“Not to this evanescent speck of earth
Poorly confined – the radiant tracts on high
Are our exalted range; intent to gaze
Creation through, and from the complex
Of never-ending wonders, to conceive
Of the Sole Being right.” – James Thomson.
In beginning this segment on the universe as ultimate reality we uncovered four precepts of the human configuration of the observable portions of our distant surroundings into the idea of a ‘cosmos’: unity, order, limited access, and uniqueness. We move now to one early scientist’s rendering of the universe as ultimate reality. Richard A. Proctor was an English astronomer whose accomplishments included the first map of Mars, an analysis of stars, star clusters, and nebulae, construction of the sidereal universe and star-atlases, theories on the sun’s corona, and a painstaking study of the rotation of Mars, by which be deduced its period with a probable error of 0.005. While he founded and wrote for various scientific journals and was a contributor to the ninth edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica,1 his book, Other Worlds Than Ours, is intended for the general reader. In an introductory note, Frank Parsons tells us that “Like Huxley and Tyndall, Mr. Proctor sees the poetry of his subject and knows how to bring the largest truths within the comprehension of a child…”2 Be prepared for some propositions unexpected of a traditional scientist.
Proctor starts by arguing that space must be infinite as it can know no boundary, that matter is likely infinite assuming a fairly uniform distribution of matter in space, and that time too must be infinite.3 These modes of infinitude should theoretically be sufficient for our designation of ‘ultimate,’ but Proctor goes further. He inserts a ‘Ruler’ (seemingly the source of order) over the universe: “Now to conceive of limits to the wisdom and power of One whose realm is infinite in extent and in duration is obviously to conclude that the Ruler is infinitely incompetent to rule over His kingdom; For there can be no relation between the finite and the infinite save the relation of infinite disproportion.”4
Proctor goes on to offer demonstrations of the transcendent characteristics of the universe and this Ruler. First he proposes that the Ruler cannot have human senses any more than human appendages such as arms or legs. However having senses, we can readily conceive of senses both different and more acute than our own which may apply. Also our reason permits knowledge beyond sensory experience, such as historical events (e.g. the battle of Waterloo which no living person witnessed); and the same can be assumed for the Ruler. He then reminds us that with our greatest sense, vision, what is seen is what light brings to the eyes not immediately but after a finite period of time based on the distance between the eye and the object perceived. Light then (and likewise other emanations such as sound) convey information from different ‘epochs’ like a newspaper. “By extending these considerations to other modes in which the history of an event is recorded, so to speak, by natural processes, we can see that a much more complete and definite picture of past events than light can convey must be at all times present in the universe.”5 His conclusion is clear; the universe forever contains the whole information of its history and the Ruler accesses that information through higher level senses than we possess essentially giving Him Omniscience.
(continued next post)
1Wikepdia, Richard A. Proctor.
2 Proctor, Richard A., Other Worlds Than Ours. Lowell , Coryell, & Company, New York, NY, 1870. Page 1.
3 Of course more recent science suggests that our universe is bounded or curved so that no boundary is needed, and thus matter and energy are finite within it, and that time as part of space-time also is finite at least retroactive to the Big Bang, but Proctor may be correct should the multiverse pan out since in that case an infinite number of universes with infinite space, matter, and time is a more defensible position.
4Ibid., page 324.
5Ibid., page 336.