THEOSOPHY, Vol. 25, No. 4, February, 1937
(Pages 162-165; Size: 12K)
(Number 68 of a 103-part series)


(Part I of II)

ALL materialistic atheism of the usual kind rests upon the proposition that consciousness does not exist. That is, consciousness is defined as a mode of motion in matter. Upon analysis of the definitions of "matter" and "motion," it is found that "matter," like the observed substance in a coal-scuttle, and "motion," like the pouring of that substance into a stove, are meant. The cloaking of physical translation in space under physical formulas, or the rendition of cohesions and disaggregations by chemical formulas in chemistry, veils the objective quality of such motion only from the shallow-thinking. The objective field of consciousness rises, obviously, from just such motions.

This very fact, for any real thinker, ought to bar out these modes of motion forever as the source of consciousness. Consciousness, certainly, is perceptivity. Perceptivity can observe its own source only upon the hypothesis that it can become dissevered from that source. If the materialist were to follow his own reasoning through from the indisputable facts, he would see for himself that a consciousness arising from the motion of matter, and which has become separate enough from matter to analyze the motions of that matter, no longer possesses any of those qualities by which matter, as understood by the materialist, is described.

A valuable example of the processes by which men of science have been led to a new conception of consciousness is furnished by Prof. F. S. C. Northrop of Yale.(1)

If the physical theory of nature is valid, consciousness must exist. This is not the usual supposition. It is customary to identify the kinetic atomic theory with materialism in metaphysics and extreme behaviorism in psychology. The falsity of this identification can be established by an appeal to purely objective evidence.
Giving due credit to Plato for seeing the difficulty -- though Plato was far from first -- Dr. Northrop proceeds as follows:
... If nature is a system of ideal forms which only reason can grasp, why does the observed world of sensation exist? If one answers this question by saying that the world of forms, known by reason and defined by scientific theory, is the real world, and that the world of sensation, which we observe, is an appearance, then a conscious subject must exist as an additional natural factor with which the real world of forms combines to give rise to the sensible world of appearances....

But the physical theory of nature does not do this. Although the extensive stuff and motion of observed nature are properties of the entities of the physical theory, there are other inescapable factors which are not. I refer to such obvious facts as the fragrance of the rose, the noise of the tolling bell, and the rich colors of the autumn foliage. Certainly neither the atoms nor electro-magnetic waves of scientific theory are fragrant, or noisy, or yellowish brown.... A part of observed nature cannot be ascribed to the entities of physical theory, as they are defined by the physicist, and hence, assures us of the existence of consciousness to account for its presence in terms of the relation between the physical atoms and fields of scientific theory and the knowing subject.

It becomes evident that no psychological theory is more incompatible with the physicist's theory of first principles, than one which denies the existence of consciousness. For without a conscious factor in nature, the physical theory fails utterly before such inescapable facts as colors and sounds.

... Up to this point we have accounted for only the physical, formal, and kinetic character of observed nature, and not for its colours and sounds and odours and pains and pleasures.

Yet it is the baldest fact that every attempt at analyzing physical, formal, and kinetic nature, by physical means, depends abjectly upon colours and sounds and odors and perceptions. Thus the "part of observed nature that cannot be ascribed to the entities of physical theory" is not only the part with which the scientist comes into contact by physical means, but is the part upon which his understanding of all these other things depends. It is here that Dr. Northrop commits a logical fallacy. He calls this part of nature, the sum total of actual experience, "secondary qualities." And he ascribes to the purely hypothetical mathematical entities of science, which were derived from experiments in the sensory world, the quality of primacy.
... The whiteness of this page is determined not merely by the physio-chemical character of the page, but also by the constitution of my eye, the nature of the intervening electro-magnetic medium, the lamp above my head, and many other factors. In short the relation of the whiteness of this page to nature is a many-termed relationship.... Unless there is a subjective, conscious, psychical factor to combine with the physical and the formal in its many-termed relatedness to produce the secondary and tertiary qualities of the world of sensation, the physical theory of nature is condemned by the most obvious and inescapable facts.
This reasoning appears correct as far as it goes. But he fails to see that the "physio-chemical character of the page," the constitution of his eye, the nature of the intervening ether, the lamp, and all the rest, are themselves derived --secondary factors derived mentally from sensory experience, from that realm of nature that he terms "secondary." In postulating physio-chemical entities as primary, he is unconsciously assuming a "sixth sense" that can grasp realities without the intervention of the senses. We have not the slightest objection to this, in principle; but it is a proposition which Dr. Northrop would strenuously deny if put in that form. Nevertheless, his reasoning leads him to the necessity of solving a problem the existence of which is unrecognized by the materialist.
We know, therefore, that our theory of first principles cannot be complete until an addition is made to our organic atomic philosophy. In short, we must determine the precise nature of the psychical and indicate how it combines with the physical and formal principles of our theory to produce nature with its obvious colors and sounds as well as stuff and motion.
He arrives inevitably at Man as himself being the key to the problem; and from this as inevitably arrives at Universal Consciousness.
...the knower is a man. Hence, when one senses what it is to be oneself, the atoms of our theory are joined to the knowing subject by the relation of identity; one knows the atoms which constitute oneself and nature by being immediately aware of what it is to be them. Now, I am conscious. Hence they must be also. Thus we discover that the subjective and psychical factor, which the presence of colors and sounds reveals, is an inherent property of the atoms of our theory. Man has a subjective character and is conscious, as he is rational and physical, because the ultimate atomic entities of which everything is constituted have psychical as well as physical and formal properties. Man is conscious because he is the entities ... and these atoms are inherently conscious. And observed nature is more than physical and formal nature, and is in part constituted by the perceiving subject, because the ultimate entities which constitute both it and its part, the observer, combine psychical with physical and formal properties in its synthesis.

Hence, because colors and sounds and pains and pleasures are in part psychical, it by no means follows that they are illusions or mere appearances, for even the psychical, which is a necessary factor in their existence, is as ultimate and irreducible and essential a property of atomic nature, as the physical and the formal.

His next step leads him to a complete, unqualified, though unconscious acceptance of the major Theosophic principle:
Thus, even though all men may die, there must be an observed and experienced world. For neither observed nature nor man can be what they are unless the ultimate atomic entities are psychical as well as physical and formal, and they cannot be this without an experienced world existing. It follows that there must be consciousness in the macroscopic compound nature which the macroscopic unifying principle of our theory introduces, as well as in the many locally-focussed organic systems such as man, which the pluralistic principle of our theory necessitates....
By the exercise of pure logic based on indisputable facts, he next comes to a definition of consciousness:
... Thus, by subtracting from observed nature, that which remains after the physical and formal properties of the atoms of our theory have made their full contribution, we discover the specific nature of the psychical. It is bare indeterminate experienced quality.

Note this definition with care: By an experienced quality we mean one that is immediately given, one that is not known by reason. And by experienced quality in its bareness and indeterminateness we mean immediately given quality or observed nature, abstracted from that which makes one of its instances or parts different from another. To use the words of the English logician, W. E. Johnson, it is the determinable of all determinables.

Dr. Northrop has now reached a place where he is in no position to dispute the Theosophical proposition that the "bare field of consciousness," Chidakasam, as The Secret Doctrine puts it, is the actual irreducible of the Universe, the untouchable Flame of Life.

(To be concluded)

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(1) Science and First Principles, The MacMillan Co., 1931.
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