The New Word, by Allen Upward, , at sacred-texts.com
The Unknowable.—1. Ultimate Nature of Matter.—2. Logical Chemistry.—3. The Dustbin of Science.—4. Story of the Crumb.
THE All-Thing being made up of strength and stuffing, we are naturally curious to learn what the stuffing is made up of.
Unhappily the spirit of Athanasius now enters again into the author of the Story of Shaping, without driving out that of Andrónikos of Rhodes.
"The ultimate nature of Matter remains unknown and unknowable."
Unknowable has never struck me as a useful word, and it is generally an unlucky one. As soon as any enchanter has declared to us that the path to the sun across the sky is unknowable, some learner is sure to come forward and tell us all about it. As soon as another has affirmed that the number of hairs on a man's head is unknowable, the exact figures are sure to be forthcoming from a statistician. (Since these words were first written the Nobel Prize for Physics has been awarded for the discovery of the ultimate nature of Matter.) It is difficult
to see what any one thinks he has to gain by holding up a warning hand to posterity in this fashion, with a—Thus far shalt thou come, and no farther!
And consider what it is that remains unknowable. The ultimate nature of Matter. "Ultimate nature" sounds far too much like ta meta ta phusika. Why does the writer take it for granted that Matter has an ultimate nature? He goes on to say,—"We can only infer what it is, by learning what it does." Clearly he sees some difference between being and doing,—he knows but will not tell. He seems to say in other words,—I see something called Matter moving about, and hence I infer that there is another something called its Ultimate Nature, keeping still; which other something is unknowable.—Surely that is like building a bridge you never intend to cross.
Yet the author is better than his word, for he goes on to tell us somewhat, if not of the ultimate, at least of the penultimate, nature of Matter.
"The actions of bodies, whatever their states, are explicable only on the assumption that the bodies are made up of infinitely small particles which, in their combined state, as mechanical units, are called molecules, and in their free state, as chemical units, are called atoms."
"Infinitely" is a big word. When we have reached infinity the ultimate cannot be much farther on. The author, unhappily, was using it only as a sort of swear word, meaning very small, for presently he calculates the size of these infinitely
small particles. As many of them (he says) would go into a drop of water as cricket-balls into an Earth.—I have forgotten how many angels could dance upon a needle's point, according to the highest theological authority.
But at this point the Story of Creation becomes so knotty, and the writer loses his way so hopelessly among the terms element, molecule and atom, that I have to put in my own homely words what I have gathered to be the teaching of Materialism on this head. Nor ought the writer to be blamed for his failure, since he has evidently started with the belief that his authorities know what they are saying, whereas I have started with the belief that they most probably do not.
We need a Babu glossary:—
By the word element I understand modern chemists to mean those webworks in the All-Thing, such as hydrogen and gold, which they have not been able to unweave, as they unweave water into oxygen and hydrogen. Of the elements, which he sometimes carelessly calls atoms, the author of the Story of Creation says in his sternest Athanasian vein,—
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[paragraph continues] "Since the present universe had its beginning the elements have undergone no change." In some past universe, perhaps, they were less stubborn. In the meanwhile, of course, they are outside the Theory of Evolution, although my teacher omits to note the fact.
Of the atom, its modern discoverer, Dalton, proudly declared,—"No man can split an atom"; or, in other words, no man can split the unsplitable. The eminent Huxley no less rashly boasted,—"The atom is truly an immortal being." My author, with a diffidence as welcome as it is unexpected, contents himself in saying that the atoms have not yet been split. And even that is not true.
I find there are at least three atoms known to science, or at least to scientology, the arithmetical atom, the physical one, and the logical one. Of these the logical one has been kept intact by unheard of efforts; the other two have been split, and are being split every day.
The first, or chemical atom, is no more than an arithmetical term, in short it is an item. The chemist has found that when his elements unite with each other they do so always in fixed proportions, and it is the proportion which he is thinking of when he uses the word atom. Thus when he wants to say that in every gallon of water, or steam, there are two pints of hydrogen for one pint of oxygen, he puts it that the "atom" of hydrogen is H2. In hydrochloric acid this atom splits, and we get H1
or more simply H. It is this atom which is sometimes confused with element in the Story of Creation and elsewhere. It appears to have no more to do with the nature of Matter than the figure 0 has.
The atom which has for so long engaged the attention of physicists, or physical chemists, is of course the old atom of Democritus, and is merely a small crumb of Matter, measuring, according to the latest and best of my authorities, a thousand millionth of an inch across. The Story of Creation terms it an assumption, or, shall we say, an image formed in the mind. Of such crumbs, real or imaginary, Matter is at present believed to be made up. When the experiment famous for giving us the Röntgen rays is made, still smaller crumblets, called corpuscles, are believed to be rent away from the main crumb, and thus the physical atom is split.
The molecule may be regarded as a married crumb, and sometimes a polygamous one. Thus in the case of water the oxygen crumb was long believed to take to itself two hydrogen crumbs, and the little heap thus formed was not three crumbs, but one crumb. Such a molecule may be likened to a bronze coin made by melting down together two copper coins and one tin coin. No one, of course, has ever seen or handled any such crumb. The chemist cannot pick his little heaps out of the real heap, but he can work a sort of earthquake by which the whole heap of bronze coins is rent into two heaps, one of tin coins, and one of copper coins. Every
coin is to-day called a molecule, but only in a state of celibacy is it also called an atom.
All that is plain sailing, when it is explained. The difficulty is with the logical atom which is, as one of my authorities very sagely observes, "by definition, indivisible." Accordingly, as soon as one of the real atoms does divide, the definition is redefined to meet the altered circumstances. As thus:—
Finding that one pint of a gas always unites with one or more full pints of another gas, and never with any odd fraction of a pint, the chemists have concluded that every pint of gas contains the same number of crumbs. But now when the two pints of hydrogen unite with the one pint of oxygen, they do not make three pints of steam, but only two pints. Therefore the chemists choose to say that the number of steam crumbs is the same with that of the original hydrogen crumbs, and double that of the original oxygen crumbs. What, then, has happened? Each of the oxygen crumbs must have split in two, one half joining each hydrogen crumb. But the atom is by definition, indivisible." How then can it split? The answer is that the oxygen crumb must be a double crumb. It is not an atom, but a little heap of two atoms. Instead of being a penny it is two halfpennies stuck together like the Siamese Twins. And each halfpenny is a logical atom.—One is tempted to add Euclid's Q. E. D.
By similar reasoning the atoms of hydrogen and
chlorine have also been revealed as twins; and should occasion arise for it no doubt the twins will become triplets, and the halfpennies farthings. In this way the integrity of the logical atom should always be maintained.
Meanwhile I will commend to the attention of all atomists the Chinese definition of a Point. "A point is a thing which has not got division."
Such is the story of the Atom; and we cannot be surprised if the historian of Creation has been caught tripping in the network of arithmetic, logic and imagination, which I have laboured to unweave, in the belief that what can be said in shorthand can be said in longhand, if we take the pains.
The Story of Creation now leaves the crumbs, to bring upon the scene a new item inexcusably omitted from the inventory of the universe. This is an "elastic medium" called Ether, something as much finer than air as the crumbs are finer than bricks. So that, ridding my mind of the words "very small"—which can only mean small beside a man—I learn that the All-Thing is a sort of jelly with bricks jostling each other inside it under the stress of that Power which formed the second item in the inventory.
The Ether, it seems, is a "necessary assumption"; it is indeed a sort of dustbin into which Science
throws her breakages. I understand, however, from other sources of information, that the dustbin is becoming choked, and that Science has now called for another, and far finer medium, to be called Ethereon, which will trickle through the Ether as that trickles through the air, and as water trickles through a sponge. Nor shall I be surprised to hear later on that even in the Ethereon Science has not got quite to the bottom of Everything, and that finer and finer mediums, Etheroids and Ethereonoids and Etherolites, will go on trickling through each other to endlessness. The world is held up by an elephant, and the elephant is held up by a tortoise, and the tortoise is held up by—what?
In the meanwhile the story of Matter has not ended with the crumb.
The crumb has been guessed by no mean guesser to be made of Ether, to be a sort of ring made by a whirlpool in the Ether, which has somehow got its tail into its mouth like a fried whiting. That guess no longer holds the field.
According to the last report I have received from the headquarters of science—a report which has caused much of my language in the first draft of this Letter to take an air of plagiarism—the crumb is made up of electricity, which is to say, amber-strength.
[paragraph continues] This strength shows two sides, or ways, called yea and nay, and both join to shape the crumb. The crumb is a relatively big ball of yea strength inside which a swarm of lesser balls of nay strength are going round and round, the little balls having between them as much of nay as the bigger ball has of yea. I give the learned words:—
"The hydrogen atom consists of a big sphere of uniformly distributed positive electrification, and a thousand negative corpuscles travelling, each in its own orbit, within the positive sphere. The total of positive electrification is equal to the sum of the negatives in the thousand corpuscles."
Such is the image of Matter formed in the mind of a great scientist, too true a scientist to offer it as anything but a guess. It may not be the right guess. It is not there, perhaps, that pretty Chinese toy, those wheels within a wheel, that dance of moons within the belly of their sun. The pick of Science has gone too deep, and struck the well of poetry. But as it stands it is the last and best guess that science has made in our time about the ultimate nature of Matter.
And what else is it but a network—a thousand knots tied up in one knot? The pick of the physicist has chimed against the pick of the psychologist, as in the middle of a tunnel, and wrought a thoroughfare for light. And that is what I call a Rhyme.
Of what is the network made? Let us hear the
last word of Materialism on itself.—"Matter is electric charge, or electric charge is Matter, whichever way we like to put it."
The ultimate nature of Matter is Power. The inventory of the universe was too long by half.