Marquis Pierre-Simon de Laplace (1749-1827), French mathematician and cosmologist, sought to explain the origin of the universe in terms of mathematics, physics, and philosophy. Although his conceptual reference for the temporal framework of the universe is not evident, other than under the general heading of orbital computations, Laplace’s speculation within the nebular hypothesis poses a unique and interesting account for the origin of our solar system. Laplace was well known for his publications, Systems of the World (1796) and Celestial Mechanics (1825).
The existence of the solar system, with all the stars, planets, and comets, retains the appearance of regularity and stability. Laplace, with observations and mathematical computations, understood the governing factors and influence of both gravitation and motion among celestial objects. The vastness of our solar system, as evident by cometary orbits, was suggested as going beyond the then- known limits of our system. It was postulated that the solar system was a product of the expansion and contraction of a superheated sun whose atmosphere existed beyond the known planets. These newly formed planets possess similarities in directional rotation (including satellites), plane, and projection. Such commonalities were evidence of a common origin, albeit only a probable origin.
As for temporal facets of the known solar system, Laplace’s concepts of time are held within the mechanical operations of a solar system in particular and the universe in general. The totality of time or age of the solar system or universe became secondary to operational understanding. Perhaps in Laplace’s view, time measured within human consciousness becomes irrelevant when compared with the vastness and mechanistic system of the universe. Essentially, the birth of our solar system, like that of the universe, is indifferent to humankind’s existence or to life in general.
It is rather interesting to note that before modern science and evolutionary theory, Laplace had mentioned, though briefly, that life may exist on other planets, or in his words, this is extremely probable. This assumption concerning the probability of the existence of life on other planets can be seen as a logical outcrop of the commonalities that are shared among the planets. This novel idea of extraterrestrial life is devoid of both human and divine interaction. Should life forms exist elsewhere in the universe, their existence becomes as irrelevant to our species as the universe is to human existence. The mechanistic nature of the universe, both in implementation and adjustments, becomes a set of interconnected subsystems in which individual life, assuming the existence of life on other planets, becomes insulated. Within Laplace’s cosmology, there is no need for a divine essence that permeates the universe. Probability and mechanics replace the deity or force in both planetary and human existence.
In Laplace’s substantial contributions, inferences regarding time become subtle statements without regard for theology and philosophy. The replacement of the Son with the Sun, as it were, has remarkable connotations for human existence and placement within nature. Laplace advised extreme caution to readers regarding his conjectures. Nevertheless, the materialistic explanation and justification seems to support this view. It is unknown if he held any theistic views before his death in 1827. However, the contradiction between science and traditional religious beliefs would surely become problematic. The concept of time as supported by science would be greater than human experience would allow. Timelessness or eternity would only be inferred as applying to the planets and the mechanical operations of solar systems and the universe.
David Alexander Lukaszek
See also Cosmogony; Kant, Immanuel; Nebular
Hypothesis; Planets; Time, Planetary
Laplace, P.-S. (1966). Celestial mechanics. Bronx, NY:
Chelsea. (Original work published 1825)
Laplace, P.-S. (1976). The system of the world. In M. Bartusiak (Ed.), Archives of the universe. New York: Vintage Books. (Original work published 1796)