Wrong Popular Notions
The Path, November, 1894
“What are your proofs?” is often asked of the Theosophical student who believes in reincarnation and Karma, who holds t the existence of the astral body, and who thinks that evolution demands a place in the cosmos for Mahâtmâs (or great souls) as facts and ideals. “If you cannot prove reincarnation just as you would a fact in a court of law, I will not believe,” says one, while another says, “Make such objective demonstrations as science does, and then you may expect me to agree with you.” But in truth all these objectors accept as proven in the way they demand for Theosophy many things which on a slight examination are seen to rest as much on theory and metaphysical argument as do any of the doctrines found in Theosophical literature. The axioms of mathematics are unprovable; the very word assumes that they have to be accepted. Being accepted, we go forward and on the basis of their unproved truth demonstrate other and succedent matters. The theories of modern astronomy are taken as true because by their means eclipses are foretold and other great achievements of that science made possible. But many centuries ago quite different theories of the relations and motions and structure of the heavens allowed the old astronomers to make the same deductions. Let us examine a few words and things.
The atom and the molecule are very influential words. They are constantly used by people claiming to follow science, but who indulge in criticisms on the uncertainties of Theosophical speculation. Yet no one ever saw an atom or a molecule. They are accepted as facts by science—just as the spiritually—inclined accept the existence of the invisible soul—yet it is impossible to objectively prove either the one or the other. They are deemed to be proven because they are necessary. But let a Theosophist say that the astral body exists, and Mahâtmâs also, because both are necessary in evolution, and at once a demand arises for “demonstration by objective proofs”.
The sun is the apparent source of energy, and is confidently supposed by many to be a mass of burning material. No one, however, knows this to be so. No one was ever there, and the whole set of theories regarding the luminary rests on assumptions. Many natural facts are against some of the theories. The great fact that the higher the mountain the more cold it is on top would be one, not wholly accounted for by theories as to radiation. And when we remember the great, the immense, difference between the various scientific estimates of the sun’s heat, doubt increases. Seeing that electricity is now so much better known, and that it is apparently all pervading, the ancient idea that the sun is a center of electrical or magnetic energy which turns into heat as well as other things on reaching here, becomes plausible and throws some spice of illusion into the doctrine that our sun is a mass of burning matter.
Again, the sun is seen as if over the horizon in full view every clear evening, when in fact he has been some minutes down below the line of sight. Refraction partly accounts for his, but none the less is his apparent visibility or position above the horizon an illusion.
Many of those that are known as fixed stars are immeasurably far away. Sirius is at an immense distance, and has been receding always many thousands of miles each minute. Others are so far off that it takes one hundred thousand years for their light to reach here.
Yet since records began they have all remained apparently in one place and in the same relation to each other. They constitute a vast illusion. They are moving and yet they remain still. We point the telescope at one of our sister planets, and knowing that its light takes fifteen minutes or more to get to us, we must be continually directing the glass to a point where the planet is not, and by no possibility can we point to where it actually is. Still, for all this uncertainty, many complicated and definite calculations are based on these observations of mere illusions.
LATITUDE AND LONGITUDE
These are practically used every hour of the day for the safe-guarding of human life and property. But they exist only in the brains of men, for they are not in the sky or on land. They are theoretical divisions made by man, and they are possible only because the sole reality in nature is that which is jeered at by many as the ideal. But if the ancients are said to be constructors of a great human chart in the Zodiac, the divisions of which have a bearing on the navigation of the great ocean of human evolution, the proud practical man says that you have but shown the ancients to be fanciful, superstitious, grotesque. But they were not so. Doubtless the saying recorded of Jesus about the time when we should see “the sign of the Son of Man in the heavens” will not so far from now be found to have a practical meaning in human life.
The ancient Sage was like the modern captain. The captain takes an observation of the illusionary stars and the blazing sun, thus discovering whether his ship is near of far from land. The Sage observed the Zodiac, and from the manner it and its boats were related to each other he was able to calculate whether the human freight in the boat of human evolution was near a rock or on the free, open sea in its eternal and momentous journey.
SENSATION OF TOUCH
Every one is accustomed to say that he has touched this or that object on which his fingers may have rested. But this is not so. We do not touch anything; we only perceive and report a sensation which we call touch. If that sensation is due to actual contact between he skin and object, then the harder we pressed, and thus the nearer we came to the object’s surface, the more accurate should be the sensation. If fact, however, if we press hard we dull the sensation and turn it into one of pain for the skin. There is always a space between the skin and the surface dealt with, just as there is always a space between the molecules of each mass. If two smooth planes be pushed on to each other they well adhere, and the smoother they are the more difficult it will be to get them apart. If we could actually touch the hand to any surface so as to cover all of it with a touching surface, we could not withdraw the hand at all. All that we get, then, by what we call touch is the idea produced by the vibration and by than much of contact as is possible in the case.
Quite Theosophical is the scientist when he says that “we cannot know anything of the actual nature of matter in itself, but can only know the sensation or the phenomena.” The mineral or metal called even the hardest is not solid or continuous in itself. This is now admitted by all scientific men. Even the diamond, “hardest of all,” is a mass of moving molecules made up of like moving atoms. Its hardness is only relative. It is simply harder than glass because its atoms are moving at a more rapid rate. In a recent lecture in London Mr. Bell, a scientific light, told how the edge or point of the diamond cuts the glass because the molecules on the diamond move rapidly and get in between the slower ones of the glass and thus cut it. And so it is with all other masses of matter. They are only masses of molecules in different rates of vibration; none of them solid or hard save in a relative sense. Is it not true, then, as so often held by philosophers and so insisted on by those Adepts who gave us information through H. P. Blavatsky that the world we are in is to be properly considered in a metaphysical sense and not as a mere mechanism that can be explained on mechanical principles? An in the face of all the illusions and all the speculations of life and science, why should the Theosophist be asked to make or give any different sort of proofs that those availed of by science in all its investigations? There is no reason.