The Time-Ghost

DISCOVERING THE EARTH. By Gorge Parson. (Luce & Co., Boston.)

“TIS too so!

“What’s so?”

“Anything that wasn’t so before the war!”

“It ain’t so!”

“It ain’t so!”

“Anything that was so before the war!”

The foregoing brilliant snatch of conversation seems fairly to represent a certain conspicuous phase of the much vaunted modern mood. As for the doubtful grammar, why be a highbrow? Ain’t that the way you and me talks?

At first glance, this tendency would seem to be very discouraging to old-timers who unfortunately discovered the world when it was still all wrong and before it was made safe for democracy. But the necessary readjustment may be made with great ease and considerable precision.

In modernizing oneself it is best to begin with the ten commandments, supplying negatives where lacking and eliminating them wherever found. This new code will assure sophistication. Thereafter, one may employ the same simple process in revising all other matters, from science to art, with a pretty good prospect of being up-to-date in the main; though here and there, of course, some foolish old prejudices still await demolishment at the hands of our over-worked youths who, in addition to their iconoclastic duties, have to go about flaming all the time. So it happens that some things are still so that ain’t so, but not very many, for we have become shrewd indeed these last few years.

On the lower and more obvious levels of human interest this tendency toward contrariness can scarcely be questioned. But are we to suppose that a powerful social tendency of the sort can be limited to the lower levels of human interest? The late Dr. Small once remarked that “purpose is the variant of theory” — which is only a cryptic way of saying that the major theorizing of a given time in any field of inquiry will be conducted in keeping with the prevailing temper of that time; and Dr. Small would have maintained that this is quite as true in science as in any other field of theorizing. Men live more or less unconsciously by prevailing life-patterns, and the data they may have, or think they have, will be cleverly arranged somehow to correspond.

The new scientific attitude toward Darwinism, with its hopeful outlook upon endless “progress,” is a case in point. That sort of hope is hardly in keeping with our cynical sophistication. The fact that there seems to be sufficient data to justify the new view need not be surprising. There will always be data enough to support a subconsciously persuasive thesis. We humans are notoriously clever at seeing what we look for.

With the rise of physical science and the wane of the old humanism in scholarship, man has lost something of his old sense of dignity and importance. How much of our contemporary literature reflects this loss! How shall our writers portray humanity “realistically?” By focusing their attention upon the nasty and the sordid, of course!

It [?] that even [?] [?] bellum cosmogony must now be revised to harmonize with this decidedly less flattering conception of mankind; and in “The Discovery of the Earth,” we have the beginning of a proper post-war cosmogony such as might have been predicted. There is no intention here of presuming to belittle the work. Obviously it is the product of a fine mind and spirit, and a humble layman is willing to believe that it is scientifically sound, as cosmic theorizing may be. But surely the time-ghost looms large therein — and that is the point of these remarks.

A long while ago our earth was the center of the universe and man was the fine flower of creation. A little while ago man, though pitifully shrunken in his own estimation, was still living upon a planet of right smart significance in an august solar system, and his rather important planet had a faithful satellite of no mean proportions in attendance.

But things have changed again for the worse. Earth no longer has a servant. (Isn’t this a democratic universe?) As a matter of lamentable fact, earth never did have a servant. Also earth is no longer a major planet. It is only the Moon’s twin, and the nearest honest-to-goodness planet is Jupiter.

“The new concept when closely examined,” says the author, “will be found to have deep significance in several respects. In the first place, we cannot doubt that it will gradually exert a very general cultural influence, due to the realizetion that we inhabit a celestial body of secondary importance and not, as hitherto believed, one of the major planets. The net effect of all this will probably be beneficial, for with the shrinkage of the earth there should logically ensue a shrinkage of earthly vanity and pretense!”

Is not the time-ghost rather conspicuous in the passage just quoted? Note how the quantitative standard dominates the whole picture, with not a hint of quality. If man were living on Neptune, presumably, he would be very much more important. But even if that were so, look how big Betelgeuse is! And since Betelgeuse is so inconceivably big and man is so microscopically small — well, the case appears quite hopeless. And even if man were as large as Betelgeuse, how unthinkably bigger interstellar spaces are! No chance at all for man to be of any significance whatsoever.

But it occurs to a mere layman at this point to inquire if, by any chance. Betelgeuse, with all its bulk, has as yet achieved consciousness. And if not, may not the brain of a mouse be somehow more wonderful than that burly mass?

As a matter of fact, after all, does not consciousness create all the meanings that there are — even the meaning of Betelgeuse and the interstellar spaces, if they may be said to have any?

Perhaps men are greater than they realize; and perhaps in some future time our best minds may outlive the, present quantitative conception, seeking a very different direction of inquiry into the mystery.

And there are some who have reason for suspecting that human life may then be revealed as something more than even the epithet “immense” and of [?]