“’The red brick,’ says Science, ‘is a mere convention. In reality, that bit, like all other bits of the universe, consists, so far as I know at present, of innumerable atoms whirling and dancing one about the other. It is no more solid than a snowstorm. Were you to eat of Alice-in-Wonderland’s mushroom, and shrink to the dimensions of the infra-world, each atom with its electrons might seem to you a solar system and the red brick itself a universe. Moreover, these atoms themselves elude me as I try to grasp them. They are only manifestations of something else. Could I track matter to its lair, I might conceivable discover that it has no extension, and become an idealist in spite of myself. As for redness, as you call it, that is a question of the relstionship between your optic nerve and the light waves which it is unable to absorb. This evening, when the sun slopes, your brick will probably be purple, a very little deviation from normal vision on your part would make it green. Even the sense that the object of perception is outside yourself may be fancy; since you can as easily attribute this external quality to images seen in dreams, and to waking hallucinations, as you do to those objects which, as you absurdly say, are really there.’
“Further, there is no trustworthy standard by which we can separate the ‘real’ from the ‘unreal’ aspects of phenomena. Such standards as exist are conventional and correspond to convenience, not to truth.” ~Evelyn Underhill
It is surprising that Evelyn Underhill wrote this about 100 years ago. She shows an understanding of the realm of matter that rivals the best Quantum Physicists of today. But that is true of many great spiritual teachers and prophets. They often saw a reality that was hidden to material science, and still do in some cases.
So first off, she is telling us that the apparently hard-as-rock and totally solid brick is nothing of the sort. It is revealed to be mostly empty space when sufficiently magnified. And this wad when the smallest particles known were atoms. But now we can even look into the atom and see the subatomic particles from which it is constructed. And when it is magnified sufficiently to do that, it is revealed that the greatest part of the atom is empty space. The electrons and the nucleus of the atom make us far less than one percent of the total size of the complete atom. But it probably isn’t completely true to say that what is between those particles is “empty space”. It is more accurate to say they are areas devoid of matter. They are, however, holding great amounts of energy, as we know from atomic bombs which are created by freeing that energy in the atoms.
Innumerable Atoms Dancing
This is something that most people don’t think about, but should. Underhill is correct in saying that the atoms are whirling, dancing, moving. They are always moving. They never stop moving. If they stopped moving, it would probably be as much of a disaster to us as when they are broken open in atomic bombs.
There is a lesson to be learned here. Look at this on another level. Everything in the universe is constantly moving as well. Planets spin around stars. Stars dance around the center of a galaxy, and so on. Movement is life. Yet too many humans seem to have the goal in life of reducing their movement as much as possible. Some would probably be perfectly happy to sit still forever if it were possible. But that is not how things function in a living universe. In fact, it is probably true that those who constantly move are those who grow or at least have the potential to grow if they move in the right direction. Those who try to avoid moving, or changing, cannot grow. The strength of that red brick is in the innumerable atoms moving within it. When we move, within and without, we make ourselves stronger.
Matter Has No Extension
I think what Underhill means by this is that matter has no reality behind it. Matter is an illusion. That teaching is shared by most spiritual and mystery schools of the past and present. But that doesn’t mean that matter doesn’t exist. It does exist, but it isn’t what it appears to be. The physical universe is, according to the findings of quantum physics, just a great hologram. Since a hologram is just an image made of light, that solid red brick is but an image made entirely of light. Quantum physics also tells us that those atoms, or at least the electrons in them, are only particles when observes. When not observed, they are just waves of potential. That is why light is both waves and particles.
So those innumerable atoms whirling and dancing are really beams of light in a hologram whirling and dancing. And to some degree, the dance they do seems to be determined by us. We might say it is a giant sandbox or Lego set. But before you run outside and try to manifest a Rolls Royce, remember it is WE who generate the universe; a collective we, not each individual. It is the sum of all our thoughts that create the world we see. The thoughts of just one have only a very limited effect on the universe and those innumerable atoms.