The Theosophical Forum – March 1945

MOTION — WHAT IS IT? — Henry T. Edge

It isn't anything, because there isn't anything else for it to be. It is one of the primary postulates of philosophy and of the Secret Doctrine. Motion is motion, we may say; or we may say it just is, and that's all there is to it. To define a thing we must resolve it into simpler elements, but must eventually reach the end of our tether, and such is the case as regards motion. We cannot resolve it into anything more elementary, though we can produce synonyms and perchance fool ourselves in that way. We can say motion is change of position or the act of moving (as Noah Webster does); but where does that get us? Old Zeno proved that there was no such thing as motion, because his arrow must always be somewhere; he analysed motion into a number of successive positions but could not for the life of him explain how the arrow got from one position to the other. As Balzac says, speaking through the mouth of one of his characters:

Between each point of space occupied in succession by that ball there is an abyss confronting human reason.

Hobbes makes motion an attribute of "body," with a co-ordinate attribute called "spatialness." Descartes makes motion a form of extension. Leibnitz makes it a manifestation of force. And you, Reader, can make of these definitions anything you like. Continuing from Balzac:

Everything is movement, thought itself is a movement, upon movement nature is based. Death is a movement whose limitations are little known. If God is eternal, be sure he moves perpetually; perhaps God is movement.

Are we not told that "God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform'? And cannot we also say that God moves not, for he is motion? "O Thou who changest not," as the hymn says. If motion denotes the beginning of manifestation, then beyond this, in the realms of absolute Rest, we must place That which moveth not, for it is motion, or the root of motion.

That is why movement, like God, is inexplicable, unfathomable, unlimited, incomprehensible, intangible. Who has ever touched, comprehended, or measured movement? We feel its effects without seeing it; we cannot even deny them as we can deny the existence of a God. Where is it? Where is it not? Whence comes it? What is its source? What is its end? It surrounds us, it intrudes upon us, and yet escapes us. It is evident as a fact, obscure as an abstraction; it is at once effect and cause. It requires space, even as we, and what is space? Movement alone recalls it to us; without movement, space is but an empty meaningless word. Like space, like creation, like the infinite, movement is an insoluble problem which confronts human reason; man will never conceive it, whatever else he may be permitted to conceive. (1)

Physics defines velocity, space, and time by each other in accordance with the equation, s = vt and its transformations; thus each of these three fundamentals may be expressed as a function of the other two. Oluf Tyberg in his Science of Nature, says, "Space or distance is not a magnitude but a function, the product of two magnitudes, s = vt." Time, Space, Motion; functions of each other. But is not Time itself a form of motion? Or again is it a kind of space? Many people use it in both senses without perceiving the difference; which results in endless perplexities, puns, paradoxes, etc.

We have to be satisfied that motion or change is inseparable from our conscious life on any possible plane we can reach — and let it go at that. Seek not to define the undefinable. "Who answers errs; say naught." But why should we want to define it; our life is mostly made up of things we cannot define. To define is to cut up and hence to devitalize, to label and shelve; not to use. Life is motion, rest would be annihilation. An idle man sitting in a bucket may imagine he is keeping still, but he is going down towards the bottom of the well. We may be told to keep moving, but we cannot help it anyway; what matters is which way we are moving.

A vibrating particle changes its direction diametrically, hundreds of times a second; which implies an enormous acceleration, hence an enormous force. Try if you have enough muscular power to waggle your finger back and forth a hundred times a second. When we come to millions of times a second it gives us some idea of the force there is in vibratory motion, whether as cause or effect; some idea of the energy locked up in an atom. What was thought of as "mass" or indestructible matter, turns out to be congealed motion, infinite energy stored up. The seeming dead is very much alive. This idea about the atom makes us wonder if ceaseless motion and eternal rest are not the same thing after all. For what is an atom but a miniature copy of the primordial One? The word atom means an indivisible unit; in physics it is no longer that, but it still keeps the name given to it when it was thought to be indivisible.


1. Quotations from The Wild Ass" Skin, translated by Ellen Marriage for Gebbie Publishing Co.'s edition, 1897. [ne1[

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