This book is a defense of modal realism; the thesis that our world is but one of a plurality of worlds, and that the individuals that inhabit our world are only a few out of all the inhabitants of all the worlds. Lewis argues that the philosophical utility of modal realism is a good reason for believing that it is true.
Surveying the night sky, a charming philosopher and his hostess, the Marquise, are considering thep ossibility of travelers from the moon. "What if they were skillful enough to navigate on the outer surface of our air, and from there, through their curiosity to see us, they angled for us like fish? Would that please you?" asks the philosopher. "Why not?" the Marquise replies. "As for me, I'd put myself into their nets of my own volition just to have the pleasure of seeing those who caught me." In this imaginary conversation of three hundred years ago, readers can share the excitement of a new, extremely daring view of the uinverse. Conversations on the Plurality of Worlds (Entretiens sur la pluralit des mondes), first published in 1686, is one of the best loved classics of the early French enlightenment. Through a series of informal dialogues that take place on successive evenings in the marquise's moonlit gardens, Fontenelle describes the new cosmology of the Copernican world view with matchles clarity, imagination, and wit. Moreover, he boldly makes his interlocutor a woman, inviting female participation in the almost exclusively male province of scientific discourse. The popular Fontenelle lived through an entire century, from 1657 to 1757, and wrote prolifically. H. A. Hargreaves's fresh, appealing translation brings the author's masterpiece to new generations of readers, while the introduction by Nina Rattner Gelbart clearly demonstrates the importance of the Conversations for the history of science, of women, of literature, and of French civilization, and for the popularization of culture.
When Bernard de Fontenelle published the first edition of his Entretiens sur la Pluralite des Mondes in 1686, it was an immediate success. In an age when women, even those from the richest and most distinguished families, received little or no formal education, it offered an entertaining and accessible introduction to astronomy and some of the burning topics of the day. Does the earth really go around the sun? Are there other inhabited planets out there? If so, are the inhabitants like us or quite different? Is the moon itself inhabited? Is even the sun inhabited? Are there volcanoes on the moon? How hot is mercury? How long is a Venusian day? Will flying machines one day take us to the moon? Providing new notes, some illustrations and an introduction, this new Tiger of the Stripe edition is based on the 1808 edition of Elizabeth Gunning's translation, retaining the charm which was so essential for the book's success. Miss Gunning, a beautiful and talented novelist with a rather racy personal life, drew on an annotated French edition by the distinguished French astronomer, Jerome de Lalande. This edition thus offers an interesting accretion of ideas, ranging from Fontenelle's 1686 edition and later revisions, Lalande's (sometimes rather critical) comments, Gunning's appropriately flowery translation, and our own explanations for the modern reader. It is, without doubt, a little gem.
The geometry of life in prose and poetry by a French mathematician. In The End of Clouds, he writes: "Solitude suited them. Not that they were faltering, but there are different ways of sliding across the sky. I would never have thought that such soft, cottony concentration could be reconciled with such an exigent geometry. But how, without any support, consent to dissolution?" By the author of Some Thing Black.
Modern research has demonstrated that many stars are surrounded by planets—some of which might contain the right conditions to harbor life. This has only reinforced a question that has been tormenting scientists, philosophers and priests since Antiquity: Are there other inhabited worlds beyond our own? This book analyzes the many ways that humans have argued for and depicted extraterrestrial life over the centuries. The first known texts about the subject date from as early as the 6th century BC. Since that time, countless well-known historical characters like Lucretius, Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, Cusanus, Bruno, Kepler, Descartes, and Huygens contributed to the debate; here, their lesser known opinions on the subject are studied in detail. It is often difficult for the modern mind to follow the thinking of our ancestors, which can only be understood when placed in the relevant context. The book thus extends its scope to the evolution of ideas about cosmology in general, as well as the culture in which these great thinkers wrote. The research is presented with the author's insights and humor, making this an easy and enjoyable read.