THEOSOPHY, Vol. 38, No. 4, February, 1950
(Pages 155-158; Size: 13K)
(Number 2 of an 11-part series)



MAN is always searching for the Real, and his evolution follows upon an involution into the Unreal, with a subsequent rejection of illusory forms by progressive stages. In science, the process is seen in the advancement from one level of abstract ideas to another, each of them thought to belong to an order of reality, until a new mode of ideation shows the insufficiency of the levels hitherto reached. Today, science has even begun to doubt if the questions it has been putting to nature have any meaning. No longer is it certain that we see a world of matter moving in an independent space and time. Space and Time are now thought of as aspects of a four-dimensional space-time continuum; they represent a separation, not between things, but between events; velocity and its acceleration are relative; and gravitation has become absorbed into a non-Euclidean geometry which almost replaces the old laws of nature. Much of this new outlook we owe to Einstein's Special (1905) and General (1915) theories of relativity. As Dean Inge has wittily observed:

We thought that lines were straight
And Euclid true.
God said: "Let Einstein be,"
And all's askew.
There are always unknown categories in all our thinking. Words and sentences, too, have their own meanings; but there is also a significant tertium quid --a third something -- relative to speaker, writer, or observer, until, at last, it is recognized that there is only One Perceiver, the Self of all beings. Remembering this, we cannot but be interested in Bertrand Russell's views on the philosophical implications of Einstein's theories. In a broadcast printed in The Listener (London, March 17, 1949) he says that, out of the special theory, a great deal results from the efforts to eliminate things which could not conceivably be observed, and from the realization that spatial distance and lapse of time have measures partly depending upon the observer:
Between two events there is, in the special theory, one relation which is independent of the observer; this relation is called "interval." But the analysis of this relation into a distance and a lapse of time will be made differently by different observers, all using the best possible instruments. This kind of relativity was a novelty, and entailed a fundamental change in our conception of the structure of the physical world. It is because it affected structure that it was so important, for in the mathematical treatment of the physical world it is always structure that is involved.
Increasing the importance of events, as contrasted with things, is one important consequence (in Russell's view) of this changed conception. Distance or interval, for instance, depends upon how we travel. This would have been obvious to physicists long ago (he adds) if it had been common for them to travel, relatively to each other, with velocities falling not far short of light -- about 186,325 miles per second in a vacuum!

Russell points out that Einstein inaugurated a movement which was not without its influence on theoretical physics. Eddington maintained that almost the whole of theoretical physics "is nothing but a convenient conceptual apparatus, telling us no more about the course of nature than we learn from the fact that there are three feet to a yard." The law of gravitation thus becomes merely a mathematical consequence of our methods of measurement:

I asked him once whether it was a mere linguistic convention that when a man falls off a high scaffolding he gets a nasty bump, but he said this would be a misinterpretation of his doctrine. I do not profess to understand what the right interpretation would be.
Russell tells us that a principle similar to Eddington's, though not identical, has been brilliantly developed by Professor E. A. Milne, FRS (professor of Mathematics, Oxford University). This suggests that a large part of what is technically physics is only an expression of our subjective apparatus of perceiving and interpreting:
I think it is too early to say how far this philosophy is valid, and where the limits of the subjective should be placed. It is obvious that there are brute facts, such as the sun and moon, the planets and fixed stars. It is obvious that the sun is sometimes above the horizon and sometimes below it, that the moon has phases, and that clouds can hide the stars. But when we say that the orbit of a planet is an ellipse, we are saying something that depends upon our conventions of measurement, and the same is true of every statement about the physical world that is mathematical in form, or at any rate of very many such statements. To determine the limits within which physical statements are conventional is an important task of the philosophy of physics in the present day.
Where do all these speculations lead us? Are they but hypotheses of the laboratory and study, to be modified as they encounter other laws when applied outside the universe? Certainly, in so far as theoretical physics emphasizes the subjective implications of Einstein's conceptions, there is nothing new in all this. As long ago as 1892, Karl Pearson wrote in his famous Grammar of Science:
The mysteries of space, whether it be the finite space of perception or the infinite space of conception, lies in, and not outside, each human consciousness.... Only for us, as perceiving human beings, has space any meaning; we cannot infer it where we do not find psychical machinery similar to our own.
Further, the doctrine of relativity is based on the curvature of the universe, and, as Maeterlinck pointed out in The Magic of the Stars (English translation, 1930), if space be curved, time must of necessity be curved likewise, "time and space being indissoluble in relativity":
But time would then turn on itself, form a circle and unite the past to the future, thus constituting the eternal present which corresponds, in duration, to the straight line without beginning or end -- in space. One might hazard the suggestion, therefore, that the endeavour to render the idea of the infinite more readily conceivable has only resulted in the creation of fresh difficulties; and that although mathematicians may have gained by the adventure, we find ourselves at the end where we were at the beginning, with the same infinite still confronting us. (Op. cit. p. 39.)
The truth is that, in relation to cosmogony, "modern speculations are undeniably ancient thought, improved by contradictory theories of recent origin," as was shown by Volume I of The Secret Doctrine, which deals with cosmogenesis. "But the whole foundation," adds H. P. Blavatsky, "belongs to Grecian and Indian Archaic astronomy and physics, in those days always called philosophy." The vast problems of a moving universe and a motionless void have caused modern physical theories to try and get rid of unobservables. But, as Bertrand Russell pointed out in his broadcast, "the principle of rejecting unobservables, while admirable in so far as it is practicable, is not one that can be put through completely if science is to survive." In truth, it may be said that the abstractions through which science is groping its way to new hypotheses, are compelling her to review the commonly-held conceptions of the organs of observation, the mind and the five senses. Mind, as we know it, will have to be transcended if we are to comprehend these ultimates. For Man is "the 'Eternal Pilgrim' -- the Protean differentiation in space and time of the One Absolute 'unknowable'."

COMPILER'S NOTE: The following is a separate item which followed the above article but was on the same page. I felt it was useful to include it here:


The question lies at the very threshold of occult study. That query is, in actual practice, the first put before a regular student of occultism, who is taken in hand by the Professors of the Occult World. And the student is taught -- or led to see -- that there are two kinds of knowledge, the real and the unreal; the real concerned with eternal verities and primal causes, the unreal with illusory effects. But we no sooner come to a clear understanding as to what mental presentiments must be classed as illusory effects, than we find the first proposition of Occult Philosophy at war with the whole current practice of the world at large, as regards all classes of scientific investigation. All physical science, and a good deal of what the Western world is pleased to call metaphysical speculation, rests on the crude and superficial belief that the only way in which ideas can get into the mind, is through the channels of the senses. That which the physicist conceives to be real fact -- anything clearly appealing to the senses -- the profound philosophy of Eastern Occultism deliberately condemns at starting as, in its nature, illusory effects, transitory secondary consequences of the real underlying fact. Only if observation can be extended beyond the range of material senses, is any knowledge attainable by Man which has to do with eternal verities and primal causes, which is real as distinguished from the transitory and the unreal. 

--H. P. Blavatsky

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(1) NOTE.--H. P. Blavatsky took pains to extend the "theosophical view" as far into the literature, the culture, the science, and the scholarship of the time as impartial investigations in the various fields would permit. Students of Theosophy are therefore on the lookout for other corroborative testimony on the philosophy, as new avenues of thought open up among modern thinkers. "Extensions of Evidence" will consist of random notes and confirmations of points discussed in the theosophical literature, and the scanning of common grounds whereon the theosophist may meet the mind of the race. The first of the series appeared in the January issue. --Editors THEOSOPHY.
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