The Theosophical Forum – April 1950

THE CONSCIOUS CELL — J. Croiset van Uchelen

Science, dividing matter into organic and inorganic, repudiated the idea of an absolute life and life principle which precludes even a geometric point in space from being inorganic in essence. Nevertheless, reason itself compels the acceptance of an infinite mind, which rules and governs the ocean of life, in order to account for an Intelligent Universe and the activity of forces working in it harmoniously. Still, many continued to look upon man as a mere biological accident, in the assumption that science had given the deathblow to a belief in a greater reality. And science itself had come to assume that it would be only a matter of time when it could be demonstrated that the whole vital process, so called, is nothing more mysterious than a very complicated phenomenon of motion, regulated by physical and chemical laws, even if it had to ignore the mystery of the origin and controlling force of the latter. However, the deeper we penetrate into facts, the more we try to fathom and speculate on the phenomena of life, the more we find that even those phenomena we had hoped to thus explain, in reality prove unfathomable.

For instance, it was held that the phenomena of digestion and assimilation could be explained by the laws of diffusion and endosmosis. Instead, we found the cells themselves acting as living organisms with very complex functions. In the most elementary, formless and structureless protoplasmic drops, we found discrimination in the selection of food. The mysterious processes of selection, of extracting from the blood one substance, rejecting another, of transforming by means of decomposition and synthesis, of directing some of the products one way and redirecting others — as in the activity of cells in the human body — evidently cannot be explained by diffusion or endosmosis, or any chemical laws of an inanimate nature. Electro-biology too, came to show other forces at work.

True, there are close correspondences between physiological and physical processes, as in the function of the eye and the camera; but although the same laws of refraction apply to the reproduction of an image in the eye (living or dead) or on the photographic lens, the life phenomena of the evolution and development of the eye itself remains unexplained. The same applies to other departments of physiology. Admittedly the blood circulates and moves in accordance with hydro-dynamical laws — as far as its passive activity is concerned — but the active function of the heart and its vessels has not yet been explained by physical laws.

Occult science explains that it is the innate power, indwelling in the germ plasm of the cell which brings the individual entity to growth along its own path. Moreover, the structure of cells belonging to the higher creatures can — in our period of evolution — follow only that particular line of growth which the central entity, whose body they form, allows them to follow. It is a case where the innate tendencies of individual cells are overpowered by the dominion of the inner central entity which works through those cells.

The cells constituting the human body are the microcosmi reflecting the macrocosmos man; the infinitesimal being, the container of the vastness of the infinite, sharing in all its potentialities. This idea certain Greek philosophers expressed by the word holenmeria, meaning that the all is contained in part of the all, body of its body, blood of its blood, thought of its thought.

Is there anything more miraculous than man evolving from one tiny cell, a microscopic nearly transparent seed, in which the rudiments of a new world are locked; a cell, the basis of racial continuance! All that has gone before, all that is yet to come, is veiled in its mystery. Physical man is a product of the cleavage taking place in this single cell which represents the whole individual with the organs and parts of organs imprinted on it. Looking through a microscope at the spermatozoon lashing its way through the seminal fluid, who could fathom the inherent potentialities dormant within it? And is there a single atom vibrating in space that does not bear similar evidence of purpose and order? Looking upon cell life in this manner, we are of course regarding substance less than the vital principle of which it is the carrier; the activating forces evidenced by their physical chemistry.

We are moved by the thrill of that infinite life which pulsates through the arteries and veins of space. Infinite smallness, infinite greatness on every side, but always infinite order and wisdom. How profound Charron's words, when in his work On Wisdom he exclaims with the ancients that "The proper science and subject for man's contemplation is man himself." Man, not cut up anatomically in unrelated parts, but man the trinity: spirit, soul and body. For as Dr. Carrel said in his Man the Unknown, "It is utterly impossible to divorce body and what we commonly call soul." Is it not the same life, the self-moving origin of all activity that sustains the cells and the atoms of man visible and invisible, nay of the whole of this Universe?

Following the sweep of his own reasoning and deductions, man once more comes face to face with the unknown — the very mystery he seeks to elude. One reason is that all hypothesis must be limited by our sense perceptions; that is, vibrations, upon reaching the brain along differentiated nerve-paths, become conscious perceptions. It is the limitations of these senses, conveying the impress of only a limited realm of motion, which prevent us from being aware of other forces.

But with the evolutionary progress there comes the awakening of an inner sense, revealing an inner nature, quite distinct from and unlike what is presented by the senses we call physical, themselves developing and widening the perceptivity of the experiencing entity and his field of awareness.

This sense of a growing awareness is exemplified by Dr. Lecomte du Noüy, in his remarkable book Human Destiny, of which Dr. Millikan wrote that its publication is an event such as occurs once or twice in a century. In this book Dr. du Noüy sets forth the fundamental fallacies of the materialistic philosophy. An eminent biologist, he has the courage to declare the fallibility of science which in a mighty Kosmos toys with tiny fragments of knowledge. Man, he affirms, does not represent the end of evolution, but only a middle stage between the past with all the memories of the beast and the future rich in the promise of the soul. By logic and reason, he presents a far grander, truer picture of progress than any of our present-day scientists has thus far given, in a full recognition of a dependence of progress upon self-directed evolution. Works like these are the spans of a bridge which one day will link the esoteric and exoteric sciences.

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