Metaphysical Collapse

Metaphysical Collapse

Was there at the Cradle of Modern Science a Metaphysical Collapse?

The legend provides for the rise of the gravitation theory by a falling apple that choosed to land on Mr.Newton’s head. Indisputable remains that it is to him, to whom we owe the origin of gravitation theory. How it may have been born in his head is however much less clear. The probable source of Newton’s inspiration is usually seen in a kind of genial intuitive combination (not excluding a falling apple) of Kepler’s laws and Galileo’s observation. But long no attention was paid to a not only possible but also quite probable source of Newton’s inspiration, which was the teaching of Jacob Boehme (ca 1570-1624), originally a shoemaker from Goerlitz in Lausatia, about three universal principles, which got a broad renown especially in the Netherlands and England in the second half of the 17-th Century.[1] It has been demonstrated clearly that Newton’s friend William Lawes had drawn Newton‘s attention to this German, but nobody can say with certainty, whether Newton really read his books.[2] What was his teaching and how may it have inspired Newton? And how can we imagine that a half Century older speculative thinker, moreover without academic education could have influenced the number one scientist of the world? How could teaching that doesn’t deal with nature (in the modern sense) have become a ground and foundation for modern science? To answer these paradoxical questions, we must sketch the rudiments of Boehme’s theosophical system first.

Boehme’s teaching is not entirely homogenous – it grew with time through the years, while this autodidact published[3] further and further works; it is very far from being a „systematic academic teaching“, and one could say that it eludes any systematic approach. The present exposition of Boehme’s ideas concerns a kind of primordial collapse which took place even before the creation of universe, which is of course something entirely metaphysical and it is based mainly on Boehme‘s third book „Vom dreyfachen Leben des Menschens“ (On the triple Life of Man), but takes in view also other Boehme’s writings.

The fundament of Deity as well as of the World, which are not in Boehme’s view clearly separated, is the Nothingness, for which he finds and coins a new word: Ungrund, which is more or less an abyss, a chasm, but with respect to the whole context of Boehme’s (not wholly compact) terminology, it could be also rendered as „non-substance“. The abyss, due to being completely void, possesses an absolute appetence, an absolute craving of Something (Etwas, later also Ichts). But since it is not in state to satiate it (being primeval and absolute) it grasps somewhat in itself and minds or sees[4] to grasp itself. By this first step of self-comprising or condensation in Something (as only Something is tangible, so one could also consider the term „self-objectification“) the so-called Boehme’s First principle is established. Boehmes Principles are practically as absolute as the Absolute and so the condensation/objectivation/materialisation attained thus is absolute, too. Boeme’s explanations look more in a way, as if this was happening in an (infinite) series of steps than in force of a single act, but that does not change the substance of the absolute and absolutely comprising (Fasslich) principle, a principle which „principally“ tends to itself, is centripetal and always requires to be confirmed and strengthened in itself, going in it‘s lust so far that it begins to encumber itself (is „objective“) and so becomes also the dark principle.

Since it is an absolute principle nothing should actually hinder total implementation thereof, the absolute objectification and materialisation of the universe, as far as its contraction to a single point. This, however, dous not happen, since this principle collapses at a certain point. (A marginal note: Time relations do not play any role here, everything goes on on the metaphysical level, outside any temporal context. The moment, where the contrary principle, the Second principle[5], arises seems not to be determined by any measure or ratio of forces, due to the simple reason that et that point nothing exists except the original Nothingness, so there is nothing to be this principle measured with.)

The rise of the Second principle – the principle of absolute revealing, self-demonstration, a centrifugal principle of openness and light – is thus connected with the very essence of the First principle, representing its inversion or necessary complement. There is, however, a slight difference between this system and those known e.g. from Hellenistic (and other) gnosis. In old religious and/or philosophical systems the gods or divine emanations usually arise already in pairs, „syzigies“ and the overall balance in the universe is not being disturbed for a long time. That’s logical, for the universe is being viewed in hellenistic antiquity as something flawless, whose decline has been caused only by a minute but fatal mistake which came only at a fairly late stage of its development, although before the origin of the real material world, which, being such a late outspring thereof, carries this defect further with it. By Boehme, on the other hand, the process of multiplying and amplification within every principle takes place first, whose effect is that the principles meet and clash first in the real world – not in a world of ideas and archetypes – and there it is, where they fight their struggle and undergo their own „process“, which, on the other hand, is simultaneously the process of the whole universe and – of the godhead itself. This way, the God, the Universe and the real phenomenal world blend into one by Boehme.[6]

This is the first moment in which Boehme’s thought had got in touch with the idea of collapse: The insufficiency of a single principle and its non-capacity to embrace and comprehend the whole universe; Boehme’s First principle does attempt it, but it collapses, as if it imploded. And the contrarian principle results as an immediate reaction thereto.[7]

Comparing this Boehme’s teaching with the Newton theory, clear connexions can be seen. There is, however, also a significant difference: Newton was able to get along with one principle only – the one that corresponded to Boehme’s First principle; he was also able to bind this principle by the feedback principle of action and reaction, so that it will never exceed its limits and rout in collapse. Newton wasn’t thus any more in need of a spiritual principle as a balance of material forces and this revolutionary act of him laid the foundation to modern science. Thus also the science based on the gravitation principle unequivocally must be non-dialectic and deterministic. But if we considered the possibility of thinking about another principle in the sense of footnote 7, the universe viewed thus would perhaps look otherwise.

We could also take into consideration that Newton’s gravitation explains the movement of the Universe, but does not explain its origin. The scholars of Newton’s times would perhaps still refer with respect to the imperceptible and incomprehensible Creator. And how a little later, when the generations of representatives of the true Enlightment entered the stage, there cam a general desire to learn the zero moment, when the Primeval moving agent (probably not the Creator any more) intervened for the first and simultaneously last time into the ways of the world and by his single poke, he started all the colossal concert of impacting elastic balls.

We said that Newton could go without another additive principle, but in fact there is such one which Newton presupposes: It is the spacial extension. As soon as there are some material bodies in the universe and they have a certain potential energy and moment of movement, the theatre of mechanical physics can open its gates and put everything on a show. But, as we know nowadays, in extreme conditions (e.g. those which would be near to the yonder „zero point“) the normal screenplay cannot be maintained.

Yet another consequence can be drawn: We may ask, when all this bedlam will end. In the mechanistic concept God himself will have to step in its way as a gigantic traffic warden and make an artificial end to that all. And what if there is no one like that….? In such case everything will keep moving. And with the permanently moving world, also the mankind will continue to produce, manufacture, control, consume and throw out – since all this is subject to „the market mechanism“ and the movement of a mechanism is without end, it does not know the principle of feedback.[8]

Thus we draw near to another important point: life (and for the purpose of this article we may consider to be life also the „life“ on the mechanical level) needs death to its correct functioning. Elementary observation then tells us that death is due to two kinds of causes. External ones (the organism is devoured by something) or (the less frequent) internal ones. If we apply this to the world in its mechanistic aspect, everything can end either by the intervention of God, the only thinkable agent external to Universe, who would set so the limits to its course; meaning and sense within such a world is then given by God’s counsel, which is a theory held by generations of our predecessors, whom we do not have to consider as wholly ineducated ones; the other, perhaps more interesting option, which is surely more welcome and acceptable to the occamistic modern thinkers is an internal collapse of the world, and – since we have been talking about the mechanistic world – it must strike also the „unchanging“ principles of mechanics, which have to cease being valid at some point. (I am not sure, if we haven’t reached that point yet and the collapse has not been revealed in the theory of relativity.) Such collapse will then determine the limits of the system, without any other external delimitation. The concept of a collapse, the possibility of an automate limiting/termination of a process or system is therefore very useful.

A question remains, whether such a massive development of science and technology as the occidental civilisation has experienced within last three Centuries, would come about, had the scientists constructed their theories and instruments with a kind of „metaphysical shivers“, knowing that it might be not an old-fashioned Good Lord, but the Nature itself, who can „pull the string“and everything would fall apart. Certainly the „historical optimism“ of the Enlightment, whatever short-sighted, presented a much more friendly and favourable condition for its development.

[1] Translations of some Boehme’s short writings appeared in London already in 1645 and by 1664 were published all of them with exception of three minor ones. Boehmes writings gained vast popularity in England after 1654, in particular due to so called Cambridge Platonists (John Pordage, Jane Leade etc.) becoming so a firm part of insular philosophical tradition.

[2] We know that Boehme was read by William Lawes and this friend of Newton is said to have recommended such lecture also to him, but the question remains unanswered. See Hornhouse Stephen: Isaac Newton and Jacob Boehme, in: Philosophia 2, Belgrad 193VII; or. Poppe, Kurt: Über den ursprung der Gravitationslehre. Jakob Böhme-Henry More-Isaac Newton. in: Die Drei *34+. Zeitschrift f. Anthroposophie u, Dreigliederung. Stuttgart, 1964

[3] More precisely said, he didn’t publish anything, his books were copied by hand. Boehme got his renown somewhat unwittingly. It happened so, that a part of his writings got in hands of a learned nobleman and he had it promptly copied several times and sent the copies to a group of sympathetic gentlemen. All subsequent Boehme’s works were addressed to such circles, whose members did the best to keep low profile. In those times of intense strife of denominations, when the Thirty-Years‘War was at hand and soon really burst out, it wasn’t very advisable to show off any religious dissentism. Boehme stepped forward voicing his opinions publicly only in1624, which only one year before his death.

[4] This is not a mere metapher to denote „will“! A variant of Boehme’s primordiary explanatory myth, which appears in particular in his book Vierzig Fragen um der Seele (and in its corollary named "Das Umbgewandte Auge"), sparsely also in other books is that the primordiary (non)deity, which bears also the title Das Auge des Ungrundes (a groundless eye or a groundless gaze) looks inside and encounters itself in a manner or quality of a kind of mirror.

[5] Boehme calls his principles "Das erste…, das andere (the other) and das dritte Principium

[6] And we should add: the man, too. In accordance with the alchemist’s traditions is Boehme’s man a microcosm. The mind of man and his moral and spiritual evolution is the most important stage, where its universal process is displayed..

[7] There is, however, also another way, how to explain arising of the Second principle, but it is teleological: If there should have been any opportunity to formation of world, the universe could not be dominated by a single principle, which would have made of it a kind of inverted Absolute.

[8] A few words to explain it: There is, or there can undoubtedly be a purely mechanic feedback. ( A clockwork, or merely a pendulum are good examples.) The problem is, whether such mechanisms can arise spontaneously or they must be designed, i.e. whether there is a clockwork, which has assembled itself, or heart, which started beating from itself. And also if the „language of mechanics“ can express the purpose, or the final outcoming status of a successfully applied feedback. These problems are of a much more complicated kind.