It has been used as a metaphorical illustration of either the scientific or the mystical quests for knowledge. The print depicts a man, clothed in a long robe and carrying a staff, who is at the edge of the Earth, where it meets the sky. He kneels down and passes his head, shoulders, and right arm through the star-studded sky, discovering a marvellous realm of circling clouds, fires and suns beyond the heavens. One of the elements of the cosmic machinery bears a strong resemblance to traditional pictorial representations of the " wheel in the middle of a wheel " described in the visions of the Hebrew prophet Ezekiel.
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De Camille Flammarion. You promised, dear Lumen, to describe to me that supremest of moments which immediately succeeds death, and to relate to me how, by a natural law, singular though it may seem, you lived again your past life, and penetrated a hitherto-unrevealed mystery. Yes, my old friend, I will now keep my word; and I trust that, thanks to the life-long communion of our souls, you will be able to understand the phenomenon you deem so strange. There are many conceptions which a mortal mind finds difficult to grasp.
Death, which has delivered me from the weak and easily-tired senses of the body, has not yet touched you with its liberating hand; you still belong to the living world, and in spite of your isolation in this retreat of yours amid the royal towers of the Faubourg St.
Jaques, you still belong to the life of Earth, and are occupied with its petty distinctions. You must not, therefore, be surprised if, whilst I am explaining to you this mystery, I beg of you to isolate yourself still further from outer things, and to give me the most fixed attention of which your mind is capable.
My one desire is to listen to your revelations; speak, therefore, without fear and to the point, and deign to acquaint me with those impressions, as yet to me unknown, which are experienced upon the cessation of life.
If you can recall it, I shall be pleased if you will begin at the moment when my trembling hands closed your eyes. The separation of the thinking principle from the nervous system leaves no remembrance. It is as though the impressions made upon the brain which constitute memory were entirely effaced, to be renewed afterwards in another form. The first sensation of identity felt after death resembles that which is felt during life on awakening in the morning, when still confused with the visions of the night, the mind, wavering between the past and the future, endeavours to recover itself, and at the same time to retain the vanishing dreams, the pictures and events of which are still passing before it.
At times when thus absorbed in the recollection of a delightful dream, the eyelids close, and in a half slumber the visions reappear. It is thus that our thinking faculty is divided at death, between a reality that it does not yet comprehend and a dream which has completely disappeared. The most conflicting impressions mingle in and confuse the mind, and if, overwhelmed by perishable feelings, a regret comes into the mind for the world that has been left behind, a sense of indefinable sadness weighs upon and darkens the imagination and hinders clearness of vision.
After death? There is no such thing as death. What you call death—the separation of the body from the soul—is not, strictly speaking, effected in a material form like the chemical separation of a combination of elements such as one sees in the world of matter. One is no more conscious of this final separation, which seems to you so cruel, than the new-born babe is aware of his birth.
We are born into the heavenly life as unconsciously as we were born into the earthly; only the soul, no longer enveloped by its bodily covering, acquires more rapidly the consciousness of its individuality and of its powers. This faculty of perception varies essentially between one soul and another. There are those who, during their earthly life, never lift their souls toward heaven, and never feel a desire to penetrate the laws of creation; these, being still dominated by fleshly appetites, remain long in a troubled and semi-conscious state.
There are others whose aspirations have happily flown upwards towards the eternal heights; to these the moment of separation comes with calmness and peace. They know that progress is the law of being, and that the life to come will be better than that which they have quitted.
They follow, step by step, that lethargy which reaches at last to the heart, and when, slowly and insensibly, the last pulsation ceases, the departed are already above the body whose falling asleep they have been watching.
Freeing themselves from the magnetic bonds, they feel themselves swiftly borne, by an unknown force, toward the point of creation, to which their sentiments, their aspirations, and their hopes have drawn them. I shall not imitate Socrates by giving a metaphysical answer to this question, nor shall I, with the theologians, reply in a dogmatic way; but I will give you instead a scientific answer, for you, like myself, accept only as of real value the results of positive knowledge.
We find in the human being three principles, different, and yet in complete union: 1. The body; 2. The vital energy; 3. The soul. I name them thus in order that I may follow the a posteriori method. The body is an association of molecules which are themselves formed of groups of atoms.
The atoms are inert, passive, immutable, and indestructible. They enter into the organism by means of respiration and alimentation; they renew the tissues incessantly, and are continually replaced by others, and when cast out from the body go to form other bodies. In a few months the human body is entirely renewed, and neither in the blood, nor in the flesh, nor in the brain, nor in the bones, does an atom remain of those which constituted the body a few months before.
The atoms travel without ceasing from body to body, chiefly by the grand medium of the atmosphere. The molecule of iron is the same whether it be incorporated in the blood which throbs in the temples of an illustrious man, or form part of a fragment of rusty iron; the molecule of oxygen is the same in the blush raised by a loving glance, or when in union with hydrogen it forms the flame of one of the thousand jets of gas that illuminate Paris by night, or when it falls from the clouds in the shape of a drop of water.
The bodies of the living are formed of the ashes of the dead, and if all the dead were to be resuscitated, the last comers might find the material for their bodies wanting, owing to their predecessors having appropriated all that was available. Moreover, during life many exchanges are made between enemies and friends, between men, animals, and plants, which amaze the analyst who looks at them with the eyes of science.
That which you breathe, eat, and drink, has been breathed, drunk, and eaten millions of times before. Such is the human body, an assemblage of molecules of matter which are constantly being renewed. The principle by which these molecules are grouped according to a certain form so as to produce an organism, is the vital energy of life. The inert, passive atoms, incapable of guiding themselves, are ruled by vital force, which calls them, makes them come, takes hold of them, places and disposes of them according to certain laws, and forms this marvellously-organised body, which the anatomist and the physiologist contemplate with wonder.
The atoms are indestructible; vital force is not: atoms have no age; vital force is born, grows old, and dies. Why is an octogenarian older than a youth of twenty, since the atoms of which his body is composed have only belonged to his frame a few months, and since atoms are neither old nor young? The constituent elements of his body when analysed have no age, and what is old in him is solely his vital energy, which is but one of the forms of the general energy of the universe, and which in his case has become exhausted.
Life is transmitted by generation, and sustains the body instinctively, and, as it were, unconsciously. It has a beginning and an end. It is an unconscious physical force, which organises and maintains the body of which it is the preserving element. The soul is an intellectual, thinking, immaterial being. The world of ideas in which the soul lives is not the world of matter. It has no age, it does not grow old.
It is not changed in a few months like the body; for after months, years, dozens of years, we feel that we have preserved our identity—that our ego , ourself, is always ours. On the other hand, if the soul did not exist, and if the faculty of thinking were only a function of the brain, we should no longer be able to say that we have a body, for it would be our body, our brain, that would have us.
Besides, from time to time our consciousness would change; we should no longer have a feeling of identity, and we should no longer be responsible for the resolutions, secreted by the molecules, which had passed through the brain many months before.
The soul is not the vital force; for that is limited and is transmitted by generation, has no consciousness of itself, is born, grows up, declines, and dies.
All these states are opposed to those of the soul, which is immaterial, unlimited, not transmissible, conscious. The development of the vital force may be represented geometrically by a spindle, which swells out gradually to the middle, and decreases again to a point. When the soul reaches the middle of life, it does not become less, like a spindle, and dwindle down to the end, but follows its parabolic curve into the infinite. Moreover, the mode of existence of the soul is essentially different from that of the vital force.
It lives in a spiritual way. The conceptions of the soul, such as the sentiments of justice or injustice, of truth or falsehood, of good and evil, as well as knowledge, mathematics, analysis, synthesis, contemplation, admiration, love, affection or hatred, esteem or contempt—in a word, the occupations of the soul, whatever they may be, are of an intellectual and moral order, which neither the atoms nor the physical forces can apprehend, and which have as real an existence as the physical order of things.
The chemical or mechanical work of cerebral cells, however subtle they may be, can never produce an intellectual judgment, such, for instance, as the knowledge of the fact that four multiplied by four is equal to sixteen, or that the three angles of a triangle are equal to two right angles.
These three elements of the human being are reproduced in the universe at large: 1. The atoms, the material world inert, passive; 2. The physical forces which regulate the world, and which are continually transformed into one another or into others; 3.
God, the eternal and infinite spirit, the intellectual organiser of the mathematical laws which these forces obey, the unknown being in whom reside the supreme principles of truth, of beauty, of goodness. The soul can be attached to the body only by means of the vital force. When life is extinct the soul naturally separates from the organism and ceases to have any immediate connection with time and space.
After death the soul remains in that part of the universe where the Earth happens to be at the moment of its separation from the body. You know that the Earth is a planet in the heavens like Venus and Jupiter. The Earth continues to run in its orbit at the rate of 12, kilometres an hour, so that the soul an hour after death is at that distance from its body because of its immobility in space, when no longer subject to the laws of matter.
Thus we are in the heavens immediately after death, where, however, we have also been during the whole of our lives; but we then had weight which held us to the Earth.
I must add, however, that as a rule the soul takes some time to disengage itself from the nervous organism, and that it occasionally remains many days, and even many months, magnetically connected with the old body, which it is reluctant to forsake. Moreover, it has special faculties by.
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AND R. Life and death. From what point do you wish me to begin my recital? Did you feel these sensations immediately after death? No such thing as death. Not death, but change. Life viewed scientifically. Renewal of the body. Atoms and molecules. Atoms indestructible. Vital energy or force in nature and man. Vital force has limits. The soul has no limits. The soul survives the body.
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