Every hundred years materialism shouts ‘I’ve got it!’ And it does seem – it seemed a hundred years ago that almost everything was known. They believed that – and then there was a great burst of the quantum theory by Plank in 1900, then Einstein, the photo-electrical effect and relativity (which he got his Nobel prize for). The whole basis of physics burst wide open and this has now happened again, though the echoes are still going round. But the reasoning should be noted very carefully. Now this is by a famous philosopher of science, Dr Karl Popper. He pointed out in one of the things he said in his famous book, Conjectures and Refutations, that this idea of inspiration revealing truth is completely false. “For instance, the marvellous theory of Bohr and Kramers in 1924 was almost immediately refuted by the experiment conducted by Geiger and others. This shows that not even the greatest physicist can anticipate the secrets of nature. His inspiration can only be guesses.”
If we look at that argument, this wonderful theory was constructed by Bohr and it was refuted; and he said from this single case that not even the greatest physicist can intuit the secrets of nature. How can a single case show that? If a very good cook burns something, we say: “This shows that not even the greatest cook can cook a meal without burning it”. It’s ridiculous, it’s not reasoning at all. Nevertheless it occurs without any reservations or qualifications at all in his book. The comedy is that in his same book when his guard is down and he’s talking about the ancient Greek philosophers (he was a Greek scholar) he says, speaking of Heraclitus: “With his uncanny intuition Heraclitus saw that things are processes, that our bodies a living flame.” So when his guard is down, he admits it – but officially he denies it.
This sort of reasoning is called ‘emotional scepticism’ and it’s just as unreliable as emotional credulity: “I believe it all, I believe it all…and more!” It’s just as bad as: “I believe nothing whatever – and I produce arguments like this to show that it can’t happen”. They’re equally emotional and they’re equally irrational. Our teacher often produced these examples from the history of science, and I thought it might be worthwhile to just show the sort of thing he meant. These things in the biographies are treated as chance – the chance discoveries of enormous importance; but in actual fact they’re not chance.
Rutherford, at the beginning of this century when he was making the great discoveries about radioactivity (the details don’t matter), was shooting out the particles through a very thin medium. His own words are “It was like shooting 15 inch shells through tissue paper” – he said that’s how the experiment could be viewed. For example, if we take this as a 15 inch shell and this, the tissue paper. That is what would happen. That’s what he was doing. In the laboratory with the famous Geiger he gave an extraordinary order. He said; “Let’s see whether any of them bounce back”. It’s so idiotic – a 15 inch shell going through tissue paper – see if they bounce off! It’s like going to the Swiss Alps and seeing if the avalanches fall upwards. Absolutely crazy – completely against the whole logic of the situation. So they tried it, and they found they did, and that led to some very fundamental alterations, of course, to the whole view of the structure of the atom.
Now, this was not chance. If Geiger had been walking round with one of his Geiger counters, by chance, behind the source of the alpha particles and had found some of them seemed to be bouncing back, that would have been chance. And then a very alert mind – chance favours the prepared mind – would have spotted it. But he gave this order, and our teacher said, if you study the biographies carefully, and if we look at Becquerel and Pasteur especially, we find repeatedly they do things completely against the logic of the situation which lead to fundamental discoveries of something completely new. Our teacher so often referred to this that I thought it worthwhile demonstrating one of them.
Owing to the conflict between science and religion, there’s an antipathy here to scientists who become interested in something like telepathy are regarded as unsound: “Oh, he’s gone mystical” – but the Japanese are much more rational over this. I asked a Japanese physicist, “Does it affect a man’s career, as it does in the West, if for instance a physicist is interested in telepathy?” He said, “Oh no. One of my colleagues is making some experiments in telepathy. I shouldn’t think he’d find anything – but how do I know? He may. There’s another colleague, he’s spending a tremendous lot of time on a small area of field theory. Again, I shouldn’t think he’ll find anything – but he may. How do I know? We need to try.”
Now one of the Yoga systems is to sit in meditation, and we’re told as far as we can, if we’re young enough to learn, to sit on the floor and, if possible, to put one foot on the opposite thigh. Young people can achieve this in about two months, but in Japan they’re much more used to sitting on the floor, sometimes at least, and they can achieve it quite quickly. It is said, in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, that this begins to set people free from the pairs of opposites – suffering is created by the pairs of opposites.
© Trevor Leggett
Titles in this series are:
Part 4: World as an illusion
Part 5: Powerful effects of the unreal