THEOSOPHY, Vol. 83, No. 6, April, 1995
(Pages 169-174; Size: 13K)
(Number 2 of a 7-part series)
ANCIENT AND MODERN SCIENCE
PHYSICS: PART II
THE MODERN definition of physics is that it is that science which deals with the properties, changes and interactions of matter and energy. This modern view of physics has evolved over the past century with the assistance of precise scientific instruments and sophisticated mathematics. The search for answers to questions such as what is the universe really made of, how does it work, what are we doing in it, and where is it going is not a new endeavor. Pre-Socratic Greek philosophers, Thales, Anaximander, Anaximenes, Heraclitus, Leucippus and Democritus addressed these same cosmological issues. In the natural philosophy of the ancient Hindus, the Sankya-Patanjali system expounded principles of cosmic evolution, while the Vaiseshika-Nyaya lays down concepts of mechanics and physics.
In these ancient civilizations physics was the department of philosophy that dealt with fundamental metaphysical principles manifested and observable in the laws of the physical universe. What they lacked in scientific instrumentation, they made up for in a thorough understanding of universal principles. The ancient axiom "as above, so below" is no better exemplified than in physics. The transition from classical to modern physics, during the last century, has awakened many a modern physicist to the profound scientific and philosophical insights of the ancients.
The ancient physicists working from universal principles and experience of inner realms anticipated many of the conclusions now made by physicists using observations and measurements of the material world. The majority of modern scientists believe that there are irreducible "building blocks" of matter such as quarks, leptons and gluons. However, they credit the Greek philosophers of the fifth and sixth centuries B.C. with the first, rudimentary expression of atomic theory. The word "atom" comes from a Greek root meaning that which cannot be divided, but these ancient Greek physicists believed that atoms were of infinite variety and divisibility and that the atoms were animated with intelligence which caused them to aggregate and form physical substances.
Greek Philosophers, as well as some modern physicists such as Werner Heisenberg, drew their inspiration from ancient Indian philosophies. In "The Positive Sciences of the Ancient Hindus," Brajendranath Seal explains that the Sankya-Patanjali system of cosmology expresses the fundamental idea of conservation, transformation, and dissipation of energy. Every phenomena in the universe is based on the interaction of intelligence, energy and mass. This is modern physics in a nutshell -- a world view that was born out of the ashes of the materialistic and mechanistic views of classical physics of the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries.
The transition from classical to modern physics occurred as a result of three hundred years of research to determine whether light was a particle or a wave. Light appeared to act in both ways. The answer revolutionized physics. In December 1900, Max Planck published his "Quantum Mechanics," in which he essentially proposed that light was both a particle and a wave. He was a conservative physicist and did not intend to undermine the foundation of Newtonian Physics.
Planck was searching for an explanation of why bodies glow brighter as they get hotter and change color as the temperature is increased or decreased. The classical wave theory explained the phenomena of reflection, refraction, and diffraction of light, but it failed to explain variations observed in the absorption and emission of light. Planck discovered that after the electrons of an atom begin to "jiggle," due to a temperature change, they radiate energy, but only in specific amounts -- in spurts, rather than smoothly and uninterruptedly. After each spurt the electrons stop oscillating.
It was Albert Einstein who actually named these energy packets "Quanta." Quantum mechanics is the description of how these energy packets behave. This discovery rocked classical physics to its foundation. It marked the end of the "mechanical" age in physics. Sir James Jeans, a chemist, wrote that previously the theory of the universe was so mechanical that the mind of a Newton, Bach, or Michaelangelo differed only in its complexity from a printing press, a whistle, or a steam-saw. Thus it was believed that a machine could eventually be built to reproduce all the thoughts and emotions of any human being. Sir James proposed, however, that instead of viewing the universe as a great machine, maybe we should view it as a great mind.
Guy Murchie stated in his book The Seven Mysteries of Life, "it was Niels Bohr, the physicist, who obligingly brought the concept down to Earth by proposing that the newly discovered dual aspects (particle and wave) of the microcosm are analogous to the long-known dual aspects of the macrocosm (matter and mind)... In fact it began to be realized that, from now on, all such parts right down to the level of single electrons must be looked upon as potentially, if not intrinsically, alive...."
H.P.B. showed in The Secret Doctrine, referring to the thought and work of several chemists of her day, that chemistry had opened the door to the "occult" world of the esoteric sciences at the end of the Nineteenth Century. In the Twentieth Century, physics has taken a few steps through that door. Many celebrated physicists now regard the universe as an expression of consciousness acting through form. Interestingly, it has been the absurd paradoxes emerging from dualities -- that something can be continuous and discontinuous, destructible and indestructible, a particle and a wave that have pushed these physicists into the realm of the occultists. Intuition often perceives when sense and intellect fail.
Heisenberg recalls conversations with Niels Bohr regarding these paradoxes and the frustration caused by the failure of classical theory to explain the phenomena observed. Bohr believed that only with a "full mind" illuminated by experience and an abundance of concepts could one hope to understand quantum theory. Physicists had to "get into the spirit of the quantum theory" and develop a certain intuition as to when an electron would behave as a particle and when as a wave. H. P. Blavatsky wrote in 1888:The "wave motion of living particles" becomes comprehensible on the theory of a Spiritual ONE LIFE, of a universal Vital principle independent of our matter, and manifesting as atomic energy only on our plane of consciousness. (The Secret Doctrine II, 672.)In other words, what is observed as a phenomena on the physical plane is the effect of an inner intelligent cause. Final understanding can never be obtained by what can be measured on the physical plane. That understanding depends on one's state of consciousness. The underlying vital principle which is the cause of all objective physical manifestations in matter would be called the "field" by modern physicists. Einstein proposed that there is no place in the new physics for matter and the field. One or the other has to be the reality. He believed that the field was the reality. The field is the stable and underlying force behind the changing physical world.
In modern physics, all the different types of force, light, heat, magnetism, electricity, etc., can be accounted for by four fundamental forces. They are gravitation, electro-magnetic, weak and strong nuclear fields. The current search in modern physics is to find that one "unified field" that binds together all forces in the universe. In Einstein's view all is motion. Motion is the essence of existence. One may wonder if he had this statement from The Secret Doctrine in mind:The Occultists, who do not say -- if they would express themselves correctly -- that matter, but only the substance or essence of matter, is indestructible and eternal, (i.e., the Root of all, Mulaprakriti): assert that all the so-called Forces of Nature, Electricity, Magnetism, Light, Heat, etc., far from being modes of motion of material particles, are in esse, i.e., in their ultimate constitution, the differentiated aspects of that Universal Motion.... (I, 147.)This universal motion is the eternal, ceaseless, abstract motion, identical with the One Life and the One Law. In The Tao Of Physics, Fritjof Capra points out the similarities between modern field theory and ancient Eastern concepts of the divine source of all phenomena; the Brahman of the Hindus, the Dharmakaya of the Buddhists and the Tao of the Taoists represent the ultimate unified field.
Heisenberg's great contribution to modern quantum theory was the "uncertainty principle." Simply stated, the observer alters the observed by the mere act of observation. The "uncertainty principle" mathematically measures that degree to which he influences the outcome of an experiment. The outcome is effected because the observer is a participant in the event. Researchers affect observations and outcomes through the measurement devices they choose and how they use those devices. Quantum theory reveals the interdependence and relationship between the various parts and the whole of nature, between the observer and the observed, between the individual and the universe. Erwin Schroedinger wrote:...inconceivable as it seems to ordinary reason, you -- and all other conscious beings as such -- are all in all. Hence this life of yours which you are living is not merely a piece of the entire existence, but is, in a certain sense, the whole...Schroedinger's work forms the heart of modern quantum mechanics, and yet these words of his are the soul of the mystic vision. Modern physicists have made one more step over the borderland into Occultism for they have demonstrated that light is both waves that vibrate out from a source and a stream of tiny particles. Both do not occur at the same time. At different times and under different conditions light can behave in either way. The uniform white light observed is "jumbled" light. When the waves are bent, or diffracted, they separate into the seven colors of light. At the sub-atomic level, the waves are darts of light, bright supersensuous states of matter. This occult world, hidden to the physical senses, is nevertheless objective to the spiritual eye of the Adept or Seer during the hours of trance.The waves and undulations of Science are all produced by atoms propelling their molecules into activity from within. Atoms fill the immensity of Space, and by their continuous vibration are that MOTION which keeps the wheels of Life perpetually going....For the student of ancient and modern science, the mystic visions of the Seers, the metaphysical formulations of the ancient philosophers, and the theoretical conclusions drawn from experimental observations and measurements of modern physicists point to certain universal truths. In their entirety, these truths bind all living beings and things into one unified whole.
As described by Seers -- those who can see the motion of the interstellar shoals, and follow them in their evolution clairvoyantly -- they are dazzling, like specks of virgin snow in radiant sunlight. Their velocity is swifter than thought, quicker than any mortal physical eye could follow, and as well as can be judged from the tremendous rapidity of their course, the motion is circular.... Standing on an open plain, on a mountain summit especially, and gazing into the vast vault above and the spacial infinitudes around, the whole atmosphere seems ablaze with them, the air soaked through with these dazzling coruscations. (The Secret Doctrine I, 633.)
Ancient and Modern Science
Biology: Part III