Cosmos: A Sketch of the Physical Description of the Universe: Volume 1 (Foundations of Natural History) Paperback – 12 May 1997
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A century and a half after its initial publication, the book remains a work of enduring value. Magnificently written, with an enduring message to convey Cosmos merits a place in the library of every person who wishes to be truly well educated in the history of the natural sciences.(Science Books and Films)
About the Author
Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859) embodied the enlightenment ideal as well as anyone in his age. Explorer, courtier, laboratory scientist, he built a lasting reputation on the effectiveness of his methods, the quality of his writings, and the strength of his friendships. Goethe, John C. Fremont, Samuel Morse, and Charles Lyell were among his colleagues. He practically founded the fields of meteorology, oceanography, and seismology. His influence in the United States was immense. As a scientist, he prompted academic leaders to strengthen curricula. As a geographer, he assisted in America's westward expansion. As an advisor of eminent men, he urged for the abolition of slavery and protection of American Indians. As an author, he inspired and informed a love of nature that persists to this day.
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He wrote in his Preface to this 1845 book, "Travels... could not fail to encourage the natural tendency of my mind toward a generalization of views, and to encourage me to attempt, in a special work, to treat of the knowledge which we at present possess, regarding the sidereal and terrestrial phenomena of the Cosmos in their empirical relations... The hitherto undefined idea of a physical geography has thus, by an extended and perhaps too boldly imagined plan, been comprehended under the idea of a physical description of the universe, embracing all created things in the regions of space and in the earth... I have endeavored to show... that a certain degree of scientific completeness in the treatment of individual facts is not wholly incompatible with a picturesque animation of style... I undertook... to deliver a course of lectures on the physical description of the universe... My lectures were given extemporaneously..." (Pg. 7-9)
He asserts, "Nature considered rationally, that is to say, submitted to the process of thought, is a unity in diversity of phenomena; a harmony, a blending together all created things, however dissimilar in form and attributes; one great whole... animated by the breath of life." (Pg. 24) He adds, "We may here trace the revelation of a bond of union, linking together the visible world and that higher spiritual world which escapes the grasp of the senses. The two become unconsciously blended together, developing in the mind of man... independently of the aid of observation, the first germ of a Philosophy of Nature." (Pg. 37)
He observes, "A philosophical study of nature strives ever to elevate itself above the narrow requirements of mere natural description, and does not consist... in the mere accumulation of isolated facts. The inquiring and active spirit of man must be suffered to pass from the present to the past, to conjecture all that can not yet be known with certainty, and still to dwell with pleasure on the ancient myths of geognosy [knowledge of the earth] which are presented to us under so many various forms." (Pg. 237)
He suggests, "the empirical domain of objective contemplation, and the delineation of our planet in its present condition, do nto include a consideration of the mysterious and insoluble problems of origin and existence. A cosmical history of our universe... has... necessarily no connection with the obscure domain embraced by a history of organisms... The natural tendency of the human mind involuntarily prompts us to follow the physical phenomena of the Earth, through all their varied series, until we reach the final stage of the morphological evolution of vegetable forms, and the self-determining powers of motion in animal organisms. And is it by these links that the geography of organic beings... is connected with the delineation of the inorganic phenomena of our terrestrial globe." (Pg. 339-341)
He concludes, "Thus deeply rooted in the innermost nature of man, and even enjoined upon him by his highest tendencies, the recognition of the bond of humanity becomes one of the noblest leading principles in the history of mankind." (Pg. 359)
This book will interest those studying the history of scientific thought.