A Hypertext Edition of Charles Hoy Fort's Book

Edited and Annotated by Mr. X





I AM thinking of an abstraction that was noted by Aristotle, and that was taken by Hegel, for the basis of his philosophy:

That wherever there is a conflict of extremes, there is an outcome that is not absolute victory on either side, but is a compromise, or what Hegel called "the union of complementaries."

Our own controversy is an opposition of extremes:

That this earth moves swiftly;

That this earth is stationary.

In terms of controversies and their outcomes, I cannot think that either of these sides can be altogether right, or will absolutely defeat the other, when comes some way of finding out, and settling this issue.

The idea of stationariness came first. Then, as a sheer, mechanical reaction -- inasmuch as Copernicus [386/387] had not one datum that a conventionalist of today would accept as meaning anything -- came the idea of a swiftly moving earth. An intermediate view will probably appear and prevail.

My own notion of equilibrium between these extremes, backed up with our chapters of data, is that, within a revolving, starry shell that, relatively to the extravagances of the astronomical extremists, is not very far away, this roundish earth is almost central, but is not absolutely stationary, having various slight movements. Perhaps it does rotate, but with a period of a year. Like everybody else, I have my own notions upon what constitutes reasonableness, and this is my idea of a compromise.

The primary view had for its support the highest mathematical authoritativeness of its era. Now, so has the secondary view. Mathematics had been as subservient to one view as the other.

Mostly our data have been suggestive, or correlative, but it may be that there are visual indications of a concave land in the sky, or of a substantial shell around this earth. There are dark places in the sky, and some of them have the look of land. They are called "dark nebulæ." Some astronomers have speculated upon them, as glimpses of a limiting outline of a system as a whole. See back to Dolmage, quoted upon this subject.(1) My own notion is of a limiting, outlining substance that I call a "shell." "Dark nebulæ" have the look of bare, or starless, patches of a shell. Some of them may be formations that are projections from a shell. They hang like super-stalactites in a vast and globular cave. At least one of these appearances has the look of a mountain peak. In several books by astronomers, published lately, plates of this object have appeared. See Duncan's Astronomy.(2) It is better known as the Horse-head nebula. It stands out, as a vast, [387/388] sullen refusal to mix into a frenzy of phosphorescent confetti. It is a solid-looking gloom, such as, some election night, the Woolworth Building would be, if Republican, and all the rest of Broadway hysterical with a Democratic celebration. Over its summit comes light, like the fringe of dawn topping a mountain. Something is shining behind this formation, but penetrates no more than it would shine through a mountain.

It may be that relatively there are few stars -- that hosts of tiny lights in the sky are reflections, upon irregularities of the shell-land, from large stars.

Among expressions that I have not developed is one that is suggested by a circumstance that astronomers consider strange. This is that some variable stars have a period of about a year. Just what variations of stars that are said to be trillions of miles away could have to do with a period upon this ultra-remote earth cannot be conceived of in orthodox terms. The suggestion is that these lights, with variations corresponding with advances and recessions of the sun, moving spirally around this almost stationary earth, are reflections of sunlight from points of land, or from lakes in extinct, or dormant craters. It may be that variations of light that have been attributed to "companions" are tidal phenomena in celestial lakes that shine as reflections from the sun, or from other stars, which may be lakes of molten lava.

There is a formation in the constellation Cygnus that has often been noted. It is faintly luminescent, but this light, according to Prof. Hubble, is a reflection from the star Deneb. It is shaped like North America, and it is known as the America nebula. Out from its Gulf of Mexico are islands of light. One of these may be a San Salvador some day.

Like Alaska to birds from the north, the Horse- [388/389] head nebula stands out from its background, like something to fly to.

Star after star after star has blazed a story, sometimes publishing tragedy on earth, illustrated with spectacles in the heavens. But, when transcribed into human language, these communications are depopularised with "determinations" and "pronouncements." So our tribes have left these narratives of fires and smokes and catastrophes to the wisemen, who have made titanic tales unintelligible with their little technical jargons. The professionals will not unprofessionalise; they will not give up their system. Where have the wisemen ever done so among the Eskimos, or the hairy Ainus, the Zulus, or the Kaffirs? Whatever we are, they are acting to keep us whatever we are, as Zulus are kept whatever they are. We are beguiled by snoozers, who have been beaten time after time by schoolboys.

There's a fire in the sky, and ashes and smoke and dust reach this earth, as sometimes after an eruption of Vesuvius, discharges reach Paris. There may be volcanoes in a land in the sky, so close to this earth that, if intervening space be not airless and most intensely cold, an expedition could sail away in a dash to the stars that would be a bold and magnificent trifle. [389]

1. Cecil Goodrich Julius Dolmage. Astronomy of Today. London, 1909, 327.

2. John Charles Duncan. Astronomy: A Textbook. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1926, 1st & 2d eds., plate 17.6.22.

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