In our civilization, science and the idea of progress are
so closely related in practice and in concept that most people
can hardly think of one without immediately calling the other
to mind. Standings as we do at the beginning of a new century
and a new millennium, writes David Glasner (Modern Age,
Winter 2001), anyone who cares deeply about this civilization
of ours and its fate in the centuries to come is bound to give
some thought to science and its future progress.
In thinking about progress [writes Glasner] one must also
recognize how fraught with ambiguities that idea now appears
to us. We certainly continue to believe and expect material progress
in objective, conventional measures of human well-being, like
wealth, output, population, and life-expectancy. But seemingly
fewer people accept today that those conventional measures are
the only, or even the best, ways by which to gauge human progress
It could easily be argued that in many not insignificant
areas of life we have for some time not been witnessing progress
or even stagnation, but decadence, degeneration, and headlong
.It seems undeniable that there are ample
grounds for arguing that the past century has produced not musical,
literary, or artistic progress, but a palpable retrogression.
Nor are the signs of retrogression limited to the aesthetic realm.
Signs of what many would regard as social decay abound; increases
(until recently) in violent crime, a general breakdown in the
family, increases in births out of wedlock, and a glamorization
of violence and pornography are deeply troubling to a wide section
of the public. There is undeniably a widespread unease with the
direction in which modern culture, in the most comprehensive
sense of the term, has and continues to develop. Ours is a culture
that is getting less and less serious, more and more superficial,
less thoughtful, more violent, and more intent on shocking our
Why have we grown so uneasy about progress in science?
social change, driven by scientific and technological progress,
inevitably threatens the kind of community life in which traditional
values are preserved, enforced, and transmitted. But adding to
the unsettling social instability that progress in science leaves
in its wake, recent advances in genetics and genetic engineering
are raising disturbing concerns about our power to use science
not just to control our external environment but to control who
and what we are, in short to recreate ourselves as individuals,
even as a species
With science putting into our hands powers to recreate not
just our environment but ourselves in ways that not so long ago
we could not have imagined, and after the moral constraints that
used to inhibit our conduct have lost their binding force, we
cannot but tremble at what kind of a future we may be creating
for ourselves and our children
.I do believe that it is
appropriate to question the extent to which the quest to understand
has been tied and perhaps subordinated to an effort to control
Science has become the handmaiden of Big Government and Big Business
We may have unwittingly entered into a Faustian bargain that
makes it impossible for us to shift to a slower rate of technological
progress and economic growth than we have become accustomed to
without incurring greater sacrifices than we are willing to bear.
Our challenge in this century will be to find some way of coping
with this dilemma. Before we can cope with it we must first acknowledge
There is no consensus of opinion on what constitutes true
progress. It can mean one thing to one person and another thing
to another person. The article "The Struggle for Existence,"
first published in Lucifer, April 1889 (reprinted in THE
THEOSOPHICAL MOVEMENT, June 1969) has this to say:
The path of right progress should include the amelioration
of the individual, the nation, the race, and humanity; and ever
keeping in view the last and grandest object, the perfecting
of man, should reject all apparent bettering of the individual
at the expense of his neighbour. In actual life the evolution
of these factors, individual, race and nation, are so intimately
interblended, that it would be wrong to assume any progression
from one to the other; but since it is only possible to see one
face of an object at a time, so it is necessary to trace the
course of progress along some particular line, both for its simplification
and general comprehension.
With archaeological discoveries and better dating methods,
evidences of long-buried ancient civilizations are emerging in
various parts of the world. Archaeologists are now saying that
native Americans were building cities nearly five thousand years
ago. Some go even further and say that the city of Caral in Peru
was built about the same time as the great pyramids of Egypt.
Caral is 23 kilometres from the ocean in central Peru's Supe
Valley. The age and nature of Caral challenge established theories.
New Scientist (May 5) has this to say:
The settlement may give us the earliest view yet of the pristine
development of complex society, says Jonathan Haas, an archaeologist
at the Field Museum in Chicago, who did the dating
Haas's carbon dates came as a surprise. "Nobody anticipated
these sites could be as big as they were and as early as they
seemed," he told New Scientist. The dates show Caral
was occupied for about 600 years.
The new dates could also turn theories of how civilization
emerged on their head. Archaeologist Michael Moseley proposed
that cities first grew on the coast, where people made a living
from the sea. However, Caral was some distance from the coast.
Residents irrigated land by the river to grow crops
"This is really very exciting," says Dan Sandweiss,
an archaeologist at the University of Maine in Orono. Caral's
size and distance inland are "really starling."
Haas thinks Caral was the centre of a larger culture that
included smaller settlements such as Aspero. All are believed
to be a similar age to Caral
. "I don't know of anything
like it in the whole world, where you have this density of sites
in one small valley," said Haas.
H.P.B.'s four-part article "A Land of Mystery" (reprinted
from The Theosophist in THE THEOSOPHICAL MOVEMENT for
May, June, July and August 1943) gives us a glimpse into the
antiquities of America-"mute records of a mighty past":
There, all along the coast of Peru, all over the Isthmus and
North America, in the canyons of the Cordilleras, in the impassable
gorges of the Andes, and, especially beyond the valley of Mexico,
lie, ruined and desolate, hundreds of once mighty cities, lost
to the memory of men, and having themselves lost even a name.
Buried in dense forests, entombed in inaccessible valleys, sometimes
sixty feet underground, from the day of their discovery until
now they have ever remained a riddle to science, baffling all
inquiry, and they have been muter than the Egyptian Sphinx herself.
We know nothing of America prior to the Conquest-positively nothing.
No chronicles, not even comparatively modern ones, survive; there
are no traditions, even among the aboriginal tribes, as to its
past events. We are as ignorant of the races that built these
cyclopean structures, as of the strange worship that inspired
the antediluvian sculptors, who carved upon hundreds of miles
of walls, of monuments, monoliths and altars, these weird hieroglyphics,
these groups of animals and men, pictures of an unknown life
and lost arts
As regards prehistoric buildings, both Peru and Mexico are
rivals of Egypt. Equalling the latter in the immensity of her
cyclopean structures, Peru surpasses her in their number
the long generations of peoples who built them, history knows
nothing, and even tradition is silent. As a matter of course,
most of these lithic remains are covered with a dense vegetation.
Whole forests have grown out of the broken hearts of the cities,
and, with a few exceptions, everything is in ruin. But one may
judge of what once was by that which yet remains
Having well defined ideas as to the periodicity of cycles,
for the world as well as for nations, empires, and tribes, we
are convinced that our present modern civilization is but the
latest dawn of that which already has been seen an innumerable
number of times upon this planet.
Sometimes people have a hunch, a premonition, a feeling that
something is going to happen. Researchers suggest that this is
not just paranoia. "It may be an entirely accurate 'gut
feeling' based on subtle, unconscious comparisons with past experiences,"
which we may consciously have forgotten. (The Sunday Review
supplement of The Times of India, October 5)
The report goes on to say:
According to Dr. Edward Katkin of the state University of
New York, sometimes, when people get a hunch, it's not mysterious.
It's because people are in a situation that has been associated
with some event in the past-they might not consciously remember
it but their guts do. And so they get a sense that something
is going to happen.
In their research, Katkin's team tested whether or not gut
feelings might accurately predict events, and which sensory cues
worked to provoke such hunches. While the association between
accurate gut feelings and subconsciously, registered stimuli
may ultimately involve other additional influences, the connection
appears to be clear and substantial.
Do "sensory cues" provoke hunches? A hunch is more
accurately an inner prompting-either an instinct or an intuition,
though the two can by no means be equated. H.P.B. called instinct
"the universal endowment of nature by the Spirit of the
Deity itself," at the expense of which, she wrote, "reason,
the outgrowth of the physical brain, develops." Elsewhere
she wrote of instinct and intuition as "two faculties completely
opposed in their nature, two enemies confronting each other in
.each having a different seat in the brain."
H.P.B. said in her Five Messages that "the latent
psychic and occult powers in man are beginning to germinate and
grow." To this the development of extrasensory perception,
premonition, etc., in our day bears witness. She described the
development of psychic capacities as "inevitable" in
our race and evolution-period, but she also warned strongly
against the dangers from letting these faculties run riot, "controlling
instead of controlled."
Not all video games, so popular today especially among children,
are as harmless as parents take them to be. Two Iowa State University
psychologists, who have conducted a comprehensive review in this
field, have come to the conclusion that violent video games increase
aggressive thoughts, aggressive feelings and psychological arousal,
and this can lead to aggressive behaviour. Dr. Brad Bushman avers
that playing violent video games also decreases the likelihood
of the person helping another person. The psychologists cite
recent school shootings in the U.S. where the shooters were reportedly
fans of the video game "Doom." (The Sunday Review,
Researchers have argued for decades that watching violence
on television and in films is linked to an increase in aggression,
and are now extending that assertion to the video games industry.
Yet many parents do not think twice before letting their children
view whatever they take a fancy to.
"The capacity of children for the storing away of early
impressions is great indeed," wrote H.P.B. (Lucifer,
December 1888); and these impressions are sure to colour all
"We are both actors and spectators in the great drama
of existence," says Neils Bohr, echoing ancient Indian teachings.
Working on this proposition, K. M. Gupta writes in The Times
of India (October 14):
The soul, the I, is a "two-in-one"-the actor I and
the spectator I. The actor I is the I that goes through one's
roles in life, the agent, sowing actions and reaping fruits.
The spectator I is the pure self, pure consciousness, atman,
the silent observer or the sheer witness
Normally we lump the two together, not teasing the actor and
the spectator out. The educational and career grooming we go
through does not prepare us to differentiate the two I's. This
is our spiritual illiteracy and poverty. This spiritual privation
strains and spoils relationships, scuttles skills, gifts and
faculties, muddles attitudes and behaviours and we end up looking
for stress-busters and peace capsules.
All the weight that sits on us and is crushing us by way of
stress and peacelessness is the weight of a lumped up I. Separate
the two I's and the weight goes. The essence of spiritualism
is the separation of the actor I and the spectator I and the
resultant freedom for the latter from emotional involvement in
the roles of the former. That is the gist of the Vedas, the Upanishads,
the Gita, the Yoga Sutras and all. The Ashtavakra Gita and many
such other works are exercises in awakening the spectator self
to the knowledge and remembrance that he is just the witness
and it is not his business to lose himself in the actor self
emotionally. The spirit is the spectator standing by the actor
and watching the latter going through his roles and functions.
Practising spiritualism is training oneself to identify oneself
with the spectator and keep aloof from the actor.
"THE reality of the person is in the creative will. When
we deny the clamour of emotions, stay the stream of things, silence
the appetites of the body, we feel the power of self within our
own being. Again, the delusion of self leads man to strive to
profit himself and injure others. The passionate sense of egoism
is the root of the world's unhappiness. To be egoistic is to
be like a rudimentary creature that has grown no eyes. It is
to be blind to the reality of other persons. We begin to grow
only when we break down our clinging to the envelopes of the
body and mind and realize that we have our roots in a state which
is untouched by the familiar dimensions of this world. Detachment
from ego means a gentler, profounder sympathy with all sentient
creation. It is the recovery of wholeness, of an ordered nature
in harmony with the cosmos."