"More than machinery, we need humanity."
“Destruction by invasions is forever over; the barbarians who will put our human cycle in powder form will be the forces and energies of nature, these giants who have come out of our laboratories of physics and chemistry, who have been born in the mysterious crucible of science.”
Please note: this is the second part of the English translation of Eugene Huzar’s L’arbre de la science. While this section can be read independently, it is advisable to read the first part before reading this part.
Translator’s introduction: Throughout La fin du monde par la science, and the early sections of L’arbre de la science, Huzar has a tendency to draw his examples from myths, legends, and religious tales. For Huzar, these stories represented the accumulated wisdom of ages, passed down to the present in order to convey a stark warning. And yet, as is made clear by Huzar’s refrain on how he did not expect to be understood in his own time, such tales convinced Huzar more strongly than they convinced many of his contemporaries. Or to put it somewhat differently: in warning about the dangers of the hubristic pursuit of science, Huzar had a tendency to give examples that were not particularly associated with the scientific advances of his time. However, in the following sections from L’arbre de la science, Huzar bolsters his claims with proof culled from the world of science and engineering. In the sections of L’arbre de la science titled “Evidence of improvidence and human unprescience drawn from facts” and “Floods” – Huzar shifts away from references to the book of Genesis in favor of talking to his readers about deforestation, pollution, and train derailments. To be clear, there are some strange predictions in the following paragraphs, as well as many of questionable validity; however, there is also a fair amount of unsettling insight. These sections contain some of the moments that will be of greatest interest to many contemporary readers insofar as Huzar seems to be warning of the risk of climate change as a result of pumping carbon dioxide into the air. Beyond discussing climate, Huzar also opines on the dangerous consequences of deforestation, laments at what occurs when agricultural lands are given over to the railroads, and considers how techno-scientific advances have made wars even more destructive. The stance that Huzar takes in these sections is that the proof of the validity of his warning is clearly there, as long as one is willing to look. While the evidence that Huzar points to in these sections has shifted away from mythological tales, he remains focused here on using these occurrences as proof of his central argument: that an unthinking pursuit of science leads to disaster, that the power of our science will produce more dangerous disasters, and that increasingly such disasters do not only threaten individual humans but humanity as a whole.
This is the second part of the English language translation of Huzar’s L’arbre de la science. It is a rather lengthy segment of the book, but it is not the end of the book. A third, and final, part of this translation will be presented here in December.
Evidence of Improvidence and Human Unprescience Drawn from Facts
Can man predict if the harvest will be good next year? No.
If oidium will again ravage the vine? No.
If the year will be rainy or dry? No.
We therefore know nothing about physical facts that are outside our volition. Moreover, as for physical phenomena, which today depend on our volition, our activity and our science, do we know how to foresee their consequences? I will show you in a peremptory way that the answer is no; and if we cannot foresee the disastrous consequences they may one day have, how can we predict and avoid the cataclysms that may be the result?
Let us examine in a few pages what are the climatic and atmospheric results from deforestation, and show that the human hand, by striking the forests, can bring about revolutions in the atmospheric state, overflowing rivers, floods, torrential rains, as those which have flooded our France for fifty years, cold prolonged from November to June, that is to say three quarters of the year; epidemics resulting from swamps which did not exist in the past when vast forests covered most of the globe.
Nothing, says M. Becquerel, is more difficult than to define a climate, so many are the elements that must be considered. These elements include luminous, aqueous, aerial, electrical, calorific phenomena, the constitution and physical state of the globe, and so on. The question is one of the most complex.
Mr. Tchihatcheff, in spite of the difficulties presented by this question, tried to approach it with regard to Asia Minor during a stay there of five year. Before leaving Paris, he had, for this purpose, provided himself with barometers, thermometers, hygrometers; these instruments were entrusted to him by persons who were recommendable by their social position, and who had previously exercised them. M. Tchihatcheff chose eleven localities for observation, such as, ruled by lines, forming a network embracing Asia Minor. These eleven localities were:
Constantinople, Trebizond, Kaisaric, Tarsus, Smyrna, Chios, Brouse, Erzerum, Erivan, Ouraumia and Mosul.
The observations concerning the temperature, on the edge of perpetual snow and those of the arboreal vegetation would require, in order to interest our readers, details into which we cannot enter; Here is the summary of those watching the deforestation of Asia Minor.
Asia Minor lacks great forests; there are vast expanses of land devoid of any tree vegetation and even shrubbery. One wonders if it has always been so. Numerous testimonies of ancient authors prove that this country was once much more forested than it is today. The progress of civilization and wars are the causes of the destruction of the forests from the Ganges to the Euphrates, from the Euphrates to the Mediterranean, over an extent of more than a thousand leagues in length; three thousand years of war have ravaged these countries. Nineveh and Babylon, so renowned for their advanced civilizations, Palmyra and Balbeck for their magnificence, now offer the traveler only ruins in the midst of deserts, in which we cannot find any more than that and traces of this rich vegetation of which the elders speak. On the other hand, the northern coastline of the Black Sea, in Herodotus’ day, was covered with forests where they no longer exist today.
It is not yet demonstrated that deforestation over a large part of the country improves the average temperature, in spite of the numerous observations which tend to make us believe; but the influence of shelters cannot be disputed. Suffice it to quote a single fact on this subject. In the Pontine marshes, a wood interposed on the pasture of a moist air current charged with pestilential miasmas preserves the parts that are behind the wood, while the parts of the open are exposed to diseases. The trees would therefore sift the foul air, removing the miasma it carries. Mr. Tchihatcheff then speaks of the development of the marshlands, the considerable extension of which is one of the characteristic features of the aspect of Asia Minor. He cites irrefutable testimonies of ancient authors who prove that, in their time, the swamps that now infect Asia Minor were not as extensive as they are now.
The opinion expressed by M. Tchihatcheff, concerning the production of marshes after extensive deforestation, is confirmed by numerous examples which M. Becquerel has reported in his works on climate. We come to clear a forest with impermeable subsoil without cultivating the soil, says the rapporteur, the ground offers only a difficult access to rainwater, which, not being able to infiltrate any further, remain in the low parts . The country then becomes marshy and unhealthy, and the inhabitants are prey to the Palauan fever. This is what happened in Sologne, Brenne, Dombes, Bresse, etc., following great deforestation.
Authentic documents prove that a thousand years ago Bresse was covered with forests interspersed with meadows sprinkled with running and living waters, which was renowned for the fertility of its pastures and the mildness of its climate. Today it is no longer so; the country has become marshy and unhealthy
What to conclude from the scientific observations of M. Becquerel and Tchihatcheff, that deforestation on a large scale is very dangerous, since it changes the climate and produces endemic and epidemic diseases.
Notwithstanding these warnings of nature, the deforestation of forests is proceeding with frightful rapidity, when we think that at Peterborough, in Canada, a sawmill saws, every nine months, 70,000 feet of trees. Only one trading house, the Egan house, occupied last winter 3,800 men to fell the wood. 17,000 horses and 1,200 oxen pull the carts. The timber trade has taken such a development in Canada that last year alone 18 million cubic feet of fir wood were exported from Quebec, while in 1847 the export was only five million.
If America deforests so frighteningly every year, what about Europe? A few more years and she will have reached the most complete baldness, the forests will have disappeared largely from the European continent. Ask what will be left of the forests a few centuries from here, in the whole world, if deforestation continues?
Do we know what a disastrous influence deforestation can have on the economy of the organic kingdom and on our health? Have we forgotten that plants are not only necessary for man, for his food, for his heating, for cooking his food, but, more than all that, for his breathing, which is the first condition of organic life? By absorbing carbonic acid, and releasing oxygen, vegetables remove their deleterious gas to the air and restore to the lungs of man the breathable gas, oxygen, that it is only then that hematosis can be done normally. Let us not forget that carbon dioxide-laden air is unfit for breathing.
At what moment does the imprudent hand of man come to strike the vegetable kingdom with the most rage, it is precisely at the moment when man needs it the most, or the air is vitiated more and more every day. The masses of carbonic acid and carbon monoxide, these two deleterious gases that are diffused in the air, increase in a frightening manner.
Peligot tells us that all the carbonic acid produced by hard coal and other mineral fuels, whose extraction, which is so rapidly increasing every year, now exceeds 550 million metric tons a year for Europe only. It has been calculated that, on the assumption that these fuels contain 80% of carbon on average, their use spills 80 billion cubic meters of carbon dioxide per year into the air. And he adds that it seems likely that the production of carbonic acid outweighs the quantity that plants use. Now, if you want to calculate that the forests of America are being deforested, that Europe and the civilized countries are deforesting more and more, and that the proportion of carbonic acid and carbon monoxide will increase centupling to infinity, as man is more industrious and will use more coal, you can predict that in a hundred or two hundred years the world, being furrowed with iron chimneys and steam boats, being covered with factories, will release billions of cubic meters of carbonic acid and carbon monoxide, and as the forests will have been destroyed, these hundreds of billions of tons of carbonic acid and carbon monoxide may well disturb the harmony of the organic world from the point of view of its hygiene, especially when one thinks that, in the great centers, a thousandth of more carbonic acid in the air is sufficient to kill an entire population. See if in Paris the population is as healthy as the countryside. But, you will tell me, this comes from the fact that in Paris life is all artificial, quite different from that prescribed by hygiene.
Well! Assume a living Parisian with the sobriety, the wisdom of a countryman, and it may be, this Parisian will be less healthy, less strong than the peasant, why? Because the quantity of carbonic acid and carbon monoxide is greater in Paris than in the country.
Do you believe that the air you breathe in London is not spoiled by the amount of smoke emanating from the factories and steamers? While village mortality is 1 in 44, mortality in large cities is 1 in 25; the difference is enormous, as you see, and this difference comes in great part from the enormous quantity of carbonic acid and carbon monoxide which is released in these great centers; add to this the miasmas. If you put a lighted candle for a quarter of an hour in a woman’s vase, why does it end? Because carbonic acid is formed which is unfit for combustion, at the expense of the combustible gas, oxygen.
The same thing happens to the living man in the midst of an atmosphere charged with carbonic acid and carbon monoxide; life goes faster in him. If some people remain locked up for only one day in a narrow room, they will be taken by vertigo, dizziness and all the symptoms of asphyxia; and if you do an analysis of the air, you will find that the quantity of carbonic acid which it ordinarily contains has prodigiously increased.
Judge how much this gas is unfit for breathing; on the other hand, as it is released by burning coal, carbon monoxide is not only unsuitable for breathing, but is deleterious and kills, since it is this gas that causes asphyxiation by coal, now judge whether the burning of the coal should increase, as the air would one day be vitiated by these frightful quantities of carbon monoxide and carbonic acid, which are spread throughout the world space, and therefore how much the whole organic kingdom would have to suffer one day.
On the other hand, 550 million metric tons of coal that you remove every year in Europe, according to M. Peligot, and which represent in the space of 200 years, 110 billion metric quintals of coal are they not able to break the balance of the planet?
Now, I claim that 110 billion quintals of coal withdrawn from the bosom of the land indiscriminately and at random, that is to say, no longer 55 billion on one side and 55 billion on the other, which would maintain the equilibrium, but exclusively in Europe, as M. Peligot writes, I pretend that the 110 billion which we will have taken off in two hundred years’ time, add to the twenty to thirty billion which we have removed in the last fifty years, I say that these 110 billion metric tons of coal will be able to change the center of gravity of the globe and to shift the axis of the earth: it is perhaps to this that we owe these climatic changes which astonish us today.
It will be objected that the earth is enormous, I admit; but the displacement figure is considerable enough to take into account the balance of equilibrium. So I think we should not neglect it. Enormous as the earth appears to us, it is not infinite, and human labor is infinite over the centuries. Every sphere, like the earth, has its center of gravity at some point of its mass, and it can preserve it only on the condition that we not break the equilibrium of the parts which constitute it. So you must never say what is this? For this sheet of paper, on which I am writing at this moment, placed at the end of an infinite lever, would raise the world. It was the thought of Archimedes, as he said, give me a long arm and a fulcrum, and I will lift the world, meaning that there was no resistance possible where the power was infinite.
Man ending up disturbing the harmony of the globe, is the story of the drop of water which finally pierces the rock; it is the story of the aneurysm which ends by perforating the bones; so never say what is this? If, gentlemen, 150 billion metric quintals more or less are removed, when a thing is in equilibrium, even the earth, can break its equilibrium by changing the center of gravity of the mass.
Add to this another cause of disturbance, the piercing of the isthmus.
Who can tell us that the seas will not be able, one day when the dykes have been ruptured by man, to rush rather to one part of the globe than towards another, thus breaking the equilibrium of the seas, changing the direction of the axis of the planet, and making entire continents disappear under the waters.
Whoever could answer my question would render a service to me, because he would know the center of gravity of the globe, and he would teach it to me. Gentlemen, scientists tell us that the earth’s core is incandescent; it is a mere supposition on their part, they reason from this theory that as one descends meters in the depths of the globe, the heat increases by so many degrees. But can they induce that the center is burning? This is bold on their part; but it is unfortunate that it is a mere hypothesis; therefore, reasoning hypothetically on the central core of the earth, how would they not also reason by hypothesis on its center of gravity?
And how could they affirm that my hypothesis is false, they who reason only by hypothesis. If we are so demanding of science, it is because today science tends to substitute its blind action for that of nature, so prescient that it maintains the order and harmony of things, and to substitute itself in lieu and place, it would first be necessary to prove that it is wrong and then that one will do better than it. Now, I put all the scientists to the challenge of answering this simple question. Remove 150 billion metric tons of coal at a point on the planet, will the center of gravity change?
And if they cannot answer this question, how would they answer this question, which is about the same?
If we destroy the isthmus, what will happen in the world centuries from here? Will the equilibrium of the seas be troubled, yes or no
We understand the interest of these questions, which, if they are not of great importance to us, may in centuries be of great importance to our descendants. Moreover, if 150 billion metric quintals did not seem sufficient to them, added to the total weight of the liquid which will have flowed during one hundred years, the incessant work of the mines during centuries and the mass of the liquid flows during the same time will make a round figure that time will be responsible for growing in an infinite way. I therefore call on time alone to prove the truth of my principle.
We know what is; somehow the laws of nature work for the best in the best of all possible worlds. Do we know what will happen when we will everywhere replace nature’s actions with our own?
Man, playing with this complicated machine, nature, makes him look like a blind man who does not know the mechanics and who pretends to disassemble all the workings of a clock that work wells, to bring it in line with his fancy and his whims. But, it will be said to me, what does man do with respect to nature, can we not compare it to a simple scratch made to the skin of a vigorous and healthy man?
I wish it was so; but who does not know that, according to the occasion, for example at the foot, a simple scratch gives death. See what happens in the tropics.
It is therefore true to say that the smallest causes produce the greatest effects. Who knows that the cholera, which decimated a part of the population of the globe in 1830, is invisible, impalpable, intangible, for who has seen it? Nobody. What chemist found it in the water or in the air? And yet what chemist is not there looking for it! Whoever knows that a bottle of prussic acid passes under the nose of a man, puts him to sleep forever, and yet, calculate if you can the atom that strikes in this case; that’s impossible for you. You see, by these examples, that sometimes the smallest cause, the most invisible, the most impalpable produces the most disastrous effects.
Well! I tell you, if a simple scratch on the foot can kill the strongest man in certain conditions, how many are the scratches we make every day on the planet, and could they ever trouble the equilibrium of her laws one day, which for her are harmony and health.
Strange thing, it is happening in polemics that I engage today the same phenomenon that takes place every day in politics in the struggle of the minority against the majority. The stupid majority stifles for a while against the voice of the minority who, like an advanced sentinel, cries to him: take care, you are going too far. The majority is clogging their ears not to hear the warning, then one beautiful day the tocsin sounds, the riot roars in the street, the city is on fire, and the revolution predicted by the minority takes place.
Then everyone ranks on the side of the minority and confesses their fault; but it is too late. Gentlemen scholars, today I may be alone but I will not be alone tomorrow, because the phenomena which occur every day before my eyes and which are the result of a lack of prescience and a lack of foresight, are for me the precursory symptoms of some future catastrophes.
I would understand, once more, that a savage from South America, who would have never left his forest, came to tell me that the earth is infinite, and that man, therefore, cannot disturb it. Today, with science, the proposition is entirely reversed: it is the man who is infinite, thanks to science, and it is the planet which is finite. Space and time no longer exist through steam and electricity.
The earth is no longer for us, men of the nineteenth century, who can go around it forty or fifty times in our lives, what it could be in the eyes of men of antiquity, who did not ever measure the circumference. For us, it is limited, very limited, since we can go around it more quickly than a Greek could have toured Attica.
Space, which is the measure of forms, being nothing for us, what has become of form? Nothing. Now, when we see something as limited as the earth and a power as unlimited as that of man armed with the lever of science, we may wonder what actions may one day be taken by this unlimited power over our poor land so limited today.
I respond: the action of the mind on matter; but is the spirit of man which governs the world always a spirit of science imbued with wisdom, order, and provenance?
No, gentlemen, it is an essentially impudent mind, lacking prescience, blind. The many disasters of which I have spoken to you, and those of which I shall speak to you again, are the undeniable proof of this. Indeed, did we know that deforestation would bring torrential rains, floods, and that the atmospheric and climatic state would be so changed, that the spring, disappeared from our France, would be a myth of which the poets alone would have the memory. Beautiful forests, you are no longer, but in striking you civilization has hit the ground. But after all, what would be your shade, the sun is gone. We have never been deprived of the ardor, fecundities, and it is to this that we owe this cold humidity and these perpetual rains. In humidity oidium and plant disease are born, say scientists.
The forested mountains once stopped the clouds and served as lightning rods. The forest disarmed the storm, the cloud burst upon her, and the rest of the sky was pure. Today the clouds, which nothing stops, amass, stretch, envelop our atmosphere as a wet and cold shroud.
Thus, the spring has almost disappeared, the seasons are upset, disease reigns over the plants, and to all this must be added terrible floods that came to cause mourning and desolation in the country, and remove part of the already insufficient harvest; such are the fruits of an unprescient and improvident civilization which, striking the forests, struck itself.
Men forget bad as quickly as good, they do not believe in it anymore, and when I tell them in a vague way that the floods have come to cause consternation in the country, they will answer me that is a nightmare, a dream of my sick imagination; that they have, it is true, a remembrance of having said that one or two rivers had overflowed, but that the bad impacts were limited, that they had never heard of terrible floods such as those I’m talking of to them today.
As the memory of the most serious events is erased too quickly from memory, it is good, I think, to recall them by the recitals of contemporaries. Let us quote, then, some newspapers of the time, they will believe, I think, that these journals have not been made expressly for the sake of the cause that I support.
We read in the Gazette of Lyon:
“May 31 will remain one of the fatal dates in the history of Lyon. We made known yesterday the principal details of the horrible night of the 30th to the 31st, and those of the morning of this last day; but we have remained far below the frightful reality; the waters still hide it.
When the dyke of Gold Head was broken, the water invaded the lower parts of the eastern plains with an unheard of rapidity; the tocsin sounded on several points, but the river ran faster on the ground than the sound in the air.”
I predicted, eighteen months ago, all these disasters in my book, The end of the world through science. As you can see, the fulfillment of the prophecy has not been slow in coming. It is a write-off for the country of over 200 million; if we calculate all the lands covered in sand for several years, and consequently the loss of the crop not only for this year, but also for the following years; if you add to this so many houses turned upside down, so many others half demolished, the workers deprived of work for a time, alas! always too long; the defunct roads to be redone; the bridges to be reversed and rebuilt; the railways out of service for several days for a few, and for a few weeks for some others.
Oh! Improvidence! Human improvidence! Is not this the occasion to exclaim with the poet: Quos vult perdere Jupiter dementat. God blinds those he wants to lose, that is to say, God makes them unprecscient, impudent, and crazy.
I will add that another cause of flooding is drainage, because of the thousands of underground canals which, at a given moment, carry considerable masses of water to the rivers and cause them to overflow. Another cause of the floods which desolate Europe, especially since the year 1850, says an author, and which comes from the human fact, is the height of the roads, locks and fixed dams established in our rivers; these obstacles remove their first slope, so that the waters no longer have the necessary speed to sweep away materials they carry, they crash into their beds and obstruct them; the waters overflow, even in the poorest floods; the silting up of crops, and an annual loss of about 60 to 80 million francs. The floods would therefore become more and more frequent, if one did not attempt to moderate them, to retain near their sources the waters which are formed on the high places.
As we can see, the worst of all this is that these floods are destroying part of the crop that is no longer sufficient by itself to feed the country, since France is obliged to bring in wheat from Russia, America, Sicily and Algeria.
Why can France, which once could feed its inhabitants, no longer do it today? Why? This is because today we have built at least 6,500 kilometers of railroads, which remove 6,500 kilometers of good land from agriculture; however, there are still 4,750 to be completed before reaching the concession figure, which stands at 11,250. If you add to this that we were foolish enough not to diminish the width of the old roads, although they are much too large for the present needs; moreover, when we know that part of the territory is absorbed by 203 imperial roads having a total length of 8,630 leagues, by 1,381 departmental roads, the length of which is 9,232 leagues; by 83 strategic routes of the western departments, representing an extent of 365 leagues. And apart from this immense range of communication routes on land, France still has 9,000 km of canals.
In addition to that industry has taken a huge development today; whole departments cultivate vines, beets, hemp, hops, tobacco, saffron, rapeseed, mulberry, oleaginous plants and tinctorial plants.
We will have a rough idea of the huge amount of land that has been taken out of agriculture, and it will be understood how cereals have become insufficient to feed a population that has grown by 10 million souls in fifty years.
Ask now what is man’s foresight, which thus takes agriculture away from the land and gives it to industry, when the population increases incessantly in a frightening proportion?
What would you say to a family father who would have for his patrimony a field barely big enough to feed him, his wife and his children, and which would further diminish the ratio of his field by making it travel in all directions by numerous alleys, by planting flowers and exotic trees, and what then when he sees his family increase? Would it not seem to you abusive, impudent? Unhappy, you would say, you diminish your field precisely at the moment when your family increases; a few parcels of land and a few more children, and you are starving. This is what we say to our learned civilization.
Either we must return to the land what has been taken from it, or we must encourage emigration; because there will come a time when France can no longer feed its inhabitants. Industry will have absorbed all the arable land, and there will be no more room for cereal cultivation. Are you listening to me? I know in advance that no, you are not; but one day scarcity will be felt in Europe, and then the experience will show that I was right, and we will favor emigration.
As for those who want Sologne, the Landes and so many other countries unfit for agriculture to be cultivated, they propose a palliative remedy which may be sufficient for a few years, if it succeeds, but that will become totally insufficient when in a hundred years the population will have almost doubled.
The only curative way to neutralize the disastrous effect resulting from the increase in population and the invasion of arable land by industry is therefore emigration. It is emigration that has saved England from scarcity and revolutions to this day.
But, you will say, if France, if England cannot suffice for their consumption, they will bring wheat from America, from Russia, and etc. Yes, but on the condition of not having war with these countries; for as they will one day be the breadbasket of Europe, they will only have to close their doors to starve it. Because, notice that Belgium, Holland, Germany, Spain, Italy will soon be in the same condition as us, and that, like us, these people will be forced to go and ask distant countries for cereals. Why, you will ask me. By the force of the things which causes the population in Europe to increase in a constant and geometric progression, and that the needs and invasions of industry grow in the same proportion.
Civilized Europe will one day be called to become the great manufactory of the world; but in order that the great industrial hive does not die of hunger at home, its population must be limited, and its excess population, by emigrating, go, by the clearing and culturing of other continents, to wrest bread for Europe from Africa, America, Oceania, and Asia.
For that, land clearing companies will be organized one day or another; they will buy immense countries in America or take possession of them elsewhere; they will carry with them that excess of population which overloads Europe, will associate them with their labors and their benefits, and will exploit these still new lands. It is only here, when we have immense countries to plow, sow, mow, fade, harrow, that we will understand the usefulness of these powerful steam engines applied to agriculture, machines which are astonishing and whose use we do not understand today when the earth is fragmented to infinity.
From the medical and therapeutic point of view, what experience and education have we not done at our expense! Are we not on the point today to curse what we loved yesterday? Does not a new school come to shout hurrah for the vaccine, and attribute to it the responsibility for the abatement and the enervation of the human race? What! A book dares to take as its title: Of the physical and moral degeneration of the human species caused by the vaccine! Jenner is accused of helping to atrophy the European family. It is to this reckless novelty that we should attribute gastritis, scrofulous engorgement, pulmonary phthisis, which has become more frequent, and especially typhoid fever. What logomachy and brochures will abound in the square! Our Academy of Medicine, made up of the elite of our doctors, put this object on its agenda. Experimental Germany and England, so interested in the quarrel, will undoubtedly join in this controversy.
What! For so long that vaccination has been practiced, honored among us, we have come to wonder today if we have not been mistaken, if we have not attracted to the human species a thousand times worse than that we have sought to destroy. Are we called always to see science so contradict itself? The Academy will solve the question, since it has found it serious enough to put it on the agenda.
The statistics on the railroads teach us that today there are 27,000 leagues of railroads, both completed and under construction, just enough to go around the globe three times. Tomorrow, that is to say a few centuries from here, there will be 100,000.
Can you predict if 100,000 leagues of iron will not exert any influence on the Earth’s magnetic current? Do you know what role this magnetic current exerts on the plant and animal kingdoms, when the world will be like a large bottle of Leiden with its armature, or like a huge balloon wrapped in its iron net, will organic beings not suffer from it?
A curious phenomenon has just been observed in Paris, it is written in the Yearbook of the Bureau of Longitudes, it is a considerable variation of declination of the magnetized needle, according to the places where one is placed around Paris. This variation is due to the immense quantity of iron that has been distributed unequally in the vast city of Paris. As we can see, 100,000 leagues of iron can exert a fatal influence on the magnetic currents of the globe and on life.
Know it then, every progress carries in it its fatality, like every civilization carries with it its principle of death. But experience alone can teach us. Each new experience always brings a new disaster: the death of so many experimenters is an obvious testimony. Have not Reichtman and Dulong, and so many others, dyed the bloody degree of progress with their blood?
What! After so many disappointments, man still hopes to rule the world! He believes he dominates the forces and the energies, and directs them towards a harmonic goal, and this without criteria and without compass, when he does not know even their most immediate and most direct consequences, and he learns every day at his expense.
I would imagine that this game must last forever, and that the progress is indefinite? Illusion! Progress, as one knows, is only relative, relative as human reason. Human power is no more boundless than infallible.
Man discovers every day in nature new forces, new sources of motion, and he is embarrassed, frightened.
What experiences, what accidents have not happened since the application of steam!
America alone charges the death of 40,000 people to the invention of railways and steamers. Triple this number for our essentially industrial Europe, and you have on our continent a round figure of 120,000 dead.
It is not only a question of finding a force, it is still a matter of being master of it, of knowing how to direct it, how to govern it, how to moderate it, how to stop it in time. How many drivers were embarrassed when, producing a force of ten leagues an hour, it was necessary to stop just in time to prevent an accident! Here is a singular master, who for twenty years did not know how to stop his machine when it was necessary to prevent a shock; and here is a terrible, undue force, which in twenty years has cost the lives of 16,000 men! I do not come to deny that we find the remedy for trouble; but if I quote these examples, it is to return to this principle that man acquires experience only at his own expense.
Has it not been the same in the political world? How many revolutions, how much blood is there to arrive at the better order of things in which we find ourselves today! It is the same with medicine, which is only a purely experimental science. If it were necessary to calculate the number of men who perished to arrive at the amount of progress we have made today in politics, medicine, science, industry and religion, before arriving at the tolerance in matters of religion, in the freedom of conscience, one would see that, without being exaggerated, one could count by hundreds of millions the number of victims who have come to bloody the road of progress. It is therefore safe to say that experience is acquired only at our expense.
Fatality, as I say in my book The End of the World through Science, is growing as a direct result of civilization. Why? It is because civilization has at its disposal forces and energies a thousand times greater than non-civilization, it must necessarily experience disasters a thousand times greater.
Some examples will make you understand this principle, which seems paradoxical at first sight. If a savage takes his bow and draws his arrow, or a civilized man unloads his rifle, which of the two will be the most exposed? For sure, whoever will use the gun. Why? Because the latter will use a spontaneous and terrible force, the powder, in conditions of which it is not always possible to appreciate exactly the range: the barrel of the rifle can explode a thousand and thousand ways of which cannot be foreseen.
Ask yourself which is more exposed the one who drives a modest vehicle, or the mechanic who directs a locomotive; for sure, it’s the mechanic. Why? Because he has in his hands a spontaneous force of irresistible power, and, besides, that he finds himself in conditions so difficult that he can neither always foresee nor always prevent; the machine can burst and derail, or meet a convoy, or get lost in the neighboring river; a bridge can break, and a tunnel collapse; all these accidents can therefore happen and have happened, and it was impossible for the mechanic to prevent them.
Death by accident, which was once individual, that is to say, struck individuals in isolation, now affects men collectively.
Let us give some examples to prove that war is also more deadly than before. Before the invention of gun powder, men were struck in isolation; the arrow only reached one at a time; I will say as much about the sword, the lance, the javelin and the stone thrown by the sling. Today, with the invention of gun powder, men at war die in mass by the cannon; it is no longer a single man, it is a whole line, fifteen, twenty, thirty soldiers who are struck by a shot. And this is so true, that never have wars been more deadly than today; all historians, and among them Michelet, agree that during the wars of the Republic and the Empire, that is to say, in the space of twenty years at least four million men have died on the battlefields.
Well! I challenge you to show me in history twenty years of war taken at random, either during the Middle Ages, or in ancient history or modern history, or even during the invasion of Xerxes in Greece or those of the barbarians in the Middle Ages, twenty years when four million men died on the battlefield; the means of modern destruction must therefore be much more collective than formerly.
Besides, how can you not see that by the mine and by gun powder you can blow up an entire place, that is, put out of action ten to fifteen thousand men at once. Before the invention of gun powder, could we make such disasters? This is so true, that if, at Malakoff, a cannonball had come to break the electric cable laid by the Russian army, fifty thousand men would have perished in a single blow: this phenomena could not have happened before the discovery of gun powder and electricity.
Electricity, steam, gun powder, these engines of destruction, will make modern wars much more deadly than those of the past, and death will be all the more collective as the forces used will be more energetic.
A few days ago, 80 people perished in America when a railway bridge broke. Here is the distressing account from the paper: “Before reaching the bridge crossing the Desjardins canal, the convoy left the track due to a disturbance by a piece of wood, or by another cause, and jumped over the bridge. The train’s force of impulse broke the bridge, and the locomotive and cars fell into the canal thirty or forty feet below. The catastrophe was sudden and terrible and the work of destruction was complete and instantaneous.” What to conclude from this unprecedented disaster in the world? The more we play with greater and greater energies, the greater the danger. Then, as the paper says, the convoy was thrown from the track by the effect of the disturbance of a piece of wood, or by another cause which cannot be explained.
What? Eighty people will perish at once because a simple piece of wood of a few inches will be found under the wheels of a machine? What is the life of men in this environment of artificial forces, and how great is the fatality that surrounds them, when such small causes produce such great catastrophes!
If we cannot foresee all the causes of railroad accidents, and if before we arrive at remedying them we are schooled so terribly at our expense, what will it be when we play with the incalculable forces of a nature of which we will never know either the relations or the goal, and now conceive all the causes of ruin which will necessarily escape our insufficient reason? Calculate what their consequences might be in the future, and ask yourself if experience alone can assure humankind indefinite progress?
Death, therefore, begins to become collective through the discoveries of science, and it will be so much the more so as we play with ever greater forces. Fatality was sporadic before the discoveries of science; it only struck individuals in isolation; fatality has become epidemic by the progress of science, since today it strikes peoples; as last year’s floods have. Perhaps it will hit whole continents, when the isthmus has been broken and the equilibrium of the seas has been broken. Lastly, the globe itself, overthrown by the blows of an ignorant and purely experimental science, will itself one day be attained in the laws which constitute its harmony.
What proves that the means of destruction will one day be incalculable is that we already foresee the moment when war will no longer be possible, as the means of destruction, the energies, the forces that man has snatched from nature to destroy the enemy, will be such that there will be no choice other than to lay down arms and to get along. The Golden Age will therefore be born on the day of the force of things, that is, the exaggerated power of man.
Yes, the war of man against man will disappear in the world; but then will begin for humanity a terrible struggle against the elements.
Greek civilization succumbed under the blows of Macedonia alone; Roman civilization, more powerful, succumbed under the blows of the whole barbarous world; and our civilization, which will one day be in universal Edenism, will succumb under the efforts of nature upset by us. The barbarians will no longer be those fair children of the North, who have come out of the forests of Germany, who filled the Roman world with horror. Destruction by invasions is forever over; the barbarians who will put our human cycle in powder form will be the forces and energies of nature, these giants who have come out of our laboratories of physics and chemistry, who have been born in the mysterious crucible of science.
There are two bodies universally distributed in nature, and which are for her a perpetual menace, the air and the water; water, the element fueled by hydrogen, and the air, the element oxidizing by its oxygen. This is what I said on the same subject in my book The End of the World through Science, which I want to develop today in front of you.
See this immense ocean of seas surround our globe with its phosphorescent fires, with its oily and greasy layers, with its elements so combustible, so flammable, that the volcanoes go on incessantly, and that they do not go out, for want of food, only when the sea has abandoned them.
See, on the other hand, this chemical, potassium, burn in the water, true Greek fire, which will open the road to a hundred other discoveries even more incendiary, and finally understand how one day or another the fire can light up the world.
To this I have heard several objections to which I will reply.
First objection – Prove to us, I am told, that out of our chemistry labs can come a body capable of setting fire to the water.
To that I answer. See potassium, this chemical of science, does not burn water by combining with its oxygen and igniting its hydrogen; and if, before the discovery of this body, the fire of the Greeks had already been extinguished, how, afterwards, of those discoveries which put us on the road, would it not be possible to find bodies a hundred times more incendiary still? A first discovery puts on the track of a whole series of other discoveries which are the corollaries and the forced deductions.
So there is in the discovery of potassium elements of certainty for the later discovery of bodies more dangerous than it. Why should time, which contains in itself all the modes of action and manifestation, not contain the one like the others?
Second objection – We admit with certainty that science has succeeded in finding this body, this catalytic force, since it has already discovered the potassium which puts it on the road. How do you explain that this body, once found, can set the whole ocean on fire?
I answer: by way of continuity and caloric acquired. It would be sufficient to set fire to whatever point of the liquid mass, so that, little by little, the fire spreads around the earth on all sides, and almost all the seas of the interior communicate with it. The world would therefore be a huge furnace.
The man riding on civilization, which he always pretends to direct, is like that peasant of whom Luther speaks, who, dead drunk on his horse, sometimes bent to the right, sometimes bent to the left, and that the slightest bump of his horse could overturn.
But what was civilization at the time of Luther? A poor docile and sluggish brat, with lazy viscera, atrophied muscles, scarcely dragging along the path of progress. And yet to man, at that time, it was already not a safe ride. Today it is a fiery run, untamed; I see running in his veins the light, the caloric, the electricity, all these imponderable fluids, these energies of life and spontaneity, which are the rapid missionaries of destiny; and thus seeing humanity transported at random from a frantic race, without compass, without brake, without criteria, without intuition, I would imagine that this game of chance and force could last indefinitely! No.
The fable teaches us that one day the daring Phaeton having asked his father to let him lead the chariot of the sun, Apollo consented; but it was for the loss of the unprescient and impudent young man. The chariot of the sun, driven by this imprudent, reckless reason, approached, so they say, so close to the ground that it ignited it.
Can he stop? No. So he must break. Armed with the lever of science, man will one day raise the world with his powerful and bold arm; but his insufficient, unprescient reason will not be able to keep it in equilibrium; the world will be overthrown by him, dragging into the abyss his scepter and his royalty for a day in Eden.
[End of Part Two]
The Tree of Science
The End of the World By Science