the reality of Ena Sharpies have merely carried one step further the
momentary split-mindedness experienced by a sophisticated movie-
audience at the climax of a Hitchcock thriller; they live in a more or
less permanently bisociated world.

The Value of Illusion

But where does beauty, aesthetic value, or 'art' enter into the process?
The answer requires several steps. The first is to recognize the in-
trinsic value of illusion in itself- It derives from the transfer of attention
from the 'Now and Here' to the 'Then and There* that is, to a
plane remote from self-interest. Self-assertive behaviour is focussed on
the Here and Now; the transfer of interest and emotion to a different
time and location is in itself an act of self-transcendence in the literal
sense. It is achieved through the lure of heroes and victims on the
stage who attract the spectator's sympathy, with whom he partially
identifies himself, and for whose sake he temporarily renounces his
preoccupations with his own worries and desires. Thus the act of
participating in an illusion has an inhibiting effect on the self-asserting
tendencies, and facilitates the unfolding of the self-transcending ten-
dencies. In other words illusion has a cathartic effect as all ancient and
modern civilizations recognized by incorporating various forms of
magic into their purification-rites and abreaction therapies.
It is true that illusion, from Greek tragedy to horror comics, is also



THE ACT OP CREATION



capable of generating fear and anger, palpitations and cold sweat,
which seems to contradict its cathartic function. But the emotions
thus generated are vicarious emotions derived from the spectator's
participation in another person*s existence, which is a self-transcending
act (< pp. 278-9). Consequently, however exciting the action on the
stage, the anger or fear which it generates will always carry a com-
ponent of sympathy, an irradiation of unselfish generosity, which
facilitates catharsis just as a varying amount of high-voltage current
is always transformed into heat. At a later stage, when the climax of
the drama is passed, and the tension ebbs away, the whole amount of
the current is consumed in a gentle inner glow.

The Dynamics of Illusion

In the comedy, the accumulation of suspense, and its subsequent annihi-
lation in laughter take place at distincdy separate stages (although the
two may overlap in the smiling, anticipated pleasure of the joke to
come). la the tragedy, on the other hand, excitation and catharsis are
continuous. Laughter explodes emotion; weeping is its gentle over-
flow; there is no break in the continuity of mood, and no separation of
emotion from reason. The hero, with whom the spectator has identi-
fied himself, cannot be debunked by slipping on a banana-skin or by any
sudden incongruity in his behaviour. The gods of the Greek and Hindu
pantheon might change into any shape a swan, a bull, a monkey, a
shower of coins and yet their paramours would lovingly surrender
to them. On the bas-reliefs of Indian temples Shiva is often seen making
love to Parvati while standing on his head, without appearing ridi-
culous. When the events in epic or drama take an unexpected turn
Odysseus's companions transformed into swine or chaste Ophelia
singing obscene songs emotion, if aggressively tainted, refuses to
perform the jump and explodes in laughter; if sympathetic, it will
follow the hero through all viscissitudes. The abrupt change of situa-
tion which required an equally quick reorientation of the mind to a
different associative context, led in the first case to a rupture between
emotion and reason, in the second to a transfer of emotion to the new
context whereby its harmonious co-ordination with reason is preserved
Thus incongruity the confrontation of incompatible matrices-
will be experienced as ridiculous, pathetic, or intellectually challen-
ging, according to whether aggression, identification, or the well-



ILLUSION



305



balanced blend of scientific curiosity prevails in the spectator s mind.
Don Quixote is a comic or a tragic figure, or a case-history of incipient
paranoia, depending on the panel of the tryptich in which lie is
placed. In all three cases the matrices of reality and delusion of wind-
mills and phantom-knights confront each other in the reader's mini
In the first case they collide, and malice is spilled in laughter. In the
second, the two universes remain juxtaposed, reason osculates to and
fro between them, compassion remains attached to it and is easily trans-
ferred from one matrix to the other. In the third case, the two merge
in a synthesis: the (emotionally neutral') diagnosis of the clinician.

Thus compassion, and the other varieties of the participatory emo-
tions, attach themselves to the narrative told on the stage or in print,
like faithful dogs, and follow it whatever the surprises, twists, and in-
congruities the narrator has in store for them. By contrast, hostility,
malice, and contempt tend to persist in a straight course, impervious to
the subtleties of intellect; to them a spade is a spade, a windmill a
windmill, and a Picasso nude with three breasts an object to leer at.
The self-transcending emotions seem to be guided by the rnavim tout
comprendre cest tout pardonner; the self-asserting emotions are designed
for assertion, not comprehension. Hence, when attention is suddenly
displaced from one frame of reference to another, the self-asserting im-
pulses, deprived of their raison d'etre, are spilled in the process, whereas
the participatory emotions are transferred to the new matrix.

The physiological considerations which lend support to this view I
have already discussed (pp. 56 f; 274, 283). Anger and fear owe their
persistence and momentum to the sympathico-adrenal machinery,
which causes them to become occasionally dissociated from reasoning*
The self-transcending emotions, on the other hand, are accompanied
by parasympathetic reactions which are in every respect the opposite of
the former; since they are devoid of massiveness and momentum, there
is no cause for their falling out of step with the higher mental activities,
and the normal co-ordination of thought and emotion will prevail. If
your mind has the nimbleness of migrating, at a moment's notice,
into Romeo's in sixteenth-century Verona, then you will also be capable
of shedding tears at Juliet's death.

We must remember, however, that emotions are complex mixtures;
our amusement at Charlie Chaplin's adventures is full of compassion.
All that is required for a mildly comic effect is that an aggressive factor
should DC present of sufficient strength to provide a certain inertia of
feeling or anaesthesia of the heart.



Escapism and Catharsis



Illusion, then, is the simultaneous presence and interaction in the mind
of two universes, one real, one imaginary. It transports the spectator
from the trivial present to a plane remote from self-interest and makes
him forget his own preoccupations and anxieties; in other words, it
facilitates the unfolding of his participatory emotions, and inhibits
or neutralizes his self-asserting tendencies.

This sounds like an escapist theory of art; and in spite of its deroga-
tory connotations, the expression contains a grain of truth though no
more than a grain. The analysis of any aesthetic experience requires,
as said before, a series of steps; and the escape offered by transporting
the spectator from his bed-sitter in Bays water to the Castle of Elsinore
is merely the bottom step of the ladder. But, nevertheless, it should not
be under-estimated. In the first place, if illusion offers escape it is
escape of a particular kind, sharply distinguished from other dis-
tractions such as playing tennis or bingo. It teaches us to live on two
planes at once. Children and primitive audiences who, forgetting the
present, completely accept the reality of the events on the stage, are
experiencing not an aesthetic thrill, but a kind of hypnotic trance; and
addiction to it may lead to various degrees of estrangement from
reality. The aesthetic experience depends on that delicate balance
arising from the presence of both matrices in the mind; on perceiving
the hero as Laurence Olivier and Prince Hamlet of Denmark at one
and the same time; on the lightning oscillations of attention from one
to the other, like sparks between charged electrodes. It is this precarious
suspension of awareness between the two planes which facilitates the
continuous flux of emotion from the Now and Here to the remoter
worlds of Then and There, and the cathartic effects resulting from it.
For when interest is deflected from the self it will attach itself to some-
thing else; when the level of self-assertive tension falls, the self-trans-
cending impulses become almost automatically dominant. Thus the
creation of illusion is in itself of cathartic value even if the product,
judged by more sophisticated standards, is of cheap quality; for it
helps the subject to actualize his potential of self-transcending emotions
thwarted by the dreary routines of existence. Liberated from his
frustrations and anxieties, man can turn into a rather nice and dreamy
creature; when he changes intd a dark suit and sits in a theatre, he at
once shows himself capable of taking a strong and entirely unselfish
interest in the destinies of the personae on the stage. He participates

306



ILLUSION



307



in their hopes and sufferings; his frustrated cravings for communion
find their primeval outlet in the magic of identification.

To revert to Aristotle, the cathartic function of the tragedy is
'through incidents arousing horror and pity to accomplish the purga-
tion of such emotions'. la cruder terms, a good cry, like a good laugh,
has a more lasting after-effect than the occasion seems to warrant.
Taking the Aristotelian definition at face value, it would seem that
the aesthetic experience could purge the mind only of those emotions
which the stage-play has created; that it would merely take out of the
nervous system what it has just put in, leaving the mind in the same
state as before. But this is not so. The emotion is not created, but
merely stimulated by the actors; it must be worked up* by the spec-
tator. The work of art does not provide the current, like an electricity
company, but merely the installations; the current has to be generated
by the consumer. Although this is obvious once we remember it, we
tend to fall into the mistake of taking a metaphor at face value and
believing that the stage 'provides* us with a thrill against cash payment
for a seat in the stalls. What we buy, however, is not emotion, but a
sequence of stimuli cunningly designed to trigger off our latent par-
ticipatory emotions which otherwise would remain frustrated or look
for coarser outlets, and to assure their ultimate consummation. Life
constantly generates tensions which run through the mind like stray
eddies and erratic currents. The aesthetic experience inhibits some,
canalizes others, but above all, it draws on unconscious sources of
emotion which otherwise are only active in the games of the under-
ground.

Thus the concept of catharsis assumes a twofold meaning. Firstly, it
signifies that concentration on the illusory events on the stage rids the
mind of the dross of its self-centred trivial preoccupations; in the
second place it arouses its dormant self-transcendent potentials and
provides them with an outlet, until they peacefully ebb away. Peaceful,
of course, does not necessarily mean a happy ending. It may mean the
'earthing' of an individual tragedy in the universal tragedy of the
human condition as the scientist resolves a problem by showing that
a particular phenomenon is an instance of a general law. It may dis-
solve the bitterness of personal sorrow in the vastness of the oceanic
feeling; and redeem horror by pity. Tragedy, in the Greek sense, is
the school of self-transcendence.



Identification and Magic



The projections of a single cine-camera with its rotating Maltese cross
arouse anger, terror, and righteous indignation in up to five successive
audiences on a single day, as if it were a machine designed for the
wholesale manufacture of adrenalin. Yet the emotions aroused even
by a cheap rariller-fum are vicarious emotions derived from one of
the primordial games of the underground: the transformation of one
person or object into another (Chapter VIII, p. 187 ). The fear and
anger experienced by the audience is experienced on behalf of another
person; the adrenalin secreted into their bloodstream is secreted to
provide another person with excess energy for fight or flight; the
magic of identification is at work.

It enters into illusion in two stages. The first is the partial identi-
fication, in the spectator's mind, of the actor with the character he is
meant to represent; the second is the partial identification of the spec-
tator with one or several of the characters. In both cases the identifica-
tion is only partial, but nevertheless the magic is powerful enough to
provide the palpitations and activate the supra-renal glands. And when
I speak of magic, I am not speaking metaphorically; the 'magic of the
stage* is a cliche which originates in the sympathetic magic practised
by all primitive and not-so-primitive cultures, rooted in the belief in
the substantial identity of the masked dancer with the demon he mimes;
of the impersonator with the power he impersonates. The uncon-
scious self, manifested in the beliefs of the child and the dreams of the
adult, is, as we saw, immune to contradiction, unsure of its identity,
and prone to merging it with others'. 'In the collective representations
of primitive mentality, objects, beings, events can be, though in a way
incomprehensible to us, both themselves and something other than
themselves/ 2 This description of tribal mentality by a Victorian
anthropologist could be applied almost without qualifications to the
audiences of Coronation Street.

I have taken a short-cut from primitive to contemporary magic, but
the development is in fact historically continuous: the latter is a direct
descendant of the former. Dramatic art has its origin in ceremonial
rites dances, songs, and mimewhich enacted important past or
desired future events: rain, a successful hunt, an abundant harvest.
The gods, demons, ancestors and animals participating in the event
were impersonated with the aid of masks, costumes, tattooings and
make-up. The shaman who danced the part of the rain-god was the

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ILLUSION



309



rain-god, and yet remained the shaman at the same time. From the
stag dances of the Huichol Indians or the serpent dances of the Zuni,
there is only one step to the goat dance of the Achacans, the precursor
of Greek drama. 'Tragedy' means 'goat-song' (traoos he goat, tide
song); it probably originated in the ceremonial rites in honour of
Dyonysius, where the performers were disguised in goat-skins as
satyrs, and in the related ceremonies in honour of Apollo and Demeter.
Indian and Chinese stage craft have similarly religious origins. Etruscan
drama derived from funeral rites; modern European drama evolved
from the medieval mystery plays performed on the occasion of the
main church festivals. But though the modem theatre hardly betrays
its religious ancestry, the magic of illusion still serves essentially the
same emotional needs: it enables the spectator to transcend the narrow
confines of his personal identity, and to participate in other forms of
existence. For to quote for a last time the unfashionable Levy-Bruhl,
to whom Freud, Jung, and others owe so much:

The need of participation remains something more imperious and
intense, even among people like ourselves, than the thirst for know-
ledge and the desire for conformity with the claims of reason. It lies
deeper in us and its source is more remote. During the long pre-
historic ages, when the claims of reason were scarcely realized or
even perceived, it was no doubt all-powerful in all human aggregates.
Even today the mental activity which, by virtue of an intimate
participation, possesses its object, gives it life and lives through it
finds entire satisfaction in this possession. 8

The Dawn of Literature

The dawn of literature, too, was bathed in the twilight of mysticism
and mythology. 'The recitation of the Homeric poems on the Pana-
thanaea corresponds to the recitation elsewhere of the sacred texts in
the temple; the statement of Phemios that a god inspired his soul with
all the varied ways of song expresses the ordinary belief of early
historical times.* 4 But the earliest literati priests, prophets, rhapsodes,
bards had less direct means to impress their audiences than their
older colleagues, the masked and painted illusion-mongers. They had
to 'dramatize' their tales, by techniques which we can only infer from
hints. The dramatization of an epic recital aims, like stage-craft from



3io



THE ACT OF CREATION



which it is derived, at creating, to some extent at least, the illusion that
the events told arc happening now and here. Perhaps the oldest of these
techniques is the use of direct speech, to make the audience believe
that it is listening not to the narrator but to the characters themselves;
its use is still as frequent in the modern novel as it was in the Homeric
epos. In the ancient forms of oral recital it was supplemented by
imitation of Voice and gesture another tradition still alive in the
nursery room. The minstrels and troubadours, the joculators or
jugglers, the scops and the chansonniers de geste, were direct descendants
of the Roman mimes actors who, having lost their livelihood when
the Roman theatre decayed, became vagabonds and diverted their
patrons with dancing, tumbling, juggling and recitals as much acted
as told. The early minstrels were called histriones, stage-players; the
bard Taillefer, who sang the Chanson de Roland during the battle of
Hastings, is described as a histrion or mimus.

There is hardly a novelist who had not wished at times that he were
a histrion, and could convey by direct voice, grimace, and gesture what
his characters look like and feel. But writers have evolved other
techniques to create the illusion that their characters are alive, and to
make their audience fell in love with a heroine who exists only as
printer's ink on paper. The real tears shed over Anna Karenina or
Emma Bovary are the ultimate triumph of sympathetic magic.



I



XVI

RHYTHM AND RHYME

Pulsation

The effect of the rhythm of a poem, wrote I. A. Richards, 'is
not due to our perceiving pattern in something outside us,
but to our becoming patterned ourselves 1 . 1 Rhythmic perio-
dicity is a fundamental characteristic of life. All automatic functions of
the body are patterned by rhythmic pulsations: heart-beat, respiration,
peristalsis, brain-waves are merely the most obvious ones. For there is
also an inherent tendency in some parts of the nervous system, par-
ticularly on its phylogenetically older levels, to burst into spontaneous
activity when released from the inhibitory control of the higher centres
by brain-damage, toxic states, or by patterns of stimuli acting as
triggers.

Perhaps the most striking example of such a trigger-effect is the
experimental induction of fits in epileptic patients by shining a bright
flickering light into their eyes, where the frequency of the flicker
is made to correspond to a characteristic frequency in the patient's
electro-encephalogram. This, of course, is an extreme example of a
trigger-effect by direct physiological stimulation; moreover, the in-
coming rhythm is synchronized with an inner rhythm to produce an
unholy resonance effect. The convulsions of voodoo-dancers, on the
other hand, which have been compared to epileptic fits, are certainly
not caused by the rhythmic beat of the tom-tom alone; other factors,
of a psychological nature, must be present to produce the effect. But
it is nevertheless true that our remarkable responsiveness to rhyth-
mically patterned stimuli and our readiness 'to become patterned our-
selves' arises from the depths of the nervous system, from those archaic
strata of the unconscious which reverberate to the shaman's drum.

Needless to say, even the contemporary Rock- n -Roll or Twist are
restrained and sublimated displays compared to the St. Vitus's dance

311



312



THE ACT OF CREATION



which spread as an infectious form of hysteria through medieval
Europe, Likewise, if rhythm in poetry is meant, as Yeats said, 'to lull
the mind into a waking trance', that entrancement carries only a faint,
remote echo of the incantative power of the muezzin's call, or of the
recitation of the Homeric poems on the Panathanaea. On the other
hand, we do experience a common kind of 'waking trance' when we
keep repeating a silly phrase to the rhythm of the wheels of a railway
carnage; hypnotists used to rely on metronomes, flickering candles,
monotonously repeated orders or passes; and the rocking motions
accompanying the prayers of Oriental religions and mystic sects serve
the same purpose. Thus experience, both of the exalted and trivial
kind, indicates that the mind is particularly receptive to and suggestible
by messages which arrive in a rhythmic pattern, or accompanied by a
rhythmic pattern.

This is true even on the elementary levels of perception. We are
more susceptible to musical tones than to noises, because the former
consist of periodical, the latter of a-periodical air-waves. Similar con-
siderations apply to pure colours; or to the symmetry and balance
which lend a design its 'unity in diversity'. Plato decreed that all
heavenly motions must take place in perfect circles at uniform speed,
because only such regular periodicity could assure the steady, eternal
pulsations of the universe. Perhaps the compulsive pattern-walking
ritual of certain neurotics, who must always step into the centre of
pavement-stones, is motivated by the same unconscious craving for
order and regularity as a protection against the anxiety-arousing threat
of change.

Measure and Meaning

'The superimposition of two systems: thought and metre,' wrote
Proust, 'is a primary element of ordered complexity, that is to say, of
beauty/ 2 But this superimposition in our jargon, the bisociation of
rhythm and meaning is again trivalent: it can be put to poetic,
scientific, or comic use. When rhythm assumes a rigidly repetitive
form, it no longer recalls the pulsation of life, but the motions of an
automaton; its superimposition on human behaviour is degrading, and
yields Bergson s formula of the comic: the mechanical encrusted on
the living. But here again, all depends on one's emotional attitude:
pre-war films of German soldiers marching the goose-step or if it



RHYTHM AND RHYME



313



comes to that, the changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace
will strike one spectator as comic, and appeal to the tribal, or romantic,
emotions of another. Once one is in a marching column, it is extremely
difficult to keep out of step; one has become patterned by the rhythmic
motion in which one participates. But the comedian as an army recruit
falling chronically out of step is comic, for obvious reasons.

In the natural sciences, the analysis of rhythmic periodicities the
numerical patterns underlying the phenomena of naive experience
play a dominant part. The Pythagoreans regarded the universe as a
large musical box, the organism as a well-tempered instrument, and
all material phenomena as a dance of numbers. The metre of the poet,
the metronome of the musician, the centimetre of the mathematician,
are all derived from the same root, metron: measure, measurement. Yet
the quantitative patterns in themselves would be meaningless to us if
they were not accompanied by the sensory qualities of colour, sound,
heat, taste, texture, and so on; and the rhythms of our brain-waves on
the electro-encephalogram would be meaningless if we were not con-
scious of thinking. The scientist takes a 'bi-focaT view of life; and so
does the reader whose attention is focussed simultaneously both on the
measure and the message of the poem.

Without the message, the rhythm is of course meaningless, in poetry
as in science. A monotonous rhythm, for instance, can be either sleepy-
making or exciting, according to the message which it carries. Rhyth-
mic stroking of the skin may be soothing or sexually exciting it
depends on the message. The rhythmic rattle of the wheels on a train
journey will lull one to sleep, as a superior form of counting sheep, if
one is in a relaxed mood; but I can remember at least one ghastly
journey, when I found myself in a predicament of my own making,
and the wheels kept repeating, 'I told you so, I told 'you so, I told you so*
with such hallucinatory clarity and insistence that I found it difBcult to
convince myself that the other passengers in the compartment did not
hear it. Rhythm penetrates so deeply into the unconscious strata that
it makes us suggestible even to self-addressed messages from the
Yogic recitation of mantras to Coue's 'every day in every way . . .\

However, unlike the beat of the tom-tom, or the rattle of the car-
riage wheels, a strophe of verse does not consist in a simple repetitive
rhythm, but in complex patterns of short and long, stressed and light
syllables, farther complicated by super-imposed patterns of assonance
or rhyme. As music has evolved a long way from the simple, repetitive



314



THE ACT OF CREATION



figures of rnonochords and drums, so the various metric forms in poetry
contain their substructure of rhythmic pulsation in an implied, and no
longer in an explicit form. In free verse, the rhythmic substructure has
become so implicit, as to go sometimes unnoticed.

This development from the explicit to the implicit, from the direct
statement to the veiled hint, is a phenomenon which we have already
met (pp 84 fF.), and shall meet again in other provinces of art, as a
characteristic factor in the evolution of creative techniques in general.

Repetition and Affinity

The rhyme is a relatively late offspring of rhythm. Both words are
derived from the same Greek root, rhutmos; up to the sixteenth century
they were treated as practically synonymous. Metric patterns based
exclusively on the regular succession of ups and downs of intonation
the only form of verse in Greek and Latin poetry were later com-
bined with patterns based on the repetition of single consonants and
vowels; and thus, via alliteration and assonance, the rhyme came into
being as melody was born out of originally unmodulated, rhythmic
beats.

But although conscious rhyming was only admitted into formal
literature in the Middle Ages (at first as the internal rhyme in Leonine
verse), it has, like rhythm, its primordial roots in the unconscious. The
repetition of syllables is a conspicuous phenomenon at the very origins
of language. In the early stages of learning to speak, children seem to
have an irresistible impulse to jabber repetitive variations of sound
patternsfrom ma-ma and pa-pa to obble-gobble, rninky-pinky and
so on ad infinitum; gibble-gabble was the Victorian word for it. Simi-
larly, in many primitive languages as far apart as Polynesian and Bantu,
words like Kala-Kak or Moku-Moku abound; and why does the
name Humpty-Durnpty hold such a charm for child and adult
alike?

Next to repetition, association by sound affinity punning is one of
die notorious games of the underground, manifested in dreams, in
the punning mania of children, and in mental disorders. The rhyme is
nothing but a glorified pun two strings of ideas tied in an accoustic
knot. In normal, rationally controlled speech, association by pure sound
is prohibited, for, if given free rein, it would destroy coherence and
meaning. Thus, on re-reading the previous sentence, it occurs to me



RHYTHM AND RHYME



315



that 'des-troy' lends itself to a pun (Helen was fated to destroy Troy);
once one 'tunes in* to the matrix of sound-associations, a number of
quite idiotic puns and rhymes will invade the mind. No effort is
required to produce them; on the contrary, when concentration flags,
and the rational controls are relaxed, thinking has a tendency to revert,
by its own gravity as it were, to matrices governed by more primitive
rules of the game. Among these, association by sound-affinities plays
a prominent part; the free associations of the patient on the analyst's
couch belong as often as not to this category. Let us also remember
(pp. 186 f.) that other games based on sound-affinity have exercised a
perennial attraction on the most varied cultures; anagrams, acrostics,
and word-puzzles; incantations and verbal spells; hermeneutics and
Cabala, which interpreted the Scriptures as a collection of the
Almighty's hidden puns, combining letter-lore with number-lore.

Thus rhythm and assonance, pun and rhyme are not artificially
created ornaments of speech; the whole evidence indicates that their
origins go back to primitive and infantile forms of thought and
utterance, in which sound and meaning are magically interwoven, and
association by sound-affinities is as legitimate as association based on
other similarities. Rationality demands that these matrices should be
relegated underground, but they make their presence felt in sleep and
sleeplike states, in mental illness and in the temporary regression the
reculer-pour-mieux-sauter of poetic inspiration. But before we come to
that, let me once more quote additional evidence from neurology,
more precisely, from brain surgery a field rarely bisociated with the
poetic faculty.



Compulsive Punning

The phenomenon to be described is known as 'Forster's syndrome'. It
was first observed by Forster, a German surgeon, in 1929, when he was
operating on a patient sufFering from a tumour in the third ventricle
a small cavity deep down in the phylogenetically ancient regions of
the mid-brain, adjacent to structures intimately concerned with the
arousal of emotions. When the surgeon began to manipulate the
tumour, affecting those sensitive structures, the (conscious) patient
burst into a manic flight of speech, 'quoting passages in Latin, Greek,
and Hebrew. He exhibited typical sound associations, and with every
word of the operator broke into a flight of ideas. Thus, on hearing the



THE ACT OF CREATION



operator ask for a Tupfer [tampon] he burst into "Tupfer . . . Tupfer,
Hupfer, Hiipfer, hup/en Sie tnal . . On hearing the word Messer, he
burst into "Messer, messer, Metzer, Sie sind ein Metzel, das ist ja ein
Gemetzel, metzeln Sie dock nicht so messen Sie dock Sie messen ja nicht
Hen Professor, projiteor, professus sum, profiteri" These manic responses
were dependent on manipulation of the tumour and could be elicited
only from the floor of the third ventricle.' 3

FSrster's patient opened up a curious insight into the processes in
the poet's brain in an unexpectedly literal sense of the word. The
first flight of ideas, Tupfer, Hupfer, etctampon, jumper, go and
jump into the air' has a gruesome kind of humour coming from a
man tied face down to the operating table with his skull open. The
second flight, translated, runs as follows: Messer, Metzer, etc. 'Knife,
butcher, you are a butcher in a butchery; truly this is a massacre
[Gemetzel]; don't go on butchering [metzeln], take measurements
[raewew] ; why don't you measure, Herr Professor, projiteor, professus sum'
and so on.

Thus the patient's apparently delirious punning and babbling con-
vey a meaningful message to the surgeon his fear of being butchered,
and his entreaty that the surgeon should proceed by careful measure-
ments, that is, in a more cautious, circumspect way. His train of
thought seems to move under dual control. It is controlled by allitera-
tion and assonance for he has regressed to the level of sound-associa-
tion and must abide by its rules. But it is also controlled by his inter-
mittent, rational awareness of his situation on the operating table.
Without this, his flight of words would become meaningless (and does
so at times). Without the tyranny of the other code, he would address
the surgeon in simple, sensible prose. As it is, he must serve both masters
at the same time.*

Let us take a blasphemous short-cut from patient to poet. We have
seen that the creative act always involves a regression to earlier, more
primitive levels in the mental hierarchy, while other processes continue
simultaneously on the rational surface a condition that reminds one
of a skin-diver with a breathing-tube. (Needless to say, the exercise
has its dangers: skin-divers are prone to fall victims to the *rapture of
die deep' and tear their breathing-tubes off the reader sans sauter of
William Blake and so many others. A less fatal professional disease
is the Bends, a punishment for attempting to live on two different
levels at once.)



Coaxing the Unconscious



The capacity to regress, more or less at will, to the games of the
underground, without losing contact with the surface, seems to be the
essence of the poetic, and of any other form of creativity. 'God guard
me from those thoughts men think/In the mind alone,/He that sings a
lasting song/Thinks in a marrow bone* (Yeats);

or, to quote A. E. Housman:

... I could no more define poetry than a terrier can define a rat,
but we both recognize the object by the symptoms which it pro-
vokes in us. One of these symptoms was described in connection
with another object by Eliphaz the Temanite: 'A spirit passed before
my face: the hair of my flesh stood up/ Experience has taught me,
when I am shaving of a morning, to keep watch over my thoughts,
because, if a line of poetry strays into my memory, my skin bristles
so that the razor ceases to act. This particular symptom is accom-
panied by a shiver down the spine. ... I think that the production
of poetry, in its first stage, is less an active than a passive and involun-
tary process; and if I were obliged, not to define poetry, but to name
the class of things to which it belongs, I should call it a secretion;
whether a natural secretion, like turpentine in the fir, or a morbid
secretion, like the pearl in the oyster. I have seldom written poetry
unless I was rather out of health, and the experience, though pleasur-
able, was generally agitating and exhausting. 4

The next quotation, in a more academic vein, is from Paul Valry's
A Course in Poetics (the italics are in the original):

"When the mind is in question, everything is in question; all is dis-
order, and every reaction against that disorder is of the same kind as
itself. For the fact is that disorder is the condition of the mind's
fertility

. . . The constitution of poetry ... is rather mysterious. It is strange
that one should exert himself to formulate a discourse which must
simultaneously obey perfectly incongruous conditions: musical,
rational, significant, and suggestive; conditions which require a con-
tinuous and repeated connection between rhythm and syntax,
between sound and sense. . . .

317



318



THE ACT OF CREATION



. . . There is a poetic language in which words are no longer the
words of free practical usage. They are no longer held together by
the same attractions; they are charged with two different values
operating simultaneously and of equivalent importance: their sound
and their instantaneous psychic effect. They remind us then of those
complex numbers in geometry; the coupling of the phonetic variable
with the semantic variable creates problems of extension and con-
vergence which poets solve blindfold but they solve them (and
that is the essential thing), from time to time. 5

The sceptical reader may object that all these metaphors about the
blindfold poet thinking in his marrow-bones while secreting pearls
like an oyster, reflect a too romantic view of the profession; and that
I have put altogether too much emphasis on the role of the uncon-
scious. The answer is partly to be found in the chapter on 'Thinking
Aside', which shows that the unconscious is neither a romantic nor a
mystic fancy, but a working concept in the absence of which nearly
every event of mental life would have to be regarded as a miracle.
There is nothing very romantic about the wheels of the railway carriage
screaming 'I told you so'; it is simply an observed fact.

In the second place, though unconscious processes cannot be
governed by conscious volition, they can at least be coaxed into
activity by certain tricks acquired at the price of a little patience.
Friedrich Schiller learned to get himself into a creative frame of mind
by smelling rotten apples, Turgenev by keeping his feet in a bucket
of hot water, Balzac by drinking poisonous quantities of black coffee;
for lesser mortals even a pipe or pacing up and down in the study
might do.

And lastly, there is the long process of conscious elaboration of
cutting, grinding, polishing the rough stone which inspiration has un-
earthed. Here the range of variations from one writer to another
and from one work to another by the same writer is as enormous
as with the elaboration and formulation of a nuclear discovery' in
science. An excellent account of this process is to be found in an essay,
far too little known, by A. E. Housman from which I have already
quoted:

Having drunk a pint of beer at luncheon beer is a sedative to the
brain, and my afternoons are the least intellectual portion of my life
I would go out for a walk of two or three hours. As I went along,



RHYTHM AND RHYME



319



thinking of nothing in particular, only looking at things around me
and following the progress of the seasons, there would flow into my
mind, with sudden and unaccountable emotion, sometimes a line or
two of verse, sometimes a whole stanza at once, accompanied, not
preceded, by a vague notion of the poem which they were destined
to form part o Then there would usually be a lull of an hour or so,
then perhaps the spring would bubble up again. I say bubble up,
because, so far as I could make out, the source of the suggestions
thus proffered to the brain was an abyss which I have already had
occasion to mention, the pit of the stomach. When I got home I
wrote them down, leaving gaps, and hoping that further inspiration
might be forthcoming another day. Sometimes it was, if I took my
w alks in a receptive and expectant frame of mind; but sometimes the
poem had to be taken in hand and completed by the brain, which
was apt to be a matter of trouble and anxiety, involving trial and
disappointment, and sometimes ending in failure. I happen to
remember distinctly the genesis of the piece which stands last in my
first volume. Two of the stanzas, I do not say which, came into my
head, just as they are printed, while I was crossing the corner of
Hampstead Heath between the Spaniard's Inn and the footpath to
Temple Fortune. A third stanza came with a little coaxing after
tea. One more was needed, but it did not come: I had to turn to and
compose it myself, and that was a laborious business, I wrote it
thirteen times, and it was more than a twelvemonth before I got it
right.

NOTE

To. p. 316. Less dramatic than Forster's syndrome but equally convincing
were experiments by Luria and Vinagradova, which demonstrated that subjects
who normally associated words by their meaning regressed to association by
sound when they were made drowsy by chloral hydrate (Br. J. of Psychol,
May, X9S9).







XVII
IMAGE
The Hidden Analogy

In Chapters VH-VHI I have spoken at length of the dose related-
ness between the scientist seeing an analogy where nobody saw one
before, and the poet's discovery of an original metaphor or simile.
Both rely on the mediation of unconscious processes to provide the
analogy. In the scientist's Eureka process two previously unconnected
frames of reference are made to intersect, but the same description may
be applied to the poet's trouvaille the discovery of a felicitous poetic
comparison. The difference between them is in the character of the
'frames of reference', which in the first case are of a more abstract, in
the second of a more sensuous nature; and the criteria of their validity
differ accordingly. But the difference, as we have seen, is a matter of
degrees; and often the two overlap. The discovery of perspective and
fore-shortening, for instance, belongs to both geometrical science and
representative art; it establishes formal analogies between two-dimen-
sional and three-dimensional space, but at the same time a direct
sensory impact.

Here is another example which I have already mentioned the
account, by one of Freud's earlier biographers, of how the master
suddenly hit upon the idea of the sublimation of instinct:

It happened while he was looking at a cartoon in a humorous
periodical which showed the career of a young girl in two subse-
quent stages. In the first she was herding a flock of young geese with
a stick, in the second she was shown as a governess directing a group
of young girls with her parasol. The girls in the second picture were
arranged exactly in the same groups as the goslings in the first. 1

The two cartoons provided the hidden (though not all to deeply
hidden) analogy for the Eureka process. But vice versa, the two

320



IMAGE 321

cartoons may be regarded as a metaphorical illustration of it. The same
reversibility applies to Kekule's snake and Faraday's cosmic lines of
force. Lastly, on the third panel of the triptych, the governess or the
snake can be turned into a joke as was actually done by malicious
contemporaries.

Emotive Potentials

Among the simplest metaphors are cross-references from one of the
senses to another: a 'warm' colour, a 'sweet' voice, a 'sharp' light; the
'blind lips* of Swinburne, the 'blind hands' of Blake. Such combina-
tions of different sensory matrices lend a new richness or multi-dimen-
sionality to experience so that, again with Swinburne, 'light is heard
as music, music seen as light'.

The aesthetic satisfaction derived from metaphor, imagery, and re-
lated techniques (which I shall treat as a single category) depends on
the emotive potential of the matrices which enter into the game. By
emotive potential I mean the capacity of a matrix to generate and
satisfy participatory emotions. This depends of course partly on indi-
vidual factors, partly on the collective attitudes of different cultures,
but also on objective factors: on the intrinsic 'calory value', as it were,
of some associative contexts mental diets the ingredients of which
have, for instance, a religious or mythological flavour.

On the simplest and most general level, the emotive potentials of
the seiise-modalities sight, sound, odour, touch differ widely with
different people. Robert Graves 2 has confessed that his favourite
poems have 'without exception* a tactile quality. He quoted as an
example for it the Early English:

Cold blows the wind on my true love
And a few small drops of rain

'where*, he comments, 'I feel the rain on my hands and hair rather
than see it,' He goes on to say that he always liked Keats and dis-
liked Shelley because 'the characteristic of Keats is, I find, his constant
appeal to the sense of touch, while Shelley's appeal is as constantly to
the sense of movement*. Graves's stimulating essay (published in 1925)
ended with the suggestion that psychologists should engage in 'intense
research' on this question; it is a pity that it has not been followed up.
(My guess would be that more people than one suspects can smell



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THE ACT OF CREATION



poetry but that, needless to say, is a generalization based on personal
experience, for I can always smell the dust-cloud raised by the gallop-
ing horses in a Western film; and the lines 'Cold blows the wind*
convey to me mainly the fresh smell of the rainy wind and of True
Love's wet hair.)

However, granted such personal idiosyncrasies, man lives primarily
by his eyes and ears. The emotive potentials of patterned sound I
have already discussed; it adds to the virtues of language the dynamism
of the dance, the melody of the song, and the magic of incantation. It
may even happen that the magic makes us forget the message as
when (quoting Graves) people read Swinburne for the mere glorious
rush of his verse, without any more regard for the words than will
help to a vague scenic background'; and with Blake one often feels
that the emotive calories generated by the matrix have burnt up the
meaning.

The Picture-strip

Much the same could be said of the emotive power of some visual
imagery including Blake's own. We have seen (Chapter VII) that
'thinking in pictures' dominates the manifestations of the unconscious
in the dream, in hallucinatory states, but also in the creative work of
scientists. In fact, the majority of mathematicians and physicists turned
out to be Visionaries' in the literal sense that is, visual, not verbal
thinkers.

But we have also seen that pictorial thinking is an earlier and more
primitive form of mentation than conceptual thinking in the evolu-
tion of the individual as in that of the species. The language of children
is 'picturesque* again in the literal sense of the word; and the lan-
gauge of primitives is 'like the unfolding of a picture strip, where each
word expresses a pictorial image, regardless as to whether the picture
signifies an object, an action, or a quality. Thus "to strike" and "a
blow" are expressed by the same word. These languages are not merely
deficient in the more abstract type of imagery, but in practically all
higher grammatical construction (Kretschmer). 3

Let me give a concrete example from Kretschmer's textbook,
followed by the comments of that excellent German psychiatrist
whose work, comparable in importance to Jung's, is far too little
known to the English-speaking public. The example is a simple story
told in the Bushman language. It is about a Bushman who worked as



IMAGE



323



a shepherd for a white man until the latter ill-treated him; whereupon
the Bushman ran away, and the white man engaged another Bushman,
to whom the same thing happened. Translated into Bushman language,
this story is picturized as follows:

Bushman-there-go, here-run-to-Whites, White-give-tobacco,
Bushman-go-smoke, go-fiH-tobacco sack, White-give-meat-Bush-
man, Bushman-go--eat-meat, get-up-go-home, go-merry, go-sit,
graze-sheep Whites, White-go-strike-Bushman, Bushman-cry-
much-pain, Bushman-go-run-away-Whites, White-run-after-Bush-
man, Bushman-mere-omer-this-graze-sheep, Bushman-all-away.

Kretschmer comments:

The thought of primitive peoples allows of but little arrangement
and condensation of separate images into abstract categories; but the
sensory perceptions themselves, retained directly as such in memory,
unwind themselves before us unchanged, like a long picture roll.
The discrete visual image dominates the scene throughout, whilst
the relation between the separate pictures is barely indicated. Logical
connections are as yet quite tenuous and loose. If we wish to con-
ceive of speech at a slightly lower level still, we shall have to dispense
with even those slight hints of a syntax which are present; we shall
then find that the thought-processes of a people using such a language
would consist entirely of an asyntactical series of pictures.

Some passages in die Old Testament seem to reflect the transition
from predominantly pictorial to abstract thought:

I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift,
nor the batde to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet
riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but
time and chance happeneth to them all. (Ecclesiastes.)

The tendency to stick to concrete visual images is still evident; but
the characters in the picture-strip no longer represent individuals the
swift, the strong, the wise are collective nouns, abstracted universals.
Incidentally, George Orwell once wrote a parody of this passage in
modern academic jargon to highlight the contrast between vivid
.imagery and desiccated abstraction:



324



THE ACT OF CREATION



Objective consideration of contemporary phenomena compels the
conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no
tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a con-
siderable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into
account.

While dreaming, even a paragon of normality regresses in time not
merely to Ecclesiastes, but to the earlier mythological creations of the
Babylonians and the visual concreteness of the Bushman's statements.
But on awakening 'all the charm is broken, all that phantom world so
fair, vanishes , as at the call of the gentleman from Porlock. It may be
just as well the quick effacement from memory of the majority of
our dreams may be a normal protective device of the mind (as distinct
from pathological repression). In the hallucinatory psychoses, however,
the regressions are more intense, realistic, enduring, and unforgettable
in a painful sense; hence the remarkable affinities between the paint-
ings of schizophrenics and primitive art. To quote Kretschmer again:
'Schizophrenic symbols, like primitive and dream symbols, are the
pictorial antecedents of concepts and are not developed beyond that
stage/ He then relates the case of one of his patients, a gifted young
man who, between periods of normality and abnormality, lived
through a prolonged transitional phase, enlivened by what he csiJled
his picture show':

In these phases he passively experiences the outcropping of a mass
of images which arise from abstract concepts, or which appear to
exist in concrete objects. The images often 'resemble old Norse
ornaments or Roman sculptures'; sometimes they are grotesque
figures, sometimes sensible film-like scenes of knights and soldiers
who occupy a real old castle which lies in the valley. Most interesting
are the images which arise directly out of abstract thought. For
example, he is reading a philosophical work of Kant, and as he reads,
the abstract thoughts are continuously converted into imagery.
"Whilst reading Kant on the question of the infinity of space he had
the following experience: "The pictures crowded on me towers,
circles behind circles, a cylinder which thrust itself obliquely into the
whole picture. Everything is showing movement and growth; the
circle acquires depth and thus becomes cylindrical; the towers
become higher and higher; everything is arbitrary as in an experi-
mental picture or a dream.'



IMAGE



325



In case-histories like this we see the extreme development of ten-
dencies which on a moderate scale are present in the normal imagina-
tive person; just as we saw in the punning and rhyming patient on the
operating table the pathological extreme of the poet's urge to convey
his meaning in rhythmic patterns. And just as rhythm is not an arti-
ficial embellishment of language but a form of expression which pre-
dates language, so visual images and symbols are not fanciful em-
broideries of concepts, but precursors of conceptual thought. The
artist does not climb a ladder to stick ornaments on a facade of ideas
he is more like a pot-holer in search of underground rivers. To quote
Kretschmer for the last time: 'Such creative products of the artistic
imagination tend to emerge from a psychic twilight, a state of lessened
consciousness and diminished attentivity to external stimuli. Further,
the condition is one of "absent-mindedness" with hypnoidal over-
concentration on a single focus, providing an entirely passive experi-
ence, frequently of a visual character, divorced from the categories of
space and time, and reason and will. These dreamlike phases of artistic
creation evoke primitive phylogenetic tendencies towards rhythm and
stylization with elemental violence; and the emergent images thus
acquire in the very act of birth regular form and symmetry/



On Law and Order

Some images seem to appeal more to the intellect than to emotion
because of their logical and didactic character but nevertheless evoke
an emotive response:

And how dieth the wise man? as the fool (Ecclesiastes)

Golden lads and girls all must,

As chimney-sweepers, come to dust.

(Cymbeline)

When Adam dolve and Eve span,
Who was then a gentleman?

(John Ball ?)



Bach of these quotes may be described as a particular illustration of
a general truth: the first and second affirm that all men must die, the



326



THE ACT OP CREATION



third proclaims that all men are equal. If we wish to be pedantic, we
can enumerate the various bisociative techniques which enter into
them: sense and sound in the last two; or in the first two, me joining
of habitually incompatible opposites in the focal concepts 'dying' and
'dust'. We may further note die archaic, or archetypal, resonances of
Adam, Eve, the sage, the fool, and the golden lads. Finally, the tech-
nique of condensation and implication in the third quote poses a kind
of naive riddle which enhances its effect. But when all these points are
made, the main feature which the three quotes share remains their
didactic intent of driving home a message, of demonstrating a universal
law by means of concrete imagery.

Now such reductions of particular instances to universal causes or
abstract laws are supposed to represent a purely intellectual pastime
which has nothing to do with art and emotion; in fact, however, they
give rise to the most powerful emotional release. When John Ball
exhorted the peasants at Blackheath to rise against their Lords, he ad-
vertently chose 'When Adam dolve' as his text, because it enabled
him to prove that their particular grievances were based on a Law
ordained by the Creator: that there should be no privilege of birth.
It is significant that this same text, with its indirect affirmation implied
in a riddle, should have such an explosive effect not only in England,
but also during the peasant risings in Germany, where it became the
marching song of the rebels ('Als Adam grub und Eva spann Wo war
da der Edelmann?'). Blake's

There came a voice without reply
"lis man's perdition to be safe,
When for the truth he ought to die,

might serve as a motto for all appeals to the emotions which are ex-
plained and justified by reference to divine law the Voice Without
Reply.

The Will of God, or the Laws of Nature, as the organizing and har-
monizing principle of the universe is one of the most powerful arche-
types of human experience. No doubt it originates to a large part in
feelings of insecurity, of cosmic anxiety, the need for protection
hence the reassurance and relief which are felt whenever a threatening
or merely puzzling phenomenon can be Explained* as a manifestation
of some universal law or divine order. For the opposite of order is
chaos which means unpredictability of events, absence of protection,



IMAGE



327



exposure to the whims of incomprehensible forces. The emergence or
order from chaos is a leitmotif of all mythologies; even the blood-
thirsty goddesses of the Hindus and the choleric deities of the Pantheon
provided a measure of reassurance, because they were moved by
human passions which could be comprehended by the mind; so that
everything that befell one was satisfactorily explained.

Thus virtually any explanation valid or notwhich commands
belief has a calming and cathartic effect. It can be observed on every
level: from the sudden, smiling relief of the small child when some
startling appearance is shown to be related to something familiar, and
recognized as part of the general order of things to the euphoria of
the scientist, who has solved his problem. Even painful experiences
are tempered with relief once they are recognized as particular in-
stances of a general law. To lose a relative by a 'stupid accident' is more
painful than to lose one 'kwfully', through old age or incurable illness.
The only effective consolation in the face of death is that it is part of
the cosmic order; if chimneysweepers were exempted from it, we
should resent it very much indeed. The idea of 'blind chance* deciding
our fate is intolerable; the mind abhors gaps in the lawful order as
nature abhors the vacuum.



On Truth and Beauty

However, the reduction of the uncanny and vexing to the orderly and
familiar, of the rustling of leaves in the dark forest to the whisper of
fairies or the vibrations of compressed air both equally reassuring
is merely the negative aspect of the power of explanation: relief from
anxiety. Its positive aspect is epitomized in the Pythagorean belief
that musical harmonies govern the motion of the stars. The myth of
creation appeals not only to man's abhorrence of chaos, but also to his
sense of wonder at the cosmic order: light is more than the absence of
darkness, and law more than the absence of disorder. I have spoken
repeatedly of that sense of 'oceanic wonder' the most sublimated ex-
pression of the self-transcending emotions which is at the root of the
scientist's quest for ultimate causes, and the artist's quest for the ulti-
mate realities of experience. The sensation of 'marvellous clarity' which
enraptured Kepler when he discovered his second law is snared by
every artist when a strophe suddenly fells into what seems to be its
predestined pattern, or when the felicitous image unfolds in the mind



328



THE ACT OF CREATION



the only one which can explain* by symbols the rationally unex-
plainable and express the inexpressible.

Experiences of this kind, when something previously turbid be-
comes suddenly transparent and permeated by light, are always
accompanied by the sudden expansion and subsequent catharsis of the
self-transcending emotions. I have called this the earthing' of emotion,
on the analogy of earthing (or 'grounding') an electrically charged
body, so that its tensions are drained by the immense current-absorb-
ing capacity of mother earth'. The scientist attains catharsis through
the reduction of phenomena to their primary causes; a disturbing par-
ticular problem is mentally 'earthed* into the universal order. The
same description applies to the artist, except that his 'primary causes'
and 'laws of order' are differently constituted. They derive from
mythology and magic, from the compulsive powers of rhythm and
form, from archetypal symbols which arouse unconscious resonances.
But their 'explanatory power', though not of a rational order, is
emotionally as satisfying as that of the scientist's explanations; both
mediate the 'earthing' of particular experiences into a universal frame;
and the catharsis which follows scientific discovery or artistic trou-
vaille has the same 'oceanic* quality. The melancholy charm of the
golden lads who come to dust because that is the condition of man, is
due to the 'earthing' of our personal predicaments in a universal
predicament. Art, like religion, is a school of self-transcendence; it
expands individual awareness into cosmic awareness, as science teaches
us to reduce any particular puzzle to the great universal puzzle.

"When Rembrandt had the audacity to paint the carcass of a flayed
ox, he taught his public to see and accept behind the repulsive par-
ticular object the timeless patterns of light, shadow, and colour. We
have seen that the discoveries of art derive from the sudden transfer
of attention from one matrix to another with a higher emotive poten-
tial. The intellectual aspect of this Eureka process is closely akin to the
scientist's or the mystic's 'spontaneous iHumraation*: the percep-
tion of a familiar object or event in a new, significant, light; its emotive
aspect is the rapt stillness of oceanic wonder. The two together intellec-
tual iQumination and emotional catharsis are the essence of the
aesthetic experience. The first constitutes the moment of truth; the
second provides the experience of beauty. The two are complemen-
tary aspects of an indivisible process that 'earthing' process where
'the infinite is made to blend itself with the finite, to stand visible, as it
were, attainable there* (Carlyle).



IMAGE



329



Every scientific discovery gives rise, in the connoisseur, to the ex-
perience of beauty, because the solution of the problem creates har-
mony out of dissonance; and vice versa, the experience of beauty can
occur only if the intellect endorses the validity of the operation
whatever its nature designed to elicit the experience. A virgin by
Botticelli, and a mathematical theorem by Poincare, do not betray
any similarity between the motivations or aspirations of their res-
pective creators; the first seemed to aim at 'truth', the second at
'beauty*. But it was Poincare who wrote that what guided him in his
unconscious gropings towards the 'happy combinations' which yield
new discoveries was 'the feeling of mathematical beauty, of the har-
mony of number, of forms, of geometric elegance. This is a true
aesthetic feeling thai all mathematicians know.' The greatest among
mathematicians and scientists, from Kepler to Einstein, made similar
confessions. 'Beauty is the first test; there is no permanent place in the
world for ugly mathematics*, wrote G. H. Hardy in his classic, A
Mathematician s Apology. Jacques Hadamard, whose pioneer work on
the psychology of invention I have quoted, drew the final conclusion:
'The sense of beauty as a "drive'* for discovery in our mathematical
field, seems to be almost the only one/ And the laconic pronouncement
of Dirac, addressed to his fellow-physicists, bears repeating: 'It is more
important to have beauty in one's equations than to have them fit
experiment/

If we now turn to the opposite camp, we find that painters and
sculptors, not to mention architects, have always been guided, and
often obsessed, by scientific and pseudo-scientific theories the golden
section, the secrets of perspective, Diirer's and Leonardo's 'ultimate
laws* of proportion,* Cezanne's doctrine 'everything in nature is
modelled on the sphere, the cone and the cylinder'; Braque's substitu-
tion of cubes for spheres; the elaborate theorizings of the neo-impres-
sionists; Le Corbusier's modulator theory based on the so-called
Fibonacci sequence of numbers the list could be continued endlessly.
The counterpart to A Mathematician's Apology, which puts beauty
before rational method, is Seurat's pronouncement (in a letter to a
friend): 'They see poetry in what I have done. No, I apply my method,
and that is all there is to it/

Both sides seem to be leaning over backwards: the artist to rationalize
his creative processes, the scientist to irrationalize them, so to speak. But
this fact in itself is significant. The scientist feels the urge to confess his
indebtedness to unconscious intuitions which guide his theorizing; the



330



THE ACT OF CREATION



artist values, or over-values, the theoretical discipline which controls
his intuition. The two factors are complementary; the proportions in
which they combine depend other things being equalforemost on
the medium in which the creative drive finds its expression; and they
shade into each other like the colours of the rainbow.

The act of creation itself, as we have seen, is based on essentially the
same underlying pattern in all ranges of the continuous rainbow spec-
trum. But the criteria for judging the finished product differ of course
from one medium to another. Though the psychological processes
which led to the creation of Poincare's theorem and of Botticelli's
virgin lie not as far apart as commonly assumed, the first can be
rigorously verified by logical operations, the second not. There seems
to be a crack in Keats's Grecian urn, and its message to sound rather
hollow; but if we recall two essential points made earlier on, the crack
will heal.

The first is that verification comes only post factum, when the crea-
tive act is completed; the act itself is always a leap into the dark, a dive
into the deeps, and the diver is more likely to come up with a handful
of mud than with a coral. False inspirations and freak theories are as
abundant in the history of science as bad works of art; yet they com-
mand in the victim's mind the same forceful conviction, the same
euphoria, catharsis, and experience of beauty as those happy finds which
are post factum proven right. Truth, as Kepler said, is an elusive hussy
who frequendy managed to fool even Galileo, Descartes, Leibniz,
Pasteur, and Einstein, to mention only a few. In this respect, then,
Poincare is in no better position than Botticelli: while in the throes of
the creative process, guidance by truth is as uncertain and subjective as
guidance by beauty.

The second point refers to the verifiability of the product after the
act; we have seen that even in this respect the contrast is not absolute,
but a matter of degrees (Chapter X). A physical theory is far more
open to verification than a work of art; but experiments, even so-
called crucial experiments, are subject to interpretation; and the his-
tory of science is to a large part a history of controversies, because the
interpretation of facts to 'confirm' or refute* a theory always contains
a subjective factor, dependent on the scientific fashions and prejudices
of the period. There were indeed times in the history of most sciences
when the interpretations of empirical data assumed a degree of sub-
jectivity and arbitrariness compared to which literary criticism appeared
almost to be an 'exact science'.



IMAGE



331



I do not wish to exaggerate; there is certainly a considerable dif-
ference, in precision and objectivity, between the methods of judging
a theorem in physics and a work of art. But I wish to stress once more
that there are continuous transitions between the two. The diagram
on p. 332 shows one among many such continuous series. Even pure
mathematics at the top of the series had its logical foundations shaken
by paradoxes like Godel's theorem; or earlier on by Cantors theory
of infinite aggregates (as a result of which Cantor was barred from
promotion in all German universities, and the mathematical journals
refused to publish his papers). Thus even in mathematics 'objective
truth' and logical veriflability' are far from absolute. As we descend
to atomic physics, the contradictions and controversial interpretation
of data increase rapidly; and as we move further down the slope,
through such hybrid domains as psychiatry, historiography, and biog-
raphy, from the w T orld of Poincare towards that of Botticelli, the
criteria of truth gradually change in character, become more avowedly
subjective, more overtly dependent on the fashions of the time, and,
above all, less amenable to abstract, verbal formulation. But neverthe-
less the experience of truth, however subjective, must be present for
the experience of beauty to arise; and vice versa, the solution of any
of 'nature's riddles', however abstract, makes one exclaim 'how
beautiful'.

Thus, to heal the crack in the Grecian urn and to make it acceptable
in this computer age we would have to improve on its wording (as
Orwell did on Ecclesiastes): Beauty is a function of truth, truth a
function of beauty. They can be separated by analysis, but in the lived
experience of the creative act and of its re-creative echo in the
beholder they are inseparable as thought is inseparable from emotion.
They signal, one in the language of the brain, the other of the bowels,
the moment of the Eureka cry, when 'the infinite is made to blend
itself with the finite* when eternity is looking through the window
of time. Whether it is a medieval stained-glass window or Newton's
equation of universal gravity is a matter of upbringing and chance;
both are transparent to the unprejudiced eye.



NOTES

To p. $29. 'proportions op the human figure.

'From the chin to the starting of the hair is a tenth part of the figure.

'From the chin to the top of the head is an eighth part.



333



THE ACT OP CREATION



'And from the chin to the nostrils is a third part of the face.

*And the same from the nostrils to the eyebrows, and from the eyebrows to
the starting of the hair.

'If you set your legs so far apart as to take a fourteenth part from your height,
and you open and raise your arms until you touch the line of the crown of the
head with your middle fingers, you must know that the centre of the circle
formed by the extremities of the outstretched limbs will be the navel, and the
space between the legs will form an equilateral triangle.

'The span of a man's outstretched arms is equal to his height/ (From Leonardo's
Notebooks, quoted by R. Goldwater and M. Treves, cds., 1947, p. 51.)



Figure 10

'-Medicine




'''..IfoveL




subjective



See text on pages 28, 331



XVIII
INFOLDING



Iet me return once more to the three main criteria of the technical
excellence of a comic work: its originality, emphasis, and
-J economy; and let us see how far they are applicable to other
forms of art.



Originality and Emphasis

From antiquity until well into the Renaissance artists thought, or pro-
fessed to think, that they were copying nature; even Leonardo wrote
into his notebook 'that painting is most praiseworthy which is most
like the thing represented'. Of course, they were doing nothing of the
sort. They were creating, as Plato had reproached them, 'man-made
dreams for those who are awake'. The thing represented had to pass
through two distorting lenses: the artist's mind, and his medium of
expression, before it emerged as a man-made dream the two, of
course, being intimately connected and interacting with each other.

To start with the medium: the space of the painter's canvas is smaller
than the landscape to be copied, and his pigment is different from the
colours he sees; the writer's ink cannot render a voice nor exhale the
smell of a rose. The nature of the medium always excludes direct
imitation. Some aspects of experience cannot be reproduced at all;
some only by gross oversimplification or distortion; and some only at
the price of sacrificing others. The limitations and peculiarities of his
medium force the artist at each step to make choices, consciously or un-
consciously; to select for representation those features or aspects which
he considers to be relevant, and to discard those which he considers
irrelevant. Thus we meet again the trinity of selection, exaggeration,
and simplification which I have discussed before (pp. 82-6; 263 ). Even

333



334



THE ACT OF CREATION



the most naturalistic picture, chronicle, or novel, whose maker naively
hopes to copy reality, contains an unavoidable element of bias, of
selective emphasis. Its direction depends on the distorting lenses in the
artist's mind the perceptual and conceptual matrices which pattern
his experience, and determine which aspects of it should be regarded
as relevant, which not. This part-automatic, part-conscious processing
of the experience, over which the medium exercises a kind of 'feed-
back-control', determines to a large extent what we call an artist's
individual style.

Theoretically, the range of choice before him is enormous. In
practice, it is narrowed down considerably by the conventions of his
period or school. They are imposed on him not only by external
pressures the public's taste and the critics' censure but mainly from
inside. The controls of skilled activities function, as we saw, below the
level of awareness on which that activity takes place whether it con-
sists in riding a bicycle or 'taking in' a landscape. The codes which
govern the matrices of perception are hidden persuaders; their in-
fluence permeates the whole personality, shapes his pattern of vision,
determines which aspects of reality should be considered significant,
while others are ignored, like the ticking of one's watch. For centuries
painters did not seem to have noticed that shadows have colours, nor
the fluidity of contours in hazy air; and if we were to add up those
aspects of existence which literature has ignored at one time or another,
they would cover practically the whole range of human experience.
Conversely, every period over-emphasizes some particular aspects of
experience and produces its special brand of 'stylization and compul-
sive mannerisms obvious to all but itself. For instance, the emphasis
on contour in classical painting is still so firmly embedded in our frames
of perception that we are unaware of the impossibility of seeing fore-
ground figure and background landscape simultaneously in sharp
focus. But we are aware of the absence of shadows in Chinese painting
or the absence of sex in Victorian fiction.

The measure of an artist's originality, put into the simplest terms, is
the extent to which his selective emphasis deviates from the conven-
tional norm and establishes new standards of relevance. All great in-
novations, which inaugurate a new era, movement, or school, consist
in such sudden shifts of attention and displacements of emphasis onto
some previously neglected aspect of experience, some blacked-out
range of the existential spectrum. The decisive turning points in the
history of every art-form are discoveries which show the characteristic



INFOLDING



335



features already discussed: they uncover what has always been there;
they are 'revolutionary', that is, destructive and constructive; they
compel us to revalue our values and impose a new set of rules on
the eternal game.

Most of the general considerations in the chapter on 'The Evolution
of Ideas' equally apply to Revolution of art. In both fields the truly
original geniuses are rare compared with the enormous number of
talented practitioners; the former acting as spearheads, opening up new
territories, which the latter will then diligently cultivate. In both
fields there are periods of crisis, of 'creative anarchy', leading to a
break-through to new frontiers followed by decades, or centuries of
consolidation, orthodoxy, stagnation, and decadence until a new
crisis arises, a holy discontent, which starts the cycle again. Other
parallels could be drawn: multiple discoveries* the simultaneous
emergence of a new style, for which the time is ripe, independently in
several places; 'collective discoveries' originating in a closely knit
group, clique, school, or team; 'rediscoveries* the periodic revivals of
past and forgotten forms of art; lastly 'cross-fertilizations' between
seemingly distant provinces of science and art. To quote a single
example: the rediscovery of the treatise on conic sections by Apol-
lonius of Perga, dating from the fourth century B.C., gave the ellipse
to Kepler who built on it a new astronomy and to Guarini, who
introduced new vistas into architecture.



Economy

Yesterday's discoveries are today's commonplaces; a daringly fresh
image soon becomes stale by repetition, degenerates into a cliche, and
loses its emotive appeal. The newborn day or the piercing cry are no
longer even perceived as metaphorical: the once separate contexts of
birth and dawn have merged, there is no juxtaposition reverting to
jargon, bisociative dynamism has been converted into associative
routine.

The recurrent cycles of stagnation, crisis, and new departure in the
arts are to a large extent caused by the gradual saturation which any
particular invention or technique produces in artist and audience. A
child or a savage, who is taken to the cinema for the first time, derives
wonder and delight not so much from the context of the film as from
the magic of illusion as such. In the sophisticated theatre-goer's mind,



33"



THE ACT OF CREATION



illusion in itself plays a relatively subordinate part except when,
watching a thriller, he regresses to infancy; the two matrices have
become virtually integrated into one, so that he is capable of thinking
critically of the quality of the acting and of appreciating at the same
time the merits of the play. But to recapture the erstwhile magic, in all
its freshness, he must turn to something new: experimental theatre,
avant-garde films, or Japanese KabuH, perhaps; novel experiences
which compel him to strain his imagination, in order to make sense of
the seemingly absurd to participate, and re-create.

When the styles and techniques of an art have become conventiona-
lized and stagnant, the audience is exempted from the necessity to
exert its intelligence and imagination and deprived of its reward.
The 'consumer' reads the conventional novel, looks at the conventional
landscape, and watches the conventional play with perfect ease and
self-assurance and a complete absence of awe and wonder. He pre-
fers the familiar to the unfamiliar, because it presents no challenge and
demands no creative effort. Art becomes a mildly pleasant pastime and
loses its emotive impact, its transcendental appeal and cathartic effect.
The artist, in growing frustration, senses that the conventional tech-
niques have become 'stale*, that they have lost their power over the
audience, and become inadequate as means of communication and
self-expression. Of course the technique itself cannot become 'stale':
blank verse has the same rhythmic qualities today as it had three cen-
turies ago; Fragonard's nymphs and shepherds are as delightful as
ever, but they dance no more. We have become immunized against
their emotional appeal at least for the time being. We may again
become susceptible to them at the next romantic revival, at some
future turn of the spiral.

The history of art could be written in terms of the artist's struggle
against the deadening cumulative effect of saturation. The way out of
the cul-de-sac is either a revolutionary departure towards new horizons,
or the rediscovery of past techniques, or a combination of both.
(Egyptian art went through a revival of archaic styles under the
twenty-sixth dynasty, in the seventh century B.C.; Rome had a Renais-
sance of sorts in the second century a.d. when Hadrian built his
Athenaeum; and so on to the pre-Raphaelites and the relatively recent
rediscovery of primitive art.)

But in between these dramatic turning points one can observe a
more gradual evolution of styles which seems to proceed in two
opposite directions both intended to counteract saturation. One is a



INFOLDING



337



tread towards more pointed emphasis; the other towards more economy
or implicitness. The first strives to recapture the artist's waning mastery
over the audience by providing a spicier fare for jaded appetites:
exaggerated mannerisms, frills, flamboyance, an overly explicit appeal
to me emotions, 'rubbing it in* symptoms of decadence and im-
potence, which need not concern us further. The opposite trend is
towards economy and implicitness in the sense previously defined
(p. 82 et seq.); it has been eloquently described by Mallarme in a passage
which outlined the programme of the French symbolist movement:

Je pense qu'il faut quil n y ait qu allusion. La contemplation des
objets, 1' image s'envolant des reveries sucitees par eux, sont le chant:
les Parnassiens, eux, prennent la chose entierement et la montrent;
par la il manquent de mystere; ils retirent aux esprits cette pie
dilicieuse de croire quits creent. Nommer un objet, e'est supprimer les
trois quarts de la jouissance du poeme, qui est fait du bonheur de
deviner peu a peu: le suggerer, voila le reve. C'est le parfait usage
de ce mystere qui constitue le symbol: evoquer petit a petit un
objet pour montrer un etat d'ame, ou, inversement, choisir un
objet et en degager un etat d'me, par une serie de dechiffrements. . . .

(Enquete sur Involution Litteraire.)
(It seems to me that there should be only allusions. The contempla-
tion of objects, the volatile image of the dreams they evoke, these make
the song: the Parnassians [the classicist movement of Leconte de Lisle,
Heredia, etc.] who make a complete demonstration of the object
thereby lack mystery; they deprive the [reader's] mind of that delicious joy
of imagining that it creates. To name the thing means forsaking three
quarters of a poem's enjoyment which is derived from unravelling it
gradually, by happy guesswork: to suggest the thing creates the dream*
Symbols are formed when this secret is used to perfection: to evoke
little by little, the image of an object in order to demonstrate a mood;
or, conversely, to choose an object and to extract from it a mood, by
a series of decipherings.)

However, it was not the French symbolists who invented the trend
from the explicit statement to the implicit hint, from the obvious to
the allusive and oblique; it is as old as art itself. All mythology is
studded with symbols, veiled in allegory; the parables of Christ pose
riddles which the audience must solve. The intention is not to obscure
the message, but to make it more luminous by compelling the recipient
to work it out by himself to re-create it. Hence the message must be



338



THE ACT OP CREATION



banded to him in implied form and implied means 'folded in. To
make it unfold, he must fill in the gaps, complete the hint, see through
the symbolic disguise. But the audience has a tendency to become more
sophisticated witb time; once it has mastered all the tricks, the excite-
ment goes out of the game; so the message must be made more im-
plicit, more tightly folded. I believe that this development towards
greater economy (meaning not brevity, but implicitness) can be traced
in virtually all periods and forms of art. To indulge in a little law-
making, let me call it the 'law of infolding*. It is the antidote to the
law of diminishing returns in the domain of the emotions.

Greek tragedy, as far as we can tell, starts with the 'goat song',
derived from the worshipful ceremonies in honour of Bacchus-
Dionysius. These in turn originate even further back in the past, in
rituals accompanied by human sacrifice, which the Bacchantae enacted
in symbolic ways, that is, by implication; their traces can still be found
in Euripides. At some stage, the epic recital of events branched off
from their direct representation by actors in disguise. The early bards
were probably still impersonating their heroes by voice and gesture, as
the mimes and histriones did in medieval days; but economy demanded
that histrionics be banned from recitation it is practised now mainly
by artistically minded nannies, and on the B.B.C. children s hour.
And even legitimate histrionics, the art of acting, shows a trend towards
less emphasis, more economy. Not only do Victorian melodramatics
strike one as grotesque; but even films no more than twenty years old,
and highly valued at the time, appear surprisingly dated overdone,
obvious, over-explicit.

Somewhere around 600 B.C. the Homeric epics were consolidated
in their final version, disguised in written symbols, and folded into
parchment. The actor in his mask impersonated the hero; the bard
imitated his voice; the printed book evokes the illusion that some-
body is talking by a pair of inverted commas yet we can almost hear
Karenina's whisper or Uriah Heap's ingratiating whine.

We have gone a long way in learning to create magic by the most
frugal means. Only a hundred years ago the average Victorian novelist
did not shrink from crude methods of dramatization: printed illus-
trations, the use of the historic present, invitations addressed to the
gentle reader to follow the narrator to a certain house in a certain
town on a winter evening of the year 183 . . and peep through the
window. Here, as in pre-Raphaelite painting, we find emphasis sans
economy at work a safe criterion of bad art.



INPOIDXNG



339



One method of economy is 'leaving out* firstly, everything that
by the writer's standards is irrelevant, in the second place everything
that is obvious, i.e. which the reader can and should supply out of his
own imagination. 'The more bloody good stuff you cut out the more
bloody good your novel will be,* Hemingway advised a young writer.
Modern prose had to accelerate its pace, not because trains run faster
than mailcoaches, but because the trains of thought run faster th?n a
century ago, on tracks beaten smooth by popular psychology, the
mass-media, and torrents of print. The novelist no longer needs to
crank up the reader's imagination as if it were a model-T car; he
pushes the button of the self-starter and leaves the rest to the battery.
A glance at the opening lines of Mountains like White Elephants, or
Cat in the Rain, will show that the comparison is hardly exaggerated.

But there exist other, different, methods of infolding obliquity,
compression, and the Seven Types of Ambiguity a modest estimate
of Empson's. The later Joyce, for instance, makes one realize why the
German word for writing poetry is 'dichten to condense {certainly
more poetical than 'composing*, i.e. 'putting together'; but perhaps
less poetical than the Hungarian kolteni to hatch). Freud actually
believed that to condense or compress several meanings or allusions
into a word or phrase was the essence of poetry. It is certainly an essen-
tial ingredient with Joyce; almost every word in the great monologues
in Finnegans Wake is overcharged with allusions and implications. To
revert to an earlier metaphor, economy demands that the stepping-
stones of the narrative should be spaced wide enough apart to require
a significant effort from the reader; Joyce makes him feel like a runner
in a marathon race with hurdles every other step and aggravated by a
mile-long row of hieroglyphs which he must decipher. Joyce would
perhaps be the perfect writer if the perfect reader existed.

Evidently, if the infolding technique is pushed too far, obscurity
results, as witnessed by much contemporary poetry. It may be only a
passing effect, due to a time-lag between the artist's and his public's
maturity and range of perception; it may also be a conscious or half-
conscious deception, practised by the artist on his public including
himself. To decide which of these alternatives applies to a difficult work
of art is one of the trickiest problems for the critic; here, as a warning
example, is Tolstoy's assessment of the French symbolists: 1

The productions of another celebrity, Verlaine, are not less
affected and unintelligible, ... I must pause to note the amazing



340



THE ACT OF CREATION



celebrity of these two versifiers, Baudelaire and Verlaine. . . . How
the French . . . could attribute such importance to these versifiers who
were far from skilful in form and most contemptible in subject-
matter, is to me incomprehensible.

The Last Veil

We have seen the Law of Infolding at work in the evolution of humour
from the coarse comedian's rubbing in of the joke to the mere hint,
the New Yorker type of riddle. The comic simile starts with comparing
a rnan to a pig or an ass (neither of them comic any longer, but simply
a colloquial adjective) and progresses to Heine's esoteric comparison
of a girl's face to a palimpsest. A similar progression could be shown
towards more oblique or condensed forms of metaphor and poetic
imagery, replacing explicit analogies which, through wear and tear,
have shrivelled to empty cliches. Long before the Symbolists, Blake
realized the drawbacks of trying to make 'a complete demonstration
of the object* and thereby depriving it of its mystery:

The vision of Christ that thou doest see

Is my visions greatest enemy. Thine has a great

hook nose like thine
Mine has a snub nose like to mine.

Rhythm has undergone a similar evolution. Unlike the beat of the
tom-tom or the rattling of the carriage wheels, metre does not consist
of simple repetitions, but of intricate patterns of short and long
stressed and light syllables, on which patterns of assonance and allitera-
tion have further been superimposed. As music has travelled a long
way from the simple repetitive figures performed on monochords and
other primitive single-tone instruments, so has metre. Its original,
simple pulse is only preserved in its sub-structure implied, but no
longer pounded out,

In his analysis of metric form, L A. Richards 2 calls its effect 'patterned
expectancy*:

Rhythm and its specialized form, metre, depend upon repetition,
and expectancy. Equally where what is expected recurs and where it
fails, all rhythmical and metrical effects spring from anticipation.
As a rule this anticipation is unconscious. . . . The mind, after



INFOLDING



341



reading a line or two of verse . . . prepares itself for any one of a
number of possible sequences, at the same time negatively incapaci-
tating itself for others. The effect produced by what actually follows
depends very closely upon this unconscious preparation and consists
largely of the further twist which it gives to expectancy. It is in
terms of the variation in these twists that rhythm is to be
described This texture of expectations, satisfactions, disappoint-
ments, surprisals, which the sequence of syllables brings about, is
rhythm. . . . Evidently there can be no surprise and no disappoint-
ment unless there is expectation Hence the rapidity with which

too simple rhythms, those which are too easily 'seen through',
grow cloying or hispid.

if the mind is to experience the * waking trance* which Yeats promised
as poetry's reward it must actively co-operate by filling in the missing
beats and extending the sequence into the future. The witch-doctor
hypnotizes his audience with the monotonous rhythm of his drum;
the poet merely provides the audience with the means to hypnotize
itself.

"While elaborate metric forms impose a strain on our patterned ex-
pectation, the Thyme is its sudden and full reward; it has the same
cathartic effect as the harmonious resolution of a musical phrase. It is
gloriously explicit in its amrmation of unity in variety; of the magic
connection between sense and sound; of the oggly-gobbly delights of
sheer repetition. That is obviously the reason for its unpopularity with
contemporary poets; it offends against the ascetic diet imposed by the
law of infolding. I am old-fashioned enough to regret its passing, as I
regret the passing of the barrel-organ.

Emphasis derives from the selection, exaggeration, and simplification
of those elements which the artist chooses to regard as significant; it is
a means to impose his vision on his audience. Economy is a technique
designed to entice the audience into active co-operation, to make them
re-create the artist's vision. To do so the audience must decipher the
implied message; put into technical terms, he must (cf. pp. 84-6)
intrapolate (fill in the gaps between the stepping stones'); extrapolate
(complete the hint); and transform or reinterpret the symbols, images,
and analogies; unwrap the veiled allegory. Now these operations which
the audience must perform (interpolation, extrapolation, transforma-
tion) to get the artist's implied message, correspond like mirror



342 THE ACT OF CREATION

images, as it were to the devices for lending a message emphasis: ex-
aggeration, simplification, selection. The artist, intent on driving home
his message, exaggerates and simplifies the audience co-operates
by filling in the gaps and extending the range of the communica-
tion. He chooses what he considers to be the significant aspect among
other aspects of a given experience the audience discovers the sig-
nificance by reinterpreting the message. All this may sound a little
abstract, but it leads to a simple conclusion: explicit works of art with
an emphatic, pointed message contain all the elements in ready-made
form which otherwise the audience would have to contribute. The
surest symptom of decadent art is that it leaves nothing to the imagina-
tion; the muse has bared her flabby bosom like a too obliging harlot
there is no veiled promise, no mystery, nothing to divine.

The law of infolding affects science too, though in a different way.
Aristode had thought that nearly everything worth discovering about
the ways of the universe had already been discovered; Francis Bacon
and Descartes believed that to complete the edifice of science would
take but a generation or two; Haeckel proclaimed that all the seven
riddles of the universe had been solved. The idea of progress (in
science and any other cld) is only about three centuries old; and only
since the collapse of mechanistic science around the turn of the last
century did it begin to dawn on the more far-sighted among scientists,
that the unfolding of the secrets of nature was accompanied by a
parallel process of infoldingthat we were learning more and more
about less and less. The more precise knowledge the physicist acquired,
the more ambiguous and oblique symbols he had to use to express it;
he could no longer make an intelligible model of sub-atomic reality,
he could only allude to it by formal equations which have as much
resemblance to reality 'as a telephone number has to the subscriber.
One might almost think that physical science is determined to imple-
ment the programme of the French symbolists.

It may seem that I have laid too much stress on the law of infolding.
But quite obviously it plays an essential role in the progress of art
and understanding; and it is in fact a characteristic of the human
condition. For man is a symbol-making animal. He constructs a
symbolic model of outer reality in his brain, and expresses it by a second
set of symbols in terms of words, equations, pigment, or stone. All he
knows directly are bodily sensations, and all he can directly do is to
perform bodily motions; the rest of his knowledge and means of ex-
pression is symbolical. To use a phrase coined by J. Cohen, 3 rrar> has a



INFOLDING



343



metaphorical consciousness. Any attempt to get a direct grasp at
naked reality is self-defeating; Urania, too, like the other muses, al-
ways has a last veil left to fold in.

Summary

Art originates in sympathetic magic; in the illusions of stagecraft its
origin is directly reflected. In the mind of naive audiences, the im-
personator becomes identified with the character impersonated, as in
ancient days the masked dancer became identified with the rain-god.
On the other hand, sophisticated audiences are conscious and critical
of the actors* performance, but are nevertheless caught by the illusion
to the extent of producing the physical symptoms of intense emotion;
their awareness suspended between two planes of experience, they
exemplify the bisociative process in its purest form

The escapist character of illusion facilitates the unfolding of the
participatory emotions and inhibits the self-asserting emotions, except
those of a vicarious character; it draws on untapped resources of
emotion and leads them to catharsis.

Rhythm and rhyme, assonance and pun are not artificial creations,
but vestigial echoes of primitive phases in the development of lan-
guage, and of the even more primitive pulsations of living matter;
hence our particular receptiveness for messages which arrive in a
rhythmic pattern, and their hypnotic effect. Association by sound
affinity is still employed in subconscious mentation; it is manifested
in the punning mania of children, in sleep, fatigue and mental disorder.
The poet creates by bisociating sound and sense, metre and meaning;
his voice is bi-vocal so to speak.

Metaphor and imagery come into existence by a process, familiar
from scientific discovery, of seeing an analogy where nobody saw one
before. The aesthetic satisfaction derived from the analogy depends on
the emotiove potential of the matrices which participate in it. Synes-
thetic cross-references from sight to touch, for instance, may enrich
the experience, depending on personal preferences. Visual imagery,
derived from the most important sense organ, carries a special emotive
appeal; the 'picture-strip' language of concrete imagery pre-dates
conceptualized thought. The highest emotive potential is found in
images which evoke archetypal symbols and arouse unconscious
resonances. They lead to the 'earthing* of emotion by relating



344



THE ACT OF CREATION



particular experiences to a universal frame, the temporal to the eternal
as die scientist relates particular phenomena to general laws and
ultimate causes. In both cases the flash of spontaneous illumination is
followed by emotional catharsis; 'truth' and beauty* appear as
complementary aspects of the indivisible experience. The difference
between the two in objective verifiability is a matter of degrees, and
arises only after the act; the act itself is in both cases a leap into the
dark, where scientist and artist are equally dependent on their fallible
intuitions.

Originality, selective emphasis, and economy are certainly not the
only criteria of literary excellence, but they proved to be a kind of
handy mariner's compass for the critic at sea; and the 'law of infolding'
appears to be equally valid and tantalizing in science as in art.



XIX



CHARACTER AND PLOT

Identification

In his monologue in Act 33, after the Hrst Player's dramatic recital,
Hamlet asks a pertinent question:

Is it not monstrous that this player here,
But in a fiction, in a dream of passion,
Could force his soul so to his own conceit
That from, her working all the visage wann'd,
Tears in his eyes, distraction in *s aspect,
A broken voice . . .

. . . and all for nothing,

For Hecuba!

What's Hecuba to him, or he to Hecuba,
That he should weep for her?

The answer to Hamlet's question was given by Flaubert: Emma
Bovary, cest moL

The magic tie is identification. "Without it, why indeed should our
tear-glands become active on Hecuba's behalf? Goethe's early novel,
The Sorrows of Young Werther, unleashed an epidemic of suicide in
Germany; every romantic young man felt that he was Wcrther.

The extent to which a character in a novel 'lives' depends on the
intensity of the reader's participatory ties with him. To know what
Hamlet feels while listening to the ghost, is the same thing as to know
how it feels to be Hamlet. I must project part of myself into Hamlet,
or Hamlet into myself 'projection* and *introjection' are metaphors
referring to the partial breakdown of the crust of personal identity.
This remains true, regardless whether the reader admires, despises,

345



34<*



THE ACT OP CREATION



hates, or loves the fictional character. In order to love or hate some-
thing which exists only as a series of signs made with printer's ink, the
reader must endow it with a phantom life, an emanation from his
conscious or unconscious self. The major contribution will probably
come from the unconscious, which takes phantoms for granted and is
apt to confuse personal identities.

Thus the figments of Bovary, Little Lord Faunderoy, and Alyosha
Karamazov which float around us in the air, are projections which
body forth from our intimate selves, like the medium's ectoplasm. The
author has created the prototype-phantoms, and the reader creates out
of himself a copy, which he assumes to be like the original, though this
is not necessarily the case. Whether the Elizabethans saw Shylock in a
tragic or grotesque light, my own Shylock is a tragic figure he has a
great hook nose like mine, not a snub nose like to thine.

Some novelists give meticulous descriptions of the visual appearances
of their characters; others give little or none. Here again the general
trend is away from the over-explicit statement towards the suggestive
hint which entices the reader to build up his own image of the character.
I am always annoyed when the author informs me that Sally Anne has
auburn hair and green eyes. I don't particularly like the combination,
and would have gone along more willingly with the author's intention
that I should fall in love with Sally Anne if he had left the colour-scheme
to me. There is a misplaced concreteness which gets in the way of the
imagination. It is chiefly due to the misconception that 'imagination'
means literally seeing images in the mind's eye; and consequendy that,
for a character to come alive, I must carry a complete picture of it in
my mind. Now this is an old fallacy which affects the subject we are
discussing only indirecdy, but has a direct bearing on certain basic
assumptions about the nature of perception and memory, on which
the present theory rests. These are discussed in Book Two, which also
contains the detailed evidence for the rather summary remarks which
follow*

Phantoms and Images

Jn the first place, the evidence shows that there are people endowed
with the faculty of so-called eidetic imagery that is, of really seeing
mental images with dream-like, hallucinatory vividness; but this
faculty, though relatively frequent in children, is rare in adults. The
average adult does not really see anything approaching a complete and



CHARACTER AND PLOT



347



sharp image when lie recalls a memory for instance, the face of a
friend though he may deceive himself into believing that he does.
How do we know that he is deceiving himself? Here is one way of
proving it among many others. The experimenter lets the subject
look at a square o say, four rows of four letters (which do not form
any meaningful sequences) until the subject thinks he can see them in
his mind's eye. He can, in fact, fluently read' them out after the square
has been taken away or so he believes. For when he is asked to read
the square backwards, or diagonally, his fluency is gone. He has, in
fact, learned the sequence by rote without realizing it which is quite
a different matter from forming a visual image. If he could really see
the square, he could read it in all directions with the same ease and
speed

The ordinary citizen, who does not happen to be a painter, or a
policeman, or of a particularly observant type, would be at a loss to
give an exact visual description even of people whom he knows quite
well- What we do remember of a person is a combination of (a)
certain vivid details, and (b) what we call 'general impressions'. The
'vivid detail' may be a gesture, an intonation, an outstanding visual
feature the mole on Granny's chinwhich, for one reason or an-
other, has stuck in one's memory, like a fragment from a picture-
strip, and which functions pars pro toto as a part, or sign deputizing
for the whole.

The 'general impression' on the other hand, is based on the opposite
method of memory-formation: it is a schematized, sketchy, quasi
'skeletonized* outline of a whole configuration, regardless of detail.
A woman may say to a man, *I haven't seen you wearing that tie
before* though she has not the faintest recollection of any of the
ties he has worn in the past. She recognizes a deviation from memories
which she is unable to recall. The explanation of the paradox is that
although she cannot remember the colour or pattern of any single tie
which that man wore in the past, she does remember that they were
generally subdued and discreet, which the new tie is not. It deviates not
from any particular past experience, but from the general code, from
an abstracted visual quality that these past experiences had in common.
Such perceptual codes function as selective filters, as it were; the filter
rejects as 'wrong' anything which does not fit its 'mesh'; and accepts
or 'recognizes' anything that fits it, i.e. which gives the same 'general
impression . The gentleman with the new tie, for instance, can get his
own back with the remark, 'You have done something to your hair,



348



THE ACT OF CREATION



haven't you?' He has never noticed her previous hair-dos at all, but he
does notice that the present one just doesn't go with her mousy appear-
ance. Here the code is 'mousiness' which, like all visual schematizations,
is difficult to describe in words, but instantly recognized by the eye.
We talk of an 'innocent' or 'lascivious' expression, of 'sensitive' or
'brutal' features characteristics which defy verbal description, but
which can be sketched with a few lines as emotions can be indi-
cated by a few basic strokes indicating the slant of mouth and eyes.
Other codes of recognition may combine form and motion, or
vision and hearing: a characteristic gait, the timbre of a voice.

Thus recognizing a person docs not mean matching a retinal image
against a memory image of photographic likeness. My memory of
John Brown is not a photographic record; it consists of several, simpli-
fied and schematized 'general impressions' whose combination, plus a
few 'vivid details', enable me to recognize him when we meet, or to
remember him in his absence. But that remembrance is only partly of
a pictorial nature, and much less so than I believe it to be see the
experiment with the letter-square. The reason for this self-deception is
that the process of combining those simplified visual and other schemata
and adorning them with a few genuine 'photographic fragments, is
unconscious and instantaneous. The perceptual codes function below
the level of awareness; we arc playing a game without being aware
of the rules. We overestimate the precision of our imagery, as we
overestimate the precision of our verbal thinking (quite often we thml-
that we have understood the meaning of a difficult text and discover
later that we haven't really) because we are unaware of the gaps
between the words and between the sketchy contours of the schemata.
All introspective 'visual' thinkers, from Einstein downward, em-
phasized the vagueness, haziness, and abstract character of their con-
scious visual imagery. True picture-strip thinking is confined to the
dream, and other manifestations of the subconscious.

The point of this apparent digression was to show that if the above
is true regarding our mental images of real people whom we know, it
must be all the more true regarding our images of fictional characters
which lack any sensory basis. A character may indeed be 'alive' with
the utmost vividness in the reader's mind, but this vividness need not
be of a visual nature. The reader may fall in love with Kargnina,
despair when she throws herself under the train, mourn her death
and yet be unable to visualize her in his mind's eye or give a detailed
description of her appearance. Her 'living image' in the reader is not



CHARACTER AND PLOT



349



a photographic image, but a multi-dimensional construct of a variety
of aspects of her general appearance, her gestures and voice, her pat-
terns of thinking and behaving. It is a combination of various 'general
impressions' and 'vivid details' that is, constructed on much the same
principles as images of real people.

In fact, there is no sharp dividing line between our images of people
whom we have met in the flesh, and those whom we know only from
descriptions whether factual or fictional (or a combination of both).
The dream knows no distinction between factual and fictitious charac-
ters, and children as well as primitives are apt to confuse the two.

Thus the phantoms of Bovary and Karenina which float around
us are not so very different from our apparently solid memories of Joe
Smith and Peter Brown; both varieties are made of the same stuff.
In one of Muriel Spark's novels, a wise old bird asks his woman friend:
'Do you think, Jean, that other people exist? ... I mean, do you
consider that people the people around us are real or illusory?
Surely you see that here is a respectable question. Given that yon
believe in your own existence as self-evident, do you believe in that of
others? Do you believe that I for instance, at this moment exist?' 1

The only certainty that other people exist, not merely as physical
shapes, but as sentient beings, is derived from partly conscious, but
mostly unconscious, inference, i.e. empathy. We automatically infer
from minute pointers in a person's face or gestures which we mostly
do not even register consciously his character, mood, how he will
behave in an emergency, and a lot of other things. Without this
faculty of projecting part of one's own sentient personality into the
other person s shell, which enables us to say *I know how you feel*,
the pointers would be meaningless. Lorenz has shown that the various
postures and flexions of the wolf's tail are indicative of at least ten
different moods. As we have lost our tails we cannot empathize with
these moods but since our labial muscles are not very different, we
feel at once the significance of bared teeth.

The semi-abstract schematizations which we call 'general impres-
sions' of appearance, character, and personality, are intuitive pointer-
readings based on empathy. It is by this means that we assign reality
and sentience to other people. Once more, the process diners from
bringing a fictional character alive in our minds mainly by the nature
of the pointers. A bland face at a cocktail party uttering the conven-
tional type of remark may provide less pointers for empathy and imagi-
nation than the cunningly planted hints of die novelist, specially



350



THE ACT OF CREATION



designed to produce positive or negative identifications. Some phan-
toms can be more real to the mind than many a bore made of solid
flesh. The distinction between fact and fiction is a late acquisition of
rational thought unknown to the unconscious, and largely ignored
by the emotions.

Conflict

Drama strives on conflict, and so does the novel. The nature of the
conflict may be explicitly stated or merely implied; but an element of
it must be present, otherwise the characters would be gliding through
a frictionless universe.

The conflict may be fought in the divided heart of a single charac-
ter; or between two or more persons; or between man and his destiny.
The conflict between personalities may be due to a clash of ideas or
temperaments, to incompatible codes of behaviour or scales of value.
But whatever its motif, a quarrel will assume the dignity of drama only
if the audience is lead to accept the attitude of both sides as valid, each
within its own frame of reference. If the author succeeds in this, the
conflict will be projected into the spectator's or reader's mind, and
experienced as a clash between two simultaneous and incompatible
identifications. 'We make out of our quarrels with others rhetoric,
but of our quarrels with ourselves poetry,* said Yeats.

Dramatic conflict thus always reveals some paradox which is latent
in the mind. It reflects both sides of the medal whereas in our practical
pursuits we see only one at a time. The paradox may be seemingly
superficial, as when our sympathies are divided between Hamlet and
Laertes, two equally worthy contestants, with the resulting desire to
help both, that is to harm both. But at least the double complicity in
the double slaughter is prompted not by hate but love, and we are
made to realize that it was destiny, not their own volition, which made
them destroy each other; the paradox is 'earthed* in the human
condition.

Thus the artist compels his audience to live on several planes at
once. He identifies himself with several characters in turn Caesar,
Brutus, Antony, projecting some aspect of himself into each of them,
and speaking through their mouths; or introjecting them, if you like,
and lending them his voice. He presents Brutus and Caesar alternately
in situations where they command sympathy and impose their patterns
of reasoning, their scales of value, until each has established his own



CHARACTER AND BLOT



351



independent matrix in the spectator's mind. Having acquired these
multiple identities, the spectator is led to a powerful climax, where he
is both murderer and victim; and thence to catharsis. In the Bhagavid
Gila the Lord Krishna appears on the battlefield in the role of charioteer
to his disciple Arjuna, whom he cures of his pacifist scruples by ex-
plaining that the slayer and the slain are One, because both are em-
bodiments of the indestructible Atma; therefore 'the truly wise mourn
neither for the living nor for the dead.' I doubt whether this doctrine,
taken literally, had a beneficial effect on the ethics of Hinduism,* but
to be both Caesar and Brutus in one's imagination has a profound
cathartic effect, and is one way of approaching Nirvana.

Brutus is an honourable man; so is Caesar; but what about Iago?
Through pitying Desdemona, and sharing Othello's despair, we are
compelled to hate Iago; but we can hate Iago only if he has come to
life for us and in us; and he has come to life in us because he too com-
mands our understanding and, at moments, our sympathy the
resonance of our own frustrated ambitions and jealousies. Without
this unavowed feeling of complicity, he would be a mere stage-prop,
and we could hate him no more than a piece of cardboard. Iago,
Richard III, Stavrogin, the great villains of literature, have an irresist-
ible appeal to some common, repressed villainousness in ourselves,
and give us a wonderfully purifying opportunity to discover what it
feels like to be frankly a villain.

But true-black villains are limit cases; the more evenly our sym-
pathies are distributed among the antagonists, the more successfully
the work will actualize latent aspects of our personalities. Caliban and
Prospero, Faust and Mephisto, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, Christ
and the Great Inquisitor each pair is locked in an everlasting duel in
which we act as seconds for both. In each of these conflicts two self-,
contained frames of reference, two sets of values, two universes of
discourse collide. All great works of literature contain variations and
combinations, overt or implied, of such archetypal conflicts inherent
in the condition of man, which first occur in the symbols of mythology,
and are restated in the particular idiom of each culture and period. All
literature, wrote Gerhart Hauptmann, is 'the distant echo of the primi-
tive word behind the veil of words'; and the action of a drama or
novel is always the distant echo of some ancestral action behind the
veil of the period's costumes and conventions. There are no new
themes in literature, as there are no new human instincts; but every age
provides new variations and sublimations, new settings and a different



35^ THE ACT OF CREATION

set of rules for fighting the old battles all over again. To quote G. W.
Brandt: 'There is basically only a limited number of plots; they can be
seen, in different guises, recurring down the ages. The reason is in life
itself. Human relationships, whilst infinitely varied in detail, reveal
stripped down to fundamentals a number of repetitive patterns.
Writers straining to invent a plot entirely fresh have known this for a
long time. Goethe quoted Gozzi's opinion that there were only thirty-
six tragic situations- and he added that Schiller, who believed that
there were more, had not even succeeded in finding as many as that/ 2

Integrations and Confrontations

If the individual act of discovery displays essentially the same psycho-
logical pattern in science and in art, their collective progress differs in
one important respect. We have seen (Chapter X) that the evolution
of science is neither continuous nor cumulative in a strict sense; but it
is nevertheless more so than the evolution of art.

In the discoveries of science, the bisociated matrices merge in a new
synthesis, which in turn merges with others on a higher level of the
hierarchy; it is a process of successive confluences towards unitary,
universal laws (at least, this applies to a given province of science in a
given period or cycle). The progress of art does not display this overall
'river-delta* pattern. The matrices with which the artist operates are
chosen for their sensory qualities and emotive potential; his bisociative
act is a juxtaposition of these planes or aspects of experience, not their
fusion in an intellectual synthesis to which, by their very nature, they
do not lend themselves. This difference is reflected in the quasi-linear
progression of science, compared with the quasi-timeless character of
art, its continual re-statements of basic patterns of experience in chang-
ing idioms. If the explanations of science are like streams joining rivers,
rivers moving towards the unifying ocean, the explanations of art
may be compared to the tracing back of a ripple in the stream to its
source in a distant moimtain-spring.

But I must once more repeat, at the risk of being tedious, that in all
domains of creative activity intellectual and aesthetic experience arc
both present in various mixtures; that 'science' and 'art' form a con-
tinuum; that changes of fashion are common in the zig-zag course of
science, while on the other hand, development of a given art-form over
a period often shows a distinct 'river-delta' pattern.* The modern



CHARACTER AND PLOT



353



atom-physicist knows more than Democritus, but then Joyce's
Ulysses also knows more than Homer's Odysseus; and in some respects
this progress in knowledge, too, is of a cumulative order.

Archetypes

Always bearing these qualifications in mind, we might spin out the
metaphor: if the great confluence towards which science strives is the
universal logos, the ultimate spring of aesthetic experience is the
archetypos. The literal meaning of the word is 'implanted' [typos=z
stamp) 'from the beginning'. Jung described archetypes as 'the psychic
residua of numberless experiences of the same type' encountered by
our ancestors, and stamped into the memory of the race that is, into
the deep layers of the 'collective unconscious , below the level of per-
sonal memories. Hence, whenever some archetypal motif is sounded,
the response is much stronger than warranted by its face value the
mind responds like a tuning fork to a pure tone.

One need not be a follower of Jung to recognize the same arche-
typal experiences crystallized into symbols in the mythologies of
cultures widely separate in space and time. Examples of such recurrent
patterns are the death-and-resurrection motif; the extension of the
sexual duality into the metaphysical polarities of masculine logic and
feminine intuition, mother earth and heavenly father, etc.; the strife
between generations and its counterpoint, the taboo on incest; the
Promethean struggle to wrest power from the gods and the impera-
tive need to placate them by sacrifice; the urge to penetrate to the
ultimate mystery and the resigned admission that reality is beyond
the mind's grasp, hidden by the veil of Maya, reduced to shadows in
Plato's cave. These perennial patterns of victory and defeat recur in
ever-changing variations throughout the ages, because they derive
from the very essence of the human condition its paradoxes and
predicaments. They play an all-important part in literature, from
Greek tragedy down to the present, permeating both the whole and
the part: the plot, and the images employed in it. The poetic image
attains its highest vibrational intensity as it were, when it strikes
archetypal chords when eternity looks through the window of time.

William Empson 8 has given a convincing analysis of the archetypal
imagery in Nash's famous lines which, however often quoted, never
lose their power: 'Brightness falls from the air./Queens have died young



354



THE ACT OF CREATION



and fair./Dust hath closed Helen's eye./I am sick, I must die/Lord have
mercy upon us.'

'If death did not exist', wrote Schopenhauer, 'there would be no
philosophy nor would there he poetry.' That does not mean that
either philosophy, or art, must be obsessively preoccupied with death;
merely, that great works of art are always transparent to some dim
outline of the ultimate experience, the archetypal image. It need not
have a tragic shape, and it may be no more than the indirect reflection
of a reflection, the echo of an echo. But metaphor and imagery yield
aesthetic value only if the two contexts which are involved in the com-
parison form an ascending gradient if one of them is felt to be
nearer to the source of the stream. Mutatis mutandum, a scientific
theory need not be direcdy concerned with the ultimate secret of the
universe, but it must point towards it by bringing order and harmony
into some obscure corner. To clinch the argument, I must quote once
more Housman's essay on The Name and Nature of Poetry:

In these six simple words of Milton

Nymphs and shepherds, dance no more

what is it that can draw tears, as I know it can, to the eyes . . . ?
"What in the world is there to cry about? Why have the mere words
the physical effect of pathos when the sense of the passage is blithe
and gay? I can only say, because they are poetry, and find their way
to something in man which is obscure and latent, something older
than the present organization of his nature, like the patches of fen
which still linger here and there in the drained lands of Cambridge-
shire.



Cataloguing Plots

Let me mention a few examples of archetypal patterns in literature
without any attempt at cataloguing Goethe's thirty-six bask plots.

The Promethean striving for omnipotence and omniscience is
symbolized in Jacob's struggle with the angel, the Tower of Babel,
the flight of Icarus, the Faustus legend, and so on through Voltaire's
Candide, down to the broken Promethean heroes of H. G. Wells
(Dr. Moreau) or Dostoyevski (Stavrogin in The Possessed). In the



CHARACTER AND PLOT



355



modern development of the theme, it is of course treated in a more
allusive, implicit manner; but in the mass media and pulp magazines,
Supermen, Space Cadets, and Black Magicians are all happily running
true to archetype.

The next catalogue-heading would be 'Individual against Society',
with several subheadings, such as 'from Oedipus to Schmoedipus, or
shall we love mamma?' Next would come polygonal patterns of
libidinous relations' (triangles, quadrangles, etc.); a title I have actually
borrowed from a learned publication by a field-anthropologist; it
shows that if you collect archetypes methodically, they crumble to
dust. Yet under this heading belongs at least half the total bulk of world
literature, from the Vulcan-Venus-Mars triangle onward. Next might
come the War of the Sexes from the Amazon myths through
Lysistrata to Ann Veronica and Simone de Beauvoir; next, love
triumphant, or defeated the Song of Songs alternating with Isolde's
Liehestod. Lastly, the Conquest of the Flesh, from the Buddha to
Aldous Huxley.

Still under the heading 'Man and Society* would come the sub-
headings: the hubris of Power; the hubris of Cleverness; the hubris of the
Ivory Tower and, less obvious, the hubris of Sanctity. The last is either an
offence to God Qob; the ten righteous men who find less favour than
the one repentant sinner) or to society, because the hero's personal
scales of value deviate from the conventional. He must therefore either
be an inspired fool, or play the fool to escape sanction, or suffer martyr-
dom 'The time is out ofjoint; O cursed spite, / That ever I was born
to set it right!' Examples range from the Perceval legend and The Lay
of the Great Fool, through Don Quixote, Ulenspiegel and The Good
Soldier Schweik to Prince Mishkin in Dostoyevski's The Idiot, and
Camus' U&ranger.

Under the heading 'The Divided Heart' would fall, as sub-categories,
conflicts between Love and Duty; between Self-Preservation and Self-
Sacrifice; between Ends and Means; and between Faith and Reason.

Puppets and Strings

To end this pedantic and yet very incomplete catalogue, I must
mention one of the most powerful archetypes, which appears in count-
less variations in the history of literature: the Puppet on Strings, or
Volition against Fate. In Oedipus Rex fate appears in the shape of



THE ACT OF CREATION



malevolent powers who trap the King into performing his disastrous
deeds apparently out of his own free will. In all plots of the Appoint-
ment in Samara type, apparent coincidences are the means by which
destiny defeats the will of man (cf. coincidence in comedy, p. 78). In
Christian theology, the ways of God become less arbitrary, but more
inscrutable; man proposes, God disposes; original sin chokes his
designs. In the Eastern religions he is tied to the wheel of rebirth; in
Islam he carries his fate fastened round his neck. The great theological
disputes between Calvinists and Lutherans, Jansenites and Jesuits
turned mainly on the question of predestination, or more precisely, on
the length of the rope left to man to hang himself.

With the rise of Natural Philosophy, a change in the character of
destiny began to take shape. Romeo and Juliet still die as a result of
fatal misunderstandings ('One writ with me in sour misfortune's
book*). But in Shakespeare's later works, destiny acts no longer only
from outside but also from inside the personae; they are victims not
so much of blind fate, but of their blind passions: 'the fault, dear Brutus,
is not in our stars, but in ourselves'. These are great, brave words; but
they did not solve the dilemma, they merely polished its horns. Divine
predestination was transformed into scientific deterniinism, which left
man even less scope than before for exercising his will and making free
choices. The hairshirt of the penitent had allowed him some freedom
of movement, but the laws of heredity and environment wove a
strait-jacket so tight that it became indistinguishable from his living
skin. Even the word Volition was banned from psychology as empty
of meaning. Chromosomes and glandular secretions took over from
the gods in deciding a man's fate. He remained a marionette on strings,
with the only difference that he was now suspended on the nucleic
acid chains determining his heredity, and the conditioned-reflex
chains forged by the environment.

The most explicit adoption of this schema for literary uses is found
in the naturalist movement of the nineteenth century. Its programme
was formulated in Zola's Le Roman Experimental inspired by the
Introduction a Yitude de la medicine experimentale by the great Claude
Bernard (who discovered the vaso-motor system of nerves, and the
glucose-producing function of the liver). Zola urged his fellow writers
to take a physiological view' of man as a product of nature devoid of
free will and subject to the laws of heredity and environment. For-
tunately, in spite of the naturalist vogue in Germany, Russia, and
Scandinavia, writers accepted his views in theory only as they are



CHARACTER AND PLOT



357



wont to do. The creative mind knows how to draw on archetypal
symbols without degrading them by misplaced concreteness.

You can make an X-ray photograph of a face, but you cannot make
a face from an X-ray photograph. You can show that underlying the
subde and complex action of a novel there is a primitive skeleton,
without committing Use majesti, or foolishly assuming that the plot
makes the novel. There is only a limited number of plots, reairring
down the ages, derived from an even more limited number of basic
patterns the conflicts, paradoxes, and predicaments inherent in man's
condition. And if we continue the stripping game, we md that all
these paradoxes and predicaments arise from conflicts between in-
compatible frames of experience or scales of value, iHuminated in con-
sciousness by the bisociative art. In this final illumination Aristotle
saw 'the highest form of learning' because it shows us that we are 'men,
not gods'; and he called tragedy 'the noblest form of literature' because
it purges suffering from its pettiness by showing that its causes lie in
the inescapable predicaments of existence.*



NOTES

To p. 351. Hindu apologists would have us take Krishna's exhortations to
belligerence as allegorical references to wars fought inside the human soul. The
argument is as far-fetched as the Christian apologists* attempts to represent the
Song of Songs as an allegory of Christ's love for His Church.

Top. 352. Eric Newton (An Introduction to European Painting) actually uses
the same metaphor.

Top. 357. At least this seems the most plausible explanation of the cryptic
remark in the Poetics that we take pleasure in tragedy because learning is pleasur-
able, and tragedy involves learning.



XX



THE BELLY OF THE WHALE
The Night Journey

One archetype remains to be discussed, which is of special
significance for the act of creation. It is variously known as
the Night Journey, or the Death-and-Rebirth motif; but
one might as well call it the meeting of the Tragic and the Trivial
Planes. It appears in countless guises; its basic pattern can be roughly
described as follows. Under the effect of some overwhelming ex-
perience, the hero is made to realize the shallowness of his life, the
futility and frivolity of the daily pursuits of man in the trivial routines
of existence. This realization may come to him as a sudden shock
caused by some catastrophic event, or as the cumulative effect of a
slow inner development, or through the trigger action of some
apparently banal experience which assumes an unexpected significance.
The hero then suffers a crisis which involves the very foundations of
his being; he embarks on the Night Journey, is suddenly transferred
to the Tragic Plane from which he emerges purified, enriched by
new insight, regenerated on a higher level of integration.

The symbolic expressions of this pattern are as old as humanity. 1
The crisis or Night Journey may take the form of a visit to the under-
world (Orpheus, Odysseus); or the hero is cast to the bottom of a well
(Joseph), buried in a grave (Jesus), swallowed by a fish (Jonah); or he
retires alone into the desert, as Buddha, Mahomet, Christ, and other
prophets and founders of religions did at the crucial turn in their lives.

I went down to the bottoms of the mountains: the earth with her
bars was about me for ever.

The journey always represents a plunge downward and backward
to the sources and tragic undercurrents of existence, into the fluid
magma, of which the Trivial Plane of everyday life is merely the thin

35*



THE BELLY OF THE WHALE



359



crust. In most tribal societies, the plunge is symbolically enacted in the
initiation-rites which precede the turning points in the life of the
individual, such as puberty or marriage. He is made to undertake a
minor Night Journey: segregated from the community, he must fast,
endure physical hardships and various ordeals, so that he may ex-
perience the essential solitude of man, and establish contact with the
Tragic Plane. A similar purpose is served by the symbolic drowning
and rebirth of baptism; the institution of periods of retreat found in
most religions; in fasts and other purification rituals; in the initiation
ceremonies of religious or masonic orders, even of university societies.
iUumination must be preceded by the ordeals of incubation.

Freudians and Jungians alike emphasize the intimate relation between
the symbolism of the Night Journey, and the unconscious craving for
a return to the womb. The connection is no more far-fetched than our
references to 'mother earth', 'mother ocean', or 'mother church'.

Not only do we speak of 'Mother Church', but even of the 'womb
of the Church', and in the ceremony of the 'benedictio fontis' of the
Catholic Church the baptismal font is even called the 'immaculatus
divini fontis uterus' (the immaculate uterine font of divinity). . . . 2

The maternal aspect of the church is impersonated in the Virgin
Mary. In Donne's 'Annunciation', the Angel greets her with:

That All, which alwayes is All every where,
Which cannot sinne, and yet all sinnes must beare,
"Which cannot die, yet cannot chuse but die,
Loe, faithfull Virgin, yeelds himselfe to lye
In prison, in thy wombe; . . .

. . . yea thou art now
Thy Makers maker, and thy Fathers mother;
Thou 'hast light in darke; and shutst in little roome,
Immensity cloystered in thy deare wombe.

The craving for the womb, for the dissolution of the self in a lost,
vegetative oneness Freud's Nirvana principle is further symbolized
in the image of mother ocean in whose calm depths all life originates.
Mythology is full of these symbols the metaphors of the collective
unconscious. However bewildering they may appear to the waking
mind, they are familiar to the dreamer, and recur constantly in the



360 THE ACT OF CREATION

sleep of people who have nothing else in common. The Night Journey
is the antipode of Promethean striving. One endeavours to steal the
bright fire from the gods; the other is a sliding back towards the pulsa-
ting darkness, one and undivided, of which we were part before our
separate egos were formed.

Thus the Night Journey is a regression of the participatory tendencies,
a crisis in which consciousness becomes unborn to become reborn in
a higher form of synthesis. It is once more the process of reenter pour
mieux sauter; the creative impulse, having lost its bearing in trivial
entanglements, must effect a retreat to recover its vigour.

Without our regular, minor night journeys in sleep we would soon
become victims of mental desiccation. Dreaming is for the aesthetically
underprivileged the equivalent of artistic experience, his only means of
self-transcendence, of breaking away from the trivial plane and creating
his own mythology.

The Guilt of Jonah

Among the many variations of the Night Journey in myth and folk-
lore, one of the most forceful is the story of Jonah and the whale
perhaps because in no ancient civilization was the tension between the
Tragic and Trivial planes more intensely felt than by the Hebrews.
The first was represented by the endless succession of invasions and
catastrophes, the exacting presence of Jehovah and of his apocalyptic
prophets; the second by the rare periods of relatively normal life,
which the over-strung spiritual leaders of the tribe condemned as
abject. Jonah had committed no crime which would warrant his
dreadful punishment; he is described as a quite ordinary and decent
fellow with just a streak of normal vanity for he is, justifiably, Very
angry* when, in the end, God does not raze Nineveh as Jonah had
prophesied at His bidding, and thus makes Jonah appear an impostor
or fool.

Now this very ordinary person receives at the beginning of the
story God's sudden order to 'go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry
against it' which is a rather tall order, for Jonah is no professional
priest or prophet. It is quite understandable that he prefers to go on
leading his happy and trivial life. So, instead of responding to the call
from the Tragic Plane, he buys a passage on a ship to Tarshish; and
he has such a clean conscience about it, that while the storm rages and
the sailors cry 'every-man unto his god' and throw the cargo into the



THE BELLY OF THE WHALE



sea, Jonah himself is fast asleep. And therein in his normality, com-
placency, in his thick-skinned triviality and refusal to face the storm,
and God, and the corruption of Nineveh; in his turning his back on the
tragic essence of life precisely therein lies his sin, which leads to the
crisis, to the Night Journey in the belly of the whale, in 'the belly of
hell\

The waters compassed me about, even to the soul: the depth
closed me round about, the weeds were wrapped about my head . . .
yet hast thou brought up my life from corruption, O Lord my God. When
my soul fainted within me I remembered the Lord: and my prayer
came in unto thee. . . . They that observe lying vanities forsake their own
mercy.

The story sounds in fact like an allegory of a nervous breakdown and
subsequent spiritual conversion. Jonah might serve as a symbol for
Dimitri Karamazov, or any of the countless heroes of fiction who
progress through crisis to awakening. For I must repeat that Jonah's
only crime was to cling to the Trivial Jflane and to cultivate his litde
garden, trying to ignore the uncomfortable, unjust, terrible voice
from the other plane. Melville understood this when, in the great
sermon in Moby Dick, he made his preacher sum up the lesson of
Jonah and the whale in this unorthodox moral:

Woe to him who seeks to pour oil upon the waters when God has
brewed them into a gale! Woe to him who seeks to please rather
than to appal! Woe to him whose good name is more to him than
goodness! Woe to him who, in this world, courts not dishonour!

And the author of the Jonah story himself must have been aware of
its vast implications, of the impossibility of treating all men who
lead an ordinary life as harshly as Jonah for the story ends with an
unusual act of clemency by the otherwise so vengeful desert-god,
which comes as a curious anticlimax full of ironical tolerance for the
inadequacy of man:

Then said the Lord And should I not spare Nineveh, that great

city, wherein are more than six score thousand persons that cannot
discern between their right hand and their left hand: and also much
cattle?



The Root and the Flower



Just as there is no mythology without some mention of the death and
rebirth motif, so there is hardly any epoch in world literature without
some variation of it. Maud Bodkin 8 has made an exhaustive study of
its occurrence in works as wide apart as The Ancient Mariner, Morgan's
The Fountain, Eliot's The Waste Land, and D. H. Lawrence's The
Plumed Serpent and The Man Who Died. Even such an urbane novelist
as E. M. Forster has in each of his five novels one central episode in
which the hero or heroine, who previously walked with self-assurance
on the smooth surface, seems to fall into a manhole with its lid off,
and re-emerge as a changed character like Mrs. Moore, after her visit
to the primeval Marabar caves. With the great Russian novelists,
crisis and conversion is a central theme; in German literature one can
trace it from Faust II to The Magic Mountain. It pops up in such un-
expected places as The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber, or the last
page of To Have or Have Not; and it was elevated to a philosophy in
Kierkegaard's Fear and Trembling and in Sartre's existentialist credo:
man is what he makes out of his anguish, he becomes 'free' through the
realization of his nothingness.

Needless to say, not all great novels are or should be problem
novels' aiming at us a constant heavy barrage of the tragic and the
archetypal; if they were, literature would be very monotonous indeed.
But indirectly and implicidy every great work of art has some bearing
on man's ultimate problems. Yeats had a loathing for 'those learned
men who are a terror to children and an ignominious sight in lovers'
eyes'; because 'Art bids us to touch and taste and hear and see the world,
and shrinks from what Blake calls mathematical form, from every
abstract thing.' And yet he knew better when, for instance, he evoked
the purely sensual delight of Cleopatra dancing alone under her 'topless
towers':

'She thinks, part woman, three parts a child,

That nobody looks: her feet

Practise a tinker's shuffle

Picked up on a street.

Like a longAegged fly upon the stream

Her mind moves upon silence. 9

The refrain, recurring after each of the three stanzas of the poem,
, connects (as the context clearly indicates) Cleopatra's meditations

362



THE BELLY OF THE "WHALE



during her childish dance with the monumental archetype of the spirit
of God moving upon the face of the waters.

A flower, even if it is only a daisy, must have a root; and a work of
art, however gay, precious, or serene, is in the last instance fed, how-
ever indirectly, invisibly, through delicate capillary tubes, from the
ancient substrata of experience. If it has a humorous message, it pro-
duces a smile a subdued laugh or sous-rire; if it is tragic, it produces a
sous-pleurei, that rapt stillness and overflowing of emotion where, to
quote Donne again, with a strong, sober thirst, my soule attends.

The Tightrope

The ordinary mortal in our urban civilization moves virtually all his
life on the Trivial Plane; only on a few dramatic occasions during
the storms of puberty, when he is in love or in the presence of death
does he fall suddenly through the manhole, and is transferred to the
Tragic Plane. Then all at once the pursuits of his daily routines appear
as shallow, trifling vanities; but once safely back on the Trivial Plane,
he dismisses the realities of the other as the products of overstrung
nerves or adolescent effusions. Sudden catastrophes famines, wars, and
plagues may shift a whole population from the Trivial to the Tragic
Plane; but they soon succeed in banalizing even tragedy itsel and
carry on business as usual among the shambles. During the Spanish
Civil War, one of my fellow prisoners, a youth condemned to death
by shooting, and suffering from appendicitis, was put on a milk diet
two days before his execution.

The force of habit, the grip of convention, hold us down on the
Trivial Plane; we are unaware of our bondage because the bonds are
invisible, their restraints acting below the level of awareness. They are
the collective standards of value, codes of behaviour, matrices with
built-in axioms, which determine the rules of the game, and make most
of us run, most of the time, in the grooves of habit reducing us to
the status of skilled automata which Behaviourism proclaim s to be the
only condition of man. What Bergson called 'the mechanical encrusted
on the living' is the result of protracted confinement to the Trivial
Plane.

But, glory be, man is not a flat-earth dweller all the time only
most of the time. Like the universe in which he lives, he is in a state
of continuous creation. The exploratory drive is as fundamental to his



364. THE ACT OF CREATION

nature as the principle of parsimony which tends towards the auto-
matization of skilled routines; his need for self-transcendence as basic
as the necessity of self-assertion; lastly, we shall see that the reenter
pourmieux sauter of the creative act itself has its evolutionary precedents
in the phenomena of organic regeneration and in the 'original adapta-
tions' of which animals are capable in a crisis.

Life on the Trivial Plane is a state of unnoticed confinement but
also a condition of social and intellectual stability. The belly of the
whale cannot be made into a permanent residence. Neither emotionally,
nor intellectually, can we afford to live for more than brief transition
periods on the Tragic Plane, surrounded by archetypes and Ultimates.
Emotionally, it would mean the journey of no return of Blake or of
the Yogi entering into final samadhi. Intellectually, it would mean the
abdication of reason. For the entities encountered on that plane, the
members of its matrixeternity, infinity, mtimate causes, archetypal
paradoxes are irreducible absolutes which do not lend themselves to
logical manipulation. They disrupt all rational operations, as the
mathematical symbols for nought and the infinite do if introduced
into a finite equation. Malraux's 'une vie ne vaut rien mats rien ne
vaut une vxe is a perfect expression of this. The physicist can deal with
infinite space in an abstract symbol-language, but in ordinary ex-
perience it is just the infinite, a thing that passeth understanding, and
there the matter ends.

Absolutes are too inhuman and elusive to cope with, unless they are
connected with some experience in the tangible world of the finite. In
fact, eternity is a pretty meaningless notion unless it is made to look
through the window of time. 'Immensity' is a bore unless it is
cloystered in thy deare wombe'. The absolute becomes emotionally
effective only if it is bisociated with something concrete dovetailed,
as it were, into the familiar. The rain of manna on the children of
Israel which lasted forty years was an act of incomprehensible divine
largesse which, as we learn from Exodus, did not particularly impress
them; the miracle of the loaves and fishes was a true miracle.

Where the Tragic and Trivial Planes meet, the Absolute becomes
humanized, drawn into the orbit of man, while the banal objects of
daily experience are transfigured, surrounded by a halo as it were.
The meeting may have the majesty of an incarnation where the logos
becomes flesh; or the charm of Krishna's descent to dally with the
shepherdesses. On a less awe-inspiring scale, the tragic and the trivial
may meet in golden lads and chimney-sweeps; in the petrified boot



THE BELLY OP THE WHALE



365



which the Pompeian boot-mender holds in his petrified hand; in the
slice of pig's kidney which Bloom fingers in his pocket during the
funeral service. Laplace regarded it as the ultimate aim of science to
demonstrate from a single grain of sand the mechanics of the whole
universe'.

The locus in quo of human creativity is always on the line of inter-
section between two planes; and in the highest forms of creativity
between the Tragic or Absolute, and the Trivial Plane. The scientist
discovers the working of eternal laws in the ephemeral grain of sand, or
in the contractions of a dead frog's leg hanging on a washing-line. The
artist carves out the image of the god which he saw hidden in a piece
of wood. The comedian discovers that he has known the god from a
plum-tree.

This interlacing of the two planes is found in all great works of art,
and at the origin of all great discoveries of science. The artist and
scientist are condemned or privileged to walk on the line of inter-
section as on a tightrope. At his best moments, man is 'that great and
true amphibium, whose nature is disposed to live, not only like other
creatures in divers elements, but in divided and distinguished worlds'.



C. VISUAL CREATION



XXI

MOTIF AND MEDIUM
Looking at Nature

Kepler, contemplating a snow-crystal melting on his always
sweaty palm, saw in it the harmony of the spheres reflected
in miniature. Let a less romantically disposed person look for
the first time at a snowflake under a microscope: he will catch his
breath and wax equally lyrical: 'How strangehow beautiful how
clever is nature', et cetera. Yet the symmetrical pattern of hexagons
thus marvellously revealed, loses all its magic when drawn on a
drawing-board. It becomes aesthetically neutral for lack of a second
context the familiar sight of the feathery snowflake. It is the super-
imposition of the two matrices the trivial object revealing the mathe-
matical regularity of its micro-cosmic architecture which creates the
impact, and gives rise to the aesthetic experience.

"Whether Odysseus saw in the sky at dawn 'rosy-fingered Athene
lift her golden ray*, or whether you share the sorrow of the weeping
willow, there is inevitably a second frame of reference superimposed
on the picture. Man always looks at nature through coloured glasses
through mythological, anthropomorphic, or conceptual matrices
even when he is not conscious of it and believes that he is engaged in
'pure vision', unsullied by any meaning. The 'innocent eye' is a fiction,
based on the absurd notion that what we perceive in the present can be
isolated in the mind from the influence of past experience. There is no
perception of 'pure form' but meaning seeps in, and settles on the
image (though the meaning need not be expressed in verbal language,
about which more later).

The idea that looking at nature is self-rewarding, and that land-
scapes devoid of action can give rise to aesthetic experiences, is of
relatively recent origin; so is landscape painting.* Dr. Johnson regarded
mountains as 'rather uncouth objects'; in the literature of the eighteenth

$66



MOTIF AND MEDIUM



3<*7



century precipices were branded as 'frowning* and 'horrid*. 1 The
further we go back in time the less appreciation we find of the purely
visual aspects of form and colour in inanimate nature:

Considering the bulk and value of Greek literature, and the
artistic brilliance of Athens, the feeling for nature . . . was but poorly
developed among a people whose achievement in the dramatic and
sculptural arts has been unsurpassed; it is seriously lacking in Homer,
even when he refers to the sea or to the famous garden of Alcinous,
and it can hardly be said to enter Greek drama save in the Oedipus
at Colonnus and in some of the lyrical choruses of Euripides. Indeed,
the continent of nature had to wait for a thorough and minute
exploration until the romantic movement of the nineteenth century:
Byron, Shelley, Wordsworth, Goethe, first brought the ocean, the
rivers, and the mountain ranges into their own. . . . For primitive
man earth and sea are simply the perennial source of those material
goods on which life depends, and mountain peaks are uninteresting
and unattractive because they are barren and bleak (Listowel) , 2

The same could be said about the underprivileged classes and
nations in our own time. The peasants in the alpine village where I
live in summer never cease to marvel at the silliness of tourists who
talk about the 'beauty* of the mountains which to them means so
much timber, pasture, and hay. Travelling in India one is amazed by
the indifference, even among the educated classes, towards landscape
and scenery, birds and plants.

All this does not mean that earlier dvilizations derived no emotional
experiences from nature. But they were derived from different sources:
the supernatural powers and magic forces which animated the visible
world. The Babylonians populated the starry heavens with Hons, vir-
gins, and scorpions. The Sicilian straits were to the Greeks not a land-
scape but the seats of Scylla and Charybdis. To Homer, a storm at sea
signified the anger of Poseidon; to Mr. Babitt it signifies the majesty of
nature, a vaguely personalized Power manifested in the spectacle before
his eyes. There is always a second matrix active behind, or superimposed
upon, the visual appearance. The beholder may be convinced that he is
simply perceiving images on his retina, but he is in fact perceiving
with the whole of his brain; and what he sees is modified by the
perceptual codes which operate in it, resonances of his racial and
personal past, floating images of touch and smell, even kinesthetic



368



THE ACT OF CREATION



sensations or incipient muscular stresses. When an appearance gives
rise to an aesthetic experience, it always represents or symbolizes or
expresses something behind and beyond its retinal image exactly as
the pigment on a canvas always refers to something beyond its frame.

A human face is also an object of nature, a landscape of live tissue.
To evoke aesthetic feeling, it must point at something beyond itself
in the beholder's mind. The analogue of the snow-crystal is here that
scaffolding of perfect symmetry and proportions, whose geometrical
laws the painters of Greece and the Renaissance tirelessly pursued. The
golden section and other basic proportions were thought to be the
ultimate constituents of organic form as the Pythagorean scale of
music was thought to regulate the heavenly motions, and as simple
geometrical units, the architect's elementary 'modules', combined to
make Gothic cathedrals. The philosophers of classicism, from Pliny to
Leonardo and Durer, saw beauty wherever mortal flesh testified to
the immortal axioms of Euclidean geometry.

However, the ideal to which the bloated Venus of Willendorf testi-
fies with her pendulous breasts and enormous hips, is not Euclid, but
the goddess of Fertility. Our whole manner of perceiving the human
frame depends on our ideas about its purpose or function on the
selective code which determines our criteria of significance and patterns
our vision. I am using here the word 'fixnction' in the dictionary sense,
as referring to a 'mode of action by which [a thing] fulfils its purpose*.
The definition, of course, takes it for granted that we know what the
purpose of the thing in question is. Now if the thing is a railway en-
gine, the answer is clear; but the purpose of the thing called a human
body is open to various interpretations. And according to the inter-
pretation of human purpose which we accept, our ideas will change,
and our manner of seeing the human body in its functional aspect will
change accordingly. In the drawings of some lunatics, adolescents,
lavatory artists, and tribesmen, the dominant functional aspect is
shown by a huge genital part, while the remainder of the body is
only indicated by a sketchy outline. On Egyptian wan-paintings and
reliefs, conventionalized and schematized figures are shown function-
ing as fishermen, hunters, builders, servants, or parts of a state pro-
cession. The size of the figures is usually proportionate to their rank
not to bodily but to social stature; male skin is painted dark brown,
female skin pale yellow; the code which provides the criteria of rele-
vance is not visual but conceptual. For three thousand years the
sculptors and painters of Egypt produced no original discoveries in



MOTIF AND MEDIUM 369

the technique of visual representation. They had no visual curiosity.
In its indifference to colour, movement, human anatomy, Egyptian
painting was more single-mindedly functional than any before or
after; but 'function was defined as social function, a person's rank and
occupation in the social hierarchy. Apart from that, individuals are
interchangeable, without personal identity, and their appearance de-
void of interest.

In the golden age of Greek art, the human body was seen in a
totally different aspect, that of its physical function: in throwing a
disc, tying a sandal, or simply lifting an arm; vision is attuned to geo-
metrical proportion, to the play and co-ordination of muscles and
joints; and by the criterion of a perfect physique, with facial expressions
limited to types, the curve of the buttocks becomes as important and
expressive as the curve of the brow. Again, in Byzantine painting the
human body functions as an indifferent, and often awkward, shell of
the spirit; and if the spirit commands the saint to bend his head back
and gaze rapturously into the sky, the artist has no qualms in breaking
his neck and letting the body float upward with all limbs out of joint.
The Renaissance once more gave the body its due; and in the centuries
that followed it became the carrier of an individual head, and hence
of an expression and mood. For the courtiers of Louis XV, the prin-
cipal function of human bodies was to play, suitably covered and un-
covered, hide-and-seek between trees and bosquets, and to fall into
each other's arms. For the impressionist painter, the function of the
body is to demonstrate the impermanence of appearances in the
luminous blurr of colours; for the cubist, to prove God's preference
for cubes; and so on.

"Which aspects of reality dominate the visual matrix of a culture or
group depends dtimately on its conception of the purpose and mean-
ing of existence. Accordingly, its norms of beauty will always reflect
the archetype of some kind of functional perfection: the rigid dignity
of Pharaoh, through whose eyes eternity looks in stony silence at
time; the play of muscles in the Greek adolescent's perfect anatomy;
the spirituality in the transfigured face of the Byzantine madonna; the
harmonious resolution of the body into Euclidean forms, or a patch-
work of coloured blobs. Whichever aspect is dominant, its matrix
acts as a kind of optical polariscope, through which the particular
appearance is seen as a thing of general significance, an embodiment
of some universal law or meaning.



Pigment and Meaning



Abstract painting is a misnomer, a contradiction in terms as 'pictorial
philosophy* would be. The concept of justice is an abstraction. The
concept of a square is an abstraction. A picture of Solomon meting
out justice is concrete. But the picture of a blue square on a yellow
ground is equally concrete.

'Non-representational art* and 'expressionist art' are serviceable
labels for certain styles of painting; but if they are supposed to describe
a philosophy or a programme, they are equally misleading and can
create only confusion. A pattern of pigment on canvas always means,
or expresses, or represents something which is not the canvas plus
pigment. However, it does not represent objects or events, but the
artist's mental experiences or imaginings of the nature, causes, shape,
and colour of objects and events. It does not represent a model, but
the artist's vision of the model; not a young lady called Lisa, but the
way Leonardo saw his Lisa. It invites the spectator to share an ex-
perience which the artist had; it provides him with an illusion not the
illusion of seeing a thing, but the illusion of seeing through the artist's
eyes. Without that illusion there will be no response, and the spectator
will behold the canvas through the eyes of a dead fish.

Art was always expressionist' in the legitimate sense of the word:
it expressed a subjective, biassed vision even if the artist deluded him-
self into believing that he was 'copying nature*. And pigment on
canvas always 'represents* something outside its frame for instance
the impact of a green arrow on the blue square when placed next to
it on the yellow ground. That impact does not take place on the can-
vas, but in thcartist's mind, and in the beholder's mind. The pigment
of the blue square remained static and unchanged. But in the be-
holder's eye its colour, shape, and weight have undergone a dynamic
change. To produce this illusionary change was the artist's intention;
it is as if he were saying: Look what my green arrow can do to my
blue square. The canvas expresses or represents an idea in the artist's
head, and if all goes well it will cause a similar experience to occur in
the beholder's head: he will read something in the picture which
stricdy speaking is not there. Apologies for the pedantic demonstration,
but one has to revert to elementary issues to escape the muddle created
by the writings of some expressionists and anti-representationalists.

Much of this confusion (as in other impassioned controversies in
the past) is due to the fact that visual experiences cannot be traduced

370



MOTIF AND MEDIUM



371



into verbal statements without suffering major impoverishment and
distortion. All verbal analysis tends to make implicit, part-conscious
experiences explicit and fully conscious and to destroy them in the
process. There seems to exist a kind of biological rivalry between the
eye and the vocal cords, epitomized by the painter puffing at his pipe
in contemptuous silence while the garrulous art-critic is holding form.
We always see a work of nature or art 'in terms of a selective matrix
governed by this or that criterion of significance; but these 'terms' are
not verbal terms, and if we attempt to verbalize them the result is
unavoidably a gross 'dumsification a medley of cliches and psycho-
logical jargon. The matrix may carry emotive echoes of some arche-
typal experience, but our vocabulary is extremely poor where emo-
tions are concerned. If we say that it responds to the sight of the ocean
with associations of eternity', 'infinity', and so forth, this sounds as
if we were referring to verbal associations. Such words may present
themselves to the mind, but words are the least important part of the
experience, and detract from rather than add to its value. We cannot
help using words in referring to processes which in the listener's mind
are not crystallized into words. The alternative is to say a rose is a
rose is a rose, and leave it at that.

Another difficulty is that at moments of intense aesthetic experience
we see not only with our eyes but with the whole body. The eyes
scan, the cortex thinks, there are muscular stresses, innervations of the
organs of touch, sensations of weight and temperature, visceral re-
actions, feelings of rhythm and motion all sucked into one integrated
vortex. A literary narrative or a piece of music unfolds in stages, but
in a still-life time is fore-shortened as it were, and by taking it in with
a single sweep of the eye (or so it seems) this multitude of experiences
blends into one near-simultaneous process, so that it is extremely dim-
cult to sort out the various elements which went into its making. The
trouble with explaining visual beauty, and also its fascination, is that
so much is happening at the same time.



The Two Environments

What is happening is, put into our jargon, a series of bisociative pro-
cesses involving the participatory emotions.

At the base of the series we again find illusion the magic transforma-
tion of the carved tree into a god. The painted mask, the carved



372 THE ACT OF CREATION

idol, are perceived at the same time as what they are and what they
represent The witch-doctor works his evil spell by sticking a needle
into the rag-doll representing the victim; the cave-artist of Altamira
made sure of a plentiful supply of meat by populating the rock with
painted bison and wild horses.

To those with naive tastes, illusion in itself is sufficient to evoke
aesthetic experience, and 'life-likeness' is regarded as the supreme
criterion of art. As mentioned before, even Leonardo wrote 'that
painting is most praiseworthy which is most like the thing represented'.
However, the 'most like' has an infinite number of interpretations
and that for two solid reasons: the limitations of the medium and the
prejudices of vision. The range of luminosity in the painter's pigment
is only a fraction of that of natural colours; the area on the canvas only
a fraction of the visual field; its coarse grain can accommodate only
a fraction of fine detail; it lacks the dimension of depth in space, and
motion in time. (Even a photograph is far from being a true likeness;
apart from its obvious limitations of colour and light = sensitivity,
it increases the ratio of focal to peripheral vision about a hundredfold
which may be one of the reasons why nature is so much prettified
on picture postcards.) Hence the painter is forced to cheat, to invent
tricks, to exaggerate, simplify, and distort in order to correct the dis-
torting effects of the medium. The way he cheats, the tricks he uses,
are partly determined by the requirements of the medium itself he
must think 'in terms of stone, wood, pigment, or gouache but
mainly by the idiosyncrasies of his vision: the codes which govern the
matrices of his perception. Whether Manet's impression of 'The Races
of Longchamp' looks more 'life-like* than Frith's academically meticu-
lous 'Derby Day' depends entirely on the beholder's spectacles. An
artist can copy in plaster, up to a point, a Roman copy of a Greek
bronze head; he cannot 'copy' on canvas a running horse. He can only
create an appearance which, seen in a certain light, at a certain distance,
in a certain mood, will suddenly acquire a life of its own. It is not a
copy, but a metaphor. The horse was not a model, but a motif for his
creation in the sense in which the landscape painter looks for a
romantic or pastoral motif.

In the terminology of behaviourist psychology we would have to
say that looking at the model constitutes the 'stimulus', and putting
a dab of paint on the canvas the 'response' and that is all there is to
it. But the two activities take place on two different planes. The
stimulus comes from one environment the outer world: the response



MOTIF AND MEDIUM



373



acts on a different environment: a square surface. The two environ-
ments obey two different sets of laws. An isolated brush-stroke does
not represent an isolated detail. There are no point-to-point corres-
pondences between the two planes of the motif and the medium;
they are bisociated as wholes in the artist's mind.

Visual Inferences

Once the artist has acquired sufficient technical skill to do with his
material more or less what he likes, the question what he Ekes, i.e.
what aspects of reality he considers relevant, becomes all-important.
In other words, of the two variables I mentioned the limitations of
the medium, and the prejudiced eye beholding the motif, the first can
be regarded, within a given school, as relatively stable, and we can
concentrate our attention on the second. There can be no unprejudiced
eye for the simple reason that vision is full of ambiguities, and all per-
ception, as we saw, is an inferential construction which proceeds on
various levels, and most of it unconsciously (cf. pp. 38-44). The visual
constancies (p. 43) which enable us to perceive objects as stable in shape,
size, colour, etc., in spite of their unstable, ever-changing appearances
are a first step in the interpretation of our confusing, ambiguous retinal
images. They are automatic skills, partly innate, mostly learned in
early childhood. The process is reversed in some of the so-called optical
illusions where the unconscious code governing preception draws the
wrong inferences in an unusual situation. But even these primitive
mechanisms, which normally function below the level of awareness,
can suddenly become a problem in interpretation for the painter. I
have mentioned (p. 43) that owing to the mechanism of brightness-
constancy a black glove looks as black in sunlight as in the shade
until you look at it through a reduction screen in the experimental
laboratory or through the impressionist painters crooked index-finger.
The various constancies are unconscious inferences we draw to make
sense of our sensations, to lend stability to the unstable flux of appear-
ances. They transform what the eye sees so as to suit the requirements
of reason, of what we know about the external world. Between the
retina and the higher centres of the cortex the innocence of vision is
irretrievably lost it has succumbed to the suggestion of a whole series
of hidden persuaders.
Perceptual projection, which I have already mentioned (p. 295), is



374



THE ACT OF CREATION



one of them: the unconscious mechanism which makes us project
events, located in the brain, into a distance of yards or miles (as opposed
to the dazzling flashes which are 'correctly' located on the retina).
Foreshortening and perspective are consciously added twists to uncon-
scious projection like sensations in a phantom-limb: the flat canvas is
the amputation stump. (The analogy is actually quite precise: pain, too,
is located in the brain, but projected to the locus of the injury; the
phenomenon of the phantom-limb is a secondary projection.)

Projective empathy is another hidden persuader which I have briefly
mentioned before (p. 296). Vernon Lee 3 regarded aesthetic experience
as primarily derived from 'the attribution of our own moods of dy-
namic experience, motor ideas, to shapes. We attribute to lines not
only balance, direction, velocity, but also thrust, strain, feeling, inten-
tion, and character.' Jaensch has been able to demonstrate in a fascina-
ting series of experiments that the eidetic image (p. 346) of a straight
horizontal line will expand considerably in length if a pull is exerted on
the horizontally outstretched arms of the subject. 4 And vice versa, the
sensation of the scanning motions performed by the eye, and of other
subliminal muscle-impulses and stresses not to mention Berenson s
'tactile values*, the 'feel* of texture all interfere with perception.

Again, the painter can consciously exploit these unconscious pro-
cesses, and give them an added twist. In Seurat's 'divisionist* theory,
horizontal and gendy* ascending lines, as well as 'cool' colours convey
a mood of calm and content, 'swift' and 'animated' lines and 'warm'
colours make for gaiety, and so on. (The adjectives in quotes have
become so current that we tend to overlook their synesthetic origin).
Juan Gris, though certainly far removed from Seurat's neo-impres-
sionism, talked in the same vein of expansive' and 'contractile' forms,
of the physiological effects of various types of symmetry. 5 The theoriz-
ings of the 'abstracts' are not at all new. Linear rhythm, chromatic
harmonies, and their combined effects have always played, consciously
or unconsciously, an important part. In non-figurative painting the
motifs are, instead of a landscape and a human body, say blue squares
and green arrows. But ultimately these too are derived from nature
the blue and the green, the square and the arrow. Let me invoke the
authority of the greatest and most eclectic painter of our time:

There is no abstract art. You must always start with something.
Afterwards you can remove all traces of reality. There's no danger
then anyway, because the idea of the object will have left an indelible



MOTIF AND MEDIUM



375



mark. It is what started the artist off, excited his ideas, and stirred up
his emotions. . . . When I paint a picture I am not concerned with
the fact that two people may be represented in it. Those two people
once existed for me but they exist no longer. My vision of them gave
me an initial emotion, then little by little their presence became
blurred; they became for me a fiction, and then they disappeared
altogether, or rather they were transformed into all kinds of
problems, so that they became for me no longer two people but
forms and colours forms and colours which nevertheless resume an
experience of two people, and preserve the vibration of their life. 6

I must add a word on a more primitive kind of attitude to colour.
Some reactions to the 'temperature-values' of colours seems to be
common to most people within the same culture circle; Rimbaud even
tried to co-ordinate each vowel with a different colour. But the
emotive associations of specific colours vary from person to person,
and can be very strong. Wollberg 7 had a schizoid patient who reacted
to red with intense anxiety, to blue with a feeling of elation; yet under
deep hypnosis, Wollberg reversed these reactions. Valentine 8 quotes
the case of a patient born blind who, after a successful operation, felt
intense pleasure at his first sight of red, and was physically sick at the
first sight of yellow. Man not only 'thinks with his hands', he quite
often sees with his bowels.

The visual constancies and illusions, perceptual projection, empathy
and synesthesia form an ascending series of inferential processes. One
step higher in the series we come to the phenomenon of the 'face
hidden in the tree', the 'image in the cloud', the Rohrschach-blot: the
projection of meaning into the ambiguous motif. Once more we have
here an unconscious process which has been consciously exploited from
antiquity to the expressionists. Pliny recounted the anecdote of an
artist who tried in vain to paint the foam at a dog's mouth until, in
exasperation, he threw a spongeful of paint at his canvas and there
was the foam. The story reappears in Leonardo's Treatise on Paintings
where he makes 'our Botticelli* say that if you just throw a sponge
at a wall it will 'leave a blot where one sees a fine landscape*. There is
an oft-quoted passage in that classic treatise which bears being quoted
once more:

You should look at certain walls stained with damp, or at stones of
uneven colour. If you have to invent some backgrounds you will be



THE ACT OF CREATION



able to see in these the likeness of divine landscapes, adorned with
mountains, ruins, rocks, woods, great plains, hills and valleys in
great variety; and then again you will see there battles and strange
figures in violent action, expressions of faces and clothes and an
infinity of things which you will be able to reduce to their complete
and proper forms. In such walls the same thing happens as in the
sound of bells, in whose, stroke you may find every named word
which you can imagine. 9

This passage inspired the eighteenth-century English landscape
painter Alexander Cozens to publish a book 10 recommending the use
of random ink-blots 'from which ideas are presented to the mind', to
serve as landscape motifs. It seems that Rohrschach's method of psy-
chological testing by inviting subjects to interpret ambiguous blot-
shapes was derived from Cozens and thus from Leonardo, and thus
from Pliny. Similar methods were used by Chinese artists from the
eleventh century onwards. The bisociations of form and meaning are
inexhaustible.

In these cases the motif (the cloud, the patterned wallpaper, or the
ink-blot) and also the meaning read into it, are both of a visual nature.
But the matrix which provides the meaning can also be governed by
non-visual conceptual codes for instance, a verbal suggestion such as
Hamlet uses on Polonius to make the cloud change from weasel to
whale; or by the various notions entertained by Egyptian, Greek, and
Byzantine artists on the function and purpose of the human body. In
some forms of insanity, and in the experimental psychoses induced by
drugs, the patient sees serpents, genitals, archaic creatures budding out
of every curve of an ornamental design. The cubist's vocabulary
consists of cylinders and cubes; the pointillist's of daub's; classical
composition obeyed the grammar of harmony and balance; the
Egyptian painter saw in stereotyped cliches; so does the Japanese Zen
artist.



Codes of Perception

This leads us to the most powerful single factor among the many
factors which enter into the processing of the visual input: the power
of convention as a hidden persuader (p. 42 ). Perception is a part-
innate, part-acquired skill of transforming the raw-material of vision



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into the 'finished product'; and every period has its conventional
formulae and methods of interpretation for doing this. The ordinary
mortal thitiWs most of the time in cliches and sees most of the time in
cliches. His visual schemata are prefabricated for him; he looks at the
word through contact-lenses without being aware of it.

The extreme example is ancient Egypt but merely because it
lasted so long; contemporary Zen painting and calligraphy, as already
said, obeys almost as rigid rules of the game. The Egyptian painter
unvaryingly represented the human figure with head in profile, eye
frontally, legs in profile, chest frontally, and so on, showing each part
in its most characteristic aspect. Whether the ordinary Egyptian per-
ceived his fellow creatures this way we cannot tell, and remembering
that we perceive a tilted coin still as a circle, and not foreshortened
into an ellipse he probably could not tell either. But we do know that
the moment he translated motif into medium, his vision became
stereotyped. It is highly improbable that conformity was enforced on
artists against their will for a full three thousand years. There exist
exceptions to the rule, relief figures dating as far back as 2400 B.c., u
which show foreshortening and dynamic motion; if there had been a
taboo on such innovations, they would hardly have been preserved.
But the exceptions became less, not more frequent as time went by;
for reasons beyond our understanding, Egyptian art, as Egyptian
society, remained static, and habit prevailed over originality.

Greek art, between the sixth and fourth century B.C. was, compared
with Egypt, in a state of permanent revolution, which carried it within
no more than six or seven generations from the archaic style to the
trompe Vail. Yet, although originality and innovation were valued as
never before, it could not avoid developing its own cliches. 'After all,*
wrote Gombrich, 'Greek art of the classical period concentrated on the
image of man almost to the exclusion of other motifs, and even in the
portrayal of man it remained wedded to types. This does not apply
only to the idealized type of physique which we all associate with
Greek art. Even in the rendering of movement and drapery the reper-
toire of Greek sculpture and painting has turned out to be strangely
limited. There are a restricted number of formulas for the rendering of
figures standing, running, fighting, or falling, which Greek artists
repeated with relatively slight variations over a long period of time.
Perhaps if a census of such motifs were taken, the Greek vocabulary
would be found to be not much larger than the Egyptian.* 18

That vocabulary and its Euclidean grammar of proportion



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THE ACT OF CREATION



remained as indelibly printed on European art as the categories of
Aristotle on European philosophy. The Byzantine painter and mosaic
maker had given up the aspiration to copy nature, but he used the
approved Greek stock-formulae to represent faces, hands, gestures,
and draperies. Warburg 13 has shown that the artists of the Renaissance
were prone to fall back on Greek models whenever they wanted to
indicate emotion by a gesture or attitude: he called these emotive
cliches Pathosformeln*

'Even Dutch genre paintings that appear to mirror life in all its
bustle and variety will turn out to be created from a limited number
of types and gestures' if for instance, one compares them with news-
paper-photographs of crowd scenes. The quotation is again from
Professor Gombrich, 14 whose Art and Illusion proved an invaluable
source of illustrative examples.

Skilled routine in perceiving as in thinking, has its positive and
negative side. Without certain conventional rules of the game, which
were acquired by learning but function unawares, we could not make
much sense either of nature or of art. 'The art of seeing nature',
Constable wrote, 'is a thing almost as much to be acquired as the art of
reading Egyptian hieroglyphs.* 15 On the other hand, conventions tend
to harden into rigid formulae the matrix freezes up, and makes us
ignore those aspects of reality which do not fit into the schema. The
Greek sculptor is indifferent to individual expression, the Byzantine
painter to anatomy, the Chinese to shadows, and so on. But there exist
far more striking examples of the single-minded neglect by the eye of
anything which the mind does not consider relevant. They are engrav-
ings dating from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century, which show
that even artists reputed for their meticulousness can be indifferent or
blind to features which are considered irrelevant or offensive to the
conventional rules of the game. One of them was Merian, an extremely
skilful illustrator who obviously tried hard to make a faithful 'copy'
it looks actually like an architect's drawing of the Cathedral of
Notre-Dame. And what happened? *. . . As a child of the seventeenth
century, his notion of a church is that of a lofty symmetrical building
with large, rounded windows, and that is how he designs Notre-Dame.
He places the transept in the centre with four large, rounded windows
on either side, while the actual view shows seven narrow, pointed
Gothic windows to the west and six in the choir/ 16 He could not go
against the code which governed his visual perception.

Nor could those medieval artists, who drew lions, elephants, and



MOTIF AND MEDIUM



379



other exotic animals 'from life', but, incapable of visually digesting the
startling appearance, produced monstrosities reminding one of Greek
chimeras creatures compounded of a lion's head, a goat's body and
a serpent's tail. The reason is simple. The codification of experience
into 'rules of the game* is as indispensable in perceptual skills as in
manual or reasoning skills. The learning process starts in the cot and
ends only when the artist has learned to forget what he has learned
but that is only for the chosen few. The medieval artist- like the con-
temporary amateur taking a correspondence course in draftsmanship
did not start by drawing from nature, but by learning, from drawing-
books, the tricks and formulae of how to draw heads, hands, and feet,
birds, stags, trees, and clouds. There were hundreds of such works
published, from Villard de Honecourt's Album of Patterns in the first
half of the thirteenth century to date including such classics as
Diirer's Dresden Sketchbook or Fialetti's The True Method and Order to
Draw All Parts and Limbs of the Human Body which seems to contain
every conceivable shape and mis-shape of ears, eyes, and noses under
the sun. To succeed in drawing an ear with an untutored eye requires"
genius; even Diirer, so we are told, got the anatomy of the human eye
wrong.

To quote Constable again: an artist who is self-taught is taught by
a very ignorant person indeed. He must acquire a vocabulary not
only to express himself, but to read meaning into appearances. The
same Villard de Honecourt whose album of patterns contains the
most admirably schematized swans, horses, ostriches, and bearded
heads drew a lion 'from life', as he assures us and produced a chimera.
We do not know for how long he had the chance of looking at the
lion or how coherent his sketch was. But it is evident that where he
had to fill in features from memory, he could only do so by supplanting
the forgotten details of the strange creature by parts of more familiar
animals. He had certainly not intended to falsify deliberately any
more than Merian did in his drawings of Notre-Dame. But neither of
them could digest the unfamiliar motif because it could not be re-
solved into familiar schemata, pigeonholed, labelled, and confined to
memory or jotted down in shorthand, as it were, by means of a
ready-made formula. They were in the same position as the subjects
in the psychological laboratory who are made to witness an unex-
pected sequence of events and, when asked to relate what happened,
give notoriously divergent, unreliable accounts. Their verbal re-
production is jumbled, not because they lack the skill to express



38o



THE ACT OF CREATION



themselves, but because they were unable to take in a sequence of
events which did not fit their scheme of things.

Not only the medieval artist used formulae like recipes from a
cookery-book. Camper, an eighteenth-century anatomist, wrote a
book on The Connection Between the Science of Anatomy and the Arts
of Drawing, Painting, Statuary, etc., in which he described the standard
procedures of portraiture in his time: 'The portrait painters of the
present day generally describe an oval upon their panel before the
person to be painted sits to be drawn, make a cross in the oval, which
they divide into the length of four noses and the breadth of five eyes;
and they paint the face according to these divisions to which it must
be accommodated, let the proportions themselves be ever so much at
variance.' 17 The oval with its subdivisions represented the matrix with
its fixed code; the ftlling-in of details was a matter of elastic strategy.

Convention and Creation

Regardless of the period at which we look, every work of art betrays
the prejudiced eye, governed by selective codes which lend coherence
to the artist's vision, and at the same time restrict his freedom. The
ensemble of these codes provides the 'rules of the game', the routine
aspect of his work; while his 'strategy' must be adapted to the double
environment of motif and medium. The greatness of an artist rests in
creating a new, personal idiom an individual code which deviates
from the conventional rules. Once the new idiom a new way of
bisociating motif and medium is established, a whole host of pupils
and imitators can operate it with varying degrees of strategic skill.

It does not mean belittling the creative mind to point out that every
artist has his cookery recipes for the basic ingredients of the dishes he
serves. But we must distinguish between true creativity the invention
of a new recipe, on the one hand, and the skilled routine of providing
variations of it. The whole, vexed question of the artistic value oforilliant
forgeries and copies hinges on this distinction (see Chapter XXIV).

But whether the rules of the game were imposed by convention or
originally designed by the artist, they have an equal sway over him.
Rubens' puttis sometimes look mass-produced, and even some of the
portraits of his children seem to obey the same formula; similar blas-
phemies could be uttered about Renoir's pneumatic nudes, Henry
Moore's convexities and concavittes-wira-a-hole, or Bernard Buffet's



MOTIF AND MEDIUM



381



obsessive angularities. One cannot help feeling that artists who spend
the rest of their lives exploring the possibilities of a single formula
which they discovered in their truly creative period, resemble the
'one-idea-men' in the history of science. The difference is that the
concrete language of the painter's brush permits endless variations on
a single theme without losing its enchantment- which the abstract
symbol-language of science does not.

The reader may have felt, in following the last few pages, an uneasy
suspicion that I was deliberately confusing the tricks and formulae
for drawing a pussycat with the artist's vision of the pussycat, and the
history of painting with a history of seeing. But in fact the two interact
so intimately in the artist's mind (and in the responsive beholder's
mind) that they cannot be separated. Take seeing first; already Pliny
knew (what Behaviourist psychology managed to forget) that 'the
mind is the real instrument of sight and observation' and the eyes merely
act 'as a kind of vehicle, receiving and transmitting the visual portion
of consciousness'. 18 But the mind is also the real instrument of manual
dexterity, in a much deeper sense than we generally realize, including
those quirks of manner and style which can be 'left to the muscles' to
be taken care of. Renoir, when his ringers became crippled with
arthritis, painted with a brush attached to his forearm, yet his style
remained unchanged. It would be psychologically just as absurd to
assume the reverse that a pattern of expression so deeply ingrained
should have had no effect on his pattern of perception, as it would be
to assume that his perception had no influence on what his hand was
doing. The two activities are bisociated; in the terminology of the
communication engineer, the medium 'in terms of which the artist
must think, influences by feed-back his pattern of vision.

An obvious example is provided by the way in which the study
of anatomy even if merely demonstrated by a lay-figure trans-
forms the artist's perception of the human body. A less obvious
example is the following which I again owe to Gombrich. Cozens,
the eighteenth-century painter who advocated the ink-blot technique
to inspire his pupils to paint 'Rohrschach' landscapes, also drew for
their benefit a series of schemata of various types of cloud-formation
as Guercino had given recipes for drawing various types of ears.
Constable studied and faithfully copied these crude schematizations of
'streaky clouds at the top of the sky' or 'bottom of the sky' or clouds
'darker at the top than the bottom'. By learning to distinguish different
types of cloud-formation acquiring an articulate cloud-vocabulary as



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THE ACT OF CREATION



it were he was able to perceive clouds, and to paint clouds, as nobody
had done before, His brush, like the poet's pen, 'turned them into
shapes, and gave to airy nothing a local habitation and a name'. The
result is that Constable addicts see real clouds in Constable's terms, as
Van Gogh addicts see the fields of Provence in Van Gogh's terms
and in either case much to their benefit. Some French authors Lalo,
I believe was the first, and among contemporaries, Malraux have
proposed that our aesthetic appreciation of nature is derived from
having seen landscapes in paint. That may be the case with many of us,
but it only means as suggested already at the beginning of this chapter
that man has always looked at nature through a frame. Through the
painter's frame, or the frame of mythology, or the frame of science;
through half-closed eyes or eye glued to the lens of the telescope.
Constable called landscape painting an inquiry into the laws of nature;
and Richardson, discovering that the difficulties of his pupils were
caused as much by their unskilled eye as by their unskilled fingers,
drew the conclusion:

For it is a certain maxim, no man sees what things are, that knows
not what they ought to be. That this maxim is true, will appear by
an academy figure drawn by one ignorant in the .structure, and
butting of the bones, and anatomy, compared with another who
understands these thoroughly . . . both see the same life, but with
different eyes. 10

NOTES

To p. 366. I am speaking of Europe: landscape painting in China has a
much older tradition.

To p. 378. Incidentally, there is a bridge waiting to be' built between art
criticism and the physiology of gesture. To give an example: the neurologist
Kurt Goldstein (1947) has made a study of the way in which people point with
their arms at an object. If the object is to the front and to the right, the person
will point with the extended arm, which will form with the frontal plane of the
body an angle of approximately forty-five degrees. If the object is moved further
to the right, the person will start turning his trunk to the right, so that the angle
between body and arm remains 45 degrees. But if the object is placed straight
in front ofhim, he will turn his body to the left and the angle will still be the same.
There are obvious anatomical reasons for this. But if you make your figure point
an musing finger straight ahead, fully racing his adversary, you get a 'pathos-
formula*.



XXII

IMAGE AND EMOTION



The trouble with putting into words the aesthetic experience
aroused by a picture is, as we saw, that so much is happening
at the same time; that only a fraction of it becomes conscious,
and an even smaller fraction verbalized. 'The forceps of our minds', to
quote H. G. Wells again, 'are clumsy things, and crush the truth a
little in the course of taking hold of it.' Wells was talking of the
difficulties of putting ideas into words; when it comes to putting aesthe-
tic experiences into words, nothing short of a caesarian will help. The
surgical tool that I proposed was 'bisociation; and the operation con-
sisted in disentangling the various bisociative, or bifocal, processes
which combine in the experience. I have mentioned a number of
these; I shall have to mention one or two more, and discuss briefly the
emotional reactions which they call forth.

Virtues of the Picture Postcard

The essence of the aesthetic experience consists, as I have tried to show,
in intellectual illumination seeing something familiar in a new, signifi-
cant light; followed by emotional catharsis the rise, expansion, and ebb-
ing away of the self-transcending emotions. But this can happen only
if the matrix which provides the 'new light* has a higher emotive
potential or 'calory value' (pp. 321-31); in other words, the two
matrices must lie on an ascending gradient.

Let us see in what manner the various bisociative patterns mentioned
earlier on fulfil this requirement. Take illusion once more, which
enters art in a variety of guises and disguises, on its most naive level:
the discovery that something can be itself and something else at the

383



384



THE ACT OF CREATION



same time. A small child, fascinated by dad's amateur efforts as a
draftsman, will beg 'make me a donkey', 'make me an elephant', thus
unconsciously evoking Pygmalion's power. I shall not hark back to
Altamira and the witch-doctor merely dot my i's by pointing out
that the gradient leads in that direction.

Or take the simplest illusion of space: the delighted shock of looking
for the first time through fieldglasses, and seeing the distant church-
spire leap to within grasp. Here again unconscious analogies, echoes of
sorcery enter into play: the power to be in two places at once; the
conquest of space by magic carpet; action-at-a-distance. The reverse
experience is the illusion derived from a perspective landscape or a
Chinese silk painting which, with a few brushstrokes, makes the
horizon recede into infinity. To call perspective and trompe Vceil
'magic* is a cliche, because their genuine magic has succumbed to the
law of diminishing returns; but to the unsophisticated eye the hole in
the wall through which it looks into a different world has the dream-
like quality of Alice stepping through the looking-glass; dream-like,
because the creation and annihilation of space is a favoured game of
the underground.

I have made a slighting mention of the 'petrification' of nature on
picture postcards, which bring the whole scenery within the range of
focal vision. But there is a genuine appeal to the emotions in the fact
that a landscape painting can be taken in almost at a glance, without
the half-conscious, constant scanning which the real scenery requires.
To have it all there simultaneously laid out before his view, gives the
beholder a kind of naive Olympian feeling, a sense of power entirely
harmless, since his only aim is passive contemplation; enhanced by
the cfrcumstance and here the next bisociation enters into the process
that he is looking at the scenery not through his own, but through
Claude's or Courbet's eyes.

Another facet or pair of facetsof the many-sided experience of
looking at a picture is synesthesia (p. 321). Berenson's dictum 'the
painter can accomplish his task only by giving tactile values to retinal
impressions' does not only mean that the bisociation of vision with
touch lends an added dimension to experience and more solidity to
illusion. Berenson's emphasis on tactile values also indicates that the
sense of touch had a special appeal to him as it had to Keats (p. 321).
But neither of them was exceptional in this respect; after all, the
adjective 'touching* that is, emotionally moving is derived from
touch; and 'touching' in the verbal sense is a primary impulse not



IMAGE AND EMOTION



385



only among lovers; the texture of silk or polished stone also provides
minor pleasures. The brocade fineries of Van Eyck's figures have a
strong tactile appeal; the impact of the gangrened flesh of Christ in
Griinewald's Isenheim altar is one of horror redeemed by pity. It is-
perhaps only matched in power by Flaubert's rendering of the legend
of St. Julian sharing his bed with the leper.

Taste and Distaste

This brings us to a subject which I have not mentioned so far, although
it used to play an important part in aesthetic theories of the hedonistic
type, and was a wonderful source of confusion: I mean the polarity
of agreeable and disagreeable, attractive and repellent sense-impressions.

The first necessity, if we wish to avoid similar confusion, is to make
a clear distinction between tastes and distastes directly affecting the
senses (the tongue, the nose, the ear); and the pleasure-unpleasure tone
of complex emotional states mediated by the autonomous nervous sys-
tem. The distinction may seem pedantic, and a sharp line cannot always
be drawn, because the different levels in the nervous system interact
with each other; the palate can be Educated* to delight in rotten
Chinese eggs, and the smell of honeysuckle can become nauseating to
the rejected lover. Whether the selective codes which govern our
spontaneous reactions of taste and distaste are inborn or acquired in early
childhood is irrelevant in this context; and the fact that these reactions
can be altered in later life does not affect the argument. What matters
is to distinguish between the aesthetic experience or the experience
of beauty if you like on the one hand, and sensory gratification on the
other; and to get away from such definitions as the Concise Oxford's
of beauty: 'Combination of qualities . . . that delights the sight; com-
bined qualities delighting the other senses', etc. Evidently, by these
criteria not only Grunewald, but the vast majority of works of art
would be beyond the pale of beauty and could never give rise to
aesthetic experience defined by the Concise Oxford Dictionary as
'the appreciation of the beautiful*.

I do not mean to flog the dead horse of hedonist aesthetics but to
emphasize the difference between sensory gratification and aesthetic
satisfaction a difference of levels deriving from the hierarchic organi-
zation of the nervous system (Chapter XIII and Book Two). Take
an obvious example from music. Periodic sounds musical tones



386



THE ACT OP CREATION



are more pleasing to the ear than a-periodic noises; and some screeching
noises rubbing a blackboard with a dry sponge for instance are
so offensive that they give gooseflesh to some people. Again, among
musical chords, the octave, fifth, and major third are more agreeable
to the European ear than others; and some dissonances, heard in
isolation, can put one on edge. But the flattery or ofFensiveness of
individual chords has only an indirect bearing on the emotional
effect of a string quartet as a whole. There is no numerical relation
between the number of consonances and our aesthetic appreciation.
The pattern of alternation between sweet and bitter sounds is merely
one among several relevant patterns interacting with each other in
the multi-dimensional experience.

Sensory preferences the dismrnmation between sensory stimula-
tions which 'agree', and those which 'disagree* with our innate or
acquired dispositions do not provide the clue to the nature of aesthetic
experience, but they provide one of the clues: particularly those pre-
ferences which are part of the human heritage, and shared by all. The
Chinese taste for music differs from ours considerably; but all men
are subject to the pull of gravity and prefer keeping their balance to
losing it. A leaning tower, or a big head on a thin neck give rise to dis-
agreeable sensations mediated by projective empathy (p. 296). But
this again is only part of the story. Inverted, top-heavy, disturbing
forms may combine in the picture with forms in repose, creating a
total pattern with a balance of a higher order in which the parts
with positive and negative balance play the same role as con-
sonant and dissonant chords, or beats and missed beats in a metric
stanza.

One of the most haunting pictures in this particular respect is
Pollaiulo's 'Martyrdom of St. Sebastian , (in the London National
Gallery). The saint stands with his naked feet on the sawn-off stumps
of two branches of a dead tree, his hands tied behind his back, looking
as if he were bound to topple over any moment. He is held up by
another, hardly visible, branch of a tree which rises behind him, and
to which his hands are presumably tied; but even so he is bound to
fall. What prevents him, in the beholders eye, from falling is a trick
in the composition of the picture: the figure of the saint forms the
apex of a solid, well-balanced triangle. The sides of the triangle are
six figures in symmetrical poses, performing symmetrical gestures.
The imbalance of the part is redeemed by the balance of the whole,
by the triangle which lends unity to diversity. The fact that the



IMAGE AND EMOTION



387



figures are the saint's executioners, shooting their murderous arrows
into him, belongs to a different level of awareness.

Empathy projects our own dynamic experiences of gravity, balance,
stress, and striving into the pigment on the canvas representing human
figures or inert shapes. Thus vertical and horizontal lines acquire a
special eminence; a vertical line looks longer than a tilted line of the
same length, and right angles are so much singled out, that an angle
of, say, ninety-five degrees is seen as an imperfect, 'bad' angle of ninety
degrees. Patients with brain lesions sometimes give freer rein than
normal people to the hedonistic bias of their eyes, and do not notice
deviations up to ten degrees from the horizontal or vertical. They
indulge in 'wishful seeing' as others in wishful thinking. And to a
lesser extent that is true of all of us. Goethe knew that after-images
which appear on the retina tend to reduce irregularities and asym-
metries, and to transform squares into circles. The Gestalt school has
shown that the raw material of the visual input is subjected to