DO MIND AND MEMORY SURVIVE THE BRAIN?
Two recent pronouncements in different fields of scientific research, when placed in juxtaposition are so interesting and significant from their bearing upon Theosophical principles that we are impelled to attract our readers" attention to them in the hope that they will be useful when presenting Theosophy to intelligent inquirers who are dissatisfied with materialistic concepts of the Universe and Man and yet who see no "scientific" relief from their difficulties. The doubting Thomases who ask for "just one fact" before they venture to take the first step out of their intellectual cage may be set to think on new lines by the study of Theosophical ideas when sponsored by recognised scientists. H. P. Blavatsky said that Theosophy came "to break the molds of mind," the hard shell of dogmatic prejudice and ignorance, and that her The Secret Doctrine should be used as "a means of exercising and developing the mind never touched by other studies," and not only as a storehouse of information.
The first point referred to is a statement about the more subtil aspect of the Universe and the persistence of human consciousness after bodily death, by Dr. Gustaf Stromberg, a distinguished astronomer at Mount Wilson Observatory, Pasadena, who is also a philosopher — a not unusual combination among students of the heavens. We quote from his The Material and the Immaterial Universe, a Leaflet issued in March by the Astronomical Society of the Pacific. After a rather technical consideration of the new atomic theory, indeterminacy, space-time structure, etc., in support of the concept that there is "an actual distinction between the material and the immaterial world" without which many phenomena in living organisms are "entirely inexplicable," Dr. Stromberg continues:
Let us think of a living cell with its chromosomes and genes, which carry the hereditary characters of the animals and plants. . . . What is it that determines their structure? . . . Organisms die and disintegrate; the cells and the chromosomes also die and disintegrate. It seems that at death some kind of an organizing entity has left the matter, which then forms simpler compounds in accordance with its own intrinsic nature.
We are built of matter; but there is also something which gives us not only the structure of living organisms, but also consciousness and memory. The latter belongs to the immaterial rather than to the material universe. There are several reasons for believing that certain fundamental immaterial elements in plants and animals can exist without being associated with matter. Some of these elements are extremely stable, and appear to retain their properties after the death of the individual.
On such a basis we can obtain a physical picture of the entities which in plants and animals carry inherited characters. Some of these entities are so stable that the corresponding characters appear to have remained practically unchanged during millions of years of organic development. It may also be possible to assign a space-time aspect to mental phenomena in general. In that case we should be able to picture a physical structure of memory and assign reasons for its permanence, in spite of the continuous renewal of the atoms in a living brain structure. We may also obtain a reasonable scientific basis for the immortality of the soul and the indestructibility of the individual memory.
We cannot observe the radio waves that determine the motions of the electrons in our radio antennae and tubes, yet the waves are the controlling influences, and the "material" electrons are only the means by which our physical sense organs become activated and recognise the invisible and "immaterial" actuality. We are deceived by appearances and give our attention only to the elements in the universe that carry energy in observable form. Dr. Stromberg claims with reason that every atom as well as the entire Universe has an immaterial as well as a material structure. This "immaterial fine structure " or "etheric force-substance," as it were, unites the electrons, neutrons, and positrons which today are believed to compose the atoms and gives the combination its peculiar properties. By analogy with the immaterial but real radio waves and the "material" electrons in the instruments we may interpret the interaction of the immaterial mind and memory with the brain cells. The subject is too technical for detailed presentation here, but enough is indicated to show that science is well on its way to the demonstration of the existence and great significance of at least the invisible plane nearest the physical. This outlook contrasts strongly with the intensive concentration of Western thinkers upon the constantly changing physical universe, till lately regarded as the only worth-while subject for study. We are now being told that not only are the few strongly radio-active elements transforming, but even the most stable ones are doing the same, though far more slowly. The age-long evolutionary transformation of the constituent substances of the earth was known and taught by the Eastern occultists ages before radium was discovered in the West.
Dr. Stromberg has dealt with the "fine structure" of the immaterial universe in more complete studies than this little leaflet, and we understand that he is preparing a book in which his original theories will be fully explained.
H. P. Blavatsky said: "The whole issue of the quarrel between the profane and the esoteric sciences depends upon a belief in, and demonstration of an astral body within the physical, the former independent of the latter." She would certainly have rejoiced to see how near to the Theosophical definition of the astral mold, the warp and woof of nature behind the visible pattern, so to speak, we are carried by Dr. Stromberg's extension of the scientific concept of the immaterial "fine structure" of the universe with its potential energy. H. P. Blavatsky's "quarrel" seems in sight of being ended, at least for him.
Dr. Stromberg is doing valuable work in trying to demonstrate to scientists that the survival of the mind and memory of man, the "soul," shall we say, may after all be "scientific," but he will meet, and in fact he already has met, strong opposition from some biologists, though perhaps not from all. It is interesting to see that Dr. Julian S. Huxley, President of the Zoology Section of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, at its last meeting approved of a subject which is at least on the borderland between the immaterial and the material worlds, saying, "I refer to telepathy and other extra-sensory activities of mind, which the work of Rhine, Salter and others is forcing into scientific recognition." A very few years ago such a remark would not have passed without the strongest protest from biologists and psychologists, even if such a heretical remark could have been made at any scientific meeting.
We are tempted to refer to the number of illustrations in biology which suggest a "fine structure" carrying intelligence — memory, and perhaps prevision (!) — but one must suffice. Sir Oliver Lodge says:
Burken records an experiment of a tail bud of one newt embryo being grafted into the body of another and developing into a new limb. How was this organization so completely changed as to produce a limb instead of a tail? Physical and chemical explanations leave us entirely in the lurch, and we must have recourse to the conception of a "biological field," an influence not in the living matter itself but in the space, presumably the ether, around it.
What is this "biological field," invisible, intangible, and yet intensely potent, if not a manifestation of the astral, immaterial structure, called by Lodge, the ether? Perhaps we might modify his last words to "presumably the ether, around and within it," the inner "field" being responsive to a conscious director or "organizer."
In another Leaflet by Dr. Stromberg, A History of the Milky Way, we find a passage which shows his deeply intuitive view of the tremendous problem of the Universe:
But let us not be conceited and think that we know anything about the "Riddle of the Universe." I am convinced that the physical evolution of the Universe, which can, at least in principle, be followed with our eyes, is only a faint echo of the music broadcasted as an accompaniment to a cosmic drama, in which an evolution of a very profound nature is taking place. This deeper aspect of the evolution, the magnificence of which we cannot grasp, belongs to a field beyond that studied and described in natural science. It is closely related to the ultimate meaning and purpose of the existence of matter, life and consciousness. [Italics ours.]
It is indeed the study of consciousness which is especially needed. Theosophy makes this paramount — "Man, know Thyself" is the key. As H. P. Blavatsky said: "It is not "The fear of God" which is "the beginning of Wisdom" but the knowledge of Self which is wisdom itself." Man, being the microcosm of the Macrocosm, has the power to find within himself the complete reflexion of what is without — or, more properly perhaps, to find that the Within and the Without are One. There is a Path leading to that wisdom, and Theosophy shows us how to take the first steps which ultimately lead to the Heart of the Universe. But those steps imply more than merely intellectual research.
The second point to which we draw attention is presented by Professor Ernest Hunter Wright, of Columbia University, in Harper's Monthly for February, in an article on "The Nature of Telepathy." While it does not ostensibly deal with the "fine structure" of Dr. Stromberg's argument, it provides evidence that there are other means within us of finding more about the world (and perhaps other worlds) than those which are confined to the physical senses, and strongly suggests the existence of Dr. Stromberg's "immaterial elements which can exist without being associated with matter"!
Dr. Wright has studied Professor J. B. Rhine's elaborate experiments in telepathy and clairvoyance which have done more to convince skeptical scientists of the existence of those supernormal powers in man than any previous attempts, and makes clear the important fact that they are really extra-sensory: "They do not seem to constitute a sixth sense, or a seventh, at all like the five we already know. Rather they appear as something of another order. The five known senses all have their special organs, but there would seem to be no organ proper to the powers we are now discussing." The senses localize their powers in the eyes, ears, etc., but those who possess telepathic or clairvoyant power have no impression that they are employing any sense-organ. Those powers are not associated with a sixth or seventh bodily sense, and that is why they have been called by Dr. Rhine "extra-sensory" powers.
Again, they do not obey one of the most familiar laws of nature, i. e., the weakening of every known form of radiation as it recedes from its originating center, according to the law of squares. Light, heat, sound, etc., all diminish in intensity with distance, but telepathy and clairvoyance reach the goal, however distant, without the slightest loss of power. In fact, Dr. Rhine has found that telepathic perception is often improved when the experimenters lengthen the distance between them. A thousand questions arise from the paradoxical results of serious investigators into telepathy and clairvoyance, and from the standpoint of physics they have so far proved unanswerable. Scientists are speculating on new kinds of Time which may be needed to explain difficulties in ordinary physical research! Perhaps these speculations will throw a little light on the paradoxes of telepathy and lead to deeper mysteries still more incomprehensible to the uninitiated investigator.
Telepathy and clairvoyance, though new to science, are not so to students of occultism, and they may very well be co-ordinated with the "fine structure," immaterial and non-physical, which is the vehicle or perhaps the substance of the mind. This opens a tremendously wide vista to the imagination, and it is not unlikely that the future development of science may be on these lines. Scientists are bound by their unwritten rules to try to discover new laws of nature in their own way, by experiment, observation, and deduction, but there is a limit to this method, and that limit seems to be approaching more nearly than was expected as science becomes more and more metaphysical. We do not need less science, as some pessimists claim, but more. But the future scientist will discover that his methods must be changed as he sees more sublime objectives than the satisfaction of intellectual curiosity, however honorable. He will then have to become a Spiritual Scientist, an Adept. We have already some glimpses of the higher methods in the sudden intuitive flashes of Knowledge, "hunches," which have given the clues to many great scientific discoveries.