You ask whether, given a choice, I would put more resources into space or AI. My answer is that either choice would be stupid. Politicians always want to make such choices too soon, because they imagine they can pick winners. Usually they pick losers. The only way to improve the chances for finding winners is to keep all the choices open and try them all. That is particularly true for space and AI, which are not really competing with each other. They are done by different kinds of people in different kinds of enterprise. Both can and should be supported. It would be totally stupid to starve one and over-feed the other.
You want a physicist to speak at your funeral. You want the physicist to talk to your grieving family about the conservation of energy, so they will understand that your energy has not died. You want the physicist to remind your sobbing mother about the first law of thermodynamics; that no energy gets created in the universe, and none is destroyed. You want your mother to know that all your energy, every vibration, every Btu of heat, every wave of every particle that was her beloved child remains with her in this world. You want the physicist to tell your weeping father that amid energies of the cosmos, you gave as good as you got.
And at one point you'd hope that the physicist would step down from the pulpit and walk to your brokenhearted spouse there in the pew and tell him that all the photons that ever bounced off your face, all the particles whose paths were interrupted by your smile, by the touch of your hair, hundreds of trillions of particles, have raced off like children, their ways forever changed by you. And as your widow rocks in the arms of a loving family, may the physicist let her know that all the photons that bounced from you were gathered in the particle detectors that are her eyes, that those photons created within her constellations of electromagnetically charged neurons whose energy will go on forever.
And the physicist will remind the congregation of how much of all our energy is given off as heat. There may be a few fanning themselves with their programs as he says it. And he will tell them that the warmth that flowed through you in life is still here, still part of all that we are, even as we who mourn continue the heat of our own lives.
And you'll want the physicist to explain to those who loved you that they need not have faith; indeed, they should not have faith. Let them know that they can measure, that scientists have measured precisely the conservation of energy and found it accurate, verifiable and consistent across space and time. You can hope your family will examine the evidence and satisfy themselves that the science is sound and that they'll be comforted to know your energy's still around. According to the law of the conservation of energy, not a bit of you is gone; you're just less orderly. Amen.
The organic perfectibility or deterioration of the classes of the vegetable, or species of the animal kingdom, may be regarded as one of the general laws of nature.
This law extends itself to the human race; and it cannot be doubted that the progress of the sanative art, that the use of more wholesome food and more comfortable habitations, that a mode of life which shall develope the physical powers by exercise, without at the same time impairing them by excess; in fine, that the destruction of the two most active causes of deterioration, penury and wretchedness on the one hand, and enormous wealth on the other, must necessarily tend to prolong the common duration of man’s existence, and secure him a more constant health and a more robust constitution. It is manifest that the improvement of the practice of medicine, become more efficacious in consequence of the progress of reason and the social order, must in the end put a period to transmissible or contagious disorders, as well to those general maladies resulting from climate, aliments, and the nature of certain occupations. Nor would it be difficult to prove that this hope might be extended to almost every other malady, of which it is probable we shall hereafter discover the most remote causes. Would it even be absurd to suppose this quality of melioration in the human species as susceptible of an indefinate advancement; to suppose that a period must one day arrive when death will be nothing more than the effect either of extraordinary accidents, or of the slow and gradual decay of the vital powers; and that the duration of the middle space, of the interval between the birth of man and this decay, will itself have no assignable limit? Certainly man will not become immortal; but may not the distance between the moment in which he draws his first breath, and the common term when, in the course of nature, without malady or accident, he finds it impossible any longer to exist, be necessarily protracted? As we are now speaking of a progress that is capable of being represented with precision, by numerical quantities or by lines, we shall embrace the opportunity of explaining the two meanings that may be affixed to the word indefinite.
The progress of the sciences secures the progress of the art of instruction, which again accelerates in its turn that of the sciences; and this reciprocal influence, the action of which is incessantly increased, must be ranked in the number of the most prolific and powerful causes of the improvement of the human race. At present, a young man, upon finishing his studies and quitting our schools, may know more of the principles of mathematics than Newton acquired by profound study, or discovered by the force of his genius, and may exercise the instrument of calculation with a readiness which at that period was unknown. The same observation, with certain restrictions, may be applied to all the sciences. In proportion as each shall advance, the means of compressing, within a smaller circle, the proofs of a greater number of truths, and of facilitating their comprehension, will equally advance. Thus, notwithstanding future degrees of progress, not only will men of equal genius find themselves, at the same period of life, upon a level with the actual state of science, but, respecting every generation, what may be acquired in a given space of time, by the same strength of intellect and the same degree of attention, will necessarily increase, and the elementary part of each science, that part which every man may attain, becoming more and more extended, will include, in a manner more complete, the knowledge necessary for the direction of every man in the common occurrences of life, and for the free and independent exercise of his reason.
There is another species of progress, appertaining to the sciences in question, equally important; I mean, the improvement of their language, at present so vague and so obscure. To this improvement must they owe the advantage of becoming popular, even in their first elements. Genius can triumph over these inaccuracies, as over other obstacles; it can recognise the features of truth, in spite of the mask that conceals or disfigures them. But how is the man who can devote but a few leisure moments to instruction to do this? how is he to acquire and retain the most simple truths, if they be disguised by an inaccurate language? The fewer ideas he is able to collect and combine, the more requisite it is that they be just and precise. He has no fund of truths stored up in his mind, by which to guard himself against error; nor is his understanding so strengthened and refined by long exercise, that he can catch those feeble rays of light which escape under the obscure and ambiguous dress of an imperfect and vicious phraseology.
The circulation of the blood was long since known; but the disposition of the vessels which conveyed the chyle to mix with it, and repair its losses; the existence of a gastric fluid which disposes the elements to the decomposition necessary to separate from organised matter, that portion which is proper to become assimilated with the living fluids; the changes undergone by the various parts and organs in the interval between conception and birth, and afterwards during the different ages of life; the distinction between the parts possessing sensibility and those in which irritability only resides, a property discovered by Haller, and common to almost every organic substance: these facts are the whole of what physiology has been enabled to discover, by indubitable observations, during this brilliant epoch; and these important truths may serve as an apology for the numerous explanations, mechanical, chemical, and organical, which have succeeded each other, and loaded this science with hypotheses destructive to its progress, and dangerous when used as the ground of medical practice. To the outline of the sciences we may add that of the arts, which, being founded upon them, have advanced with greater certainty, and broken the shackles of custom and common practice, which heretofore impeded their progress.
We may shew the influence which the progress of mechanics, of astronomy, of optics, and of the art of measuring time, has exercised on the art of constructing, moving, and directing vessels at sea. We may shew how greatly an increase of the number of observers, and a greater degree of accuracy in the astronomical determinations of positions, and in topographical methods, have at last produced an acquaintance with the surface of the globe, of which so little was known at the end of the last century.
How greatly the mechanic arts, properly so called, have given perfection to the processes of art in constructing instruments and machines in the practice of trade, and these last have no less added force to rational mechanism and philosophy. These arts are also greatly indebted to the employment of first movers already known, with less of expence and loss, as well as to the invention of new principles of motion.
We have beheld architecture extend its researches into the science of equilibriums and the theory of fluids, for the means of giving the most commodious and least expensive form to arches, without fear of altering their solidity; and to oppose against the effort of water a resistance computed with greater certainty; to direct the course of that fluid, and to employ it in canals with greater skill and success.
We have beheld the arts dependent on chymistry enriched with new processes; the ancient methods have been simplified, and cleared from useless or noxious substances, and from absurd or imperfect practices introduced from former rude trials; means have been invented to avert those frequently terrible dangers to which workmen were exposed. Thus it is that the application of science has secured to us more of riches and enjoyment, with much less of painful sacrifice or of regret.
In the mean time, chemistry, botany, and natural history, have very much enlightened the economical arts, and the culture of vegetables destined to supply our wants; such as the art of supporting, multiplying, and preserving domestic animals; the bringing their races to perfection, and meliorating their products; the art of preparing and preserving the productions of the earth, or those articles which are of animal product.
Surgery and pharmacy have become almost new arts, from the period when anatomy and chemistry have offered them more enlightened and more certain direction.
The art of medicine, for in its practice it must be considered as an art, is by this means delivered at least of its false theories, its pedantic jargon, its destructive course of practice, and the servile submission to the authority of men, or the doctrine of colleges; it is taught to depend only on experience. The means of this art have become multiplied, and their combination and application better known; and though it may be admitted that in some parts its progress is merely of a negative kind, that is to say, in the destruction of dangerous practices and hurtful prejudices, yet the new methods of studying chemical medicine, and of combining observations, give us reason to expect more real and certain advances.
We may endeavour more especially to trace that practice of genius in the sciences which at one time descends from an abstract and profound theory to learned and delicate applications; at another, simplifying its means, and proportioning them to its wants, concludes by spreading its advantages through the most ordinary practices; and at others again being rouzed by the wants of this same course of art, it plunges into the most remote speculations, in search of resources which the ordinary state of our knowledge must have refused.
We may remark that those declamations which are made against the utility of theories, even in the most simple arts, have never shewn any thing but the ignorance of the declaimers. We may prove that it is not to the profundity of these theories, but, on the contrary, to their imperfection, that we ought to attribute the inutility or unhappy effects of so many useless applications.
These observations will lead us to one general truth, that in all the arts the results of theory are necessarily modified in practice; that certain sources of inaccuracy exist, which are really inevitable, of which our aim should be to render the effect insensible, without indulging the chimerical hope of removing them; that a great number of data relative to our wants, our means, our time, and our expences which are necessarily overlooked in the theory, must enter into the relative problem of immediate and real practice; and that, lastly by introducing these requisites with that skill which truly constitutes the genius of the practical man, we may at the same time go beyond the narrow limits wherein prejudice against theory threatens to detain the arts, and prevent those errors into which an improper use of theory might lead us.
Those sciences which are remote from each other, cannot be extended without bringing them nearer, and forming points of contact between them.
The heavens are enriched for the man of science with new stars, and he applies his knowledge to determine and foretel with accuracy their positions and movements. Natural philosophy, gradually delivered from the vague explanations of Descartes, in the same manner as it before was disembarrassed from the absurdities of the schools, is now nothing more than the art of interrogating nature by experiment, for the parpose of afterwards deducing more general facts by computation.
The weight of the air is known and measured: it is known that the transmission of light is not instantancous; its velocity is determined, with the effects which must result from that velocity, as to the apparent position of the celestial bodies; and the decomposition of the solar rays into others of different refrangibility and colour. The rainbow is explained, and the methods of causing its colours to be produced or to disappear are subjected to calculation. Electricity, formerly considered as the property of certain substances only, is now known to be one of the most general phenomena in the universe. The cause of thunder is no longer a secret; Franklin has taught the artist to change its course, and direct it at pleasure. New instruments are employed to measure the variations of weight and humidity in the atmosphere, and the temperature of all bodies. A new science, under the name of meteorology, teaches us to know, and sometimes to foretel, the atmospheric appearances of which it will hereafter disclose to us the unknown laws.
While we present a sketch of these discoveries, we may remark how much the methods which have directed philosophers in their researches are simplified and brought to perfection; how greatly the art of making experiments, and of constructing instruments, has successively become more accurate; so that philosophy is not only enriched every day with new truths, but the truths already known have been more exactly ascertained; so that not only an immense mass of new facts have been observed and analysed, but the whole has been submitted in detail to methods of greater strictness.
Natural philosophy has been obliged to combat with the prejudices of the schools, and the attraction of general hypotheses, so seducing to indolence. Other obstacles retarded the progress of chemistry. It was imagined that this science ought to afford the secret of making gold, and that of rendering man immortal.
The effect of great interests, is to render man superstitious. It was not supposed that such promises, which flatter the two strongest passions of vulgar minds, and besides rouse that of acquiring glory, could be accomplished by ordinary means; and every thing which credulity or folly could ever invent of extravagance, seemed to unite in the minds of chemists.
But these chimeras gradually gave place to the mechanical philosophy of Descartes, which in its turn gave place to a chemistry truly experimental. The observation of those facts which accompany the mutual composition and decomposition of bodies, the research into the laws of these operations, with the analysis of substances into elements of greater simplicity, acquire a degree of precision and strictness ever increasing.
But to these advances of chemistry we must add others, which embrace the whole system of the science, and rather by extending the methods than immediately increasing the mass of truths, foretel and prepare a revolution of the happiest kind. Such has been the discovery of new means of confining and examining those elastic fluids, which formerly were suffered to escape; a discovery which, by permitting us to operate upon an entire class of new principles, and upon those already known, reduced to a state which escaped our researches, and by adding an element the more to almost every combination, has changed, as it were, the whole system of chemistry. Such has beenthe formation of a language, in which the names denoting substances sometimes express the resemblance or differences of those which have a common element, and sometimes the class to which they belong. To these advantages we may add the use of a scientific method, wherein these substances are represented by characters analytically combined, and moreover capable of expressing the most common operations and the general laws of affinity. And, again, this science is enriched by the use of all the means and all the instruments which philosophers have applied to compute with the utmost rigor the results of experiment; and lastly, by the application of the mathematics to the phenomena of chrystalization, and to the laws according to which the elements of certain bodies effect in their combination regular and constant forms.
Men who long had possessed no other knowledge than that of explaining by superstitious or philosophical reveries the formation of the earth, before they endeavoured to become acquainted with its parts, have at last perceived the necessity of studying with the most scrupulous attention the surface of the ground, the internal parts of the earth into which necessity has urged men to penetrate, the substances there found, their fortuitous or regular distribution, and the disposition of the masses they have formed by their union. They have learned to ascertain the effects of the slow and long continued action of the waters of the sea, of rivers, and the effect of volcanic fires; to distinguish those parts of the surface and exterior crust of the globe, of which the inequalities, disposition, and frequently the materials themselves, are the work of these agents; from the other portion of the surface, formed for the most part of heterogeneous substances, bearing the marks of more ancient revolutions by agents with which we are yet acquainted.
Minerals, vegetables, and animals are divided into various species, of which the individuals differ by insensible variations scarcely constant, or produced by causes purely local. Many of these species resemble each other by a greater or less number of common qualities, which serve to establish successive divisions regularly more and more extended. Naturalists have invented methods of classing the objects of science from determinate characters easily ascertained, the only means of avoiding confusion in the midst of this numberless multitude of individuals. These methods are, indeed, a real language, wherein each object is denoted by some of its most constant qualities, which, when known, are applicable to the discovery of the name which the article may bear in common language. These general languages, when well composed, likewise indicate, in each class of natural objects, the truly essential qualities which by their union cause a more or less perfect resemblance in the rest of their properties.
We have formerly seen the effects of that pride which magnifies in the eyes of men the objects of an exclusive study, and knowledge painfully acquired, which attaches to these methods an exaggerated degree of importance, and mistakes for science itself that which is nothing more than the dictionary and grammar of its real language. And so likewise, by a contrary excess, we have seen philosophers falsely degrade these same methods, and confound them with arbitrary nomenclatures, as futile and laborious compilations.
The chemical analysis of the substances in the three great kingdoms of nature; the description of their external form; the exposition of their physical qualities and usual properties; the history of the developement of organized bodies, animals, or plants; their nutrition and reproduction; the details of their organization; the anatomy of their various parts; the functions of each; the history of the manners of animals and their industry to procure food, defence, and habitation, or to seize their prey, or escape from their enemies; the societies of family or species which are formed amongst them; that great mass of truth to which we are led by meditating on the immense chain of organised beings; the relation which successive years produce from brute matter at the most feeble degree of organization, from organised matter to that which affords the first indications of sensibility and spontaneous motion; and from this station to that of man himself; the relation of all these beings with him, whether relative to his wants, the analogies which bring him nearer to them, or the differences by which he is separated: such is the sketch presented to the mind by modern natural history.
The physical man is himself the object of a separate science, anatomy, which, in its general acceptation, includes physiology. This science, which a superstitious respect for the dead had retardad, has taken advantage of the general disappearance of prejudice, and has happily opposed the interest of the preservation of man, which has secured it the patronage of men of eminence. Its progress has been such, that it seems in some sort to be at a stand, in the expectation of more perfect instruments and new methods. It is nearly reduced to seek in the comparative anatomy of the parts of animals and man, in the organs common to the different species, and the manner in which they exercise similar functions, those truths which the direct observation of the human frame appears to refuse. Almost every thing which the eye of the observer, assisted by the microscope, has been able to discover, is already ascertained. Anatomy appears to stand in need of experiments, so useful to the progress of other sciences; but the nature of its object deprives it of this means, so evidently necessary to its perfection.
The transition from the epoch we have been considering to that which follows, has been distinguished by three extraordinary personages, Bacon, Galileo, and Descartes. Bacon has revealed the true method of studying nature, by employing the three instruments with which she has furnished us for the discovery of her secrets, observation, experiment and calculation. He was desirous that the philosopher, placed in the midst of the universe, should, as a first and necessary step in his career, renounce every creed he had received, and even every notion he had formed, in order to create, as it were, for himself, a new understanding, in which no idea should be admitted but what was precise, no opinion but what was just, no truth of which the degree of certainty or probability had not been scrupulously weighed. But Bacon, though possessing in a most eminent degree the genius of philosophy, added not thereto the genius of the sciences; and these methods for the discovery of truth, of which he furnished no example, were admired by the learned, but produced no change in the march of the sciences.
Galileo had enriched them with the most useful and brilliant discoveries; he had taught by his own example the means of arriving at the knowledge of the laws of nature in a way sure and productive, in which men were not obliged to sacrifice the hope of success to the fear of being misled. He founded the first school in which the sciences have been taught without a mixture of superstition, prejudice, or authority; in which every other means than experiment and calculation have been rigorously proscribed; but confining himself exclusively to the mathematical and physical sciences, he was unable to communicate to the general mind that impulsion which it seemed to want.
This honour was reserved for the daring and ingenious Descartes. Endowed with a master genius for the sciences, he joined example to precept, in exhibiting the method of finding and ascertaining truth. This method he applied to the discovery of the laws of dioptrics, of the collision of bodies, and finally of a new branch of mathematical science, calculated to extend and enlarge the bounds of all the other branches.
He wished to extend his method to every object of human intelligence; God, man, the universe, were in turn the subject of his meditations. If, in the physical sciences, his march be less sure than that of Galileo, if his philosophy be less wary than that of Bacon, if he may be accused of not having sufficiently availed himself of the lessons of the one, and the example of the other, to distrust his imagination, to interrogate nature by experiment alone, to have no faith but in calculation, to observe the universe, instead of instructing it, to study man instead of trusting to vague conjectures for a knowledge of his nature; yet the very boldness of his errors was instrumental to the progress of the human species. He gave activity to minds which the circumspection of his rivals could not awake from their lethargy. He called upon men to throw off the yoke of authority, to acknowledge no influence but what reason should avow: and he was obeyed, because he subjected by his daring, and fascinated by his enthusiasm.
We may distinguish the progress of each science as it is in itself, which has no other limit than the number of truths it includes within its sphere, and the progress of a nation in each science, a progress which is regulated first by the number of men who are acquainted with its leading and most important truths, and next by the number and nature of the truths so known.
In fine, we are now come to that point of civilization, at which the people derive a profit from intellectual knowledge, not only by the services it reaps from men uncommonly instructed, but by means of having made of intellectual knowledge a sort of patrimony, and employing it directly and in its proper form to resist error, to anticipate or supply their wants, to relieve themselves from the ills of life, or take off the poignancy of these ills by the intervention of additional pleasure.
The history of the persecutions to which the champions of liberty were exposed, during this epoch, ought not to be forgotten. These persecutions will be found to extend from the truths of philosophy and politics to those of medicine, natural history and astronomy. In the eighth century an ignorant pope had persecuted a deacon for contending that the earth was round, in opposition to the opinion of the rhetorical Saint Austin. In the seventeenth, the ignorance of another pope, much more inexcuseable, delivered Galileo into the hands of the inquisition, accused of having proved the diurnal and annual motion of the earth. The greatest genius that modern Italy has given to the sciences, overwhelmed with age and infirmities, was obliged to purchase his release from punishment and from prison, by asking pardon of God for having taught men better to understand his works, and to admire him in the simplicity of the eternal laws by which he governs the universe.
Meanwhile, so great was the absurdity of the theologians, that, in condescension to human understanding, they granted a permission to maintain the motion of the earth, at the same time that they insisted that it should be only in the way of an hypothesis, and that the faith should receive no injury. The astronomers, on the other hand, did the exact opposite of this; they treated the motion of the earth as a reality, and spoke of its immoveableness with a deference only hypothetical.
We may show that, as it was impossible to make the Latin a vulgar tongue common to all Europe, the continuance of the custom of writing in it upon the sciences would have been attended with a transient advantage only to those who studied them; that the existence of a sort of scientific language among the learned of all nations, while the people of each individual nation spoke a different one, would have divided men into two classes, would have perpetuated in the people prejudices and errors, would have placed an insurmountable impediment to true equality, to an equal use of the same reason, to an equal knowledge of necessary truths; and thus by stopping the progress of the mass of mankind, would have ended at last, as in the East, by putting a period to the advancement of the sciences themselves.