Zetetic Astronomy, by 'Parallax' (pseud. Samuel Birley Rowbotham), , at sacred-texts.com
THE term Zetetic is derived from the Greek verb Zeteo; which means to search, or examine; to proceed only by inquiry; to take nothing for granted, but to trace phenomena to their immediate and demonstrable causes. It is here used in contradistinction from the word "theoretic," the meaning of which is, speculative--imaginary--not tangible,--scheming, but not proving.
None can doubt that by making special experiments, and collecting manifest and undeniable facts, arranging them in logical order, and observing what is naturally and fairly deducible therefrom, the result must be more consistent and satisfactory than the contrary method of framing a theory or system--assuming the existence and operation of causes of which there is no direct and practical evidence, and which is only claimed to be "admitted for the sake of argument," and for the purpose of giving an apparent and plausible, but not necessarily truthful explanation of phenomena. All theories are of this character. "Supposing, instead of inquiring, imagining systems instead of learning from observation and experience the true constitution of things. Speculative men, by the force of genius may
invent systems that will perhaps be greatly admired for a time; these, however, are phantoms which the force of truth will sooner or later dispel; and while we are pleased with the deceit, true philosophy with all the arts and improvements that depend upon it, suffers. The real state of things escapes our observation; or, if it presents itself to us, we are apt either to reject it wholly as fiction, or, by new efforts of a vain ingenuity to interweave it with our own conceits, and labour to make it tally with our favourite schemes. Thus, by blending together parts so ill-suited, the whole comes forth an absurd composition of truth and error. * * * These have not done near so much harm as that pride and ambition which has led philosophers to think it beneath them to offer anything less to the world than a complete and finished system of Nature; and, in order to obtain this at once, to take the liberty of inventing certain principles and hypotheses from which they pretend to explain all her mysteries."
"Theories are things of uncertain mode. They depend, in a great measure, upon the humour and caprice of an age, which is sometimes in love with one, and sometimes with another."
The system of Copernicus was admitted by its author to be merely an assumption, temporary and incapable of demonstration. The following are his words:--"It is not necessary that hypotheses should be true, or even probable; it is sufficient that they lead to results of calculation which agree with calculation. * * * Neither let anyone, so far as hypotheses are concerned, expect anything certain from astronomy, since that science can afford nothing of
the kind, lest, in case he should adopt for truth, things feigned for another purpose, he should leave this science more foolish than he came. * * * The hypothesis of the terrestrial motion was nothing but an hypothesis, valuable only so far as it explained phenomena, and not considered with reference to absolute truth or falsehood."
The Newtonian and all other "views" and "systems" have the same general character as the "hypothesis of the terrestrial motion," framed by Copernicus. The foundations or premises are always unproved; no proof is ever attempted; the necessity for it is denied; it is considered sufficient that the assumptions seem to explain the phenomena selected. In this way it is that theory supplants theory, and system gives way to system, often in rapid succession, as one failure after another compels opinions to change. Until the practice of theorising is universally relinquished, philosophy will continue to be looked upon by the bulk of mankind as a vain and mumbling pretension, antagonistic to the highest aspirations of humanity. Let there be adopted a true and practical free-thought method, with sequence as the only test of truth and consistency, and the philosopher may become the Priest of Science and the real benefactor of his species. "Honesty of thought is to look truth in the face, not in the side face, but in the full front; not merely to look at truth when found, but to seek it till found. There must be no tampering with conviction, no hedging or mental prevarication; no making 'the wish father to the thought;' no fearing to arrive at a particular result. To think honestly, then, is to think freely; freedom and honesty of thought
are truly but interchangeable terms. For how can he think honestly, who dreads his being landed in this or that conclusion? Such an one has already predetermined in his heart how he shall think, and what he shall believe. Perfect truth, like perfect love, casteth out fear."
Let the method of simple inquiry--the "Zetetic" process be exclusively adopted--experiments tried and facts collected--not such only as corroborate an already existing state of mind, but of every kind and form bearing on the subject, before a conclusion is drawn, or a conviction affirmed.
"Nature speaks to us in a peculiar language; in the language of phenomena. She answers at all times the questions which are put to her; and such questions are experiments."
"Nature lies before us as a panorama; let us explore and find delight, she puts questions to us, and we may also question her; the answers may ofttimes be hard to spell, but no dreaded sphinx shall interfere when human wisdom falters."
We have an excellent example of a "Zetetic" process in an arithmetical operation, more especially so in what is called the "Golden Rule," or the "Rule of Three." If a hundredweight of any article costs a given sum, what will some other weight, less or more, be worth? The separate figures may be considered as the elements or facts in the inquiry; the placing and working of them as the logical arrangement of the evidence; and the quotient, or answer, as the fair and natural deduction,--the unavoidable or necessitated verdict. Hence, in every arithmetical or
[paragraph continues] "Zetetic" process, the conclusion arrived at is essentially a quotient; which, if the details are correctly worked, must of necessity be true, and beyond the reach or power of contradiction.
We have another example of the "Zetetic" process in our Courts of Justice. A prisoner is placed at the bar; evidence for and against him is demanded: when advanced it is carefully arranged and patiently considered. It is then presented to the Jury for solemn reconsideration, and whatever verdict is given, it is advanced as the unavoidable conclusion necessitated by the whole of the evidence. In trials, for justice, society would not tolerate any other procedure. Assumption of guilt, and prohibition of all evidence to the contrary, is a practice not to be found among any of the civilised nations of the earth--scarcely indeed, among savages and barbarians; and yet assumption of premises, and selection of evidence to corroborate assumptions, is everywhere and upon all subjects the practice of theoretical philosophers!
The "Zetetic" process is also the most natural method of investigation. Nature herself always teaches it; it is her own continual suggestion; children invariably seek information by asking questions, by earnestly inquiring from those around them. Fearlessly, anxiously, and without the slightest regard to consequences, question after question, in rapid and exciting succession, will often proceed from a child, until the most profound in learning and philosophy, will feel puzzled to reply; and often the searching cross-examinations of a mere natural tyro, can only be brought to an end by an order to retire--to bed
[paragraph continues] --to school--to play--to anywhere--rather than that the fiery "Zetetic" ordeal shall be continued.
If then both Nature and justice, as well as the common sense and practical experience of mankind demand, and will not be content with less or other than the "Zetetic" process, why is it ignored and constantly violated by the learned in philosophy? What right have they to begin their disquisitions with fanciful data, and then to demand that, to these all surrounding phenomena be moulded. As private individuals they have, of course, a right to "do as they like with their own;" but as authors and public teachers their unnatural efforts are immeasurably pernicious. Like a poor animal tied to a stake in the centre of a meadow, where it can only feed in a limited circle, the theoretical philosopher is tethered to his premises, enslaved by his own assumptions, and however great his talent, his influence, his opportunities, he can only rob his fellow men of their intellectual freedom and independence, and convert them into slaves like him-self. In this respect astronomical science is especially faulty. It assumes the existence of certain data; it then applies these data to the explanation of certain phenomena. If the solution seems plausible it is considered that the data may be looked upon as proved--demonstrated by the apparently satisfactory explanation they have afforded. Facts, and explanations of a different character, are put aside as unworthy of regard; since that which is already assumed seems to explain matters, there need be no further concern. Guided by this principle, the secretary of the Royal Astronomical Society (Professor De Morgan, of
[paragraph continues] Trinity College, Cambridge), reviewing a paper by the author, in the Athenæum, for March 25th, 1865, says: "The evidence that the earth is round is but cumulative and circumstantial; scores of phenomena ask, separately and independently, what other explanation can be imagined except the sphericity of the earth?" It is thus candidly admitted that there is no direct and positive evidence that the earth is round, that it is only "imagined" or assumed to be so in order to afford an explanation of "scores of phenomena." This is precisely the language of Copernicus, of Newton, and of all astronomers who have laboured to prove the rotundity of the earth. It is pitiful in the extreme that after so many ages of almost unopposed indulgence, philosophers instead of beginning to seek, before everything else, the true constitution of the physical world, are still to be seen labouring only to frame hypotheses, and to reconcile phenomena with imaginary and ever-shifting foundations. Their labour is simply to repeat and perpetuate the self-deception of their predecessors. Surely the day is not far distant when the very complications which their numerous theories have created, will startle them into wakefulness, and convince them that for long ages past they have but been idly dreaming! Time wasted, energies thrown away, truth obscured, and falsehood rampant, constitute a charge so grave that coming generations will look upon them as the bitterest enemies of civilisation, the heaviest drags on the wheels of progress, and the most offensive embodiment of frivolity, pride of learning, and canting formality; worse than this--by their position, their standing in the front ranks of
learning, they deceive the public. They appear to represent a solid phalanx of truth and wisdom, when in reality they are but as the flimsy ice of an hour's induration--all surface, without substance, or depth, or reliability, or power to save from danger and ultimate destruction.
Let the practice of theorising be abandoned as one oppressive to the reasoning powers, fatal to the full development of truth, and, in every sense, inimical to the solid progress of sound philosophy.
If, to ascertain the true figure and condition of the earth, we adopt the "Zetetic" process, which truly is the only one sufficiently reliable, we shall find that instead of its being a globe--one of an infinite number of worlds moving on axes and in an orbit round the sun, it is the directly contrary--a Plane, without diurnal or progressive motion, and unaccompanied by anything in the firmament analogous to itself; or, in other words, that it is the only known material world.