THEOSOPHY, Vol. 27, No. 8, June, 1939
(Pages 350-355; Size: 18K)
(Number 52 of a 59-part series)
THE GREEK ATOMISTS AND SOPHISTS
THE last decade of the nineteenth century witnessed the birth-throes of a new scientific era. Prior to that time, matter and electricity were viewed as separate entities, and the atom was considered to be an indivisible particle of matter. The scientists of last century so feared the consequences which might flow from any theoretical subdivision of this ultimate particle that men like Butlerof and Büchner declared that the admission of the divisibility of the atom would lead to a doubt of the very existence of matter itself. In 1888 H. P. Blavatsky boldly asserted that "it is on the illusive nature of matter and the infinite divisibility of the atom that the science of Occultism is built." Furthermore, she warned the scientists that the ultimate division of the atom would resolve matter into simple centers of force, thus precluding the possibility of conceiving matter as an objective substance. At the same time she predicted that materialistic science would receive a death blow between 1888 and 1897. That prophecy was fulfilled to the letter, for between 1895 and 1897 the discoveries made by Roentgen, Zeeman, the Curies, Lorenz and Thomson gave the world an entirely new conception of both matter and the atom.
Since the dawn of the twentieth century, matter has entirely lost its individuality, becoming "merely an electrical phenomenon," as Paul R. Heyl states in the Smithsonian Institution Report for 1935. The atom has been divided and subdivided, each new discovery making it necessary to revise the conception of its structure. The atom of Rutherford, in which electrons revolved like planets around a central nucleus, gave way to the Bohr atom, in which the electrons jumped from orbit to orbit. Finally the atom was turned over to the mathematician. Now that the scientists themselves admit that the atom is an abstraction, it has entered the realm of metaphysics, where, fifty years ago, H.P.B. said that it belongs.
Once again science and philosophy are overlapping, as they did in Greece 2,500 years ago. As Waldemar Kaempffert observes, "the mathematical physicist, who once had nothing but contempt for the philosopher because he was not an experimenter, has of necessity become a philosopher himself." As inductive Science corroborates the hypotheses of these early philosophers more and more, may we not hope that it will begin to show a better appreciation of the wisdom of the ancients than it has done in the past?
Modern science has ended with the confession that science and philosophy cannot be separated. The Greek scientists of the fifth and sixth centuries B.C. started with that assumption. Modern science started with a speck of matter and has traced it back to an immaterial source. The early Greek scientists started with the Source Itself.
The Greek concept of that Primal Source coincides perfectly with the ancient teachings regarding primordial matter, its properties, functions and laws. Hesiod described it as "Chaos" -- infinite, boundless, beginningless and endless, an abstraction and at the same time a visible "presence." The Greek Chaos was SPACE filled with darkness, or primordial matter in its pre-genetic state. In that condition it was homogeneous, differentiating at the dawn of manifestation and becoming the root of all the forms of matter which would be developed during that period of evolution. This homogeneous matter, however, was not considered as inert and motionless. No mind capable of penetrating into the realm of metaphysics can conceive of absolute, abstract space apart from absolute, abstract motion. The two are as indissolubly united in the realm of the abstract as they are on the phenomenal plane.
Thales of Miletus, the first Greek philosopher of historical times, postulated the existence of primordial matter. His friend and associate Anaximander completed the picture by declaring this primordial matter to be animated by eternal, ceaseless motion. Anaximenes identified this motion with Life itself, asserting that the universe is a living organism, every particle of which is endowed with life. As these three men had been initiated into the Mysteries, they naturally considered the atom from the occult point of view -- as the first-born of the ever-concealed Cause of all Causes; hence as a center of potential vitality. Being Initiates, they knew the occult teaching concerning the relationship between Space, motion and atoms. Space, in Occultism, is the all-container. Atoms fill the immensity of Space, and in their aggregate are that Motion which keeps the wheels of life revolving.
The early Ionian philosophers concerned themselves primarily with the Source of the atom. Their successors, the later Ionians, indicated the atomic changes which have been taking place ever since the universe came into being. As Heraclitus said, "Nothing is; all is becoming." According to the archaic secret doctrine taught in the Mysteries, the purpose of evolution is for the collective progress of the countless "lives" which are but the out-breathings of the One Life. Hence, during this period of "Ever-Becoming," every atom in the manifested universe passes by gradual stages from the formless and intangible down into matter in full generation, and then back again, every stage of transformation bringing it nearer and nearer to the final goal, when it is again absorbed into its original Source, the unconditioned ALL.
This process was described by Anaxagoras, the pupil of Anaximenes and the teacher of Socrates. He taught that rotatory motion was generated by purer atoms forcing the others downwards, the lighter ones at the same time being forced upward. He believed that this circular motion caused the cyclic curve of differentiated elements, in which each element strives to return to the place of its origin. Going still further, he declared that these atoms were not specks of brute matter, but on the contrary were animated by intelligence, to which he gave the name of Nous. The theory of elemental vortices, therefore, was not first formulated by Galileo and Descartes, but was propounded by Anaxagoras 2,000 years before.
Although the philosophers of the Ionian School paved the way for the later Atomists, the cosmological scheme based upon the atomic theory is usually attributed to Leucippus. Following in the footsteps of his predecessors, Leucippus affirmed that everything can be traced back to Space and the atoms which fill it. He said that although atoms are alike in essence, changes arise in their mutual relations. Being the very essence of Motion itself, they are constantly moving, driven by an energy inherent in themselves. This gives rise to a never-ending series of groupings, separations and re-groupings. Rotatory motion, he declared, is produced through the aggregation of these atoms, lateral movement through their collisions, and from these constant permutations and combinations the complex and kaleidoscopic universe came into being.
The gyratory motion of atoms, therefore, appears as one of the oldest concepts of Greek philosophy. When Newton, in 1675, said that "Nature is a circulatory worker, generating fluids out of solids, fixed things out of volatile, subtile out of gross, and gross out of subtile," he was merely repeating what these Greek scientists had taught 2,000 years before he was born.
As there were no mechanical instruments for studying atomic movement in antiquity, how were these Greek scientists able to perceive the circular motion which they so accurately described? As it was beyond the range of physical perception, it is reasonable to suppose that they depended upon the testimony of senses higher than the physical. This explanation becomes still more plausible when we remember that the training of these higher senses formed part of the discipline of the Mysteries.
Every one who has studied the science of Occultism knows that there are seven planes of substance. Six of these planes exist outside of our normal consciousness, beyond the range of our physical senses, in realms other than our three-dimensional space and our divisions of time. If we follow the atoms of the physical plane upward in their transformations, they will reach a point where they pass altogether beyond the range of the physical senses. In The Secret Doctrine (I, 633) H.P.B. describes how these atoms appear to the eye of the Seer, whose super-physical senses permit him to penetrate into the inter-stellar shoals. These atoms appear to him as dazzling specks of virgin snow seen in radiant sunlight. Their velocity is swifter than thought, more rapid than any eye of sense could follow, and furthermore, their motion is circular.
No physical eye will ever see the ultimate atom. Only when the sixth sense is developed -- the sense able to perceive the property of matter known as Permeability -- will the atom be recognized for what it is: a potential center of force, a living point of energy, a tiny universe endowed with consciousness, intelligence and memory. Every atom has seven planes of existence, each plane being governed by its own specific laws of evolution and absorption, visible to one of man's seven senses and cognizable in one of his seven states of consciousness.
Those Greek philosophers who had been initiated into the Mysteries knew the limitations of the physical senses and the impossibility of obtaining real knowledge through any of them. The uninitiated believed that the only knowledge possible to man must be acquired through the senses. Thus the thinkers of Greece were divided on the question: Is knowledge one, or are there two forms of knowledge, the one relative and changing, the other absolute and changeless? Democritus of Abdera, who had been instructed by the Magi, declared that "there are two forms of knowledge, the trueborn and the bastard." To the latter he assigned all forms of knowledge which are acquired through the physical senses. "The trueborn," he said, "is quite apart from these." Against this position were ranged a group of men known as the Sophists, who declared that the knowledge which Democritus had described as "bastard" was the only possible truth. Protagoras, their leader, denied that real, changeless knowledge exists, maintaining that "man is the measure of all things." Knowledge differs with every individual, he said, hence "this is true to me and that to thee."
To any one who had been initiated into the Mysteries, such relativism had application only to the phenomenal world. The whole system of Pythagoras was founded upon the idea of an eternal, changeless Unity underlying all diversities. This Unity, being a universal concept, was applied to all particulars, even to knowledge itself. When Plato, who was also an Initiate, came upon the scene, he openly attacked the fallacies of the Sophists. For Plato there was only one object worthy of attainment and that was real knowledge. He considered the only genuine philosophers to be those who possessed the knowledge of the really-existing in opposition to mere objects of perception; of the always-existing in opposition to the transitory; of the permanently-existing in opposition to that which waxes and wanes and is alternately generated and destroyed.
Plato was perfectly willing to admit that a certain form of knowledge is obtainable through the senses. He called this knowledge Perception. But he declared that another form of knowledge exists which is not derived from the senses. That he called Real Knowledge. He agreed with the Sophists that perceptive knowledge does differ with the individual. He emphatically disagreed with their assertion that real knowledge does not exist. He discusses the matter in full detail in his Protagoras, Sophist and Theaetetus, where he accuses the Sophists of trying to replace the permanent with the transitory, the changeless with the ever changing, and declaring their doctrine to be a perversion, an attempt to supplant true knowledge with mere verisimilitude.
Plato did not originate this idea. Long before his day the Egyptian Hermes had described these two forms of knowledge, and in still earlier times they had been described in the ancient Stanzas of Dzyan as Dzyu and Dzyu-mi.Dzyu is the one real (magical) knowledge, or Occult Wisdom; which, dealing with eternal truths and primal causes, becomes almost omniscience when applied in the right direction. Its antithesis is Dzyu-mi, that which deals with illusions and false appearances only, as in our exoteric modern sciences (The Secret Doctrine I, 108.)It is upon the basis of this latter form of knowledge -- which Democritus describes as "bastard," Plato as "Perception," and H.P.B. as the knowledge of illusions and false appearances -- that modern science has conducted its experiments and made its deductions. Shall our scientists be blamed for pursuing the only course open to them, since it is no longer possible for them to be initiated into the Mysteries? As H.P.B. pointed out, "outside of such initiation for every thinker there will be a 'thus far and no farther,' mapped out by his intellectual capacity."
Although the Mysteries of Greece have disappeared, the real knowledge upon which they were founded has come down the centuries unchanged. Since the publication of The Secret Doctrine in 1888, there has been no longer any need to depend upon "bastard" knowledge, since that book contains all of the real knowledge that is possible to be given to the world in this century. If that book is carefully studied, the noumenal world of Pythagoras, the World of Ideas of Plato, and Kant's World of Things-in-themselves, will be recognized as substantial, practical realities -- as scientific facts.
Our present methods of scientific investigation, however far they may lead us, will never reveal the secrets of the universe as they were disclosed in the Mysteries. The daring explorer, who would probe the inmost secrets of Nature, must transcend the narrow limitations of sense, and learn how to transfer his consciousness into the region of noumena and the sphere of primal cause. To accomplish this, he must develop faculties which are still dormant in the majority of the race. The development of those faculties, however, must be accompanied by strict moral discipline and a spirit of altruism which encompasses the whole of Nature.
The science of Occultism is based upon the fact that in every man there is latent a power which can lead him to true knowledge and enable him to deal with universal principles and primal causes. If our scientists would start with universal principles they would discover that the real atom does not exist on the physical plane. If they would study the sevenfold constitution of nature and man, they would soon see that the real atom is the seventh, or highest principle of a molecular form, just as Atma is the seventh, or highest principle of man. The Secret Doctrine is filled with valuable hints to scientists. One is found on page 580 of the first volume, where H.P.B. says that "there is but one science that can henceforth direct modern research into the one path which will lead to the discovery of the whole, hitherto occult truth, and it is chemistry." The chemistry of which she speaks, however, is not the chemistry of yesterday and today, but the chemistry of the future, which she calls the New Alchemy, or Metachemistry.
(Part 53 of a 59-part series)
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