Innumerable as the Starrs of Night,
Or Starrs of Morning,
Dew-drops, which the Sun
on every leaf and every flouer
Beauty is truth, truth beauty,
— that is all
Ye know on earth, and all
ye need to know.
E = M
Energy is eternal delight.
Impearls: VI. Devils and Pilgrims
Item page — this may be a chapter or subsection of a larger work. Click on link to access entire piece.
The World, The Flesh, and the Devil
Freeman J. Dyson
VI. Devils and Pilgrims
I have spoken much about how we may deal with the World and the Flesh, and I have said nothing about how we may deal with the Devil. Bernal also had difficulties with the Devil. He admitted in the 1968 foreword to his book that the chapter on the Devil was the least satisfactory part of it. The Devil will always find new varieties of human folly to frustrate our too rational dreams.
Instead of pretending that I have an antidote to the Devil's wiles, I will end this lecture with a discussion of the human factors that most obviously stand in the way of our achieving the grand designs which I have been describing. When mankind is faced with an opportunity to embark on any great undertaking, there are always three main factors that devilishly hamper our efforts. The first is an inability to define or agree upon our objectives. The second is an inability to raise sufficient funds. The third is the fear of a disastrous failure. All three factors have been conspicuously plaguing the United States space program in recent years. It is a remarkable testimony to the vitality of the program that these factors have still not succeeded in bringing it to a halt. When we stand before the far greater enterprises of biological technology and space colonization that lie in our future, the same three factors will certainly rise again to confuse and delay us.
I want now to demonstrate to you by a historical example how these human factors may be overcome. I shall quote from William Bradford, one of the Pilgrim Fathers, who wrote a book called Of Plimoth Plantation describing the history of the first English settlement in Massachusetts. Bradford was governor of the Plymouth colony for 28 years. He began to write his history ten years after the settlement. His purpose in writing it was, as he said, “That their children may see with what difficulties their fathers wrestled in going through these things in their first beginnings. As also that some use may be made hereof in after times by others in such like weighty employments.” Bradford's work remained unpublished for two hundred years, but he never doubted that he was writing for the ages.
Here is Bradford describing the problem of man's inability to agree upon objectives. The date is Spring 1620, the same year in which the Pilgrims were to sail.
The next quotation deals with the perennial problem of funding. Here Bradford is quoting a letter written by Robert Cushman, the man responsible for buying provisions for the Pilgrims' voyage. He writes from Dartmouth on 17 August 1620, desperately late in the year, months after the ships ought to have started.
My last quotation describes the fear of disaster, as it appeared in the debate among the Pilgrims over their original decision to go to America.
I could go on quoting Bradford for hours, but this is not the place to do so. What can we learn from him? We learn that the three devils of disunity, shortage of funds, and fear of the unknown are no strangers to humanity. They have always been with us and will always be with us whenever great adventures are contemplated. From Bradford we learn too how they are to be defeated. The Pilgrims used no technological magic to defeat them. The Pilgrims' victory demanded the full range of virtues of which human beings under stress are capable; toughness, courage, unselfishness, foresight, common sense, and good humor. Bradford would have set at the head of this list the virtue he considered most important, a faith in Divine Providence.
I end this sermon on a note of disagreement with Bernal. Bernal believed that we shall defeat the Devil by means of a combination of socialist organization and applied psychology. I believe that our best defense will be to rely on the human qualities that have remained unchanged from Bradford's time to ours. If we are wise, we shall preserve intact these qualities of the human species through the centuries to come, and they will see us safely through the many crises of destiny that surely await us. But I will let Bernal have the last word. Bernal's last word is a question which William Bradford must often have pondered, but would not have known how to answer, as he watched the first generation of native born New Englanders depart from the ways of their fathers.
© Copyright 1972, 1973, 2002 Freeman J. Dyson. Reprinted by permission of author.
2002-11-03 2002-11-10 2002-11-17 2002-11-24 2002-12-01 2002-12-08 2002-12-15 2002-12-22 2002-12-29 2003-01-05 2003-01-12 2003-01-19 2003-01-26 2003-02-02 2003-02-16 2003-04-20 2003-04-27 2003-05-04 2003-05-11 2003-06-01 2003-06-15 2003-06-22 2003-06-29 2003-07-13 2003-07-20 2003-08-03 2003-08-10 2003-08-24 2003-08-31 2003-09-07 2003-09-28 2003-10-05 2003-10-26 2003-11-02 2003-11-16 2003-11-23 2003-11-30 2003-12-07 2003-12-14 2003-12-21 2003-12-28 2004-01-04 2004-01-11 2004-01-25 2004-02-01 2004-02-08 2004-02-29 2004-03-07 2004-03-14 2004-03-21 2004-03-28 2004-04-04 2004-04-11 2004-04-18 2004-04-25 2004-05-02 2004-05-16 2004-05-23 2004-05-30 2004-06-06 2004-06-13 2004-06-20 2004-07-11 2004-07-18 2004-07-25 2004-08-22 2004-09-05 2004-10-10 2005-06-12 2005-06-19 2005-06-26 2005-07-03 2005-07-10 2005-07-24 2005-08-07 2005-08-21 2005-08-28 2005-09-04 2005-09-11 2005-09-18 2005-10-02 2005-10-09 2005-10-16 2005-10-30 2005-11-06 2005-11-27 2006-04-02 2006-04-09 2006-07-02 2006-07-23 2006-07-30 2007-01-21 2007-02-04 2007-04-22 2007-05-13 2007-06-17 2007-09-09 2007-09-16 2007-09-23 2007-10-07 2007-10-21 2007-11-04 2009-06-28 2009-07-19 2009-08-23 2009-09-06 2009-09-20 2009-12-13 2011-03-27 2012-01-01 2012-02-05 2012-02-12