THEOSOPHY, Vol. 17, No. 11, September, 1929
(Pages 491-496; Size: 19K)
(Number 15 of a 103-part series)



The exact extent, depth, breadth, and length of the mysteries of Nature are to be found only in Eastern esoteric sciences. So vast and so profound are these that hardly a few, a very few of the highest Initiates -- those whose very existence is known but to a small number of Adepts -- are capable of assimilating the knowledge. Yet it is all there, and one by one facts and processes in Nature's work-shops are permitted to find their way into the exact Sciences, while mysterious help is given to rare individuals in unravelling its arcana. It is at the close of great Cycles, in connection with racial development, that such events generally take place. We are at the very close of the cycle of 5,000 years of the present Aryan Kaliyuga; and between this time and 1897 there will be a large rent made in the Veil of Nature, and materialistic science will receive a death-blow. (S.D. I, 611-12).
SEVEN years after this astonishing prediction -- one of the few to which H.P.B. ever set definite dates -- came the "accidental" discovery of X-rays; and one year later there was flung into the uncomprehending lap of M. Henri Becquerel, the luminescent discovery of radioactivity.

It is the purpose of this article to trace down to its latest contemporary lodging-place in the psychology of modern science, the course of the uncontrollable -- and to the mind of science, unforeseeable -- chain of events which these discoveries set afoot. Let Science speak in her own accents:(1)

The first discovery of the property we now call radioactivity was made in the year 1896 by M. Henri Becquerel in Paris, and, like many other great discoveries, the actual experiment itself owed something to luck or chance or accident. Looking backward, however, it appears rather that only the particular day or month of the discovery was a matter of chance. The time was just ripe for the event, and it is certain that its coming could not long have been delayed. Some slight historical sketch of the conditions preceding and immediately following the discovery is necessary before considering wherein lies its great significance. The memorable discovery of the X-rays by Professor Roentgen, in 1895, which is known to all, familiarized scientific workers with a type of radiation able to traverse objects opaque to light. The X-rays are themselves invisible to the unaided eye, but are able to affect the photographic plate. This led to experiments being made in order to see if similar types of rays were not produced in other ways. As you all know, certain substances exposed to sunlight shine afterwards in the dark, and this property, which finds an application in the manufacture of luminous paint, is known as phosphorescence or fluorescence. Is phosphorescent light entirely stopped by opaque objects? Or does it in part consist of invisible penetrating rays like the X-rays? M. Becquerel wrapped a photographic plate in black paper and placed on it a phosphorescent substance which was then exposed to sunlight. By great good fortune M. Becquerel chose as the particular phosphorescent body a preparation of uranium, and found as the result of the experiment that the photographic plate beneath the preparation was darkened.

The action is an entirely new inherent property of the element uranium. No other phosphorescent body would have darkened the plate even in the sunlight, while all preparations containing uranium do so, whether they are phosphorescent or not, in total darkness as well as in the light.

All this inaugurated the happenings which led finally to the electronic theory -- now about to be discarded in its presently accepted form -- and to the strange impasse which we find delineated in the article, "The New Vision of Science," by Prof. P. W. Bridgman, of Harvard University. (Harper's, March, 1929). The title is a misnomer if one ever existed: if there be a true opposite to the word "vision" then Prof. Bridgman's thesis is its archetype and exemplar. Fortunately, as we shall see, there are other, and better qualified scientists, who see the impasse, not as that, but in truth the gateway to light.

Electronic physics resulted in the "quantum theory." One of the results of this theory is the corollary that there are physical actions which cannot be analyzed, cannot be predicted, cannot be measured, for the reason that their elements are so infinitesimal as to fall in magnitude below the ultimate units of measure and perception. In other words, the prediction of the courses of two colliding billiard balls is a matter of analysis of the elements of their shapes, velocities, densities, and directions, the variables in the combination measured from certain moments in time and certain frames in space; but the resultant from the collision of electrons with radiative units cannot be thus predicted, for the reason that the units concerned are the ultimates of physical science and non-analyzable. What then, is the consequence? Why, in the opinion of Prof. Bridgman, that science having reached its ultima thule, must now abandon the law of cause and effect! As a demonstration of the fallacy and folly of the age-old attempt to reason from particulars to generals, the human mind would be put to it to imagine the equal or parallel of this. It is something of a cosmic jest that a science which has pinned its faith upon the purely destructive method of analysis, should, when the final possibilities of that method have been reached, be compelled to abnegate the very basis and fulcrum of its method, the cardinal article of its faith -- the law of cause and effect. It is its condign, inevitable, and karmic punishment for having contemned and spat upon that law as manifested in the region of moral causation -- a region whose very existence has been mocked from the first by those of Prof. Bridgman's way of thought.

Let us, then, examine his proposed remedy for the situation. One would suppose that upon coming to this "Ring Pass-Not," where the limitations of physical research find a demonstration against which all pretense is useless, so far from slapping the face of a law which he has, throughout his painful toil, found ever more solidly true, the real scientist would thrust boldly forward into the new darkness with the light of this tried torch; thrust forward, even, with the high emprise and exhilaration of unguessed adventure in prospect; push on, even though the road should lead -- as it does lead -- into the tenebrous caverns of Theosophical teachings respecting Occult nature.

But not so Prof. Bridgman; he throws down his torch, and tramples upon it; he sits himself down in the mud, pulls his scholastic robes over his diminished head, and engages in a jeremiad:

The same situation confronts the physicist everywhere; whenever he penetrates to the atomic or electronic level in his analysis, he finds things acting in a way for which he can assign no cause, for which he never can assign a cause, and for which the concept of cause has no meaning, if Heisenberg's principle is right. This means nothing more nor less than that the law of cause and effect must be given up.

The physicist thus finds himself in a world from which the bottom has dropped clean out; as he penetrates deeper and deeper it eludes him and fades away by the highly unsportsmanlike device of just becoming meaningless. No refinement of measurement will avail to carry him beyond the portals of this shadowy domain which he cannot even mention without logical inconsistency. A bound is thus forever set to the curiosity of the physicist. What is more, the mere existence of this bound means that he must give up his most cherished convictions and faith. The world is not a world of reason, understandable by the intellect of man, but as we penetrate ever deeper, the very law of cause and effect, which we had thought to be a formula to which we could force God Himself to subscribe, ceases to have meaning. The world is not intrinsically reasonable or understandable; it acquires these properties in ever-increasing degree as we ascend from the realm of the very little to the realm of everyday things; here we may eventually hope for an understanding sufficiently good for all practical purposes, but no more.

And then what? Why, from his self-chosen place in the mire, Prof. Bridgman envisages life without "cause and effect":
But doubtless by far the most important effect of this revolution will not be on the scientist, but on the man in the street. The immediate effect will be to let loose a veritable intellectual spree of licentious and debauched thinking. This will come from the refusal to take at its true value the statement that it is meaningless to penetrate much deeper than the electron, and will have the thesis that there is really a domain beyond, only that man with his present limitations is not fitted to enter this domain.

Thought has a predisposition to certain tendencies merely because of the necessity of expressing itself in words. This has already been brought out sufficiently by the discussion above; we have seen how difficult it is to express in words the fact that the universe fades away from us by becoming meaningless without the implication that there really is something beyond the verge of meaning. The man in the street will, therefore, twist the statement that the scientist has come to the end of meaning into the statement that the scientist has penetrated as far as he can with the tools at his command, and that there is something beyond the ken of the scientist. This imagined beyond, which the scientist has proved he cannot penetrate, will become the playground of the imagination of every mystic and dreamer. The existence of such a domain will be made the basis of an orgy of rationalizing. It will be made the substance of the soul; the spirits of the dead will populate it; God will lurk in its shadow; the principle of vital processes will have its seat here; and it will be the medium of telepathic communication. One group will find in the failure of the physical law of cause and effect the solution of the age-long problem of the freedom of the will; and on the other hand the atheist will find the justification of his contention that chance rules the universe.

Doubtless generations will be needed to adjust our thinking so that it will spontaneously and freely conform to our knowledge of the actual structure of the world. It is probable that new methods of education will have to be painfully developed and applied to very young children in order to inculcate the instinctive and successful use of habits of thought so contrary to those which have been naturally acquired in meeting the limited situations of everyday life.

And in the end, when man has fully partaken of the fruit of the tree of knowledge, there will be this difference between the first Eden and the last, that man will not become as a god, but will remain forever humble. (Italics ours).

Dr. Bridgman is Hollis Professor of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy at Harvard University. However, natural misgivings over the future of freedom of thought and development of intellect at that institution are much tempered by the fact that its personnel has the run of the whole world of scientific thought -- or will have until the Professor succeeds in putting into effect the Index Expurgatorious which is the logical implication of his basis of education. For, fortunately for all concerned, the scientific world is not prepared as yet to commit intellectual suicide at the behest of those of its minds which fall by the wayside. Let us quote from a review(2) of Prof. Eddington's The Nature of The Physical World, a scientist who stands in eminence head and shoulders above such as Prof. Bridgman:
But the mystic has claims as valid as those of the scientist. The rainbow is as real as those measurable vibrations by which it is produced. Neither is in any ultimate and absolute sense real. The ultimates of physics are unknowable; only they can be measured. The ultimates of love and worship cannot. That is the sole difference in their reality. The basal stuff of the world lends itself here to the measurements that give us the world of physics; there to the immediacies that give us religion or love or art. The results of this striking volume of synthesis, then, is at once to clarify the contribution of the new physics as an avenue to reality and to suggest that the ways of love, art and religion are also, and admirably, ways.

In the new dispensation, strict causality, absoluteness, old fashioned materialism, seem to have gone by the board.

Professor Eddington has given an incredibly intelligible account of all these complex and tradition-shattering conceptions. He has limited science (as Kant with a very different intellectual vocabulary did over a century ago) to its own realm. He has reminded us that physics is an affair of the laboratory and of measuring rods. He has told us that those measuring rods are relative to the world they measure and of which they are a part. He has insisted that there is much that is unknowable and must, physics being physics, to the physicist forever remain so. But these unknowables are merely unmeasurables; science cannot dismiss them since it cannot, even by virtue of its own technique, come within earshot of beauty, value, purpose, the color and splendor of life and things. He has placed the centre of experience, both scientific and mystic, back in the operations of mind and consciousness. He has once more put man, mathematician and mystic, measurer and worshipper, at the imaginative centre of things.

Let us then put beside these moderns the prophetic wisdom of one who towers, enshrouded with the mists of human passion, prejudice, and devotion, so far above the thought of our age that to see Her full stature and true lineaments must be left to those who shall move far out on the distant calm plains of the future:
Every century an attempt is being made to show the world that Occultism is no vain superstition. Once the door is permitted to be kept ajar, it will be opened wider with every new century. The times are ripe for a more serious knowledge than hitherto permitted, though still very limited, so far. (Secret Doctrine: Introduction.)

...the phenomena of our plane are the creation of the perceiving Ego -- the modifications of its own subjectivity.... The pure object apart from consciousness is unknown to us, while living on the plane of the three-dimensional World. (Primordial Substance and Divine Thought. S.D. I, 329).

It is on the doctrine of the illusive nature of matter, and the infinite divisibility of the atom, that the whole science of Occultism is built. (Addenda, Vol. I, The Masks of Science).

Nature behaving ... in abscondito, can only be judged by the profane through her appearance, and that appearance is always deceitful on the physical plane. (S.D. I, 610).

Aye; earnest, as well as mocking reader, Science is slowly but as surely approaching our domains of the Occult. (S.D. I, 549).

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 whole phantasmagoria is only a picture thrown up against the Screen of Time by the mighty magic of Prakriti (Nature). But you and I are superior to Nature. Why, then, mind these pictures? Part of that very screen, however, being our own mortal bodies, we can't help the sensation derived therefrom through our connection with the body. It is only another form of cold or heat; and what are they? They are vibrations; they are felt; they do not really exist in themselves. So we can calmly look on the picture as it passes fragmentarily through those few square feet contained within the superficial boundaries of our elementary frame. We must do so, for it is a copy of the greater, of the universal form. For we otherwise will never be able to understand the greater picture. --W.Q.J.

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(1) The Interpretation of Radium, by Frederick Soddy.
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(2) New York Times, Feb. 10, 1929.
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