Part 5

Cartesian Cosmology

The whole whole chain of truths which I discovered would have gotten me into trouble.

I have ever remained firm in my original resolution to suppose no other principle than that of which I have recently availed myself in demonstrating the existence of God and of the soul, and to accept as true nothing that did not appear to me more clear and certain than the demonstrations of the geometers had formerly appeared;

I have also observed certain laws established in nature by God in such a manner, and of which he has impressed on our minds such notions, that after we have reflected sufficiently upon these, we cannot doubt that they are accurately observed in all that exists or takes place in the world and farther, by considering the concatenation of these laws, it appears to me that I have discovered many truths more useful and more important than all I had before learned, or even had expected to learn.

But because I have essayed to expound the chief of these discoveries in a treatise which certain considerations prevent me from publishing, I cannot make the results known more conveniently than by here giving a summary of the contents of this treatise.

It was my design to comprise in it all that, before I set myself to write it, I thought I knew of the nature of material objects.

I am like a painter who is unable to paint all the different faces of a solid body. So I select one of the chief, on which alone they make the light fall, and throwing the rest into the shade. I allow them to appear only in so far as they can be seen while looking at the principal one.


This is why I focused on light and then add something on:

  • the sun and the stars, since light almost wholly proceeds from them
  • the heavens since they transmit it
  • the planets, comets, and earth, since they reflect it
  • on all the bodies that are on earth, since they are either coloured, or transparent, or luminous
  • on man, since he is the spectator of these objects.

I then make a new thought experiment on how our world was created by God from chaos.

The greatest part of the matter of this chaos must, in accordance with these laws, arrange itself to make the heavens, the earth, some planets, comets, sun and fixed stars.

I explained:

  • the nature of light
  • how in an instant of time light traverses the immense spaces of the heavens
  • how from the planets and comets it is reflected towards the earth.

I respected the substance, the situation, the motions, and all the different qualities of these heavens and stars.

The Earth

I explained:

  • why the Earth’s matter tended exactly to its centre even if God had given no weight to such matter. -how with water and air on its surface, the disposition of the heavens and heavenly bodies, more especially of the moon, must cause a flow and ebb, like in all its circumstances to that observed in our seas, as also a certain current both of water and air from east to west, such as is likewise observed between the tropics;
  • how the mountains, seas, fountains, and rivers might naturally be formed in it, and the metals produced in the mines, and the plants grow in the fields and in general,
  • how all the bodies which are commonly denominated mixed or composite might be generated and, among other things in the discoveries alluded to inasmuch as besides the stars, I knew nothing except fire which produces light, I spared no pains to set forth all that pertains to its nature, – the manner of its production and support, and to explain how heat is sometimes found without light, and light without heat; to show how it can induce various colours upon different bodies and other diverse qualities;
  • how it reduces some to a liquid state and hardens others; how it can consume almost all bodies, or convert them into ashes and smoke
  • how from these ashes, by the mere intensity of its action, it forms glass
    • This transmutation of ashes into glass appeared to me as wonderful as any other in nature, I took a special pleasure in describing it.

I was not, however, disposed, from these circumstances, to conclude that this world had been created in the manner I described; for it is much more likely that God made it at the first such as it was to be.

God sustains the universe in the same way which he originally created it.

Although he had from the beginning given it chaos, he provided laws of nature to end up with the current universe.

it may be believed, without discredit to the miracle of creation, that, in this way alone, things purely material might, in course of time, have become such as we observe them at present

Their nature is much more easily conceived when they are beheld coming in this manner gradually into existence, than when they are only considered as produced at once in a finished and perfect state.


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