Uranie, by Camille Flammarion

iv.

Infinity and Eternity — Time, Space and Life — Celestial Horizons.

WHAT, could I believe my eyes? Another universe was descending toward us! Millions and millions of suns grouped together, a new celestial archipelago, moved in space, opening to our view like a vast cloud of stars, as we ascended. I sought to fathom with my gaze the depths of immensity around us, and everywhere, on all sides, I perceived similar gleams of light, similar clouds of stars.

The new universe, into which we had entered, was composed principally of red, ruby and garnet suns; many of them were actually the color of blood. Our passage here was like a flash of lightning. We passed swiftly from sun to sun, but incessant electrical flashes reached us, like the lights of an Aurora Borealis. What strange habitations were these worlds illuminated solely by red suns! Then, in one of the districts of this universe, we beheld a secondary group, composed of a great number of red and blue stars. Suddenly, an enormous comet, of which the head resembled a colossal mouth, rushed toward us and enveloped us completely. I clung with terror to the side of the goddess, who, for an instant, disappeared from my view in a luminous mist; but we met again in a starless desert, for this second universe had withdrawn from our view like the former one.

* * * * * *

“Creation,” she said to me, “is composed of an infinite number of distinct universes, separated the one from the other by abysses of nothingness.”

“An infinite number?”

“The objection of a mathematician,” she responded. “Without doubt a number, however large it may be, can never be, actually infinite, because it is always possible to the thought to augment it, two, three, or even a hundred fold. But, remember that the passing moment is only a door through which the future hurries toward the past. Eternity is without end, and the number of universes will also be without end. Behold! still new suns, always and everywhere, new archipelagoes of celestial islands, new universes.”

“It seems to me, oh, Uranie! that we have been for a long time, and with great swiftness, ascending a heaven without bounds.”

“We might ascend thus forever,” she replied: “Never would we reach a definite limit. We might journey into it, to the left, to the right, onward, backward, down, in any direction whatsoever, without ever reaching any frontier.

“Never, never should we reach the end. Knowest thou where we are? Knowest thou what road we have traveled over?

“We are — in the vestibule of the Infinite, as we were upon the Earth. We have not advanced a single step!

* * * * * *

An overwhelming emotion had taken possession of my mind.

The last words of Uranie had penetrated to the marrow of my bones, causing a cold shudder to pass over me. “Never should we reach the end! never! never!” I repeated; and I had speech or thought for nothing else. Nevertheless, the magnificence of the spectacle before us again attracted my gaze, and my amazement gave place to enthusiasm.

“Astronomy!” I cried. “That is everything! To understand! To understand these things! To live in the Infinite! Oh, Uranie! What are all other human thoughts compared to science? Shadows, phantoms!”

“Ah!” she said, “you will re-awaken upon the Earth, you will admire again, and with reason, the science taught by your masters; but know that the astronomy of your schools and of your observatories, the beautiful science of Newton, of Laplace, of Le Verrier, is not yet an exact science.

“That, oh my son, is not the aim I have had in view since the days of Hypparchus and of Ptolemy. Behold, those millions of suns, similar to that which gives life to the Earth, and like it, sources of movement, activity and splendor; well, those are the subjects of the science of the future — the study of universal and eternal life. Until that day arrives, no one has entered into the temple. Figures are not an end, but a means; they do not describe the edifice of Nature, but the scaffolding, the methods employed in building it. You are going to witness the dawn of a new day. Mathematical astronomy will give place to physical astronomy, to the true study of Nature.

“Yes,” she added, “those astronomers who calculate the apparent movements of the stars in their passage each day to the meridian; those who announce the coming of eclipses, of celestial phenomena, of periodical comets; those who observe so carefully the exact positions of the stars and planets on the different degrees of the celestial sphere; those who discover comets, planets, satellites, stars that appear and disappear; those who investigate and define the perturbations caused in the movements of the Earth by the attraction of the moon and of the planets; those who dedicate their vigils to the discovery of the primordial elements of the system of the world — all those, whether observers or calculators, are the precursors of the new astronomy. Theirs are great labors, labors worthy of admiration: transcendent works which bring into play the highest faculties of the mind. But mathematicians and geometricians belong to the army of the past. Henceforward the heart of the savant, will beat for still nobler victories. All those great minds in studying the heavens, have not in reality left the Earth. The end of astronomy is not to show the apparent position of points of light, nor to calculate the gravity of masses of matter moving through space, nor to announce the coming of eclipses, the phases of the moon or the tides. All this is very well, but it is not enough.

“If life did not exist upon the Earth, that planet would be altogether devoid of interest for any thinking being whatsoever; and one can apply the same reflection to all the worlds that gravitate around the millions of suns peopling the depths of space. Life is the end of all creation. If there were neither life nor thought, everything that exists would be as if it did not exist and never had existed. You are destined to witness a complete transformation of science.”

“Universal life!” I said. “Are all the planets of our solar system inhabited, then? Are the myriads of worlds that people infinite space inhabited? Do the beings that live upon them resemble those of our planet? Shall we ever know each other?”

“The period during which you live upon the Earth, the entire duration even of terrestrial humanity, is but a moment of eternity.”

I did not comprehend this answer to my questions.

“There is no reason,” added Uranie, “why all the worlds should be inhabited now. The present period is of no more importance than those which have preceded and those which are to follow it.

“The duration of the Earth’s existence will be much longer, ten times longer, perhaps, than that of the period during which it shall be inhabited by man. Of a dozen worlds taken at random from among those that people space, we should, perhaps, find but one, for instance, to illustrate the case, inhabited at the present time by an intelligent race of beings. Some were inhabited in the past, others will be so in the future; the latter are in the preparatory stage: the former have already passed through all their phases. Here are cradles, there are tombs. And then an infinite variety is revealed in the manifestations of the forces of Nature. Terrestrial life being in no sense the type of life outside the earth. Beings may live and think organized altogether differently from those of your planet. The inhabitants of the other worlds have neither your form nor your senses. They are altogether different. The day will come, and very soon, since you are destined to behold it, when this study of the conditions of life in the various parts of the universe will be the essential object and the chief charm of astronomy. Soon, instead of occupying themselves merely with the distance, the movement, the material mass of your neighboring planets, for instance, your astronomers will study their physical condition, their geographical aspects, their climatology, their meteorology; they will solve the mystery of the conditions of life upon them, and will extend their investigations to their inhabitants. They will find that Mars and Venus are at present peopled by thinking beings; that Jupiter is still in the primary stage of organic formation; that Saturn revolves under conditions altogether different from those which reigned at the beginning of life upon the Earth, and that, never passing through a state analogous to that of the Earth, it will be inhabited by beings of entirely different organizations from those of the Earth. New methods will make known the physical and chemical constitution of the stars and the nature of their atmospheres. More perfect instruments will afford the means of discovering direct proofs of the existence of these planetary beings, and make it possible to think of holding communication with them. Such will be the changes in science that will mark the end of the nineteenth century and usher in the twentieth.”

I listened, entranced, to the words of the celestial Muse, that threw a light altogether new on the future of astronomy, and filled me with an ever-growing enthusiasm. I saw before me the innumerable worlds that roll in space, and I comprehended that the true end of science was to make us acquainted with those distant universes, to bring us into living contact with those immense horizons. The beautiful goddess continued:

“Still more elevated will be the mission of astronomy, when she has brought home to your hearts and minds the fact that the Earth is but a city of the celestial country, and Man a citizen of the heavens; she will go still farther. In revealing the plan of the construction of the physical universe, she will show that the moral universe is based upon the same plan, that both these worlds form but one world, and that spirit governs matter. What she has done for space she will do for time. When you have learned to appreciate the immensity of space, and have recognized the fact that the same laws reign everywhere, and make of the vast universe a unity, you will learn that all the ages of the past and of the future are one with the present, and that thinking nomads will live eternally through successive and progressive transformations; you will learn that there are intelligences incomparably superior to the greatest minds of terrestrial humanity, and that everything progresses toward supreme perfection; you will learn also that the material world has but an apparent existence, and that the reality underlying it is a force imponderable, invisible and intangible.

“Astronomy will then be preëminently and above all the guide of philosophy. From those who reason without a knowledge of the facts revealed by astronomy, the truth will remain hidden. Those who are guided by her light will attain to a solution of the great problems of Nature. Astronomic philosophy will be the religion of superior minds.

“You are destined to witness,” she added, “this two-fold transformation of Science. When you quit the terrestrial world, this Science of Astronomy, which you now so justly admire, will be altogether changed in form as well as in spirit.

“But this is not all. This transformation of an ancient science would further but little the general progress of humanity, if this sublime knowledge which develops the understanding and illumines the soul, freeing it from the petty conventionalities of society, were to remain confined to the narrow circle of astronomers by profession. That time, too, will pass. The bushel hiding the light will be overturned. The torch must be carried in the hand, its light must be augmented, it must be brought out into the public places, into the crowded streets, into the cross-roads even. The whole world is destined to receive this light; the whole world is thirsting for it; — above all, the lowly ones of earth, those disinherited by fortune, because those think more than others, those are hungry for knowledge, while the favored ones of the age do not suspect their state of ignorance, or almost take pride in remaining in it. Yes, the torch of Astronomy is destined to enlighten the world; it will extend even to the masses, enlighten their conscience, and elevate their hearts; and this will be its highest mission, this its chiefest blessing.”

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:37