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which ideas are arranged, is too well and truly laid to fear demolition. Even when, as in the present day, the foundations of science are shifted to an ever deeper and more fundamental plane the experimental basis of fact is unthreatened. The idea that the whole edifice of chemical science was tottering to its fall as the result of the discovery of the intra-atomic changes of the radio-elements, is one that has always been too absurd to call for reply. But for that science and its clear-cut conception of the chemical elements, the result of more than three centuries of continuous experimental labour, the facts of radioactivity might still have been as arresting and magnificent as any discoveries ever were. But without the older knowledge, exquisitely and finely wrought, for the newer knowledge to dovetail into and complete, the chief human significance of the new science and its power to interpret the physical side of the drama of life could scarcely have been so early perceived.
Radium, no longer a mystery, one of the chemical elements doing what more than a score are doing at their own characteristic rates, owes its peculiar position to the fact that it is changing neither too slowly nor too quickly in reference to the allotted span of threescore years and ten. Energy of the order of a million times that evolved in the combustion of the same weight of coal, instead of being, as in the case of radium, evolved in the average period of 2500 years, is in the case of uranium and thorium spread over a term of thousands of millions of years. The effects are small but enduring, and, almost imperceptible in themselves, come to maturity in due time in the cosmical calendar. Small as is the proportion of uranium and thorium in the rocks of the earth, the energy they evolve is estimated to be far more than the earth loses to outer space,
A UNIVERSE OF PERMANENT RÉGIME 21
if the surface composition of the rocks is maintained uniformly throughout the core. Unless this is not the case, or unless the energy they evolve is being utilised in unknown ways, the conclusion follows that the interior of the globe must be getting hotter instead of colder. The uncomfortable prediction of the ultimate destruction of the world by fire, is now at least as probable as the former fate pictured by science, that the world must be steadily cooling, and that it was only a matter of time before it became lifeless and dead.
The clock wound up in the beginning to run for a certain time, a universe provided at its creation with a certain store of available energy to dissipate and live by at an ever decreasing rate, until it arrived ultimately and inevitably at complete physical stagnation and death, is being displaced by a less arbitrary view as science advances and invades more and more the vast territory still beyond its ken. It is at least legitimate to conceive a universe of permanent régime, carrying in its smallest ultimate particles the seeds of its own regeneration. But the linking of the ends of the process together into such a closed cycle still involves the assumption of events that remain unknown and a reversal of the known continuous direction of energy transformations. Such a reversal may well occur under conditions still, and possibly for ever, beyond the power of experiment to reproduce in the laboratory.
The dream of the alchemist, the transmutation of the elements, so far from being a chimerical idea, or a process to be sought for possibly in the transcendental chemistry of glowing suns, is in continuous natural operation on the earth amongst the most complex sorts of atoms known to the chemist. All heavy elements, presumably, if they could be transmuted artificially into lighter ones, would evolve
energy on the same scale as uranium, thorium and radium. Such transmutations are still beyond the power of man to effect, but he would be a bold prophet who would declare for how long a time this may remain true.
If the ancient legend of a philosopher's stone ever becomes reality, and if means are found for artificially transmuting the elements, or artificially increasing to a sufficient extent the natural rate of their disintegration, the transmutation of the material would be of little significance compared with the liberation of a source of energy immensely more abundant and powerful than any now available. As foretold of the philosopher's stone, transmutation would be, in a physical sense, the veritable elixir of life.
The gulf of ignorance which alone divides us from the use and application of the new source of energy would have been bridged. Exhaustion of the coal-supply would no longer have any terrors, for fuel and fuel-fed machines would be superseded, as they in their turn have displaced animal labour. The Ship of Life would have drawn out for ever from the shallows and backwaters wherein it took its origin, and, fairly launched on the primal tide, the flood would bear it far. The story of the struggle for existence on a daily modicum of sunlight, the fevered existence of the moment on ever-increasing draughts from a dwindling store, the meaning of which was no sooner realised than it was in danger of exhaustion, would become as the nightmare of the past. Reality and myth would exchange places. For, in sober truth, if one attempted to forecast, from the experience of the past, the future of a world able to draw at will upon a virtually infinite supply of energy, one would be compelled to depict it simply as a veritable Garden of Eden.
IS SCIENCE NEW?
The Garden of Eden with its tree of knowledge of which Adam partook impiously, and was cast adrift to earn his bread by the sweat of his brow, lest he should discover and partake of the tree of life, and the whole biblical account of the fall of man, though very ancient as human records go, dates only from yesterday in the whole life of the race. Men have lived on this planet not for thousands but for millions of years past, and of all this length of time myth and history record but the latest moment. Did some earlier race of men actually tread the road we are treading to-day and achieve that emancipation from the physical struggle for existence which would assuredly result from the accomplishment of artificial transmutation? The idea may appear a fanciful one, but it may be reasonably commended to the notice of those who have made a special study of the ancient mythologies and the origins of human beliefs.
The exploiters of the wealth of the world are not its creators. If they were they might have a wider view than that it was created for the competitive acquisition of the most rapacious, unscrupulous and already too well-equipped. The actual state of the world at home and abroad in regard to industry, politics, social conditions and relationships is surely an indictment of the rule of the possessive and acquisitive more powerful than any judge could frame.
The claim is so often made that brains and labour are only two of the three essentials of civilised existence, and that the third, if not the greatest of these, is capital, that one may well ask what is meant. If capital means wealth, that is, the accumulated resources of the world in knowledge and material achievements, the statement is true. If it means the ownership of wealth, without which brains, labour
and knowledge are all unproductive, the statement is only too true. But if it means the individual system of ownership of wealth, and that under another system brains, labour and knowledge would be powerless to advance humanity, the statement is not true. From the point of view of the community, capital is not wealth but debt, the not owning by the community of the resources of the planet whereon it resides; and no more effective and disastrous check to its productive power could well be invented.
More and more is society becoming indebted for the necessities of its continuance to a peculiar class brought into existence by the operation of a corrupt code of laws and government derived from a darker intellectual age. Highly skilled as are the advocates of this code in making black look white, they are scarcely equal to the task of masquerading the debts of the community as its wealth.
The multiplication rather than the competitive acquisition of the means of livelihood would be the paramount concern of any community worthy of the name, and, as the obvious preliminary thereto, the study and interpretation of the laws of nature, under which men thrive or starve, would be fostered and honoured above the amassing and expenditure of wealth, above even the profession of arms. creative element, whether the discoverer and originator at the one end or the artificer and labourer at the other, may well ask how is the world the gainer for all their splendid thought and magnificent achievements. This element has never yet ruled the community, and according to the elements who have made such disastrous attempts to do so, it never will. But the same was said, by the same type of mind, about flying before men flew, and probably of every new and difficult step so far accomplished in the ascent of man.