THEOSOPHY, Vol. 28, No. 12, October, 1940
(Pages 556-559; Size: 13K)
(Number 85 of a 103-part series)



WE live in an era of scientific destruction. For the first time in history there is no accepted theory of planetary origins; the once-impregnable and indivisible "atom" is today a complex crowd of lesser units; the validity of the chromosome theory of heredity is under a dark cloud; and sex itself has become a vague and shifting thing.

Now comes a serious and formidable attack on the sacrosanct "cell theory."

In 1665, Robert Hooke made the first of the observations which later led to the crystallized conviction that, just as all matter is a structure or edifice of which the irreducible bricks are atoms, so all "living" matter is a structure of which the irreducible units are cells, small, definitely organized particles.

Ironically, the first formidable attack on this idea by a man of science came on April 18, 1939, at a meeting held to commemorate the centenary of the formulation of the theory.(1)

Says Prof. Luyet:

In a condensed form, the cell theory can thus be formulated in the statement: "The cell is the fundamental structural and functional unit of any living matter." Schwann expressed it as follows: "...all organized bodies are composed ... of cells" and "...there is one universal principle of development ... the formation of cells." ...

How does the theory differ from the fact? Essentially in this: the fact is that most living beings are cellular, and the theory is that all living matter should be cellular; in other words, the fact is that a cellular structure has been observed, and the theory is that such a cellular structure is a necessary condition for the existence of life....

After these introductory definitions and remarks we come to the essential point of this discussion, which is the contention that the more we learn about life, the more the cell theory loses its chances of being true. The discovery, or the more complete observation of a number of facts during the 100 years which have elapsed since the formulation of the cell theory, as well as a more synthetic comprehension of these facts, make it now highly probable that the cell is not the necessary structural unit of any living matter. Like for many old theories, as those on the nature of light, on the nature of electricity, on the structure of matter, etc., the time seems to have come also for the cell theory to pass into the realm of the past. To abandon a theory which no longer agrees with newly studied facts is the only way by which matter-of-fact modern biologists can honor the pioneers who formulated it.

He then proceeds to give his examples.

The mycetozoa are masses of living matter (not clearly classified as plant or animal) sometimes weighing as much as a pound. They have no cell structure, but perform all the vital functions.

The phycomycetes are tubular fungi in which only the reproductive cells have individuality.

The siphonales are green algae of well-defined leaf-like form without cell structure.

The ciliates are single-celled creatures possessing internal organs of a complex structure like that which in other organisms is itself built up of cells.

In the bacteria and virus fields, the inadequacy of the cell theory is generally felt. In the cell theory the nucleus is considered as the vital center of the cell. By newly developed centrifugal methods, it is now possible to remove the nucleus -- but the cell blithely continues to live and multiply.

In certain of the cellular blue-green algae, the cell has no nucleus to begin with. Prof. Luyet says:

The body of biological knowledge which grew and developed so enormously during this century finds itself now enclosed in a tight carapace which hinders its further development. But our contention is that the carapace has cracked and that, after an instar period of one hundred years, the molting time has come. We invite the biologists, on the occasion of this centenary, to band together for removing the carapace.
Now this is surely one of the drastic lessons in store for science as foretold in The Secret Doctrine fifty-two years ago:
Science is welcome to speculate upon the physiological mechanism of living beings, and to continue her fruitless efforts in trying to resolve our feelings, our sensations, mental and spiritual, into functions of their inorganic vehicles. Nevertheless, all that will ever be accomplished in this direction has already been done, and Science will go no farther. She is before a dead wall, on the face of which she traces, as she imagines, great physiological and psychic discoveries, but every one of which will be shown later on to be no better than the cobwebs spun by her scientific fancies and illusions. (I, 133-4.)
Prof. Luyet's closing paragraph, however, gives contemporary illustration to another Secret Doctrine statement. There are truths which even materialistic methods must disclose. H.P.B. wrote:
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... It is that mysterious LIFE, represented collectively by countless myriads of lives, that follows in its own sporadic way, the hitherto incomprehensible law of Atavism; that copies family resemblances as well as those it finds impressed in the aura of the generators of every future human being, ... (I, 261.)
Modern cytology is moving in this direction. Prof. Luyet predicts:
A new theory will necessarily replace the old one. We expect that, in the elaboration of this new theory, consideration will be given to the fundamental fact that in the higher animals, when the developing embryo has reached a certain size, it undergoes a division into metameres, superimposed to the division into cells, while the less differentiated and usually smaller organisms (as the hydra) do not divide into metameres but have ordinarily their body partitioned into cells, and the smallest and least differentiated forms (as the bacteria) do not present any known partition. According to a new theory based on these principles, the cells would then cease to be the "fundamental structural and functional unit" of any living matter and the cellular structure would become, in the last analysis, simply one of the various methods used by nature to partition a large mass of protoplasm.
W. Q. Judge's statement of 1893 now finds full justification. He wrote in The Ocean of Theosophy:
The "cell" is an illusion. It is merely a word. It has no existence as a material thing, for any cell is composed of other cells. What, then, is a cell? It is the ideal form within which the actual physical atoms -- made up of the "lives" -- arrange themselves. As it is admitted that the physical molecules are forever rushing away from the body, they must be leaving the cells each moment. Hence there is no physical cell, but the privative limits of one, the ideal walls and general shape. The molecules assume position within the ideal shape according to the laws of nature, and leave it again almost at once to give place to other atoms. (p. 37.)
The implications in Prof. Luyet's analysis are vast. What is this "nature" that "uses" various methods of managing undifferentiated protoplasm, and what is the mechanism or pattern of those methods? This inquiry must lead the biologist far indeed. Meantime, we can see still farther ahead by virtue of the following "telescopes" provided by The Secret Doctrine.
And so does prána (Jiva) pervade the whole living body of man; but alone, without having an atom to act upon, it would be quiescent -- dead; i.e., would be in laya, or, as Mr. Crookes has it, "locked in protyle." It is the action of Fohat upon a compound or even a simple body that produces life. When a body dies it passes into the same polarity as its male energy and repels therefore the active agent, which, losing hold of the whole, fastens on the parts or molecules, this action being called chemical. Vishnu, the Preserver, transforms himself into Rudra-Siva, the Destroyer -- a correlation seemingly unknown to Science. (I, 526.)

The whole trouble is this: neither physiologists nor pathologists will recognize that the cell-germinating substance (the cytoblastema) and the mother-lye from which crystals originate, are one and the same essence, save in differentiation for purposes. (II, 255.)

The underlying physiological variation in species -- one to which all other laws are subordinate and secondary -- is a sub-conscious intelligence pervading matter, ultimately traceable to a REFLECTION of the Divine and Dhyan-Chohanic wisdom... Hartmann ... regards evolution as intelligently guided by the UNCONSCIOUS (the Cosmic Logos of Occultism). But the latter acts only mediately through FOHAT, or Dhyan-Chohanic energy, and not quite in the direct manner which the great pessimist describes. (II, 649.)

In other words, the basic patterns of all forms are fundamentally mental concepts, and their material although invisible manifestation is the astral pattern, which can be filled in or objectivized by matter either in cellular or amorphous states according to the particular type of development.
The whole issue of the quarrel between the profane and the esoteric sciences depends upon the belief in, and demonstration of, the existence of an astral body within the physical, the former independent of the latter. (II, 149.)

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:


Matter is the vehicle for the manifestation of soul on this plane of existence, and soul is the vehicle on a higher plane for the manifestation of spirit, and these three are a trinity synthesized by Life, which pervades them all. 

--The Secret Doctrine

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(1) Professor Basile J. Luyet, St. Louis University, Science, March 15, 1940.
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