Eternity According to the Stars

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[Blanqui, along with his revolutionary writings, wrote a short essay of astronomical philosophy, in which appears a doctrine of "eternal return." I'm playing around with some writings by Alfred Fouillée, whose work on "idea-forces" is long overdue for at least a partial translation, and who wrote a number of articles dealing with Nietzsche, Stirner and Guyau (who was his step-son.) One thing led to another... The work is about 40 pages in pamphlet form. Here are the first couple of pages in translation.]

Louis-Auguste Blanqui, Eternity According to the Stars - (1872)

Astronomical Hypothesis.

I. The Universe.—The Infinite.

The universe is infinite in time and in space, eternal, without limits and indivisible. All bodies, animate and inanimate, solid, liquid and gaseous, are related one to another by the very things that separate them. Everything holds together. If we snuff out the stars, space will remain, absolutely empty without doubt, but having three dimensions, length, width and depth, indivisible and limitless space.


Pascal said, in his magnificent language, “The universe is a circle, whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.” What more striking image could there be of the infinite? Let us say, following him and elaborating still more: The universe is a sphere whose center is everywhere and whose surface is nowhere.


Here it is before us, offering itself to observation and reasoning. Stars without numbers shine in its depths. Let us suppose ourselves at one of these “centers of the sphere,” which are everywhere, while the surface of the sphere is nowhere, and let us allow for an instant the existence of that surface, which would find itself from that moment the limit of the world.


Would that limit be solid, liquid or gaseous? Whatever its nature, it would immediately become the prolongation of what it bounds or pretends to bound. Let us say that there exists at this point neither solid, nor liquid, nor gas, not even ether. Nothing but space, empty and black. That space would nonetheless possess three dimensions, and it would necessarily have for a limit, which means for a continuation, a new portion of space of the same nature, and after that, another, and then another still, and so on, indefinitely.

The infinite can only present itself to us in the form of the indefinite. One leads to the other by way of the manifest impossibility of finding or even conceiving a limitation to space. Certainly, the infinite universe is incomprehensible, but a limited universe is absurd. That absolute certitude of the infinity of the world, joined with its incomprehensibility, constitutes one of the most irritating problems that torments the human mind. There exist, doubtless, somewhere in the wandering worlds, brains vigorous enough to comprehend the enigma impenetrable to our own. We must kiss our jealousy goodbye

The enigma poses itself the same for infinity in time as for infinity in space. The eternity of the world strikes the intelligence even more irresistibly than its immensity. If we could allow limits to the universe, how would we support the thought of its non-existence? Matter does not come from nothing. It will not return there. It is eternal, imperishable. Although perpetually in transformation, it can neither diminish, nor increase by an atom.


Infinite in time, why would it not be infinite in extent? The two infinities are inseparable. The one implies the other, or we fall into contradiction and absurdity. Science has still not observed a law of solidarity between space and the globes that travel through it. Heat, movement, light, electricity, are a necessity for the length and breadth. Competent men believe that none of these parts could remain separated from these great illuminated hearths, by which the worlds live. Our opuscule rests entirely on that opinion, which peoples the infinity of space with an infinity of globe, and leaves no corner of darkness, solitude and immobility.

II. THE INDEFINITE

We can follow an idea of the infinite, even a very meager one, only to the indefinite, and yet that feeble idea already assumes formidable appearances. Sixty-two digits, occupying a length of around 5 centimeters, give 20 octodecillions of leagues, or in more common terms, billions of billions of billions of billions of billions of times the distance from the sun to the earth.

Let us imagine now a line of digits, going from here to the sun, no longer only 15 centimeters in length, but 37 million leagues. Isn’t the distance embraced by that enumeration terrifying? Now take this same range as the unit in a new number, as follows: The line of digits that starts from the earth and leads to that star there, whose light takes more than a thousand years to reach us, traveling at 75,000 leagues per second. What a distance would emerge from such a calculation, if we could find the words and the time to utter it!

We can thus prolong the indefinite as we wish, without surpassing the limits of the intelligence, but also without touching the infinite. Were each word the indication of the most terrifying distances, we could speak for billions and billions of year, at a word per second, and speak only an insignificant sum of what is meant by the infinite.


[translation in progress...]