THEOSOPHY, Vol. 35, No. 3, January, 1947
(Pages 113-117; Size: 16K)
(Number 100 of a 103-part series)


IN the late '20's scientific periodicals were full of excited discussions of new atomic theories. The period marked a peak in the "golden age" of discovery in modern Physics -- a period inaugurated in the closing years of the nineteenth century by the development of radioactivity and related findings, carried on to great heights of achievement by the Einstein Theory, and continued with numerous other discoveries by a small group of brilliant laboratory scientists and theorists in mathematics. Not the least of these pioneers is Erwin Schrödinger, who about 1925 provided a theory of the atom which eliminated major difficulties in the previous theory, established by Niels Bohr. Schrödinger and Louis de Broglie developed Planck's Quantum Theory to further applications, creating a concept of matter (and light) which could be expressed only in mathematical terms, and which was amplified and strengthened by the work of Heisenberg, Dirac, Pauli, Heitler and London, and others. The Schrödinger atom is a sphere of vibrating electric density. The significance of this contribution is discussed at some length in earlier articles. (see THEOSOPHY XIX, 321, 370, 454.) [Note: Please know that these three articles are my numbers (30), (31), and (32) in this 103-part series that you are now reading. --Compiler.]

It is of special interest that Dr. Schrödinger's latest book, What Is Life? (Cambridge University Press, 1945), unfolds a profound philosophical orientation toward the questions raised by scientific inquiry. In this, Schrödinger is like so many of his eminent colleagues -- Sir James Jeans, whose scientific philosophizing is irrepressible; Planck, Eddington, Hermann, Weyl, and others, all of whom are really Pythagoreans in spirit -- worthy successors in the philosophical tradition of Giordano Bruno. But with this book, it is no exaggeration to say that Schrödinger attains a new plateau of intuitive synthesis, linking the ancient conception of Brahman, the One Self, with the perceiving spirit in every man. Schrödinger embraces wholeheartedly the transcendental psychology of the Upanishads, relating its teachings most suggestively with the concepts of advanced scientific thought.

His new book will be of the utmost interest to all who are looking for points of contact between science and those ancient and recurring doctrines we term pantheistic or theosophic; to all, in short, who are trying to find some logic or order in the universe open to our observations. This "trying to find order in the universe" is the most natural endeavor conceivable, since it is closely akin to Life itself, as will presently appear.

The second law of thermodynamics states that any physical system, such as the universe, tends toward a minimum of available energy; which means that every process tends to occur in such a way as to degrade the energy involved, that is, convert it into a form in which it is no longer available for useful work. The energy-content of a falling stone, for instance, may be dissipated as heat into a large reservoir of heat when it strikes the earth. The energy of the stone is not lost, for it strikes the earth and heats up its surroundings at the moment of impact, but the useful kinetic energy (which could be employed for, say, driving some engine) is converted into heat which has become unavailable, being lost in the vast heat-sink represented by the earth.

Living organisms have appeared to be exempt from this law, since their energy-content remains essentially constant during their adult life; likewise the availability of this energy for metabolic processes. This suggested the idea, commonly accepted, that the laws of physics as established up-to-date do not generally apply to "living" matter. The thought that this entire category of manifested existence seemed to elude the analysis of science undoubtedly stimulated Schrödinger and inspired the brilliant observation that certain aspects of Life are akin to that other part of the world which had been found incompatible with classical science, namely, that of the building stones of matter, atoms and other elementary particles. The particular observation was that mutations in hereditary characteristics occurred discontinuously, like electronic transitions, not continuously like macroscopic phenomena governed by statistical laws. These jump-like changes which sometimes occur naturally, but can be induced by X-rays (in discussing this Schrödinger incidentally points to the potential danger connected with the indiscriminate use of X-rays in medicine and physics on the human body), suggested that they are governed by events, and therefore by laws, of atomic (non-statistical) dimensions.

Mutations, however, are only one of the series of phenomena which characterize and make manifest the action and properties of the material carriers of heredity, those rather mysterious genes. The quantum behavior expressed in mutations thus is plausible, if these genes can be considered of molecular dimensions, or actual individual molecules. Thus, apparently, as Schrödinger puts it--

a small but highly organized group of atoms ..., existing only in one copy per cell produces orderly events, marvellously tuned in with each other and with the environment according to most subtle laws.... Since we know the power this tiny central office has in the isolated cell (that of determining the whole character of the organism), do they not resemble stations of local government dispersed through the body, communicating with each other with great ease, thanks to the code (the particular configuration of atoms in the gene determining the character of the organism) that is common to all of them?
Allied with this startling conclusion is another, perhaps even more important, consideration. What distinguishes the living organism from inert matter? Schrödinger briefly and convincingly disposes of the conventional answers:

(1) By metabolism, i.e., by exchange of material? But this, he says, is "...absurd. Any atom of nitrogen, oxygen, sulphur, etc., is as good as any other of its kind; what could be gained by exchanging them?"

(2) Energy intake? This is "just as absurd. For an adult organism the energy content is as stationary as the material content. Since, surely, any calorie is worth as much as any other calorie, one cannot see how a mere exchange could help."

Schrödinger then offers an answer in the following observations:

What then is that precious something contained in our food which keeps us from death? That is easily answered. Every process, event, happening -- call it what you will; in a word, everything that is going on in Nature means an increase of the entropy of the part of the world where it is going on. Thus a living organism continually increases its entropy -- or, as you may say, produces positive entropy -- and thus tends to approach the dangerous state of maximum entropy, which is death. It can only keep aloof from it, i.e. alive, by continually drawing from its environment negative entropy -- which is something very positive as we shall immediately see. What an organism feeds upon is negative entropy. Or, to put it less paradoxically, the essential thing in metabolism is that the organism succeeds in freeing itself from all the entropy it cannot help producing while alive.
He then clarifies the concept of entropy, and on the bass of this discussion is able to make the following more general statement:
...entropy, taken with the negative sign, is itself a measure of order. Thus the device by which an organism maintains itself stationary at a fairly high level of orderliness (=fairly low level of entropy) really consists in continually sucking orderliness from its environment. This conclusion is less paradoxical than it appears at first sight. Rather could it be blamed for triviality. Indeed, in the case of higher animals we know the kind of orderliness they feed upon well enough, viz. the extremely well-ordered state of matter in more or less complicated organic compounds, which serve them as foodstuffs. After utilizing it they return it in a very much degraded form -- not entirely degraded, however, for plants can still make use of it. (These, of course, have their most powerful supply of 'negative entropy' in the sunlight) .... An organism [has the] astonishing gift of concentrating a 'stream of order' on itself and thus escaping the decay into atomic chaos -- of 'drinking orderliness' from a suitable environment....
This sounds familiar enough, if we think of the akasic currents connecting us with the Real Sun, and which, according to The Secret Doctrine, maintain Life. However, the real content of the book, for the theosophically inclined, is in the Epilogue:

"Let us see whether we cannot draw the correct, non-contradictory conclusion from the following two premises:

"(1) My body functions as a pure mechanism according to the Laws of Nature.

"(2) Yet I know, by incontrovertible direct experience, that I am directing its motions, of which I foresee the effects, that may be fateful and all-important, in which case I feel and take full responsibility for them.

"The only possible inference from these two facts is, I think, that I -- I in the widest meaning of the word, that is to say, every conscious mind that has ever said or felt 'I' -- am the person, if any, who controls the 'motion of the atoms' according to the Laws of Nature.... In itself, the insight is not new. The earliest records to my knowledge date back some 2500 years or more. From the early great Upanishads the recognition ATHMAN=BRAHMAN (the personal self equals the omnipresent, all-comprehending eternal self) was in Indian thought considered, far from being blasphemous, to represent the quintessence of deepest insight into the happenings of the world. The striving of all the scholars of Vedanta was, after having learnt to pronounce with their lips, really to assimilate in their minds this grandest of all thoughts.

"Again, the mystics of many centuries, independently, yet in perfect harmony with each other (somewhat like the particles in an ideal gas) have described, each of them, the unique experience of his or her life in terms that can be condensed in the phrase: DEUS FACTUS SUM (I have become God)....

"Consciousness is never experienced in the plural, only in the singular. Even in the pathological cases of ... double personality the two persons alternate, they are never manifest simultaneously.... How does the idea of plurality (so emphatically opposed by the Upanishad writers) arise at all? Consciousness finds itself intimately connected with, and dependent on, the physical state of a limited region of matter, the body.... Now, there is a great plurality of similar bodies. Hence the pluralization of consciousnesses or minds seems a very suggestive hypothesis. Probably all simple ingenuous people, as well as the great majority of western philosophers, have accepted it.

"It leads almost immediately to the invention of souls, as many as there are bodies, and to the question whether they are mortal as the body is or whether they are immortal and capable of existing by themselves. The former alternative is distasteful, while the latter frankly forgets, ignores or disowns the facts upon which the plurality hypothesis rests. Much sillier questions have been asked: Do animals also have souls? It has even been questioned whether women, or only men, have souls.

"Such consequences, even if only tentative, must make us suspicious of the plurality hypothesis, which is common to all official Western creeds. Are we not inclining to much greater nonsense, if in discarding their gross superstitions we retain their naïve idea of plurality of souls, but 'remedy' it by declaring the souls to be perishable, to be annihilated with the respective bodies?

"The only possible alternative is simply to keep to the immediate experience that consciousness is a singular of which the plural is unknown; that there is only one thing and that, what seems to be a plurality, is merely a series of different aspects of this one thing, produced by a deception (the Indian MAJA); the same illusion is produced in a gallery of mirrors, and in the same way Gaurisankar and Mt. Everest turned out to be the same peak seen from different valleys.... If you analyze [this 'I'] closely you will, I think, find that it is just a little bit more than a collection of single data (experiences and memories), namely the canvas [or ground-stuff] upon which they are collected.... You may come to a distant country, lose sight of all your friends, ... acquire new [ones].... Less and less important will become the fact that, while living your new life, you still recollect the old one.... Yet there has been no intermediate break, no death. And even if a skilled hypnotist succeeded in blotting out entirely all your earlier reminiscences, you would not find that he had killed you. In no case is there a loss of personal existence to deplore.

"Nor will there ever be."

Schrödinger's epilogue is so revealing that any commentary would be redundant. It is quite surprising and particularly heartening that one of the greatest exponents of modern physical thought, usually associated with crassest skepticism and materialism, should take his stand so unequivocally on what may be called scientific principles of spiritual philosophy.

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