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Theosophy and the New Psychology
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Pages (PDF): 81
Publication Date: 1904
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Six lectures given by Annie Besant in 1904; The Larger Consciousness; The Mechanism Of Consciousness; Sub-Consciousness And Super-Consciousness; Clairvoyance And Clairaudience; Telepathy; and, Methods Of Unfoldment.
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Psychology has travelled far during the last forty years: Some forty years ago it was accepted on almost all sides of the scientific world that, in order to follow safely psychological studies, you must base your psy-chology on physiology. Now there is a truth in that, which I do not want to overlook; that you cannot deal accurately and fully with consciousness without knowing some thing of the nature of its instruments. But the sense in which that famous sentence was uttered was false, if it meant that psychology grew out of physiology, that mind grew out of matter, that consciousness was the result of the mechanical arrangement of matter, and that therefore, in tracing the workings of the mind, we must start with a thorough understanding of the brain and nervous system. Far have we gone since that day, and what I have called the New Psychology is the psychology that holds its mind open to all new facts and truths; that is not content to march along a beaten track; that is willing to consider facts the most abnor¬mal, provided only they are demonstrated to the reason; understanding that in psychology, as elsewhere, the fact which seems to be the most abnormal, which most seems to fly in the face of knowledge already acquired, is the fact that is most likely to be of value, that is most likely to act as a signpost along the hitherto undiscovered road.
That, of course, is admitted in most scientific investi-gations, but somehow people seem to have shrunk from it in the science of the mind, where, if anywhere, abnor¬mal effects are likely to be the most significant. But the New Psychology walks with its eyes open; it does not reject methods because they are new, nor facts because they are unknown. Granted, it is a little in¬clined to re-baptise the facts, that sometimes, along the lines of the New Psychology this tendency shows itself somewhat prominently, as will be seen in one of the cases to which I shall allude in a moment, where an ancient and well-known fact has just been admitted into scientific society under a new baptismal name. For the moment, however, let me give my reason for coupling Theosophy and the New Psychology. Theosophy, having a theory of life and of consciousness based on a very wide and very ancient investigation of nature, is able to offer to the New Psychology a theory of which it stands somewhat sadly in need. I say “a theory”, because it can only be accepted as a theory, as a hypo¬thesis, so far as the scientific world is for the moment concerned. If there is presented to that world a theory in which the facts acknowledged as true all find their places; if the theory offers a rational explanation for facts otherwise inexplicable; if it offers a rational solution for problems that otherwise remain unsolved; then it may surely be accepted as dealing with the facts, and held for the time until some better explanation and solution are forthcoming.
Now the New Psychology is terribly in need of a theory under which its facts can be arranged. For you must remember that the stage of hypothesis is a recog¬nised stage in all scientific investigations. After many facts have been collected and to some extent co-ordinated a generalisation arises out of the co-ordinated facts, and our scientific teachers put forward a hypothesis based on the facts which suggest the generalisation. They then make that hypothesis the basis for further experiment, finding experiment more likely to be fruitful when it starts along lines definitely determined. If the new experiments do not strengthen and confirm the hypothesis, it is thrown aside; but if it is confirmed by them, the hypothesis gradually passes into the realm of the definite and acknowledged teachings of science. I am only claiming the position of a reasonable hypothesis for that which Theosophy lays down with regard to the facts accumulated by the New Psychology, but I do not mean that I hold it as a hypothesis myself. To pretend that would be to deceive you. I hold it as knowledge, not as hypothesis; but I present it to you as a hypothesis for you to re-examine and accept or reject.
Now, that there is a larger consciousness in man is a fact which is being asserted by so many, which is supported by evidence so wide and multifarious, that one is almost inclined to say that the fact is beyond dis-pute. Some will think this is going too far, yet I doubt if you will find many amongst those who look into the experiments, who carefully weigh the testimony, who are not prepared to say that, while they cannot perhaps explain and hesitate to assert, yet they cannot but admit that the evidence for a consciousness wider than the ordinary brain-consciousness is touching on the over¬whelming. Sir Oliver Lodge has put forward his belief in very clear terms. He regards it as definitely estab¬lished that our consciousness is much larger than the consciousness which manifests through the brain; that outside and beyond what we know normally as con¬sciousness there exists a great tract to which no name save the name of consciousness can rationally be given - ¬part of ourselves, perhaps the most important part of ourselves, inasmuch as there come whirling down from that unknown field of consciousness statements so clear and definite, commands so imperious and compelling, that they overbear the reason and mould conduct even against the logic of the human mind. That there is such a larger field of consciousness he definitely asserts; of its existence he is definitely convinced.
Or if we take such statements as those in the book of the late Mr. Myers, on Human Personality, you are confronted there with an accumulation of facts and evidence which it is impossible lightly to put on one side. Two things especially strike us in looking at that remarkable work. One, that the name given by Mr. Myers to this conscious¬ness is awkward, unsuitable. One wishes sometimes that he had used a clearer name, asserting his belief in a consciousness definitely higher than the brain-con¬sciousness. And yet in reading Mr. Myers’ book, I cannot believe his abstinence from such a statement was due to any mental cowardice on his part. For when I remember that he asserted the probability of the truth of obsession, of the taking possession of the body by an alien and often hostile intelligence, and when he added that this brought us bark to the belief of the savage, so brave a statement seems to me to put entirely out of court the notion that he shrank from the assertion of the Spirit in man from any kind of mental fear. Some reason he had for not speaking more definitely. Per¬sonally it seems to me due to mental confusion; that is, that he had a mass of facts he could not arrange, could not understand, could not explain.
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