Man’s Place in the Universe / A Study of the Results of Scientific Research in Relation to the Unity or Plurality of Worlds, 3rd Edition

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MAN’S PLACE IN
THE UNIVERSE

A Study of the Results of Scientific Research

in Relation to the Unity or Plurality

of Worlds

BY

ALFRED R. WALLACE

LL.D., D.C.L., F.R.S., ETC.

 

‘O, glittering host! O, golden line! I would I had an angel’s ken, Your deepest secrets to divine, And read your mysteries to men.’

 

THIRD EDITION

 

LONDON
CHAPMAN AND HALL
LIMITED
1904


‘I said unto my inmost heart, Shall I don corslet, helm, and shield, And shall I with a Giant strive, And charge a Dragon on the field?’

J.H. Dell.


PREFACE

This work has been written in consequence of the great interest excited by my article, under the same title, which appeared simultaneously in The Fortnightly Review and the New York Independent. Two friends who read the manuscript were of opinion that a volume, in which the evidence could be given much more fully, would be desirable, and the result of the publication of the article confirmed their view.

I was led to a study of the subject when writing four new chapters on Astronomy for a new edition of The Wonderful Century. I then found that almost all writers on general astronomy, from Sir John Herschel to Professor Simon Newcomb and Sir Norman Lockyer, stated, as an indisputable fact, that our sun is situated in the plane of the great ring of the Milky Way, and also very nearly in the centre of that ring. The most recent researches also showed that there was little or no proof of there being any stars or nebulæ very far beyond the Milky Way, which thus seemed to be the limit, in that direction, of the stellar universe.

Turning to the earth and the other planets of the Solar System, I found that the most recent researches led to the conclusion that no other planet was likely to be the seat of organic life, unless perhaps of a very low type. For many years I had paid special attention to the problem of the measurement of geological time, and also that of the mild climates and generally uniform conditions that had prevailed throughout all geological epochs; and on considering the number of concurrent causes and the delicate balance of conditions required to maintain such uniformity, I became still more convinced that the evidence was exceedingly strong against the probability or possibility of any other planet being inhabited.

Having long been acquainted with most of the works dealing with the question of the supposed Plurality of Worlds, I was quite aware of the very superficial treatment the subject had received, even in the hands of the most able writers, and this made me the more willing to set forth the whole of the available evidence—astronomical, physical, and biological—in such a way as to show both what was proved and what suggested by it.

The present work is the result, and I venture to think that those who will read it carefully will admit that it is a book that was worth writing. It is founded almost entirely on the marvellous body of facts and conclusions of the New Astronomy together with those reached by modern physicists, chemists, and biologists. Its novelty consists in combining the various results of these different branches of science into a connected whole, so as to show their bearing upon a single problem—a problem which is of very great interest to ourselves.

This problem is, whether or no the logical inferences to be drawn from the various results of modern science lend support to the view that our earth is the only inhabited planet, not only in the Solar System but in the whole stellar universe. Of course it is a point as to which absolute demonstration, one way or the other, is impossible. But in the absence of any direct proofs, it is clearly rational to inquire into probabilities; and these probabilities must be determined not by our prepossessions for any particular view, but by an absolutely impartial and unprejudiced examination of the tendency of the evidence.

As the book is written for the general, educated body of readers, many of whom may not be acquainted with any aspect of the subject or with the wonderful advance of recent knowledge in that department often termed the New Astronomy, a popular account has been given of all those branches of it which bear upon the special subject here discussed. This part of the work occupies the first six chapters. Those who are fairly acquainted with modern astronomical literature, as given in popular works, may begin at my seventh chapter, which marks the commencement of the considerable body of evidence and of argument I have been able to adduce.

To those of my readers who may have been influenced by any of the adverse criticisms on my views as set forth in the article already referred to, I must again urge, that throughout the whole of this work, neither the facts nor the more obvious conclusions from the facts are given on my own authority, but always on that of the best astronomers, mathematicians, and other men of science to whose works I have had access, and whose names, with exact references, I generally give.

What I claim to have done is, to have brought together the various facts and phenomena they have accumulated; to have set forth the hypotheses by which they account for them, or the results to which the evidence clearly points; to have judged between conflicting opinions and theories; and lastly, to have combined the results of the various widely-separated departments of science, and to have shown how they bear upon the great problem which I have here endeavoured, in some slight degree, to elucidate.

As such a large body of facts and arguments from distinct sciences have been here brought together, I have given a rather full summary of the whole argument, and have stated my final conclusions in six short sentences. I then briefly discuss the two aspects of the whole problem—those from the materialistic and from the spiritualistic points of view; and I conclude with a few general observations on the almost unthinkable problems raised by ideas of Infinity—problems which some of my critics thought I had attempted in some degree to deal with, but which, I here point out, are altogether above and beyond the questions I have discussed, and equally above and beyond the highest powers of the human intellect.

Broadstone, Dorset,

September 1903.


‘The wilder’d mind is tost and lost, O sea, in thy eternal tide; The reeling brain essays in vain, O stars, to grasp the vastness wide! The terrible tremendous scheme That glimmers in each glancing light, O night, O stars, too rudely jars The finite with the infinite!’

J.H. Dell.


CONTENTS

CHAP.PAGE
I.Early Ideas,1
II.Modern Ideas,7
III.The New Astronomy,24
IV.The Distribution of the Stars,47
V.Distances of Stars: the Sun’s Motion,73
VI.Unity and Evolution of the Star-System,99
VII.Are the Stars Infinite?135
VIII.Our Relation To the Milky Way,156
IX.The Uniformity of Matter and its Laws,183
X.The Essential Characters of Organisms,191
XI.Physical Conditions essential for Life,206
XII.The Earth in relation to Life,218
XIII.The Atmosphere in relation to Life,243
XIV.The Other Planets are not Habitable,262
XV.The Stars: Have they Planets? Are they useful to Us?282
XVI.Stability of the Star-System: Importance of Central Position: Summary and Conclusion,295
Index,326

EIGHT DIAGRAMS IN THE TEXT AND

TWO STAR CHARTS AT END.


‘Who is man, and what his place? Anxious asks the heart, perplext In this recklessness of space, Worlds with worlds thus intermixt: What has he, this atom creature, In the infinitude of Nature?’

F.T. Palgrave.


MAN’S PLACE IN THE UNIVERSE


CHAPTER I

EARLY IDEAS AS TO THE UNIVERSE AND ITS

RELATION TO MAN

When men attained to sufficient intelligence for speculations as to their own nature and that of the earth on which they lived, they must have been profoundly impressed by the nightly pageant of the starry heavens. The intense sparkling brilliancy of Sirius and Vega, the more massive and steady luminosity of Jupiter and Venus, the strange grouping of the brighter stars into constellations to which fantastic names indicating their resemblance to various animals or terrestrial objects seemed appropriate and were soon generally adopted, together with the apparently innumerable stars of less and less brilliancy scattered broadcast over the sky, many only being visible on the clearest nights and to the acutest vision, constituted altogether a scene of marvellous and impressive splendour of which it must have seemed almost impossible to attain any real knowledge, but which afforded an endless field for the imagination of the observer.

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