Life & Atoms
Study Group notes April 2004
Prepared by D Marsland
Live and Dead Matter
Theosophy maintains that there is no dead matter in the universe. Science refers to dead matter as inorganic matter and defines living matter as organic or as living organisms. Theosophy does not make this distinction between live and dead matter but does recognise the difference between organic and inorganic matter. Theosophy divides the material world into the mineral, vegetable, animal and human kingdoms. These material kingdoms roughly correspond to Kant’s Phenomenal Universe.
There are also 6 kingdoms that fall outside the range of normal Human perception. There are three kingdoms below and three above the material kingdoms on the evolutionary scale. The three lower are the Elemental kingdoms comprising centres of living energy which support the material kingdoms and the three higher involve more evolved entities who organise and govern our existence. These imperceptible kingdoms correspond to Kant’s Noumenal Universe. We would not regard these hidden kingdoms as material but they would be material to themselves. Matter in all kingdoms has consciousness even if this is at a level below our appreciation of it. Everything is evolving.
Despite modern science’s distinction between organic and inorganic matter, most scientists now agree that organic life arose from inorganic matter even if some regard it as a chemical fluke.
At present although science can identify and define organic life, the mystery of how it arose has not been solved. Theories vary; some postulate that organic life will emerge automatically on any earthlike planet (look at the current interest in finding water on Mars). Other theories suggest that organic life arrived by meteor from outer space, this still leaves open the question of how it arose. It should be noted that organic life has been found deep underground in sandstone and in thermal vents on the ocean floor where there is no sunlight.
The Theosophical view is that all organic life (vegetable, animal and human kingdoms) arose from the material of the Earth and that its existence and evolution form an integral and essential part of the evolution and life cycle of the Earth.
The concept of atoms goes back to the Greek philosophers Leucippus of Miletus born c490 BCE (the first atomist) and his pupil Democritus c460 - 371 BCE , who elaborated the theory and whose work survives in greater detail. Democritus postulated that atoms were the basic building blocks of all universes and that they were physically indivisible. To account for the diversity of the universe he claimed that they were of various shapes, hardnesses, sizes and densities. To account for their diversity atoms contained component parts but were solid and could not be broken down.
The theory of solid atoms with component parts was revived during the renaissance and was handed down to western science being developed further by John Dalton (1776 - 1844) who developed a number of theories to explain the structure of matter and a system to calculate the weights of atoms which he still regarded as solid. He introduced the idea that elements are composed of atoms and combine to form compounds. John Locke (1632 - 1704) challenged existing ideas by suggesting that matter was composed of properties supported by a substratum.
Physicists William Thomson
(1824 - 1907) and Ernest Rutherford (1871 - 1937) established that atoms were
not solid but had a nucleus with revolving particles (protons & neutrons) a
structure similar to a mini-solar system.
Further advances have discovered ever smaller particles with increasingly complex and inexplicable patterns of behaviour.
In spite of scientific advances the atom remains the smallest particle of matter which cannot be subdivided without destroying its identity.
Atoms - Matter & Spirit
Following Theosophy’s premise of the fundamental unity of all existence which states that spirit and matter are part of one whole. Theosophy regards atoms as the ultimates of Nature on the material side and Monads (individual life centres) on the energy side. This gives us both a material and spiritual ultimate. Every physical atom is therefore a life and is subject to physical and spiritual evolution.
The term life atom is used to describe the ensouling power in every physical atom.
The Transmission of Life Atoms
The term is used differently to describe atoms which form an integral part of a man’s being and development. During incarnation some atoms develop an affinity with our reincarnating ego and are drawn to us in our next reincarnation. Some are passed on to offspring. This migration takes place even at the higher levels of man’s constitution although the atoms at that level would not be considered material to us. As a man evolves the more material atoms are cast off and the man eventually lives in a spiritual body.
A Final Word on Atoms
When you drink a glass of water, it is mathematical certainty that it contains a least one atom that was drunk by Plato. There are more atoms in a glass of water than glasses of water in all the world’s oceans