Lo, for your gaze, the pattern of the skies!
What balance of the mass, what reckonings
Divine! Here ponder too the Laws which God,
Framing the Universe, set not aside
But made the fixed foundations of his work.
The inmost place of the heavens, now gained,
Break into view, nor longer hidden is
The force that turns the farthest orb. The sun
Exalted on his throne bids all things tend
Toward him by inclination and descent,
Nor suffer that the courses of the stars
Be straight, as through the boundless void they move,
But with himself as centre speeds them on
In motionless ellipses. Now we know
The sharply veering ways of comets, once
A source of dread, nor longer do we quail
Beneath appearances of bearded stars.
At last we learn wherefore the silver moon
Once seemed to travel with unequal steps,
As if she scorned to suit her pace to numbers –
Till now made clear to no astronomer;
Why, though the Seasons go and then return,
The Hours move ever forward on their way;
Explained too are the forces of the deep,
How roaming Cynthia bestirs the tides,
Whereby the surf, deserting now the kelp
Along the shore, exposes shoals of sand
Suspected by the sailors, now in turn
Driving its billows high upon the beach.
Matters that vexed the minds of ancient seers,
And for our learned doctors often led
to loud and vain contention, now are seen
In reason’s light, the clouds of ignorance
Dispelled at last by science. Those on whom
Delusion cast its gloomy pall of doubt,
Upborne now on the wings that genius lends,
May penetrate the mansions of the gods
And scale the heights of heaven. O mortal men,
Arise! And, casting off your earthly cares,
Learn ye the potency of heaven-born mind,
Its thought and life far from the herd withdrawn!
The man who through the tables of the laws
Once banished theft and murder, who suppressed
Adultery and crimes of broken faith,
And put the roving peoples into cities
Girt round with walls, was founder of the state,
While he who blessed the race with Ceres’ gift,
Who pressed from grapes an anodyne to care,
Or showed how on the tissue made from reeds
growing behind the Nile one may inscribe
Symbols of sound and so present the voice
For sight to grasp, did lighten human lot,
Offsetting thus the miseries of life
With some felicity. But now, behold,
Admitted to the banquets of the gods,
We contemplate the polities of heaven;
Discern the changeless order of the world
And all the aeons of its history.
Then ye who now on heavenly nectar fare,
Come celebrate with me in song the name
Of Newton, to the Muses dear; for he
Unlocked the hidden treasuries of Truth:
So richly through his mind had Phoebus cast
The radiance of his own divinity.
Nearer the gods no mortal may approach.
“Soon, very soon, thou wilt be ashes, or a skeleton, and either a name or not even a name; but name is sound and echo. And the things which are much valued in life are empty and rotten and trifling, and like little dogs biting one another, and little children quarrelling, laughing, and then straightway weeping…
What then is there which still detains thee here? If the objects of sense are easily changed and never stand still, and the organs of perception are dull and easily receive false impressions; and the poor soul itself is an exhalation from blood… Why then dost thou not wait in tranquility for thy end, whether it is extinction or removal to another state? And until that time comes, what is sufficient? Why, what else than to venerate the gods and bless them, and to do good to men, and to practise tolerance and self-restraint; but as to everything which is beyond the limits of the poor flesh and breath, to remember that this is neither thine nor in thy power.
Thou canst pass thy life in an equable flow of happiness, if thou canst go by the right way, and think and act in the right way. These two things are common both to the soul of God and to the soul of man, and to the soul of every rational being, not to be hindered by another; and to hold good to consist in the disposition to justice and the practice of it, and in this to let thy desire find its termination.”
“Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-imposed nonage. Nonage is the inability to use one’s own understanding without another’s guidance. This nonage is self-imposed if its cause lies not in lack of understanding but in indecision and lack of courage to use one’s own mind without another’s guidance. Dare to know! ‘Have the courage to use your own understanding,’ is therefore the motto of the enlightenment. Laziness and cowardice are the reasons why such a large part of mankind gladly remain minors all their lives, long after nature has freed them from external guidance. They are the reasons why it is so easy for others to set themselves up as guardians. It is so comfortable to be a minor. If I have a book that thinks for me, a pastor who acts as my conscience, a physician who prescribes my diet, and so on—then I have no need to exert myself. I have no need to think, if only I can pay; others will take care of that disagreeable business for me. Those guardians who have kindly taken supervision upon themselves see to it that the overwhelming majority of mankind—among them the entire fair sex—should consider the step to maturity, not only as hard, but as extremely dangerous. First, these guardians make their domestic cattle stupid and carefully prevent the docile creatures from taking a single step without the leading-strings to which they have fastened them. Then they show them the danger that would threaten them if they should try to walk by themselves. Now this danger is really not very great; after stumbling a few times they would, at last, learn to walk. However, examples of such failures intimidate and generally discourage all further attempts.”
“We are convinced that whatever contributes to the knowledge of the forces of nature or the powers of the human mind is worth cherishing, and may, in its own due time, bear practical fruit, very often where we should least have expected it. Who, when Galvani touched the muscles of a frog with different metals, and noticed their contraction, could have dreamt that eighty years afterwards, in virtue of the self-same process, whose earliest manifestations attracted his attention in his anatomical researches, all Europe would be traversed with wires, flashing intelligence from Madrid to St. Petersburg with the speed of lightning? In the hands of Galvani, and at first even in Volta’s, electrical currents were phenomena capable of exerting only the feeblest forces, and could not be detected except by the most delicate apparatus. Had they been neglected, on the ground that the investigation of them promised no immediate practical result, we should now be ignorant of the most important and most interesting of the links between the various forces of nature. When young Galileo, then a student at Pisa, noticed one day during divine service a chandelier swinging backwards and forwards, and convinced himself, by counting his pulse, that the duration of the oscillations was independent of the arc through which it moved, who could know that this discovery would eventually put it in our power, by means of the pendulum, to attain an accuracy in the measurement of time till then deemed impossible, and would enable the storm-tossed seaman in the most distant oceans to determine in what degree of longitude he was sailing? Whoever, in the pursuit of science, seeks after immediate practical utility, may generally rest assured that he will seek in vain.”
“The empirical basis of objective science has thus nothing ‘absolute’ about it. Science does not rest upon solid bedrock. The bold structure of its theories rises, as it were, above a swamp. It is like a building erected on piles. The piles are driven down from above into the swamp, but not down to any natural or ‘given’ base; and if we stop driving the piles deeper, it is not because we have reached firm ground. We simply stop, when we are satisfied that the piles are firm enough to carry the structure, at least for the time being.”
“Scientific explanation is not aimed at creating a sense of at-homeness or of familiarity with the phenomena of nature. That kind of feeling may well be evoked even by metaphorical accounts that have no explanatory value at all, such as the ‘natural affinity’ construal of gravitation or the conception of biological processes as being directed by vital forces. What scientific explanation, especially theoretical explanation, aims at is not this intuitive and highly subjective kind of understanding, but an objective kind of insight that is achieved by a systematic unification, by exhibiting the phenomena as manifestations of common underlying structures and processes that conform to specific, testable, basic principles. If such an account can be given in terms that show certain analogies with familiar phenomena, then very well. Otherwise, science will not hesitate to explain even the familiar by reduction to the unfamiliar by means of concepts and principles of novel kinds that may at first be repugnant to our intuition.”