Mysticism; Actual; Transcendental;

William James once suggested as a useful exercise for young idealists, a consideration of the changes which would be worked in our ordinary world if the various branches of our receiving instruments exchanged duties; if, for instance, we heard all colours and saw all sounds Such a remark throws a sudden light on the strange and apparently insane statement of the visionary Saint-Martin, “I heard flowers that sounded, and saw notes that shone”; and on the reports of other mystics concerning a rare moment of consciousness in which the senses are fused into a single and ineffable act of perception, and colour and sound are known as aspects of one thing

Since music is but an interpretation of certain vibrations undertaken by the ear, and colour an interpretation of other vibrations performed by the eye, this is less mad than it sounds and may yet be brought within the radius of physical science Did such an alteration of our senses take place the world would still send us the same messages— that strange unknown world from which, on this hypothesis, we are hermetically sealed— but we should interpret them differently Beauty would still be ours, though speaking in another tongue The bird’s song would then strike our retina as a pageant of colour: we should see the magical tones of the wind, hear as a great fugue the repeated and harmonized greens of the forest, the cadences of stormy skies Did we realize how slight an adjustment of our organs is needed to initiate us into such a world, we should perhaps be less contemptuous of those mystics who tell us that they apprehended the Absolute as “heavenly music” or “Uncreated Light”: less fanatical in our determination to make the solid “world of common sense” the only standard of reality

This “world of common sense” is a conceptual world It may represent an external universe: it certainly does represent the activity of the human mind Within that mind it is built up: and there most of us are content “at ease for aye to dwell,” like the soul in the Palace of Art A direct encounter with absolute truth then, appears to be impossible for normal non-mystical consciousness We cannot know the reality, or even prove the existence, of the simplest object: though this is a limitation which few people realize acutely and most would deny

But there persists in the race a type of personality which does realize this limitation: and cannot be content with the sham realities that furnish the universe of normal men It is necessary, as it seems, to the comfort of persons of this type to form for themselves some image of the Something or Nothing which is at the end of their telegraph lines: some “conception of being,” some “theory of knowledge” They are tormented by the Unknowable, ache for first principles, demand some background to the shadow show of things In so far as man possesses this temperament, he hungers for reality, and must satisfy that hunger as best he can: staving off starvation, though he may not be filled [ video transcribed by: Grigoris Deoudis ] It is doubtful whether any two selves have offered themselves exactly the same image of the truth outside their gates: for a living metaphysic, like a living religion, is at bottom a strictly personal affair— a matter, as William James reminded us, of vision rather than of argument

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