Boscovitch: Mutant Time Traveller?
- Article by Pauwels and Bergier on Boscovitch written in 1960, wondering if Boscovitch was a time traveller; with my comments added.
Pauwels and Bergier: A theme for science fiction: if the relativists are right, if we are living in a four-dimensional Universe and if we were capable of being aware of this, then that would be the end of common sense.
Some 'anticipation authors' try to think in terms of the space-time continuum. Their efforts resemble those, on the higher plane of research and expressed in theoretical language, of the great mathematical physicists. But is it possible for a man to think in four dimensions? For this he would require a special mental structure. Will those structures be available to the Man of the future, the product of the next mutation? And is this Man of the future already among us? Some fiction-writers have made this claim. But neither Van Vogt, in his book of phantasy "The Slans", nor Sturgeon in his description of the "More than Humans" have dared to imagine a personage as fabulous as Roger Boscovitch. A Mutant? A Time-Traveller? An inhabitant from another planet disguised as this mysterious Serbian?
Boscovitch, it would seem, was born in 1711 at Dubrovnik: at any rate that is what he declared when enrolling at the age of fourteen as an independent student at the Jesuit College of Rome. There he studied mathematics, astronomy and theology. In 1728, having finished his novitiate, he entered the Order of the Jesuits. In 1736 he published a paper on the spots in the Sun. In 1740 he taught mathematics at the Collegium Romanum, and then became scientific adviser to the Papacy. He created an observatory, drained the Pontine Marshes, repaired the dome of St. Peter's, measured the meridian between Rome and Rimini on two degrees of latitude. He then explored various regions in Europe and Asia, and started excavations on the very site on which Schliemann subsequently discovered the remains of Troy. He was elected Fellow of the Royal Society in England on 26th June, 1760, and published on that occasion a long poem in Latin on the visible features of the Sun and Moon, which caused his contemporaries to exclaim: 'This is Newton speaking through the mouth of Vergil.' He was entertained by all the most learned men in Europe, and carried on an important correspondence with, among others, Dr Johnson and Voltaire. In 1736 he was offered French nationality. He was then appointed head of the department of optical instruments of the Royal Navy in Paris, where he lived until 1783. Lalande considered him to be the greatest living scientist. D'Alembert and Laplace were alarmed by his advance ideas. In 1785 he retired to Bassano and devoted himself to the publication of his complete works. He died in Milan in 1787.
It is only recently, at the instigation of the Yugoslav Government, that the works of Boscovitch have been re-examined - notably his "Theory of Natural Philosophy (Theoria philosophiae naturalis redacta ad unicam legem virium in natura existentium) published in Vienna in 1758. The results of this study have caused general astonishment. Allan Lindsay Mackay, describing this treatise in an article in the New Scientist of 6th March, 1958, expressed the opinion that this was a case of a twentieth century mind being forced to live and work in the eighteenth century.
MY COMMENT: There has been very little written about Boscovitch since the 1958 New Scientist article.
Pauwels and Bergier: It seems that Boscovitch was in advance, not only of the science of his time, but of our own. He proposed a unitary theory of the Universe, a single general and unique equation governing mechanics, physics, chemistry, biology and even psychology. According to this theory, matter, time and space are not infinitely divisible but composed of points, or grains. This recalls the recent work of Jean Charon and that of Heisenberg whom Boscovitch seems to have surpassed.
MY COMMENT: I have read some of the works of Jean Charon and have been very impressed, he was a scientist working on the Unified Field Theory, and I found a book detailing what happened -- Charon's work grew out of a group of people working at a University that were influenced by ideas that came down from Boscovitch. So, no wonder Charon's theorising looks similar to Boscovitch's. As to Heisenberg -- after World War II he started work on the Unified Field Theory and he stated that he was working from Boscovitch's ideas.
Pauwels and Bergier: He succeeded in giving an account not only of light, but of magnetism, electricity and all of the chemical phenomena known at the time, discovered since, or which are yet to be discovered. We find in his works the quanta, the wave mechanics and the atom formed of nucleons. The scientific historian, L L Whyte, assures us that Boscovitch was at least two centuries ahead of his times, and that we shall only really be able to understand him when the junction between relativity and quantum physics has finally been effected. It is estimated that in 1987, on the 200th anniversary of his birth, his work will be appreciated at its true value.
MY COMMENT: LL Whyte was more than mere historian, he was a scientist working with Einstein on the Unified Field Theory. Whyte was working on Boscovitch's ideas and eventually reached a theory (via Baranski) that Einstein agreed was the Unified Field Theory, this was shortly before Einstein died. But like Boscovitch, Whyte is now himself mostly ignored. As to the 1987 assessment of Boscovitch's theory -- the conclusion was that the theory unified the four forces of Nature ( the electromagnetic, weak, strong and gravitational forces).
Pauwels and Bergier: No explanation has as yet been put forward to account for this phenomenon. Two complete editions of his works, one in Serb and the other in English, are now in preparation. In the correspondence already published (Bestermann collection) between Boscovitch and Voltaire the following ideas are to be found:
The creation of an international geo-physical year;
The transmission of malaria by mosquitoes;
Possible applications of rubber (ideas put into practice by Boscovitch's Jesuit friend, La Condamine);
The existence of planets in orbit round stars other than our own Sun;
The possibility of localizing 'psychism' in a particular part of the body;
The conservation of the 'quantity grain' of movement in the world: this is Planck's constant, enunciated in 1958.
Boscovitch attached considerable importance to alchemy, and has provided clear and scientific translations of the alchemists' language. For him, for example, the four elements Earth, Water, Fire and Air are only distinguishable by the particular way in which the particles, without mass or weight, of which they are composed are arranged. Clearly an anticipation of the most advanced work now being done on the Universal equation.
Another no less fantastic anticipation in the work of Boscovitch is to be found in his study of accidents in Nature. This contains already the statistical mechanics theory of the American scientist Willard Gibbs, formulated at the end of the nineteenth century but not accepted until the twentieth. It also provides a modern explanation of radio-activity (completely unknown in the seventeenth century) as one of a series of exceptions to natural laws: what is called today 'statistical penetrations of the barriers of potentiality'.
Why is it that works of this extraordinary man have no influence on modern thought? Because the German philosophers and scientists who led the field in research up to the 1914-18 War believed in the 'continuous structure' theory, whereas the work of Boscovitch was essentially based on the idea of discontinuity. Also, because library research and historical investigations concerning Boscovitch, who travelled extensively and whose works are widely dispersed, and who, moreover, came from a country liable to constant upheavals, were only systematically undertaken long after his death. When his complete works have been published, and the testimony of his contemporaries collected and classified, we shall see what a strange, disquieting and altogether astounding personality he was.
MY COMMENT: At 2005 as far as I know there is no work in progress at collecting the complete works of Boscovitch. However, my web site
details the main scientists working on the Unified Field Theory, and the main works of these scientists have now been placed on-line by Dr Douglass White at his Observer Physics web site
Reference for Pauwels and Bergier:
Louis Pauwels and Jacques Bergier, The Dawn of Magic, 1960, trans. 1963, p 265- 8
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