Conversations on the Plurality of Worlds

His name was Bernard Le Bovier De Fontenelle and his book, Entretiens sur la Pluralité des Mondes, (Conversations on the Plurality of Worlds) is a fascinating, though I suspect largely forgotten, bit of science history. Published in 1686, the book is remarkable, not so much for its literary merits as for the ultimate function its publication served. Conversations on the Plurality of Worlds holds the admirable distinction of being one of the first books of “popularized science” ever published, which is to say, a book of scientific ideas aimed directly at “the average reader” rather than natural philosophers. It became quite fashionable and in as much might be considered the Brief History of Time or Cosmos of it’s day. 

Now that the plurality of worlds is settled fact, the plurality of universes (and the underlying unity of all) is also becoming respectable. From slashdot:  an Oxford team led by Dr. David Deutsch has shown the Many Worlds does a good job of explaining the probabilistic nature of quantum outcomes:

Also, I’ve just read a newish pdf paper by Max Tegmark on the ‘Mathematical Universe Hypothesis’:

The Mathematical Universe Hypothesis is this: “Our external reality is a mathematical structure.” Tegmark quotes Wigner’s 1967 comment that “The enormous usefulness of mathematics in the natural sciences is something that borders on the mysterious,” and mentions that Glaileo thought so early on. The simplest explanation would be that the natural ssciences are ultimately an exploration of a wondrously articulated mathematical structure, containing self-aware entities: us. He says self-aware entities would sense that they were in a physical world. Well, I know I do, so there.

posted on 09.25 at 10:41 PM.

To follow-up on Mr. Buckner’s last point, just read a fine article in the Washington Post by Joel Achenbach, “What Makes Up My Mind?”

Just a crazy thought. Ha!

Very Respectfully,

posted on 09.26 at 02:34 PM.


posted on 09.26 at 04:43 PMJane

By the way, ‘Glaileo’ refers to Glaileo Glaileielie, the famous Itlaian astornomorer. He dicssovered the stellatites of Jiputer and once dorped a cannoliball off the Leering Twoer of Psia.

posted on 09.26 at 07:53 PM.

I own a little 1800 edition of this work that I picked up in the Quartier Latin a few years ago. Fontenelle’s work on oracles (translated by none other than Aphra Behn), meanwhile, is of especial interest to me, and probably will be featuring highly in my doctoral thesis. Excuse the vanity, but I made some scattered remarks on the “Pluralité” here.

Anyway, thanks for the links, and good to see BF getting some attention!

posted on 09.27 at 08:15 PMConrad Roth

I just looked over at vunex; yeh, that’s the good stuff. Book hunting in the Quartier Latin??? Why, I’d do that until I keeled over.

posted on 09.27 at 09:37 PM.

Sadly I think I would actually keel over—-the QL is *very* expensive, and I could only just afford the Fontenelle. (It was a choice between that and Condillac on logic, if I recall. The foldout swayed me.)

posted on 09.28 at 05:35 AMConrad Roth

@Tom & Joe: Thanks for the links. Reading them in combination gave me a weird feeling of deja vu. Have we done this all before?

@Conrad: Well, you don’t need Condillac to tell you that logically, a foldout beats no foldout every time!

I added your piece to the post proper. No vanity inferred. If it had been all about your love of a certain brand of mustache wax because of how very “jaunty” it made you look for your book shopping trips in the Quartier Latin, well… that would have been another story.

As an aside, when I first posted on Fontenelle there were no English translations available on the web (I ordered the book online and waited patiently) and there were precious little related images. Now, a few years later, there is plenty of material to sift through. (We can thank google books in large part.) So there has been some improvement and a bit more attention payed.

posted on 09.28 at 08:11 AMjmorrison

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