At a Turning Point

By I. M. Oderberg

We are witnessing the breaking down of the walls of empires and nations. There are still fences of ethnic heritage that perpetuate surface differences, man-made barriers that must fall sooner or later. When the last moat goes, individual human beings will recognize that innately we are all kin, inheritors of a common treasure. We became aware of our self long ago, and only when we look now into some ancient myths do we see that we have emerged out of a chrysalis stage in the development of human qualities. We have indeed come a long way since the beginning, but the road ahead must be just as long.

Last century French journalist Georges Sorel, in the vanguard of social philosophy, warned that the myth of progress would draw people onward under its banner, but that it would enslave men and women of the twentieth century, reducing them to cogs in the wheels of technology. This aspect of technology was satirized by Charlie Chaplin in his film Modern Times. Almost two centuries ago English poet and artist William Blake, expressed a strong warning against "dark Satanic mills" — the factories that were poisoning the air, the water, and the soil in which we plant seeds and on which we live.

Where, then, can any one of us start to bring about the needed reforms to achieve the wholesome results most people desire? Surely the beginning lies in ourselves, especially in the area of our relations with each other. Are we tolerant enough to recognize the images we see in others as reflections of our own traits, though seen as if in a concave or convex mirror? Are we willing to begin to work on ourselves instead of waiting for others to begin to polish themselves?

Instead of seeing people, things, events, in terms of absolutes, noting differences, and building separateness out of them, we should try to see the whole picture involving all of earth's inhabitants. Each human being is engaged in the large process of universal evolution. Changes might seem small to us if we limit our viewpoint to the physical aspect of an individual. That is because the growing point of our human pattern is an internal, subjective process involved not only with the growth of the mind, but including such spiritual attributes as altruism, the root of which is compassion. No mechanical device can reproduce this quality because of its inherently subjective character which is outside the range of material forms.

Our physical framework is more primitive than that of some species that have developed specializations enabling them to interact efficiently with their environment. We, on the other hand, have expanded our capacity through internal growth. We are aware of individual identity; we reflect on a wide variety of topics, on events taking place in time and space; we can project ourselves into the past, and look ahead to future possibilities. We can apprehend and try to understand processes occurring in the farflung reaches of the universe. We can speculate about what it is that helps us to transmute our sense impressions into perception and understanding. We develop a sensitivity to beauty that recognizes it in nature and in our artistic creations.

Our participation in all of this and the experiences we gain resemble what occurs in our schools with their many grades. All our experiences are the lessons we learn as we react to what we put into and what we take out of the "Book of Life," along with our relatives who comprise all the other inhabitants of our planet.

Some years ago, Niels Bohr, a Nobel laureate in physics, published his concept called complementarity, meaning that there is a relationship between the electromagnetic aspect of light and the theories of particles of light. These two theories help explain the dual character discovered only when experiments were made to detect waves, or particles — what Newton called corpuscles. This relationship is similar to our saying that certain colors complement each other.

The concept of complementarity can be applied to other areas, despite Bohr's insistence that it applies only to physics. At the same time as this, Bohr's friend Werner Heisenberg, also a Nobel laureate in physics, announced his indeterminacy principle — in effect that one cannot fix the location of an object at the same time as its velocity in space. These two formulations born almost at the same time, have contributed much to the dissipation of old ideas about matter, motion, and other formerly held absolutes.

In Sir Denys Wilkinson's latest book Our Universes (The George B. Pegram Lectures, Columbia University Press, New York, 1991, 213 pp.), he writes that, "We look outward to the universe and inward to ourselves. . . . Immanuel Kant's dichotomy of 'starry heavens above and moral law within' are but two sides of the same coin" (Preface).

These important concepts can be applied in every walk of life: instead of seeing people, things, events, as separate and unrelated, we could try to see the whole picture, or at least as much of it as we are able to. If we were to model our relations with others on cooperation rather than competition, we might find a remarkable change in the quality of our daily life and of our civilization as a whole.

(From Sunrise magazine, April/May 1992; copyright © 1992 Theosophical University Press)


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The lake was smooth and glasslike, clouds mirrored on its face;
A place for contemplation far from the human race.
I dropped a stone into the pool, the ripples traveled far,
A sudden thought occurred to me, could they disturb a star?
Or could my thoughts cause ripples in that distant starry sea?
For I am made of star stuff and the stars are made of me. — R. H. Ross