In The Theosophical Forum of May, 1939, a review-article was printed of the Swedish edition of Dr. Gustaf Stromberg's Universums Sjal, a brilliant study of the rational nature of the Cosmos, the relationship between mind and matter, and the meaning and nature of human life and death. This book has now appeared in English under the title The Soul of the Universe (1) with a few additional passages of much significance, and it is with great pleasure that we take the opportunity of making some further remarks in appreciation of a purely scientific work which in so many respects supports the fundamental principles of Theosophy.
Dr. Stromberg, born in Gothenburg, Sweden, has been a member of the Staff at Mount Wilson Observatory since 1916, and is distinguished for his investigations in regard to the movements and luminosities of the stars and the structure of the universe, but his interests have included other scientific fields. As Dr. Walter S. Adams, Director of Mount Wilson Observatory, writes in the Preface:
In days of extreme specialization in science the appearance of a well-considered book which brings together many of the facts and conceptions of different branches of physical and biological science and discusses them from a unified and philosophical point is exceedingly welcome. Very often the specialist immersed in his own field of research has a very limited outlook and but little interest in the broader aspects of science or in its applications to human life and behavior.
How often has the complaint stated in the last sentence been put forward in Theosophical literature! To be able to meet criticism intelligently and to present Theosophy to science-minded persons, students should have a general even if only a modest knowledge of the main lines on which science is moving — we may add, moving on the whole in the direction of the Ancient Wisdom. Dr. Stromberg, in his support of his argument, presents an array of facts of recent science which in themselves make his book highly interesting and instructive apart from the main thesis, though of course it is the latter which is the distinctive feature of the book. Here we find the mature thought of a scientist fully informed in the latest trends of modern research, who, by applying the principles of Relativity and the Quantum Theory to the field of biology and the relationship between mind and matter, has discovered, in his own words, "that the individual memory is probably indestructible and that the essence of all living elements is probably immortal. The study leads to the inevitable conclusion that there exists a World Soul or God."
Dr. Stromberg started on his adventure in search of the Soul of the Universe in high spirits, as he says, and his studies led him through familiar things such as trains and pendulums, vitamins and radio, plants and animals, up to the brain and the mind, and finally to the sublimities of Cosmic Space which he finds to be a Fulness, a Plenum, and not a Blank, but the Origin and inner World of Life. He found our familiar world of what we call space and time, the training-school of souls, to be different from the more real "world" of life and consciousness. There are elements, both material and what we must call "immaterial" for want of a better word, which connect these "worlds" and provide a rational foundation for the existence of the soul and its survival after "death." Finally he found that the power of the human will is great but that there is also a Cosmic Will and that man has developed an organ that is sensitive to the voice of a Cosmic Conscience, and that there are inspired men who have intuitively come in contact with the World Soul.
Dr. Stromberg begins by clarifying our ideas about Space, showing that it is not just "an empty place to put things in" as we may have thought, but that it has an objective reality, properties, and definite rules for its activities. The illustrations he gives of this are very striking. Time and clocks come next and we are painlessly introduced to Space-Time which, he says, "seems to quiver with something which is akin to Life and Consciousness." This, of course, is in perfect harmony with the Theosophical teaching that no single point in the Universe is devoid of life and consciousness of some kind. We then learn something about Matter, a very mysterious substance, which leads to Gravitational and Electrical Fields and the nature of the atom, about which Dr. Stromberg has much to tell of special interest.
Then comes the most important factor in the argument, the so-called "immaterial wave-structure" in the Cosmos, the nature of which the most advanced physicists are now beginning to study. That is one moiety of the duality in physical nature, an invisible but an indispensable side, the "wave-aspect," the other being the "particle-aspect." The latter is controlled and organized by the immaterial waves. Dr. Stromberg says:
. . . we shall regard the two aspects as belonging to two different "worlds," which we designate by the terms material and immaterial. An electron will be regarded as belonging to the material world; electrical fields, radio waves and pilot waves will be regarded as belonging to the immaterial world. . . . An atom consists of particles, neutrons, positrons, electrons (perhaps also photons and neutrinos), which are cemented together into a unit by an immaterial wave-structure with certain space and time properties.
To illustrate the guidance or control by the "immaterial structure" and its "pilot" waves the author calls upon the development of the living cell, a most elaborate process and an unexplained "miracle" to Biology. He shows that material, physical, or even electric forces fail to explain these mysterious processes, but that "a living immaterial structure or wave system" can do so. Biologists have vaguely called the power which inspires the visible marshaling of the particles of the developing cell, an "organizing field," but Dr. Stromberg adopts the term genie, a word which, he says, "suggests a relation with genes" but "also suggests a wisdom far beyond our comprehension." He speaks of many grades or hierarchies of genies, and the Supreme "Genie" may be called the Soul of the World or of the Cosmos, the Wellspring of all sensations, ideas, thoughts, and aspirations. The immaterial wave-structure of space greatly helps to solve the problem of memory, and therefore of survival after death. The matter in our brains is constantly being replaced, yet memories are accumulated and preserved during a long lifetime. Even long-forgotten events may suddenly flash into vivid consciousness when some inner contact is made. How could this be unless an immaterial living structure existed, in which memory inheres independent of the physical atoms? Furthermore, why should not this immaterial structure be carried on without impairment after death, regardless of the dissolution of the physical structure? Dr. Stromberg devotes many pages to the logical working out of these points, and feels satisfied that we have here a well-supported position from which the existence of the soul is scientifically demonstrable.
The extraordinary process of development of the embryo, the transformation of the caterpillar into the butterfly — incomprehensible from the purely mechanistic standpoint — the virus problem, etc., provide him with reasons for his immaterial "genies," or "gene-spirits," governing entities of a unitary character which cannot be annihilated. The reader will find this part of the argument intensely interesting but limitation of space will not allow us to follow it here.
In regard to what we commonly call the soul, a developing "genie," to adopt Dr. Stromberg's quaint though expressive term, his researches indicate that "A soul is indestructible and immortal. As an individual it has a beginning, but seemingly no end"; and he cites some strong evidence in favor of reincarnation. Possibly the words just quoted "as an individual it has a beginning" may allow for previous incarnations of the same soul-genie (Theosophists would say "monad," with Leibniz) which would not be the same individual (personality, we should say)? But we cannot see how anything (like a soul) that is immortal, i. e., transcending mortal or temporal conditions, can have a beginning. Its "vehicles" or manifestations — incarnations — can and must have beginnings and endings according to periodic law so widely manifested throughout nature. Dr. Stromberg certainly seems to agree that a genuine reincarnation takes place in cell division through the action of the "living immaterial wave system" which forms the link between the succession of cells. He quotes, with evident approval, the strange case of Shanti Devi in India in 1936 where that girl gave very strong evidence of possessing the memory of her last (and very recent) incarnation.
Denying that the human soul has developed from an animal soul, Dr. Stromberg claims that "the capacity of abstract thinking probably requires a soul of a higher type," but he offers a hypothesis, shocking indeed to materialists, that "potential human souls with all their capabilities of development may well have been transmitted to the germ plasm of some anthropoid ape living at a certain time on the earth." This is practically the opinion of Wallace, Darwin's contemporary and friendly rival, who saw the insuperable difficulties in tracing the human soul to animals and decided that a more advanced spirit must have descended and illuminated the anthropoid, making it into Man. With the ape removed from the picture and replaced by an unevolved human, this is almost the ancient teaching of the descent of the Manasaputras, the "sons of God," or spiritual mind-principle, into nascent humanity in the Third Great Race, one of the leading doctrines of Theosophy.
The latter part of the book is devoted to problems of the mind and the soul, for Dr. Stromberg, like Theosophy, makes a distinction between them. In regard to the mind, he writes, "the memory of an individual is written in indelible script in space and time, it has become an eternal part of a Cosmos in development." Can it be revived or brought into visibility in some way from the invisible wave-structure of space in which it is enmeshed? This leads to an argument which uses certain psychic phenomena such as telepathy and apparitions in evidence. Dr. Stromberg suggests that in the former case intense mental agitation activates the "genes for telepathic transmission," and, as would be expected, no limitation in space-time seems to exist. Apparitions often correspond to the mental activities of someone who has died, and are usually connected with definite places where some tragic event has occurred. At times they can be activated into conscious form, and, like ordinary memories, they often diminish in intensity and frequency of activation with the passage of time. All this strongly suggests properties in the Astral Light or the Akasa, well known by occultists, ancient and modern.
Dr. Stromberg illustrates the activation of memories by the notable case of Messrs. Brook-Farrar and G. A. Smith who recently took moving pictures of a temple in the jungles of Ceylon. The whole party saw a Tamil girl dancing on the steps and they immediately focussed their cameras on the picturesque scene which was clearly visible in the finders. After the pictures were taken the girl was no longer to be seen, and the villagers would give no information about her. On developing the films nothing appeared but the temple; the dancing girl had not registered on the films!
The author regards the soul as no mere combination of mental qualities, but as a non-divisible, rational entity, like the Cosmos. It gives unity to the mental complex; it is not a set of memories but the possessor of a particular group of memories. It perceives, feels, wills, thinks, and remembers. It has contact points which interact with certain nerve centers in the brain, but in itself it is essentially unitary.
"The potential souls come originally from the World Soul," and Dr. Stromberg thinks that individuals with quite new faculties may appear on earth as the result of new "genies and genes" entering and modifying their constitution. If these were transmitted through the action of the germ plasm a new race would be produced. Furthermore, intense desire and great mental exertion might not only call down these powers, but open channels to a realm beyond time and space. "In our own mind lies the creative power that can open the gates to this unfathomable domain in Cosmos." Surely this is what the great Seers and Sages of the Ages have succeeded in doing, and they have left the simple and beautiful instructions for us to follow which are the only means of attainment, but which the selfish world scorns as "my grandmother's sermon."
In this brief and very incomplete outline of an inspiring record of intensive research and original thinking based on strictly scientific data we have had regretfully to omit many important points. In nearly every main principle Dr. Stromberg's conclusions are in line with the Ancient Wisdom, now called Theosophy, and in none do we find serious differences. It is intensely interesting to see how some of the more intuitive modern thinkers are presenting ideas which they have obtained by the aid of research with modern instruments of precision but which were known to the Seers and Sages of civilizations now lost in the mists of antiquity. Great scientists are even now talking of Cosmic Mind and Cosmic Love, revoicing the teachings of the ancients as if they themselves were coming back to teach them under modern conditions. Students of Theosophy do not forget that H. P. Blavatsky said that it was only in the nineteenth century that its teachings would be rejected a priori:
For in the twentieth century of our era scholars will begin to recognise that the Secret Doctrine has neither been invented nor exaggerated, but, on the contrary, simply outlined. . . . — The Secret Doctrine, I, p. xxxviii
It is only in the XXth century that portions, if not the whole, of the present work will be vindicated. — The Secret Doctrine, II, 442
Dr. Stromberg dedicates this volume to Professor John Elof Boodin, Professor of Philosophy at the University of California, Los Angeles, the distinguished scholar whose highly Theosophical ideas are quoted at length by Dr. G. de Purucker in his The Esoteric Tradition.
1. The Soul of the Universe. By Gustaf Stromberg. David McKay Co., Philadelphia. 244 pp. $2.00. (return to text)