THEOSOPHY, Vol. 29, No. 7, May, 1941
(Pages 308-313; Size: 19K)
(Number 89 of a 103-part series)

SCIENCE AND THE SECRET DOCTRINE

THE RIDDLE OF THE SPHINX

This second assertion of the Secret Doctrine is the absolute universality of that law of periodicity, of flux and reflux, ebb and flow, which physical science has observed and recorded in all departments of nature. An alternation such as that of Day and Night, Life and Death, Sleeping and Waking, is a fact so common, so perfectly universal and without exception, that it is easy to comprehend that in it we see one of the absolutely fundamental laws of the universe. 

--The Secret Doctrine I, 17.
ON comparing the Theosophical explanation of the Universe with scientific views, a curious paradox appears. Though the keynote of the Theosophic cosmogenesis is the unity of all things, it is the scientific conception of unity that brings science into conflict with Theosophy! In Theosophy, the universe is organic; yet the astronomical attempt to make an organism of the universe causes not only the aforesaid conflict, but innumerable internal discrepancies in the scientific theory.

The organismic theory of science leads to consideration of the universe as a material "something" which has evolved, or is disappearing, or both, as a unity. But this brings insoluble questions. If the cosmos has evolved as a whole, out of what has it evolved, and what has been the activating stimulus? Having had all eternity to evolve in, why has it not reached its ultimate goal? If it is running down, why, with all eternity to vanish in, is it still here? If it has evolved, beginning at a given time, or has begun to run down, beginning at a given time, what fixed these moments of "beginning"? H. P. Blavatsky asked questions about these things which have never been answered by science. The mere conception of an evolution, or a "running down," ought at once to establish irresistibly the idea of cyclic law, for on no other basis can either process be supported. As a matter of fact, there are now several "model" universes, constructed by physicists in the attempt to explain these things theoretically; and some of them do have a cyclic aspect, though it is truly marvelous how long it has taken such an obvious conception to make way in orthodox ranks.

It was a cycle of expansion and contraction, rather than of creation and destruction, that led the way. This began with the "red shift" of light. The spectrum shifts toward the red end in proportion to the distance of the light source from Earth, which can mean only one of two things: either a "slowing down" of light in space, or a movement of the stars away from the earth in such manner that the speed is proportional to the distance. The extreme result of theories founded on the "red shift" is the idea that all matter was at one time concentrated in a single mass -- whose center must necessarily have been the earth or very near it! -- which mass exploded and its fragments, the heavenly bodies, moving farther and farther apart ever since. Now the obvious geocentrism of this idea should have laid it open to immediate suspicion, anthropomorphism being twin brother to geocentrism, and the two hardly separable. The obvious difficulties, such as why the explosion took place, what queer coincidence caused us to be at the privileged middle of the affair, and why the flying particles should be ever increasing their speed, whereas Newton's laws of motion require that such increase would involve, not an explosive impulse, but a steady and continuing push outwards -- all these form a complex of scientific "mysticism" in comparison with which Theosophy is almost matter-of-fact. The expanding universe theory seems to have arisen from a determination to hold fast to the time-honored conception that the speed of light is a constant, and to create any sort of absurd universe that might be necessary to save that conception. The struggle to rationalize this principle led some to postulate a universe which alternately expands and contracts again to a single mass, and to some elaborate gymnastics with mathematics and thermodynamics in the attempt to support it. In all, the theory does not seem to have been notably successful. It may be noted that the "red shift" was criticized on these grounds more than once in this Magazine, long before it began to fall on evil days in the scientific forum.

In 1937, Prof. Arthur Haas, of Vienna, pointed out that the "explosion theory" called for a universe not much more than half as old as some of the terrestrial minerals; in other words, for a mother half the age of her offspring.(1) Prof. Haas remarked, somewhat obviously, that if this interpretation of the red shift were abandoned, some other explanation would have to be found. He apparently had to supply it himself, for later in the same year he suggested that, as under the quantum theory light travels in tiny bundles of energy, any loss of energy in transit would result in slowing the speed and producing the red shift.(2) Certainly it is not so hard to imagine energy-absorbing media in space as it is to swallow the "explosion" theory. Anything that would absorb light -- even the diffused molecules now known to exist there -- might do it. As a matter of fact, a huge cosmic dust cloud was discovered "obscuring and reddening the starlight" near the North Pole of the sky.(3) Finally, in the 1937 Annual Report of the Director of Mount Wilson Observatory (p. 31), the statement is made that if the red shift is not due to explosion, the visible universe must be homogeneous, but not large enough to be a good sample of the whole. In spite of all this, the "explosion" is still now and then referred to -- but rather nervously and diffidently.

Attempts to set an "age" to the universe have not fared very well, either. Sir James Jeans, a leading authority if one exists, estimated it at ten million million years. But Dr. Bok, of Harvard Observatory, pointed out numerous discrepancies which appeared to make this estimate some five hundred times too great, such as the phenomena of the rotation of the Milky Way, prevailing theories of the evolution of the spiral nebulae, and the existence in the same star cluster of "young" red giant stars and "old" dwarf stars. If the age was as claimed by Jeans, says Bok, hundreds of star clusters would be on the edge of disintegrating all at once.(4)

This very question of disintegrating stars -- the novae or "exploding" stars -- is intimately locked up with the entire puzzle of "beginnings" and "endings." Baade and Zwicky held that these novae represent the fading of the universe into "nothingness," a huge "chunk" at a time.(5) At least once a year, according to their estimate, such an event occurs somewhere, a large part of the substance of such a star being dissipated into nebulous radiation. Prof. Werner Kolhoerster claimed to have found evidence that the all-pervading, omni-directional cosmic rays originated in novae.(6)

Attempts have been made to connect star cycles with the phenomena of novae. In 1939, a number of astronomers were trying to clarify this mystery.(7) The consensus was that a dying star finally reaches a point where it no longer emits light and heat, then suffers such a disturbance of internal equilibrium that it explodes. It is suspected that the "white dwarfs," whose substance weighs millions of times as much as lead, may be the end-products of nova explosions. We doubt it; but this theory is at least an interesting example of how science is forced willy-nilly to explain ultimates in terms of cycles.

What, then, is the place in the star-cycle of the "ghost stars," discussed by Dr. Hetzler of Yerkes Observatory?(8) These are stars so dim that it is impossible to see or photograph them. Several have been found in the constellation Cepheus, not far from the heavenly North Pole. Dr. Hetzler thinks that there must be still colder stars not discoverable by any form of radiation, and solaces us with the comforting thought that such a star could exist very close to us, undiscovered until it loomed out of darkness just before crashing into the solar system.

In the course of the 1939 discussions mentioned above, Dr. Henry Norris Russell remarked that novae are now occurring with great frequency, six having appeared during the first forty years of the century -- a record previously unequalled. (Of course, they did not actually happen then; all have happened long, long ago, and at very different times, only their rays reaching us nearly simultaneously.) But the awful phenomenon of the "supernovae" has been filling the astronomical heart with great, though refined, intellectual awe. The situation can best be described in Dr. Russell's own words. He sees no escape from the conclusion that a

supernova may reach such amazing brilliance that it will shine for a few days with light comparable to that given off by a whole galaxy of stars. The fortunate recent discovery of two supernovae, one of eighth magnitude, in time to permit detailed spectrographic observation, has greatly increased our information and also our puzzlement. The spectra, though similar from one supernova to another, are utterly unlike those of any other celestial bodies, so that despite careful study it has not yet been possible to identify a single feature with any radiation known in the laboratory.(9)
The lay mind may perhaps get an idea of the magnitude of this happening by realizing that our own system, including the Milky Way, is a single galaxy, and that of all its innumerable stars, our sun is one of the most insignificant. Two supernovae are historically known within our own galaxy, recorded in 1054 and 1572. (It is often suspected that the "Star of Bethlehem" was simply a nova.) The nova of 1054 left its remains as the Crab Nebula.

It is of interest that H.P.B., in arguing against the Nebular Hypothesis, pointed out that the only case of a star transformation then known was of a star becoming a nebula. (In the constellation Cygnus, year 1876.) But she admits that a star does condense from a nebula.(10) No doubt this was one of H.P.B.'s "contradictions," in the eyes of some! But now we have astronomy claiming the same thing, and how simple it is, when once we admit the cycle of from nebula to star, from star to nova, then to nebula and to star again!

What of the cold, dark stars? Can we not say that they are in a planetary stage? Certainly Neptune is more like a small dark star than anything else.(11) H.P.B. suggests as much. And we have the ancient saying of The Voice of the Silence:

Behold Migmar (Mars), as in his crimson veils his "Eye" sweeps over slumbering Earth. Behold the fiery aura of the "Hand" of Lhagpa (Mercury) extended in protecting love over the heads of his ascetics. Both are now servants to Nyima (The Sun), left in his absence silent watchers in the night. Yet both in Kalpas past were bright Nyimas, and may in future "Days" again become two Suns. Such are the falls and rises of the Karmic Law in nature.
(This fragment has poignant meaning in human terms, to those presently treading dark roads in the eternal succession of incarnations, self-doomed to narrow lives by actions of the past.)

In the early days of Theosophy, science was not trying to explain novae by the explosion theory, because such a theory would have been incompatible with the then prevailing conception of the sun's constitution and of matter itself. Theosophy, which indicates that a nova is the explosive expansion of previously organized and governed energies, at the end of a Kalpa or great period of solar evolution, thus has undisputed priority in at least two respects, for it does not take much study of The Secret Doctrine to see that the nature of atomic constitution there set forth (which is essentially that of present-day science) was in complete harmony with the possibility of solar explosions. The point becomes still more striking upon reading current speculations concerning the mechanisms of such explosions.

In the 80's of last century, a Mahatma wrote as follows to A. P. Sinnett:

When the solar pralaya comes the whole purified humanity merges into Nirvana and from that inter-solar Nirvana will be reborn in higher systems. The string of worlds is destroyed and vanishes like a shadow from the wall in the extinguishment of light. We have every indication that at this very moment such a solar pralaya is taking place while there are two minor ones ending somewhere....

His mistake is that he believes a long time must be devoted to the ruin of the solar system; we are told that it occurs in the twinkling of an eye but not without many preliminary warnings. Another error is the supposition that the earth will fall into the sun. The sun itself is first to disintegrate in the solar pralaya.

Then what of the terrific supernovae, which must destroy all forms in areas inconceivably greater than any solar system? They must for a while remain a mystery as to detail; but is it not evident from the very law of periodicity that every evolution must exist within a greater cycle? Dr. Russell's words about the mysteries of the supernovae, demonstrating the existence of forces and forms of substance yet unknown to science, ought to have a healthy effect upon the scientific mind -- which in truth is far less materialistic in astronomy than in other fields.

But can we not now see the true answer to the scientist's problem of trying to determine the "age" of the universe? It has no age; it is the timeless and boundless matrix, ever balanced in its entirety, thus ever changeless as a whole. Within it innumerable finite areas have their cycles of growth and death, construction and disintegration, materialization and dematerialization. As to any one of these areas--

...the idea of the amount of "transformable energy" in our little system coming to an end is based purely on the fallacious conception of a "white-hot, incandescent Sun" perpetually radiating away his heat without compensation into Space. To this we reply that nature runs down and disappears from the objective plane, only to re-emerge after a time of rest out of the subjective and to reascend once more. (S.D. I, 149.)
The Universe is ever-living, but not a life, however vast; it bears every potency of organization, but is not an organism, for it is unconditioned in its infinitude. All such speculations are fallacious attempts to limit the unbounded, and are of the same nature as the philosophical error of trying to set a "beginning" to the human ego itself, or a final "goal" to the development of its potentialities. Man and stars are alike self-generated from the illimitable womb, changing endlessly in manifestation, inexhaustible and immutable in essential being.


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:

ETERNAL FLUX

Observe constantly that all things take place by change, and accustom thyself to consider that the nature of the Universe loves nothing so much as to change the things which are, and to make new things like them. 


--MARCUS AURELIUS

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SCIENCE AND THE SECRET DOCTRINE
BIOMORPHOS
(Part I of II)
(Part 90 of a 103-part series)

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ELEVEN (11) FOOTNOTES LISTED BELOW:

(1) Science, January 22, 1937.
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(2) Science, May 7, 1937.
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(3) Science, December 24, 1937.
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(4) Science, February 21, 1936.
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(5) Associated Press dispatch, June 13, 1934.
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(6) Science, February 8, 1935.
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(7) Science, July 21, 1939.
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(8) New York Herald Tribune, September 4, 1936.
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(9) Science, July 21, 1939.
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(10) The Secret Doctrine, I, 595, 596.
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(11) See THEOSOPHY for August, 1937 (XXV, 450 ff.). [Note: The article referred to here is my number (73) in this "Science and The Secret Doctrine" series. --Compiler.]
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