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Evolution and Devolution-Chapter 2-On the Plane of Self Consciousness
And in the first place it would be well to get a firm hold of the meaning of the words "Self consciousness," upon the definition of which an excellent writer and most competent thinker [200-255] has these remarks: "Self consciousness is often referred to as a distinguishing characteristic of man. Many, however, fail to gain a clear conception of what this faculty is. Dr. Carpenter confounds it with the 'power of reflecting on their own mental states,' while Mr. Darwin associates it with abstraction and other of the derivative faculties. It is certainly something much simpler than introspection, and has an earlier origin than the highly derivative speculative faculties.
If it could only be seized and clearly understood, self consciousness would doubtless prove to be the primary and fundamental human attribute. Our language seems to lack the proper word to express it in its simplest form.'Think' approaches this most nearly, and man is sometimes described as a 'thinking being.' The German language has a better word, viz., besinnen, and the substantive Besonnenheit seems to touch the kernel of the problem. Schopenhauer says: 'The animal lives without any Besonnenheit.
It has consciousness i.e., it knows itself and its weal and woe; also the objects which produce these; but its knowledge remains constantly subjective, never becomes objective; everything that it embraces appears to exist in and of itself, and can therefore never become an object of representation nor a problem for meditation. Its consciousness is thus wholly immanent. The consciousness of the savage man is similarly constitutes in that his perceptions of things and of the world remain preponderantly subjective and immanent. He perceives things in the world, but not the world;his own actions and passion, but not himself.'"
Perhaps the simplest definition (and there are a score of them) would be: self consciousness is the faculty by which we realize. or again: without self consciousness a sentient creature can know, but its possession is necessary in order that he may know that he knows. The best treatise so far written on this subject is Romanes' book, already several times referred to .
The roots of the tree of life being deep sunk in the organic world, its trunk is made up as follows: Beginning at the earth level we have first of all the lowest forms of life unconscious and insenate. These in their turn give birth to forms endowed with sensation and later to forms endowed with Simple Consciousness. From the last, when the right time comes, springs self consciousness and (as already said) in direct ascent from that Cosmic Consciousness.
It is only necessary in this place, as clearing the ground for the work to be done, to point out that the doctrine of the unfolding of the human being, regarded from the side of psychology, is strictly in accord with the theory of evolution in general as received and taught to-day by the foremost thinkers. This tree which we call life and its upper part human life and human mind, has simply grown as grows any other tree, and besides its main stem, as above indicated, it has, as in the case of other trees, thrown off many branches. It will be well to consider some of these. It will be seen that some of them are given off from the lower part of the trunk, as, for instance, contractility, from which great limb, and as a part of it, springs all muscular action from the simple movement of the worm to the marvellously co-ordinated motions made, in the exercise of their art, by a Liszt or a Paderewski.
Another of these large lower limbs is the instinct of Self-preservation and (twin with it) the instinct of the continuance of the species-the preservation of the race. Higher up the special senses shoot out from the main trunk and as they grow and divide and again divide they become large and vitally important branches of the great tree. From all these main-of shoots spring smaller arms and from these more delicate twigs.Thus from the human intellect whose central fact is Self Consciousness, a section of the main trunk of our tree, spring, judgement, reason, comparison, imiganation, abstraction, reflection, generalization. From the moral or emotional nature, one of the largest and most important of the main limbs, spring love (itself a great branch dividing into many smaller brances), reverence,faith, fear, awe, hope, hate, humor and many more.
The great branch called the sense of sight, which in its beginning was a perception of the difference between light and darkness, sent out twigs which we call sense of form, of distance, and later the color sense. The limb named sense of hearing has for branches and twigs the apprehension of loudness, of pitch, of distance, of direction and as a delicate twig just coming into being, the musical sense.
Reference: Cosmic Consciousness: A study in the Evolution of the Human Mind: Richard Maurice Bucke.