THEOSOPHY, Vol. 30, No. 2, December, 1941
(Pages 66-71; Size: 18K)
(Number 93 of a 103-part series)



Science, dimly perceiving the truth, may find Bacteria and other infinitesimals in the human body, and see in them but occasional and abnormal visitors to which diseases are attributed. Occultism -- which discerns a life in every atom and molecule ... affirms that our whole body is built of such lives, the smallest bacteria under the microscope being to them in comparative size like an elephant to the tiniest infusoria. (The Secret Doctrine I, 225.)
A RECENT authority says: "Because they bridge the gap between the dead simpler protein molecules and the unquestionably living smaller bacteria, the viruses are irresistibly attractive to all who are interested in attaching precise meaning to the term 'alive'."(1)

Precise meaning to the term "alive!"

How far has modern investigation brought that precision into sight? Let us examine.

The studies of plant disease which led to the concept of "viruses" began with Mayer in 1882.(2) He thought that tobacco mosaic was caused by some orthodox form of bacteria. The extreme minuteness of the causative agent was first suspected by Iwanowski in 1892, who found that it would pass through a filter. This, nota bene, was four years after the publication of The Secret Doctrine.

His idea was that the agent was different in size, but not in kind, from the familiar bacterial forms. It is of deep significance, in relation to the cyclic tides of scientific discovery, that the first questioning of the bacterial theory in this connection came almost at the same time as the culmination of the discoveries of Roentgen and Becquerel, which, agreeably to another famous Secret Doctrine prophecy (Vol. I, 611-12), opened a vast new vista to science in general. The revelation that the atom is not the ultimate unit of matter came in 1897, only a year before the bacterium was found not to be the minutest form of life.

Beijerinck, in 1898, after checking Iwanowski's work, decided that the filter-passing fluid did not contain bacteria, but a parasitic "contagium vivum fluidum" living in the cells of the plant. In the orthodox manner, Iwanowski and Beijerinck bickered over the matter for some time, both probably dying convinced of the righteousness of their respective theories.

In 1925, after saying that "from this brief consideration of the hypotheses it is seen that we do not yet possess a better one than that which assumes a living fluid contagium," Kunkel pointed out that the non-penetration of virus into solid agar indicated it to be corpuscular. He confessed ignorance of the nature of the corpuscles, but thought they were of the nature of living cells. The theory that the mysterious agent was an enzyme (catalytic product of living cells used by them to modify their environment) then became generally accepted.

Confusion was introduced into the investigation by the discovery that the diseases in question were accompanied by the presence of protozoan bodies in the tissues of the plants, and that such bodies were known to be the cause of many animal and human diseases. No evidence yet exists that these bodies cause the plant diseases, but their presence is now considered evidence of the existence of virus. Apparently the first use of the word "virus," originally meaning "poison," was by Baur in 1906.

Baur thought it to be a product of the metabolism (digestive, transformatory, and excretive processes) of the plant. From then on, there was considerable confusion as to the possible nature of the material, some regarding it as living, some as purely chemical.

With the studies of Vinson and Petri, 1927-34, the chemical, non-living theory started to gain ascendancy. This theory was strengthened by the discovery of crystalline substances which produced the diseases -- and of course, crystals were associated in the scientific mind with strictly non-living substances! The status of this theory may be summed up in the words of Stanley:

The possibility that the activity may be due to an impurity must always remain, regardless of the material under discussion. However, since there is no reason to believe that such a situation actually prevails in the case of the virus protein, we are unable at the present time, to conclude other than that the high molecular weight protein under discussion is the virus. Now these same tests that indicate that the virus protein is homogeneous may be used to demonstrate that it possesses the ordinary properties of molecules. As a matter of fact, the chemist, after a perusal of the physical and chemical properties of the tobacco mosaic virus protein, has no difficulty whatsoever in coming to the conclusion that despite its huge size, it has all the properties of a molecule and hence is a molecule.(3)
But the most recent and far-reaching speculation began when Bawden and Pirie, in 1937, isolated proteins from the mosaic structures which were very similar to those of the nuclei of germ-cells. In other words, suspicion arose as to the kinship between viruses and the genes, the basis of reproduction in living beings. Viruses are able to mutate. This was another evidence. They also increase in quantity during their sojourn in a living body, and reproduce themselves exactly. Green and Gortner thought that a virus might be a reproductive organism which had lost its power to produce protoplasm but had survived as a parasite; in other words, a degenerated gene.
Kostoff (1936) made a very interesting comparison of a virus and a gene and concluded by saying:

Some of them coincide, others are similar and some others different. It is very unfortunate that we do not yet know such essential characters according to which we can definitely establish the degree of relationship between genes and viruses. Until that time we have no right to claim that genes are identical with viruses. It is better now to leave this question open, instead of drawing conclusions. We can only say that in many respects the effect of the virus is similar to that of the gene.

McKinney (1938) said:

It is possible that the virus represents a filterable form of some larger organism, or it may represent a degenerated organism which has retrograded by a series of mutations to a stage where a few genes or perhaps a single gene remains to perpetuate as virus.(4)

Riddle thinks that the gene is a single protein molecule. Now this throws a very brilliant light on two problems of vital interest to Theosophists. First of all, The Secret Doctrine teaches that man fell heir to his diseases through cross-breeding, in the early days of fluidity of types, with species allied in form but dissimilar in astral and Karmic constitution. There is no evidence against the possibility, from the most scientific standpoint, that the reproductive particles in such miscegenations might undergo a whole series of anomalous and monstrous procreations with and within the animal cells, giving rise to the viruses as now known and also to various germs which in turn would undergo innumerable mutations.

Second, it is another powerful point of evidence that modern immunological methods are mere repetitions under another guise of the "sin of the mindless," involving new dangers to the physical (and moral) future of the individual as well as to his descendants. For this we have from time to time already reported much evidence.

It would be particularly agreeable to the scientific mind to be able to consider the virus as a purely chemical substance which could be so handled. According to Dr. Ralph Wyckoff:

A new field of research into the mechanism and control of disease is opened up by the possibility of treating its cause as a pure chemical compound. Stanley has found that the virus activity of the tobacco mosaic protein can be destroyed by several simple chemicals without alteration of its immunological specificity. Beard and I have shown that under certain conditions the papilloma protein loses all activity without measurable molecular change. It is not unreasonable to hope that experiments of this type will some day indicate a new way in which the body can be aided in protecting itself against disease.
In supporting this thesis, Wyckoff tries to imagine a purely "chemical" method of virus reproduction:
As long as the smaller viruses were pictured as autonomous living agents preying on their hosts, their multiplication could be thought of as the consequence of processes resembling bacterial division. Viruses that are definite chemical molecules can be imagined not as such extraneous predatory organisms but as products of abnormal metabolic processes within the "infected" cells. We still know far too little about the details of protein chemistry to be able to understand how the introduction of a heavy virus molecule into a living cell induces its protoplasm to break down according to the new pattern established by this molecule, but the idea is not incompatible with what has already been learned about enzymal action.(5)
Prof. Soule stated that these viruses are generally accepted as living entities.(6) As though the situation were not already sufficiently confused, the researches of Prof. Richard Goldschmidt, formerly of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute, have gone far to upset the gene theory as formerly held, indicating that heredity is the interaction of factors which cannot be traced to so simple an explanation as the combination and recombination of genes.(7) Dr. Ethel Browne Harvey, Department of Biology of Princeton University, has succeeded in securing early embryonic forms of life from fragments of eggs without nuclear substance, i.e., without genes.(8) To which perhaps the only adequate reply would be that women should be kept in their place and out of biological laboratories! For this is coming very close to the "homunculi" of Paracelsus, and presaging the creation of parentless "life" long predicted Theosophically.

Now, all these investigations have been of the nature of extending our knowledge of the "living" toward the border of the "non-living"; but very recently the approach has been made from the other direction, that of tracing the traits of the "non-living" up into the "living."

Dr. Geo. A. Baitsell, of Yale University, who carried out extensive X-ray studies, claims that living matter was found to be crystalline. When the cell loses the ability to break down and reform the crystals in continuous sequence, death ensues:

To Dr. Baitsell the evidence points conclusively to a principle of uniformity in all nature, which has hitherto been lacking. The biologist has regarded the world of life as being unique in its structural characteristics, but the x-ray shows crystals in everything and basic uniformity everywhere.(9)
W. D. Francis said nearly the same thing later.(10) He pointed out evidence, from the geometric outline of cells and the refraction of cell walls, that cellular material is crystalline; furthermore, he stated that the iron bacterium is a crystalline form of life.

Now all this overlaps the basic Theosophical doctrines, for in Theosophy there can be no unit so small as to be deprived of life, and the organized forms of life are due to the subconscious geometric ratiocination of the "builders" as much as are the mineral crystal formations.

Scientifically, the discovery of self-reproducing molecules has driven the line of the "organic" down into the "non-living" region; the discovery of the crystalline nature of life has driven the "inorganic" up into the region of the "living." Now what?

There are scientists wandering now in every part of this shadowy borderline, but they are of two schools; the one to which all this is a triumph of materialism, claiming that all "life" is merely the combinations of the "non-living"; the other, smaller, but growing rapidly, is moving toward a rejection of any borderline. And thus toward Theosophy.

Esoteric philosophy teaches that everything lives and is conscious, but not that all life and consciousness are similar to those of human or even animal beings.... The idea of universal life is one of those ancient conceptions which are returning to the human mind in this century, as a consequence of its liberation from anthropomorphic theology.... It hardly seems possible that science can disguise from itself much longer ... that things that have life are living things, whether they be atoms or planets. (S.D. I, 49.)
Inexorable logic is with the universalist school. The proposition is just as simple as this: if all life is a manifestation of non-conscious matter, then the existence of any consciousness at all must be denied. (The materialist avoids this conclusion only by refusing to let the discussion be carried that far.) If, on the other hand, consciousness is latent in everything (and how could consciousness arise in the "living" unless it is latent in the "non-living" of which it is composed?), then everything lives. For the very essence of "life" is consciousness of some degree.

In the end, Universal Life will have to be admitted. The lines of investigation described will lead to finer and finer subdivisions of molecular matter, with the "line" still receding, until the atom itself is reached; continued "splitting of the atom" -- metaphysically as well as physically -- will lead science into the bosom of unorganized Space itself for its answer. And then, at last, it may begin to be suspected that the source of "life" can never be found until the investigator learns to look within "with reverted sight." For he is himself the "source" of all the "life" he sees, which is a mere reflection from within upon an endless series of forms generated by his own creative imaginings. The unconscious manufacture of elusive appearances will go on just as long as their pursuit continues.

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(1) Science, July 30, 1937.
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(2) Scientific Monthly, April, 1939.
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(3) Scientific Monthly, April, 1939.
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(4) Ibid.
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(5) Science, July 30, 1937.
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(6) Science, July 29, 1938.
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(7) New York Times, December 5, 1937.
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(8) New York Times, November 27, 1937; Science News Letter, October 12, 1935.
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(9) Science, August 13, 1937.
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(10) Science, January 7, 1938.
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