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Nature

DIALOGUE BETWEEN THE PHILOSOPHER AND NATURE


THE PHILOSOPHER:

Who are you, Nature? I live in you; for fifty years have I been seeking you, and I have not found you yet.

NATURE:

The ancient Egyptians, who lived, it is said, some twelve hundred years, made me the same reproach. They called me Isis; they put a great veil on my head, and they said that nobody could lift it.

THE PHILOSOPHER:

That is what makes me address myself to you. I have been able to measure some of your globes, know their paths, assign the laws of motion; but I have not been able to learn who you are.

Are you always active? are you always passive? did your elements arrange themselves, as water deposits itself on sand, oil on water, air on oil? have you a mind which directs all your operations, as councils are inspired as soon as they are assembled, although their members are sometimes ignoramuses? I pray you tell me the answer to your riddle.

NATURE:

I am the great everything. I know no more about it. I am not a mathematician; and everything is arranged in my world according to mathematical laws. Guess if you can how it is all done.

THE PHILOSOPHER:

Certainly, since your great everything does not know mathematics, and since all your laws are most profoundly geometrical, there must be an eternal geometer who directs you, a supreme intelligence who presides over your operations.

NATURE:

You are right; I am water, earth, fire, atmosphere, metal, mineral, stone, vegetable, animal. I feel indeed that there is in me an intelligence; you have an intelligence, you do not see it. I do not see mine either; I feel this invisible power; I cannot know it: why should you, who are but a small part of me, want to know what I do not know?

THE PHILOSOPHER:

We are curious. I want to know how being so crude in your mountains, in your deserts, in your seas, you appear nevertheless so industrious in your animals, in your vegetables?

NATURE:

My poor child do you want me to tell you the truth? It is that I have been given a name which does not suit me; my name is "Nature", and I am all art.

THE PHILOSOPHER:

That word upsets all my ideas. What! nature is only art?

NATURE:

Yes, without any doubt. Do you not know that there is an infinite art in those seas and those mountains that you find so crude? do you not know that all those waters gravitate towards the centre of the earth, and mount only by immutable laws; that those mountains which crown the earth are the immense reservoirs of the eternal snows which produce unceasingly those fountains, lakes and rivers without which my animal species and my vegetable species would perish? And as for what are called my animal kingdom, my vegetable kingdom and my mineral kingdom, you see here only three; learn that I have millions of kingdoms. But if you consider only the formation of an insect, of an ear of corn, of gold, of copper, everything will appear as marvels of art.

THE PHILOSOPHER:

It is true. The more I think about it, the more I see that you are only the art of I know not what most potent and industrious great being, who hides himself and who makes you appear. All reasoners since Thales, and probably long before him, have played at blind man's buff with you; they have said: "I have you!" and they had nothing. We all resemble Ixion; he thought he was kissing Juno, and all that he possessed was a cloud.

NATURE:

Since I am all that is, how can a being such as you, so small a part of myself, seize me? Be content, atoms my children, with seeing a few atoms that surround you, with drinking a few drops of my milk, with vegetating for a few moments on my breast, and with dying without having known your mother and your nurse.

THE PHILOSOPHER:

My dear mother, tell me something of why you exist, of why there is anything.

NATURE:

I will answer you as I have answered for so many centuries all those who have interrogated me about first principles: I KNOW NOTHING ABOUT THEM.

THE PHILOSOPHER:

Would not non-existence be better than this multitude of existences made in order to be continually dissolved, this crowd of animals born and reproduced in order to devour others and to be devoured, this crowd of sentient beings formed for so many painful sensations, that other crowd of intelligences which so rarely hear reason. What is the good of all that, Nature?

NATURE:

Oh! go and ask Him who made me.


Francois-Marie Arouet Voltaire