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The Consciousness of the Atom
Lecture II - The Evolution of Substance

It is obvious that in such a series of lectures as this it would be impossible to deal adequately in any way with this stupendous subject, even were I equipped to lecture on such a fundamentally scientific matter. Again, if the conclusions of science were definite upon the evolution of matter, the topic would be, even then, too vast to handle, but they are not, and hence the further complicating of the subject. Therefore I want to preface my remarks tonight by stating that my aim is to speak particularly for those who have no scientific training of any kind, and to give them a general concept of the usually accepted ideas; I seek, then, to make some suggestions which we may find helpful in adjusting our minds to this great problem of matter. Usually when the substance aspect of manifestation has been considered, it has been as a thing apart, and it is only lately that what I might call the "psychology of matter" is beginning to come before the mind of the public through the investigations and conclusions of the broader-minded scientists. [32]

You will remember that last week I endeavored, in a broad and general way, to point out to you that there were three lines of approach to the study of the material universe. There is the line which considers only the materialistic aspect, and is occupied only with that which can be seen, which is tangible, and which can be proven. A second line is that of supernaturalism, which recognizes not so much the material side of things as that which is called divine; it deals with the life side, and with the spirit aspect, viewing that Life as a power extraneous to the solar system and to man, and positing that power as a great creative Agent, Who creates and guides the objective universe and yet is outside of it. These two lines of thought can be seen upheld by the frankly materialistic scientist, the orthodox Christian, and the deist of every faith.

I indicated next a third line of approach to the problem, and we called it the idealistic concept. It recognizes the material form, but sees also the life within it, and it posits a Consciousness or Intelligence which is evolving by means of that outer form. You will find, I think, that that is the line which I shall emphasize and stress in these lectures. No speaker is able, after all, to dissociate himself entirely from his own point of view, and in these talks I have set myself the task of working along this third line, for to me it [33] synthesizes the other two, and adds certain concepts which produce a coherent whole when merged with the other two. It is for you to decide if this third standpoint is logical, reasonable, and clear.

The most common fact in life for all of us is that of the material world, - that world which we can see and contact by means of the five senses, and which is called by the metaphysical thinkers the "not-self," or that which is objective to each one of us. As we all know, the work of the chemist is to reduce all known substances to their very simplest elements, and it was thought not long ago that this had been satisfactorily accomplished. The conclusions of the chemist placed the number of the known elements between seventy and eighty. About twenty years ago, however (in 1898), a new element was discovered which was called Radium, and this discovery entirely revolutionized the world's thought about matter and substance. If you will go to the textbooks of the last century, or search the old dictionaries, seeking for the definition of the atom, for instance, you will usually find Newton quoted. He defined the atom as "a hard, indivisible, ultimate particle," a something which was incapable of further subdivision. This was considered to be the ultimate atom in the universe, and was called by the scientist of the Victorian era "the foundation stone of the [34] universe"; they considered they had gone as far back as it was possible to go, and that they had discovered what lay back of all manifestation and of objectivity itself. But when radium, and the other radioactive substances, had been discovered, an entirely new aspect of the situation had to be faced. It became apparent that what was considered the ultimate particle was not so at all. As you now have the definition of the atom (I am quoting from the Standard Dictionary) it is:

"An atom is a center of force, a phase of electrical phenomena, a center of energy, active through its own internal makeup, and giving off energy or heat or radiation."

Therefore, an atom is (as Lord Kelvin in 1867 thought it would ultimately turn out to be) a "vortex ring," or center of force, and not a particle of what we understand as tangible substance. This ultimate particle of matter is now demonstrated to be composed of a positive nucleus of energy, surrounded - just as is the sun by the planets - with many electrons or negative corpuscles, thus subdividing the atom of earlier science into numerous lesser bodies. The elements differ according to the number and arrangement of these negative electrons around their positive nucleus, and they rotate or move around this central charge of electricity as our planetary system rotates around the sun. Professor Soddy, [35] in one of his latest books, has pointed out that in the atom is to be seen an entire solar system, - the central sun can be recognized, with the planets pursuing their orbital paths around it.

It would be apparent to each of us that when this definition of the atom is contemplated and studied an entirely new concept of substance comes before us. Dogmatic assertions are therefore out of order, for it is realized that perhaps the next discovery may reveal to us the fact that the electrons themselves may be worlds within worlds. An interesting speculation along these lines is to be found in a book by one of our scientific thinkers in which he suggests that we might be able to divide and subdivide the electron itself into what he calls "psychons," and thus be led into realms which are not now considered physical. That may be only a dream, but the thing that I am seeking to impress upon my mind and yours is that we scarcely know where we stand in scientific thought, any more than we know where we stand in the religious and economic world. Everything is passing through a period of transition; the old order changeth; the old way of looking at things is proving false or inadequate; the old expressions of thought seem futile. All that the wise man can do just now is to reserve his opinion, ascertain for himself what appeals to him as truth, and endeavor then to synthesize [36] that particular aspect of universal truth with that aspect which has been accepted by his brother.

The atom, then, can be predicated as resolving itself into electrons, and can be expressed in terms of force or energy. When you have a center of energy or activity you are involved in a dual concept; you have that which is the cause of movement or energy, and that which it energizes or actuates. This brings us directly into the field of psychology, because energy or force is ever regarded as a quality, and where you have a quality you are really considering the field of psychic phenomena.

There are certain terms in use when considering substance which are continuously appearing, and about which there is a wide diversity of definition. In looking over one scientific book last week it was discouraging to find the author pointing out that the atom of the chemist, of the physicist, of the mathematician, and of the metaphysician were four totally different things. That is another reason why it is not possible to be dogmatic in dealing with these questions. Nevertheless, rightly or wrongly, I have a very definite hypothesis to put before you. When we talk about radium, we are, in all probability, venturing into the realm of etheric substance, the region of ether, or of protyle. Protyle was a word coined by Sir William Crookes, and is defined by him as follows: [37]

"Protyle is a word analogous to protoplasm, to express the idea of the original primal matter before the evolution of the chemical elements. The word I have ventured to use for this purpose is compounded of a Greek word 'earlier than,' and 'the stuff of which things are made."'

We are, therefore, throwing the concept of matter back to where the Oriental school has always put it, to primordial stuff, to that which the Orientalist calls "primordial ether," though we must ever remember that the ether of science is many, many removes from the primordial ether of the Oriental occultist. We are led back to that intangible something which is the basis of the objective thing which you and I can see and touch and handle. The word "substance" itself means that which "stands under," or which lies back of things. All, therefore, that we can predicate in connection with the ether of space is that it is the medium in which energy or force functions, or makes itself felt. When we are talking in these lectures of energy and force, and of matter and substance, we can separate them in our minds thus: When we speak about energy and substance we are considering that which is as yet intangible, and we use force in connection with matter when dealing with that aspect of the objective which our scientists are definitely studying. Substance is the ether in one of its many grades, and is that which lies back of matter itself. [38]

When we speak of energy there must be that which energizes, that which is the source of energy and the origin of that force which demonstrates in matter. It is here that I seek to lay the emphasis. Whence comes this energy, and what is it?

Scientists are recognizing ever more clearly that atoms possess qualities, and it would be interesting if one were to take the different scientific books dealing with the subject of atomic matter, and note which of the many and varying terms applied to them could be applied to a human being also. On a small scale I have attempted this, and found it very illuminating.

First of all, as we know, the atom is spoken of as possessing energy, and the power to change from one mode of activity to another. One writer has remarked that "absolute intelligence thrills through every atom in the world." In this connection I want to point out to you what Edison is reported by an interviewer as having said in Harper's Magazine for February 1890, and which is enlarged upon in the Scientific American for October 1920. In the earlier instance he is quoted as follows:

"I do not believe that matter is inert, acted upon by an outside force. To me it seems that every atom is possessed by a certain amount of primitive intelligence. Look at the thousands of ways in which atoms of hydrogen combine [39] with those of other elements, forming the most diverse substances. Do you mean to say that they do this without intelligence? Atoms in harmonious and useful relation assume beautiful or interesting shapes and colors, or give forth a pleasant perfume, as if expressing their satisfaction... gathered together in certain forms, the atoms constitute animals of the lower order. Finally they combine in man, who represents the total intelligence of all the atoms."

"But where does this intelligence come from originally?" asked the interviewer.

"From some power greater than ourselves," Edison answered.

"Do you believe, then, in an intelligent Creator, a personal God?"

"Certainly. The existence of such a God can, to my mind, be proved from chemistry."'

In the long interview quoted in the Scientific American, Edison laid down a number of most interesting surmises from which I have culled the following:

  1. Life, like matter, is indestructible.
  2. Our bodies are composed of myriads of infinitesimal entities, each in itself a unit of life; just as the atom is composed of myriads of electrons.
  3. The human being acts as an assemblage rather than as a unit; the body and mind express the vote or voice of the life entities.
  4. The life entities build according to a plan. [40] If a part of the life organism be mutilated, they rebuild exactly as before...
  5. Science admits the difficulty of drawing the line between the inanimate and the animate; perhaps the life entities extend their activities to crystals and chemicals...
  6. The life entities live for ever; so that to this extent at least the eternal life which many of us hope for is a reality.

In an address given by Sir Clifford Allbut, President of the British Medical Association, as reported in the Literary Digest of February 26th, 1921, he speaks of the ability of the microbe to select and reject, and in the course of his remarks he says:

"When the microbe finds itself in the host's body it may be wholly out of tune, or wholly in tune, with any or all cells that it approaches; in either case presumably nothing morbid would happen... morbid happenings would lie between this microbe and body-cells within its range but not in tune with it. Now there seems to be reason to suppose that a microbe, on its approach to a body-cell only just out of its range, may try this way and that to get a hitch on. If so, the microbe, at first innocuous, would become noxious. So, on the other hand, body-cells may educate themselves to vibrate in harmony with a microbe before dissonant; or there may be mutual interchange and co-adaptation... [41]

"But, if things be so, surely we are face to face with a marvelous and far-reaching faculty, the faculty of choice, and this rising from the utter bottom of biology to the summit - formative faculty - 'auto-determination,' or, if you please, 'mind."'

In the year 1895, Sir William Crookes, one of our greatest scientists, gave an interesting lecture before a body of chemists in Great Britain, in which he dealt with the ability of the atom to choose its own path, to reject and to select, and showed that natural selection can be traced in all forms of life, from the then ultimate atom up through all forms of being.

In another scientific article, the atom is further considered as having sensation as well:

"The recent contest as to the nature of atoms, which we must regard as in some form or other the ultimate factors in all physical or chemical processes, seems to be capable of easiest solution by the conception that these very minute masses possess - as centers of force - a persistent soul, that every atom has sensation and power of movement."

Tyndall has likewise pointed out that even the very atoms themselves seem to be "instinct with the desire for life."

If you take these different qualities of the atom - energy, intelligence, ability to select and reject, to attract and repel, sensation, movement, and [42] desire - you have something which is very much like the psychology of a human being, only within a more limited radius and of a more circumscribed degree. Have we not, therefore, really got back to what might be termed the "psyche of the atom"? We have found that the atom is a living entity, a little vibrant world, and that within its sphere of influence other little lives are to be found, and this very much in the same sense that each of us is an entity, or positive nucleus of force or life, holding within our sphere of influence other lesser lives, i.e. the cells of our body. What can be said of us can be said, in degree, of the atom.

Let us extend our idea of the atom a little further, and touch upon what may be fundamentally the cause, and may hold the solution of the world problems. This concept of the atom as a positive demonstration of energy, holding within its range of activity its polar opposite, can be extended not only to every type of atom, but also to a human being. We can view each unit of the human family as a human atom, for in man you have simply a larger atom. He is a center of positive force, holding within the periphery of his sphere of influence the cells of his body; he shows discrimination, intelligence, and energy. The difference lies but in degree. He is possessed of a wider consciousness, and vibrates to a larger measure than the little atom of the chemist. [43]

We might extend the idea still further and consider a planet as an atom. Perhaps there is a life within the planet that holds the substance of the sphere and all forms of life upon it to itself as a coherent whole, and that has a specific extent of influence. This may sound like a wild speculation, yet, judging from analogy, there may perhaps be within the planetary sphere an Entity Whose consciousness is as far removed from that of man as the consciousness of man is from that of the atom of chemistry.

This thought can again be carried still further, till it includes the atom of the solar system. There, at the heart of the solar system, the sun, you have the positive center of energy, holding the planets within its sphere of influence. If you have within the atom, intelligence; if you have within the human being, intelligence; if you have within the planet, an Intelligence controlling all its functions, may it not be logical to extend the idea and predicate a still greater Intelligence back of that larger atom, the solar system?

This brings us ultimately to the standpoint which the religious world has always held, that of there being a God, or Divine Being. Where the orthodox Christian would say with reverence, God, the scientist with equal reverence would say, Energy; yet they would both mean the same. Where the idealistic teacher would speak of "God [44] within" the human form, others with equal accuracy would speak of the "energizing faculty" of man, which drives him into activity of a physical, emotional, or mental nature. Everywhere are to be found centers of force, and the idea can be extended from such a force center as a chemical atom, on and up through varying grades and groups of such intelligent centers, to man, and thence to the Life which is manifesting through the system. Thus is demonstrated a marvelous and synthesized Whole. St. Paul may have had something of this sort in mind when he spoke about the Heavenly Man. By the "body of Christ" he surely means all those units of the human family who are held within His sphere of influence, and who go to the constitution of His body, as the aggregate of the physical cells form the physical body of the man. What is needed in these days of religious upheaval is that these fundamental truths of Christianity should be demonstrated to be scientific truths. We need to make religion scientific.

There is a very interesting Sanskrit writing, many thousands of years old, which I am venturing to quote here. It says:

"Every form on earth, and every speck (atom) in space, strives in its efforts towards self-formation, and to follow the model placed for it in the Heavenly Man. The involution [45] and the evolution of the atom... have all one and the same object: man."

Do you note what a large hope this concept opens out before us? Not one atom of matter, showing latent intelligence, discrimination, and selective power, but will, in the course of aeons, reach that more advanced stage of consciousness which we call human. Surely, then, the human atom may equally be supposed to progress to something still more widely conscious, and eventually reach the stage of development of those great Entities whose bodies are planetary atoms; and for Them, as well, what is there? Attainment of that all-including state of consciousness which we call God, or the solar Logos. Surely this teaching is logical and practical. The old occult injunction which said to a man "Know thyself, for in thyself is to be found all that there is to be known," is still the rule for the wise student. If each one of us would scientifically regard ourselves as centers of force, holding the matter of our bodies within our radius of control, and thus working through and in them, we should have a hypothesis whereby the entire cosmic scheme could be interpreted. If, as Einstein hints, our entire solar system is but a sphere, coloring is given to the deduction that it, in its turn, may be but a cosmic atom; thus we would have a place within a still larger scheme, and have a center around which our system rotates, and in which it is as the electron [46] to the atom. We have been told by astronomers that our entire system is probably revolving around a central point in the heavens.

Thus the basic idea which I have sought to emphasize can be traced all the way up, through the atom of the chemist and physicist, through man, through the energizing Life of a planet, up to the Logos, the deity of our solar system, the Intelligence or Life which lies back of all manifestation or of nature, and on to some greater scheme in which even our God has to play His part and to find His place. It is a wonderful picture if true.

I cannot deal tonight with the different developments of this intelligence animating all atoms, but I should like for a moment to take up what is perhaps the method of their evolution, and this from the human standpoint (which concerns us the most intimately) remembering ever that what is true of any one atom should be true in greater or less degree of all.

In considering broadly the atoms of the solar system, including the system itself, there are two things noticeable: the first is the intense life and activity of the atom itself, and its internal atomic energy; and the second is its interaction with other atoms - repelling some and attracting others. Perhaps, then, we may deduce from these facts, that the method of evolution for every atom is due to two causes: the internal life of the [47] atom itself, and its interaction or intercourse with other atoms. These two stages are apparent in the evolution of the human atom. The first was emphasized by the Christ when He said: "The kingdom of God is within you," thus pointing all human atoms to the center of life or energy within themselves, and teaching them that from and through that center they must expand and grow. Each one of us is conscious of being centered within himself; he considers everything from his own standpoint, and the outer happenings, are mostly interesting just in so far as they concern himself. We deal with things as they affect us personally, and all that occurs to others at a certain stage of our evolution is important only as it concerns ourselves. That is the present stage of many and is characteristic of the majority; it is the period of intense individualism, and that in which the "I" concept is of paramount importance. It involves much internal activity.

The second way the human atom grows is through its interaction with all other atoms, and this is something which is only just beginning to dawn upon the human intelligence, and to assume its just importance. We are only beginning to realize the relative significance of competition and of cooperation, and are on the verge of realizing that we cannot live our life selfishly and apart from the group in which we find a place; we are commencing to learn that if our brother is held [48] back, and is not making progress, and if the other human atoms are not vibrating as they should, every atom in the body corporate is affected. None of us will be complete until all other units have achieved their fullest and most complete development.

Next week I shall enlarge a little upon this, when I take up the question of form building. I only seek tonight, in bringing this lecture to a conclusion, to bring to your consciousness an appreciation of the place we each hold in the general scheme, and to enable us to realize the importance of the interaction which goes on between all atoms. I seek to point out the necessity of finding for ourselves our place in the group to which we naturally belong (in which we are as the electrons to the positive charge), and of our then proceeding to do our work within that larger atom, the group.

This makes the entire hypothesis not merely a wild dream, but a practically useful ideal. If it is true that all the cells of our bodies, for instance, are the electrons which we hold coherently together, and if we are the energizing factor within the material form, it is of prime importance that we recognize that fact, and deal rightly and scientifically with those forms and their atoms. This involves the practical care of the physical body and the wise adaptation of all our energy to the work to be done, and to the [49] nature of our objective; it necessitates the judicious utilization of that aggregate of cells which is our instrument, or tool, and our sphere of manifestation. This is something of which we, as yet, know little. When this thought is developed, and the human being is recognized as a force center, the attitude of people towards their work and mode of living will be fundamentally altered. The point of view of the medical world, for instance, will be changed, and people will study the right methods of utilizing energy. Disease through ignorance will no longer exist, and the methods of transmitting force will be studied and followed. We shall then be truly intelligent atoms - a thing we, as yet, are not.

Again, we shall not only be practical in the handling of our material bodies, because we understand their constitution, but we shall consciously find our place within the group, and direct our energy to the benefiting of the group, and not, as now, to the furthering of our own ends. Many atoms have not only an internal life of their own, but also radiate, and as radioactivity is gradually understood, so the study of man as a center of active radiation will also come into being. We are standing these days on the verge of wonderful discoveries: we are nearing a marvelous synthesis of the thought of the world; we are advancing towards that period when science and religion will come to the help of each other, and [50] when philosophy will add its quota to the understanding of the truth.

The use of the imagination will frequently open up a wonderful vision, and if this imagination is based on essentials, and starts with a logical hypothesis, perhaps it will lead us to the solution of some of the mysteries and problems which are distressing the world now. If things are to us mysterious and inexplicable, may it not be because of that great Entity Who is manifesting through our planet, and Who is working out a definite purpose and plan, just as you and I may be doing in our lives. At times we carry our physical vehicle into situations, and bring about difficulties in connection with it, which are both painful and distressing; granted the hypothesis upon which we are working, it may, therefore, be logical to surmise that the great Intelligence of our planet is similarly carrying His entire body of manifestation (which includes the human family) into situations which are distressing to the atoms. Surely it may be logical to suppose that the mystery of all we see around us may be hidden in the will and intelligent purpose of that greater Life, Who works through our planet as man works through the medium of his physical body, and yet Who is Himself but an atom within a still larger sphere, which is indwelt by the solar Logos, Ahe Intelligence Who is the sumtotal of all the lesser lives. [53]