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Balzac, Honoré de - Seraphita - 07 A critique of science



Type of Spiritual Experience


A description of the experience

SERAPHITA  By Honore De Balzac  Translated by Katharine Prescott Wormeley

Nature has substances; your science combines only their appearances. At every step Nature gives the lie to all your laws. Can you find a single one that is not disproved by a fact? Your Static laws are at the mercy of a thousand accidents; a fluid can overthrow a solid mountain and prove that the heaviest substances may be lifted by one that is imponderable.

Your laws on Acoustics and Optics are defied by the sounds which you hear within yourselves in sleep, and by the light of an electric sun whose rays often overcome you. You know no more how light makes itself seen within you, than you know the simple and natural process which changes it on the throats of tropic birds to rubies, sapphires, emeralds, and opals, or keeps it grey and brown on the breasts of the same birds under the cloudy skies of Europe, or whitens it here in the bosom of our polar Nature.

You know not how to decide whether colour is a faculty with which all substances are endowed, or an effect produced by an effluence of light. You admit the saltness of the sea without being able to prove that the water is salt at its greatest depth.

You recognize the existence of various substances which span what you think to be the void,—substances which are not tangible under any of the forms assumed by Matter, although they put themselves in harmony with Matter in spite of every obstacle.

When a man discovers the results of the general movement, which is shared by all creations according to their faculty of absorption, you proclaim him mighty in science, as though genius consisted in explaining a thing that is!

Genius ought to cast its eyes beyond effects.

Your men of science would laugh if you said to them: ‘There exist such positive relations between two human beings, one of whom may be here, and the other in Java, that they can at the same instant feel the same sensation, and be conscious of so doing; they can question each other and reply without mistake’; and yet there are mineral substances which exhibit sympathies as far off from each other as those of which I speak.

You believe in the power of the electricity which you find in the magnet and you deny that which emanates from the soul!

According to you, the moon, whose influence upon the tides you think fixed, has none whatever upon the winds, nor upon navigation, nor upon men; she moves the sea, but she must not affect the sick folk; she has undeniable relations with one half of humanity, and nothing at all to do with the other half. These are your vaunted certainties!

“Let us go a step further. You believe in physics. But your physics begin, like the Catholic religion, with an act of faith. Do they not pre-suppose some external force distinct from substance to which it communicates motion? You see its effects, but what is it? where is it? what is the essence of its nature, its life? has it any limits?—and yet, you deny God!

Thus, the majority of your scientific axioms, true to their relation to man, are false in relation to the Great Whole. Science is One, but you have divided it. To know the real meaning of the laws of phenomena must we not know the correlations which exist between phenomena and the law of the Whole?

There is, in all things, an appearance which strikes your senses; under that appearance stirs a soul; a body is there and a faculty is there. Where do you teach the study of the relations which bind things to each other?


Consequently you have nothing positive. Your strongest certainties rest upon the analysis of material forms whose essence you persistently ignore.

....................................Your Science, which makes you great in your own eyes, is paltry indeed beside the light which bathes a Seer.

Cease, cease to question me; our languages are different.

For a moment I have used yours to cast, if it be possible, a ray of faith into your soul; to give you, as it were, the hem of my garment and draw you up into the regions of Prayer.

Can God abase Himself to you?

Is it not for you to rise to Him?

If human reason finds the ladder of its own strength too weak to bring God down to it, is it not evident that you must find some other path to reach Him?

That Path is in ourselves.

The Seer and the Believer find eyes within their souls more piercing far than eyes that probe the things of earth,—they see the Dawn.

Hear this truth: Your science, let it be never so exact, your meditations, however bold, your noblest lights are Clouds. Above, above is the Sanctuary whence the true Light flows.”

The source of the experience

Balzac, Honoré de

Concepts, symbols and science items


Science Items

Science as religion

Activities and commonsteps