JF Ptak Science Books Post 1894
"...stars...Numerous, and every star perhaps a world Of destined habitations"--Milton, Paradise Lost (1668)
In spite of a fairly long (if not light) and ancient history, it seems as though Christian Huygens might have thought more to the shaping of extraterrestrial life than any writer to his time. [The idea of extraterrestrial life is very old, stretching far back into Hindu cosmology, and even deep into the (eighteen worlds) of the Talmud. Thales, Anaximander, Democritus, Aristole, Ptolemy all thought about and agreed on the possibilities of life being lived on places other than the Earth--infintely more life, in the case of Epicurus. Bruno, Copernicus, Fontenelle, Henry More, and Cyrano de Bergerac.] In a way, in a Asimovian way of rules, Huygens may have laid out the first real template for describing what life-not-on-Earth might look like. And in the long run, he finds that the possibilities for life Elsewhere are enormously high (and not in doubt in any way), and that it should in no way be any lesser life-formed than what we know here on Earth--and that includes "life" in all of its great complexities.
[One of the few images made during this time or earlier on the possibilities of world systems outside our own appeared in Bernard le Bovier de Fontenelle--who almost but not quite gets there in his 1682 book Entretriens sur la pluralite des mondes, as follows, though it really has not much at all to do directly with Huygens:]
Huygens (1629-1695) worked across many fields, including astronomy, biology, math and physics, and was extraordinarily productive, making numerous contributions in the physical and theoretical areas, as well as being a prolific author and correspondant. But towards the end of his relatively short life (he died at age 56) Huygens embarked down the science fiction road in pre-science fiction days, writing a wonderful and provocative book entitled Cosmotheoros, The Celestial World Discover'd: or, Conjectures Concerning the Inhabitants, Plants and Productions of the Worlds in the Planets (available online in English here) where he establishes the groundwork of this extraterretrial life. (The book was nearly published during Huygens' lifetime, but it didn't quit ework out; left to his brother to published, he, too died before the book was finally in print in 1698. Shortly after the Latin edition of the Cosmotheoro was published by the The Hague publisher Adriaan Moetjens, translations appeared in English (1698) and in Dutch (1699). In the following years, translations also appeared in French (1702), German (1703), Russian (1717) and in Swedish (1774).)
Hugens set out his description by arguing that extraterrestrial existence of life is perfectly in keeping with the Bible, and that his"conjectures are not useless" or "overcurious", and that are justified in and of themselves as a useful pursuit because of the display of logic in his arguments. He states that the inherent sinfulness and "villany" of man on Earth does not perclude life elsewhere, and these lifeforms coul dbe everywhere else, and no different from our own, with no differences in ability to reason and explore. Lifeforms exist much like us, with at least five senses (and here Huygens makes an interesting play for more-than-give senses, though he doesn't understand what they might be), and are capable of all of the supporting capacities for enjoying astronomy, and logic, mathematics, physik, arithmatic, and all of the rest, including all possible skills that could be called upon in the production of instruments of science necessary to pursue any endeavor, and all enjoyed in a society as expectently rich as any on Earth, enjoying all of their plants and animal lifeforms, all of their own creations and the rest of the creations of Nature, all while listening to a universe-wide application of music ("everywhere immutably the same", which Huygens states beautifully here:)
“It's the same with Musick as with Geometry, it's every where immutably the same, and always will be so. For all Harmony consists in Concord, and Concord is all the World over fixt according to the same invariable measure and proportion. So that in all Nations the difference and distance of Notes is the same, whether they be in a continued gradual progression, or the voice makes skips over one to the next. Nay very credible Authors report, that there's a sort of Bird in America, that can plainly sing in order six musical Notes: whence it follows that the Laws of Musick are unchangeably fix'd by Nature, and therefore the same Reason holds valid for their Musick, as we even now proposed for their Geometry"--(page 86)
Cosmotheoros' pages are filled with such reasoned arguments--remarkably so for the end of the 17th century, barely 90 years after the great publication of Galileo and 40 aftre the work of Hooke (in exploring infinities at the other end of the optic scale).
I've included some interesting parts from Book One of the Cosmotheoros; the subject/section headings are in red, and the page number (which usually appears mid-sentence) is related as . Huygens occasionally referes to the other non-Earth life forms as "Planetarians". Here's a sample:
These Conjectures do not contradict the holy Scriptures:
The other sort, when they hear us talk of new Lands, and Animals endued with as much Reason as themselves will be ready to fly out into religious Exclamations, that we set up Conjectures against the Word of God, and broach Opinions directly opposite to Holy Writ. For we do not there read one
word of the Production of such Creatures, no not so much as of their Existence; nay rather we read the quite contrary. For, That only mentions this Earth with its Animals and Plants, and Man the Lord of them; but as for Worlds in the Sky, ’tis wholly silent. Either these Men resolve not to understand, or they are very ignorant; For they have been answer’d so often, that I am almost asham’d to repeat it: That it’s evident God had no design to make a particular Enumeration in the Holy Scriptures, of all the Works of his
Creation. When therefore it is plain that under the general name of Stars or Earth are comprehended all the Heavenly Bodies, even the little Gentlemen round Jupiter and Saturn, why must all that multitude of
Beings which the Almighty Creator has been pleased to place upon them, be
excluded the Privilege, and not suffer’d to have a share in the Expression? And these Men themselves can’t but know in what sense it is that all things are said to be made for the use of Man, not certainly for us to stare or peep through a Telescope at; for that’s little better than nonsense. Since then the greatest
part of God’s Creation, that innumerable multitude of Stars, is plac’d out of the reach of any man’s Eye; and many of them, it’s likely, of the best Glasses, so that they don’t seem to belong to us; is it such an unreasonable Opinion, that there are some reasonable Creatures who see and admire those glorious Bodies at a nearer distance?
This ENquiry not overcurious
But perhaps they’ll say, it does not become us to be so curious and inquisitive in these things which the Supreme Creator seems to have kept for his own knowlege: For since he has not been pleased to make any farther Discovery or Revelation of them, it seems little better than presumption to make any inquiry into that which he has thought fit to hide. But these Gentlemen must be told, that they take too much upon themselves when they pretend to appoint how far and no farther Men shall go in their Searches, and to set bounds to other Mens Industry; just as if they had been of the Privy Council of Heaven: as if they knew the Marks that God has plac’d to Knowlege: or as if Men were able to pass those Marks. If our Forefathers had been at this rate scrupulous, we might have been ignorant still of the Magnitude and Figure of the Earth, or of such a place as America. The Moon might have shone with her own Light for all us, and we might have stood up to the ears in Water, like the Indians at every Eclipse: and a hundred other things brought to light by the late Discoveries.... unknown to us. For what can a Man imagine more abstruse, or less likely to be known, than what is now as clear as the Sun? That vigorous Industry, and that piercing Wit nwere given Men to make advances in the search of Nature, and there’s no reason to put any stop to such Enquiries. I must acknowlege still that what I here intend to treat of is not of that nature as to admit of a certain knowlege; I can’t pretend to assert any thing as positively true (for that would be madness) but only to advance a probable guess, the truth of which every one is at his own liberty to examine. If any one therefore shall gravely tell me, that I have spent my time idly in a vain and fruitless enquiry after what by my own acknowlegement I can never come to be sure of; the answer is, that at this rate he would put down all Natural Philosophy as far as it concerns it self in searching into the Nature of things...
Conjectures not useless, because not certain...
In such noble and sublime Studies as these, ’tis a Glory to arrive at Probability, and the search it self rewards the pains. But there are many degrees of Probable, some nearer Truth than others, in the determining of
which lies the chief exercise of our Judgment.
Races of Men no hinderance to there being the Glory of the Planet They Inhabit
Nor let anyone say here, that there’s so much Villany and Wickedness in this Man that we have thus magnified, that it’s a reasonable doubt, whether he would not be so far from being the Glory and Ornament of the Planet that enjoys his Company, that he would be rather its Shame and Disgrace.
For first, the Vices that most Men are tainted with, are no hindrance, but that those that follow the Dictates of true Reason, and obey the Rules of a rigid Virtue, are still a Beauty and Ornament to the place that has the happiness to harbour them. Besides, the Vices of Men themselves are of excellent use, and are not permitted and allow’d in the World without wise design. For since it has so pleased God to order the Earth, and every thing in it as we see it is (for it’s nonsense to say it happen’d against his Will or Knowlege) we must not think that those different Opinions, and that various multiplicity of Minds were plac’d in different Men to no end or purpose: but that this mixture of bad Men with good, and the Consequents of such a mixture, as Misfortunes, Wars, Afflictions, Poverty, and the like, were given us for this very good end, viz. the exercising our Wits, and sharpening our Inventions; by forcing us to provide for our own necessary defence against our Enemies.
Not to be imagined to be too different than Our's
They have indeed some difference in their shape, and ’tis fit they should, to distinguish the Plants and Animals of those Countries from ours, who live on this side the Earth; but even in this variety there is an Agreement, an exact Correspondence in figure and shape, the same ways of Growth, and new Productions, and of continuing their own kind. Their Animals have Feet and Wings like ours, and like ours have Heart, Lungs, Guts, and the Parts serving to Generation; whereas all these things, as well with them as us, might, if it had so pleased Infinite Wisdom, have been order’d a very different way. ’Tis plain then that Nature has not exhibited that Variety in her Works that she could, and therefore we must not allow that weight to this Argument, as upon the account of it to make every thing in the Planets quite different from what is here.
Reason there not much different than it 'tis here
Well, but allowing these Planetarians some sort of Reason must it needs be the same with ours? Why truly I think ’tis, and must be so; whether we consider it as applied to Justice and Morality, or exercised in the Principles and Foundations of Science. For Reason with us is that which gives us a true sense of Justice and Honesty, Praise, Kindness and Gratitude: ’tis that that teaches us to distinguish universally between Good and Bad; and renders us capable of Knowlege and Experience in it..
They have senses
But I perceive I am got a little too far: For till I have furnished them with Senses, neither will Life be any pleasure to them, nor Reason of any use. And I think it very probable, that all their Animals, as well their Beasts as rational Creatures, are like  ours in all that relates to the Senses:
Their senses not very different from ours
I know that it hath been a question with many, whether there might not have been more Senses than those five. If we should allow this, it might nevertheless be reasonably doubted whether the Senses of the Planetary Inhabitants are much different from ours. I must confess, I cannot deny but there might possibly have been more Senses; but when I consider the Uses  of those we have, I cannot think but they would have been superfluous.
All planets have fire
Let us now see whether they may not have Fire too: which is not so properly call’d an Element, as a rapid  Motion of the Particles in the inflammable Body....
The bigness of their creatures not rightly guessed at byt he bigness of the Planets
But perhaps it maybe asked as well concerning Brutes as rational Creatures, and of their Plants and Trees too, whether they are proportionably larger or less than ours. For if the Magnitude of the Planets was
to be the Standard of their measure, there would be Animals in Jupiter ten or fifteen times larger than Elephants, and as much longer than our Whales. And then their Men must be mere Goliahs,  in respect of our Pygmiships. Now tho I don’t see any so great absurdity in this as to make it impossible, yet there is no reason to think it is really so...
They have astronomy
If therefore the Principle we before laid down be true, that the other Planets are not inferior in dignity to ours, what follows but that they have Creatures not to stare and wonder at the Works of Nature only, but who employ their Reason in the examination and knowlege of them, and have made as great advances therein as we have? They do not only view the Stars, but they improve the Science of Astronomy: nor is there any thing can make us think this improbable, but that fond conceitedness of every thing that we  call our own, and that pride that is too natural to us to be easily laid down.
And alt its subserviant arts
For, First: No Observations of the Stars, that are necessary to the knowlege of their Motions, can be made without Instruments; nor can  these be made without Metal, Wood, or some such solid Body. Here’s a necessity of allowing them the Carpenters Tools, the Saw, the Ax, the Plane, the Mallet, the File: and the making of these requires the use of Iron, or some equally hard Metal
Again, these Instruments can’t be without a Circle divided into equal Parts, or a streight line into unequal. Here’s a necessity for introducing Geometry and Arithmetick.
A rational soul may inhabit another shapes than our's
For ’tis a very ridiculous opinion, that the common people have got among them, that it is impossible a rational Soul should dwell in any other shape than ours.
The planetarians are no less than we
Then seeing we have before  allow’d them Astronomy and Observations, we must give them Bodies and Strength sufficient for the ruling their Instruments, and the erecting their Tubes and Engines. And for this the larger they are the better. For if we should make them little Fellows about the bigness of Rats or Mice, they could neither make such Observations as are requisite; nor such Instruments as are necessary to those Observations. Therefore we must suppose them larger than, or at least equal to our selves, especially in Jupiter and Saturn, which are so vastly bigger than the Planet which we inhabit.
They Live in society
Astronomy, we said before, could never subsist without the writing down the Observations: nor could the Art of Writing (any more than the Carpenters and Founders) ever be found out except in a Society of reasonable Creatures, where the necessities of Life forc’d them upon Invention: So that what I promis’d to prove follows from hence, namely, that the Planetarians must in this be like us, that they maintain a Society and Fellowship with, and afford mutual Assistances and Helps to one another.
They enjoy the pleasure of society
What I am now going to say may seem somewhat more bold, and yet is not less likely than the former. For if these new Nations live in Society, as I have pretty well show’d they do, ’tis somewhat more than probable
that they enjoy not only the Profit, but the Pleasures arising from such a Society: such as Conversation, Amours, Jesting, and Sights.
They have music
It’s the same with Musick as with Geometry, it’s every where immutably the same, and always will be so. For all Harmony consists in Concord, and Concord is all the World over fixt according to the same invariable measure