"More than machinery, we need humanity."
“If you could understand, like me, the power that man has acquired in only the last hundred years, you would be frightened by it, and my predictions would not seem exaggerated to you.” – Eugene Huzar
Please note: this is the second part of the English language translation of La Fin du Monde par la Science. Part One is also available.
Translator’s Introduction to “Book One – the Present”
Eugene Huzar was prepared for his book to be misunderstood. That much he makes clear in the first passages of “Book One – the Present” wherein he acknowledges that the book he is writing might only be able to be properly understood in later times. This, at least to him, is simply one of the challenges of writing in a prophetic style, as he puts it: “If we could write this a hundred years from now, it would certainly lose its incomprehensibility, and we might find some men able to understand it.” But our “present” is more than a hundred years later than the “present” during which Huzar was writing, and thus we are quite literally living in the future about which he was speculating. And it may well be that now his book can “find some [people] able to understand it.” Granted, translating this book into English is also an important step in helping this book “find” a wider audience.
Book One of La Fin du Monde par la Science finds Huzar analyzing the trends of his time and using these to forecast the future. This mode of thinking is in keeping with a mantra that he repeats throughout the book, namely that “what has been will be.” From this he sees scientific and technological progress as largely moving in a straight line; however, for Huzar the ultimate destination is not some utopian society but some form of terrible catastrophe towards which all this progress is building. What Huzar discusses in Book One is how the increasing “diffusion of knowledge” helps speed humanity on its course towards that cataclysmic event. Some of the names that Huzar mentions in the course of this chapter may be unfamiliar to a contemporary readership (proper explanatory notations will be added in a later version of this project), which is reflective of the way in which Huzar was not always correct in predicting which discoveries and trends would wind up being important. Nevertheless, Huzar appears as strikingly prescient in many of his forecasts: he recognizes the importance of widespread education, emphasizes the role that faster modes of travel play in connecting people and thereby ideas, sees the role that new media plays in spreading information, and his musings on the coming of a single language that will be spoken by all peoples could have easily served as a preface to Minae Misumura’s The Fall of Language in the Age of English. Of course, some of Huzar’s predictions appear laughably mistaken given what we know about the second half of the nineteenth century and the entirety of the twentieth century. Alas, Huzar’s prediction of “universal peace” has hardly come to pass.
Unlike the lengthier introductory sections, in Book One Huzar switches to writing in brief numbered sections. Many of which consist of a single relatively short sentence. This style of writing gives the book a punchy prophetic feel, even if it means that much of this text is a bit lacking in terms of detail. Indeed, Huzar seems fond of telling his readers that he doesn’t have enough space but if they want to go do more research on their own they will find it agrees with his claims. At moments Huzar proves to be rather playful when it comes to language, and in this section that is seen most clearly in his usage of the word “lumiere” a word that can be translated as either “light,” “knowledge,” or “wisdom.” For the sake of this translation the word has been translated differently depending on the context – though the reader is advised when they come across the words “light,” “knowledge,” and “wisdom” to remember this quirk. As with the introductory sections all italicized words are in keeping with Huzar’s original italicization.
In considering the work on which he was embarking, and the task of the thinker writing in a prophetic fashion, Huzar lamented that for such a person and their thought: “The milieu in which they occur is so little prepared to receive them that they always seem absurd to the spirits of the vulgar.”
Perhaps today, “the milieu” is better “prepared to receive them.” Or, perhaps not.
The diffusion of knowledge, source of indefinite progress
What has been will be
Amongst the many defects that this book considers, the biggest, in my opinion, is incomprehensible to the eyes of most; it is the fault of prophecies which, written at one time, can only be realized long afterwards. The milieu in which they occur is so little prepared to receive them that they always seem absurd to the spirits of the vulgar. If we could write this a hundred years from now, it would certainly lose its incomprehensibility, and we might find some men able to understand it, because time would have worked and civilization too; but it would lose its intuitive character: when we see the barometer go down, it is no longer difficult to announce the storm.
We are resigned to not be understood today, certain that a day will come when this book will formulate the only opinion of the world.
Whoever would have predicted the Empire in 1847, would have passed for a madman; but we are now under the Empire and so that madman would have been a prophet.
When Joan of Arc predicted that she would break the siege of Orleans, make the king be crowned at Reims, and chase the English from France, what trouble she had to be understood! And yet the events were accomplished as she had announced.
When Christopher Columbus prophesized the New World, the kings, the scientists, the clever people of the time considered him to be a madman; he had all the trouble in the world to be given a mission which was to enrich Spain and add a new world to the old.
So you must not understand me when I come to announce the end of the organic world by science. So few people know how to read the future in the past!
But, you will say, what is this great cause that leads to such a prodigious effect? I tell you: a very small cause provided that its latent force is infinite; because there are no small causes, and the infinite, which is the essence of God himself, is just as much in the imperceptible atom as in the universe itself.
It is by virtue of this latent virtual force that the minerals crystallize into typical, regular, geometric forms; that the plants and animals reproduce in an infinite variety of classes, species, and individuals; that electricity enjoys ubiquity, and that it knows neither time nor space; that the imponderable fluids act and react on the whole of nature, and knead it accord to typical and fatalistic laws.
This latent virtual force is nothing other than the will of God, which is fulfilled every day in the universe.
So when I see the man run in the midst of such terrible natural forces, with the torch of science in hand, oh! I fear the imprudent spark that must blow up the world.
Pliny was a victim of his curiosity.
The learned physicist who renewed the experiment of the electric kite, after Franklin, Reichtmann, was struck down in his study.
Pilâtre de Rozier, one of Montgolfier’s successors, fell from the sky.
Dulong lost an arm and an eye while preparing nitrogen chloride.
When the first attempt was made to solidify carbonic acid, the apparatus exploded and the preparer was torn into a thousand pieces.
Chloroform and ether produced many accidents, as we know. More than one patient has fallen asleep, never to wake up.
Everyone knows that there are no mechanics or drivers who can do their infernal jobs for more than ten years.
Everyone also knows that all aeronauts are victims of their audacity after thirty or forty ascensions.
Does this mean that we will not be able to safely use steam and the aerostation? I hope so, but do not forget, the audacity of man will always increase; as he finds new forces in nature he will want to make new applications: today steam, electricity, tomorrow the magnetic fluids; for, let us know it well, we are still only at the dawn of things, this dawn of civilization has scarcely begun to break, and yet based on what it has already produced, what it can produce in two or three hundred years can be judged. The universal exhibitions that will take place then, will prove the truth that I advance. The further we go, the faster progress will be; in its march, civilization will follow the law of falling bodies whose speed increases like the square of time.
The cause of this constant accelerating speed will be, in the first place, the diffusion of knowledge.
Know it well, in a short time, I’d say five centuries at most, everyone will know how to read, write, and count; if you calculate the population then, you will see that a billion intelligent beings will be able to learn, observe, and produce. A new law will force parents and employers to send their children to school. Professional schools will be everywhere. Go to the Arts-and-Crafts School and see these thousands of workers each year taking courses in physics, chemistry, and geometry; do not believe that these men are leaving as they have come, without learning, or retaining, anything. I have often talked to them, and I’ve been amazed at the power of their memory and with the deductions they know how to draw from what they saw; some are mechanics, and they find new gear systems or pulleys, to add to the machine they see operating every day.
For our part, we know one of the auditors from the Conservatory of Arts and Crafts who discovered the ingenious method of making the wool used to filter water incorruptible, by subjecting it to an iron tannate preparation. The same person assisted one day with the theory of the formation of calcareous deposits in steam boilers—deposits, as we know, that are very dangerous—he found the way to get the steam from the boiler into the tank and to boil the water beforehand, release the carbonate of acid, and precipitate the carbonate of lime held in dissolution; then he passed the boiling water through a filter to serve the needs of the steam engine: it was no longer necessary, by this new process, to burn the boiler, which deteriorates quickly because it is necessary to repeat this operation often. In vain he had sought for that means of reaching this goal: the diaphragms, potatoes, everything had failed.
I will give this example among a thousand. It would take too long and be completely useless to mention here all those, amongst the auditors, who knew how to clear the unknown and move industry forward.
But, first of all, it is never patented scientists who invent. Fulton, and Daguerre, were not from the academy. Scholars only store the acquired knowledge; they explain the laws and are responsible for popularizing them; but their words are not lost, the auditors observe, retain, and react: what was only the domain of speculation falls into the domain of practice. Science makes the industrialist and in turn the industrialist makes science; for, every day, science brings new facts to observe, which science numbers and classifies; the light goes from the center to the circumference, but in turn the circumference reflects the rays and sends them back. It is from this action and reciprocal reaction that progress is born.
Another source of the diffusion of knowledge is the newspaper, in their thousands, these go from one hemisphere to the other telling of the new discoveries and new applications. Millions of men read them every day. The reports of the academy, of the learned societies, are popularized and made accessible to all; these are seeds that germinate new ideas and from this association of ideas more knowledge is born.
The diffusion of knowledge will come to us again by the means of communication as they become faster; today ether, vapor, emptiness, tomorrow electricity, balloons, etc…
Everyone travels today, and it will be even easier in a hundred years; but to travel is to see, it is to observe, it is to want, and to want to produce there is only one step. It is impossible to travel without feeling this gradation of phenomena manifest in us. All of our exotic plants are there to prove the usefulness of these trips; without Christopher Columbus; we would never have known the potato, this solanum that feeds a quarter of the population of Europe, or the cinchona, this rubiaceae that is used in many drugs. Without the Phoenicians, we would not know the olive tree, the jasmine that gives life to half of our France. We know, in therapeutics, the uses of exotic plants; but if one took only plants from one’s travels, it would be nothing, for one also takes new ideas.
I read in a publication, that England has at the moment 7,800 miles of railway and that a hundred million trips were made on it last year; North America counts 28,000 k. worth and it is calculated that in 1860 there will be 56,000 k. in course; do the proportion and you will be frightened. If you suppose that the population of the globe should double in two centuries, and that the railways should go on multiplying according to the needs of the population, travel will not be counted by millions, but by billions, since England alone, with its population and current means of transport made one hundred million trips last year; and if you share this opinion: that traveling, by multiplying the relations between men, must multiply their power, judge what human knowledge should be a few centuries from now.
Another source of the diffusion of knowledge will be universal peace, the time of conquests has passed; the gospel will be formulated more and more in the laws and manners, and in the relations, of people to people; the volcanoes that once harmed the planet, are they not extinct today? War will also cease; today we have no more wars of religion, the middle ages are over. And soon the connections will multiply, more and more, between the different races, they will all make a single race composed of elements that are different in appearance, but identical in substance. Do not the seven primary colors of the prism merge into one ray? We believe that universal peace, predicted by the Abbe of Saint-Pierre, will soon be realized in the world; when one speaks of humanity, one knows what soon means, it will take time to be sure, and the Russian war is only a simple accident, an episode from the middle ages.
But patience! War is no longer in the human ego, it loses the instinct every day, it does not want it anymore; you will also be of my opinion when you see that tomorrow Italy, Poland, and Hungary will be reconstituted, that France will once more be on the banks of the Rhine. That this tomorrow may be in fifty years, or in one hundred years, who cares? Are not the centuries days in the history of man?
But, if war no longer exists, the work of peace will increase the rise of civilization. See what has happened during the last forty years, and judge to what degree human power can reach.
Another source for the diffusion of knowledge, will be the result of the unity of language, which will be a result of multiplied relations between men; what will be one day has already been in antiquity when Latin was spoken not only throughout Italy, but also in Spain, Portugal, England, France, Sicily, and Hungary; we find in all of these languages, not only traces, but also that the roots of a large part of the words that compose them; in Hungary they speak Latin as they did in the past. Until the 17th century the churches, diplomacy, the universities used only Latin, it was the universal language. Sermons, examinations, theses, everything was done in Latin. The Romans had imposed their language and their law on the world through their arms. In the modern world, the progress of civilization, by itself, and the more numerous interactions between man will produce the same result. See if the costumes, these outer envelopes of national originalities, have not dispersed; if the uniform is not the same for all civilized people: and how to understand that the different languages, that are after all the different costumes of thought, will not be mingled one day into one?
Does not the patois tend to disappear, because of the more numerous relations between men! Well! A day will come when the discordance of languages will disappear in turn. This is so true that on the borders of France and Prussia, in Strasbourg for example, the language is half French, and half German. On almost all frontiers, this phenomenon is the same; it is in this respect similar to what we see every day in optics, where each primary color merges with the color close to its point of contact.
France being the initiating people par excellence, it will undoubtedly be its language which will be the great dissolvent and the container in which all the languages will come to be mixed. Was it not likewise the same in the day of Latin? Who would this initiating people be, if not us? Have not France’s civil laws already been accepted? Will not our metric unit soon be the unit of measurement for the whole globe? Is not our language the language that comes closest to universality? France is the country everyone prefers after their native land, says Henri Martin.
I will not dwell on the immense consequences that will result from a universal language, my readers understand these as well as I do. That two men, one French, the other Russian, are together talking each other’s languages, what trade can exist between these men? What difficulties do not surround their relationship? The mimic language will be the only one by which they can make themselves understood. But if these two men, on the contrary, speak the same language, their relationship will multiply to infinity as will their power.
It will be the same for humanity, the day when it will speak the same language its forces will be one hundred times greater.
It would take too long, and it would be superfluous, to further analyze the sources of the diffusion of knowledge, I shall pass over in silence the political unity and religious unity which must contribute to the same goal, and which are perhaps the more important; but I leave it to the reader to study these questions with more competent men than me.
So I shall summarize myself in a few words, and I conclude from all that has preceded:
That universally widespread instruction;
That the press, this fame to a thousand voices, sowing everywhere ideas as the wind sows pollen;
That the railroads and the electric telegraph, these hyphens between men;
That science, this oracle of the future;
That universal peace, this agreement of wills;
That the unity of language, this universal algebra for solving the biggest problems;
That political unity and religious unity, this conclusion of reason;
These are the elements of a battery of incalculable power, the diffusion of knowledge, the strength of which increases in direct proportion to the elements which compose it, and which is destined one day to change the face of the world.
If you could understand, like me, the power that man has acquired in only the last hundred years, you would be frightened by it, and my predictions would not seem exaggerated to you. Indeed, has it not been a hundred years since Papin discovered a force in the steam, that Lavoisier and Guyton de Morveau made a science of chemistry, giving it a nomenclature? Is it not in this extraordinary century that the gases were liquefied and even solidified, that electricity was applied to the telegraphs, that Montgolfier discovered ballooning, and that Mesmer rediscovered the magnetism about which we laugh today, in the same way that our fathers once laughed about electricity, the rotation of the Earth, the antipodes, chemistry, and steam; but who, one day, must necessarily play an immense role in the destiny of humanity.
The face of the world will change!
This may seem to you the conclusion of a madman, or at least an illiterate.
Was Columbus mad when, staring at the infinite horizon of the sea, he announced to his crew the New World? The ignorant, tired of looking and seeing nothing, murmured against the prophet, and called him an imposter. The cries of sedition could not reach him because Columbus had seen with the eyes of faith and genius the marine plant, this forerunner of the shore; he had seen the oddly shaped exotic birds, these messengers of the New World; and the new creation was manifested in him. Also, strong as the man who possesses the truth and who is about to reveal it to the eyes of men, these threats left him to his reveries; time and space, this immense Proteus that resists all forms had appeared to him; he was struggling with him, already plunging with his intuition, with his prophetic gaze, into the dark forests of America, already treading in his reveries in the verdant forests of the New World, when the cry Land! Land! pushed through his yardarms just as he had pushed a few years before into the palace of Ferdinand and Isabelle, snatched him from his contemplations.
The miracle was accomplished, the New World existed.
And I too come to cry: Land! Land! Because the new world is near, and the old world is no more; because I have seen the steam, faster than the bird of the seas, bringing men and things into its powerful expansion.
I have seen electricity, that thought of matter, that ray torn from the sun, which knows neither time nor space, that volatizes the most refractory bodies.
I have seen gas liquefied and solidified under enormous pressure.
I have seen the magnetic fluid, this emanation of faith and will, dawn on the horizon, and the miracles of the last times will be realized.
An encyclopaedist alone could tell you what I have not seen. The devil, the bible tells us, to tempt man, disguises himself as an angel of light. On the wrong day, he will set traps beneath our feet, he will roam around us, like a beast of prey who wants to tear at us.
When you have left your little child for a few weeks, a weak and feeble creature attached to the mother’s breast, as the flower is to the tree, and then you find him again as a strong, intelligent, active, living man with his own life, flourishing in a thousand forms in the outside world, you don’t know him anymore! This is no longer your child, the transition is too great; he is a being of such a nature that your mind cannot understand such a strange metamorphosis. For the historian philosopher who jumps from antiquity to modern civilization without going through the middle ages, the transition is the same.
Admit that if Pythagoras, that great philosopher, came out of the tomb where he has slept for more than twenty centuries, and that if he could see the wonders of our civilization: he would certainly take us for Gods; it would be the same for us if, like Lazarus, we were resuscitated a thousand years from now, because of the space traveled by civilization in the course of those centuries, and the men would appear to us to enjoy the attributes of divinity. Is it true?
We no longer feel these great miracles of strength and civilization in the same way that we do not feel the immense weight of the atmosphere that presses us on all sides without suffocating us. Why? It is because we live in the middle of progress as we live in the middle of the atmosphere, where the different pressures are annihilated by one another, it makes for reciprocal equilibrium.
The day when man will play with the terrible energies of nature, like Carter playing with his lions and tigers, the day he is imprudent, he will be lost!
Two opinions are shared by the world today. The one, ignorant, says that the possible has reached its limits, that civilization has reached its limits. The other opinion affirms, on the contrary, that we are still at the dawn of things and that the evolution of humanity over time is endless.
This opinion is that of all the eminent men of our epoch. Lisez Michelet, Victor Hugo, Lamartine, Pelletan, Reynaud, Fourrier: you will find it everywhere. It was also Condorcet’s opinion in his picture of the progress of the human spirit, when he says that the perfectibility of man is really indefinite, that the development of his progress is henceforth independent of any power which would arrest them, and that they have no other term than the duration that the globe or nature has thrown at us; he even goes so far as to let us sense that man will one day even triumph over death.
How not to admit this affirmation? Have not magnetism and anesthetics already removed pain? M. Cloquet removed the right breast of a woman; during the twelve minutes that the operation lasted, the magnetized patient continued to talk quietly with the operator. Queen Victoria and thousands of women have given birth today, without pain, after having been subjected to the action of ether of chloroform. Science has therefore put the bible in default and the famous verse: the woman will bear with sorrow, is no longer the general law of the reproduction of the species.
Did not Pascal himself believe in the infinite progress of the human faculties, when he told us that humanity was one man who always subsisted and who was always learning?
As for me, I share in all respects the opinion of these philosophers. Yes, I believe in the infinite progress of science, yes, I believe in the infinite power of man over time; but I admit, more than these philosophers, fatality, arising from the very same progress of this civilization: a fatality all the more terrible, as civilization will be greater, a fall all the greater, more deadly than man has ever fallen from above, a final catastrophe, which will make man disappear from the planet. Yes, man will one day, through the depths of his genius, tear the veil of the temple, break the envelope of things, but when, like the little plant, the saxifrage, he will break through the rock of nature, it will open to crush him under its ruins, and the end of the world will be accomplished.
Let us be clear, we are between two falls. We barely got back up from Adam’s fall, that is to say, the humanity that preceded us, and already we are marching at great speed towards another ruin. Both have a common origin: the pride of strength and knowledge, that original sin of which scripture speaks, this forbidden fruit that no one until now has been able to explain philosophically, this tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the source of all temptation and the basis of all religions.
So, we will formulate our thinking quite differently than Vico and Michelet, one of whom conceived of civilization as a circle, a unit of measurement for other civilizations, the other, like a circle, but a concentric circle which would be circumscribed by larger and larger circles.
Could we not compare the march of civilization through time, to the spiraling staircase in the leaning tower of Pisa, which an imprudent workman would like to raise indefinitely without calculating the degree of obliquity to the plane? Could it not be feared that one day the vertical, which passes through the center of gravity, would fall outside the base circle, and that the building would collapse under its own weight? In fact, we do not know the degree of obliquity in the plane, that is to say, the cause of all ruin in this world, the fatality, nor the base on which the building rests, how could we then calculate how high we can raise the monument of civilization, nor what materials we can still bear?
When one does not know the elasticity of a gas or the force of the boiler, can one, without imprudence, heat it indefinitely, and can one not predict, without being a prophet, that the machine must inevitably explode in a time?
A third of our task is completed; we believe we have demonstrated in a clear way the indefinite progress of mankind in the future; calculate now, if you can, the strength of such a lever, that would have all the acquisitions of science for arms, human intelligence for power, and see if there is a single resistance that can make it achieve equilibrium. I repeat, then, the day when this terrible machine will be set in motion, the world will be shaken, and humanity will disappear under its ruins. The last times will come (I).
(I) We have cited many examples in support of this statement in our book (The Tree of Knowledge).
It remains for us to search for, or rather to identify, in the following book, the great unknown with which all the philosophers and theologians until now have been occupied, without solution. I mean, the original sin and the fall of man, and when we have found it, you will conceive that the title of this book is the fatal deduction of our research. You will also conceive this x of the past, this original sin, this tree of knowledge, this forbidden fruit, source of all our evils, can have no other solution than that which we will develop before you.