THEOSOPHY, Vol. 38, No. 6, April, 1950
(Pages 257-261; Size: 14K)
(Number 4 of an 11-part series)



WE are naturally surprised when we are told that physical events are undetermined, i.e., not only that causes are unknown, but that they do not exist! Yet such is the new outlook in Physics.

No longer are physicists supposed to study the nature of the external world. They are trying to establish a rational relationship between the fundamental points of our experience. None the less, they still express their conclusions as if these had relevance to the essence of nature. The effect is to show that their discoveries require the world to possess contradictory properties. Prof. Herbert Dingle (who holds the Chair of History and Philosophy of Science, University College, London) suggests that all this is due to a change in this century that has come over "the metaphysics that underlies the physicist's practice," and he believes the physicist is largely unconscious of this fact. At least, it is something to find metaphysics admitted in the elaboration of physical theory. H. P. Blavatsky pointed out last century that the "Causes of Existence" would never be understood save by reference to metaphysical agencies, "the chief of which is the desire to exist, an outcome of Nidana and Maya," a chain of causation combined with illusion conceived as a cosmic power (S.D. I, 44).

Prof. Dingle traces the history of the new procedure in the special fields of relativity and quantum theories. He reminds us, in a broadcast printed in The Listener (London, November 18, 1948) that Einstein, describing his work in 1905 (the year that marks the birth of his theory of relativity), and trying to explain the indefiniteness of the idea of simultaneity at different places, wrote:

We require a definition of simultaneity, which supplies us with the method by means of which we can decide by experiment whether or not events are simultaneous. As long as this requirement is not satisfied, I allow myself to be deceived ... when I imagine that I am able to attach a meaning to the statement of simultaneity.
Prof. Dingle remarks that Einstein was really studying the possibilities of experience, and not the nature of an "external world." He might have added that our ideas, in both science and philosophy, on time and duration "are all derived from our sensations according to the laws of Association":
Inextricably bound up with the relativity of human knowledge, they nevertheless can have no existence except in the experience of the individual ego, and perish when its evolutionary march dispels the Maya of phenomenal existence (S.D. I, 43-4).
Among the examples of the new "metaphysics" of modern physics cited by Prof. Dingle are those referring to what is known as "operationalism," and "logical positivism." In 1928, Prof. Bridgman published in America The Logic of Modern Physics, in which he argued that every physical concept must be defined in terms of the operations by which we determine it. Temperature, for instance, would mean not the measurement of the condition of a body by a thermometer, but the actual reading of the thermometer in a standard way. The main tenet of the "Vienna Circle" (later known as "logical positivists") was that "the meaning of any proposition lies in the steps necessary to verify it, so that any unverifiable proposition, such as, for example, that the event at A occurred ten minutes before the event at B, is neither true nor false but meaningless." The extremity of this view is to be found in the idea that the whole of philosophy consists of the analysis of language. In neither example is there a distinct abandonment of an independent external world; but the confusion is evident for those whose study is nature.

In the same way as Einstein considered only the processes of locating and dating external events, so Heisenberg removed the difficulties that had accumulated around the establishment of the quantum theory in physics after 1913, when Niels Bohr described an atom which could radiate in small indivisible units instead of continuously. As the steady electron orbital motions were unobservable Heisenberg said that we must leave them out of account and talk only of what is observable. In 1935, he arrived at his famous "principle of uncertainty," or "principle of indeterminacy." Eddington gives the principle as follows: "A particle may have position or it may have velocity, but it cannot in any exact sense have both." Prof. Dingle aptly describes it as equivalent to saying that one cannot open and shut a window at the same time: "It is a statement about our operations, not about the particle, which might have been left out of the description."

The transfer of emphasis from the external world to the operations of the observer's experience is indicative of the confusion besetting Science (in common with other branches of human knowledge) in this changing world. But it is quite another thing to suggest, as Prof. Dingle does, that we should put experience in its "true" position as the origin of thought, and thus find ourselves unable "to ignore any experience on the ground that it is 'unreal' or 'illusory'." The reconciliation of experience with the external world is only discoverable in the esoteric philosophy, for "matter, after all, is nothing else than the sequence of our own states of consciousness" (S.D. I, 542). Add to this doctrine the conception that "there is no inorganic or dead matter in nature, the distinction between the two made by Science being as unfounded as it is arbitrary and devoid of reason" (S.D. I, 280), and the new outlook in Physics will be seen to be but a stumbling approach to the ancient teaching: "Matter, to the Occultist, ... is that totality of existences in the Kosmos, which falls within any of the planes of possible perception" (S.D. I, 514).

As for the elusive atom, scientists will one day admit the truth of the following dictum (written in 1888):

The atom belongs wholly to the domain of metaphysics. It is an entified abstraction -- at any rate for physical Science -- and has nought to do with physics, strictly speaking, as it can never be brought to the test of retort or balance. The mechanical conception, therefore, becomes a jumble of the most conflicting theories and dilemmas, in the minds of the many Scientists who disagree on this, as on other subjects; the evolution of which the Eastern Occultist, who follows this scientific strife, beholds in the greatest bewilderment. (S.D. I, 513.)

Theosophical students will be familiar with the fact that persona was the Latin equivalent of the Greek prosopon, and originally meant the mask representing the individual god whose actions on the stage were the performances of the unseen actor behind the mask. H. P. Blavatsky made constant reference to this classical art in explaining the complex nature of manas and the thinking principle in man. The Greek stage, in the masking of its players, gave an inverted expression to an esoteric truth -- the assumption of a two-fold attribute by "the rays of the eternal divine Mind, considered as individual entities":

(a) their essential inherent characteristic, heaven-aspiring mind (higher Manas), and (b) the human quality of thinking, or animal cogitation, rationalized owing to the superiority of the human brain, the Kama-tending or lower Manas (The Key to Theosophy).
A writer in the Times Literary Supplement (Mr. H. C. Dowdall) makes a very modern application of the doctrine, in an article "The Word 'Person'" (May 8, 1948).

After calling attention to the Biblical mention of God as no "respector of persons" -- suggesting that St. Peter (or whoever used the phrase) was using "persons" in its then current sense as connoting "the occupation of a particular socially recognized status, as distinguished from the individual character of the occupant," Mr. Dowdall goes on to say:

Thus, in 1900, Maitland commended to "the close attention of the modern philosophers" the problem involved in "the law's old habit of coordinating men and 'bodies politic' as two kinds of Persons," which, he said, "has become vastly more important in these last years than it ever was before," and, as this problem presents the theoretical aspect of the distinction between, and of the relation between, authoritarianism and responsible self-government, it is obviously much more important and urgent now than it was fifty years ago. But the modern philosophers have not elucidated it; and some lawyers think that psychology is better adapted to answer questions that are less concerned with the ultimate source of our ideas than the way in which we get them and the way in which they determine our conduct.
Just as the individual Ego reincarnates in a succession of terrestrial personalities, so do lawyers conceive of the same "person" as possessing many statuses, and so acting in various capacities on different occasions. Human law is concerned inevitably with the nature of man, in his individual and social nature, and with the motives that inspire acts -- not actions. Mr. Dowdall points out that actions are to be thought of as reflexes of the nervous system, and as distinct from acts, which are the intended achievement of ends.

"The body politic" and "the State," and consideration of what Maitland called the "genus of which States and Corporations are species," take us into psychological problems of no mean order. Mr. Dowdall mentions that Sir Oliver Franks (late Provost of Queen's College, Oxford, and now British Ambassador at Washington) has said that the problem of economic statesmanship lies in "the distribution of initiative," and he notes in this respect that initiative and authority and government all mean the same thing:

...and in conclusion it should be observed that a "person" or "subject self" is called by Ward (in his Psychological Principles) a pure Ego or Self, corresponding to Kant's "pure Ego"; and that a person or object self is called by Ward a presented self, corresponding to Kant's "empirical Ego."
Those concerned that theosophical principles enter more fully "into every development or form which awakening spirituality has assumed," can be grateful that recognition of the importance of re-establishing "the broken harmony between the two natures, the terrestrial and the divine," is not necessarily confined to strictly philosophical or religious schools of thought. It is indeed an essential plank in the self-redemption of mankind from the ills that beset it in all fields of activity.

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:


Man is a soul who lives on thoughts and perceives only thoughts. Every object or subject comes to him as a thought, no matter what the channel or instrument, whether organ of sense or mental center, by which it comes before him. These thoughts may be words, ideas, or pictures. The soul-man has to have an intermediary or connecting link with Nature through and by which he may cognize and experience. This link is the ethereal double (called astral body). In this are the sense-organs and centers of perception, the physical outer organs being only the external channels or means for concentrating the physical vibrations so as to transmit them to the astral organs and centers where the soul perceives them as ideas or thoughts. 


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