September 2013 Newsletter

The following articles are reproduced from the September 2013 Newsletter to members. Non-members may or may not be able to relate to the contents.  

Theosophy in Science

 

An extract from Practical Theosophy by C. Jinarājadāsa.
 

 

THEOSOPHY stands foremost among the religious philosophies of the world today in the wholehearted acceptance of the facts of modern science. More than this, Theosophy so continually appeals to observation and reason that an inquirer into Theosophy, who has had any preliminary scientific training, finds himself thoroughly at home in the Theosophical method. This is not necessarily because the conclusions of science and Theosophy are the same, but because both are the result of a certain method of inquiry. We owe the modern scientific method largely to the work of Francis Bacon; it was he who laid such emphasis on the need of careful observation, of methodical grouping of facts, and of rising from particular ideas about them to general concepts of natural law. This method of induction has enabled the modern scientist to discover great fundamental natural laws, and the practical application of the discoveries of science has been to revolutionize civilization.

 

The facts which have so far been considered by the modern scientist tell us of a vast mechanical process in Nature, and, within her an inexplicable tendency to transformation which is called Evolution; and this tendency, ever at work, brings into being the myriads of forms in the mineral, vegetable and animal kingdoms. The facts observed show us a great ladder of life, which stretches without a break from the speck of dust to the greatest human genius.

 

Of course it is recognized that this process, which has created the human intelligence, must not be judged in its sole relation to man, for man is only one species out of myriads. Now, if we consider what science says about man, then, so far as the generally accepted facts of modern science tell us, man, as an individual of his type, is merely a material form and the forces playing through that form. When that material form disintegrates, nothing remains of him except what slight change he has caused, in the trend of the evolutionary process, by any attempts he may have made to modify his environment away from savagery and towards civilization.

 

Theosophy has no doubts to cast upon scientific facts, nor as to their complete authority to solve the problems of life. There are, however, certain weaknesses inherent in modern science which make the present scientific conclusions only of partial value. The first of these is the over-hasty generalization which characterizes the inductive method in practice; theoretically, the conclusions drawn from a group of facts should be recognized as warranted only so long as no contradictory facts present themselves; in practice, however, the tendency is for the scientist, when his hypothesis seems to explain his facts, to take for granted that there are not other facts which might question his deductions. There is hence an authoritative conclusion in scientific theories which is really unscientific. A striking instance of his weakness in scientific method is illustrated by the geological theories as to the age of the world, which was stated conclusively not so many decades ago to be only a few hundred thousand years. But one sole fact, in itself of no greater consequence in evolution than any other fact, the nature of Radium, has largely modified all these geological theories; and scientists now feel warranted in assuming that the earth's age should be counted by millions of years instead of by hundreds of thousands. A second example is the way that theories of heredity were accepted for decades as absolutely conclusive, in the light of the assumption that acquired characteristics were transmitted; this assumption was accepted as a truth mainly because the facts so far gathered did not contradict such a hypothesis. But a few facts discovered in the crossing of peas, considered so trivial as not to deserve notice for several years, have imposed on the old theories an entirely new adjustment to facts, and Darwin's theories are profoundly modified today by the facts of Mendelism. "When modern science began, it was Bacon's intention that the first hypotheses, however absolute they seemed to be in their agreement with facts, should be nothing more than what he called "First Vintages"; but it is the tendency of the scientist to come to finalities when he observes his facts, and to presume that because finalities are useful for the practical purposes of experiment and life, therefore they must be accepted as the fundamental verities.

 

A second weakness in science is due more to the individual scientist and less to the method, and this is exemplified in the general tendency, still shown by scientists, to ignore those facts which tend to prove a psychic or spiritual nature in man. Scientists, owing to an unscientific bias, have erected barriers to truth in this matter as cramping to human progress as any that theologies have ever made. Even today, the small band of scientists who have scientifically examined such facts about man's spiritual nature as are within the range of modern science, meet with an unscientific hostility when they announce the results of their investigations, largely because those results condemn the dogmatism of past scientific conclusion.

 

A third and a more fundamental weakness of science, so far as practical life is concerned, is that science cannot give, by her very nature, a real philosophy of life. Every day that passes adds to the old stock of facts, and so many specialised branches of science now appear, that today we cannot "see the wood for the trees". There are so many facts being discovered, that every scientific "law" must be held merely tentatively, if we are to be strictly scientific; one new fact as Radium may mean a profound modification of the "law". Science can legitimately only describe a process, and not a direction; not having all the facts, she cannot scientifically presume any kind of a resultant diagonal. Science can, therefore, never give a philosophy, but she can give the indispensable facts for one.

 

Theosophy, dealing as it does continually with the facts of the Universe, is but a continuation of science; the difference, however, is that Theosophy has a larger group of facts to go upon, and also shows in what way an individual can discover for himself that final diagonal of life which is the true philosophy of conduct. The facts of Theosophy have been gathered in precisely the same way as the geologist or physicist gathers his facts, that is, by a carefully trained faculty of observation, leading to induction and deduction, and tested repeatedly by every new fact. In Theosophy there is the tradition of an Ancient Wisdom, carefully built up by this method by mighty scientific Intelligences, who are called the Masters of the Wisdom; it is their scientific knowledge which is stated in modern Theosophy. The principal point in which this ancient science differs from the modern is in the conclusion, in the light of facts discovered by the ancient scientists, that the evolutionary process consists in a dual development of life and of form. Every object consists of the form it appears to be, and a life which holds the matter in that form, but is capable of independent existence at the dissolution of the form. This life may seem scarcely to have the characteristics of life, as in a piece of mineral, or it may show the first germs of what we call life, as in the fungus. Just as science shows a magnificent ladder of the evolution of form, so Theosophy shows a similar ladder of the evolution of life and consciousness, from that of the atom to that of the Creator of the Universe. The Masters of the Wisdom have also brought within the range of scientific observation the invisible worlds, upon the fringes of which some modern scientists are now beginning to come in some of their experiments.

 

Moreover Theosophy can give that which modern science cannot give legitimately, and that is a proof of the final consummation of evolution, which is the transformation of the human individual consciousness, by a process of rebirth and growth, into a consciousness showing the attributes of Divinity. The immortality of the soul and its steady growth into greater life need not always be mere speculations, because Theosophy points out how an individual can know these things for himself.

 

The method of discovery of these "final causes" follows logically from the highest ideals of modern science, which inculcate a pure, impersonal observation and thinking. Theosophy carries this high scientific thought concerning nature into a vaster realm, presenting to the intelligence the greater ranges of facts of the invisible worlds. The high training of the imagination which Theosophy gives, guided as it is by a perfect altruism, evokes then within the individual's consciousness a new faculty greater than mind, and this new faculty can know the final causes. When the perfect scientist, or the true Theosophist, has " cast out the self" in his observation of life, his mind develops a luminous quality which makes it the mirror which reflects a greater faculty than the mind itself. This new faculty, which is nearest described, though only partly, by the word Intuition, is acquired by no external means, but is born within a man's own inner nature; it gives him then the sole criterion of Truth, for beyond any doubt of the most critical mind, he is able to know Truth at first hand for himself. In thus continuing the scientific training of the mind till the mind itself is transcended, Theosophy fills up the inevitable gaps in the scientific method, since it gives that final criterion directly to each individual, for the lack of which science is unable to give a valid philosophy of life and conduct.

 

The great value of science in human evolution is due not only to the practical changes that the discovery of natural law effects in civilization, but also to the spiritual training that each individual gains by being taught to be scientific in his observation of the world around him. There is no one who can do without the scientific method, till at least he gains sufficient serenity and purity of mind to discover the higher process of intuition within him; the more are the facts of nature, to be observed by him impersonally and purely, which are brought into the consciousness of man, the more is he helped to realize the higher nature within him. This is why the scientific method is a necessary part of the highest human training and of spiritual growth.

 

Theosophy applied to science means that scientific facts are considered not mainly for their utilitarian value to add to man's comforts, but primarily because their understanding shows man the true harmony of the larger whole of which he is but a part. There is no greater strength or dignity possible to man than from his realization of a Divine Mind at work in all the manifestations of nature; for when that Divine Mind is seen, then it is seen as the Good, the True and the Beautiful; and when that Divine Mind is reverenced, then man himself grows in wisdom, strength and beauty. Only slight changes are needed, in the present groupings of scientific facts, to show to man's intelligence the wonderful design that is woven in nature to make a perfection and harmony cognisable alike by the eye and the brain. The study of nature's forms, under the guidance of Theosophical scientists, can be worked out, even for little children, so as to train the mind to reverence all manifestations of life, whether in stone or plant or animal. Specially would emphasis be laid on the geometry of nature, according to which electrons are built into atoms, and atoms into elements, and elements into the forms of the mineral, vegetable and animal kingdoms; not chemical forces alone would be studied, but chemical shapes too. The Platonic solids, with their development from the tetrahedron into the icosahedron, would be studied as the " axes of growth " of all forms. Science would then give the alphabet of rhythm and beauty, learning which, men would know how to find beauty everywhere in every object of all the worlds, visible and invisible. A pure intellect is the glory of science, and the pure in mind take conscious delight in the Good, the True and the Beautiful, which mirrors itself in their minds.

 

Every child should be taught to observe the life of nature around him; he should be guided to take a keen interest in such facts of nature as are within the range of his experiences, and his elders should carefully lead him on stage by stage in his discoveries and in his thinking till, even with his child's limitations, he develops something of the faculty of impersonal observation. He will then develop, if not a keen interest in nature, at least a deep respect for her ways. This faculty, which he develops through a scientific training, will affect his whole mentality, enabling him to come more quickly than without such training to truth in all the departments of life in which he will engage. His moral nature will manifest greater justice because he will be less passionate in his judgment; he will be less affected by hearsay and opinion and popular prejudice because of the growing instinct in him to be on guard against the mere presentations of facts, when such presentations are not real but illusory. There would be less of malice and hatred, gossip and prejudice in the world, if men in their childhood were to be trained in the rudiments of scientific thinking; these moral failings become impossible when the cause of them, which is false thought, is removed.

 

The message of Theosophy to science is to bring out her real strength as an aid to the discovery of truth. For that which science deals with, the facts of nature, are expressions of a great Divine Life; and he who can come in the true scientific spirit before a fact comes indeed before God Himself. For a fact, when clearly conceived, is a fragment of the great Reality in which is all that men need for their growth and happiness. The truer the Theosophist, the more scientific he is, just as the truer the scientist is to his ideal method, the more of a Theosophist he is, in fact though not in name.

 

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