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The Unknown Guest by Maurice Maeterlinck

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incantations, haruspication, "possession," evocation of the dead,
apparitions, ghosts, miraculous cures, levitation, transmission
of thought, apparent resurrections and the rest are the exact
equivalent, though magnified by the aid of plentiful and obvious
frauds of our latter-day supernaturalism. Turning in another
direction, we are able to see that psychical phenomena are very
evenly distributed over the whole surface of the globe. At all
events, there does not appear to be any race that is absolutely
or peculiarly refractory to them. One would be inclined to say,
however, that they manifest themselves by preference among the
most civilized nations--perhaps because that is where they are
most carefully sought after--and among the most primitive. In
short, it cannot be denied that we are in the presence of
faculties or senses, more or less latent but at the same time
universally distributed, which form part of the general and
unvarying inheritance of mankind. But have these faculties or
senses undergone evolution, like most of the others? And, if they
have not done so on our earth, do they show traces of an
extraplanetary evolution? Is there progress or reaction? Are they
withered and useless branches, or buds swollen with sap and
promise? Are they retreating before the march of intelligence or
invading its domain?


M. Ernest Bozzano, one of the most learned, most daring and most
subtle exponents of the new science that is in process of
formation, in the course of a remarkable essay in the Annales des
sciences psychiques,[1] gives it as his opinion that they have
remained stationary and unchanged. He considers that they have
become in no way diffused, generalized and refined, like so many
others that are much less important and useful from the point of
view of the struggle for life, such as the musical faculty, for
instance. It does not even seem, says M. Bozzano, that it is
possible to cultivate or develop them systematically. The Hindu
race in particular, who for thousands of years have been devoting
themselves to the study of these manifestations, have arrived at
nothing but a better knowledge of the empirical methods
calculated to produce them in individuals already endowed with
these supernormal faculties. I do not know to what extent M.
Bozzano's assertions are beyond dispute. They concern historical
or remote facts which it is very difficult to verify. In any
case, it is something to have perfected , as has been done in
India, the empirical methods favourable to the production of
supernormal phenomena. One might even say that it is about all
that we have the right to expect, seeing that, by the author's
own admission, these faculties are latent in every man and that,
as has frequently been seen, it needs but an illness, a lesion,
or sometimes even the slightest emotion or a mere passing
faintness to make them suddenly reveal themselves in an
individual who seemed most hopelessly devoid of them. It is
therefore quite possible that, by improving the methods, by
attacking the mystery from other quarters, we might obtain more
decisive results than the Hindus. We must remember that our
western science has but lately interested itself in these
problems and that it has means of investigating and experimenting
which the Asiatics never possessed. It may even be declared that
at no time in the existence of our world has the scientific mind
been better-equipped, better-suited to cope with every task, or
more exact, more skilful and more penetrating than it is today.
Because the oriental empirics have failed, there is no reason to
believe that it will not succeed in awakening and cultivating in
every man those faculties which would often be of greater use to
him than those of the intellect itself. It is not overbold to
suggest that, from certain points of view, the true history of
mankind has hardly begun.

[1] September, 1906.


Nevertheless, in so far as concerns the natural evolution of
those faculties, M. Bozzano's assertion seem fairly well-
justified. We do not, in fact, observe a startling or even
appreciable difference between what they were and what they are.
And this anomaly is the more surprising in as much as it is
almost universally accepted that a sense or a faculty becomes
developed in proportion to its usefulness; and there are few, I
think, that would have been not only more useful but even more
necessary to man. He has always had a keen and primitive interest
in knowing without delay the most secret thoughts of his
fellow-man, who is often his adversary and sometimes his mortal
enemy. He has always had an interest no less great in immediately
transmitting those thoughts through space, in seeing beyond the
continents and seas, in going back into the past, in advancing
into the future, in being able to find in his memory at will not
only all the acquirements of his personal experience but also
those of his ancestors, in communicating with the dead and
perhaps with the sovereign intelligence diffused over the
universe, in discovering hidden springs and treasures, in
escaping the harsh and depressing laws of matter and gravity, in
relieving pain, in curing the greater number of his disorders and
even in restoring his limbs, not to mention many other miracles
which he could work if he knew all the mighty forces that
doubtless slumber in the dark recesses of his life.

Is this once more an unexpected character of the eccentric
physiology of our unknown guest? Here are faculties more precious
than the most precious faculties that have made us what we are,
faculties whose magic buds sprout on every side underneath our
intelligence but have never burst into flower, as though a wind
from another sphere had killed them with its icy breath. Is it
because it occupies itself first and foremost with the species
that it thus neglects the individual? But, after all, the species
is only an aggregate of successive individuals; and its evolution
consequently depends upon their evolution. There would therefore
have been an evident advantage to the species in developing
faculties that would perhaps have carried it much farther and
much higher than has been done by its brain-power, which alone
has progressed. If there is no evolution for them here, do they
develop elsewhere? What are those powers which exist outside and
independent of the laws of this earth? Do they then belong to
other worlds? But, if so, what are they doing in ours? One would
sometimes think, at the sight of so much neglectfulness,
uncertainty and inconsistency, that man's evolution had been
intentionally retarded by a superior will, as though that will
feared that he was going too fast, that he was anticipating some
pre established order and moving prematurely out of his appointed


And the riddles accumulate which we cannot hope to solve. It has
been said that these abnormal faculties are communications or
infiltrations, themselves abnormal, which have found their way
through the partitions that separate our consciousness from our
subconsciousness. This is very likely, but it is only a minor
side of the question. It would be important before all to know
what that subconsciousness represents, whither it tends and with
what it itself is communicating. Is the impersonal form of
knowledge a necessary or an accidental stage? Is the impersonal
form which it takes in the subconsciousness the only true one? Is
there really, as everything seems to prove, a hopeless
incompatibility between our intellectual faculties and those
families of uncertain origin, to such an extent that the latter
are unable to manifest themselves except when the former are
weakened or temporarily suspended? It has, at any rate, been
observed that they are hardly ever exercised simultaneously. Are
we to believe that, at a given moment, mankind or the genius that
presides over its destinies had to make an exclusive and awful
choice between cerebral energy and the mysterious forces of the
subconsciousness and that we still find traces of its hesitations
in our organism? What would have become of a race of man in which
the subconsciousness had triumphed over the brain? Is not this
the case with animals; and would not the race have remained
purely animal? Or else would not this preponderance of a
subconscious more powerful than that of the animals and almost
independent of our body have resulted in the disappearance of
life as we know it; and should we not even now be trading the
life which we shall probably lead when we are dead? Here are a
number of questions to which there are no answers and which are
nevertheless perhaps not so idle as one might at first believe.


Amidst this antagonism, whose triumph are we to hope for? Is any
alliance between the two opposing forces for ever impossible so
long as we are in the flesh? What are we to do meanwhile? If a
choice be inevitable, which way will our choice incline; and
which victim shall we sacrifice? Shall we listen to those who
tell us that there is nothing more to be gained or learnt in
those inhospitable regions where all our bewildering phenomena
have been known since man first was man? Is it true that
occultism--as it is very improperly called, for the knowledge
which it seeks is no more occult than any other--is it true that
occultism is marking time, that it is becoming hopelessly
entangled in the same doubtful facts and that it has not taken a
single step forward since its renaissance more than fifty years
ago? One must be entirely ignorant of the wonderful efforts of
those fruitful years to venture upon such an assertion. This is
not the place to discuss the question, which would require full
and careful treatment; but we may safely say that until now there
is no science which in so short a time has brought order out of
such a chaos, ascertained, checked and classified such a quantity
of facts, or more rapidly awakened, cultivated and trained in man
certain faculties which he had never seriously been believed to
possess; and furthermore none which has caused to be recognized
as incontestable and thus introduced into the circle of the
realities whereon we base our lives a number of unlikely
phenomena which had hitherto been contemptuously passed over. We
are still, it is true, waiting for the domestication of the new
force, its practical application to daily use. We are waiting for
the all-revealing, decisive manifestation which will remove our
last doubts and throw light upon the problem down to its very
source. But let us admit that we are likewise waiting for this
manifestation in the great majority of sciences. In my case, we
are already in the presence of an astonishing mass of
well-weighed and verified materials which, until now, had been
taken for the refuse of dreams, fragments of wild legends,
meaningless and unimportant. For more than three centuries, the
science of electricity remained at very much the same point at
which our psychical sciences stand to-day. Men were recording,
accumulating, trying to interpret a host of odd and futile
phenomena, toying with Ramsden's machine, with Leyden jars, with
Volta's rough battery. They thought that they had discovered an
agreeable pastime, an ingenious plaything for the laboratory or
study; and they had not the slightest suspicion that they were
touching the sources of an universal, irresistible, inexhaustible
power, invisibly present and active in all things, that would
soon invade the surface of our globe. Nothing tells us that the
psychic forces of which we are beginning to catch a glimpse have
not similar surprises in store for us, with this difference, that
we are here concerned with energies and mysteries which are
loftier, grander and doubtless fraught with graver consequences,
since they affect our eternal destinies, traverse alike our life
and our death and extend beyond our planet.


It is not true therefore that the psychical sciences have said
their last word and that we have nothing more to expect from
them. They have but just awakened or reawakened; and, to postdate
Guyau's prediction by a hundred years, we might say, with them in
our minds, that the twentieth century "will end with discoveries
as ill-formulated but perhaps as important in the moral world as
those of Newton and Laplace in the astronomical world." But,
though we have much to hope from them, that is no reason why we
should look to them for everything and abandon in their favour
that which has brought us where we are. The choice of which we
spoke, between the brain and the subconsciousness, has been made
long ago; and it is not our part to make it over again. We are
carried along by a force acquired in the course of two or three
thousand years; and our methods, like our intellectual habits,
have of themselves become transformed into sort of minor
subconsciousness superposed upon the major subconsciousness and
sometimes mingling with it. Henri Bergson, in his very fine
presidential address to the Society for Psychical Research on the
28th of May, 1913, said that he had sometimes wondered what would
have happened if modern science, instead of setting out from
mathematics, instead of bringing all its forces to converge on
the study of matter, had begun by the consideration of mind; if
Kepler, Galileo and Newton, for instance, had been psychologists:

"We should certainly," said he, "have had a psychology of which
to-day we can form no idea, any more than before Galileo we could
have imagined what our physics would be; a psychology that
probably would have been to our present psychology what our
physics is to Aristotle's. Foreign to every mechanistic idea, not
even conceiving the possibility of an explanation, science would
have enquired into, instead of dismissing a priori facts, such as
those which you study; perhaps 'psychical research' would have
stood out as its principal preoccupation. The most general laws
of mental activity once discovered (as, in fact, the fundamental
laws of mechanics were discovered), we should have passed from
mind, properly so-called, to life; biology would have been
constituted, but a vitalist biology, quite different from ours,
which would have sought behind the sensible forms of living
beings the inward, invisible force of which the sensible forms
are the manifestations."

It would therefore in the very first days of its activity have
encountered all these strange problems: telepathy,
materializations, clairvoyance, miraculous cures, knowledge of
the future, the possibility of survival, interplanetary
intelligence and many others, which it has neglected hitherto and
which, thanks to its neglect, are still in their infancy. But, as
the human mind is not able to follow two diametrically opposite
directions at the same time, it would necessarily have rejected
the mathematical sciences. A steamship coming from another
hemisphere, one in which men's minds had taken, unknown to
ourselves, the road which our own has actually taken, would have
seemed to us as wonderful, as incredible as the phenomena of our
subconsciousness seem to us to-day. We should have gone very
far in what at present we call the unknown or the occult; but we
should have known hardly anything of physics, chemistry or
mechanics, unless, which is very probable, we had come upon them
by another road as we travelled round the occult. It is true that
certain nations, the Hindus particularly, the Egyptians and
perhaps the Incas, as well as others, in all probability, who
have not left sufficient traces, thus went to work the other way
and obtained nothing decisive. Is this again a consequence of the
hopeless incompatibility between the faculties of the brain and
those of the subconsciousness? Possibly; but we must not forget
that we are speaking of nations which never possessed our
intellectual habits, our passion for precision, for verification,
for experimental certainty; indeed, this passion has only been
fully developed in ourselves within the last two or three
centuries. It is to be presumed therefore that the European would
have gone much farther in the other direction than the Oriental.
Where would he have arrived? Endowed with a different brain,
naturally clearer, more exacting, more logical, less credulous,
more practical, closer to realities, more attentive to details,
but with the scientific side of his intelligence uncultivated,
would he have gone astray or would he have met the truths which
we are still seeking and which may well be more important than
all our material conquests. Ill-prepared, ill-equipped,
ill-balanced, lacking the necessary ballast of experiments and
proofs, would he have been exposed to the dangers familiar to all
the too-mystical nations? It is very difficult to imagine so. But
the hour has now perhaps come to try without risk what he could
not have done without grave peril. While abandoning no whit of
his understanding, which is small compared with the boundless
scope of the subconsciousness, but which is sure, tried and
docile, he can now embark upon the great adventure and try to do
that which has not been done before. It is a matter of
discovering the connecting link between the two forces. We are
still ignorant of the means of aiding, encouraging, developing
and taming the greater of the two and of bringing it closer to
us; the quest will be the most difficult, the most mysterious
and, in certain respects, the most dangerous that mankind has
ever undertaken. But we can say to ourselves, without fear of
being very far wrong, that it is the best task at the moment. In
any case, this is the first time since man has existed that he
will be fronting the unknown with such good weapons, even as it
is also the first time since its awakening that his intelligence,
which has reached a summit from which it can understand almost
everything, will at last receive help from outside and hear a
voice that is something more than the echo of its own.

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