The Theosophical Forum – August 1941

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

IV

TRANSMUTATION

The transmutation of elements is a perennial theme; and if we were to say that H. P. Blavatsky predicted that science would achieve it, we might be answered that this was an easy guess. But too many of those who have sought or speculated about the "absolute," the prima materia, the basic metal from which all other metals are derived, have sought for something "on the same plane" (as Theosophists say) as the substances to be derived from it. But it is not likely that the substratum from which are derived manifold substances would be of the same order of materiality as its derivatives; and this has been borne out by what has actually been discovered. Crookes dreamed much as to the existence of a single element from which the other chemical elements were derived, and H. P. Blavatsky quotes him liberally. When we speak of chemical elements, we think of chemical atoms, which were formerly regarded as the fundamentals in chemistry, as in physics, though the atom demanded by the chemists was not the same as that demanded by the physicists. The chief difficulty as to the chemical atom was that, if it was always the same, there was no way of explaining why the chemical elements differ from one another; to explain this it would seem necessary to postulate many different kinds of atoms, one kind for each chemical element; in fact we know that each element has its own atomic weight. So it was inevitable that Crookes and others should regard these atoms as composites; and now the thing has been proved true. We assign the differences in properties and weights to the number and arrangement of these subatomic elements, whose names and attributes are not yet sufficiently settled for us to venture much about them. Also transmutation has become an accomplished fact, though not exactly according to the golden dream of the alchemists. We learn too that the atom, far from being eternal and rudimentary, is subject to progressive change, disintegration.

This leads to the conclusion that the chemical elements and their atoms are not permanent and invariable, that they are undergoing change, evolution. This is quite an Occult doctrine, and supports the contention that there is no essential distinction to be drawn between so-called living and so-called inorganic matter; all are changing, growing, evolving. We likewise get the idea that the lapse of long ages would give us quite a different assortment of chemical elements, so that our calculations as to physical conditions in far past times would be upset; and the inferences which we have been constrained to draw, based on our assumption that the elements have not changed, would be rendered false.

The Magisterium or powder of transmutation, of the Alchemists, was held capable of transmuting one metal directly into another; and such a transmutation implies the existence of an underlying basis common to both metals. Otherwise, instead of transmutation, we should have mere substitution. Some essence which at one time manifested itself as lead, is now made to manifest itself as gold. It is in this way that the chemical elements are now held to transmute themselves, by changes in the sub-atomic elements whereof they are compounded.

The idea of universal life is one of those ancient conceptions which are returning to the human mind in this [nineteenth] century, as a consequence of its liberation from anthropomorphic theology. Science, it is true, contents itself with tracing or postulating the signs of universal life, and has not yet been bold enough even to whisper "Anima Mundi!" The idea of "crystalline life," now familiar to science, would have been scouted half a century ago. Botanists are now searching for the nerves of plants; not that they suppose that plants can feel or think as animals do, but because they believe that some structure, bearing the same relation functionally to plant life that nerves bear to animal life, is necessary to explain vegetable growth and nutrition. It hardly seems possible that science can disguise from itself much longer, by the use of terms such as "force" and "energy," the fact that things that have life are living things, whether they be atoms or planets. — (I, 49) (1)

Chemistry and physiology are the two great magicians of the future, who are destined to open the eyes of mankind to the great physical truths. With every day, the identity between the animal and physical man, between the plant and man, and even between the reptile and its nest,(2) the rock and man — is more and more clearly shown. The physical and chemical constituents of all being found to be identical, chemical science may well say that there is no difference between the matter which composes the ox and that which forms man. But the Occult doctrine is far more explicit. It says: — Not only the chemical compounds are the same, but the same infinitesimal invisible lives compose the atoms of the bodies of the mountain and the daisy, of man and the ant, of the elephant, and of the tree which shelters him from the sun. Each particle — whether you call it organic or inorganic — is a life. — (I, 261)

In the science of today the distinction between organic and inorganic, or living and dead, is vanishing, though there is still much left to be done. But in the science of last century that distinction was prominent. The acceptance of such a distinction is not agreeable to the scientific ideal of seeking to reduce the complex to a common origin. For here, instead of one universal principle of Matter, we have two kinds of Matter, one living and one dead. To get over this objection, some postulated a life-principle, which, by acting on dead matter, could endow it with the properties of living matter. This gave rise to further questions as to the nature and origin of the life-principle. Others, seeing that this hypothesis involves the introduction of an immaterial essence into a materialistic universe, involved themselves in the logical absurdity of treating the manifestations of life as though they were life itself or the cause of life. All this is avoided if we assume at the start that there is no essential difference between organic and inorganic matter (so-called). This is the view for which H. P. Blavatsky contended, and recent advances in science are tending towards the justification of this view. Our perfected apparatus has enabled us to make a more intimate study of the structure of crystals, of colloids, and of other conditions of matter, which seem intermediate between the matter in "living" bodies and that in "inorganic" bodies, and which give us hopes of finding consecutive stages of transition from one to the other. In the light of this, what happens to the old question as to the origin of life? At what particular point can we say that life enters? Just where can we say that life is absent? Life now becomes a set of phenomena or manifestations, continuous and with no particular dividing line; and, unless we are to fall into the old logical error, we must infer that these phenomena are caused by some agent, and that this agent is not material, or is material in another sense. And even then, it becomes necessary to infer that this life is the attribute of living beings, otherwise it remains an abstraction. So we are gradually brought back to the ancient, and often derided idea that all Nature is an assemblage of living beings.

The soil under our feet, which to some minds is just so much dead dust, is found to be a marvelous world of its own, teeming with living organisms of all kinds, and with potent chemicals, so important to the well-being of the plants that grow in it that we wonder which is the more important part of the plant, that which is above ground or that which is below. It is no longer possible to analyze the soil and to say, This part is dead, but that is alive; this is inorganic, but that is organic. Accumulating evidence compels us to the conclusion that life is everywhere, that life is the only thing, that there is nothing but life, nothing but living beings.

THE ASTRAL PLANE

The whole issue of the quarrel between the profane and the esoteric sciences depends upon the belief in, and demonstration of, the existence of an astral body within the physical, the former independent of the latter. — (II, 149)

The existence of astral prototypes, preceding the physical forms, is very frequently mentioned in S. D., though more often in connection with biology and anthropology than physics and chemistry. For instance, at II, 737, we read that —

Astral matter, it must be noted, is fourth state matter, having, like our gross matter, its own "protyle." There are several "protyles" in Nature, corresponding to the various planes of matter.

Here we see that the word "matter" may apply to various conditions of materiality, of which the physical is only one. It is important to observe that, when we pass from physical matter we do not thereby pass at one bound to "spirit;" we pass to another kind of matter. The distinction between what may be called spirit and matter — the active and passive sides of nature — obtains on all planes of manifestation; but here the word "matter" has to cover substances which have none of the properties by which we are accustomed to think of matter. A far more generalized conception is needed. The word "vehicle" is often used in Theosophy, as defining that in which forces or energies are manifested. But at present we are concerned only with that form of matter next in order above physical matter.

The existence of an astral body inside the physical is necessary to explain many familiar phenomena, such as the persistence of moles, scars, etc., although the physical atoms are continually changing. Such instances are striking, but after all they are but particular cases of a phenomenon that is general. For what is it that determines form? Why does a flower have its own particular form, a man his own features? Since the physical atoms come and go gradually, it cannot be they that preserve the form. There must be something that remains unchanged throughout, or at least changes much more slowly. There must be a pattern upon which the physical atoms are molded, a shape into which they run. Hence to speak of an invisible model-body within the physical is not to invent an arbitrary theory, for the thing is actually implied, necessitated: there must be such a model-body within every physical organism. But the scientific mind is reluctant to make this inference, and certainly it would open up vast reaches of unfamiliar ground, necessitating an entire revision of the scientific philosophy. The attempt to explain matters without this hypothesis, however, results in confusion; there is no way of explaining how the shape of an organism maintains its integrity. Any direct perception of astral matter would involve the use of astral senses, and this again leads us onto unfamiliar and dreaded ground. We refer again to a quotation from H. P. Blavatsky at the beginning of this series, to the effect that, for direct knowledge of these higher planes of nature, we must develop faculties which have long been dormant in the people of our race. It is only thus that we can collect the factual data on which to reason; otherwise we can only speculate by reason and analogy, arriving at conclusions which present no picture to the mind and can be clothed in abstruse mathematical terms only. The question of higher faculties and their development is so hedged about with deception, charlatanry, delusion, and flightiness, that it is no wonder scientists are cautious; added to which is the fact that the development of psychic powers by no means implies a corresponding development of the will and the power to use them for good and not for ill. Investigators into these questions are too often attracted to the sinister aspects of their enquiry.

GODS, MONADS, ATOMS

Such is the heading of a chapter in The Secret Doctrine (I, 610) which shows that it is needful for us to recognize something which the ancients believed, but which men of science have been wont to call superstition. This belief may be said to be universal, for it is shared by very many peoples living on earth to-day. A scientific name for it is "animism" — the belief in nature-spirits. Even empty space (so-called) was regarded as peopled with intelligent beings; and the mere external phenomena which science investigates were believed to be produced by the volitions of these intelligent beings.

One of such "degrading" beliefs — in the opinion of the all-denying sceptic — is found in the idea that Kosmos, besides its objective planetary inhabitants, its humanities in other inhabited worlds, is full of invisible, intelligent Existences. The so-called Arch-Angels, Angels and Spirits, of the West, copies of their prototypes, the Dhyan-Chohans, the Devas and Pitris, of the East, are no real Beings but fictions. On this point Materialistic Science is inexorable. — (I, 611)

". . . . God, Monad, and Atom are the correspondences of Spirit, Mind, and Body (Atma, Manas, and Sthula-Sarira) in man ". . . "The Monads (Jivas) are the Souls of the Atoms, both are the fabric in which the Chohans (Dhyanis, gods) clothe themselves when a form is needed." — (I, 619, quoted from Esoteric Catechism.)

And now, having just quoted what The Secret Doctrine says, and what the science of those days said, let us quote the recent writing of an eminent scientist of today.

Dr. Gustaf Stromberg, a member of the Staff of Mount Wilson Observatory, and an eminent Swedish scientist, has written a book called The Soul of the Universe, which is reviewed at some length in our number for August, 1940, pp. 126 ff. He believes cosmic space to be a plenum, thus confirming what was quoted above. Moreover he regards this space as being the origin and inner world of life, the real world of life and consciousness. But he does not remain satisfied with the use of the abstract word "consciousness," but speaks of conscious beings, which actuate the phenomena of life, and for which he uses provisionally the term "genie." Under this term however he includes many different grades of intelligent beings. These beings, in their synthesis, may be regarded as the Soul of the World.

We could hardly look for a more complete vindication of H. P. Blavatsky's doctrines: she often uses the terms World-Soul, Anima Mundi, etc. in this collective sense, as being general terms for the hosts of intelligent beings which people the causative realms of Space. The necessity for postulating such intelligent causes, endowed with volition and design, is becoming every day more apparent. Without such an hypothesis, we are reduced to trying to build a cosmos out of a mass of abstractions. In this same chapter of The Secret Doctrine we find it stated that

. . . To the average physicist, as remarked by a Kabalist, "Space, Force, Matter, are, what signs in algebra are to the mathematician, merely conventional symbols;" or "Force as force, and Matter as matter, are as absolutely unknowable as is the empty space in which they are held to interact." — (I, 615)

In biology and cytology the want of such an hypothesis is even more striking; for what the microscope discerns is but minute specks coming into visibility and behaving in every respect as though actuated by intelligent purpose. The attempt to account for such behavior, and for the marvelous results of it, without postulating intelligent agencies at work, leads to preposterous theories. But to admit so much is a step which, once taken, would lead science to the threshold of a quite unfamiliar realm, wherein its vaunted certainty would be lost. It will be interesting to watch the issue.

SOCIAL BEARINGS OF SCIENCE

Keeping in mind the three things we are comparing — the science of 1888, H. P. Blavatsky's teachings, and the science of 1941 — we can hardly choose a more appropriate topic than the one indicated by our heading. As we write, the question of the social responsibilities of science is much to the fore. Many will maintain as a general proposition that neither art nor science nor any other one thing can be isolated from human life, any more than a plant can be isolated from the soil, or an individual person from his kind, without undergoing decay, thus losing its life and becoming a nuisance instead of a help to its surroundings. Moreover, such attempted isolation is apt to be one-sided: it enjoys privileges while shirking responsibilities. It claims non-interference from those very institutions by which its freedom to assert such a claim is guaranteed. It has flourished in the free atmosphere created by a certain order of society, yet claims no concern with the affairs of that order. Art for art's sake, and science for science" sake, are phrases which doubtless have a legitimate meaning, but may be overdone. But the logic of facts is often sterner than the logic by which we are wont to support our wishful thinking.

In prominent scientific circles today the attitude of aloofness is mentioned as characteristic of an attitude that is passing; the pressure of events has forced the change. But there are still some who argue that science promotes knowledge, but is not responsible for the use made of it. But human conduct is governed by motives, and such knowledge as science provides will be used for wrong motives unless right motives prevail. Science cannot claim authority and disclaim it in the same breath. The separation of knowledge into departments may be useful or even necessary for practical convenience; but those who look beyond this aim must recognise the unity of knowledge. In arguments about religion and science we see attempts to bring together things which have been artificially separated, as though we were trying to assemble a human body out of its dismembered limbs. Such a process would give us a machine, rather than the original living whole. In the same way we are striving to bring about a modus vivendi between science and social polity, having first decided that the two are separate and different. But if the meaning of both these terms were extended to its just limits, we might find that social polity and science were one and the same thing, though we should need another name for this thing. Every year the meetings of scientific associations include more and more subjects which formerly were not considered as pertaining to science. Even within the limited sphere of modern science proper, barriers are disappearing; the border between physics and chemistry grows more shadowy, there is a domain wherein organic and inorganic so blend that we cannot decide which of the two realms we are in. The unity of knowledge becomes more apparent, as also the conviction grows that the only science is the science of man. The term "social relations of science" is as misleading as if we were to discuss the relations between the brain and the human body.

FOOTNOTES:

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)

2. Undoubtedly there is a typographical transposition here. The phrase, "the reptile and its nest," should follow the phrase, "of man and the ant." — H. T. E. (return to text)


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