WHY do men struggle so desperately to deny non-material
reality? Why do so many shrink from no theory, however far-fetched, which attributes Life, Mind and sometimes even the
Deity to the unaided action of Matter on Matter? Why do
they strain after absurd, logic-chopping arguments designed
to prove that Matter unaided is capable of everything we
observe or experience? Why this prevalent notion that belief
in non-material reality is unscientific?
We believe that three reasons, all purely intellectual, can
be distinguished. The first has been mentioned several times
in these pages. It is the common misapprehension that the
laws governing the Material Universe embody a Principle
of Complete Determinateness.
The other two reasons are more profound. They arise from
the very nature and limitations of our intelligence. We will
deal with one of them in this and with the other in the next
With profound insight, Bergson has pointed out that
intelligence is a limited and highly specialized instrument.
Man is in the habit of adapting the substances around him to
his needs. His comparative weakness has made it necessary
for his survival that he should do so more effectively than any
other animal, and his success is entirely due to his intelligence. With the help of this powerful instrument he can
appreciate and control material substance.
The best instrument serves a single purpose. A corkscrew
so designed that it can also be used as a screwdriver will not
be a very good corkscrew. And an intelligence designed to
appreciate every aspect of reality would not be a very serviceable intelligence. The survival value of our mental equipment is partly due to its one-sidedness. In man's struggle for
existence appreciation of material reality has been a desperate
necessity to which some power of appreciating non-material
reality has had to be sacrificed.
But the sacrifice has not been complete. We do possess an
instrument which enables us to appreciate non-material reality
to some extent; and Bergson has called this instrument "intuition." In our mental processes intelligence and intuition
intermingle so that it becomes difficult to separate them out.
And it is usually unnecessary to do so. In these pages we
certainly need not make the attempt. All we want the reader
to realize is that the nature of our minds makes it difficult,
but not impossible, for every one of us to escape from
Being due to something inherent in human nature, this
difficulty has been apparent at all periods of history. Philosophers in ancient Greece may have thought of Dryads as
purely spiritual beings lacking any of the attributes of material
objects. But the Greek shepherd certainly thought of them
as maidens such as he might meet at any moment walking on
the wooded slopes of his native mountains. The medieval
schoolmen knew full well that spiritual concepts cannot be
measured by a foot-rule. They expressed this knowledge
picturesquely by saying that an infinite number of angels
could dance on the point of a needle. But for the benefit of
those with less capacity for logical reasoning the medieval
artist portrayed angels in human form.
However, the medieval artist did find means of conveying
symbolically the idea held by the schoolmen when he represented his angels as standing on clouds. As he could not paint
a picture in which angels were devoid of physical dimensions
he robbed them of another common attribute of tangible
substance, namely weight. The artist of to-day who has to
illustrate a ghost story follows a similar method when he
shows the background visible through the ghost. By representing the ghost as transparent he suggests that another
familiar property of tangible substance is lacking, namely the
property of intercepting light. The artist's method is always
to portray something which we can recognize as a material
object and to subtract from it one or more of the properties
which we would expect to observe.
The artist's procedure is sometimes poetical and always
naive. But what else can he do? He can convey by subtle
means the notion that a non-material reality is weightless,
dimensionless, invisible, intangible. But if he is to represent
his idea pictorially at all he must impose on it at least some of
the perceptible attributes of material objects. Good art is
So long as the idea is represented in a painting one attribute
can never be eliminated. This is location. The spirit, or angel,
or ghost must be shown somewhere in the picture. And those
who try to convey the idea of a non-material reality in more
abstract terms than those of pictorial art often use means which
still preserve the notion that the thing under discussion has
location. The schoolmen who denied that the angels' height
from toe to crown could span even the tiniest fraction of an
inch still spoke of them as dancing on the point of a needle.
The position in space of the angels could thus have been
defined in feet and inches from, shall we say, the walls and
floor of the room to the needle on which they were said to be
dancing. Though the medieval schoolmen declared that it
would be idle to use footrules in order to measure how large
the angels were, they still implied that footrules might be
used in order to define where they were. The schoolmen seem
to have believed that if angels are they must be somewhere .
But we have not studied the schoolmen very extensively.
Perhaps they had a better insight into the nature of non-material reality than we are allowing them.
Similarly a preacher of to-day who denies that God and the
Devil are material yet assigns them location when he points
first upwards and says "God is there" and then downwards to
indicate the dwelling place of the Devil. Of course he means
the gesture to be interpreted metaphorically and not literally.
He knows that a colleague in the Antipodes points in the
reverse directions. But if asked where the true dwelling place
of the Divinity is he dare not answer: "Nowhere." He is
sure that such an answer would be misunderstood. So the
preacher compromises with logic by answering: "Everywhere." It is the best he can do, even though it may lead to
a most un-Christian form of pantheism. Good religious teaching, too, may have to be naive.
But what is a virtue in art and religious teaching is a vice
in philosophy. And it seems to us almost incredible that any
philosopher can seriously believe that the sole criterion of
non-material reality is lack of some or all the attributes of
Matter. Yet we have met this belief together with the even
more remarkable one that things can be more or less material.
We have been told, for instance, that modern physics has
proved Matter to be less material than was thought at one
time. Sometimes this astonishing statement is made baldly,
sometimes with a show of profundity as by A. E. Heath who
said in a symposium at the Aristotelian Society: "The philosophical outcome of modern thought is not then a direct materialism. This has been replaced by various forms of
We must abandon the effort of trying to understand what
distinction is made in the Philosophy of Unreason between a
direct and an indirect materialism or what it can mean to say
that Matter is more or less material. We must be content only
to guess at the new discoveries which are supposed to have
results so gratifying to the bishops.
Perhaps it is the discovery that the atom is a very empty
affair. This may have led some of our philosophers to the
view that the Material Universe contains less tangible substance
than they had previously thought; and it may be taught in
the Colleges of Unreason that a Material Universe which
contains only a little tangible substance is less material than
one which contains a lot.
Or perhaps it is the discovery that electrons are not hard
lumps of substance but only packets of waves, or that forces
can now be expressed in the abstract terms of the geometry
of space-time. This may have led the Colleges of Unreason
to teach that the world contains no hard lumps such as one
might be able to kick and no forces with which to kick them,
a doctrine of which the famous Dr. Johnson demonstrated the
absurdity even though he failed in his intention of refuting
It is, of course, nonsense to say that things which seem like
hard lumps are not really hard lumps. When we say "a hard
lump" we mean a thing which seems like a hard lump to our
sense of touch. We cannot mean anything else. It is equally
nonsense to say that Matter can ever lack any of the attributes of Matter or that some things can be more and others
less material. One can arrange material things in classes
according to the senses by which we become aware of them.
Some, like iron, are heavy and hard and visible; others, like
glass, are heavy and hard but not so visible; others again, like
air are not very heavy, and not hard, and scarcely visible.
But this does not mean that air is less material than glass,
and glass less material than iron, even though a work of art
which is both sublime and naive may suggest that it is so. The
metaphysics taught at the Colleges of Unreason is not sublime,
but it is just as naive when it suggests that an empty atom is
less material than a full one or a wave packet than a hard
Yet it is arguments such as these which have led via the
idealization of Matter to various attempts to account for Life
in terms of modern physics. It is first asserted that quantum
mechanics and other recent advances prove that the Material
Universe is not a machine, a fact which was, of course, equally
obvious in the old days of classical mechanics. But our up-to-date philosophers do not mean that the Material Universe
is not a machine because it lacks co-ordination. They mean
that it is not a machine because much in it is now no longer
discussed in terms of hard substances and pushes and pulls.
It is discussed in terms of geometry, radiation, quantum
Hence, it is argued, the reason why the laws of mechanics
do not suffice to account for the behaviour of living substance
is simply that they do not suffice to account for the behaviour
of lifeless substance. What the laws of mechanics cannot do,
we are expected to believe, may possibly be achieved by the
laws governing radiation or quantum mechanics.
Of course, such speculations are quite fruitless. We have
found that mechanism, is untenable because the unco-ordinated
pushes and pulls exerted by Matter on Matter cannot produce
the co-ordinated effects observable in the organic world. The
behaviour of radiation and the behaviour of quantum jumps
is just as unco-ordinated as that of hard lumps. Every argument
against materialism which we have based on the science of
mechanics could, with equal force, be based on any other
branch of physics. If mechanism must be rejected, theories
which might go by such names as radiationism or quantum
jumpism must be rejected too. It is idle to attempt to develop
a new philosophy out of the mistaken notion that physicists
now portray Matter much in the same way as a book illustrator
Such teaching has only become plausible because we all
tend to make the wrong sort of effort when we try to conceive non-material reality. We begin by imagining some
material reality and then we try to think: away, one by one,
all the attributes attached to it. We probably eliminate first
weight, visibility, colour, sound and all the properties which
we could recognize by our sense of touch. The strain on our
imagination increases as we go on. Length, breadth and
height may be subtracted next, and then we are ready to
imagine the angels which dance on the point of a needle. It
is difficult, but we may persuade ourselves that we are getting
along quite nicely.
Then we realize that the point of the needle must go too.
We are left with the hopeless task of imagining angels which
have no perceptible properties and are infinitely small and are
dancing nowhere. We are left trying to imagine something
which is nothing. Failing to do so we reach the conclusion
that there is no such thing as non-material reality, and that
we are not interested in philosophy.
But it was a mistake to use our imagination. This always
represents sense perceptions. While we can imagine that we
see something, or hear something, or feel something, we
cannot imagine what we could not perceive. Imagination
can never deal with anything but material reality. If we are
to appreciate the meaning of non-material reality we can
only do so by the use of another instrument. If that which
Bergson has called "intuition" will not serve we must use
We try to master by imagination that which imagination
can never master because we have been misled by words. The
expression "non-material reality" is purely negative. This
is why we tend to assume that we can only reach an understanding of the concept by a process of subtraction. A good
deal of confusion would be avoided if we had a word which,
instead of suggesting what the concept is not would suggest
what it is or does. Philosophers do not seem to have provided
such a word. So it becomes our task once again to create a
new technical term.
In choosing our term we must proceed with a proper sense
Of responsibility and with regard to the guiding principles discussed in a previous chapter. We require a word which
suggests that non-material reality possesses attributes lacking
in Matter. The word must not convey too much. It must
not suggest attributes which cannot be proved. It must also
suggest only such attributes as we may reasonably assume to
be possessed by any and every non-material influence. This
last requirement rules out such words as Spirit, Life or Mind.
We need a more general word, one which allows for the
possibility that neither Spirit, Life nor Mind is necessarily the
only active non-material reality existing
This leads us to consider what is the most general attribute
which distinguishes any and every active non-material reality
from Matter. Surely it is the capacity for exercising that
which we have somewhat loosely described as selection,
guidance, control, the capacity for discrimination, for disposing objects in accordance with a pre-existent plan, for
ensuring that the structure and behaviour of things shall occur
in a specified way. This is the attribute which is common to
Life, Mind, God, to every active non-material reality which
we can conceive. Hence this is the attribute which must be
conveyed by the new word.
Professor Smiley, of University College, London has
pointed out to us that the ancient Greek language possesses
exactly the word which we require. This is diathetic.. It means
"capable of disposing to a specification." It occurs in Zenophon
in the following passage:
The translation is: "[But] I shall not deceive you with
introductory remarks about pleasure, but I shall recount
truthfully the things that are, in the way that the gods have
The word is derived from dia which means "at intervals"
And tithenai which means "to place." An advantage is that this
word is extremely rare in Greek literature. It is, therefore,
free from misleading associations. It is true that it has found
its way into the technical language of medicine. But its use
there is so specialized that no confusion can arise with the
use which we are now advocating in philosophy.
We propose, therefore, whenever we need a positive means
of distinguishing Life from. Matter to say that Life is a diathetic reality.
Diathetic is an active adjective and it is evident that further
derivatives from the roots dia and tithenai will be equally useful. We, therefore, recommend diathesis as either an active
or a passive noun. It will mean either the act of disposing to
a specification or the being so disposed. We do not think
that the dual use can lead to confusion. The building of a
cathedral or a motor-car is a diathesis. In the organic world
the process which constitutes the growth and development of
a plant or an animal is a diathesis.
diatheme is the word we shall give to the result of a diathesis.
A cathedral or a motor-car is a diatheme. The body of every
living organism is a diatheme. If we had concluded in a previous chapter that the structure of the Material Universe
met any specified requirements we should have had to say
that this was a diatheme. But we reached the conclusion that
it is not one. Those, again, who attribute a crystal to an "element of drill" imply that a crystal is a diatheme. But we have
shown that this view is untenable.
Lastly, we need a single word for the influence which
exercises a diathetic activity. We propose diathete. We shall
describe the life which controls the structure and behaviour
of any living organism as a diathete. A man's mind is a
diathete. God must be so described. The angels of the schoolmen who danced on the point of a needle were diathetes, or
they would have been if they had danced nowhere.
We must be careful to restrict the use of the word diathete
in such a way that it can never be confused with a diatheme.
A sorting machine is, for instance, a diatheme. Since it serves
the purpose of selection it might be suggested that we ought
also to call it a diathete. But we do not propose to use the
word in this sense. The diathetic activity is not exercised by
the machine but only by the man who works it. The machine
is only the instrument of a diathesis.
We propose further to restrict the use of the word diathete
so that it does not apply to the body of the man who works
the machine either. Though we say loosely that our hands
select, guide, control, they do not really do so. Our bodies
are only the instruments by means of which a diathesis is
effected. Our bodies, being material, can themselves discriminate no more than machines can, or any other lumps of
substance. For the capacity to discriminate is not an attribute
of Matter and can never become an attribute of Matter. Our
bodies are not diathetes, they are diathemes.
All diathetes together make up the counterpart of Matter.
This shows that the distinction we are now making between
diathetes and Matter is the same as is made by philosophers
between Mind and Matter and by religious teachers between
Spirit and Matter and it may be thought that we should have
done better to retain one of the older words instead of introducing a new one. However, we believe that both "Mind"
and "Spirit" have certain disadvantages from. which "dia-
thetes" is free.
A minor disadvantage is the uncertainty as to whether the
words "Mind" and "Spirit" represent a single unit or are
collective nouns like "cattle". We do not often hear of
"Minds and Matter" or of "Spirits and Matter". Is this
because the singular is meant in each case or because the words
"Mind" and "Spirit" are meant each to designate a varied
multitude? We are not sure, but we think that a multitude
ought to be designated. There is only one Material Universe
and this contains Matter everywhere. So the singular is quite
correct for Matter. But allowance must be made for a varied
multitude of non-material realities. A metaphysician would
probably say that there are an indefinitely large number of
Non-material Universes. To indicate this a combination of a
plural and a singular is desirable as is provided by the expression
"diathetes and Matter."
A more important objection to the antithesis "Mind and
Matter" is the suggestion contained therein that everything
which is not Matter must necessarily be very much like a
human mind. There is no reason at all to suppose this and
philosophers who speak of "Mind and Matter" probably
do not believe it. But others who read the philosophers may
be led into an unduly anthropomorphic view of reality. A
word is, therefore, preferable which indicates that any and
every non-material reality need have only one attribute in
common with the human mind, namely a capacity to dispose
things to a specification.
The word "Spirit" is also liable to convey a wrong impression. It either suggests human qualities as the word "Mind"
does or else something evenly distributed and wholly undifferentiated and inactive. When told "God is Spirit and everywhere" many will, we fear, form the notion that God is a
tenuous gas filling all space. "God is a diathete and nowhere"
would, at least, avoid this misapprehension. The word
"Spirit" fails, in fact, to convey the one all-important attribute by which any non-material reality is distinguished from
Matter, namely, powers of discrimination.
We are now, at last, able to provide simple and concise
definitions of Matter and diathetes. Anything is Matter which
has location in space. Anything is a diathete which discriminates.
Discrimination must be understood widely enough to cover
any and every selecting, guiding, controlling activity, be it
conscious or unconscious. Each of these concise definitions
includes everything which should be included and excludes
everything which should be excluded. For anything which
has location cannot discriminate and anything which discriminates cannot have location.
Things which have location include tangible substance and
waves and fields of force and energy and electric charges;
they include everything with which the physical sciences
are concerned, everything which conforms to the laws of
these sciences, everything which can be either observed or
measured, everything which can be put on record, which
can be written down in some conventional symbols and
communicated to another person. None of these things can
discriminate; they can only be the subject matter of a discrimination. No physicist would ever attribute discriminating
powers to any object great or small which he could locate
and bring under observation. Yet we have seen that, in the
organic world discrimination is achieved, a diathesis of the
particles forming a living organism is effected. As this diathesis
cannot be attributed to Matter of any kind, to anything having
location, we must attribute it to non-material influences having
no location. Our argument against materialism is summarized
in the above few sentences.
It might be suggested that our argument depends on an
arbitrary definition of Matter. But we do not believe that
any definition would spell sense which included as parts of
Matter things which have no location. In the commonly
used meaning of the word and in the meaning employed by
materialists, Matter is always somewhere. And by defining
Matter as anything and everything which is somewhere we
have provided the widest of all possible definitions. A thing
which could never be found, though one looked East, West,
North, South for it can never be observed; it can never come
under physical investigation; it cannot conform to the laws
of the physical sciences; none of the statements which belong
to the domain of physics can have any meaning when applied
to a thing which is nowhere.
Yet such a thing is a diathete. It is unobservable. But it is
not undiscoverable. For its existence is proved by its effect
on Matter. Not by what it is but by what it does do we
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