THEOSOPHY, Vol. 25, No. 5, March, 1937
(Pages 211-215; Size: 15K)
(Number 69 of a 103-part series)
SCIENCE AND THE SECRET DOCTRINE
HAVING arrived at the "determinable of all determinables," the "bare subjectivity" of the first fundamental proposition of the Secret Doctrine, which, in the words of H. P. Blavatsky, "no human mind can either exclude from any conception, or conceive of by itself" -- Dr. Northrop proceeds to the insupportable proposition that Consciousness, or the perceiving Self, is complex. Thus is demonstrated the fundamental error of the scientific method -- a mathematically accurate form of inquiry, but lacking the premises which alone can give its conclusions validity. Induction translates sense objects into metaphysical subjects; deduction places these subjects in an intelligible relationship -- as the reasoning of Dr. Northrop illustrates; although these two instruments of philosophy may apprehend, they can never recognize or comprehend, the Reality lying behind both. He confounds the processes of perception with the Perceiver:Idealism is correct in maintaining that perception contributes to the constitution of that which is perceived, but wrong in ascribing any of the determinateness of the perceived, such as form, or the secondary or tertiary qualities in their specificity, to perception. It errs also in certain of its many types, when it maintains that the subject or self is an ultimate irreducible entity. Both the knowing subject and known object are complex factors constituted of a common set of atomic entities which possess physical, formal, and psychical properties.What else can this "bare indeterminate experienced quality" be, other than the irreducible? He is more nearly right in saying that the determinateness of the perceived is not due to perception. Theosophically, this determinateness is due, not to bare perception, but to the "moving qualities of nature." But the manner in which Dr. Northrop puts it indicates that he ascribes the determinateness to qualities which can be known only through perception. Thus by his own methods he cannot logically tell whether or not determinateness -- definiteness -- is created or conditioned by perception. Successive approaches to such understanding lie through the road of Initiation; mayhap in its final terms this is itself of the nature of the Irreducible in experience.
It is logical that, having gone so far as to discover consciousness as bare indeterminate experienced quality, Dr. Northrop should be curious enough to wonder what would be the nature of that quality when experienced apart from form. His remarks here are both remarkable and significant.Some may wonder why the physicist has not discovered the psychical character of the atomic entities. But the reason for this is clear. Since the psychical is bare experienced quality it can only be known immediately. Thus the psychical character of an atom can be known only by being the atom in question. But the physicist, as physicist, only considers the atom in the relation of otherness to the knowing subject. Hence, his failure to find its psychical character is necessary.He could here have taken one more step -- he could have considered whether that direct immediate experience (since all substance is One in its essence, and likewise one with time and space) could not, under certain circumstances, be extended into nature far beyond the immediate physical body. It is this "faculty" of Consciousness which has long since been discovered -- and utilized for ages by "mystics" of a certain degree.
... Because the barely psychical can only be known in itself, aside from its presence in objective observed nature when the knower and the entity or entities which the psychical qualifies are identical, and because man is all the atoms which the psychical qualifies in one of their many particularizations, it follows that the only system in which the barely psychical should exhibit itself to man in its own purity, unmixed with the physical and the formal, is himself. Hence, if our theory is true it follows that man will find a quality of being in himself which he finds immediately in no other system which he knows. Does our theory meet this test? The answer is in the affirmative. Man finds something in himself which he discovers immediately in no other creature or object. It is consciousness. Moreover, when one cuts off or abstracts from all physical and formal effects upon oneself, and turns back into the pure experience of one's own being, what does one find but the very definition of the psychical which we have given. Nothing remains but bare indeterminate experience.
It is of this that the mystic speaks. And it is precisely because it is experienced yet indeterminate, that he asserts it to be the most certain and intense of realities, yet cannot transmit it to others. Such is the nature of the psychical. It is incommensurable and untransmissible.
Dr. Northrop makes a clear statement of Universal Consciousness:... To say that they (the atoms) are psychical or conscious means merely that they possess bare indeterminate experienced quality in addition to their psychical and formal properties. And precisely because of these psychical and formal properties, this bare indeterminate experienced quality will take on determinateness; in other words, the atoms will have a content of consciousness as well as bare consciousness. But the physical and formal properties of an electron or of the macroscopic atom are different from those of man. Hence the conscious experience of an electron or the macroscopic atom will be radically different from that of man. In fact, precisely because the content of consciousness is determined completely by physical and formal conditions it follows necessarily that it will have little in common in an electron, a crystal, an amoeba, an anthropoid ape, a moron, or in an educated person. And for the same reason, since the physical and formal conditions of the content of their consciousness have so much in common, it follows that men will have a community of experience and feeling among themselves that does not occur in conjunction with other organic or inorganic systems.But having seen in "the psychical" what the theosophist would regard as Abstract Consciousness, the writer invokes the "principle of parsimony" to eliminate "soul" -- the de facto Psyche:It has been usual to identify the psychical with an entity called mind, or the soul, which is supposed to exist in addition to matter and body. All such identifications rest upon the failure to recognize what the precise nature of the psychical is. The moment we find it to be bare indeterminate experienced quality this is out of the question. In the first place, we are confronted with a quality rather than an entity. Secondly, since we have entities, in the atoms of our theory, to which this quality can be attributed, the principle of parsimony forbids the introduction of any more. But even if this objection were waived, the identification of bare experienced quality with an entity would be impossible. For to be an entity other than a physical substance, a thing must have some determinations to distinguish it from that substance, and this is precisely what the psychical does not possess.This is a perception of the universality and the necessarily consequent non-entity of the Atma, which is the consciousness of every being but the possession of none. It is such a statement of the nature of That, on Buddha's part, that, combined with philosophical ineptitude on the part of some disciples, gave rise to Buddhist sects which preach what amounts to annihilation -- a false identification of Atma, which is non-entity, with Buddhi, which is potential Entity. When Manas is active in the latter it becomes a center that endures in time and space and becomes the human Ego.
Various considerations are overlooked at this point by Dr. Northrop. First, he fails to realize that the governance of the body cannot be ascribed to self-coördinating atoms; second, he does not recognize that the dispersal of conscious experience involved in death, under this hypothesis, would be the annihilation of identity; in other words, the scientific and philosophical absurdity of the literal disappearance from the Universe of a quality which has existed. For Identity is not a form. Further, he overlooks the incompetence of the transformations of material atoms to account for the truly psychic chain of cause and effect, in terms of pain and pleasure, that constitutes the significance of an individual. This is all the more an absurdity in view of the foregoing demonstration of atomicity and the other qualities of material nature as hypothetical derivations from conscious experience. So far from saying that psychic qualities can be attributed to atoms, it is far more logical on any grounds to say that atoms can be attributed to psychic qualities.
Dr. Northrop has, however, an unusually liberal and percipient view of Oriental thought.It is in this failure to recognize that the psychical, the physical, and the formal are equally ultimate attributes of the atoms of which both nature and mind are constituted, that the gulf between Eastern and Western civilization has its basis. Generally speaking, the West has centered upon the physical and formal attributes of reality; whereas the East has concentrated more and more on the psychical; each identifying its object of attention with all that is real, and regarding the interests of the other as misguided or illusory. Precisely because the physical and the formal differentiate our experience, Western civilization has become increasingly complex and technical, leading on to an apparently endless series of problems which threaten to destroy human initiative; and because the psychical in its purity, is indeterminate, Eastern civilization has tended to move away from all differences to the bare experience called Nirvana in which the oneness of experience is grasped without its confusing specificities. It is to be noted that the Easterner who loses himself in Nirvana, and the negation of all that is specific, is as objective as the Westerner who masters physics to rear his steel mills, for bare indeterminate experienced quality is in objective nature as universally and unequivocally as the physical and formal which gives it its determinations. This enables us to appreciate why the Easterner tends to regard his pure experience to be the essential, and the physical and formal novelties which interest the Westerner, as but its incidental irrelevances.But, unfortunately, he falls into a confusion of cause with effect.But why identify man and his good with but one or two attributes of reality? The psychical, the formal, and the physical are equally real. Of these materials as they qualify atomic nature, observed nature and conscious men are constituted. One of this trinity of qualities is no better or no worse than another. Nor is there any opposition between them.This comes near the truth. But the physical and formal, as he understands them, cannot be equally real with the psychical, on his own showing. They are the appearances which rise within the psychical. They are derivations from the real, but not self-supporting realities. Otherwise we would have three Irreducibles, three Absolutes, three Self-Existences. Science cavils satirically at the theological dualism of a good and an evil principle in nature. Would Dr. Northrop substitute a still worse triadism? But unknowingly, in his division he comes very close to the immortal Triad of Atma, Buddhi, Manas: for his "psychical" appears to correspond to Atma, his "physical" to Buddhi, his "formal" to Manas. In some guise or other, every real thinker must sooner or later stumble upon these realities in nature. But it seems impossible for the Doctor to get away from his triadistic preconception:At this point a great danger arises: the temptation to forget one's scientific and philosophical principles and turn the psychical into a cause of the determinateness of experience. When this happens, art and religion and science degenerate into sentimentalism. One of the most important tasks of philosophy is to clearly define the nature of the psychical, locate its place in the scheme of things, and keep it in that place. In this connection it is to be remembered that the determinate character of mind is as completely conditioned by physical and formal principles, as is the determinate character of a chemical element. All determinateness is physical and formal; the psychical contributes mere indeterminate experienced quality.Dr. Northrop fails to see what we again repeat, that everything that is known of the "physical and formal" is known through and by the psychical. His whole trouble, perhaps, is that he skips immediately from the appearance called "physical matter" direct to Atma, with no glimpse of the enormously graduated psychical evolution now epitomized in the principles of consciousness lying between these stages.
SCIENCE AND THE SECRET DOCTRINE
(Part 70 of a 103-part series)
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