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Errors in the primary literature

Dec 17, 2004 08:51 AM
by Bart Lidofsky

Cass Silva wrote:
As these ideas were so revolutionary at the time and HPB was not a
native english speaker or writer of english, language
misinterpretations may have occured which were cleared up by
KootHoomi. I do not believe that the truth was misinterpreted, but
there arose a need for words to describe the undescribable and when
this happens the words are misinterpreted but never the message.
That is why I use the following rule in reading the primary literature: If the Secret Doctrine differs from current scientific knowledge, I look for the following:

1) Am I making assumptions which are not necessarily warranted?
2) Is there a way of interpreting the words to conform with current scientific knowledge?
3) Is there any evidence that this comes from information that was received second-hand, which is incorrect?

For example, in Mahatma Letter #65 (by the way, anybody who wants to do serious Theosophical research should get a copy of THEOSOPHICAL CLASSICS; for $24.95, it's an incredibly useful tool, containing ISIS UNVEILED, THE SECRET DOCTRINE, THE MAHATMA LETTERS, THE COLLECTED WRITINGS OF H.P.B., and several other sources):

"What does modern science know of force proper, or say the forces, the cause or causes of motion? How can there be such a thing as potential energy, i.e., an energy having latent inactive power since it is energy only while it is moving matter, and that if it ever ceased to move matter it would cease to be, and with it matter itself would disappear?"

The reason why I often use this statement as an example is that it clearly shows that the Koot Hoomi is clearly using an incorrect definition of the term, "potential energy". Give the definition that he is using, he is most probably correct, but if you ignore the definition, then he is wrong. There IS such a thing as potential energy, but it is NOT what is being described.

So, applying the three tests:

1) One might assume that Koot Hoomi is personally familiar with then-current knowledge of physics, and knew what was meant by the term "potential energy."
2) By looking at the definition rather than the term, it DOES fit with current scientific knowledge.
3) Since this was an answer to a letter written by a non-physicist, it is not unreasonable that the letter contained the term "potential energy" with the incorrect definition.

It has been theorized, and has so far stood up to all experimentation, that humans can only think in terms of symbols. The problem with symbols is that they can be manipulated into something self-contradictory, and therefore meaningless. For example:

The sentence on the next line is false.
The sentence on the previous line is true.

We appear to have a paradox. What we have is a bunch of glowing phosphors on a screen, or a bunch of drops of inks on a piece of paper, that appear to create a meaningful pattern, but in fact create a meaningless pattern. While I would not go as far as the late philosopher, Jacques Derrida, in his theories of Deconstructionism, he DID have a good basic point that language is always ambiguous.


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