OUTLINE OF A STRANGE
To understand the mentality of the nebulae, one must bear in mind three facts which make them differ through and through from human beings. They do not succeed one another in generations; they are not constrained by economic necessity; the great majority of them have reached maturity in ignorance of other minds.
On Earth, the individuals of a race procreate and die, handing on the torch of evolution and of tradition to their successors. But with the nebulae there is no distinction between the growth of individuals and the evolution of the race. The life arid memory of each nebula reaches back to the racial dawn. The race consists of the original host of individuals that condensed more or less contemporaneously after the explosion of the atom-cosmos. When the last of these dies, the race dies with it.
Nebular evolution has consequently been far less profuse in "experimental" types than terrestrial evolution. It has not proliferated in myriad diverse species. Its advance has been more steady and less varied. It was partly through this lack of variety, partly through the extreme simplicity of the environment (compared with the immense complexity of our terrestrial environment) that even the social nebulae developed a certain naive directness of thought and feeling known only in human children. Owing to this lack of sophistication nebular history displays more starkly and dramatically than human history the great formative influences at work within it.
Another important consequence of the absence of generations is this. The nebulae are in a sense "nearer to God" than any man can ever be. The human child, in spite of our great poet, trails but dim and tattered clouds of glory. He embarks upon life, not fresh from God's making fingers, but warped by the misfortunes and blunders of countless ancestors; and, no sooner is he born, than he entangles himself further by learning from the example of his elders. But the nebulae wake with the divine lust keen and unconfused within them, and they pursue it untrammelled either by errant instinct or by perverse tradition. Never need they suffer from mistakes not their own, or be led astray by the half-truths of teachers whose very obscurity lends them a baneful prestige. Thus the nebulae, at least in their youthful phase, have been able on the whole to follow the light within them with a steadier will than man, though with less diversity of expression. Stage by stage during their youth, and without any widespread misadventure, they have discovered the true direction of their nature, and have very constantly pursued it. Not till the main host of them was already in the prime was fate to waylay them with an opportunity of destroying themselves by offering them the priceless but dangerous gift of mechanical power.
The absence of generations had another far-reaching effect. In all human cultures the idea of parenthood, birth and death, and all the attributes of youth and age, are familiar and significant. But the nebulae in their early maturity, before they began to conceive their cosmical society, were almost entirely without these experiences. Parenthood and birth were the rarest accidents; death itself was on the whole an unusual calamity, always artificially produced, and common only in periods of warfare. Youth they knew vaguely from recollection of their past phases and the study of their less mature contemporaries. Senescence was as yet not even a rare disease. It was entirely unknown. Not till the last phase of the nebular drama did they discover the inexorable decay and annihilation which plays so great a part in all human experience.
No less important than the absence of generations was lack of constraint by economic necessity. Interest in economic activities, which has played a part in terrestrial life at once so stimulating to the practical intelligence and so hostile to the finer kinds of percipience and thought, finds no place in nebular culture. When at last (as I shall tell) sheer intellectual curiosity stumbled upon the means of utilizing subatomic energy, and militarism found a use for it, economic activity did indeed playa great part in the nebular world; but even then, and even though it brought disaster, it was never (as so often with us) taken to be an end. It was always emphatically subordinated to the true and universally accepted goal of nebular life, a goal which unfortunately the human mind can only very dimly conceive.
Until I became familiar with nebular life I had supposed that without the spur of economic need no progress could be made, and the higher reaches of mentality would never be achieved. This error seems to me now ludicrous.
In the young nebulae another stimulus took the place of the economic; and in those that were mature the habit of ardent endeavour persisted, though its original cause had ceased. Not the need to annex energy, but the need to canalise it so that it should do no damage to the vital organization, was the stimulus to practical activity. All nebulae at every age, but especially in youth and early maturity, are beset by the fear that at any moment they may fail to maintain the structure of their airy tissues and organs. For not only the violence of radiation, but also any sudden voluntary movement, if too vigorous or jerky, may rend them; as with a mere breath one may disintegrate a smoke wreath. Thus all nebulae live in constant dread of physical disorders and mental derangements of the most terrifying kind. And all in their youth have to behave with courage and intelligence in order to cope with these dangers. As terrestrial animals delight in hunting and feasting and fighting, so the young nebulae delight to conquer and tame the fury of radiation within their dense cores. But again and again I have seen, and actually felt, their delicate organs wounded in untoward adventures. In some cases life itself has been destroyed, perhaps to appear again after aeons of quiescence, perhaps to remain forever extinguished. More often the damage would be painfully repaired by conscious remoulding of the wounded parts, and the only scar would be a memory of horror. Sometimes, though life maintained itself, intelligence was abolished; and the unhappy creature must henceforth drift through space forever torturing itself with insane fantasies.
This precariousness of life breeds in the young nebulae something of that directness and heroism which we look for in primitive human societies. But whereas with us the active and "realist" temperament is all too prone to be snared into the pursuit of gross material power, in the nebulae it can as a rule find no such outlet and must instead expend itself in perfecting the vital organization and the instruments of mental life.
The last of the three most important facts for the understanding of nebular mentality is the complete isolation of very many nebulae throughout their youth. Social life was impossible to them. And since self-consciousness depends very largely on the conscious distinction between self and others, this also was unable to develop normally in the isolated nebulae. Only when disease produced in them violent mental conflicts and a state of "multiple personality" did they ever conceive of a plurality of minds. And then, of course, it was regarded by them not as affording the possibility of love and all the loveliest blossoms of the spirit, but as a hideous distemper; which indeed it was.
Yet an extremely complex inner life has combined with freedom from economic servitude to foster in them a kind of self-consciousness peculiar to themselves. They had no opportunity of distinguishing between "I" and "you"; but they had constant need of distinguishing between "I" and the many opposed and often rebellious processes and cravings at work within them. Though normally they could never conceive the possibility of an "ego" or a "stream of consciousness" other than their own, they thoroughly grasped the difference between the lowly and the lofty within themselves.
Moreover, owing to lack of distraction, they were able to apprehend earlier, and to develop more earnestly, certain aspects of "inner" experience or "experience of experience" which terrestrial spirits can only rarely and with austere self-discipline discover at all. I myself, very surely, could never have appreciated this side of nebular life had I not suffered an age-long process of self-discipline under the influence of my cosmical adventure. And now that the adventure is over, and I try to record it, I find that I have lost the insight which was then forced upon me.
Lack of inherited complexity and of cultural sophistication, lack of economic adventures, and lack of social experience combined to give to the lone nebulae an innocence and single-mindedness which at first I mistook for sheer mental poverty. I had long savoured the minds of many mature nebulae before I began to understand what it was that they were seeking to do with their lives. And even when I had gained some insight into their passionately sought, but to my mind "one-dimensional" ideals, aeons had yet to pass before activities which I had hitherto regarded with condescension, sometimes even with disgust, began to display a characteristic beauty and a mysterious, nay, a mystical, significance.
As the young nebula advances to maturity, its constitution becomes more hardy and its practical activity more regular and automatic. It now seeks fresh modes of expression. To my surprise I discovered that time and interest were henceforth increasingly given to a strange kind of internal play. For no practical end, but for sheer delight, the great kittenish creature would juggle its living winds into freakish patterns, or thread them together as meshes of interwoven currents. Or it would toss and ripple its flying tresses for sheer joy of "muscular" skill.
This phase of carefree sportive behaviour, I observed, might be brief or lengthy or even perennial. But in the career of every normal nebula there occurred sooner or later a stage when the life of play began to pall, and the mind was invaded by strange images and formless longings.
In many respects this phase is like human adolescence. The zest of play would steadily fade, and the vigorous young creature would be vaguely longing for new worlds to conquer.
For a while, sometimes indeed for aeons, the nebula would now vacillate between sheer indolence and bouts of fantastic play, more difficult and dangerous than the normal kind. In this stage many a vital but foolhardy young nebula has lost its life or crashed into insanity. Yet even the most intricate and daring sport has failed to satisfy. Only the most obtuse, the most coarse-grained nebular minds have persuaded themselves that sheer physical prowess and physical courage were able to fulfil the obscure demands of their nature. And even in these I found no real contentment, but a never consciously recognised despair.
The main character of nebular adolescence was a surprised zest which could never find full expression. It was as though in all experience there was not a new and teasing flavour, a hint, never fulfilled, of some exquisite way of life awaiting discovery. I was reminded of certain moments of my own youth when I was suddenly and unaccountably seized with a conviction that the secret of existence was about to be made plain to me. But in the young nebula this sense of impending revelation was not fleeting and occasional but an enduring state that dominated the whole behaviour.
As the ages passed, and the main host of the nebulae advanced each toward its lonely maturity, one or two seemed to discover the solution of their problem. For after a long spell of almost complete quiescence they plunged into resolute and costly action, at first confused, and then sustained and orderly. Savouring their experience, I found that they were now in a state of fervent endeavour and exaltation. In time almost the whole company was thus occupied, each isolated individual passionately striving after an ideal of self-expression in complete; ignorance of the rest. Only in the comparatively rare J social nebulae did adolescence take a different turn.
When I examined more closely the kind of behaviour which the isolated nebulae were now pursuing so ardently, I could not at first make anything of it. When I tried to discover in their minds intelligible sources of their exaltation, I was defeated.
Patiently, but with increasing hostility and contempt, I now watched the incomprehensible antics of these hugest creatures. I had been able to appreciate their play, simply as unpretentious play; but this passionate devotion to a seemingly barren athletic skill nauseated me even more than the vapid mentality of the primal units. Surely these nebular minds, which I knew to have percipience and intelligence to a high degree, were capable of some richer life!
That the activity called for courage, I recognized, for many a nebula, confronted by some desperate crisis in its athletic adventure, gallantly took the course demanded by its insane ideal, and was destroyed. That skill of a high order was demanded was no less obvious, for as I watched I discovered the main principles which governed this strange occupation and was over and over again amazed at the ingenuity with which, in seemingly hopeless circumstances, they were fulfilled. But why, why was all this courage and skill exercised in so puerile a manner?
In time, something of the truth began to dawn on me. I began to realize that for the nebulae this passionate athleticism was pure art of the highest order. It was not, after all, a subtle and inverted kind of self-indulgence, a sort of masturbatory ecstasy, a lethal sop to the ever hungry and lonely spirit. No, for these strange beings this was indeed the way of life, the straight and narrow way. And age by age, as I watched, I myself came to enter sympathetically into it.
All the detailed action and the governing principles of this fantastic terpsichorean display derived a profound symbolism from associations in the age-long nebular past experience. The whole matter and the whole form of this art was deeply significant. By playing upon the secret strings of the past, it wakened the nebular mind to a new order of percipience for the future. What I had regarded as barren athleticism, no more significant than the slavery of golf or football, turned out to be in fact something which combined the nature of abstract art with the nature of ritualistic dancing.
I was amazed and not a little humiliated to find that I, who had so recently pitied the isolation and self-absorption of these imprisoned spirits, had now to learn from them. With mingled awe and discontent I now wandered from one hermit mind to another, allowing each in turn to dominate me with the strange impersonal yet passionate music of its life. Their creations differed in form and mood with all the diversity of human art. Some were naive, some subtle; some more passionate, some more formal, and so on. But in all those that had successfully passed beyond the initiate stages I found the same identical ecstasy.
Chapter 5 Nebula
Nebula Maker Contents