O'Neill's Electronic Museum

Penn Valley California


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When and if spiritual beings make themselves visible either to our bodily eyes or to our inward vision, their object would be thwarted were they not to appear in a recognizable form; so that their appearance would take the shape of the body and clothing to which we have been accustomed. Materiality, form, and space, I am constrained to believe, are temporary conditions of our present existence. It is difficult to conceive the idea of a spiritual being having a body like ours, conditioned by the exact gravitating force exerted by the earth, and with organs which presuppose the need for food and necessity for the removal of waste products. It is equally difficult, hemmed in and bound round as we are by materialistic ideas, to think of intelligence, thought, and will existing without form or matter and untrammeled by gravitation or space.

Men of science before now have had to face a similar problem. In some speculations on the nature of matter, Faraday1 expressed himself in language which, mutatis mutandis, applies to my present surmises. This earnest philosopher was speculating on the ultimate nature of

1 "If we must assume at all, as indeed in a branch of knowledge like the present we can hardly help it, then the safest course appears to be to assume as little as possible, and in that respect the atoms of Boscovich appear to me to have a great advantage over the more usual notion. His atoms are mere centers of forces or powers, not particles of matter in which the powers themselves reside.

"If in the ordinary view of atoms we call the particle of matter away from the powers a, and the system of powers or forces in and around it m, then in Boscovich's theory a disappears, or is a mere mathematical point, while in the usual notion it is a little unchangeable, impenetrable piece of matter, and m is an atmosphere of force grouped around it.

"To my mind, therefore, the a or nucleus vanishes, and the substance consists of the powers, or m; and indeed, what notion can we form of the nucleus independent of its powers? All our perception and knowledge of the atom, and even our fancy, is limited to ideas of its powers. What thought remains on which to hang the imagination of an a independent of the acknowledged forces?

"A mind just entering on the subject may consider it difficult to think of the powers of matter independent of a separate something to be called 'the matter;' but it is certainly far more difficult, and indeed impossible, to think of or imagine that matter independent of the powers. Now, the powers WE) know and recognizing every phenomenon of the creation, the abstract matter in none; why, then, assume the existence of that of which we are ignorant, which we can not conceive, and for which there is no philosophical necessity?

"If an atom be conceived to be a center of power, that which is ordinarily referred to under the term' shape' would be now referred to the disposition and relative intensity of the forces. * * * Nothing can be supposed of the disposition of forces in and about a solid nucleus of matter which can not be equally conceived with respect to a center.

"The view now stated of the constitution of matter would seem to involve necessarily the conclusion that matter fills all space. * * * In that view matter is not merely mutually penetrable, but each atom extends, so to say, throughout the whole of the solar system, yet always retaining its own center of force."

(Faraday," On the nature of matter," Phil. Mag., 1844, Vol. XXIV, p.136.) SM 99-13
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matter; and, thinking of the little, hard, impenetrable atom of Lucretius, and the forces or forms of energy appertaining to it, he felt himself impelled to reject the idea of the existence of the nucleus altogether, and to think only of the forces and forms of energy usually associated therewith. He was led to the conclusion that this view necessarily involved the surmise that the atoms are not merely mutually penetrable, but that each atom, so to say, extends throughout all space, yet always retaining its own center of force.1 A view of the constitution of matter which recommended itself to Faraday as preferable to the one ordinarily held appears to me to be exactly the view I endeavor to picture as the constitution of spiritual beings. Centers of intellect, will, energy, and power, each mutually penetrable, while at the same time permeating what we call space, but each center retaining its own individuality, persistence of self, and memory. Whether these intelligent centers of the various spiritual forces which in their aggregate go to make up man's character or karma are also associated in any way with the forms of energy which, centered, form the material atom-whether these spiritual entities are material, not in the crude, gross sense of Lucretius, but material as sublimated through the piercing intellect of Faraday-is one of those mysteries which to us mortals will perhaps ever remain an unsolved problem. My next speculation is more difficult, and is addressed to those who not only take too terrestrial a view, but who deny the plausibility-nay, the possibility-of the existence of an unseen world at all. I reply we are demonstrably standing on the brink, at any rate, of one unseen world. I do not here speak of a spiritual or immaterial world. I speak of the world of the infinitely little, which must be still called a material world, although matter as therein existing or perceptible is something which our limited faculties do not enable us to conceive. It is the world- I do not say of molecular forces as opposed to molar, but of forces whose action lies mainly outside the limit of human perception, as opposed to forces evident to the gross perception of human organisms. I hardly know how to make clear to myself or to you the difference in the apparent laws of the universe which would follow upon a mere difference of bulk in the observer. Such an observer I must needs imagine as best I can. I shall not attempt to rival the vividness of the great satirist who, from a postulated difference of size far less considerable, deduced in Gulliver's Travels the absurdity, and the mere relativity, of so much in human morals; politics, society. But I shall take courage from the example of my predecessor in this chair, Prof. William James, of Harvard, from whom later I shall cite a most striking parable of precisely the type I seek. You must permit me, then, an homunculus on whom to hang my

1 I may say, in passing, that the modern vortex atom also fulfills these conditions.
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speculation.1 I can not place him actually amid the interplay of molecules, for lack of power to imagine his environment; but I shall make him of such microscopic size that molecular forces which in common life we hardly notice-such as surface tension, capillarity, the Brownian movements-become for him so conspicuous and dominant that he can hardly believe, let us say, in the universality of gravitation, which we may suppose to have been revealed to him by ourselves, his creators. Let us place him on a cabbage leaf and let him start for himself. The area of the cabbage leaf appears to him as a boundless plain many square miles in extent. To this minimized creature the leaf is studded with huge glittering transparent globes, resting motionless on the surface of the leaf, each globe vastly exceeding in height the towering pyramids. Each of these spheres appears to emit from one of its sides a dazzling light. Urged by curiosity he approaches and touches one of the orbs. It resists pressure like an india-rubber ball, until accidentally he fractures the surface, when suddenly he feels himself seized and whirled and brought somewhere to an equilibrium, where he remain suspended in the surface of the sphere utterly unable to extricate himself. In the course of an hour or two he finds the globe diminishing, and ultimately it disappears, leaving him at liberty to pursue his travels. Quitting the cabbage leaf, he strays over the surface of the soil, finding it exceeding rocky and mountainous, until he sees before him a broad surface akin to the kind of matter which formed the globes on the cabbage leaf. Instead, however, of rising upward from its support, it now slopes downward in a vast curve from the brink, and ultimately becomes apparently level, though, as this is at a considerable distance from the shore, he can not be absolutely certain. Let us now suppose that he holds in his hand a vessel bearing the same proportion to his minimized frame that a pint measure does to that of a man as he is, and that by adroit manipulation he contrives to fill it with water. If he inverts the vessel he finds that the liquid will not flow and can only be dislodged by violent shocks. Wearied by his exertions to empty the vessel of water, he sits on the shore and idly amuses himself by throwing stones and other objects into the water. As a rule the stones and other wet bodies sink, although when dry they obstinately refuse to go to the bottom, but float on the surface. He tries other substances. A rod of polished steel, a silver pencil case, some platinum wire, and a steel pen, objects two or three times the density of the stones, refuse to sink at all, and float on the surface like so many bits of cork. Nay, if he and his friends manage to throw into the water one of those enormous steel bars which we call needles,
1 I need hardly say that in this fanciful sketch, composed only for an illustrative purpose, all kinds of problems (as of the homunculus's own structure and powers) are left untouched, and various points which would really need to be mathematically worked out are left intentionally vague.
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this also makes a sort of concave trough for itself on the surface and floats tranquilly. After these and a few more observations he theorizes on the properties of water and of liquids in general. Will he come to the conclusion that liquids seek their own level, that their surfaces when at rest are horizontal, and that solids when placed in a liquid sink or float according to their higher or lower specific gravity ?? No; he will feel justified in inferring that liquids at rest assume spherical, or at least curvilinear forms, whether convex or concave, depending upon circumstances not easily ascertained; that they can not be poured from one vessel to another and resist the force of gravitation, which is consequently not universal, and that such bodies as he can manipulate generally refuse to sink in liquids, whether their specific gravity be high or low. From the behavior of a body placed in contact with a dewdrop he will even derive plausible reasons for doubting the inertia of matter.

Already he has been somewhat puzzled by the constant and capricious bombardment of cumbrous objects like portmanteaus flying in the air; for the gay motes that people the sunbeams will dance somewhat unpleasantly for it microscopic homunculus who can never tell where they are coming. Nay, what he has understood to be the difficulty experienced by living creatures in rising from the earth, except with wings, will soon seem absurdly exaggerated; for he will discern a terrific creature, a behemoth "in plated mail," leaping through the skies in frenzied search for prey, and for the first time due homage will be rendered to the majesty of the common flea.

Perturbed by doubts, he will gaze at night into some absolutely tranquil pool. There, with no wind to ruffle, nor access of heat, to cause currents or change surface tension, he perceives small inanimate objects immersed and still. But are they still??? No. One of them moves; another is moving. Gradually it is borne in upon him that whenever any object is small enough it is always in motion. Perhaps our homunculus might be better able than we are to explain these so-called Brownian movements; or the guess might be forced upon him that he who sees this sight is getting' dim glimpses of the ultimate structure of matter, and that these movements are residual, the result of the inward molecular turmoil which has not canceled itself out into nullity, as it must needs do in aggregations of matter of more than the smallest microscopic dimensions.

Things still more tormentingly perplexing our homunculus would doubtless encounter. And these changes in his interpretation of phenomena would arise not from his becoming aware of any forces hitherto overlooked, still less from the disappearance of laws now recognized, but simply from the fact that his supposed decrease in bodily size brings capillarity, surface tension, etc., into a relative prominence they do not now possess. To full-grown rational beings the effects of these
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forces rank among residual phenomena, which attract attention only when science has made a certain progress. To homunculi such as we have imagined the same effects would be of capital Importance, and would be rightly interpreted not as something supplementary to those of general gravitation, but as due to an independent and possibly antagonistic force.

The physics of these homunculi would differ most remarkably from our own. In the study of heat they would encounter difficulties probably insuperable. In this branch of physical investigation little can be done unless we have the power at pleasure of raising and lowering the temperature of bodies. This requires the command of fire. Actual man, in a rudimentary state of civilization, can heat and ignite certain kinds of matter by friction, percussion, concentrating the sun's rays, etc.; but before these operations produce actual fire they must be performed upon a considerable mass of matter, otherwise the heat is conducted or radiated away as rapidly as produced and the point of ignition seldom reached.

Nor could it be otherwise with the chemistry of the little people, if, indeed, such a science be conceived as at all possible for them.

It can scarcely be denied that the fundamental phenomena which first led mankind into chemical inquiries are those of combustion. But, as we have just seen, minimized beings would be unable to produce fire at will, except by certain chemical reactions, and would have little opportunity of examining its nature. They might occasionally witness forest fires, volcanic eruptions, etc.; but such grand and catastrophic phenomena, though serving to reveal to our supposed Lilliputians the existence of combustion, would be ill suited for quiet investigation into its conditions and products. Moreover, considering the impossibility they would experience of pouring water from one test tube to another, the ordinary operations of analytical chemistry and of all manipulations depending on the use of the pneumatic trough would remain forever a sealed book.

Let us for a moment go to the opposite extreme and consider how Nature would present itself to human beings of enormous magnitude. Their difficulties and misconstructions would be of an opposite nature to those experienced by pigmies. Capillary attraction and the cohesion of liquids, surface tension, and the curvature of liquid surfaces near their boundary, the dewdrop and the behavior of minute bodies on a globule of water, the flotation of metals on the surface of water, and many other familiar phenomena, would be either ignored or unknown. The homunculus able to communicate but a small momentum would find all objects much harder than they appear to us, while to a race of colossals granite rocks would be but a feeble impediment.

There would be another most remarkable difference between such enormous beings and ourselves.
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If we stoop and take up a pinch of earth between fingers and thumb, moving those members, say, through the space of a few inches in a second of time, we experience nothing remarkable. The earth offers a little resistance, more or less, according to its greater or less tenacity, but no other perceptible reaction follows.

Let us suppose the same action performed by a gigantic being, able to move finger (and thumb in a second's space through some miles of soil in the same lapse of time, and he would experience a very decided reaction. The mass of sand, earth, stones, and the like, hurled together , in such quantities and at such speed, would become intensely hot. Just as the homunculus would fail to bring about ignition when he desired, so the colossus could scarcely move without causing the liberation of a highly inconvenient degree of heat, literally making every- thing too hot to hold. He would naturally ascribe to granite rocks and the other constituents of the earth's surface such properties as we attribute to phosphorus-of combustion on being a little roughly handled.

Need I do more than point the obvious lesson? If a possible- nay, reasonable-variation in only one of the forces conditioning the human race, that of gravitation, could so modify our outward form, appearance, and proportions as to male us to all intents and purposes a different race of beings; if mere differences of size can cause some of the most simple facts in chemistry and physics to take so widely different a guise; if beings microscopically small and prodigiously large would simply as such be subject to the hallucinations I have pointed out, and to others I might enlarge upon, is it not possible that we, in turn, though occupying, as it seems to us, the golden mean, may also by the mere virtue of our size and weight fall into misinterpretations of phenomena from which we should escape were we or the globe we inhabit either larger or smaller, heavier or lighter? May not our' boasted knowledge be simply conditioned by accidental environments, and thus be liable to a large element of subjectivity hitherto unsuspected and scarcely possible to eliminate?

Here I will introduce Professor James's speculation, to which I have already alluded. It deals with a possible alteration of the time scale due to a difference in rapidity of sensation on the part of a being presumably on a larger scale than ourselves:

"We have every reason to think that creatures may possibly differ enormously in the amounts of duration which they intuitively feel, and in the fineness of the events that may fill it. V on Baer has indulged in some interesting computations of the effect of such differences in changing the aspect of nature. Suppose we were able, within the length of a second, to note distinctly 10,000 events, instead of barely 10, as now; if our life were then destined to hold the same number of impressions, it might be 1,000 times as short. 'We should live less than a month, and personally know nothing of the change of seasons.

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