The End of the Search

By Lord Hailsham
[In a series of weekly radio talks titled "From Doubt to Belief," given over the BBC of London, Lord Hailsham explores the relation of man to the universe which harbors him. From challenging the supremacy of empirical science, he moves to an examination of the scientist himself, as "hidden observer," thinker, and one who at rare moments makes that "imaginative leap" of consciousness which results in insight or intuition. With permission of the author, we reproduce hereunder the fourth and final talk, as reported in The Listener, May 8, 1975. -- ED.]

What kind of a universe is it in which conscious beings exist and have communication with one another, and make judgments about beauty and truth and goodness which have nothing to do with measurement or calculation or experiment? The individual looks incredibly small in relation to the universe, and impossibly huge in relation to the atom or its component particles. But these comparisons are merely descriptive. Neither of them tells us much about the significance of man.

The truth is that neither magnitude nor smallness offers any guide to significance. They are irrelevant. But value has much relevance, and it is related neither to numbers, nor to size. If a man is significant in relation to other things in the universe, it is not because he is small in proportion to the galaxies or interstellar space, nor because he is large in relation to the molecule, the atom, the meson, or the electron, nor because he is numerous or infinitesimally few in relation to some other objects. It is because he is important. It is the value judgments which give us some clue to this importance, and therefore to this significance, and it may be, of course, that his importance has a relation to man as an individual, and not to the species, to John or Mary, in particular, as unique persons, and not to homo sapiens in general.

This question of uniqueness is a matter that has often puzzled me. Philosophically, uniqueness is almost impossible to define. Nevertheless, I am convinced that I am, in fact, unique. However many galaxies there be, however many suns, with however many planets revolving around them, with atmospheres, and water, and the things which go to make up animate life, however many beings there may be who have evolved and created civilizations, and mastered their environments, there is that which tells me that I am I, Quintin Hogg, the son of Douglas Hogg, scholar of Eton, graduate of Christ Church, Barrister at Law, ex-Member of Parliament and Privy Councillor, speaking English, talking here and now, and that there is no other person in the created universe of whom this may be predicated truly. However many planets and galaxies you choose to circumambulate. Arrogant, you think? A rum thought, perhaps? Well, disprove it if you can, and then think of your own individuality, the you that is you, and ask yourself the same questions that have puzzled me.

I have often thought of writing a monograph on the uniqueness of things. At many times, and in many places, men have learned to write. But alphabetic writing has been invented only once -- in what is now the Lebanon, in ancient Byblos, modern Jebail. All modern alphabets, however different they look, derive from this single source. Many times, men have learned to count and calculate. But our numbers which we took from the Arabs, and, in particular, the figure for zero, which is at the basis of all modern arithmetic, comes again from but a single source -- probably some unknown Indian in the relatively distant past. The whorls on my thumb have never, so far as I know, been repeated anywhere else in the world, and I once met a researcher who told me that, in his view, the chemical composition of each one of the little cells in my body differed very slightly from that of the cells in any other human body. The fact is that the vast scale of creation and evolution does not diminish the ultimate enigma of individuality, or reduce the possibility of uniqueness.

I realize, of course, that, at the end of everything, life remains a mystery. One, and perhaps the most crucial of all the mysteries, is the mystery of evil, of unmerited suffering, of tragedy and cruelty and injustice. I am not so much troubled by the mystery of pain, as pain and sickness and predation exist in nature. I do not like them, of course. But I recognize in pain a natural corrective against accident. At my school, there was a boy who could not feel physical pain properly. He was always injuring himself, and we other boys had to be warned specifically against experimenting on his body, which could not react in the ordinary way to the pricking and pinching and squeezing which would have made the rest of us cry out.

I recognize, of course, and I can accept that, but for the presence of tigers, and bears, and badgers, and foxes, and otters, and spiders, and wasps, and microbes, the world would have become overpopulated with deer, and sheep, and rabbits, and fish, and flies, and, no doubt, a lot of other things as well. It is when I come to people that I revolt at the horror of evil and injustice and sorrow and suffering. Why, oh why, does God, if there be God, permit these cruelties, these accidents, these bereavements? I do not pretend to have an answer. But, if evil is a problem, is not good also a problem? If error is a problem, what about truth? And, if suffering is a problem, is not joy also a problem?

Let me explain. The real philosophical challenge, it seems to me, is presented not so much by the perversion of the qualities of man, as by their flowering. No doubt, error presents its difficulties, and pain and evil produce a feeling of philosophical frustration and despair. But it is knowledge, not error, that presents the real philosophical riddle. It is not evil but good, not darkness but light, not hatred but love which need explaining, and cannot be explained away. Knowledge and love and beauty, and not deviation and failure, form both the ultimate mystery and the ultimate reality. It is the positive and not the negative which is known and knowable. The negative is something left behind on the way. Once one has rid oneself of the unproved assertion that the only things that exist are things that can be measured or calculated or verified by physical experiment, the way is open to meditate and speculate upon the nature of ultimate reality.

It is true, of course, that, apart from direct mystical experience, this is a field in which we operate by faith. Most of us live our lives in the discipline of darkness, in faith, but without certainty. But it does not follow in the least that such faith is irrational. On the contrary, my contention remains that it is more rational than despair and unbelief. It seems to me not foolish, but rational, to suppose that we are not alone in a fortuitous combination of indestructible atoms; not the only example of consciousness and reason in the natural world. Exactly as the physical and chemical composition of our bodies is made up of known materials, and evolved by stages ascertainable in principle, so I believe it to be reasonable to suppose that that aspect of our being which we call intellectual and moral has its counterpart at the center of reality, that we are not unique in this, the most important, and the most characteristic and individual element in our being.

I am left, at the end, admittedly without certainty when I contemplate the mystery of the universe. But I am also left in faith that, at the core of things, there is a rational and intelligent principle responding to what I am doing and endeavoring and giving. But, at this point, faith ceases to be a matter of speculation. Faith is not merely a matter of conviction. It can also be a matter for experiment, For faith is not merely belief. It is a matter of trust, and life is something which has to be lived somehow, and not simply thought about. The rational principle which I have postulated must not only validate my speculative reason, but also the value judgments which lie at the root of all my striving, my purposiveness and my endeavor. Such a principle must itself be rational, good, just and purposive in the innermost nature of its being. And, at this stage, I find myself in the presence of the Divine.

For, at this stage, having postulated a principle, I find myself confronted with the possibility of a being, yes, of a person. I am no longer concerned solely with the inanimate. At this point, I face the possibility, even the probability, that the absolute principle of which I am in search is not inert, and, facing this possibility, I am compelled myself to make a move, an advance of my own, and I am compelled to await an answer, and not simply a reaction. I feel myself to be acting not merely in accordance with my own nature, but in conformity with the ultimate reality of which, all along, I have been in search, when I make an offer to that reality. And the offer I make is not the sort of offer which is made to a thing, but the sort of offer which can only be made to a person. It is not a conditional offer of belief, as if one might say: "I believe that the earth is a sphere." It is an offer of surrender. That is, an offer of service, adoration, self-identification and, above all things, of love. For, by this time, I have moved out of the field of philosophy and into the world of prayer. By this time, I can no longer think of ultimate reality as 'it.' I can think only in terms of He. Did I say He? Surely it should have been, rather, Thou?

Well, I have come a long way from the beginning. I began as a skeptic, until my skepticism doubted even the grounds of my own unbelief. I came to speculate about myself, the observer becoming, in turn, also the observed. I doubted all wisdom, all knowledge; I looked into the nature of knowledge, and found only mystery. But in myself, the observer, the judge of beauty and ugliness, of right and wrong, I found a mirror, the mirror of truth, but of a truth beyond myself. For I found myself made in the image, flawed as I am, of something seen but dimly, but none the less sufficiently to carry conviction: conviction that the ultimate mystery, the ultimate wonder of life, is not merely reality, but love, and therefore not a quality but a person; not merely a person, but a totality which comprises both the subject and the object within itself. But, not being a mystic, only a seeker, I see this reality afar off, dimly, as through a glass, darkly, in doubt remaining, but none the less in acceptance and in trust.

(From Sunrise magazine, June-July 1975; copyright © 1975 Theosophical University Press)

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