When they had possessed their world for nearly fifty-million years, the Sixteenth Men, like the Fifth before them, learned to enter into past minds. For them this was a more exciting adventure than for their forerunners, since they were still ignorant of Terrestrial history. Like their forerunners, so dismayed were they at the huge volume of eternal misery in the past, that for a while, in spite of their own great blessings and spontaneous gaiety, existence seemed a mockery. But in time they came to regard the past's misery as a challenge. They told themselves that the past was calling to them for help, and that somehow they must prepare a great "crusade to liberate the past." How this was to be done, they could not conceive; but they were determined to bear in mind this quixotic aim in the great enterprise which had by now become the chief concern of the race, namely the creation of a human type of an altogether higher order.
Our predecessors of the Sixteenth species, oppressed by this vast horror, undertook a forlorn and seemingly irrational crusade for the rescue of the tragic past. We see now clearly that their enterprise, though desperate, was not quite fantastic. For, if ever the cosmic ideal should be realized, even though for a moment only, then in that time the Awakened Soul of all will embrace within itself all spirits whatever throughout the whole of time's wide circuit. And so to each one of them, even to the least, it will seem that he has awakened and discovered himself to be the Awakened Soul of All, knowing all things and rejoicing in all things. And though afterwards, through the inevitable decay of the stars, this most glorious vision must be lost, suddenly or in the long-drawn-out defeat of life, yet would the Awakened Soul of All have eternal being, and in it each martyred spirit would have beatitude eternally, though unknown to itself in its now temporal mode.
We have long been able to enter into past minds and participate in their experience. Hitherto we have been passive spectators merely, but recently we have acquired the power of influencing past minds. This seems an impossibility; for a past event is what it is, and how can it conceivably be altered at a subsequent date, even in the minutest respect?
Now it is true that past events are what they are, irrevocably; but in certain cases some feature of a past event may depend on an event in the far future. The past event would never have been as it actually was (and is, eternally), if there had not been going to be a certain future event, which though not contemporaneous with the past event, influences it directly in the sphere of eternal being. The passage of events is real, and time is the successiveness of passing events; but though events have passage, they have also eternal being. And in and certain rare cases mental events far separated in time determine one anther directly by way of eternity.
Our own minds have often been profoundly influenced by direct inspection of past minds; and now we find that certain events of certain past minds are determined by present events in our own present minds. No doubt there are some past mental events which are what they are by virtue of mental processes which we shall perform but have not yet performed.
Our historians and psychologists, engaged on direct inspection of past minds, had often complained of certain "singular" points in past minds, where the ordinary laws of psychology fail to give a full explanation of the course of mental events; where, in fact, some wholly unknown influence seemed to be at work. Later it was found that, in some cases at least, this disturbance of the ordinary principles of psychology corresponded with certain thoughts or desires in the mind of the observer, living in our own age. Of course, only such matters as could have significance to the past mind could influence it at all. Thoughts and desires of ours which have no meaning to the particular past individual fail to enter into his experience. New ideas and new values are only to be introduced by arranging familiar matter so that it may gain a new significance. Nevertheless we now found ourselves in possession of an amazing power of communicating with the past, and contributing to its thought and actions, though of course we could not alter it.
But what is it, you may ask, that we seek to contribute to the past? We seek to afford intuitions of truth and value, which, though easy to us from our point of vantage, would be impossible to the unaided past. We seek to help the past to make the best of itself, just as one man may help another. We seek to direct the attention of past individuals and past races to truths and beauties which, though implicit in their experience, would otherwise be overlooked.
Here it is that the past can help us. We go humbly to the past to learn over again that other supreme achievement of spirit, loyalty to the forces of life embattled against the forces of death. Wandering among the heroic and often forlorn ventures of the past, we are fired once more with primitive zeal. Thus, when we return to our own world, we are able, even while we preserve in our hearts the peace that passeth understanding, to struggle as though we cared only for victory.
But one thing is certain. Man himself, at the very least, is music, a brave theme that makes music also of its vast accompaniment, its matrix of storms and stars. Man himself in his degree is eternally a beauty in the eternal form of things.
It is very good to have been man.
And so we may go forward together with laughter in our hearts, and peace, thankful for the past, and for our own courage.
For we shall make after all a fair conclusion to this brief music that is man.
1931, Last and First Men, by Olaf Stapledon
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