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Topic: Keely Information
Section: SCIENTIFIC CREATION
Table of Contents to this Topic
BY Julian Hawthorne. circa 1893
Between human science and Divine revelation there has always existed hostility, more or less veiled. Science has been unwilling to admit the dogma of the miraculous in creation, and has striven to show that what purports to be miraculous is either lying tradition, or else is no miracle at all, but a strictly natural transaction, such as may be reproduced by science itself.
The inductive method of investigation has carried science so far that we may now, for the first time, forecast how far she may yet go. She has penetrated to the threshold of life itself; and would fain cross it. But the profoundest minds among her disciples begin to admit that they can go no further. The material world is theirs, or may conceivably become so; but the secret energy that maintains and shapes the visible appearance, the intelligent power that bridges gaps and supplies missing links ‹ the God in the machine, in short ‹ they have not reached or solved, and are no nearer doing so than at the outset; nor, indeed, in hope and expectation, so near.
The plane of matter, in other words, is the plane of effects, and that of mind or spirit is the plane of causes; and between them the difference is discrete in degree. Instead of being continuous, as in a spiral, they are in a series, as thought and speech, will and act, love and heat. Hence, though spirit continually informs and moulds matter, matter can never generate from itself the birth of spirit. Matter is dead ‹ philosophically it is not; it only appears to be ‹ that is, it exists, goes forth from Being, in answer to the spirit's impulse to expound itself in the arena of mortal sense.
It is only after man recognizes his limitations that we attain the sphere of our greatest usefulness. Having ackoowledged the existence and supremacy of spirit, we are now in a position to produce effects on the material plane hitherto unattempted and even unimagined; for now we put ourselves under the guidance of spirit; as Emerson phrased it, we hitch our wagon to a star. By tuning ourselves to harmony with the simple but profound methods of what is termed "Nature," we avail ourselves of the true creative force.
The past age has seen the glorification of machinery. The extension of man's muscular power through engines has been carried to its extreme. Structures in which is embodied the maximum of energy with the maximum of economy whirl us about the globe, or heap up for us the product of agriculture and manufacture. The wheel, the lever, the wedge, steam and electricity, have done mighty things for man; and it seems strange, in contemplating his wealth and luxury, that poverty, misery, crime, and disease are, if anything, more burdensome and minatory than they were before all this increase of opulence and mastery began.
But, in truth, the bulk and brute force of our machinery form the barrier between us and true efficiency. A higher mechanical intelligence will perceive that the existing resources of nature are our real machinery, which have been all this while awaiting our discovery of the right means of using them. The slighter the medium between us and them, the greater will be the success of the application. And the law which leads us to this application has the name of the Law of Vibration.
It may now be affirmed that vibration lies at the base of all material phenomena. The universal ether is the real protoplasm; from its vibrations result the various substances which constitute the realm of physical nature. An impulse of the spirit, communicated to the cells of the brain, produces the vibration known as thought. By the atmospheric vibrations of speech, thought is conveyed from one mind to others. The different gases are special forms of etheric vibration; the frozen gases we know as solids are characteristic modifications of the same vibrations. Atoms might be described as the nuclei or meeting-points of concurrent vibrations. Thus, in the last analysis, "matter" disappears in a mode of motion, the cause of which is spirit.
Broadly speaking, then, the man who can control at will the diverse orders of vibration can mould the universe at his pleasure. Out of the apparent void of the invisible and impalpable ether, he can call forth palpable substance. On the other hand, he can restore substances to their primitive etheric condition. And the sole magician's wand needed to perform these vital feats is the mastery of the law of vibration.
All this is easily said; but who shall fashion for us this wand of physical omnipotence?
Among the many warring voices of contemporary life, there is one, speaking in a deep undertone, which utters a conviction interior to all doubts and denunciations. It expresses the faith that the world is upon the verge of a new departure in the modes and conditions of life. A higher state of existence, both on the material and the spiritual plane, is promised us; in this expectation the man of science and the man of religion are agreed; and the impartial onlooker, could such be found, might reasonably surmise that Providence designs the union of the two orders of development in an indissoluble marriage. The power which the control of matter would bestow upon man is greater than he could safely have been entrusted with at any period of his past career. It is a power which could be used by the evil as by the good; therefore, if the world be indeed governed by divine wisdom and goodness, we may expect it to be placed in our hands only after the accomplishment of a regenerative work wrought in our spiritual nature. The word of Scripture must be vindicated, "The seed of the righteous shall inherit the earth." Not until man has ascended to the throne of his own soul, abdicating his personal life that he may enjoy the boundless freedom of life for others, can he be held worthy of holding the sceptre of the material world. Only when he stands ready to administer the earth in the interests of his fellow, will he find the key of its infinite treasure-house.
To a superficial view, the moral and religious horizon has seldom appeared darker than at present. Church and State both seem impending to their fall. But even greater was the cloud of spiritual darkness upon the earth at the moment preceding the birth of Christ; and throughout human history, the powers of Hell have always seemed most energetic and successful just previous to their overthrow before the rising of some new star of hope. In truth, the tumultuous activity of evil influences is caused by the inner stirrings of the Divine Spirit, advancing to a fresh incarnation. When Satan's empire is assured, it rests in comparative tranquillity; only when its overthrow is at hand does it manifest the agitation and uproar which are misinterpreted as evidence of augmenting authority. It is because the seeds of spiritual revolution and regeneration are even now sown, that anarchy and infidelity appear to threaten the annihilation of human society.
With this premise as to the spiritual outlook, let us now turn to the field of science.
There the signs of advance are far more unequivocal. In all departments there is a similar stirring toward the light. Physicists are solving secrets hitherto deemed impenetrable, and mechanism is steadily tending toward an unexampled simplicity and efficiency of means and processes. The epoch seems at hand when no man shall want for abundant means of subsistence, and when, therefore, we shall be free to turn our activities to the cultivation of goodness and beauty. The world is to be transformed into a paradise of loveliness and peace, in which men and women of angelic stature shall live lives of harmony and holiness.
AIready such names as those of Clerk Maxwell, Lord Kelvin, Oliver Lodges, Edison, Tesla, and many another, are quoted as heralds of the near scientific dispensation. And the more closely we study the work of these men, the more clearly does it appear that all alike are verging toward a single conclusion or achievement ‹ the analysis and mastery of that philosophical abstraction that has so long defied all attacks to comprehend and harness it. Approaching the problem from many different directions, their eyes are all fixed upon the same goal, and the energies of each are strained to be the first to attain it. Possibly each, upon his own chosen course, may be victorious, and the revelations of one shall supplement and fortify those of another.
Among these leaders of thought and investigation there is one whose name is heard less often than the others, and seldom with reverence or faith; yet there are those who believe that John Ernst Worrell Keely, the Philadelphia experimentalist, is conducting his researches upon a higher and more advanced plane, and with promise of larger success; than any of the others. In common report, he is held to be little better than a charlatan and a humbug; and his "motor" is uniformly referred to with a smile of skepticism. This incredulity regarding Keely must have a cause, and it is not far to seek. For twenty years or more he has been before the public; from time to time, during that period, he has allowed rumors to transpire of great things which he was on the point of accomplishing, and, upon the strength of these rumors or assurances, money has been subscribed and a company organized. And yet, from first to last, Keely has always disappointed popular expectation; no practical machine, no generally comprehensible result, has ever come out of his workshop. At this day, so far as the world knows, he is as far from the solution of his enigmas as at the first moment that he turned his attention upon them.
Nor is this all. In response to more or less pressure from without, Keely has occasionally endeavored to give an account of himself, with the result of darkening counsel to such a degree that even his nearest allies are powerless to enlighten it. The terms of the language in which he purports to explain himself are unintelligible; his utterances read like gibberish, and it is not surprising that most people reach the conclusion that the man is only seeking to disguise, beneath an inky discharge of incomprehensibilities, the dismal fact of his own ignorance and emptiness. Finally, it is not denied that his early education was not what it might have been, and such scientific training as he has received has been administered by himself in the course of his experiments.
Here are reasons enough, in all conscience, for maintaining a skeptical or agnostic attitude toward Mr. Keely, and he has not improved matters by the fact that he has deliberately antagonized some persons who might have been of service to him.
So much in opposition to Keely may be conceded. But this does not exhaust the subject. There are considerations to be urged on the other side, and it is but fair to give them audience.
To begin with, no one who has investigated him will deny that he is a man of genius, and that his foibles are such as geniuses are wont to manifest. Secondly, it is indubitable that he believes in himself; whether the belief be insane or otherwise, he possesses it. The work which he took up nearly a generation ago he is still pursuing with undiminished zeal and confidence, and the indiscretions of which he has been guilty are not such as would be committed by a sharper or a fraud.
Again, the failure of his attempts to explain himself may be regarded as his misfortune, quite as reasonably as his fault. It is not easy for a man untrained in scientific phraseology to state scientific facts lucidly and logically; and in Keely's case there is the obvious additional difficulty that, by the premises of the case, he is dealing with unprecedented matters, which, to some extent, demand the invention of a language for their conveyance. It may or may not be possible hereafter to translate Keelyese into everyday scientific phraseology; but meanwhile we are scarcely justified in condemning what the man has done on the evidence merely of what he has been able, or has chosen, to say.
The insinuation that Keely is keeping up an imposture, with the object merely of supporting himself on the eleemosynary donations of his dupes, is hardly a plausible one. A man of his ability could support himself much better by turning to other occupations. A man does not shut himself up in a dingy office week in and week out, from dawn till dusk and after, during upward of twenty years, for the rake of avoiding working for a living. He is doing something that interests him and absorbs all his energies, and in the final accomplishment of which he has never lost faith. In the pursuit of this object he has made many mistakes, and has lost a great deal of time in following out cul de sacs or impassable paths. He began with a very partial and inadequate idea of what was before him ‹ of what the phenomena which he thought he perceived meant and led up to. His work has grown with him, and he has grown with his work. His supporters have been deceived; but it has been with a deception that misled himself no less than them. When he saw his errors, he declared them frankly; they lost patience with him, but he never lost patience with himself ‹ with the idea which he was on the trail of. He was like Thor, the Thunder-god, who, thinking to drain the cup of the giants of Jotunheim, found out ere long that its bottom was filled from the ocean. Once he thought he would be satisfied with a terrestrial motor; now he sees himself at grips with the vitals of the universe.
The above suggestions aim to show that Keely has claims to be regarded as at least an honest man, whether or not a self deceived one, and his own worst enemy. But, after all, the point that we are chiefly interested in is whether he has actually done anything that is new and likely to prove valuable to the world; because, if he has not, we may be content to leave him to his own devices, which can have no further practical concern for us.
At this point, I am tempted to introduce my own experience of Mr. Keely; but I am restrained by the reflection that I can lay no claim to exact scientific knowledge; and in a matter of this kind, where the thing examined pretends to be wholly novel and unprecedented, it is plain that exact knowledge is precisely what is indispensable. At the time of my visit to the scene of the much-debated phenomena, however, I found myself in company with two or three men of acknowledged scientific attainments, who candidly confessed themselves as little competent as I was to devise an explanation of what Mr. Keely showed us. . Movements took place which there were no visible or hitherto recognized means of accounting for. A heavy metallic sphere revolved at great speed; an isolated compass needle did the same; weights immersed in a tall glass jar filled with water rose upward and sank again, or rested mid way. And all that Mr. Keely did was to tinker with a stringed musical machine, fitted with singular appliances, and to blow upon a small mouth organ at intervals. The assumption appeared to be that musical notes produced vibrations which affected the "chords of mass" of the things operated on, and the "polar currents" were in some manner induced to participate in the strange results. I know nothing about that; what I know is, that the things which took place were not caused, so far as I or the scientific gentlemen present could detect, by either steam, electricity, or compressed air. Meanwhile, Mr. Keely asserted that the efficient cause was a discovery of his own; and so far as I was concerned, he might as well have stopped there,inasmuch as I was able neither to contradict him, nor to comprehend a word of the alleged explanations wherewith he favored the company.
On the other hand, the man himself was open to my inspection, and I am bound to admit that he impressed me as being a personage of secretive and eccentric character, but withal honest in his professions, and an uncompromising fanatic in his pursuits. There was an expression of gloomy triumph and challenge in his swarthy and rugged countenance, as he wheeled round in his chair and faced us, when he had accomplished the achievement promised us; and I fancied he was not insensible to an emotion of enjoyment of our undisguised perplexity over what was happening. "Which of you convinceth me of humbug?" he seemed to ask. Keely is not a man to be easily fathomed or read; he is involved and dark in speech; but there was nothing in his dingy and shabby little room which was not freely open to our examination and question, and he had the air of one who had steeled himself against incredulity in his examiners, but who felt nevertheless the deepest inward conviction that he was right, and that it was a question of time only when this should be triumphantly vindicated before all the world. But I think he rather likes to mystify people, and is by no means averse from snubbing those who come to him with intent to "expose" him. If I am right, he certainly cannot be accused of observing the conciliating policy which would be the only sensible one for him under his present circumstances.
But when I picture to myself a man in the tremendous situation which Keely professes to occupy ‹ that of holding in his hands, and being on the brink of reducing to practical conditions, a power that can be measured only by the energy of the planet itself, illimitable and inexhaustible; when I see him toiling for half a lifetime at his gigantic theme, facing all manner of disbelief and scoffing, unable to reply adequately or to express himself in available language, I am free to admit that I cannot ask such a man to conform to ordinary conditions of conduct or manner, or to appear in any respect orthodox, commonplace, and ingratiating. His attitude and office are unique, and it is not for us to set down the pegs that make his music. And such man as this, so nearly as I could judge, Keely did seem to me to be.
It is some years since I saw him, but he has been recalled to my special thought by the appearance of a book called "Keely and His Discoveries," written by the brave woman who has stood by him and believed in him when he would otherwise have been left nearly or quite without a friend. She has helped him morally and substantially, and her book is, among other things, an assurance that she sees more cause to have faith in him now than ever before. She writes with the generous enthusiasm of her sex; but she knows more about the subject than any one else, except Keely himself, and her statements, illustrations, and arguments are worthy of serious consideration. The matter is second in importance to no other; and if, as seems to me more than probable, Mrs. B]oomfield Moore is justified in her belief, then it shall fare well with those who are not afraid, at this stage of the game, to investigate dispassionately and diligently the grounds upon which her faith is based.