A Principle In Nature
by Alfred Taylor
as published in the Theosophist of April 1967
MAN tends to dissociate himself from the rest of the world. He feels that human beings are in a different category from all that goes on around him. Perhaps this is the main reason why we can appreciate certain characteristics or laws in our own environment, yet fail to realize their importance in our own lives. Often this detachment results from limited knowledge. We may have a superficial appreciation of a natural law and so be unaware of the serious implications for our health and well-being. One of the important values in Theosophical teachings is the added understanding it provides of forces and qualities in the world that are vitally related to our welfare. A good example of a characteristic in Nature which we know from experience, but which we generally fail to relate to our own affairs is provided by the never-failing principle that, unless prevented from doing so, order goes to disorder, forms decay and fade away. We see this happening all around us in Nature, in our possessions and in our bodies. We build a machine or a house, and it immediately begins to wear out, to decay, and in time is erased completely from existence. Scientists have noted that this law applies to the forms and systems of Nature, and scientific evidence indicates that even mighty stars have their life span.
It is interesting in the light of Theosophical knowledge to probe a little deeper into this well-known principle and to consider some self-evident implications for human affairs.
In science this phenomenon we are considering is recognized in the Second Law of Thermodynamics. The essential meaning of this law is that a system left to itself goes towards increased entropy or disorder. It is demonstrated dramatically in human experience when the driver of a car speeding along the highway falls asleep. Under such circumstances there is a sudden increase in entropy. The Second Law of Thermodynamics has received considerable attention in the philosophy of science because it is opposed to the materialistic hypothesis that the universe, including man, has evolved by chance, without any vestige of plan or purpose. The materialistic viewpoint is summarized by Bertrand Russell in Mysticism and Logic, where he states that man is “the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms”.
Clerk Maxwell, the noted British mathematician and physicist, has fancifully described how increased order could be introduced into dynamic systems without adding to the energy already present. His idea was that if two containers each filled with mixed gases, such as nitrogen and oxygen, were joined together by an opening just large enough to allow one molecule of gas to pass from one container to the other, and if a swinging door were fitted over this opening, a tiny demon could manipulate the door so that only molecules of oxygen would be allowed to go into one container and only molecules of nitrogen into the other. In this way, utilizing the energy already present in the moving molecules, it would become possible to separate the two gases and so introduce a higher order than existed before. Maxwell’s demon, obviously represents mind or intelligence, and it would be this factor that would be responsible for reversing the action of the Second Law of Thermodynamics. The molecules of the two gases, if allowed to move aimlessly here and there, would never become separated, with one gas occupying each container. Obviously the same would be true for the unthinkably more complicated designs in Nature. Meaningful forms can develop in a formless medium only when there is some degree of intelligent guidance of the forces present. To assume otherwise is to go contrary to all man’s experience, in or out of the laboratory. It is to indulge in a crude type of superstition.
It is self-evident then that organized states of matter and energy arise only as a result of purposeful thought and intelligent effort, and that they are maintained as they receive mindful attention. This principle is deceptively simple, but it has important implications for every aspect of the universe, including its beginning, its continuance and its termination, and the same applies to man as a part of the whole.
The energy of the universe, according to the law of the conservation of energy, cannot be added to or subtracted from, since it is a fixed quantity. And now since Einstein’s rediscovery of the fact, long recorded in occult teachings, that matter and energy are different phases of one reality, it becomes evident that conservation of energy means that matter potential is also unchanging. Whether the universe is in the state of an unruffled space-time continuum (pralaya), or is evolving through hierarchies of organized forms and systems (manvantara), the power present is the same. In the period of formlessness or chaos, cosmic energy and substance are unorganized and aimless. In the period of evolvement, energy and substance are organized into meaningful forms.
There are some further considerations which come to us from The Secret Doctrine and which are necessary in order to appreciate how important all this is for our own affairs. We know that all meaningful effects arise as a result of adequate causes. In order to increase the meaning or the order of a system of matter and energy, such as that involved in the actions of Maxwell’s demon, it is necessary to introduce purposeful thought or plan together with intelligent effort. In the instance of the two gases, the demon to be effective must have the idea or purpose of separation of the gases, and this, followed by intelligent effort, or the proper use of the swinging door, would fulfill the intention of having one gas in each container. We note from this that something in the nature of what we call mind must be the essential cause whenever increased order or meaning arises in a situation. The term mind is used here, as it is given in The Secret Doctrine, to include “. . . . the sum of the States of Consciousness, grouped under Thought, Will and Feeling”. (Vol 1, III, Adyar Ed.)
In the sequence of an evolving Cosmos there must be first Will, followed by plan, and finally intelligent effort to bring the design into manifestation and to maintain it for a period of time. Any relaxation in the maintaining effort is inevitably followed by decay and disintegration.
The reason matter and energy respond to intelligent manipulation is because matter is dynamic or alive, and so carries the energy which allows it to respond to organizing influences, the will of the “builders”. When mind permeates matter, meaningful organization results. When mind is withdrawn, matter goes back to a formless chaotic condition. We have something of the same principle in the tissues of our bodies. We will to move in a certain way, countless resting muscle cells are aroused into a coordinated response. Then, as the person rests again the muscle cells relax back to their usual state. We can appreciate the principle in Nature that necessitates mindful attention for order to emerge from the random, formless condition which is the natural state of matter and energy, by considering an analogous situation in human experience. A group of children are trained by a leader to carry out a series of intricate movements which manifest to the observer as a meaningful design. The reason the children can do this work is because they have innately the capacity and energy for it, and so can respond to the leader’s orders. Gradually the group becomes trained so that the children readily co-operate together in carrying out a complex dance figure. The energy required to accomplish this work is present in the children from the beginning, but it is necessary for a person who has the idea of the dance in mind and knows how it should be manifested, to patiently organize their movements into a pattern which expresses the dance. Obviously, the dance goes on only as the leader gives it mindful attention. When he ceases to lead the group, the pattern of movements goes from order to disorder, or in other words, the dance disintegrates and passes away. This occurs since the effective cause of the dance, the will and mind of the instructor, has been withdrawn. Likewise with an organization in Nature, as soon as the directing intelligence is withdrawn, the mind aspect of the situation, which is the organization, fades out of existence. Further, we can see in this analogy how evolvement of forms arises. The dance instructor, beginning with an untrained group of children, will first have them do simple figures and, as these are mastered, more complicated designs become possible. Cosmic evolution begins with relatively simple organized states, and it is only after a vast period of time that the intricate designs of mineral forms become possible.
In an evolving universe, matter, as we are told in The Secret Doctrine, is slowly spiritualised, which is another way of saying it becomes more permeated with mind or intelligence and so becomes capable of more and more intricate formations. But this awakening of matter is done as a sacrifice by the organizer. As mind becomes engrossed with building forms there is a lessening of spiritual values. “Thought . . . . being cogitative, and containing design and purpose is, . . . finite, and must thus find itself naturally in opposition to pure quiescence, the natural state of absolute Spirituality and Perfection.” (S.D. Vol 4, page 58, Adyar Ed.) However, this is a temporary loss since finally spirit overcomes matter and the thinker returns to the “quiescence” of spirit enriched by his experience.
On the basis of these principles we can begin to realize the great significance of the characteristic in Nature which impels the meaningful to become meaningless as mindful attention is withdrawn. It becomes clear why everything from human bodies to the bodies of planets and suns arise, are maintained and fade away from existence. We encounter this principle all around us. Our homes, our clothes, all the intricate forms of modern civilization come forth shiny and new, and then begin to decay, to disintegrate, to pass away. We realize too the necessity for this. If the increased knowledge that comes to us through experience, is to be manifested, new forms are necessary.
It is of particular interest to think about the application of human health of this tendency for the unattended to go towards disorder. While most people are fully aware of what happens when mindful attention is withdrawn from a piece of machinery, a house, or other such forms, there is less appreciation of how this same law of decay applies to various aspects of the human personality. It is generally recognized that neglect of the physical body, such as improper food or lack of sufficient exercise, will lead to deterioration, but even in this respect the full impact of what is implied is often not appreciated. For example, many people do not realize that any part of the body that is no longer able to fulfil its purpose, begins to deteriorate. Lack of physical exercise, for example, will be associated with fragile, easily fractured bones. We say this condition is a natural accompaniment of age, but a truer assessment would be that it is due to lack of sufficient use as the primary cause. Also, we tend to forget how important the physical body is in relation to such superphysical affairs as thinking, remembering and feeling. It has been demonstrated in scientific studies that the brains of wild rabbits are relatively larger than those of tame varieties. This is considered to be due to the greater use of the brain by rabbits in the wild state. Tests with white rats have revealed that when these animals are required to solve a maze problem in order to get their food, there is an associated increase in brain weight. When we relax our learning activities, there will be a consequent lessening of such faculties as memory and mental capacity, mistakenly considered to be the effects of age.
As we become more self-centred, with less attention to others and the world about us, we can expect to be mentally and emotionally less alert. The tissues necessary to manifest such qualities become less responsive because of the deterioration due to lack of use. The same is true for awareness, or self-consciousness. We are awake because of our experience, our constant and continuing activity and contacts with beings and things. When we begin to be less interested, less attentive to the affairs of life, our knowledge begins to fade away. Our faculties are, like the rest of the universe, dynamic, changing. If we attempt to stand still even in knowledge, we know less and less. As our attention to any aspect of the personality, mind, emotions or activity, grows less, disharmony, disorder, dullness inevitably begin to be present. The law of Nature which resolves the organized into the disorganized, or chaos, is a quality of life itself. It is self-evident that all forms, all meaningful organizations, are manifestations of mind action, and require continuous mindful attention if they are to endure. The important point in the application of this principle is that intelligent effort is not only necessary to develop, to build, but also to maintain anything with meaning in man or Nature. Hence, it follows that there can be no cessation of effort in human affairs at the level of the physical body, the emotions, or the mind, if we are to be in a position to live effectively.
There are fundamental laws which we know by experience yet fail to realize their implications for our health and well-being. One of the most striking examples of this is the principle we have been considering, known to science as the Second Law of Thermodynamics. A little more attention to what this law means could serve to lessen human suffering.
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