- Eternity According to the Stars:L'éternité par les astres
I. The Universe — Infinity
The universe is infinite in time and space: eternal, boundless, and indivisible. All bodies, animate and inanimate, solid, liquid, and gaseous, are linked to one another by the very things that separate them. All holds together. Without the astral bodies (astres), only space would remain, absolutely empty no doubt, yet having the three dimensions, length, width, and depth; indivisible and unlimited space.1
Pascal, in his magnificent language, has said: "The universe is a circle [un cercle], whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere." Can there be a more striking image of infinity? After him, let's say, clarifying somewhat: the universe is a sphere whose center is everywhere and whose surface is nowhere.
And here we have the universe before us, exposed to observation and reasoning. Countless stars shine in its depths. Let's imagine ourselves at one of these "centers of the sphere," which are everywhere and yet whose surface is [End Page 3] nowhere, and for a moment, let us also imagine the existence of this surface: the one that is then found at the limit of the world.
Will this limit be solid, liquid, or gaseous? Regardless of its nature, it immediately becomes the extension of the boundary it marks off or claims to mark off. Let's assume that neither solids, liquids, nor gas—and not even ether—exist here. Nothing but space, empty and black. Nonetheless, this space will have its three dimensions. And for its limit, which is also a continuation, it will necessarily have a new portion of space of the same nature, and another after that, and then yet another after that, and so on, indefinitely.
The infinite can only be presented through the aspect of the indefinite. The infinite leads to the indefinite through the manifest impossibility of being able to find, or even conceive of, a limitation to space. Admittedly, an infinite universe is inconceivable; yet a limited universe is absurd. This absolute certainty of the infinity of the world, together with its incomprehensibility, constitutes one of the most aggravating provocations (une des plus crispantes agaceries) to torment the human intellect. No doubt—somewhere among the wandering globes—there are brains vigorous enough to comprehend this enigma, which yet remains impenetrable to ours. Our jealousy will have do its mourning over them.
This enigma arises with the infinite in time just as it does with the infinite in space. Indeed, the eternity of the world seizes the intellect even more forcefully than its immensity. If one doesn't agree that the universe has boundaries, then how can one support the idea of their nonexistence? Matter didn't arise from nothingness. And it won't return to nothingness, either. Matter is eternal and imperishable because, on its track of perpetual alteration, it cannot diminish or grow by an atom.
Yet, if matter is infinite in time, then why wouldn't it be so in its expanse (dans l'étendue)?2 The two infinities are inseparable. The one entails the other at the cost of contradictions and absurdities. Science has not yet recorded a law of interdependence between space and the globes that cut across it. Heat, motion, light, and electricity are necessary throughout the entirety of expanses. Competent people assume that none of its parts could remain widowed from these great, luminous hearths by virtue of which worlds live. Our opuscule rests in its entirety on this opinion, which populates the infinity of [End Page 4] space with the infinity of globes, without anywhere leaving corners of darkness, solitude, or stillness.
II. The Indefinite
One can't attain an idea of the infinite, not even a faint one, in any other way than from the indefinite; and nevertheless this idea, weak as it is, already takes on formidable aspects. Sixty-two numerals, occupying a length of about 15 centimeters on the page, give us 20 octodecillion leagues, or in more common terms, billions and billions and billions and billions and billions of times the path from the Sun to the Earth.3, 4