Scepsis Scientifica - Chap. IV.

Chap. IV.

            But that I may more closely pursue the design I am engaged on, I shall discourse some great instances of our ignorance in a way of more press and strict survey. And those I shall insist on are such as (1) concern the soul, both in its common nature, and particular faculties. Or (2) such as are drawn from the consideration of our own, other organical bodies, and matter in the general. And (3) some trite and common appearances. Of which I discourse in order.

            If certainty were anywhere to be expected one would think it should be in the notices of our souls, which are indeed ourselves, and whose sentiments we are intimately acquainted with. In things without us, ignorance is no wonder; since we cannot profound into the hidden things of nature, nor see the first springs and wheels that set the rest a-going. We view but small pieces of the universal frame, and want phenomena to make entire and secure hypotheses. But if that whereby we know other things, know not itself; if our souls are strangers to things within them, which they have far greater advantages of being acquainted with than matters of external nature; I think then this first instance will be a fair one, for the extorting a confession of that ignorance I would have acknowledged.

            (1) I take notice then that the learned world hath been at an infinite uncertainty about the speculation of the soul's nature. In which every man almost held a distinct opinion. Plato called it, only in the general, a self-moving substance. Aristotle an entilechie, or, an hee-knew-not-what. Hesiod and Anaximander compounded it of earth and water. Heraclides made it light. Zeno the quintessence of the four elements. Xenocrates and the Egyptians a moving number. The Chaldeans a virtue without form. Parmenides composed it of earth and fire. Empedocles of blood. Galen held it an hot complexion. Hippocrates a spirit diffused through the body. Varro supposed it an heated and dispersed air. Thales a nature without rest. And Crates and Decearchus, nothing. Thus have the greatest sages differed in the first theory of human nature; which yet perhaps is not so desperate an inquiry, as some others that are apprehended less difficult. And possibly most have been deceived in this speculation, by seeking to grasp the soul in their imaginations; to which gross faculty, that purer essence is unpalpable and we might as well expect to taste the sunbeams. Such therefore are to be minded, that the soul is seen, like other things, in the mirror of its effects and attributes: but if like children, they'll run behind the glass to catch it, their expectations will meet with nothing but vacuity and emptiness. And though a pure intellectual eye may have a sight of it in reflex discoveries; yet if we affect a grosser touch, like Ixion we shall embrace a cloud.

            (2) It hath been no less a trouble to determine the soul's origin, than nature. Some thought it was from the beginning of the world, and one of the first things created. Others, that 'tis an extract from the universal soul of all things. Some believe it came from the moon, others from the stars, or vast spaces of the Ęther above the planets; some that 'tis made by God, some by angels, and some by the Generant. Whether it be immediately created or traduced, hath been the great ball of contention to the later ages. And yet, after all the bandying attempts of resolution; 'tis as much a question as ever; and it may be will be so till it be concluded by immortality. The patrons of traduction accuse their adversaries of affronting the attributes of God; and the assertors of creation impeach them of violence to the nature of things. Either of the opinions strongly opposeth the other; but very feebly defends itself. Which occasion some to think, that both are right, and both mistaken; right in what they say against each other; but mistaken in what they plead for their respective selves. But I shall not stir in the waters which have been already mudded by so many contentious inquiries. The great St. Austin, and others of the grey heads of reverend antiquity, have been content to sit down here in a professed neutrality: and I'll not industriously endeavour to urge men to a confession of what they freely acknowledge; but shall note difficulties which are not so usually observed, though as unaccountable as these.

            §.1. It is the saying of divine Plato, that man is nature's horizon; dividing betwixt the upper hemisphere of immaterial intellects, and this lower of corporeity: and that we are a compound of beings distant in extremes, is as clear as noon. But how the purer spirit is united to this clod, is a knot too hard for our degraded intellects to untie. What cement should unite heaven and earth, light and darkness, natures of so divers a make, of such disagreeing attributes, which have almost nothing, but Being, in common; this is a riddle, which must be left to the coming of Elias. How should a thought be united to a marble-statue, or a sunbeam to a lump of clay? The freezing of the words in the air in the northern climes, is as conceivable, as this strange union. That this active spark, this συμφυτον πνευμα [Greek: symphuton pneuma] (as the stoics call it) should be confined to a prison it can so easily pervade, is of less facile apprehension, than that the light should be pent up in a box of crystal, and kept from accompanying its source to the lower world: and to hang weights on the wings of the wind seems far more intelligible.

            In the unions, which we understand, the extremes are reconciled by interceding participations of natures, which have somewhat of either. But body and spirit stand at such a distance in their essential compositions, that to suppose an uniter of a middle constitution, that should partake of some of the qualities of both, is unwarranted by any of our faculties, yea most absonous to our reasons; since there is not any the least affinity betwixt length, breadth and thickness; and apprehension, judgement and discourse: the former of which are the most immediate results (if not essentials) of matter, the latter of spirit.

            §. 2. Secondly, we can as little give an account, how the soul moves the body. That, that should give motion to an unwieldy bulk, which itself hath neither bulk nor motion; is of as difficil an apprehension, as any mystery in nature. For though conceiving it under some fancied appearance, and pinning on it material affections, the doubt both not so sensibly touch us; since under such conceptions we have the advantage of our senses to befriend us with parallels; and gross apprehenders may not think it any more strange, than that a bullet should be moved by the rarified fire, or the clouds carried before the invisible winds: yet if we defecate the notion from materiality, and abstract quantity, place, and all kind of corporeity from it, and represent it to our thoughts either under the notion of the ingenious Sir K. Digby; as, a pure mind and knowledge; or, as the admired Descartes expresses it, Une chose qui pense, as, a thinking substance; it will be as hard to apprehend, as that an empty wish should remove mountains: a supposition which if realized, would relieve Sisyphus. Nor yet doth the ingenious hypothesis of the most excellent Cantabrigian philosopher, of the soul's being an extended penetrable substance, relieve us; since, how that which penetrates all bodies without the least jog or obstruction, should impress a motion on any, is by his own confession alike inconceivable. Neither will its moving the body by a vehicle of spirits, avail us; since they are bodies too, though of a purer mould.

            And to credit the unintelligibility both of this union and motion, we need no more than to consider that when we would conceive anything which is not obvious to our senses, we have recourse to our memories, the storehouse of past observations: and turning over the treasure that is there, seek for something of like kind, which hath formerly come within the notice of our outward or inward senses. So that we cannot conceive anything, that comes not within the verge of some of these; but either by like experiments which we have made, or at least by some remoter hints which we receive from them. And where such are wanting, I cannot apprehend how the thing can be conceived. If any think otherwise, let them carefully peruse their perceptions: and, if they find a determinate intellection of the modes of being, which were never in the least hinted to them by their external or internal senses; I'll believe that such can realize chimeras. But now in the cases before us there are not the least footsteps, either of such an union, or motion, in the whole circumference of sensible nature: and we cannot apprehend anything beyond the evidence of our faculties.

            §. 3. Thirdly, how the soul directs the spirits for the motion of the body according to the several animal exigents; is as perplex in the theory, as either of the former. For the meatus, or passages, through which those subtle emissaries are conveyed to the respective members, being so almost infinite, and each of them drawn through so many meanders, cross turnings, and divers roads, wherein other spirits are continually a-journeying; it is wonderful, that they should exactly perform their regular destinations without losing their way in such a wilderness: neither can the wit of man tell how they are directed. For that they are carried by the manuduction of a Rule, is evident from the constant steadiness and regularity of their motion into the parts, where their supplies are expected: but, what that regulating efficiency should be, and how managed; is not easily determined. That it is performed by mere Mechanism, constant experience confutes; which assureth us, that our spontaneous motions are under the Imperium of our will. At least the first determination of the spirits into such or such passages, is from the soul, what ever we hold of the after conveyances; of which likewise I think, that all the philosophy in the world cannot make it out to be purely mechanical. But yet though we gain this, that the soul is the principle of direction, the difficulty is as formidable as ever. For unless we allow it a kind of inward sight of the anatomical frame of its own body of every vein, muscle, and artery; of the exact site, and position of them, with the several windings, and secret chanels: it is as unconceivable how it should be the directrix of such intricate motions, as that a blind man should manage a game at chess, or marshal an army. But this is a kind of knowledge, that we are not in the least aware of: yea many times we are so far from an attention to the inward direction of the spirits, that our employed minds observe not any method in the outward performance; even when 'tis managed by variety of interchangeable motions, in which a steady direction is difficult, and a miscarriage easy. Thus an artist will play a lesson on an instrument without minding a stroke; and our tongues will run divisions in a tune not missing a note, even when our thoughts are totally engaged elsewhere: which effects are to be attributed to some secret art of the soul, which to us is utterly occult, and without the ken of our intellects.

 

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