Chapter 13

Instances of the Lamp


38 There are 5 classes of instances of the lamp, or of immediate information.

These assist the senses.

Every interpretation of nature sets out from the senses, and leads, by a regular fixed and well-established road, from the perceptions of the senses to those of the understanding (which are true notions and axioms), it necessarily follows, that in proportion as the representatives or ministerings of the senses are more abundant and accurate, everything else must be more easy and successful.

The five sets of instances of the lamp are:

  1. Those that strengthen, enlarge, and correct the immediate operations of the senses
  2. Those that reduce to the sphere of the senses such matters as are beyond it
  3. Those that indicate the continued process or series of such things and motions, as for the most part are only observed in their termination, or in periods
  4. Those that supply the absolute wants of the senses
  5. Those that excite their attention and observation, and at the same time limit the subtilty of things. We will now proceed to speak of them singly.

16. The instances of the door or gate

39 These assist the immediate action of the senses.

Sight holds the first rank among the senses, with regard to information, for which reason we must seek principally helps for that sense. These helps appear to be threefold, either to enable it to perceive objects not naturally seen, or to see them from a greater distance, or to see them more accurately and distinctly.

We have an example of the first (not to speak of spectacles and the like, which only correct and remove the infirmity[213] of a deficient sight, and therefore give no further information) in the lately invented microscopes, which exhibit the latent and invisible minutiæ of substances, and their hidden formation and motion, by wonderfully increasing their apparent magnitude. By their assistance we behold with astonishment the accurate form and outline of a flea, moss, and animalculæ, as well as their previously invisible color and motion. It is said, also, that an apparently straight line, drawn with a pen or pencil, is discovered by such a microscope to be very uneven and curved, because neither the motion of the hand, when assisted by a ruler, nor the impression of ink or color, are really regular, although the irregularities are so minute as not to be perceptible without the assistance of the microscope. Men have (as is usual in new and wonderful discoveries) added a superstitious remark, that the microscope sheds a lustre on the works of nature, and dishonor on those of art, which only means that the tissue of nature is much more delicate than that of art.

The microscope is only of use for minute objects, and Democritus, perhaps, if he had seen it, would have exulted in the thought of a means being discovered for seeing his atom, which he affirmed to be entirely invisible. But the inadequacy of these microscopes, for the observation of any but the most minute bodies, and even of those if parts of a larger body, destroys their utility; for if the invention could be extended to greater bodies, or the minute parts of greater bodies, so that a piece of cloth would appear like a net, and the latent minutiæ and irregularities of gems, liquids, urine, blood, wounds, and many other things could be rendered visible, the greatest advantage would, without doubt, be derived.

We have an instance of the second kind in the telescope, discovered by the wonderful exertions of Galileo; by the assistance of which a nearer intercourse may be opened (as by boats or vessels) between ourselves and the heavenly objects. For by its aid we are assured that the Milky Way is but a knot or constellation of small stars, clearly defined and separate, which the ancients only conjectured to be the case; whence it appears to be capable of demonstration, that the spaces of the planetary orbits (as they are termed) are not quite destitute of other stars, but that the heaven begins to glitter with stars before we arrive at the starry sphere, although they may be too small to be visible without the telescope. By the telescope, also, we can behold the revolutions of smaller stars round Jupiter, whence it may be conjectured that there are several centres of motion among the stars. By its assistance, also, the irregularity of light and shade on the moon’s surface is more clearly observed and determined, so as to allow of a sort of selenography.[136] By the telescope we see the spots in the sun, and other similar phenomena; all of which are most noble discoveries, as far as credit can be safely given to demonstrations of this nature, which are on this account very suspicious, namely, that experiment stops at these few, and nothing further has yet been discovered by the same method, among objects equally worthy of consideration.

We have instances of the third kind in measuring-rods, astrolabes, and the like, which do not enlarge, but correct and guide the sight. If there be other instances which assist[215] the other senses in their immediate and individual action, yet if they add nothing further to their information they are not apposite to our present purpose, and we have therefore said nothing of them.

17. Citing instances or invoking instances

40 These cite those things to appear, which have not yet appeared.

These reduce to the sphere of the senses objects which do not immediately fall within it.

Objects escape the senses either from their distance, or the intervention of other bodies, or because they are not calculated to make an impression upon the senses, or because they are not in sufficient quantity to strike the senses, or because there is not sufficient time for their acting upon the senses, or because the impression is too violent, or because the senses are previously filled and possessed by the object, so as to leave no room for any new motion. These remarks apply principally to sight, and next to touch, which two senses act extensively in giving information, and that too upon general objects, while the remaining three inform us only, as it were, by their immediate action, and as to specific objects.

There can be no reduction to the sphere of the senses in the first case, unless in the place of the object, which cannot be perceived on account of the distance, there be added or substituted some other object, which can excite and strike the sense from a greater distance, as in the communication of intelligence by fires, bells, and the like.

In the second case we effect this reduction by rendering those things which are concealed by the interposition of[216] other bodies, and which cannot easily be laid open, evident to the senses by means of that which lies at the surface, or proceeds from the interior; thus the state of the body is judged of by the pulse, urine, etc.

The third and fourth cases apply to many subjects, and the reduction to the sphere of the senses must be obtained from every quarter in the investigation of things. There are many examples. It is obvious that air, and spirit, and the like, whose whole substance is extremely rare and delicate, can neither be seen nor touched—a reduction, therefore, to the senses becomes necessary in every investigation relating to such bodies.

Let the required nature, therefore, be the action and motion of the spirit inclosed in tangible bodies; for every tangible body with which we are acquainted contains an invisible and intangible spirit, over which it is drawn, and which it seems to clothe. This spirit being emitted from a tangible substance, leaves the body contracted and dry; when retained, it softens and melts it; when neither wholly emitted nor retained, it models it, endows it with limbs, assimilates, manifests, organizes it, and the like. All these points are reduced to the sphere of the senses by manifest effects.

For in every tangible and inanimate body the inclosed spirit at first increases, and as it were feeds on the tangible parts which are most open and prepared for it; and when it has digested and modified them, and turned them into spirit, it escapes with them. This formation and increase of spirit is rendered sensible by the diminution of weight; for in every desiccation something is lost in quantity, not only of the spirit previously existing in the body, but of the body itself, which was previously tangible, and has[217] been recently changed, for the spirit itself has no weight. The departure or emission of spirit is rendered sensible in the rust of metals, and other putrefactions of a like nature, which stop before they arrive at the rudiments of life, which belong to the third species of process.[137] In compact bodies the spirit does not find pores and passages for its escape, and is therefore obliged to force out, and drive before it, the tangible parts also, which consequently protrude, whence arises rust and the like. The contraction of the tangible parts, occasioned by the emission of part of the spirit (whence arises desiccation), is rendered sensible by the increased hardness of the substance, and still more by the fissures, contractions, shrivelling, and folds of the bodies thus produced. For the parts of wood split and contract, skins become shrivelled, and not only that, but, if the spirit be emitted suddenly by the heat of the fire, become so hastily contracted as to twist and roll themselves up.

On the contrary, when the spirit is retained, and yet expanded and excited by heat or the like (which happens in solid and tenacious bodies), then the bodies are softened, as in hot iron; or flow, as in metals; or melt, as in gums, wax, and the like. The contrary effects of heat, therefore (hardening some substances and melting others), are easily reconciled,[138] because the spirit is emitted in the former, and[218] agitated and retained in the latter; the latter action is that of heat and the spirit, the former that of the tangible parts themselves, after the spirit’s emission.

But when the spirit is neither entirely retained nor emitted, but only strives and exercises itself, within its limits, and meets with tangible parts, which obey and readily follow it wherever it leads them, then follows the formation of an organic body, and of limbs, and the other vital actions of vegetables and animals. These are rendered sensible chiefly by diligent observation of the first beginnings, and rudiments or effects of life in animalculæ sprung from putrefaction, as in the eggs of ants, worms, mosses, frogs after rain, etc. Both a mild heat and a pliant substance, however, are necessary for the production of life, in order that the spirit may neither hastily escape, nor be restrained by the obstinacy of the parts, so as not to be able to bend and model them like wax.

Again, the difference of spirit which is important and of effect in many points (as unconnected spirit, branching spirit, branching and cellular spirit, the first of which is that of all inanimate substances, the second of vegetables, and the third of animals), is placed, as it were, before the eyes by many reducing instances.

Again, it is clear that the more refined tissue and conformation of things (though forming the whole body of visible or tangible objects) are neither visible nor tangible. Our information, therefore, must here also be derived from reduction to the sphere of the senses. But the most radical and primary difference of formation depends on the abundance or scarcity of matter within the same space or dimensions. For the other formations which regard the dissimilarity of the parts contained in the same body, and their[219] collocation and position, are secondary in comparison with the former.

Let the required nature then be the expansion or coherence of matter in different bodies, or the quantity of matter relative to the dimensions of each. For there is nothing in nature more true than the twofold proposition—that nothing proceeds from nothing and that nothing is reduced to nothing, but that the quantum, or sum total of matter, is constant, and is neither increased nor diminished. Nor is it less true, that out of this given quantity of matter, there is a greater or less quantity, contained within the same space or dimensions according to the difference of bodies; as, for instance, water contains more than air. So that if any one were to assert that a given content of water can be changed into an equal content of air, it is the same as if he were to assert that something can be reduced into nothing. On the contrary, if any one were to assert that a given content of air can be changed into an equal content of water, it is the same as if he were to assert that something can proceed from nothing. From this abundance or scarcity of matter are properly derived the notions of density and rarity, which are taken in various and promiscuous senses.

This third assertion may be considered as being also sufficiently certain; namely, that the greater or less quantity of matter in this or that body, may, by comparison, be reduced to calculation, and exact, or nearly exact, proportion. Thus, if one should say that there is such an accumulation of matter in a given quantity of gold, that it would require twenty-one times the quantity in dimension of spirits of wine, to make up the same quantity of matter, it would not be far from the truth.

The accumulation of matter, however, and its relative quantity, are rendered sensible by weight; for weight is proportionate to the quantity of matter, as regards the parts of a tangible substance, but spirit and its quantity of matter are not to be computed by weight, which spirit rather diminishes than augments.

We have made a tolerably accurate table of weight, in which we have selected the weights and size of all the metals, the principal minerals, stones, liquids, oils, and many other natural and artificial bodies: a very useful proceeding both as regards theory and practice, and which is capable of revealing many unexpected results. Nor is this of little consequence, that it serves to demonstrate that the whole range of the variety of tangible bodies with which we are acquainted (we mean tolerably close, and not spongy, hollow bodies, which are for a considerable part filled with air), does not exceed the ratio of one to twenty-one. So limited is nature, or at least that part of it to which we are most habituated.

We have also thought it deserving our industry, to try if we could arrive at the ratio of intangible or pneumatic bodies to tangible bodies, which we attempted by the following contrivance. We took a vial capable of containing about an ounce, using a small vessel in order to effect the subsequent evaporation with less heat. We filled this vial, almost to the neck, with spirits of wine, selecting it as the tangible body which, by our table, was the rarest, and contained a less quantity of matter in a given space than all other tangible bodies which are compact and not hollow.

Then we noted exactly the weight of the liquid and vial. We next took a bladder, containing about two pints, and squeezed all the air out of it, as completely as possible, and[221] until the sides of the bladder met. We first, however, rubbed the bladder gently with oil, so as to make it air-tight, by closing its pores with the oil.

We tied the bladder tightly round the mouth of the vial, which we had inserted in it, and with a piece of waxed thread to make it fit better and more tightly, and then placed the vial on some hot coals in a brazier. The vapor or steam of the spirit, dilated and become aëriform by the heat, gradually swelled out the bladder, and stretched it in every direction like a sail. As soon as that was accomplished, we removed the vial from the fire and placed it on a carpet, that it might not be cracked by the cold; we also pricked the bladder immediately, that the steam might not return to a liquid state by the cessation of heat, and confound the proportions.

We then removed the bladder, and again took the weight of the spirit which remained; and so calculated the quantity which had been converted into vapor, or an aëriform shape, and then examined how much space had been occupied by the body in its form of spirits of wine in the vial, and how much, on the other hand, had been occupied by it in its aëriform shape in the bladder, and subtracted the results; from which it was clear that the body, thus converted and changed, acquired an expansion of one hundred times beyond its former bulk.

Again, let the required nature be heat or cold, of such a degree as not to be sensible from its weakness. They are rendered sensible by the thermometer, as we described it above;[139] for the cold and heat are not actually perceived by the touch, but heat expands and cold contracts the air. Nor, again, is that expansion or contraction of the air in[222] itself visible, but the air when expanded depresses the water, and when contracted raises it, which is the first reduction to sight.

Again, let the required nature be the mixture of bodies; namely, how much aqueous, oleaginous or spirituous, ashy or salt parts they contain; or, as a particular example, how much butter, cheese, and whey there is in milk, and the like. These things are rendered sensible by artificial and skilful separations in tangible substances; and the nature of the spirit in them, though not immediately perceptible, is nevertheless discovered by the various motions and efforts of bodies.

In this branch men have labored hard in distillations and artificial separations, but with little more success than in their other experiments now in use; their methods being mere guesses and blind attempts, and more industrious than intelligent; and what is worst of all, without any imitation or rivalry of nature, but rather by violent heats and too energetic agents, to the destruction of any delicate conformation, in which principally consist the hidden virtues and sympathies.

Nor do men in these separations ever attend to or observe what we have before pointed out; namely, that in attacking bodies by fire, or other methods, many qualities are superinduced by the fire itself, and the other bodies used to effect the separation, which were not originally in the compound. Hence arise most extraordinary fallacies; for the mass of vapor which is emitted from water by fire, for instance, did not exist as vapor or air in the water, but is chiefly created by the expansion of the water by the heat of the fire.

So, in general, all delicate experiments on natural or artificial bodies, by which the genuine are distinguished from the adulterated, and the better from the more common,[223] should be referred to this division; for they bring that which is not the object of the senses within their sphere. They are therefore to be everywhere diligently sought after.

With regard to the fifth cause of objects escaping our senses, it is clear that the action of the sense takes place by motion, and this motion is time. If, therefore, the motion of any body be either so slow or so swift as not to be proportioned to the necessary momentum which operates on the senses, the object is not perceived at all; as in the motion of the hour hand, and that, again, of a musket-ball. The motion which is imperceptible by the senses from its slowness, is readily and usually rendered sensible by the accumulation of motion; that which is imperceptible from its velocity, has not as yet been well measured; it is necessary, however, that this should be done in some cases, with a view to a proper investigation of nature.

The sixth case, where the sense is impeded by the power of the object, admits of a reduction to the sensible sphere, either by removing the object to a greater distance, or by deadening its effects by the interposition of a medium, which may weaken and not destroy the object; or by the admission of its reflection where the direct impression is too strong, as that of the sun in a basin of water.

The seventh case, where the senses are so overcharged with the object as to leave no further room, scarcely occurs except in the smell or taste, and is not of much consequence as regards our present subject. Let what we have said, therefore, suffice with regard to the reduction to the sensible sphere of objects not naturally within its compass.

Sometimes, however, this reduction is not extended to the senses of man, but to those of some other animal, whose senses, in some points, exceed those of man; as (with regard[224] to some scents) to that of the dog, and with regard to light existing imperceptibly in the air, when not illuminated from any extraneous source, to the sense of the cat, the owl, and other animals which see by night.

Telesius observed that there appears to be an original portion of light even in the air itself,[140] although but slight and meagre, and of no use for the most part to the eyes of men, and those of the generality of animals; because those animals to whose senses this light is proportioned can see by night, which does not, in all probability, proceed from their seeing either without light or by any internal light.

Here, too, we would observe, that we at present discuss only the wants of the senses, and their remedies; for their deceptions must be referred to the inquiries appropriated to the senses, and sensible objects; except that important deception, which makes them define objects in their relation to man, and not in their relation to the universe, and which is only corrected by universal reasoning and philosophy.[141]

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