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Edgar Lansbury

What is the meaning of life?

Religious Affiliation: No answer

Date Submitted: January 26, 2018

Date of Birth: January 12, 1930

This is a paper I wrote some years ago, but it does describe my thoughts about life and what it “means.”

I have no strict religious affiliation, though since my teenage years I have been interested in the Russian philosopher/painter Nicholas Roerich.  This has led me into Eastern thought, and the Agni Yoga Teachings which he and his wife Helena wrote about.  For many years I have been connected to a museum at 319 West 107th street in Manhattan that house several hundred of his paintings, The Nicholas Roerich Museum.  If you’re ever in the area, it’s well worth a visit.


Early in our youth the imagination is challenged as follows.

Select an object, or point, a certain distance away and walk toward it. Pause once you have reached half the distance to it, then proceed, pausing each time you have reached half the distance that remains to the goal. If you proceed in this manner, how long will it take you to get to the goal?

The answer, of course, is that you will never get there.

Pretty soon the distances that have to be covered are so minute that the human body is no longer a useful vehicle. The space traversed becomes progressively smaller. First the domain of the insect, then the microbe, and, finally, one must proceed along the path in one's thought! We enter the microcosmic world—the world of the atom, the world of molecules and sub-atomic matter. Entering into matter in this way, we discover that the apparently solid "tactile" world, is. in fact, a vast realm of limitless space, where individual particles, in relative terms, are as far apart from each other as are the bodies of the solar system.

How time, as we know it, figures in all this poses an enigma. "How long will it take you to get to the goal?" The answer is forever, or eternity. We are told that time is relative, and a

product of mankind's linear, limited thinking, and nothing demonstrates this as effectively as this mental exercise. Surely time, if it exists at all, cannot be the same when we started out on the trip as it is when we have entered this vast microcosmic world. Our motion on the trip is undeniable. The space we traverse is undeniable. But "time" ceases to operate as in the mundane world. Time has truly become the fourth dimension, a continuity of space and motion, or velocity.

Having journeyed into the microcosmic world, and satisfied that we should have to proceed eternally if we ever hoped to come nearer to our goal, let's stop and turn around and retrace our passage—this time doubling the space we traverse on each "leg- of the journey. The trip is not as pleasant as was our journey out. We will arrive back in the mundane world, experiencing a reduction in our perception of reality as we recapture and squeeze back into our fleshly molds, and become once more the victims of Earthly limitation. But we will not stop there. Selecting as our goal the limits of the Universe, we will continue to double the distance we travel with each "leg" and soon find ourselves again bodyless and voyaging in our minds out into vast areas of space, oddly similar to the microcosmic world we have just left!

By making this exploration of Microcosm and Macrocosm, we discover that each reflects the other. They comprise a great Unity—an Infinite, boundless, eternal Cosmos. Every particle of space, microcosmic or macrocosmic, is permeated with a basic energy, what Helena Blavatsky termed "plasma", interrelating and comprising infinitely diverse possibilities, motivated and activated by the Cosmic Mind, governed by Cosmic Reason. "Cosmos, the Builder, and its reflection, the microcosm, live by the same law." (Infinity) If we try to illustrate this principle it might look something like this:


Perhaps this is where the symbol for infinity came from?

Here are some recent articles that seem to complement our thoughts.

"The old mechanistic vision of a clockwork cosmos has to give way to an organic conception of the universe as a vast, interrelated system in which laws, life and beauty can arise of their own accord without recourse to a 'background' of absolutes." (From The Cosmos According to Darwin, an article by Dennis Overbye about the physicist Lee Smolin, The NY Sunday Times Magazine, July 13, 1997)

"One of the weird aspects of quantum mechanics is that something can simultaneously exist and not exist; if a particle is capable of moving along several different paths, or existing in several different states, the uncertainty principle of quantum mechanics allows it to travel along all paths and exist in all possible states simultaneously...

"Physicists call this a 'collapse of the wave function.' The amazing thing is that if just one particle in an entangled pair is measured, the wave function of both particles collapse into a definite state that is the same for both partners, even separated by great distances.

"Among several proposed explanations of all this is the 'many worlds' hypothesis: the notion that for every possible pathway or state open to a particle, there is a separate universe. For each of 10 possible pathways a quantum particle might follow, for example, there would exist a separate universe." (From Signal Travels Farther and Faster Than Light, an article by Malcolm W. Browne, The New York Times, July 22, 1997, Italics mine)

On the correspondences between the macrocosm and microcosm. "We're looking into outer space to see back into inner space: the first moments of the universe and the inner space of the elementary particles." (New York Times, March 17, 1998, quoting a Dr. Turner)

It seems hard for me to believe, as Stephen Hawking does, in the principle of the Planck length—an irreducibly smallest interval of time and space. This idea defies the principle of Infinity. Dr. Hawking writes, "It seems that there is an ultimate length scale that we can't go below, so there ought to be an ultimate theory." (New York Times. March 24, 1998) This strikes me as twentieth century thinking.

Roman Vishniac was born in 1897 near St. Petersburg, Russia. In his book "In Love With Life" he writes, "Nature, God, or whatever you want to call the creator of the universe comes through the microscope clearly and nature, every bit of life is lovely."

Vishniac resists classifying living organisms. Everywhere he looks he sees evidence of the unity of life. Watching the circulation of blood in an animal, Vishniac sees similarity to other patterns in nature. "I am looking at a flower. and I am seeing infinity. I am seeing a flower in a flower in a flower. 

"When you think you have seen it all there is a cell. And within the cell is a nucleus. And within the nucleus are particles that are worlds unto themselves. It is endless."

William James has written, "Genius, in truth, means little more than the faculty of perceiving in an un-habitual way." He might have been writing about Vishniac.

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