The Theosophical Forum – June 1941

H. P. BLAVATSKY AND MODERN SCIENCE — H. T. Edge

II

LIGHT OR MATTER

The quantitative law of electrolysis had, even before the days of The Secret Doctrine (1) familiarized us with the idea of a definite unit of electricity; but this was only in conjunction with atoms. It was left to J. J. Thomson to discover the electron as a unit independently of the atom. But an electric current is now regarded as a stream of electrons. Thus we have the electron as the basis both of matter and of electricity, and matter becomes an electric phenomenon. As we already knew from Maxwell that light is an electromagnetic phenomenon, we have thus light, electricity, and matter connected with each other. H. P. Blavatsky speaks of light condensing gradually into form and becoming matter (I, 73), of light becoming on the objective plane gross matter (II, 33), and of the mineral kingdom as being light itself (II, 169).

The essence of what has just been said is that the older idea, current in the days when The Secret Doctrine was written, that there are two independent principles, Force and Matter, or Motion and Mass, the one active and potent, the other inert; and that physical phenomena can be interpreted as the action of the active forces on the inert matter; that this idea has disappeared. In its place we are now coming to the idea taught by H. P. Blavatsky, the idea of a single life-principle, manifesting itself in various ways; matter itself being merely one of these ways. Matter is a condensation of the universal life-principle. Under the old view it was impossible to explain how the force acted on the matter; or how mind can act on matter. How could an immaterial spirit contact an inert material substance? The problem of actio in distans again. But under the new (or, rather, ancient) idea, both the force and the matter are different grades of the same thing; the difference is analogous to that between steam and ice.

"MODES OF MOTION"

H. P. Blavatsky frequently ridicules the idea that light, heat, sound, and other physical agents, are merely "modes of motion." Such an expression leads us to ask whether these "modes of motion" are causes or effects. There was always a notable ambiguity about the use of the word "force" by physicists. Dynamically speaking, force is an effect of matter in motion. Then what sets the matter in motion? The answer again must be "force." So that there would seem to be two kinds of force, one which acts as a cause setting matter in motion, and the other as an effect produced by matter in motion. Heat is defined as a form of energy, being either the energy of vibrating particles of matter, or the energy of a wave motion in the ether. Thus it is an effect; it is also an abstraction. The idea advocated by H. P. Blavatsky is that heat is an entity, a force independent of matter, one of whose effects is that of setting the particles of matter in vibration. But science said that the heat is that vibration. Speaking of the physical forces, H. P. Blavatsky says:

Occult Science defines all these as Super-sensuous effects in their hidden behavior, and as objective phenomena in the world of senses; the former requiring abnormal faculties to perceive them — the latter, our ordinary physical senses. They all pertain to, and are the emanations of, still more supersensuous spiritual qualities, not personated by, but belonging to, real and conscious CAUSES. (I, 145)

At I, 601 begins a chapter entitled suggestively, "Forces — Modes of Motion or Intelligences?" In it she points out that certain things which mechanical science has to assume for its groundwork can never be explained by mechanical principles (which is of course a logical truism). To explain them we must go beyond the limits of the particular science for which they were postulated as elementary indefinables. Take as an instance gravitation — or, to use a wider term, attraction. Attraction has to be assumed as one of the bases of a mechanical system; it is idle therefore to seek to refer it to a mechanical cause. The great Newton suggests a Spirit, and seeks to penetrate no farther. H. P. Blavatsky here insists that behind all motion must lie intelligence. Prominent scientists of our day are willing to admit this. It is natural to suppose that what occurs in our own constitution, when we make a movement, also occurs in greater Nature — the thought precedes the act. Further she says that it is useless to seek the basis of physical matter in physical matter itself; if we are to have matter at all, then it must be matter in some other state. It is matter, she says, that cannot be conceived by the five physical senses, and therefore cannot be conceived by a mentality limited by those senses. This primeval matter she denotes by the Sanskrit word Akasa. The Esoteric Doctrine —

teaches that it is this original, primordial prima materia, divine and intelligent, the direct emanation of the Universal Mind — the Daiviprakriti (the divine light emanating from the Logos) — which formed the nuclei of all the "self-moving" orbs in Kosmos. It is the informing, ever-present moving-power and life-principle, the vital soul of the suns, moons, planets, and even of our Earth. (I, 602)

Speaking of "life," she quotes Dr. B. W. Richardson's views as to the existence of a vital principle, which he regards as of a material nature, but not of ordinary matter; and says that Theosophists recognise a distinct vital principle independent of the organism. A "mere interaction of molecules and atoms" is of course a mere abstraction: moreover it makes of life both a cause and an effect. We need life to account for the activity of the molecules; how then shall we define life as being nothing more than that very activity?

The source of the trouble about a life-principle is that we begin with the false assumption that matter is dead, and then try to explain why it is alive. If we began by assuming that it is alive, there would be no need to postulate a separate life-principle. The same difficulty occurs as to the problem of how mind acts on matter. The truth is that the two are not essentially different or separate. Theosophy teaches a doctrine which was partially advocated by Leibniz — that the manifested universe is composed of monads, i. e., living souls; so that physical matter is composed of monads in one state or degree of their evolution, and mind is composed of monads in another stage. It is the same as regards "life" and "inanimate matter': these terms denote a false distinction. By imagining a dead matter, we are obliged to imagine an immaterial life-principle; whereas all matter is living, and all life has a material basis. On this point Dr. Richardson is quoted:

"I speak only of a veritable material agent, refined, it may be, to the world at large, but actual and substantial." (I, 603)

Speaking of attraction and repulsion, H. P. Blavatsky continues:

Occultists . . . see, moreover, in these two opposite Forces only the two aspects of the universal unit, called "MANIFESTING MIND"; in which aspects, Occultism, through its great Seers, perceives an innumerable Host of operative Beings: Cosmic Dhyan-Chohans, Entities, whose essence, in its dual nature, is the cause of all terrestrial phenomena. For that essence is co-substantial with the universal Electric Ocean, which is LIFE; and being dual, as said — positive and negative — it is the emanations of that duality that now act on earth under the name of "modes of motion." (604)

Three points should be noticed in the above: (1) that "modes of motion," though a legitimate and convenient phrase, is merely the effect of unspecified causes; (2) that even such words as "mind" and "intelligence" denote abstractions, unless regarded as the attributes of beings. Science, considered as a speculative philosophy, is highly metaphysical, being built on abstractions, ideas; the only possible reality is a conscious being, an individual, a monad, a person — as it has been variously called. The universe is an assemblage of such beings, differing among themselves in the stage of evolution in which each may be, but alike in essence. (3) That direct perception of ultra-physical things requires the use of ultra-physical senses.

PLANCK AND EINSTEIN

Planck has endeavored to embrace the ideas of atom and vibration in a new physical unit, which he calls a quantum of "action," whose dimensions are energy X time, and which is measured in erg-seconds. This has a mathematical value, but we have not yet learned to form a mental picture to suit it.

Einstein, by combining the two principles that all motion is relative, and that the velocity of light is independent of the velocity of its source, has evolved a theory which seems to flout common-sense — namely, that the velocity of light is independent of the velocity of the beholder. This is agreeable to the negative results obtained by the oft-quoted Michelson-Moriey experiment, which failed to detect any variation in the apparent velocity of light due to the motion of the earth relatively to the source of the light. But what we have called "common-sense" is based on Newtonian kinematics, by which space and time are taken as independent variables. This assumption, which is suitable for ordinary purposes and within the limits to which Newton confined himself, has proved unworkable in some of the fields of the very small and the very great which science is now investigating. Hence Einstein has chosen a new set of assumed data on which to build his kinematical and dynamical system. He no longer treats space and time as independent of each other, but makes them interdependent. He postulates no fixed space-framework by which we can measure velocities; velocities can only be measured relatively to each other.

SPACE

The meaning to be attached to the word Space is a frequent subject discussed in The Secret Doctrine. But to understand the relation between the views there propounded and the views commonly accepted, we have to understand not only the former but also the latter. And many people have confused ideas on this subject. They do not discriminate between physical space and geometrical space; which has led to all sorts of fantastic stories about "the fourth dimension." Physical space is that which is apparent to our bodily senses, and it is three-dimensional, neither more nor less. Geometrical space may have as many dimensions as you please; for it is an ideal construction, devised for interpretative purposes. H. P. Blavatsky uses the word both generally and specially: she speaks of Space, and eternal principle; and of various kinds of space, each of them correlative to some particular plane of perception. If we think in words, rather than in ideas, we may fail to understand her; we must glean the meaning of the word, intended in any particular passage, from the context.

Our object is to show that the ideas of science have lately undergone a change in favor of those of H. P. Blavatsky.

Space was apt to be regarded as mere emptiness, as the absence of matter, as a container. But H. P. Blavatsky, in common with some philosophers, regarded space as an entity, and as being a fulness not an emptiness. It is called the Great Mother, the Womb of Nature. Now compare this with the view that many properties supposed to inhere in matter are now regarded as inhering in space, or rather in whatever may be between the particles or masses of matter. It was Faraday who long ago proved this as regards electrostatic charge; but the idea has now become developed and extended. It is true that, for space, we sometimes say "aether." At any rate the idea of empty space has mostly disappeared as a practical proposition. It is nowadays quite orthodox to regard interstellar space as a storehouse of energy; even to regard matter as a sort of exudation from space or condensation of space. Instead of space being a hole in matter, matter is a whole in space! The disciple has to learn "the fulness of the seeming void, the voidness of the seeming full." Space is one of the fundamental hypostases, according to the Secret Doctrine; and on all planes we have copies of it — spaces of different kinds and degrees. Space is Aristotle's "privation," it is the blank paper, the screen, whereon forms are to be made manifest. Only, the forms are not placed upon the paper, they are born from out it. Space contains in potency all that is subsequently manifested.

MOTION

This is another of the fundamental hypostases. Scientifically it is an abstraction — that attribute possessed in common by all moving bodies. But the world and all that therein is was never created, never set to work and maintained in life by an abstraction. It is of course unfair to ask science to explain motion, since it is one of their fundamental unprovables, one of the things they have had to assume as a basis for their philosophy. A postulate cannot be proved within the limits of the science for which it is postulated. Similarly, if motion is to be taken as one of the fundamental hypostases of the universe, we obviously have no simpler terms by which to define it, and must leave it undefined, assume it. But perhaps it will not hurt us if for once we lay aside the itch to define and if we are content to say that motion simply is. But let us not transfer to other realms the idea of motion as we know it on the physical plane: a more general term will suit better — "change," for instance, or that blessed word "vibration." Even physical science finds it can no longer get along with the idea of motion as a simple transference of bodies from one part of space to another. The word also acquires a different idea when applied to the realms of thought and emotion. Motion means activity and change. It is seen in the Great Breath, the ceaseless alternation between Manvantara and Pralaya.

This "Be-ness" is symbolized in the Secret Doctrine under two aspects. On the one hand, absolute abstract Space, representing bare subjectivity, the one thing which no human mind can either exclude from any conception, or conceive of by itself. On the other, absolute Abstract Motion representing Unconditioned Consciousness. Even our Western thinkers have shown that Consciousness is inconceivable to us apart from change, and motion best symbolizes change, its essential characteristic. This latter aspect of the one Reality, is also symbolized by the term "The Great Breath," a symbol sufficiently graphic to need no further elucidation. (I, 14)

The Secret Doctrine states that motion is essentially circular. A circular motion may generate a helix, and the helix bent into a circle yields a vortex, and so we may go on compounding indefinitely, generalizing by saying that motion is Vortical. The Newtonian mechanics have assumed motion to be essentially rectilinear, and have explained the circular orbits by means of a gravitational pull exercised between the primary and its planets or satellites. Newton himself, while postulating this force, confesses his complete inability to explain its nature in scientific terms, and can only suggest a spirit. We have recently become familiarized with the idea that gravitation is not a force, but an effect produced in some other way.

ATTRACTION

We too easily slip into the habit of speaking of an effect as if it were a cause; and attraction is surely an effect. The word expresses the fact that two bodies are drawn towards each other. To say that they are thus drawn together by the force of attraction is playing with words, much as we might say that a body is moved by the force of motion, or a man walks by the force of ambulation. To recognise attraction as an effect (whose cause we do not know) does not prevent us from formulating those familiar laws which govern it, relating to the product of the masses and the square of their distance apart. The old bugbear of actio in distans crops up again here: the difficulty is caused by the attempt to explain nature in terms of an atomo-mechanical theory, which postulates particles and empty spaces as primaries. Such a theory, excellent for certain purposes, is insufficient for other purposes; a force of attraction has to be assumed. H. P. Blavatsky quotes Newton as to attraction:

To him it was, he said, a purely mathematical conception involving no consideration of real and primary physical causes. In one of the passages of his "Principia," he tells us plainly that, physically considered, attractions are rather impulses. In section xi (Introduction) he expresses the opinion that "there is some subtle spirit by the force and action of which all movements of matter are determined." (I, 490)

GRAVITATION

This comes under the head of attraction. As H. P. Blavatsky says, astronomers, finding the hypothesis of gravitation a convenient means of enabling them to represent the mechanics of the solar system, do not trouble as to the cause of this "universal law."

They call Gravity as law, a cause in itself. We call the forces acting under that name effects, and very secondary effects too. One day it will be found that the scientific hypothesis does not answer after all. (I, 490)

And we are reminded of Einstein's explanation, which claims that the effects attributed to gravitation follow logically upon his ideas of space and time, so that it is not necessary to suppose such a force at all. And furthermore, it is claimed that this new explanation accounts for certain celestial phenomena which gravitation has failed to explain. So that the prediction just quoted has been fulfilled to some extent at least. Others are studying the possibility of regarding the solar system as an electromagnetic system, and thus accounting for the effects which go under the name of gravitation. Newton protested against the assertion that he had proclaimed gravitation as the cause of his system; he declares he can form no notion of the cause of attraction, and is content merely to formulate its effects. In seeking for the Noumenon, he can only whisper reverently the name of God. But Occultism, disclaiming belief in a personal deity, and adding that even a supreme deity would not interfere directly in every detail of his universe, speaks of Gods, an ancient superstition, if you please, conceived in the infancy of humanity, but exploded in our cultured age. These Gods are "the creative fashioning powers" (I, 492); they are noumena of phenomena. Accepting man as a pattern of Nature, we may reasonably suppose intelligence behind the movements; which does not prevent us, if so minded, from formulating the mechanics of these movements. Failure attends those who seek to include even man himself in a purely mechanical system, and to make his very thoughts and volitions the results of molecular movements.

We can actually formulate a law of gravitation, based on the square of the distance and the product of the masses; and we can investigate it on the small scale as in the Cavendish experiment; but this gives us no clue as to its cause, and even the law as formulated seems to have been proven inaccurate in the case of those anomalies which Einstein's theory claims to have accounted for.

(To be continued)

FOOTNOTE:

1. To avoid repetition, references to H. P. Blavatsky's great work, The Secret Doctrine, are indicated simply by numbers denoting the volume and page. (return to text)


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