THEOSOPHY, Vol. 18, No. 5, March, 1930
(Pages 202-207; Size: 19K)
(Number 19 of a 103-part series)



THERE have been few crises so interesting, or so hopeful, as the present life-and-death struggle between the mechanistic theory of life, and the odd semi-mystic, semi-agnostic but broad view of the problem rapidly being taken up by the real men of science. So far as the latter are concerned, Theosophy will hardly criticise; slow as their approach must be in the nature of things, certain the impasses into which some of the best of them must fall, nevertheless their errors are those of incompleteness only, not of mental and moral perversity.

Prof. Edwin G. Conklin, of Princeton University,(1) states that there are human properties now and always beyond the reach of biology, and that a scientist, while insisting upon the unity of life, should recognize that there are things connected with it which his science touches but remotely or not at all. There are sufficient of unfathomable mysteries, he says, in life in its simplest terms; best leave alone the attempt to explain in terms of physics and chemistry the depths of man's nature.

Prof. Hans Pringsheim(2) warns that though physical life processes depend upon biochemistry, those reactions are extremely complex, "and as yet we understand only vaguely the laws which govern them." We have discovered many separate and unrelated facts, but are still unable to make predictions based upon mathematical laws. For this reason physical science at the present time offers more attractions to the investigator than does biochemistry. And Prof. Pringsheim's views are the result of twenty-five years of intensive biochemical research.

As one of the remaining flutters of materialism, Mrs. Augusta Gaskell has written a book seeking to demonstrate that life is quantity only, and that this can be demonstrated in the laboratory. Prof. Wm. E. Ritter, of the University of California,(3) differs decidedly with her, remarking that quality and quantity are so linked together in the action of living bodies that neither can be considered to exist apart from the other. Mrs. Gaskell's view, he hints, is decidedly "supernaturalistic."

According to Prof. W. H. Longley, writing in Science for May 3, 1929, determinism is fast fading out of embryology; inheritable character cannot be considered the simple mathematical summation and resolution of "genes," for the reason that a single gene may affect the development of several or all other characters of an organism.

In the Scientific Monthly, February, 1929, Prof. Wm. Morton Wheeler, of Harvard University, has a long article on the present confused state of biology which deserves study. We quote an outstanding passage:

... While the nomothetes among the biologists were prostrating themselves before Mechanism, some of the more bolshevistic physicists very stealthily carried it off and dropped it into the sea. Most of the physicists, of course, keep mum about the matter, but occasionally one of them may be heard to berate the nomothetes who still long for their tin deity. Thus even Professor Whitehead, gentlest and most courteous of mathematician-philosophers, after referring to the various scientific idols that have lately been stolen from their worshippers, is moved to exclaim with a touch of irritation: "What is the sense of talking about a mechanical explanation when you do not know what you mean by mechanics?" And so conservative a physicist as Professor Bridgman seems to imply that any of his fellow physicists who are still tempted to cry for their old image had better hurry to the confessional.
Prof. Bridgman remarks that "many will discover in themselves a longing for mechanical explanation which has all the tenacity of original sin." He thinks that that desire originates in the preponderance of the mechanical in our physical experience. No doubt with the purely scholastic mind it does. But is it not marvelously interesting that, as indicated by Prof. Wheeler, it is the researches of chemistry and physics which are destroying the mechanism so stubbornly clung to by the older school of biologists -- that delving into the "non-living" has disclosed living things as actually having life and not existing as dead machinery?

What then, is the linkage between the so-called living and the soi-disant "inanimate?" In truth the puzzle is ruffling many a feather; and the scramble for light is pursuing the problem deeper and deeper into "inorganic" nature. Some scientists think that man has kinship with the nebulae, possessing as his most important constituents the same elements. Said H. P. Blavatsky, fifty years ago:

Chemistry and physiology are the two great magicians of the future, who are destined to open the eyes of mankind to the great physical truths. With every day, the identity between the animal and physical man, between the plant and man, and even between the reptile and its nest, the rock, and man -- is more and more clearly shown ... Each particle -- whether you call it organic or inorganic -- is a life ... (Secret Doctrine, 1888, I, 261).
Research increasingly shows the hardiness, the prevalence, the invulnerability, even of those forms artificially distinguished as "living." Living organisms have been found in a Pre-Cambrian rock from the Algonkian in Canada and in one from the Grand Canyon of the Colorado. They have also been found in Pliocene rock at a depth of several hundred feet.(4)

Experiments by Dr. C. W. Kanolt, of the Low Temperature Laboratory of the Bureau of Mines, indicate that "life" does not disappear even at absolute zero; although it has previously been thought that all motion ceased at that temperature.(5)

The famous Professor, F. W. Twort, co-discoverer of the "bacteriophage," suspects that radio waves could be used to stimulate or create sub-germs on the border-line between "dead" and "living" matter. Such creatures, he says, would be scarcely larger than the chemical molecules of some organic substances. He thinks that if such creatures do not exist today, they must have at some previous time.(6) So said Madame Blavatsky. And Madame Blavatsky stated that the "homunculi" of Paracelsus, artificially "living" beings, were a reality in occultism and might become such in science one day.

Now, if, agreeably to Dr. Twort's hypothesis, "life" can be "stimulated" in the "inanimate," must not that life then be potential in it? And where, then, is the difference between the potency and the latency? Is not all matter sleeping life on the evidence of science itself? Thus let us mark down once and for all another of H.P.B.'s most startling prophecies vindicated.

As to our outward physical bodies ... the Doctrine teaches a strange lesson; so strange that unless thoroughly explained and as rightly comprehended, it is only the exact Science of the future that is destined to vindicate the theory fully. ALL IS LIFE, and every atom of even mineral dust is a LIFE, though beyond our comprehension and perception ... (S.D. I, 248.)
The "exact science of the future" has arrived.

What, then, is this Power called "Life," the organic manifestation which slumbers in the atom, moves drowsily through the day's routine of appetite in the ox, and wakes to flashing, turbulent action in the muscles and brain cells of man? Using the word purely in its physico-mental sense, a short but ample peg was driven by H. P. Blavatsky into the blank wall of biological nescience fifty-three years ago: "Light is life; both are electricity." That light is electricity -- or rather its inseparable brother, magnetism -- is now too well known for argument. As to the other proposition -- the electro-polar development of the germ cell itself is now recognized.(7) For each germ cell or ovum has an "animal" and a "vegetal" pole; splitting the cell gives rise to other polarized beings, precisely as in the case of dividing a magnet; splitting it in various directions shows the substance to be non-specific, which means that the development must depend upon an unseen organizing frame. Just so do the visible figures formed within the field of force of a magnet depend upon the unseen magnetic pattern. As early as 1888, not long after H.P.B.'s pronouncement, Sir William Hardy found that colloids, the substances upon which "living" matter depends, were electrically charged.(8) Dr. A. M. Elliott, former Chief of the British Red Cross, remarks that electricity is the governing force of human life. The nucleus of the cell, he says, is negative and its surrounding protoplasm positive. He goes so far as to say that changes of electrical energy in the body are responsible for violent emotions and even death. Dr. G. W. Crile(9) claims that a loss of electrical charge is the essential characteristic of death. Research shows, he says, that the charge on the surface of living cells is the organizing and controlling force which keeps the life process in action. Organized and controlled, says Theosophy, by the astral pattern-body. Without that, the physical form would cohere, but be shapeless, or at best globular; while without a magnetic charge on the individual cell, the astral would be helpless to hold it in leash.

Experiments on nerve-electricity by Dr. de Lorgeril(10) indicate the existence of a magnetic "human fluid;" in other words, Mesmer's old "animal magnetism." The announcement is skeptically received -- but why assume that all the vital phenomena can be explained by the simpler and better-known manifestations of the force? In relation to the plant world, and in the matter of "light," Ralph H. Mellon, N. von Rashevsky and E. von Rashevsky, of the Western Pennsylvania Hospital of Pittsburgh, find that the roots of onions and other plants throw off ultraviolet rays.(11) Albert Nodon, according to the Literary Digest of March 30, 1929, says that the radio is practically useless in forested regions, due to the fact that the space around the trees is turned into an electric conductor by emissions from the foliage. Prof. Fernando Sanford, of Stanford University, expresses the opinion that the solar system is an immense dynamo; and that it is possible that every human being carries an enormous electric charge, amounting perhaps to millions of volts, which remains unmanifest because balanced by a surrounding potential of the opposite sign.(12) And what if the counteracting potential could be neutralized for the time being?

Writing to A. P. Sinnett about fifty years ago, a Master said:

By directing the most powerful of electric batteries, -- human frame electrified by certain process, you can stop rain on some given point by making a "hole in the rain cloud," as the occultists term it....

How can one man generate such an amount of heat and energy? preposterous, absurd! Yet I say, that one man alone can do it, and very easily, if he is but acquainted with a certain "physico-spiritual" lever in himself, far more powerful than that of Archimedes. Even simple muscular contraction is always accompanied with electric and magnetic phenomena, and there is the strongest connection between the magnetism of the earth, the changes of weather and man, who is the best barometer living, if he but knew to decipher it properly; ...

Dr. Albert P. Mathews well-nigh adopted the occult attitude on physico-chemical phenomena.(13) For he states that there are only two characteristics not shown by non-living matter; consciousness and will, or power of action; nevertheless, he believes that "non-living" matter possesses them, even though not manifest. How about the intense internal and external activity of the atom, the electron, themselves? There are, says Dr. Mathews, four aspects of all matter; the mechanical, the electrical, the magnetic, and the mental. Now Dr. Mathews least of all would deny that the first three are aspects of the same Force; how about the fourth?

In a book written by him, in fact, he ascribes a new dimension to the electron; the mental. In the extract under consideration he goes so far as to say that we could not move any mass of matter: i.e., a muscle, by mental force unless that matter were so organized as to act as a mental individual. Mere common sense as this seems to the Theosophist, it is certainly coming as far within the sacred precincts as is possible to the science of the day.

The electron itself, the primal unit of matter, as so far physically discovered, is admitted by all scientists to consist of an electric charge; "vital" phenomena now being shown to be simply the result of arrangements of matter such as to allow this basic cosmic electricity to act in certain ways -- including the manifestation of consciousness -- the inanimate Universe must now be seen to be crystalized life. What of the free, the formless life -- Spirit itself, the Perceiver of its own transmutations and permutations? Even in those transmutations it is now known as permanent, though ever changing in form. Is not, then, the Consciousness within man one with that of the All, coeval and coextensive with the Space through which blow the winds of passion, of desire, of fear?

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 Adepts have for ages pursued scientific experimentation and investigation upon those lines. Seers themselves of the highest order, they have recorded not only their own actual experiences beyond the veil of matter, on both sides, but have collected, compared, analyzed and preserved the records of experiences of the same sort by hundreds of thousands of lesser seers, their own disciples; and this process has been going on from time immemorial. Let Science laugh as it may, the Adepts are the only true scientists, for they take into account every factor in the question, whereas Science is limited by brain-power, by circumstance, by imperfection of instruments, and by a total inability to perceive anything deeper than the mere phenomena presented by matter. The records of the visions and experiences of the greater and lesser seers, through the ages, are extant to-day. Of their mass, nothing has been accepted except that which has been checked and verified by millions of independent observations; and therefore the Adepts stand in the position of those who possess actual experimental knowledge of what precedes the birth of the Ego in a human form, and what succeeds when the "mortal coil" is cast away.

This recording of experiences still goes on; for the infinity of the changes of Nature in its evolution permits of no stoppage, no "last word," no final declaration. --W.Q.J.

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(1) Science, November 16, 1928.
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(2) Do. December 21, 1928.
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(3) Science, April 19, 1929.
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(4) Science, September 21, 1928.
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(5) Literary Digest, March 2, 1929.
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(6) The Week's Science, April 8, 1929.
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(7) Dr. D. H. Tennet, Scientific Monthly, August, 1929.
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(8) A lecture at the University of Buffalo, April 12, 1927.
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(9) N.Y. Herald-Tribune, April 20, 1929.
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(10) Literary Digest, March 30, 1929.
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(11) New York Sun, December 28, 1928.
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(12) The Week's Science, July, 1928.
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(13) Scientific Monthly, June, 1929.
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