by Thomas Troward
If I were asked what, in my opinion, distinguishes the thought of the present day [ca. 1910] from that of a previous generation, I should feel inclined to say it is the fact that people are beginning to realize that Thought is a power in itself, one of the great forces of the Universe, and ultimately the greatest of forces, directing all others. This idea seems to be, as the French say, "in the air"; and this very well expresses the state of the case. The idea is rapidly spreading through many countries and through all classes, but it is still very much "in the air". It is to a great extent as yet only in a gaseous condition, vague and nebulous, and so not leading to the practical results, both individual and collective, which might be expected of it if it were consolidated into a more workable form.
We are like some amateurs who want to paint finished pictures before they have studied the elements of Art and, when they see an artist do without difficulty what they vainly attempt, they look upon him as being specially favoured by Providence instead of putting it down to their own want of knowledge. The idea is true. Thought is the great power of the Universe. But to make it practically available we must know something of the principles by which it works that it is not a mere vaporous indefinable influence floating around and subject to no known laws but that, on the contrary, it follows laws as uncompromising as those of mathematics while at the same time allowing unlimited freedom to the individual.
Now the purpose of the following pages is to suggest to the reader the lines on which to find his way out of this nebulous sort of thought into something more solid and reliable. I do not profess, like a certain preacher, to "unscrew the inscrutable", for we can never reach a point where we shall not find the inscrutable still ahead of us; but if I can indicate the use of a screwdriver instead of a hatchet and that the screws should be turned from right to left instead of from left to right, it may enable us to unscrew some things which would otherwise remain screwed down tight.
We are all beginners and indeed the hopefulness of life is in realizing that there are such vistas of unending possibilities before us that however far we may advance, we shall always be on the threshold of something greater. We must be like Peter Pan, the boy who never grew up. Heaven defend me from ever feeling quite grown up, for then I should come to a standstill! So the reader must take what I say simply as the talk of one boy to another in the Great School, and not expect too much.
The first question, then, is where to begin. Descartes commenced his book with the words Cogito, ergo sum "I think, therefore I am" and we cannot do better than follow his example.
There are two things about which we cannot have any doubt: our own existence, and that of the world around us. But what is it in us that is aware of these two things and that hopes and fears and makes plans regarding them? It is certainly not our flesh and bones. A man whose leg has been amputated is able to think just the same. Therefore it is obvious that there is something in us which receives impressions and forms ideas; that reasons upon facts and determines upon courses of action and carries them out; and which is not the physical body. This is the real "I Myself". This is the Person we are really concerned with; and it is the betterment of this "I Myself" that makes it worth while to enquire what our Thought has to do in the matter.
Equally true it is on the other hand that the forces of Nature around us do not think. Steam, electricity, gravitation, and chemical affinity do not think. They follow certain fixed laws which we have no power to alter. Therefore we are confronted at the outset by a broad distinction between two modes of Motion the Movement of Thought and the Movement of Cosmic Energy the one based upon the exercise of Consciousness and Will, and the other based upon Mathematical Sequence. That is why that system of instruction known as Freemasonry starts by erecting the two symbolic pillars Jachin and Boaz Jachin so called from the root Yak, meaning "One", indicating the Mathematical element of Law; and Boaz, from the root Awáz, meaning "Voice", indicating the Personal element of Free Will.
These names are taken from the description in 1 Kings 7:21 and 2 Chron. 3:17 of the building of Solomon's Temple, where these two pillars stood before the entrance, the meaning being that the Temple of Truth can be entered only by passing between them that is, by giving each of these factors its due relation to the other realizing that they are the two Pillars of the Universe, and that no real progress can be made except by finding the true balance between them. Law and Personality are the two great principles with which we have to deal, and the problem is to square the one with the other. [See Lecture 6 in The Edinburgh Lectures - Ed.]
Let me start, then, by considering some well-established facts in the physical world which show how the known Law acts under certain known conditions, and this will lead us on in an intelligible manner to see how the same Law is likely to work under as yet unknown conditions. If we had to deal with unknown laws as well as unknown conditions we should, indeed, be up a gum tree. Fancy a mathematician having to solve an equation both sides of which were entirely made up of unknown quantities where should he be? Happily this is not the case. The Law is ONE throughout, and the apparent variety of its working results from the infinite variety of conditions under which it may work. Let us lay a foundation, then, by seeing how it works in what we call the common course of Nature. A few examples will suffice.
Hardly more than a generation ago it was supposed that the analysis of matter could not be carried further than its reduction to some seventy primary chemical elements which, in various combinations, produced all material substances; but there was no explanation how all these different elements came into existence. Each appeared to be an original creation, and there was no accounting for them. But nowadays, as the rustic physician says in Moličre's play of the Médecin Malgré Lui ['Physician Despite Himself' - Ed.], "Nous avons changé tout cela" ['We have changed all that'. - Ed.].
Modern science has shown conclusively that every kind of chemical atom is composed of particles of one original substance which appears to pervade all space, and to which the name of Ether has been given [The precise nature of "ether", and even its existence, has been disputed, but it is regaining respectability in the quantum physics of the early 21st century. See, e.g. The Holy Spirit - Ed.]. Some of these particles carry a positive charge of electricity and some a negative, and the chemical atom is formed by the grouping of a certain number of negatively charged particles round a centre composed of positive electricity around which they revolve; and it is the number of these particles that determines the nature of the atom whether, for instance, it will be an atom of iron or an atom of hydrogen and thus we are brought back to Plato's old aphorism that the Universe consists of Number and Motion.
The size of these etheric particles is small beyond anything but abstract mathematical conception. Sir Oliver Lodge [English physisist, 1851-1940 - Ed.] is reported to have made the following comparison in a lecture delivered at Birmingham. "The chemical atom", he said, "is as small in comparison to a drop of water as a cricket-ball is compared to the globe of the earth; and yet this atom is as large in comparison to one of its constituents as Birmingham Town Hall is to a pin's head". Again it has been said that in proportion to the size of the particles, the distance at which they revolve round the centre is as great as the distance from the Earth to the Sun. I must leave the realization of such infinite minuteness to the reader's imagination it is beyond mine.
Modern science thus shows us all material substance, whether that of inanimate matter or that of our own bodies, as proceeding out of one primary etheric substance occupying all space and homogeneous that is, being of a uniform substance and having no qualities to distinguish one part from another. Now this conclusion of science is important because it is precisely the fact that out of this homogeneous substance particles are produced which differ from the original substance in that they possess positive and negative energy, and of these particles the atom is built up. So then comes the question: What started the differentiation?
The electronic theory which I have just mentioned takes us as far as a universal homogeneous ether as the source from which all matter is evolved, but it does not account for how motion originated in it; but perhaps another closely allied scientific theory will help us. Let us then turn to the question of Vibrations or Waves in Ether.
In scientific language the length of a wave is the distance from the crest of one wave to that of the wave immediately following it. Now modern science recognises a long series of waves in ether, commencing with the smallest yet known, measuring 0.1 micron, or about 1/254,000 of an inch in length, measured by Professor Schumann [Victor Schumann, 1841-1913, German physicist - Ed.] in 1893, and extending to waves of many miles in length used in wireless telegraphy; for instance those employed between Clifden in Galway and Glace Bay in Nova Scotia are estimated to have a length of nearly four miles.
These infinitesimally small ultraviolet or actinic waves, as they are called, are the principal agents in photography; and the great waves of wireless telegraphy are able to carry a force across the Atlantic which can sensibly affect an apparatus on the other side. Therefore we see that the ether of space affords a medium through which energy can be transmitted by means of vibrations.
But what starts the vibrations? Hertz [Heinrich Rudolf Hertz, 1857-1894, German physicist - Ed.] announced his discovery of the electromagnetic waves now known by his name in 1888; but, following up the labours of various other investigators, Lodge, Marconi [Guglielmo Marconi, 1874-1937, Italian physicist, inventor, and Nobel prize-winner - Ed.], and others finally developed their practical application after Hertz's death. To Hertz, however, belongs the honour of discovering how to generate these waves by means of sudden, sharply defined, electrical discharges.
The principle may be illustrated by dropping a stone in smooth water. The sudden impact sets up a series of ripples all round the centre of disturbance, and the electrical impulse acts similarly on the ether. Indeed the fact that the waves flow in all directions from the central impulse is one of the difficulties of wireless telegraphy, because the message may be picked up in any direction by a receiver tuned to the same rate of vibration, and the interest for us consists in the hypothesis that thought-waves act in an analogous manner.
That vibrations are excited by sound is beautifully exemplified by the eidophone, an instrument invented, I believe, by Mrs Watts-Hughes, and with which I have seen that lady experiment. Dry sand is scattered on a diaphragm on which the eidophone concentrates the vibrations from music played near it. The sand, as it were, dances in time to the music and, when the music stops, is found to settle into definite forms, sometimes like a tree or a flower, or else some geometrical figure, but never a confused jumble. Perhaps in this we may find the origin of the legends regarding the creative power of Orpheus' lyre, and also the sacred dances of the ancients who knows!
Perhaps some critical reader may object that sound travels by means of atmospheric and not etheric waves; but is he prepared to say that it cannot produce etheric waves also? The very recent discovery of transatlantic telephoning tends to show that etheric waves can be generated by sound, for on the 20th of October, 1915, words spoken in New York were immediately heard in Paris and could therefore only have been transmitted through the ether, for sound travels through the atmosphere only at the rate of about 750 miles an hour, while the speed of impulses through ether can only be compared with that of light, or 186,000 miles in a second. It is therefore a fair inference that etheric vibrations can be inaugurated by sound.
Perhaps the reader may be inclined to say with the Irishman that all this is "as dry as ditch-water", but he will see before long that it has a good deal to do with ourselves. For the present what I want him to realize by a few examples is the mathematical accuracy of Law. The value of these examples lies in their illustration of the fact that the Law can always be trusted to lead us on to further knowledge. We see it working under known conditions and, relying on its unchangeableness, we can then logically infer what it will do under other hypothetical conditions, and in this way many important discoveries have been made. [Some of the Editor's thoughts on this subject may be found in Vibrations - Ed.]
For instance it was in this way that Mendeléef [Dmitry Ivanovich Mendeleyev, 1834-1907 - Ed.], the Russian chemist, assumed the existence of three then unknown elements, now called Scandium, Gallium, and Germanium. There was a gap in the orderly sequence of the chemical elements and, relying on the old maxim Natura nihil facit per saltum "Nature nowhere leaves a gap to jump over" he argued that if such elements did not exist, they ought to, and so he calculated what these elements ought to be like, giving their atomic weight, chemical affinities, and the like; and when they were discovered many years later, they were found to answer exactly to his description. He prophesied, not by guesswork, but by knowledge of the Law; and in much the same way radium was discovered by Professor and Madame Curie [Pierre (1859-1906) and Marie (1868-1934) Curie, French husband and wife who won a Nobel Prize in chemistry. Ed.]
In like manner Hertz was led to the discovery of the electromagnetic waves. The celebrated mathematician Clerk-Maxwell [James Clerk Maxwell, 1831-1879, Scottish physicist. Ed.] had calculated all particulars of these waves twenty-five years before Hertz, on the basis of these calculations, worked out his discovery. Again, Neptune, the outermost planet of our system, was discovered by the astronomer Galle [Johann Gottfried Galle, 1812-1910, German astronomer Ed.] in consequence of calculations made by Leverrier [Urbain-Jean-Joseph LeVerrier, 1811-1977. French astronomer Ed.]. Certain variations in the movements of the planets were mathematically unaccountable except on the hypothesis that some more remote planet existed. Astronomers had faith in mathematics, and the hypothetical planet was found to be a reality.
Instances of this kind might be multiplied, but as the French say, "ŕ quoi bon?" ["why bother?" Ed.]. I think these will be sufficient to convince the reader that the invariable sequence of Law is a factor to be relied upon, and that by studying its working under known conditions we may get at least some measure of light on conditions which are as yet unknown to us.
Let us now pass on to the human subject and consider a few examples of what is usually called the psychic side of our nature. Walt Whitman [1819-1892, American poet, journalist and essayist Ed.] was quite right when he said that we are not all included between our hat and our boots; we shall find that our modes of consciousness and powers of action are not entirely restricted to our physical body. The importance of this line of enquiry lies in the fact that if we do possess extra-physical powers, these also form part of our personality and must be included in our estimate of our relation to our environment, and it is therefore worth our while to consider them.
Some very interesting experiments have been made by De Rochas [possibly Alphonse Beau de Rochas, 1815-1893, French engineer Ed.], an eminent French scientist, which go to show that under certain magnetic conditions the sensation of physical touch can be experienced at some distance from the body. He found that under these conditions the person experimented on is insensible to the prick of a needle run into his skin, but if the prick is made about an inch-and-a-half away from the surface of the skin, he feels it. Again, at about three inches from this point he feels the prick of the needle, but is insensitive to it in the space between these two points. Then there comes another interval in which no sensation is conveyed, but at about three inches still further away he again feels the sensation, and so on; so that he appears to be surrounded by successive zones of sensation, the first about an inch-and-a-half from the body, and the others at intervals of about three inches each. The number of these zones seems to vary in different cases, but in some there are as many as six or seven, thus giving a radius of sensation extending to more than twenty inches beyond the body.
Now to explain this we must have recourse to what I have already said about waves. The heart and lungs are the two centres of automatic rhythmic movement in the body, and each projects its own series of vibrations into the etheric envelope. Those projected by the lungs are estimated to be three times the length of those projected by the heart, while those projected by the heart are three times as rapid as those projected by the lungs. Consequently if the two sets of vibrations start together, the crest of every third wave of the rapid series of short waves will coincide with the crest of one of the long waves of the slower series, while the intermediate short waves will coincide with the depression of one of the long waves.
Now the effect of the crest of one wave overtaking that of another going in the same direction is to raise the two together at that point into a single wave of greater amplitude or height than the original waves had by themselves; if the reader has the opportunity of studying the inflowing of waves on the seabeach, he can verify this for himself. Consequently when the more rapid etheric waves overtake the slower ones, they combine to form a larger wave, and it is at these points that the zones of sensation occur.
If the reader will draw a diagram of two waved lines travelling along the same horizontal line and so proportioned that the crest of each of the large waves coincides with the crest of every third wave of the small ones, he will see what I mean: and if he then recollects that the fall in the larger waves neutralizes the rise in the smaller ones, and that because this double series starts from the interior of the body the surface of the body comes at just one of these neutralized points, he will see why sensation is neutralized there; and he will also see why the succeeding zones of sensation are double the distance from each other that the first one is from the surface of the body: it is simply because the surface of the body cuts the first long wave exactly in the middle, and therefore only half that wave occurs outside the body. This is the explanation given by De Rochas, and it affords another example of that principle of mathematical sequence of which I have spoken. It would appear that under normal conditions the double series of vibrations is spread all over the body, and so all parts are alike sensitive to touch.
I think, then, we may assume on the basis of De Rochas' experiments and others that there are such things as etheric vibrations proceeding from human personality, and in the next chapter I will give some examples showing that psychic personality extends still further than these experiments, taken by themselves, would indicate in fact that we possess an additional range of faculties far exceeding those which we ordinarily exercise through the physical body, and which must therefore be included in our conception of ourselves if we are to have an adequate idea of what we really are.