Disproportion of man

Written by Blaise Pascal

I want man to consider nature just once , seriously and at leisure, and to look at himself as well, and judge whether there is any proportion between himself and nature by comparing the two.

Let man then contemplate the whole of nature in her full and lofty majesty, let him turn his gaze away from the lowly objects around him; let him see the dazzling light set like an eternal lamp to light up the universe, let him see the earth as a mere speck compared to the vast orbit described by this star, and let him marvel at finding this vast orbit itself to be no more than the tiniest point compared to that described by the stars revolving in the firmament. But if our eyes stop there, let our imagination proceed further; it will grow weary of conceiving things before nature tires of producing them.  The whole visible world is only an imperceptible dot in nature's ample bosom.  No idea comes near it; it is no good inflating our conceptions beyond imaginable space, we only bring forth atoms compared to the reality of things. Nature is an infinite sphere whose centre is everywhere and the circumference nowhere.

Let man, returning to himself, consider what he is in comparison to what exists; let him regard himself lost, and from his little dungeon, in which he finds himself lodged, I mean in the universe, let him take the earth, its realms, its cities, its houses and himself at their proper value.

What is man in the infinite?

But, to offer him another prodigy equally astounding, let him look into the tiniest thing he knows. Let a mite show him in its minute body incomparably more minute parts, legs with joints, veins in its legs, blood in the veins, humours in the blood, drops in the humours, vapours in the drops: let him divide these things still further until he has exhausted his powers of imagination, and let the last thing he comes down to now be the subject of our discourse.  He will perhaps think that this is the ultimate of minuteness in nature. 

I want to show him a new abyss.  I want to depict to him not only the visible universe, but all the conceivable immensity of nature enclosed in this minature atom.  Let him see there an infinity of universes, each with its firmament, its planets, its earth, in the same proportion to the visible world, and on that earth, animals, and finally mites, in which he will find again the same results as in the first; and finding the same thing yet again in the others without end or respite, he will be lost in such wonders, as astounding in their minuteness as the others in their amplitude.  For who will not marvel that our body, a moment ago imperceptible in a universe, itself imperceptible in the bosom of the whole, should now be a colossus, a world, or rather a whole, compared with the nothingness beyond our reach. Anyone who considers himself in this way will be terrified at himself, and, seeing his mass as given by nature, supporting him between these two abysses of infinity and nothingness, will tremble at these marvels. I believe that with his curiosity changing into wonder he will be more disposed to contemplate them in silence than investigate them with presumption.

For, after all, what is man in nature? A nothing compared to the infinite, a whole compared to the nothing, a middle point between all and nothing, infinitely remote from an understanding of the extremes; the end of things and their principles are unattainably hidden from him in impenatrable secrecy.

Man is only a reed, the weakest in nature, but he is a thinking reed.  There is no need for the whole universe to take up arms to crush him: a vapour, a drop of water is enough to kill him. But even if the universe were to crush him, man would still be nobler than his slayer, because he knows that he is dying and the advantage the universe has over him. The universe knows none of this.

Thus all our dignity consists in thought. It is on thought that we must depend for our recovery, not on space and time, which we could never fill. Let us then strive to think well; that is the basic principle of morality.