THEOSOPHY, Vol. 17, No. 3, January, 1929
(Pages 109-115; Size: 22K)
(Number 11 of a 103-part series)



The Darwinian theory ... of the transmission of acquired faculties, is neither taught nor accepted in Occultism. Evolution, in it, proceeds on quite other lines; the physical, according to esoteric teaching, evolving gradually from the spiritual, mental, and psychic. This inner soul of the physical cell -- this "spiritual plasm" that dominates the germinal plasm -- is the key that must open one day the gates of the terra incognita of the Biologist, now called the dark mystery of Embryology. (Secret Doctrine, 1888, I, 219).

Complete the physical plasm ... the "Germinal Cell" of man with all its material potentialities, with the "spiritual plasm," so to say, or the fluid that contains the five lower principles of the six-principled Dhyan -- and you have the secret, if you are spiritual enough to understand it. (S.D., I, 224).

DOCTOR H. S. Jennings, Professor of Biology at Johns Hopkins University, is one of the foremost American authorities on genetics. An output of his is highly valuable to the Theosophist, not only because it is from a solidly scientific viewpoint, but also because Prof. Jennings is by preference a mechanist.

Prof. Jennings has, in Plain Talk for April, 1928, an article much too long to be dealt justice here, but which Theosophists should take care to study. Prof. Jennings reviews the claims of the eugenists, and then answers them dispassionately at length. The fact that he obviously leans toward the elevation of the race by such means, and is seeking to make clear the obstacles in the way of the eugenic program rather with a view to aiding it than otherwise, emphasizes the fact that his conclusions are definitely unfavorable. On the whole, they are a drastic exposure of the fallacies of that worst of all pseudo-scientific cults, which most insistently pries into the mysteries of human generation.

The prime difficulty with the program, says Dr. Jennings, is that while we "know" that characteristics are "produced" by the arrangement of the genes, we have no way of isolating them, as the Eugenist thinks. Ninety per cent of the defective genes are carried by normal or superior people; it is only under certain circumstances, or upon becoming linked with like unfavorable genes in a mate -- apparently normal or otherwise -- that they "produce" feeble-mindedness, criminality, or other undesirabilities.

The hopes for any rapid effectiveness of this plan lie in the deceptive maxim that like produces like. In relation to the human characteristics on which depend "superiority" and "inferiority" this maxim is largely fallacious. The "inferior" individuals possess largely the same genes as the "superior" ones, but in less fortunate combinations. One may possess all that bring a man into the distinguished class, except ambition, or industry, or patience, or obstinacy. Or his genes may predispose him to disdain of worldly distinction, to cynicism, or to a scattering of his efforts on many objects of interest. Mated with another undistinguished individual who possesses, hidden or manifest, genes that supply these missing qualities, certain of the offspring may receive a combination that includes all that is required for distinction. Such is in large measure the origin of superiority, of genius. At renewed reproduction, the combination that produced the distinguished individual is taken apart; the offspring may relapse into normal obscurity.
The whole future possibility of practically applying eugenics, he says, lies in learning some way to recognize the normal carriers of defective genes; a way not now in sight. It will then be necessary to bring these normal carriers to cease propagating, and the millennium will be at hand. But meantime, recognition of these defects is obscured by the linkage between heredity and environment -- both of them, Theosophically speaking, branches of Karma -- so that the following condition exists:
At that future time it will be still more important than now to know what serious troubles are due mainly to single-gene defects. To determine this, the investigator must employ the method that the animal or plant builder uses; he must remove the environmental conditions that induce defectiveness, that thus mask the distinctive effect of the genes. Measures of public health must be carried out, overwork and bad conditions of living done away with, faults of diet, both quantitative and qualitative, corrected, economic ills conquered, grinding poverty abolished. When these things are done, when the human plant is given conditions under which it can unfold its capabilities without stunting, poisoning and mutilation by the environment, then will it be possible to discover what defects are due primarily to defective genes, and to plan such eugenic measures as are practicable. If eugenics discourages improvement of conditions, imposing itself as a substitute, the world will be the worse for the eugenic agitation.
And, says the Professor, it may well be that the chief contribution eugenics can make to the welfare of humanity will be an insistence upon such amelioration. Such insistence, however, we have yet to see initiated by this body of monomaniacs. Moreover, a statement by the President of the American Eugenics Society, quoted by Dr. Jennings, shows definitely that they hold such ameliorative efforts in contempt, and seek to replace them. Eugenics is thus a double danger to society; not only because of its advocacy of a beastly conception of the nature of man, but because it seeks to detract from, and block the efforts of social workers of all other kinds, upon which efforts its own only possibilities depend. The Editor of Plain Talk inserts some notes in the article, of a sharper expression than that of Dr. Jennings; and since the latter must have seen them in the proof, it is to be taken that he does not find them objectionable.

Says the Editor:

Genes determine character, but under diverse conditions the same set of genes will produce diverse results. The eugenists have more to learn than the mere mating of two "perfect" bodies -- which, even under normal conditions, may reproduce utter mediocrities.

Eugenists rather restrictedly base their theory on heredity, but "differences due in one case to heredity may be due in another to environment." Further, there is no warrant that defects and diseases among humans will not pass to a future generation. What price eugenics?
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
"The genes ... are simply chemicals," Dr. Jennings has elsewhere written. "The characteristics of the adults are no more present in the germ cells than are those of an automobile in the metallic ores out of which it is manufactured."

How, then, may the eugenists mate male and female, and, within a half dozen generations, determine the characteristics of a strain -- much less create the perfect child? And mentally, what is the perfect child?

Nature's law of making the normal gene take over the entire work of the gene pair when one is defective has produced more healthy offspring than eugenics ever has.

"What price eugenics?" asks the Editor. To which we reply, "The price of thirty pieces of silver -- for the betrayal of countless Egos seeking the voluntary dungeons of human flesh wherein they may expiate the sins of ages, and come again purged, with 'better bodies and brighter brains!'"

Dr. Jennings lays himself open to some sharp criticisms for speaking of the interpretations of his school of thought as facts -- and also for contradicting himself therein. And to say that the combinations of genes "produces" human traits -- even granted that their action is as intimately connected therewith as supposed -- is as much as to say that written characters "produce" the idea in the mind of the writer and reader. And if one merely takes another point of view upon the same identical facts, the genes can be seen as signal flags indicating the character and possibilities of that which lies behind -- not as the "producers" thereof.

Now let us leave this controversial battlefield, on which the feet slide so unpleasantly in the debris of souls slain in Great Conflict, blinded by the illusions of matter, the mask of the Real; and essay a voyage upon the mysterious waters of life. Not that port can ever be reached in this day and age, but that the loom of distant coasts may be discerned for the heartening of future efforts ...

The Universe is built upon form and number; it is not for nothing that biology has found the genetic relationships to be mathematical, nor is the discovery worthless.

The present accepted basis of genetics is Mendelian; it is held that there is a distinct germ-cell lineage which procreates itself from individual to individual, maintaining itself while giving rise to the body-cells; a theory first erected by Weismann and pronounced "almost true" by Madame Blavatsky; of it Professor H. H. Newman says:(1)

This epoch-making theory of Weismann's has naturally undergone some changes, as the result of new discoveries. It is no longer believed that the germ plasm is really independent of the body, nor that it is absolutely stable, as Weismann at one time held. There is no doubt that the germ cells and the germ plasm are physiologically related to other cells and to other plasms, and similarly there is no doubt that the germ plasm although very stable can and does change its constitution under some rare conditions. But in the main, the germ plasm theory is accepted by the great majority of biologists to-day, and recent work in genetics and cytology has brought many confirmations of this theory.
The carrier portions of the germ cells are termed "chromosomes," from their susceptibility to staining with coloring matter; they take various forms, curved or straight; at certain stages they form lines of "chromomeres" like strings of beads, with no two beads alike, the chromomeres being still tinier elements. Heredity is supposed to be "carried" by these elements in a manner undetermined. Each animal species has a definite number of chromosomes, and presumably of chromomeres, the same in each sex. Upon the conjugation of the cells contributed by male and female, there is a uniting and redivision of the chromosomes in such wise that the final cell has an equal amount of the substance from each of the uniting cells -- an extremely complex process of many steps. Upon the redivision of cells to form the growing embryo, the process is so regulated throughout that each cell has exactly the same proportion of chromosome elements throughout the body. When a germ cell is to be produced, the process differs in that by a further complication, the double content of chromosomes due to the fusion of male and female cells is cut in half, to the quantity of one original cell, but carefully divided so that its final content is drawn equally from both sexes. It is held biologically, then, that the individual traits are due to the combinations of a definite number of chromosomes. Specifically with regard to man, there are twenty-four pairs; giving rise to 16,777,216 possible combinations, or possible entire human characters, from the mating of one pair. In other words, if the laws of chance are considered to rule, one couple would have to produce 16,777,216 children in order to have two identical characters in the family! Prof. Newman states that the number of possible combinations is greatly increased by the transfer of chromatin material between certain chromosomes. What determines the natures of the combinations which actually occur? Science says chance; Theosophy says, the Karma of the incoming individual, under Law.

As to the qualitative difference between the chromosomes of the species, science can but recognize it, but can say nothing of its source; the tobacco plant has the same number of combinations as man; but the natures of the species are hardly the same, for there is something in man which uses its mathematical opportunities to far greater effect! As to the production of defects, this can only occur when two persons mate whose chromosomes are defective in the same respect; a relatively rare happening, but whose actual occurrence shows how horribly tainted is the whole heredity of the race. That is to say, in all mating there is a factor of safety of two, for every defect. Nor does all this take into account the vast qualitative difference which may exist between apparently identical chromosomes of differing heredity. "What price eugenics," indeed!

This is the simplest possible view of modern genetics; the further study of it is simply the study of how one difficulty after another arose in its practical demonstration, until the present structure is a wondrous compound of theory upon theory; one elaborated to explain the defects of another until the mind is lost in the maze; a towering structure with but a slight foundation of microscopic and statistic observation; a structure so much discussed, written about, and so mentally incorporated as a habit of thought, as to have assumed an appearance of solidity where there is in reality far more of fancy than of fact.

But as to the underlying realities: it is fundamental, then, that either the chromosomes themselves contain, not only the intelligence of the future being, but also that intelligence which goes into his bodily construction; or else that the mathematical arrangements are the outward and visible signs of a giant intelligence working the abacus behind the scenes. To embrace the first is to admit the immanence of life, and consciousness in all matter -- more than that, its present working possession of the intelligence of man, and of greater than man -- for upon chemical analysis the chromosome shows nothing which may not be found in the inorganic kingdoms. To embrace the second is to throw oneself into the arms of the deists, of the special creationists.

Then, why not admit the Theosophical view; that though matter is life, that it too has soul, consciousness, and spirit, yet all its intelligence is graded along an infinite ladder of being. Dumb matter can no more develop the consciousness of man in the space of a man's life than a stone can become a scholar. But suppose that there are other forms of matter, immortal forms; living no more, no less, than the stone lives, but having erected the same Life to great heights of intelligence through aeons of consolidated experience? Suppose that the construction of a human body is a thing planned by invisible life, limited indeed in its capacities, but perfect within its own limits; that there is a primal pattern for each man, altered from age to age by his use thereof, his understanding or misunderstanding of the spiritual laws of health; a pattern resting in the invisible as the sole guide perceptible to that which has the duty of building the form; a magnetic pattern which draws about itself the visible matter of the physical body as made available to it through the carefully elaborated channels of attraction thus studied by scientific genetics? For all accretion must proceed by affinities; it is not for nothing that nature provides in the cell that great number of material ties, made of matter elaborated for the purpose through ages.

The nervous system is constructed first: it is the very channel of communication for the whole future being; it is electro-negative to the rest of the body, and upon it depends very greatly, even as admitted by science, the inheritance and growth of any animal body.(2) In the growth of living things there precedes and guides, the mysterious power first discovered by Prof. Alexander Gurwitsch(3), confirmed by German biologists, taken up by the Siemens  Electric Company, and connected with the growth of cancer by Drs. Hauser and Vale. Says the scientific despatch: "It appears that there is an energy active in vital processes, an immaterial radiation of the nature of light but of too high a frequency to be detected by our eyes!" A mysterious radiative energy going ahead of the development of living growth; a later extension of the nervous system along the lines thus laid down; the organs built up around these nervous channels -- all of it growth from above downward, from the ideal to the concrete, now scientifically discovered! Yet science is as ignorant now as on the day of its printing, of all that is implied.

The astral body is made of matter of very fine texture as compared with the visible body, and has a great tensile strength, so that it changes but little during a life-time, while the physical alters every moment. And not only has it this immense strength, but at the same time possesses an elasticity permitting its extension to a considerable distance. It is flexible, plastic, extensible, and strong. The matter of which it is composed is electrical and magnetic in its essence, and is just what the whole world was composed of in the dim past when the processes of evolution had not yet arrived at the point of producing the material body for man. But it is not raw or crude matter. Having been through a vast period of evolution and undergone purifying processes of an incalculable number, its nature has been refined to a degree far beyond the gross physical elements we see and touch with the physical eye and hand.

The astral body is the guiding model for the physical one, and all the other kingdoms have the same astral model. Vegetables, minerals, and animals have the ethereal double, and this theory is the only one which will answer the question how it is that the seed produces its own kind and all sentient beings bring forth their like. (Ocean of Theosophy, 1893, p. 39-40).

But science is being forced by its own discoveries and its own puzzles. Says Dr. Frank Lillie(4), the problem of the duality of life seems irresolvable in the matter of the genes which remain the same throughout the body growth which never stands still from germ to old age.

Why should there be any mystery -- any mystery save the ultimate one of the nature of that eternal Be-ness which constitutes all things, and which is itself Life? These "mysteries" are created by the stubbornness of the modern pride of learning; by the indomitable determination to set the unreal in place of the real, to regard generation as from below upward instead of from above downward; to regard That which forever rides upon, uses, and manifests through, the forms of matter, as the product of those forms. That indeed is the "dark mystery" of the human mind; the worship of the Great Illusion which destroys sight and balks understanding, without limit or mercy!

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(1) Readings in Evolution, Genetics, and Eugenics, p. 331.
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(2) Prof. Albert P. Mathews, in Science, Dec. 23, 1928.
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(3) Science, June 15, 1928.
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(4) University of Chicago; see Science, October 21, 1927.
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