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Neanderthal Man

Aug 21, 1997 09:37 PM
by Richard Taylor


I have to say I'm enjoying this thread -- a really substantive
discussion of basic Theosophical teachings, with almost no ad
hominem attacks. Let me highlight a few comments though that I
find dismissive and "from on high" before we continue with the

> There is not room here to give a course in physics, chemistry,
> and biology. Understanding science takes work, in spite of the
> post-modernist belief that science is bunk and ego is all.

You mean learning something takes WORK? (I can only assume this
was a jest and not a serious rebuttal ...) Luckily, Bart, I don't
need such courses. I was a physics major in college and I'm now
nearly finished with my Ph.D. in a different field. Perhaps
you've encountered some idiots in Theosophy -- no surprise,
they're everywhere -- but a lot of us on this Theos-list are
quite educated. If we agree with HPB more literally than you do,
it may not be because we're ignorant or stuck with our "heads in
the sand."

> Remember, what we perceive as physical reality, while not the
> whole of reality, is certainly part of reality, and therefore
> valid. And science is the measurement and explanation of what we
> perceive to be reality. Science may only tell part of the story,
> but what it tells is true, just not the whole truth.

Again, this might be perhaps addressing a five-year-old, but I
choose not to be insulted and rather take it in stride. I
disagree, politely, that scientific studies are necessarily
dealing with even a small slice of "reality." (define "reality"
please! Can we prove it exists ... ?)

First of all, "science" is not a monolithic institution but a
maelstrom of SCIENTISTS, with egos, competing for limited funds,
with quite contradictory hypotheses and understandings of their
own field and its history. I read the journals, I see the
disagreements and wars of words and "facts." Thomas Kuhn
addresses this in his excellent (though introductory) work, THE
"paradigm shift" in this publication.

Secondly, the physical world around us may not be as "given" as
we like to think, to borrow a postmodernist term first used by
the existentialists. We need not get into Foucault and Derrida
and the social construction of perception and the world we take
as real, but suffice it to say that science today, taken as a
whole, is neither especially valid nor completely false.

Like most of us, modern physical scientists are groping in the
dark along barely understood principles.

Now, to the substantial points of Bart's response:

> > (The best thing about modern science is that if you don't like
> > something, just hang on five minutes, the "facts" will soon be
> > different.)
> In modern physics, please show a case where that has happened, as
> opposed to the current theory being proven to be a special case
> of a more general theory.

Let's start with astrophysics and archeoanthropology, my
particular interests. The major theory of the Sun just last
century was that our glowing companion was a lump of coal (or
some such substance) burning through combustion of oxygen. It
was assumed at that time (late last century) that the earth was
only 100,000 or so years old, tectonic plates were not yet
discovered, and most fossils were incompletely catalogued and

Lennaeus and his model of physical descent were dominant, while
many anthropologists and archeologists still labored under a
Biblical conception of a few thousand years. Clearly Linnaeus
and Darwin were at the forefront of archeological thought.

With the new atomic understanding of matter early this century,
the Sun was no longer creating heat and light by combustion, but
rather by fission. A somewhat later nuclear model of matter
replaced this notion with combustion by fusion, which is still
the dominant model today. (This shift can all be traced through
the scientific journals from the 40s and 50s, and is not a
special theory holding true to a more general theory.) The Sun
was now 5 billion years old, at least, and probably a 4th
generation star if the (new) age of the universe was 20 billion
or so. Meanwhile theories of the universe contrasted
wildly, from steady state to expanding to shrinking. Today the expanding
universe has gained widespread hegemony thanks to Hubble's work
(and his famous constant) but problems in red shift and blue
shift galaxies and incomplete parallax sampling make stellar
mapping difficult, if not impossible. We are just not sure of
the distance of the farthest galactic clusters, even compensating
for warped spacetime and interfering dust and gases. (Not to
mention that, gravitationally speaking, over 90% of the necessary
matter for everything to hang together is "missing." Theories of
dark matter are as ephemeral as they are bizarre and desperate.)

Additionally, as my professor of astrophysics at Bates College
was careful to point out, many mysteries of the Sun remain which
have yet to be solved by current models. For instance, the
surface of the Sun has been sampled at 3,000+ degrees Kelvin,
quite hot to be sure. BUT -- the Sun gets HOTTER the further out
into the corona you go, maxing out at an estimated 1 MILLION
DEGREES Kelvin. How to explain that? Furthermore, the Sun
appears to have regular disturbances as a body, "ringing" like a
bell which has been struck.

No one has yet proposed a universally accepted theory for this.
Again, it is well known that the Sun has an 11 year (and slightly
over) sunspot cycle, which corresponds to reversals in its
magnetic poles. The CAUSE behind this is unknown, although it
appears that the Sun's magnetic fields "wrap around" each other
until they become so entwined that the poles exchange places.

There are other oddities but I will leave them for the moment,
merely summing up that current nuclear thermodynamics does not
account for these models. The age of the Sun, its exact
composition, temperature, and combustion are "facts" which change
by the decade. Look over some old textbooks given to
undergraduates, Compare last century's texts to this century's,
see the revisions, deletions, new inclusions, and see what I

As for the age of the universe and the age of man, I have seen
WILDLY divergent theories. Reputable anthropologists want to
push back the emergence of hominid forms to circa 10 million BCE,
while the Leakeys won't go that far -- say only 5 to 6 million
BCE, and others, conservatives, place the date at about 2 and one
half million BCE. (Two Vedic-influenced archeologists I know
will go MUCH further back than any of these, see FORBIDDEN
thrill ...) All, however, will agree that these are in some loose
and still unspecified way our genetic ancestors. The Biblical
model continues to influence this science subtly, as we witness
in their search for a SINGLE HUMAN FEMALE ANCESTOR (humorously
called "Eve") who was the progenitor of the whole existing homo
sapiens tribe.

The age of the universe, meanwhile, ranges from 10 billion to
over 100 billion years old, a different of at least a factor of
ten, and the nagging question looms regarding exactly how many
universes and generations of galactic chains there have been to
produce the kind of heavy metals we have seen. Additionally, I
have seen any number of theories on the exact nature of the
quasar and pulsar phenomena, ranging from dense neutron stars to
galaxies being born to super-concentrated black holes to vague
theories adding up to a big "Gee, I don't know."

I admit this thumbnail sketch of astrophysics and anthropology is
insufficient, but to load down this theos-list with piles of
names, dates and references would be unwieldly as well as time
(and bandwidth) consuming. I will simply say therefore that I
stand by my seemingly flippant comment that scientific THEORIES
(for that's what they are, not facts) change with the winds, and
HPB said as much last century.

I do believe Bart is right that HPB is contending in her works
with 19th century science, a "straw man" for us today. Our work,
if really useful, would be to bring Theosophical teachings,
stripped of their embedded 19th century context, to bear on
CURRENT scholarship and MODERN theories. Unless we would rather
sit in our lodges and let the inquirers come to us. I strongly
suspect, however, that by sitting around and merely preserving
the old teachings, it is we who will be left behind, while the
world is the worse off for our high indifference.

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