Monday, October 22, 2007

Mary Somerville (1780-1872)

The heavens afford the most sublime subject of study which can be derived from science: the magnitude and splendour of the objects, the inconceivable rapidity with which they move, and the enormous distances between them, impress the mind with some notion of the energy that maintains them in their motions with a durability to which we can see no limits. Equally conspicuous is the goodness of the great First Cause in having endowed man with faculties by which he can not only appreciate the magnificence of his works, but trace, with precision, the operation of his laws, use the globe he inhabits as a base wherewith to measure the magnitude and distance of the sun and planets, and make the diameter of the earth’s orbit the first step of a scale by which he may ascend to the starry firmament. Such pursuits, while they ennoble the mind, at the same time inculcate humility, by showing that there is a barrier, which no energy, mental or physical, can ever enable us to pass: that however profoundly we may penetrate the depths of space, there still remain innumerable systems, compared with which those which seem so mighty to us must dwindle into insignificance, or even become invisible; and that not only man, but the globe he inhabits, nay the whole system of which it forms so small a part, might be annihilated, and its extinction be unperceived in the immensity of creation. - from Mechanism of the Heavens - Preliminary Dissertation, 2nd Ed. by Russell McNeil, (2001)

Etext: Mechanism of the Heavens (Second Edition)

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