Theosophical University Press Online Edition
The corpuscular theory has been unceremoniously put aside; but gravitation — the principle that all bodies attract each other with a force proportional directly to their masses, and inversely to the squares of the distances between them — survives to this day and reigns, supreme as ever, in the alleged ethereal waves of Space. As a hypothesis, it had been threatened with death for its inadequacy to embrace all the facts presented to it; as a physical law, it is the King of the late and once all-potent “Imponderables.” “It is little short of blasphemy . . . . an insult to Newton’s grand memory to doubt it, . . . .” is the exclamation of an American reviewer of “Isis Unveiled.” Well; what is finally that invisible and intangible God in whom we should believe on blind faith? Astronomers who see in gravitation an easy-going solution for many things, and an universal force which allows them to calculate thereby planetary motions, care little about the Cause of Attraction. They call Gravity a 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; and then it will follow the corpuscular theory of light and be consigned to rest for many scientific aeons in the archives of all exploded speculations. Has not Newton himself expressed grave doubts about the Nature of Force and the corporeality of the “Agents,” as they were then called? So has Cuvier, another scientific light shining in the night of research. He warns his readers, in the Revolution du Globe, about the doubtful nature of the so-called Forces, saying that “it is not so sure whether those agents were not Spiritual Powers after all (des agents spirituels). At the outset of his “Principia,” Sir Isaac Newton took the greatest care to impress upon his school that he did not use the word “attraction” with regard to the mutual action of bodies in a physical sense. 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” (Defin. 8, B. I. Prop. 69, “Scholium”), 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” (see Mod. Mater., by Rev. W. F. Wilkinson); and in his third Letter to Bentley he says: “It is inconceivable that inanimate brute matter should, without the mediation of something else which is not material, operate upon and affect other matter, without mutual contact, as it must do if gravi-
tation, in the sense of Epicurus, be essential and inherent in it. . . . That gravity should be innate, inherent and essential to matter, so that one body may act upon another at a distance, through a vacuum, without the mediation of anything else by and through which their action may be conveyed from one to another, is to me so great an absurdity that I believe no man, who has in philosophical matters a competent faculty of thinking, can ever fall into it. Gravity must be caused by an agent acting constantly according to certain laws; but whether this agent be material or immaterial I have left to the consideration of my readers.”
At this, even Newton’s contemporaries got frightened — at the apparent return of occult causes into the domain of physics. Leibnitz called his principle of attraction “an incorporeal and inexplicable power.” The supposition of an attractive faculty and a perfect void was characterized by Bernoulli as “revolting,” the principle of actio in distans finding thus no more favour then than it does now. Euler, on the other hand, thought the action of gravity was due to either a Spirit or some subtle medium. And yet Newton knew of, if he did not accept, the Ether of the Ancients. He regarded the intermediate space between the sidereal bodies as vacuum. Therefore he believed in “subtle spirit” and Spirits as we do, guiding the so-called attraction. The above-quoted words of the great man have produced poor results. The “absurdity” has now become a dogma in the case of pure materialism, which repeats, “No matter without force, no force without matter; matter and force are inseparable, eternal and indestructible (true); there can be no independent force, since all force is an inherent and necessary property of matter (false); consequently, there is no immaterial creative power.” Oh, poor Sir Isaac!
If, leaving aside all the other eminent men of Science who shared in the same opinion as Euler and Leibnitz, the Occultists claim as their authorities and supporters only Sir Isaac Newton and Cuvier, as above cited, they need fear little from modern Science, and may loudly and proudly proclaim their beliefs. But, the hesitation and doubts of the two before cited authorities, and of many others, too, whom we could name, did not in the least prevent scientific speculation from wool-gathering on the fields of brute matter just as before. First it was matter and an imponderable fluid distinct from it; then came the imponderable fluid so much criticised by Grove; and AEther, which was at first discontinuous and then became continuous; after which came the “mechanical” Forces. These have now settled in life as “modes of motion” and the aether has become more mysterious and problematical than ever. More than one man of Science objects to such crude materialistic views. But then since the days of Plato, who repeatedly asks his readers not to confuse incorporeal Elements with
their Principles — transcendental or spiritual Elements; from those of the great Alchemists, who, like Paracelsus, made a great difference between phenomenon and its cause, or the Noumenon; and Grove, who, though he sees “no reason to divest universally diffused matter of the functions common to all matter,” yet uses the term Forces where his critics, “who do not attach to the word any idea of a specific action,” say Force — from those days to this nothing has proved competent to stem the tide of brutal materialism. Gravitation is the sole cause, the acting God, and matter is its prophet, said the men of science only a few years ago.
They have changed their views several times since then. But do the men of Science understand the innermost thought of Newton, one of the most spiritual-minded and religious men of his day, any better now than they did then? It is certainly to be doubted. Newton is credited with having given the death-blow to the Elemental Vortices of Descartes (the idea of Anaxagoras, resurrected, by-the-bye), though the last modern “vortical atoms” of Sir W. Thomson do not, in truth, differ much from the former. Nevertheless, when his disciple Forbes wrote in the Preface to the chief work of his Master a sentence declaring that “attraction was the cause of the System,” Newton was the first to solemnly protest. That which in the mind of the great mathematician assumed the shadowy, but firmly rooted image of God, as the noumenon of all,* was called more philosophically by the ancient (and modern) philosophers and Occultists — “Gods,” or the creative fashioning Powers. The modes of expression may have been different, and the ideas more or less philosophically enunciated by all sacred and profane Antiquity; but the fundamental thought was the same.† For Pythagoras the Forces were Spiritual Entities, Gods inde-
* “Attraction,” Le Couturier, a materialist, writes, “has now become for the public that which it was for Newton himself — a simple word, an idea” (Panorama des Mondes), since its cause is unknown. Herschell virtually says the same, when remarking, that whenever studying the motion of the heavenly bodies, and the phenomena of attraction, he feels penetrated at every moment with the idea of “the existence of causes that act for us under a veil, disguising their direct action.” (Musee des Sciences, August, 1856.)
† If we are taken to task for believing in operating “Gods” and “Spirits” while rejecting a personal God, we answer to the Theists and Monotheists; “Admit that your Jehovah is one of the Elohim, and we are ready to recognise him. Make of him, as you do, the Infinite, the one and the Eternal God, and we will never accept him in this character.” Of tribal Gods there were many; the One Universal Deity is a principle, an abstract Root-Idea which has nought to do with the unclean work of finite Form. We do not worship the Gods, we only honour Them, as beings superior to ourselves. In this we obey the Mosaic injunction, while Christians disobey their Bible — Missionaries foremost of all. “Thou shalt not revile the gods,” says one of them — (Jehovah) — in Exodus xxii. 28); but at the same time in verse 20 it is commanded, “He that sacrificeth to any God, save unto the Lord, he shall be utterly destroyed.” Now in the [[Footnote continued on next page]]
pendent of planets and Matter as we see and know them on Earth, who are the rulers of the Sidereal Heaven. Plato represented the planets as moved by an intrinsic Rector, one with his dwelling, like “A boatman in his boat.” As for Aristotle, he called those rulers “immaterial substances;”* though as one who had never been initiated, he rejected the gods as Entities (See Vossius, Vol. II., p. 528). But this did not prevent him from recognising the fact that the stars and planets “were not inanimate masses but acting and living bodies indeed. . . . . . .” As if “sidereal spirits were the divine portion of their phenomena, [[ta theoitera pon phaneron]]” (De Caelo. I. 9).
If we look for corroboration in more modern and Scientific times, we find Tycho Brahe recognising in the stars a triple force, divine, spiritual and vital. Kepler, putting together the Pythagorean sentence, “The Sun, guardian of Jupiter,” and the verses of David, “He placed his throne in the Sun,” and “The Lord is the Sun,” etc., said that he understood perfectly how the Pythagoreans could believe that all the globes disseminated through Space were rational Intelligences, facultates ratiocinativae, circulating around the Sun, “in which resides a pure Spirit of fire; the source of the general harmony” (De Motibus planetarum harmonicis, p. 248).
When an Occultist speaks of Fohat — the energising and guiding intelligence in the Universal Electric or Vital Fluid, — he is laughed at. Withal, as now shown, neither the nature of electricity, nor of Life nor even of Light, are to this day understood. 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. Now the Occultist does not deny — on the contrary he will support the claim — that light, heat, electricity and so on are affections (not properties or qualities) of matter. To put it more clearly: matter is the condition — the necessary basis or vehicle, a sine qua non — for the manifestation of these forces, or agents, on this plane.
But in order to gain the point the Occultists have to examine the credentials of the law of gravity, first of all, of “Gravitation, the King
[[Footnote continued from previous page]] original texts it is not “god” but Elohim, — and we challenge contradiction — and Jehovah is one of the Elohim, as proved by his own words in Genesis iii. 22, when “the Lord God said: Behold the Man has become as one of us,” etc. Hence both those who worship and sacrifice to the Elohim, the angels, and to Jehovah, those who revile the gods of their fellow-men, are far greater transgressors than the Occultists or any Theosophist. Meanwhile many of the latter prefer believing in some one “Lord” or other, and are quite welcome to do as they like.
* To liken the “immateriate species to wooden iron,” and laugh at Spiller referring to them as “incorporeal matter” does not solve the mystery (See “Concepts of Modern Physics,” p. 165 et infra).
and Ruler of Matter,” under every form. To do so effectually, the hypothesis in its earliest appearance has to be recalled to mind. To begin with, is it Newton who was the first to discover it? The Athenaeum of Jan. 26, 1867, has some curious information upon this subject. It says that “positive evidence can be adduced that Newton derived all his knowledge of gravitation and its laws from Boehme, with whom gravitation or attraction is the first property of Nature.” . . . For with him “his (Boehme’s) system, shows us the inside of things, while modern physical science is content with looking at the outside.” Then again, “the science of electricity, which was not yet in existence when he (Boehme) wrote, is there anticipated (in his writings); and not only does Boehme describe all the now known phenomena of that force, but he even gives us the origin, generation, and birth of electricity, itself, etc.”
Thus Newton, whose profound mind read easily between the lines, and fathomed the spiritual thought of the great Seer in its mystic rendering, owes his great discovery to Jacob Boehme, the nursling of the genii (Nirmanakayas) who watched over and guided him, of whom the author of the article in question so truly remarks, that “every new scientific discovery goes to prove his profound and intuitive insight into the most secret workings of nature.” And having discovered gravity, Newton, in order to render possible the action of attraction in space, had, so to speak, to annihilate every physical obstacle capable of impeding its free action; ether among others, though he had more than a presentiment of its existence. Advocating the corpuscular theory, he made an absolute vacuum between the heavenly bodies. . . . Whatever may have been his suspicions and inner convictions about Ether; however many friends he may have unbosomed himself to — as in the case of his correspondence with Bentley — his teachings never showed that he had any such belief. If he was “persuaded that the power of attraction could not be exerted by matter across a vacuum,”* how is it that so late as 1860, French astronomers (Le Couturier, for instance), combated “the disastrous results of the theory of vacuum established by the great man?”† Professor Winchell writes, “These passages (letter to Bentley) show what were his views respecting the nature of the interplanetary medium of communication. Though declaring that the heavens ‘are void of sensible matter,’ he elsewhere excepted ‘perhaps
* World-Life. Prof. Winchell, LL.D (pp. 49 and 50).
† “Il n’est plus possible aujourd’hui, de soutenir comme Newton, que les corps celestes se mouvent au milieu du vide immense des espaces. . . . Parmi les consequences de la theorie du vide etablie par ce grand homme, il ne reste plus debout que le mot ‘attraction,’ et nous verrons le jour ou ce dernier mot disparaitra du vocabulaire scientifique.” (“Panorama des mondes,” pp. 47 and 53.)
some very thin vapours, streams, and effluvia, arising from the atmospheres of the earth, planets, and comets, and from such an exceedingly rare ethereal medium as we have elsewhere described.” (Newton, Optics, III., query 28, 1704; quoted in “World-Life.”)
This only shows that even such great men as Newton have not always the courage of their opinions. Dr. T. S. Hunt “called attention to some long-neglected passages in Newton’s works, from which it appears that a belief in such universal, intercosmical medium gradually took root in his mind.” (Ibid.) But such attention was never called to the said passages before Nov. 28, 1881, when Dr. Hunt read his “Celestial Chemistry, from the time of Newton.” “Till then the idea was universal, even among the men of Science, that Newton had, while advocating the corpuscular theory, preached a void,” as Le Couturier says. The passages had been “long neglected,” no doubt because they contradicted and clashed with the preconceived pet theories of the day, till finally the undulatory theory imperiously required the presence of an “ethereal medium” to explain it. This is the whole secret.
Anyhow, it is from that theory of Newton’s of a universal void — taught, if not believed in by himself, — that dates the immense scorn now shown by modern for ancient physics. The old sages had maintained that “Nature abhorred vacuum,” and the greatest mathematicians of the world (read of the Western races) had discovered the antiquated “fallacy” and exposed it. And now modern science vindicates, however ungracefully, archaic knowledge, having, moreover, to vindicate Newton’s character and powers of observation at this late hour, after having neglected for one century and a half to pay any attention to such very important passages — perchance, because it was wiser not to attract any notice to them. Better late than never.
And now Father AEther is re-welcomed with open arms; and wedded to gravitation; linked to it for weal or woe, until the day when it, or both, shall be replaced by something else. Three hundred years ago it was plenum everywhere, then it became one dismal vacuity; later still the sidereal ocean-beds, dried up by science, rolled onward once more their ethereal waves. Recede ut procedes must become the motto of exact Science — “exact,” chiefly, in finding itself inexact every leap-year.
But we will not quarrel with the great men. They had to go back to the earliest “Gods of Pythagoras and old Kanada” for the very backbone and marrow of their correlations and “newest” discoveries, and this may well afford good hope to the Occultists, for their minor gods. For we believe in Le Couturier’s prophecy about gravitation. We know the day is approaching when an absolute reform will be demanded in the present modes of Science by the scientists themselves — as was done by Sir W. Grove, F.R.S. Till that day there is nothing to be done. For if gravitation
were dethroned to-morrow, the day after the Scientists would discover some other new mode of mechanical motion.* Rough and up-hill is the path of true Science, and its days are full of vexation of Spirit. But in the face of its “thousand” contradictory hypotheses to explain physical phenomena, there never was yet a better one than that of “motion” — however paradoxically interpreted by materialism. As may be found on the first pages of Book I., Occultists have nothing surely against motion† the great breath of Mr. Herbert Spencer’s “unknown.” But, believing that everything on Earth is the shadow of something in space — they believe in smaller “Breaths,” which, living, intelligent and independent of all but Law, blow in every direction during Manvantaric periods. These Science will reject. But whatever replaces attraction, alias gravitation, the result will be the same. Science will be as far from the solution of its difficulties as it is now, unless it comes to some compromise with Occultism and even with Alchemy — which supposition will be regarded as an impertinence, but remains a fact, nevertheless. As Faye says: “Il manque quelque chose aux geologues pour faire la geologie de la Lune, c’est d’etre astronomes. A la verite il manque aussi quelquechose aux astronomes pour aborder avec fruit cette etude, c’est d’etre geologues.” But he might have added, with still more pointedness, “Ce qui manque a tous les deux, c’est l’intuition du mystique.”
Let us remember Sir William Grove’s wise “concluding remarks,” on the ultimate structure of matter, or the minutiae of molecular actions, which, he thought, man will never know.
“Much harm has already been done by attempting hypothetically to dissect matter and to discuss the shapes, sizes, and numbers of atoms, and their atmospheres of heat, ether, or electricity. . . . . Whether the regarding electricity, light, magnetism, etc., as simply motions of ordinary matter, be or be not admissible, certain it is that all past theories have resolved, and all existing theories do resolve, the action of these forces into motion. Whether it be that, on account of our familiarity with motion, we refer other affections to it, as to a language which is most easily construed, and most capable of
* When read in a fair and unprejudiced spirit, Sir Isaac Newton’s works are an ever ready witness to show how he must have hesitated between gravitation and attraction, impulse and some other unknown cause to explain the regular course of the planetary motion. But see Treatise on Colour (Vol. III., question 31.) We are told by Herschell that Newton left with his successors the duty of drawing all the scientific conclusions from his discovery. How modern Science abused the privilege of building its newest theories upon the law of gravitation, may be realised when one remembers how profoundly religious was that great man.
† The materialistic notion that because, in physics real or sensible motion is impossible in pure space or vacuum, therefore, the eternal motion of and in Cosmos (regarded as infinite Space) is a fiction — only shows once more that such words as “pure space,” “pure Being,” “the Absolute,” etc., of Eastern metaphysics have never been understood in the West.
explaining them, or whether it be that it is in reality the only mode in which our minds as contra-distinguished from our senses, are able to conceive material agencies, certain it is that since the period at which the mystic notions of spiritual or preternatural powers were applied to account for physical phenomena, all hypotheses framed to explain them have resolved them into motion.”
And then the learned gentleman states a purely occult tenet: —
“The term perpetual motion, which I have not infrequently used in these pages, is itself equivocal. If the doctrines here advanced be well founded, all motion is, in one sense, perpetual. In masses, whose motion is stopped by mutual concussion, heat or motion of the particles is generated; and thus the motion continues, so that if we could venture to extend such thoughts to the universe, we should assume the same amount of motion affecting the same amount of matter for ever.”*
Thus, supposing attraction or gravitation should be given up in favour of the Sun being a huge magnet — which is a theory already accepted by some physicists — a magnet that acts on the planets as attraction is now supposed to do, whereto, or how much farther would it lead the astronomers from where they are now? Not an inch farther. Kepler came to this “curious hypothesis” nearly 300 years ago. He had not discovered the theory of attraction and repulsion in Kosmos, for it was known from the days of Empedocles, the two opposite forces being called by him “hate” and “love” — which comes to the same thing. But Kepler gave a pretty fair description of cosmic magnetism. That such magnetism exists in nature, is as certain as that gravitation does not; not at any rate, in the way in which it is taught by Science, which never took into consideration the different modes in which the dual Force — that Occultism calls attraction and repulsion — may act within our solar system, the earth’s atmosphere, and beyond in the Kosmos.† This was proven by Newton himself; for there are many phenomena in our
* “Correl. Phys. Forces,” p. 173. This is precisely what Occultism maintains, and on the same principle that “where force is made to oppose force, and produce static equilibrium, the balance of pre-existing equilibrium is affected, and fresh motion is started equivalent to that which is withdrawn into a state of abeyance.” This process finds intervals in the pralaya, but is eternal and ceaseless as the “Breath,” even when the manifested Kosmos rests.
† “Trans-solar space,” writes the great Humboldt, “does not hitherto show any phenomenon analogous to our solar system. It is a peculiarity of our System, that matter should have condensed within it in nebulous rings, the nuclei of which condense into earths and moons. I say again, heretofore, nothing of the kind has ever been observed beyond our planetary system.” (See Revue Germanique of the 31st Dec. 1860, art. “Lettres et conversations d’Alexandre Humboldt.”) True, that since 1860 the nebular theory has sprung up, and being better known, a few identical phenomena were supposed to be observed beyond the solar system. Yet the great man is quite right; and no earths or moons can be found — except in appearance — beyond, or of the same order of matter as found in our system. Such is the Occult teaching.
Solar system, which he confessed his inability to explain by the law of gravitation. “Such were the uniformity in the directions of planetary movements, the nearly circular forms of the orbits, and their remarkable conformity to one plane” (Prof. Winchell). And if there is one single exception, then the law of gravitation has no right to be referred to as an universal law. “These adjustments,” we are told, “Newton, in his general Scholium, pronounces to be ‘the work of an intelligent and all-powerful Being.’ ” Intelligent that “Being” may be; as to “all-powerful” there would be every reason to doubt the claim. A poor “God” he, who would work upon minor details and leave the most important to secondary forces! The poverty of the argument and logic in this case, is surpassed only by that of Laplace, who, seeking very correctly to substitute motion for Newton’s “all-powerful Being,” and ignorant of the true nature of that eternal motion, saw in it a blind physical law. “Might not those arrangements be an effect of the laws of motion?” he asks, forgetting, as all our modern Scientists do, that this law and this motion are a vicious circle, so long as the nature of both remains unexplained. His famous answer to Napoleon: “Dieu est devenu une hypothese inutile,” would be correctly stated only by one who adhered to the philosophy of the Vedantins. It becomes a pure fallacy, if we exclude the interference of operating, intelligent, powerful (never “all-powerful”) Beings, who are called “gods.”
But we would ask the critics of the mediaeval astronomers why should Kepler be denounced as most unscientific, for offering just the same solution as Newton did — only showing himself more sincere, more consistent and even more logical. Where may be the difference between Newton’s “all-powerful Being” and Kepler’s Rectores, his sidereal and Cosmic Forces, or Angels? Kepler is again criticised for his “curious hypothesis which made use of a vortical movement within the solar system;” for his theories in general, for his favouring Empedocles’ idea of attraction and repulsion, and “Solar magnetism” in particular. Yet several modern men of Science, as will be shown — Hunt (if Metcalfe is to be excluded), Dr. Richardson, etc. — favour the idea very seriously. He is half excused, however, on the plea that “to the time of Kepler no interaction between masses of matter had been distinctly recognized which was generically different from magnetism” (World-Life). Is it distinctly recognised now? Does Prof. Winchell claim for Science any serious knowledge whatever of the natures of either electricity or magnetism — except that both seem to be the effects of some result arising from an undetermined cause.
The ideas of Kepler, weeded from their theological tendencies, are purely occult. He saw that:
(I.) The Sun is a great Magnet.* This is what some eminent modern scientists and also the Occultists believe in.
(II.) The Solar substance is immaterial.† (See “Isis Unveiled,” Vol. I. pp. 270 to 271.)
(III.) He provided, for the constant motion and restoration of the Sun’s energy and planetary motion, the perpetual care of a spirit, or spirits. The whole of Antiquity believed in this idea. The Occultists do not use the word Spirit, but say Creative Forces, which they endow with intelligence. But we may call them spirits also.
This theory is tabooed a great deal more on account of the “Spirit” that is given room in it, than of anything else. Herschell, the elder, believed in it likewise, and so do several modern scientists also. Nevertheless Professor Winchell declares that “a hypothesis more fanciful, and less in accord with the requirements of physical principles, has not been offered in ancient or modern times.” (World-Life, p. 554.)
The same was said, once upon a time, of the universal Ether, and now it is not only accepted perforce but advocated as the only possible theory to explain away certain mysteries.
Grove’s ideas, when he first enunciated them in London about 1840, were called as unscientific as the above; nevertheless, his views on the correlation of forces are now universally accepted. It would, very likely, require one more conversant with science than is the writer, to combat with any success some of the now prevailing ideas about gravitation and other similar “solutions” of Cosmic Mysteries. But, let us recall a few objections that came from recognized men of Science; from astronomers and physicists of eminence, who rejected the theory of rotation, as well as that of gravitation. Thus one reads in the French Encyclopaedia that “Science agrees, in the face of all its representatives, that it is impossible to explain the physical origin of the rotatory motion of the solar system.”
If the question is asked, “what causes rotation?” we are answered: “It is the centrifugal Force.” “And this force, what is it that produces it?” “The force of rotation,” is the grave answer. (Godefroy, Cosmogonie de la Revelation.‡) It will be well, perhaps, to examine both these theories as being directly or indirectly connected.
* But see Astronomie du Moyen Age, by Delambre.
† In the sense, of course, of matter existing in states unknown to Science.
‡ We shall be taken to task for contradiction. It will be said that while we deny God, we admit Souls and operative Spirits, and quote from Roman Catholic bigoted writers in support of our argument. To this we reply: “We deny the anthropomorphic god of the Monotheists, but never the Divine Principle in nature. We combat Protestants and Roman Catholics on a number of dogmatic theological beliefs of human and sectarian origin. We agree with them in their belief in Spirits and intelligent operative powers, though we do not worship “Angels” as the Roman Latinists do.”