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Friday, 18 December 2009

Multiverse (Blanqui: L'éternité par les astres)


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The Pleiades: open cluster of stars in the constellation Taurus: images from Schmitt Telescope, Palomar Observatory

(Blanqui: L'éternité par les astres)

The entire universe is composed of stellar systems. In order to create them nature has only one hundred simple bodies at its disposal. Despite the prodigious profit it knows how to make from its resources, and the incalculable number of combinations these allow its fecundity, the result is necessarily a finite number, like that of the elements themselves. And in order to fill the entire expanse nature must infinitely repeat each of its original or generic combinations.

Every star, whatever it might be, thus exists in infinite number in time and space, not only in one of its aspects, but as it is found in every second of its duration, from birth until death. All the beings spread across its surface, big or little, animate or inanimate, share in this privilege of perennity.


Multiverse (cyclic progressions of the universe): image by KronicTOOL, 2009

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The sun, as seen from the surface of earth through a camera lens: photo by Lykaestria, 2005

The earth is one of these stars. Every human being is thus eternal in every second of its existence. What I write now in a cell in the fort of Taureau I wrote and will write under the same circumstances for all of eternity, on a table, with a pen, wearing clothing. And so for all.

One after another all these earths are submerged in renovatory flames, to be re-born there and to fall into them again, the monotonous flowing of an hourglass that eternally turns and empties itself. It is something new that is always old; something old that is always new.


Talking it over the next morning he told me that he had had many visions lately — he had seen the figure of himself which met him as he walked on the terrace & said to him — "How long do you mean to be content" — No very terrific words & certainly not prophetic of what has occurred. But Shelley had often seen these figures when ill; but the strangest thing is that Mrs Williams saw him. Now Jane, though a woman of sensibility, has not much imagination & is not in the slightest degree nervous — neither in dreams or otherwise. She was standing one day, the day before I was taken ill, at a window that looked on the Terrace with Trelawny — it was day — she saw as she thought Shelley pass by the window, as he often was then, without a coat or jacket — he passed again — now as he passed both times the same way — and as from the side towards which he went each time there was no way to get back except past the window again (except over a wall twenty feet from the ground) she was struck at seeing him pass twice thus & looked out & seeing him no more she cried — "Good God can Shelley have leapt from the wall? Where can he be gone?" Shelley, said Trelawny — "No Shelley has past — What do you mean?" Trelawny says that she trembled exceedingly when she heard this & it proved indeed that Shelley had never been on the terrace & was far off at the time she saw him.

(The Letters of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley)

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Betelgeuse (Alpha Orionis), red supergiant: Hubble Telescope image (NASA/ESA)

Those curious about extra-terrestrial life will nevertheless smile at a mathematical conclusion that grants them not only immortality but eternity. The number of our doubles is infinite in time and space. In all conscience, we can hardly ask for more. These doubles are of flesh and blood, or in pants and coats, in crinoline and chignon. These aren’t phantoms: they are the now eternalized.

There is nevertheless a great defect: there is, alas, no progress! No, these are vulgar re-editions, repetitions. As it is with editions of past worlds, so it is with those of future worlds. Only the chapter of bifurcations remains open to hope. Never forget that all we could have been here, we are somewhere else.


Two days after their arrival there, Mr. Donne was left alone, in that room in which Sir Robert, and he, and some other friends had dined together. To this place Sir Robert returned within half an hour; and, as he left, so he found Mr. Donne alone; but, in such ecstacy, and so altered as to his looks, as amazed Sir Robert to behold him in so much that he earnestly desired Mr. Donne to declare what had befallen him in the short time of his absence? to which, Mr. Donne was not able to make a present answer: but, after a long and perplext pause, did at last say, I have seen a dreadful Vision since I saw you: I have seen my dear wife pass twice by me through this room, with her hair hanging about her shoulders, and a dead child in her arms: this, I have seen since I saw you. To which, Sir Robert: Sure Sir, you have slept since I saw you; and, this is the result of some melancholy dream, which I desire you to forget, for you are now awake. To which Mr. Donnes reply was: I cannot be surer that I now live, then that I have not slept since I saw you: and am, as sure, that at her second appearing, she stopped, looked me in the face, and vanished.

(Izaak Walton: Life of Dr. John Donne)

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White dwarf star in orbit around Sirius: artist's impression: G. Bacon (NASA/ESA)

Progress here is only for our nephews. They are luckier than us. All the beautiful things that our globe will see our future descendants have already seen, see now, and will always see in the form of doubles who preceded them and who follow them. Children of a better humanity, they have already scoffed at us and mocked us on dead earths, passing there after us. From living earths from which we have disappeared they continue to condemn us; and on earths to be born, they will forever pursue us with their contempt.

They and we, as well as all the guests of our planet, are born over again as prisoners of the moment and place that destiny assigns us in its series of avatars. Our perennity is an appendix of its perennity. We are but partial phenomena of its resurrections. Men of the 19th Century, the hour of our apparition is forever fixed, and we are returned always the same, at best with the possibility of happy variants. There is nothing much there to satisfy the thirst for what is better. What then is to be done? I haven’t sought my happiness; I have sought after truth. You will find here neither a revelation nor a prophet, but a simple deduction from the spectral analysis and cosmogony of Laplace. These two discoveries make us eternal. Is this a godsend? We should profit from it. Is it a mystification? We should resign ourselves to it.

A dream or illusion had haunted Lincoln at times through the winter. On the evening of his election he had thrown himself on one of the haircloth sofas at home, just after the first telegrams of November 7 had told him he was elected President, and looking into a bureau mirror across the room he saw himself full length, but with two faces. It bothered him; he got up; the illusion vanished; but when he lay down again there in the glass again were two faces, one paler than the other. He got up again, mixed in the election excitement, forgot about it; but it came back, and haunted him. He told his wife about it; she worried too. A few days later he tried it once more and the illusion of the two faces again registered to his eyes. But that was the last; the ghost since then wouldn't come back, he told his wife, who said it was a sign he would be elected to a second term, and the death pallor of one face meant he wouldn't live through his second term.

(Carl Sandburg: Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years)

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Crab Nebula: mosaic image taken by Hubble Telescope (NASA)

But isn’t it a consolation to know ourselves to constantly be, on millions of planets, in the company of our beloved, who is today naught but a memory? Is it another, on the other hand, to think that we have tasted and will eternally taste this happiness in the shape of a double, of millions of doubles! Yet this is what we are. For many of the small minded this happiness through substitutes is somewhat lacking in rapture. They would prefer three or four supplementary years of the current edition to all the duplicates of the infinite. In our century of disillusionment and skepticism we are keen at clinging to things.

But deep down this eternity of man through the stars is melancholy, and sadder still this sequestration of brother-worlds through the barrier of space. So many identical populations that pass each other without suspecting their mutual existence! But yes! It has finally been discovered at the end of the 19th Century. But who will believe it?

Amid all this pressure and confusion I could not forego seeing Frederica once more. Those were painful days, the memory of which has not remained with me. When I reached her my hand from my horse, the tears stood in her eyes; and I felt very uneasy. I now rode along the foot-path toward Drusenheim, and here one of the most singular forebodings took possession of me. I saw, not with the eyes of the body, but with those of the mind, my own figure coming toward me, on horseback, and on the same road, attired in a dress which I had never worn, — it was pike-gray, with somewhat of gold. As soon as I shook myself out of this dream, the figure had entirely disappeared. It is strange, however, that, eight years afterward, I found myself on the very road, to pay one more visit to Frederica, in the dress of which I had dreamed, and which I wore, not from choice, but by accident. However, it may be with matters of this kind generally, this strange illusion in some measure calmed me at the moment of parting. The pain of quitting for ever noble Alsace, with all I had gained in it, was softened; and, having at last escaped the excitement of a farewell, I, on a peaceful and quiet journey, pretty well regained my self-possession.

(The Autobiography of Wolfgang von Goethe)

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Mira, oscillating red giant : Margarita Karovska, 1997 (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics/NASA)

And in any event, up till now the past represented barbarism to us, and the future signified progress, science, happiness, illusion! This past has seen brilliant civilizations disappear without leaving a trace on all our double-worlds; and they will disappear without leaving anymore of them. On millions of earths the future will see the ignorance, stupidity, and cruelty of our former ages.

At the present time the entire life of our planet, from birth until death, is being detailed day by day with all its crimes and misfortunes on a myriad of brother-stars. What we call progress is imprisoned on every earth, and fades away with it. Always and everywhere in the terrestrial field the same drama, the same décor; on the same limited stage a boisterous humanity, infatuated with its greatness, believing itself to be the universe, and living in its prison as if it were immense spaces, only to soon fall along with the globe that carried — with the greatest disdain — the burden of its pride. The same monotony, the same immobility on foreign stars. The universe repeats itself endlessly and paws the ground in place. Eternity infinitely and imperturbably acts out the same performance.

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Level II Multiverse ("Bubble Universes"): original image by K123456789y, 2006; vectorisation by Lokal Profit, 2008


The reflection nebula NGC 1999 illuminated by V380 Orionis (NASA)

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Louis Auguste Blanqui, L'éternité par les astres, Librairie Germer Bailliére, 1872, Paris; trans. Mitch Abidor for marxists. org (with variants).



Thanks! -- stars, signs, ghosts, Shelley, Donne, Lincoln, Goethe -- what a morning. The "signless cloud" below might be 'connected'?


red-orange of cloud above plane of black
trees, red-tailed hawk calling on branch
in foreground, sound of waves in channel

this first drawn of the two,
clarified place each

signless cloud, concealment,
does not show itself

silver of sunlight reflected in channel,
white cloud in pale blue sky on horizon

gamefaced said...

TC said...

Here is g's pertinent link to eternity road.

TC said...



signless cloud, concealment,
does not show itself
this side, on the other does

this side of street

in how many universes

Phanero Noemikon said...

haircloth sofa!

this the universe, eternity, as..

. said...

Humbling Tom. I'll take that 'consolation'.

u.v.ray. said...

I think of the words of John Glenn:

"As I hurtled through space I couldn't stop thinking... every part of this craft has been supplied by the lowest bidder."

Forgive me, I am but a simple man.

I only dropped by to wish you a lovely Christmas, Tom. I trust you'll spend it in the warmth of your family.

Bob Arnold / Longhouse said...

Just lovely Tom, and I'm still back a day ago in your Thursday report hiking that Bulgarian forest path (quite like Vermont)

and now your cosmic mini-anthology for Friday

expanding the reaches

~otto~ said...

Still wrapping my head around this. A delight.

"... as it is found in every second of its duration, from birth until death" with, perhaps, the whole in every part.

"Never forget that all we could have been here, we are somewhere else." This rings true and quite sad.

Love the interplay between the excerpts and the thoughts on the stars and eternity.

TC said...

Blanqui was a repeatedly-defeated revolutionary who refused to give up. He wrote this text in prison, a tired old man. He believed deeply in eternal recurrence. Given his knockabout life, full of violent incident beginning with a bad injury suffered in a street fight as a young man, it is a minor wonder that he was able to sustain his belief that it was all bound to happen over again, infinite times, in infinite worlds; or then again, maybe not; depending.

The suspense must have been -- must be? -- awful, waiting to find out.

How remarkable the sustaining power of human delusion. Strangely heroic, when one thinks of it.

Reflecting on this story, one imagines the universe of Blanqui's private experience, or for that matter of anyone's private experience -- a bit of wildly generalizing extrapolation, but after all, what else is the internet for? -- as a haircloth sofa wrapped around one's head in eternity.

The latest developments in theoretical quantum physics would appear to support this hypothesis. Or then again, maybe not.

Experiences of bilocation ("doubles") seem to be more common that one might suppose. Not only famous persons have had such experiences. But of course history tends to record the experiences of those who are famous, rather than of those who are not. Perhaps this is merely another way in which the latter should be thought of as fortunate (whether they think of themselves so or not).

TC said...

... and as it's the make-a-wish season, a Joyeux Noël to old father Blanqui:

Don't Let It Happen Again

Bob Arnold / Longhouse said...

Posted in Vermont & California:

Yes, Tom! I saw the small lights of your ship passing last night through ice-crystals, 15 below here, so I hope you both were warm in your nest. I decided to take up this from Thomas Berry and read it to you as you went by:

"So the question is, as G.K. Chesterton once said, how to be sufficiently dissatisfied with the situation in order to change it, and how to be sufficiently satisfied to think that it can be changed, to be motivated to change — that is, how to reject something and create something at the same time."



Yes, "morning / jackhammers / this side of street / in how many universes" . . . .

Zephirine said...

Doppelganger experiences are not all that common, I think, but dreams coming true and déjà vu experiences are frequent, try asking any group of people and usually somebody will come up with an example from their own experience.

Although it sort of (possibly) explains these phenomena, I find the idea of multiple universes more frustrating than anything else.

Fascinating piece, Tom, it made me think of this.

TC said...


That remarkable Browning poem: was ever memory quite so honestly and unromantically seen as quite so depleted in its uses for poetry? (Though of course Browning DID get this poem out of his memory failure, a clever having of your cake and eating it too when you think of it.)

How accurate that is really. In one's curmudgeonly moods one can't help suspecting a good half of the rapturous and inspiring "evocative" memories one finds in poems of being, if not entirely invented, then at least helped along a bit by the convenience of the "poetic occasion".

Browning is said to have originally reacted with astonishment and awe when meeting the man who had met Shelley. The man is said to have then laughed at him for this reaction.

"Well, I forget the rest."

One presumes the figure in question was "THE" Shelley rather than one of an endless collection of knock-offs, maddeningly escaping over the garden wall.

Yes, I'm more of a single-universe fellow also. Betraying one's age in that respect, may hap. A day or two after doing up the post I caught out of the corner of my eye somewhere a fleeting glimpse of an advert for an animated television show for kids. The episode being advertised was titled "Multiverse". I thought, uh-oh...

aditya said...

Fantastic thoughts there, Tom. Future holds the key. Wait, shall we?

TC said...

No one I'd rather have a drive around the Multiverse with than a terrific poet like you, Aditya--better than any Kerouackian roadtrip that would be--but I don't know that I'll have the time.

In any case, I will leave the keys to you. Send me a postcard from beyond the event horizon. (Or have one of your doubles do it...)