The Theosophical Forum – February 1939

IS AETHER SPIRIT OR MATTER? (1) — G. de Purucker

15th June, 1938
Prof. C. J. Ryan Lomaland

Dear Charles:

Thanks for your note. I sent you the clipping not from any occult reason, but simply I thought you would be interested in seeing what the newspapers had to say. I think this much can safely be said at any time from these newspaper reports, which just as you so truly say are horribly confusing, because the poor newspaper reporters probably have but the vaguest rudiments of scientific training, and often are writing about things they do not understand.

I think this can be safely said, to wit: that whatever the new discovery about Ether may be, or be supposed to be:

a) some discovery has been made which proves that an Ether of some kind exists, probably not the old scientific idea of Cosmic Ether, about which I will have something to say in an instant; and b) that the tendency of science today is away from Einstein's former idea that an Ether according to the general theory of relativity really is not needed. In this Einstein is quite wrong. It arose from the fact that the mathematical chopper gives you back just what you put into it. It is correct reasoning upon premisses laid down, and if these premisses are wrong or partly wrong, the deductions will be logical and correct in logic, but wrong or partly wrong in fact. Mathematics never proves anything if the premisses are imaginary or uncertain.

Now here is the main point of all I want to say to you or any other Theosophist. When these scientists talk about an Ether, our Theosophists constantly confuse our theosophical idea of a Cosmic Ether, or many Cosmic Ethers, with what the scientists mean. And the scientific view of an Ether has ranged all the way from a kind of gas very dense and elastic perhaps, but still physical matter in a gaseous form, to something slightly more subtil but still quite physical stuff; and naturally the scientists wonder why such a Cosmic Ether if it exists does not affect the movement of planets, suns, comets, and other bodies, through it. But this is not our idea of a Cosmic Ether. Our idea of a Cosmic Ether is physical prakriti or matter in its first or second or even third or possibly fourth states, counting downwards from the highest. When we Theosophists speak of an Ether we never mean physical stuff, however tenuous, and emphatically never mean a gas, such as the laboratory understands the term. Therefore scientists have been quite right in refusing to admit the existence of a mere Ether of gas, however tenuous. But they have been quite wrong in refusing to admit an immaterial Ether, immaterial here meaning something which is not matter in the physical sense, but nevertheless distinctly substance in our theosophical and philosophical sense; and yet not spirit, for spirit is infinitely more tenuous and etherealized so to speak.

Einstein's relativity is a theory and a helpful one. His fundamental idea of the relativity of nature in its various functionings and departments is sound archaic philosophy; but some of his premisses in his mathematical reasonings are utterly unacceptable to us, and therefore, as I have said, we cannot accept most of his mathematical reasonings, not because his mathematics are wrong, but because his premisses are only partly right or wrong. I hope this is clear. Nevertheless, when I speak of our theosophical Cosmic Ether, I do not mean a mere unsubstantiality, something which has no substance, which is not stuff. I mean just the contrary. It is at once, physically speaking, almost spiritually tenuous, and yet it is a prakriti on our own Cosmic Plane, but in physical prakriti's highest forms there, and it is certainly far too gross to be called spirit. Therefore it is matter in our theosophical sense. But it is not matter as the scientists understand it. For when they say matter, they mean things which are solid, liquid, or gaseous, in other words what we call the grossest, even sub-astral matter of physical space. And the Ether of space, or the Ethers of space, are far more tenuous and ethereal than such scientific conception as they have had it. The Cosmic Ether does not affect the motion of bodies through it, because the bodies are grossly physical and the Cosmic Ether, while matter of the lowest prakritic cosmic plane, is immensely more tenuous than physical matter.

You might as well say that heat or light will prevent the bodies moving through cosmic space, because of pressure. It is true that they will, but in an exceedingly slight degree, practically too slight to be observed. Already scientists know about the pressure of sunlight, for instance.

I hope all this is clear. It ought to have all been understood when H. P. B. wrote her The Secret Doctrine. But during all these years our theosophical scientists have confused our idea of Cosmic Ethers with the very gross scientific ideas of Cosmic Ethers.

Yours in haste,

(Sgd.) G. de P.


1. The above letter written to THE FORUM'S scientific commentator was sent by the latter to the Editors as containing points of interest not only for scientific minds but for readers in general. (return to text)

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