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{Symmetry as the poetical essence of the Universe}


 It is, perhaps, in no little degree, however, our propensity for the continuous – for the analogical – in the present case more particularly for the symmetrical – which has been leading us astray. And, in fact, the sense of the symmetrical is an instinct which may be depended upon with an almost blindfold reliance. It is the poetical essence of the Universe – of the Universe which, in the supremeness of its symmetry, is but the most sublime of poems. Now symmetry and consistency are convertible terms: – thus Poetry and Truth are one. A thing is consistent in the ratio of its truth – true in the ratio of its consistency. A perfect consistency, I repeat, can be nothing but an absolute truth. We may take it for granted, then, that Man cannot long or widely err, if he suffer himself to be guided by his poetical, which I have maintained to be his truthful, in being his symmetrical, instinct. He must have a care, however, lest, in pursuing too heedlessly the superficial symmetry of forms and motions, he leave out of sight the really essential symmetry of the principles which determine and control them.

 That the stellar bodies would finally be merged in one – that, at last, all would be drawn into the substance of one stupendous central orb already existing – is an idea which, for some time past, seems, vaguely and indeterminately, to have held possession of the fancy of mankind. It is an idea, in fact, which belongs to the class of the excessively obvious. It springs, instantly, from a superficial observation of the cyclic and seemingly gyrating, or vorticial movements of those individual portions of the Universe which come most immediately and most closely under our observation. There is not, perhaps, a human being, of ordinary education and of average reflective capacity, to whom, at some period, the fancy inquestion has not occurred, as if spontaneously, or intuitively, and wearing all the character of a very profound and very original conception. This conception, however, so commonly entertained, has never, within my knowledge, arisen out of any abstract considerations. Being, on the contrary, always suggested, as I say, by the vorticial movements about centres, a reason for it, also, – a cause for the ingathering of all the orbs into one, imagined to be already existing, was naturally sought in the same direction – among these cyclic movements themselves.

 Thus it happened that, on announcement of the gradual and perfectly regular decrease observed in the orbit of Enck's comet, at every successive revolution about our Sun, astronomers were nearly unanimous in the opinion that the cause in question was found – that a principle was discovered sufficient to account, physically, for that final, universal agglomeration which, I repeat, the analogical, symmetrical or poetical instinct of Man had predetermined to understand as something more than a simple hypothesis.

 This cause – this sufficient reason for the final ingathering – was declared to exist in an exceedingly rare but still material medium pervading space; which medium, by retarding, in some degree, the progress of the comet, perpetually weakened its tangential force; thus giving a predominance to the centripetal; which, of course, drew the comet nearer and nearer at each revolution, and would eventually precipitate it upon the Sun.

 All this was strictly logical – admitting the medium or ether; but this ether was assumed, most illogically, on the ground that no other mode than the one spoken of could be discovered, of accounting for the observed decrease in the orbit of the comet: – as if from the fact that we could discover no other mode of accounting for it, it followed, in any respect, that no other mode of accounting for it existed. It is clear that innumerable causes might operate, in combination, to diminish the orbit, without even a possibility of our ever becoming acquainted with one of them. In the meantime, it has never been fairly shown, perhaps, why the retardation occasioned by the skirts of the Sun's atmosphere, through which the comet passes at perihelion, is not enough to account for the phænomenon. That Enck's comet will be absorbed into the Sun, is probable; that all the comets of the system will be absorbed, is more than merely possible; but, in such case, the principle of absorption must be referred to eccentricity of orbit – to the close approximation to the Sun, of the comets at their perihelia; and is a principle not affecting, in any degree, the ponderous spheres, which are to be regarded as the true material constituents of the Universe. – Touching comets, in general, let me here suggest, in passing, that we cannot be far wrong in looking upon them as the lightning-flashes of the cosmical Heaven.

 The idea of a retarding ether and, through it, of a final agglomeration of all things, seemed at one time, however, to be confirmed by the observation of a positive decrease in the orbit of the solid moon. By reference to eclipses recorded 2500 years ago, it was found that the velocity of the satellite's revolution then was considerably less than it is now; that on the hypothesis that its motions in its orbit is uniformly in accordance with Kepler's law, and was accurately determined then – 2500 years ago – it is now in advance of the position it should occupy, by nearly 9000 miles. The increase of velocity proved, of course, a diminution of orbit; and astronomers were fast yielding to a belief in an ether, as the sole mode of accounting for the phænomenon, when Lagrange came to the rescue. He showed that, owing to the configurations of the spheroids, the shorter axes of their ellipses are subject to variation in length; the longer axes being permanent; and that this variation is continuous and vibratory – so that every orbit is in a state of transition, either from circle to ellipse, or from ellipse to circle. In the case of the moon, where the shorter axis is decreasing, the orbit is passing from circle to ellipse, and, consequently, is decreasing too; but, after a long series of ages, the ultimate eccentricity will be attained; then the shorter axis will proceed to increase, until the orbit becomes a circle; when the process of shortening will again take place; – and so on forever. In the case of the Earth, the orbit is passing from ellipse to circle. The facts thus demonstrated do away, of course, with all necessity for supposing an ether, and with all apprehension of the system's instability – on the ether's account.

 It will be remembered that I have myself assumed what we may term an ether. I have spoken of a subtle influence which we know to be ever in attendance upon matter, although becoming manifest only through matter's heterogeneity. To this influence – without daring to touch it at all in any effort at explaining its awful nature – I have referred the various phænomena of electricity, heat, light, magnetism; and more – of vitality, consciousness, and thought – in a word, of spirituality. It will be seen, at once, then, that the ether thus conceived is radically distinct from the ether of the astronomers; inasmuch as theirs is matter and mine not.

 With the idea of material ether, seems, thus, to have departed altogether the thought of that universal agglomeration so long predetermined by the poetical fancy of mankind: – an agglomeration in which a sound Philosophy might have been warranted in putting faith, at least to a certain extent, if for no other reason than that by this poetical fancy it had been so predetermined. But so far as Astronomy – so far as mere Physics have yet spoken, the cycles of the Universe are perpetual – the Universe has no conceivable end. Had an end been demonstrated, however, from so purely collateral a cause as an ether, Man's instinct of the Divine capacity to adapt, would have rebelled against the demonstration. We should have been forced to regard the Universe with some such sense of dissatisfaction as we experience in contemplating an unnecessarily complex work of human art. Creation would have affected us as an imperfect plot in a romance, where the dénoûment is awkwardly brought about by interposed incidents external and foreign to the main subject; instead of springing out of the bosom of the thesis – out of the heart of the ruling idea – instead of arising as a result of the primary proposition – as inseparable and inevitable part and parcel of the fundamental conception of the book.

 What I mean by the symmetry of mere surface will now be more clearly understood. It is simply by the blandishment of this symmetry that we have been beguiled into the general idea of which Mädler's hypothesis is but a part – the idea of the vorticial indrawing of the orbs. Dismissing this nakedly physical conception, the symmetry of principle sees the end of all things metaphysically involved in the thought of a beginning; seeks and finds in this origin of all things the rudiment of this end; and perceives the impiety of supposing this end likely to be brought about less simply – less directly – less obviously – less artistically – than through the rëaction of the originating Act.

 


 &c; textlog.de 2004 • 19.10.2017 14:28:23 •
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