The Theosophical Forum – November 1941

DOES SCIENCE KNOW LIFE? — Emma D. Wilcox

[Note: page numbers cited for The Esoteric Tradition are to the 2-vol. Second Edition and do not correspond to the 1-vol. 3rd & Revised Edition.]

Nearly a century ago Herbert Spencer summed up the unknown problem of what life was as "the continuous adjustment of internal relations to external relations," and recently a well known scientist said that no one had as yet improved upon that definition. Three hundred years ago, Robert Hooke laying a lens on a piece of cork was surprised to see under it a succession of rings like little cells hollow in the center, as he described them. Testing farther, he found them in other plant forms and concluded that they were the unit of life. Not until two hundred years later was the smaller unit, the nucleus within the cell, discovered and in turn hailed as the center of life. But all this did not tell what life was; only the content of that cell, called by the term "protoplasm," could be regarded as the "physical basis of life," as Thomas Huxley phrased it.

In a study of the organization of living things in the final analysis all organisms may be disintegrated into units of structure called cells; yet this structure, although termed living matter, can be resolved into chemical elements called non-living, whose unit is the atom. The biologist claims that his aim is to study the processes of life and trace them back to their origin with the hope of finding their cause.

Although scientists still place everything outside of plant, animal, and human, as inanimate nature, that is as non-living, yet they themselves own that they cannot always draw the line between where one begins and the other ends; that the science of life is much easier to explain than to say what life is, or as one of them has said: "We know what living things can do under differing circumstances. We also know when life no longer exists, but the nature of this mysterious element is still unknown."

When H. P. Blavatsky wrote The Secret Doctrine some sixty years ago, the atom was considered to be a solid particle like a "billiard ball," while the cell had not yet yielded up its genes. Yet in that book are these words:

It is on the doctrine of the illusive nature of matter, and the infinite divisibility of the atom, that the whole science of Occultism is built. It opens limitless horizons to substance informed by the divine breath of its soul in every possible state of tenuity, states still undreamt of by the most spiritually disposed chemists and physicists. — S. D., I, 520

What says the new chemistry today? "Far from being an ultimate and indivisible particle, the atom is revealed as being complex and the seat of much concentrated energy." And the new physics: "By understanding matter and energy into which inanimate nature is divided, we shall be prepared to understand the sciences dealing with living organisms, and through them, we shall obtain an intelligent view of life itself." Again, "We shall find that matter alone does not account for the Universe. . . . Matter affects our senses only by means of energy — the two are inseparable. We can think of no energy without matter to carry it, and we know of no matter that does not contain energy."

Now take note of the following extracts from The Secret Doctrine:

In the realm of the Esoteric sciences the unit divided ad infinitum, instead of losing its unity, approaches with every division the planes of the only eternal REALITY. — I, 617

. . . the scientific hypothesis, that even the simplest elements of matter are identical in nature and differ from each other only owing to the variety of the distributions of atoms in the molecule or speck of substance, or by the modes of its atomic vibration gains every day more ground. — I, 455

Again we read:

The atom, as known to modern science, is inseparable from Purusha which is spirit but is now called "Energy" in Science. . . that which is called "energy" or "force" in Science . . . is never, in fact, and cannot be energy alone, for it is the substance of the world, its soul.

And in the footnote:

There are other forms of energy wedded to other forms of matter, which are super sensuous, yet known to the adepts. — I, 582

Occultism does not accept anything inorganic in the Kosmos. The expression employed by Science, "inorganic substance," means simply that the latent life slumbering in the molecules of so-called "inert matter" is incognizable. ALL IS LIFE, and every atom of even mineral dust is a LIFE, though beyond our comprehension and perception, because it is outside the range of the laws known to those who reject Occultism. — I, 248

Finally:

Atoms are called "Vibrations" in Occultism; also "Sound" — collectively. . . Atoms fill the immensity of Space, and by their continuous vibration are that MOTION which keeps the wheels of Life perpetually going. — I, 633

What does Science tell us today of the unit of matter and of life? The atom is an electrical field within which is a constant interplay of centers of energy; and protoplasm, the groundwork of the cell, is also an electric field within which the energy-units of life play their part.

This revelation has brought many open-minded scientists to the threshold of a new, unknown realm outside of ordinary physical perceptions, requiring the use of an intuition which hitherto has been considered outside of a strict scientific code; bringing them to the verge, as Professor Moulton has said, of the necessity "perhaps of accepting the existence of other planes of matter." Dr. Riddle of the Carnegie Institution said: "With the discovery of the electron, science has dropped its old guides and has not yet found new ones." When Bertrand Russell said that "Matter has become as ghostly as anything in a spiritual seance," he spoke more truly than he realized, because "matter" is illusory. To a Theosophist the following words from Professor Shapley are especially fine: "All of creation may be one single unit, with all of its various divisions existing in direct relationship to each other and all possessing uniform properties and tendencies. The test-tube, the microscope and the spectroscope tell fundamentally the same story. Electricity, whose positive and negative particles constitute the smallest, whirling world of material things, may also make up the substance of the largest and most distant universes. There is substantially no difference between the lowly atom and the most remote cloud of twinkling stars." Compare this with these words:

. . . the Occultists are not alone in their beliefs. Nor are they so foolish, after all, in rejecting even the "gravity" of modern Science along with other physical laws, and in accepting instead attraction and repulsion. They 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: . . . whose essence, in its dual nature, is the cause of all terrestrial phenomena. . . . It is, . . . the dual effects of that dual essence, which have now been called centripetal and centrifugal forces, negative and positive poles, or polarity, heat and cold, light and darkness, etc. . . .

From Gods to men, from Worlds to atoms, from a star to a rush-light, from the Sun to the vital heat of the meanest organic being — the world of Form and Existence is an immense chain, whose links are all connected. — I, 604

In science a law is a statement based on experimental facts. To explain and account for these facts, scientists have adopted certain theories or hypotheses which seem to fit all or nearly all the facts. When new facts arise or later experiments disprove the old ones, the theories must be revised or discarded. To quote Professor Conant of Harvard: "A theory always starts with certain suppositions which we cannot test experimentally. Beginning with these assumptions, we reason that such and such must be true. We cannot, however, say that the theory is proved, but merely that it is probably true."

Today, we hear a great deal of the electro-magnetic field and of the electric basis of phenomena in both physics and biology, that is, in what science divides as inanimate and animate nature. Here is where the Theosophist sees looming ahead a converging point where science will behold light and magnetism and heat and electricity, all as rays of Life — mineral, vegetable, or animal — electro-magnetic at one pole, psycho-magnetic at another. To quote some words from Robert Millikan "Since electric currents are always accompanied by electric fields, electrical disturbances must always be accompanied by magnetic disturbances, and electric radiations are actually electromagnetic radiations. The study of electromagnetic radiations has shown not only that they have the speed of light, but in fact, that they possess all the properties of light waves, the only apparent difference being in their greater wave length. Light waves are thought to be generated by the displacements of the electrically charged parts of the atom."

Also energy is said to be not locked up in the atom but generated by this electronic radiation, or as we would say, the focus or vehicle.

Sixty-five years ago when H P Blavatsky unfurled her flag of "All is Life" before a scornful and incredulous world, she made the prophecy that in the twentieth century, point by point, to science would be demonstrated that life exists in latency, whether atomic or in the "dead" or so-called non-living matter. Each new step has been perceived first by flashes of intuition, then by slow deduction and test of mechanics, until now the borderline is reached where more than one scientist has said that the road crosses into the metaphysical. Those who have taken that step have had opened to their intuition the perception of the One Universal Cause, the origin alike of the atom of matter and of the unit of organic life — Consciousness, expressed by conscious Beings whose thought-radiations center in atoms of matter.

The following are a few quotations from the first volume of The Secret Doctrine, which mark the pathway by which Science is slowly but surely approaching the door to Universal Life.

. . . the primordial Electric Entity — for the Eastern Occultists insist that Electricity is an Entity — electrifies into life, and separates primordial stuff or pregenetic matter into atoms, themselves the source of all life and consciousness. — I, 76

When an Occultist speaks of Fohat — the energising and guiding intelligence in the Universal Electric or Vital Fluid — he is laughed at. . . . The Occultist sees in the manifestation of every force in Nature the action of the quality, or the special characteristic of its noumenon, which noumenon is a distinct and intelligent Individuality on the other side of the manifested mechanical Universe. — I, 493

The chief and most fatal mistake and fallacy made by Science, in the view of the Occultists lies in the idea of the possibility of such a thing as inorganic, or dead matter in nature. Is anything dead or inorganic capable of transformation or change? Occultism asks. And is there anything under the sun which remains immutable or changeless? — I, 507

Today the gross materialism against which H P Blavatsky battled so hard has softened in part. As Dr. de Purucker has expressed it in The Esoteric Tradition:

Our best minds thus derive the Universe and all in it from Mind or Consciousness possessing obviously, intelligence and artistry in operation of cosmic magnitude. And from Mind, they derive not only the gross physical universe and all that is in it, but all intermediate stages between. — p 179

The future is giving promise that some of the forerunners in science will acknowledge the conception that everything is life, has its own consciousness each on its own plane, and that Cosmic Mind and Cosmic Consciousness manifest Life as Substance.

(To be concluded)


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