Napoleon Laplace anecdote

Napoleon Laplace anecdote (Scott, 1985)
An 1985 illustration (with caption) of the Napoleon Laplace anecdote, from George Scott's Atoms of the The Living Flame: an Odyssey into Ethics and the Physical Chemistry of Free Will, a circa 1802 dialogue between French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte and physicist Pierre Laplace, during which the latter told the former that "god" was no longer a needed "hypothesis" in celestial mechanics; Scott also comments that in 1814, after Napoleon's doom was sealed, Laplace added (a possible reference to Laplace's demon) that "the curve described by a simple molecule of air is regulated in a manner just as certain as the planets", and went onto claim that the destiny of every atom in the universe is mathematically predictable in principle from the forces of nature. [17]
In anecdotes, Napoleon Laplace anecdote is a famous circa 1802 conversation that took place between French leader Napoleon Bonaparte and physicist Pierre Laplace, one of Napoleon's former professors, on the question of the existence of god in the context of the new celestial mechanics models of the formation and operation of the universe, the dialog of which was latter communicated to mathematician Joseph Lagrange, the gist of which being that Laplace no longer needed the so-called "hypothesis of god", as he referred to it, in the description of the mechanical operation of the universe.

Celestial Mechanics | Godless
The following is an 1829 photo (Ѻ) of French physicist Pierre Laplace’s 5-volume Celestial Mechanics affixed with his famous 1802 quip to French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, in response to his god queries, that he had no use of the hypothesis of god, which was prompted into query after completion of at least the first volume, in which Napoleon could not find the world “god” mentioned:
I had no need of that hypothesis
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Ball's description | 1888
The gist of which, accounted by British mathematician Walter Ball (1888), is as follows: [12]

Laplace went in state to Napoleon to accept a copy of his work, and the following account of the interview is well authenticated, and so characteristic of all the parties concerned that I quote it in full. Someone had told Napoleon that the book contained no mention of the name of God; Napoleon, who was fond of putting embarrassing questions, received it with the remark, ‘M. Laplace, they tell me you have written this large book on the system of the universe, and have never even mentioned its Creator.’ Laplace, who, though the most supple of politicians, was as stiff as a martyr on every point of his philosophy, drew himself up and answered bluntly, ‘Je n’avais pas besoin de cette hypothèse-là.’ ['I had no need of that hypothesis.'] Napoleon, greatly amused, told this reply to Lagrange, who exclaimed, ‘Ah! c’est une belle hypothèse; ça explique beaucoup de choses.’ ['Ah, it is a fine hypothesis; it explains so many things.']”

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McGrayne's description | 2011
American science writer Sharon McGrayne (2011) states that the conversation took place at a reception in Josephine Bonaparte’s rose garden, at the Chateau de Malmaison, in 1802, during which time Napoleon, then emperor of France, was trying to engineer a rapprochement with the papacy, and so the religious probings ensued: [14]

Napoleon: “Who is the author of all this?”
Laplace: “A chain of natural causes would account for the construction and preservation of the celestial system.”

Napoleon: “Newton spoke of God in his book. I have perused yours but failed to find his name even once. Why?”
Laplace: “I have no need of that hypothesis”

Laplace: “The true object of the physical sciences is not the search for primary causes [i.e. God] but the search for laws according to which phenomenon are produced.”

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Citations
The number of citations to the Napoleon-Laplace anecdote is large, already having been "well authenticated" by 1888, as Walter Ball put it. In perusal of many of these there seems to be an unwritten rule, which states that if one cites the anecdote, one is partial to Laplace's position; though this rule does not old in all cases, some taking a middle ground on the matter (e.g. William Reed, Karen Armstrong). Some of thinkers to cite the anecdote are listed chronologically below, showing date of statement or publication in which the statement is quoted or references, reaction extent (RE), i.e. age, of person, when the citation or usage was implemented. as example par excellence, and title of publication:

Person
Date
Age
Publication






Pierre Laplace
(1749-1827)
180253Conversation with Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) [age: 33]
William Reed
(1806-1876)
183933“The Infancy of the Union” (see: below) [13]
Francis Edgeworth (1845-1926)188136 In his Mathematical Psychics (pg. 134), via citation to Louis Bourrienne’s Memoirs of Napoleon Bonaparte (1836), he seems to cite the anecdote: [16]

“Thus it appears that the mathematical method makes no ridiculous pretensions to authority in practical politics. There is no room for the sarcasm of Napoleon complaining that Laplace wished to govern men according to the differential calculus. The sense of practical genius need not take offense. The mathematical method has no place in camps or cabinets; but in a philosophic sphere in which Napoleon had neither part nor lot, and which he scouted as 'Ideology'.”

Walter Ball
(1850-1925)
188838A Short History of Mathematics [12]
Jean-Paul Sartre
(1905-1980)
194540“Existentialism is a Humanism” [10]
Paul Samuelson
(1915-2009)
196550 “Causality and Teleology in Economics” [9]
George Scott
(1921-2002)
198564Atoms of the The Living Flame: an Odyssey into Ethics and the Physical Chemistry of Free Will [17]
Francis Crick
(1916-2004)
199478The Astonishing Hypothesis: the Scientific Search for the Soul [11]
Richard Dawkins
(1941-)
200665The God Delusion (pg. 68n)
Christopher Hitchens
(1949-2011)
200758God is Not Great (pg. 66-67)
Karen Armstrong
(1941-)
200968The Case for God (pg. 227)
Greg Graffin
(1964-)
201046 Anarchy Evolution: Faith, Science, and Bad Religion in a World Without God (pg. 1) (Ѻ)
Sharon McGrayne
(c.1950-)
201161The Theory that Would Not Die [14]


Overview
In 1796, French physicist Pierre Laplace (IQ=190), who in published his Exposition of the System of the World, which outlined the mathematical details of the nebular hypothesis, the theory that the solar system formed billions of years ago from a quickly rotating nebula, or interstellar gas cloud, and that the planets and the sun coalesced from this rotating mass in accordance with the mechanical laws of nature. Laplace based his nebular hypothesis derivations on the previous work of Swedish polymath Emanuel Swedenborg (IQ=190) whom in his 1734 (284 PE) treatise On the Principles of Natural Things had postulated that the formation of the solar system occurred as follows:

Nebular hypothesis

Swedenborg hypothesized, as shown in figure one, that first the crust formed by the original nebula as it solidified is about to burst; then, figure two, the state of confusion and collapse as pieces of the sun are scattered through space; then, figure three, the crust reformed as a disc surrounding the proto-sun; lastly, figure four, the pieces separated into individual spheres: the planets. Laplace’s version of this model soon became the standard model of the origin of the solar system.

The central argument of Laplace was ‘consideration of planetary motions thus leads us to think that, as the result of excessive heat, the solar system originally extended beyond the orbits of all the planets, and that it contracted by successive steps to its present limits. In the assumed primitive condition of the sun, it resembled those nebulae which are shown by the telescope to be composed of a more or less brilliant nucleus, surrounded by nebulosity which, in condensing toward the surface of the nucleus, transforms it into a star.’ In other words, the solar system formed, according to Laplace, by the slow rotative contraction of the nebula around the nucleus of a newly ignited star.
Napoleon Laplace anecdote 1
Napoleon Bonaparte greeting French physicist Pierre Laplace (1802) to congratulate him on his newly published Celestial Mechanics.

Over the next three decades, Laplace expanded on this early work with the writing of his five-volume opus Celestial Mechanics, a sort of updated translation English physicist Isaac Newton’s 1686 Principia, the book that introduced the laws of motion, albeit written in the language of differential calculus, in which, in Laplace’s own words, he set himself the task to write a work which should ‘offer a complete solution of the great mechanical problem presented by the solar system, and bring theory to coincide so closely with observation that empirical equations should no longer find a place in astronomical tables.’

The first two-volumes of Laplace’s Celestial Mechanics were published in 1799 and that year given to Napoleon, one of his former students, as a gift to which Napoleon replied ‘the first six months to which I can spare will be employed in reading it.’ [2] When he finally did finish reading it, Napoleon, the emperor of a predominately Catholic empire, albeit himself an agnostic of the most profound kind, interjected into a famous dialog with Laplace on the religious implications of his new mechanical model of the origin and operation of the universe, a conversation said to have occurred on August 8th, 1802—the day the universe—the universe of the scientific elite—became Godless (as pictured adjacent).

This famous conversation, as reconstructed below, with Napoleon essentially curious to know Laplace’s views on God, has since been told and retold so many times, said to have occurred in different years and in a number of different circumstances, scenarios, and points of view that a number of differing versions of the conversation exist. [3] Whatever the exact details and circumstances of the conversation, that is whether Napoleon visited Laplace or Laplace visited Napoleon, whether Napoleon was referring to Laplace’s Celestial Mechanics or his Exposition of the System of the World, whether Napoleon was comparing the God-free universe model of Laplace to the God-tinged work of Lagrange or that of Newton, whether the conversation occurred in 1802 or 1812, whether Napoleon had read the book prior to the conversation or not, along with subtleties attributed to French to English translation renditions, among other details, the gist of the dialog is said to have occurred as follows: wherein first (left) he queries Laplace and then next, greatly amused by the response, quickly conveys the dialog to Laplace’s intellectual comrade Italian mathematical physicist Joseph Lagrange (IQ=185) who corroborated (right):

Napoleon Laplace anecdote (two query scene)
Left: A rendition of Napoleon querying Laplace about why there is no mention of God in his new book on the mechanics of the universe. Right:
A rendition of Napoleon telling Lagrange about his interaction with Laplace on the question of the existence of God in the framework of the new mechanical models.
Another version is: [8]

Napoleon says, "François, you wrote this whole book on astronomy, and you didn't once mention God." Laplace replies, "I had no need of that hypothesis." Hilarity ensues.

And so it came to pass—in the centuries to follow—that among the elite of the elite of the scientific community, the universe, the Laplacian universe, that is to say, was Godless. The universe of the lay public, the so-called moral universe, however, remained a different story and is the story we intend to address herein.

Napoleon, to note, in the decades to follow, during his various debates with others on religion, would frequently refer back to these early conversations with Laplace, Lagrange, and the other faculty members of the École Polytechnique, about their convictions that there is no God, as sorts of anchor points to get his own bearings, right up until his last years. In one debate with his personal assistant General Baron Gaspard Gourgaud, during the years 1812-1816, on the subject of Gourgaud’s opinion that staring up at the starry heavens leads one to an amazement and wonder in the greatness of God, Napoleon replied: [4]

“How comes it, then, that Laplace was an atheist? At the Institute neither he nor Monge, nor Berthollet, nor Lagrange believed in God. But they do not like to say so.”

This statement, made about the great leading scientists of Napoleon’s day is more or less a verbatim description of the views held by the leading scientists of our day—nearly all do not believe in God, but do not like to say so. This issue will be a central focal point of this book. In other words, although scientists no longer believe in God, considering divine intervention as being an unneeded hypothesis, what exactly scientists do believe remains a bit of an obscure picture.
Napoleon Laplace Lagrange
A truncated synopsis of the Napoleon Laplace anecdote from American economist Paul Samuelson’s 1965 “Causality and Teleology in Economics.” [9]
Gourgaud went on to comment in rebuttal or rather defense of his Christian beliefs that ‘I own that I believe firmly in God, and cannot conceive how men can be atheists. To proclaim themselves such seems to me mere mental braggadocio’. To this abrasive comment, Napoleon retorted:

“Bah! Laplace was an atheist, and Berthollet too. At the Institute they all were atheists, and yet Newton and Leibnitz were believers. Atheists compare man to a clock; but the clock-maker is a being of superior intelligence. They grant that creation is the result of matter, as warmth is the effect of fire.”

To pause and reflect on this frank statement, we notice, firstly, a definite century shift in the thinking mindset of the modern intellectual, specifically from that of a science framed in the workings of a creator God, the Newtonian universe (1727), to that of a science framed in the workings of a Godless universe, the Laplacian universe (1827). Secondly, the new atheists, that is the hard scientists of the modern day, no longer compare man to a clock but to that of a multi-element animated reactive molecule, by virtue of the finding that each human, identical twins aside, has a definite, unique, and measurable human molecular formula—and molecules do not behave like clocks. Lastly, we grant that creation is the result of chemical synthesis, the interaction of matter and energy, driven by the dynamics and operation of the universe, just as warmth is the effect of fire.

Soul discussions
A central unresolved issue that remained in the Laplacian universe model, one that was frequently on the mind of Napoleon, as it is on the mind of many this very day, is the nature of life and death, the origin of life, and that most-sacred of all terms the soul (or as other contexts spirit)—a single word that in one passing embodies morality, meaning, and purpose. [6] As Napoleon commented in April of 1817 during a conversation with Gourgaud who at the time was praising the Celestial Mechanics of Laplace:

“I often asked Laplace what he thought of God. He owned he was an atheist. Many crimes have been committed in the name of religion. The oldest religion is the worship of the sun [Ra theology]. Where is the soul of an infant? I cannot remember what I was before I was born; and what will become of my soul after my death? As to my body, it will become carrots or turnips. I have no dread of death. In the army I have seen many men suddenly perish who were talking with me.”

Where is the soul of the infant, indeed? The soul is a term of Egyptian origin, which connotes the summation of one’s right or wrong motions, morally speaking, throughout one’s total state of existence. In its original formulation, the soul was said to be located heart and called the ‘ba’ and something that could be measured on a scale in the judgment hall in the afterlife. While the majority of this soul weighing theory is mythological, a person, or for that matter any atom or molecule, animated or not, does have combinations of natural and unnatural "motions", and any and all motions are quantitative measurements of work—or forces moving objects per unit distance—that are quantified in units of joules, the unit of energy. There is, therefore, some residual semblance of scientific truth to the notion ancient concept of the soul—although not to the effect that there is some measureable mass of moral nature found in one’s body—such as in the pineal gland, as famously postulated in 1620 by French philosopher Rene Descartes—but rather in one’s motions, which are both natural and unnatural.

The subject of the nature of the soul was a question that plagued Napoleon up until his last days. In fact, in 1820, a year before his death, Napoleon was experimenting with seeds and plants of melon, spinach, sorrel, asparagus, salad, artichokes, cucumber, radishes, and endives, to figure out or rather gain insight into the search for the origin of life and nature of the soul. During these investigations, Napoleon entered into a dialog with his personal physician Francois Antommarchi as to the whereabouts of the soul, during which time he commented again on his retrospect conversation with Laplace on God: ‘You do not believe it, you doctors are above such weakness. Tell me, you who know so well the human body, who have probed into all its ramifications, have you ever come across the soul under your scalpel? Where is it? In which organ?’ 'I hesitated to respond,' says Antommarchi. 'Come now, frankly, there is not a doctor who believes in God, is not that so?' 'No, Sire, they are ensnared by the demonstration, they accept the dictum of the mathematicians.' 'Eh, but the latter are generally religious. Your reply, however, recalls to me a curious remark. I was talking to Laplace , I was congratulating him upon a book he had just published and I asked him how it was that the name of God, which was so incessantly repeated in the writings of Lagrange, did not appear even once in his work. The reason,' he replied, 'is that I had not had occasion to make use of that hypothesis’.’ [7]

These open and frank and Napoleonic conversation dialogs, which in modern terms would be akin to JFK going down to MIT and having a one-on-one discussion of belief systems with every professor, offer a glimpse into a subject that has become a rather taboo discussion topic in the modern day and is a taboo that we intend to break with herein and to continue onward in the framework of this open and frank style of Napoleonic dialog.

In any event, the Napoleon Laplace dialog is often said to mark the start of the "Godless universe" model of modern science.

Other
French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, in his 1945 “Existentialism is a Humanism” lecture, attributed some possible variant of the above to someone in the year 1880, as follows: [10]

“Around 1880, some French professors attempted to formulate a secular morality, they expressed it more or less in these words: God is a useless and a costly hypothesis, so we will do without it.”
Aten's fingers (Moses' gods finger) labeled
A depiction of long outstretched "fingers of Aten", i.e. sunrays anthropomorphized, of the sun-god Aten being worshiped in 1330BC by the Egyptian monotheism-believing pharaoh Akhenaten, cited by American politician William Reed in 1838 as a theory or hypothesis that we need to keep in order to explain political union formation.

Reed's description | 1839
In 1839, American politician William Reed, in his “The Infancy of the Union” address, delivered before the New York Historical Society, had the following rather religion-siding message to say about the anecdote: [13]

“And how was the Union made? Has it a date, a day or a year, like the declaration of independence or the constitution? Was it done in convention? Did men come together by some appointment, and deliberate in solemn council, and ordain a Union? Never. It was the work of time—the natural result of things—the growth of circumstances, or whatever other plausible, but really unmeaning phrases, may be used as a substitute for an acknowledgment of God's providence in the destinies of mankind. It is related — we do not vouch for the accuracy of the story, though we can well believe it:

When Napoleon inquired of Laplace, why he had not mentioned god in his System of the World, the savant replied, because he could dispense with that hypothesis.

In contemplating the political system of our country, there are minds which doubtless would dispense with the same hypothesis in many particulars, not looking beyond the secondary cause of human agency. But in the formation of the Union, the hypothesis not only cannot be dispensed with, but it is the only adequate cause that can be offered, to explain the effects. Let anyone, taking for his point of mental vision the present day, look back to the years, when the separate companies of the primitive colonists, the hapless followers of the hapless Raleigh at the south, and the iron-nerved pilgrim band at the north; and though the observer should be Bunyan's Little-Faith, or Mr. Worldly-Wiseman, he could scarce fail to trace the controlling power of divine agency. The way was preparing, slowly, cautiously, laboriously, for an era, in which there was to be a mighty development of the capacity of man for self political government. The course of events was led on so tranquilly, that there was given no note of preparation to intimate to human intelligence, what was in reserve at no very distant futurity. The Union was coming on, the chief great means of achieving a system of popular government on a widely extended territory. The ground was made ready and the foundations laid, and it only remained for human sagacity to carry out a plan, which, in humble confidence we may say, was traced by the finger of God.”

This so-called “finger of god” reasoning behind the formation of the union, is reference to Egyptian pharaoh Akhenaten’s 1330BC monotheistic Aten (Ѻ) theory of god, whose long stretched out “fingers”, shown above, were conceptualized as the rays of the sun, a model that was incorporated into passages of the Christian Bible, in particular the method (Ѻ) cited by which the 10 commandments (i.e. 42 negative confessions) were written onto stone tablets, which Reed unknowingly cites as the “cause” behind the formation of the American union.

Winiarski Beg Thims
The three main two cultures namesakes books, written in a Clausius-based reformulation of the humanities, the first not mentioning the term "god" (although mentioning "religion" 22+ times), the second written without mention the the term "god" (although Muhammad the “Prophet (b.p.u.h.)” mentioned 19 times), albeit a concept believed inherently by the author, the third written by an an author, like Laplace, "without the need of that hypothesis [of god]", but acutely aware of the void left in its wake.
Social mechanics | Physicochemical sociology
While Laplace may very well have “had no need” for the hypothesis of god in his 1802 formulation of “celestial mechanics”, the same has not necessarily been the case for “social mechanics”.

If, in fact, to given an equivalent scenario, in 1898, Eugene Fuffy, the then president of the Swiss Confederation, would have gone down to the University of Geneva and asked Leon Winiarski why the word god or “dieu” (French) is not to be found in his Essay on Social Mechanics, Winiarski would have been hard pressed to reply back that he had no need of that hypothesis, because he does in fact employ the word “religion” 21+ times in his book. [1]

Likewise, in Mirza Beg's 1987 Physicochemical Sociology, we find citation of Muhammad the “Prophet (b.p.u.h.)” mentioned 19 times.

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Further reading
1. Fadiman, Clifton, and Bernard, Andre. (2000). Bartlett’s Book of Anecdotes (Laplace, pg. 333). Little, Brown and Company.
2. Bonaparte, Napoleon. (1799). “To Laplace, on receiving a copy of the Mecanique Celeste”, Correspondance de Napoleon ler, 27 vendemiaire an VIII [19 October 1799] No. 4384 (1861), Vol. 6, I Trans. Charles Coulston Gillisipe, Pierre-Simon Laplace 1749-1827: A Life in Exact Science (1997), 176; in: Oxford Dictionary of Scientific Quotations (2005), pg. 74.
3. (a) Ball, Walter W.R. (1888). A Short History of Mathematics (pg. 387-88). Publisher.
(b) Dawkins, Richard. (2006). The God Delusion (pg. 68n). Publisher.
(c) Hitchens, Christopher. (2007). God is Not Great (p. 66-67). Publisher.
(d) Jackson, Joe. (2007). A World on Fire: A Heretic, an Aristocrat, and the Race to Discover Oxygen (pg. 153). Publisher.
(e) Armstrong, Karen. (2009). The Case for God (pg. 227). Publisher.
(f) McGrayne, Sharon B. (2011). The Theory that Would Not Die (pg. 30). Publisher.
4. Gourgard, Gaspard. (1904). The Talks of Napoleon at St. Helena with General Baron Gourgaud: together with the Journal Kept by Gourgard on Their Journey from Waterloo to St. Helena (translated, and with notes, by Elizabeth Wormeley Latimer, author of France in the Nineteenth Century) (ch. 17: Religion, pgs. 270-81). A.C. McClurg & Co.
6. Note: aside from ‘soul’, there are a number of derivative and or near synonymous terms that convey, in a roundabout sense, the same essential message, including spirit, spirituality, karma, among many other variants; some of which we will attempt to address herein.
7. Young, Norwood, Broadley, Alexander M. (1915). Napoleon in Exile: St. Helena (1815-1821) (pg. 187-88). Publisher.
8. Napoleon-Laplace anecdote (2010) – Reddit.com.
9. Samuelson, Paul. (1965). “Causality and Teleology in Economics”, The Hayden Colloquium on Scientific Method and Concept; in: The Collected Scientific Papers of Paul A. Samuelson, Volume 3 (pg. 444). MIT Press, 1972.
10. Sartre, Jean-Paul. (1945). “Existentialism is a Humanism” (pg. 28), Lecture at Club Maintenant, Oct 29, Yale University Press, 2007.
11. Crick, Francis. (1994). The Astonishing Hypothesis: the Scientific Search for the Soul (pg. 6). Simon and Schuster.
12. (a) Ball, Walter W.R. (1888). A Short History of Mathematics (pg. 387-88) (Ѻ). Publisher.
(b) W.W. Rouse Ball – Wikipedia.
13. (a) Reed, William B. (1839). “The Infancy of the Union”, A discourse delivered before the New York Historical Society, Dec 19; Published at the Request of the Society, Philadelphia, 1840; in: The New York Review of Books (pgs. 381-82), Vol. 7, Art. V, pgs. 378-.
(b) William Bradford Reed – Wikipedia.
14. (a) McGrayne, Sharon B. (2011). The Theory that Would Not Die (pg. 30). Publisher.
(b) About – McGrayne.com.
15. Winiarski, Leon. (1967). Essais Sur la Mecanique Sociale: Textes reunis et presents par Giovanni Busino (Essay on Social Mechanics: Collected Works presented by Giovanni Busino) (religion, 21+ pgs). Librairie Droz.
16. (a) Bourrienne, Louis. (1936). Memoirs of Napoleon Bonaparte. Hutchinson & Co.
(b) Edgeworth, Francis Y. (1881). Mathematical Psychics: an Essay on the Application of Mathematics to the Moral Sciences (Napoleon, pg. 134). C. Kegan Paul & Co.
17. Scott, George P. (1985). Atoms of the Living Flame: an Odyssey into Ethics and the Physical Chemistry of Free Will (pg. 73). University Press of America.

External links
Napoleon and Laplace (2010) – Zugaldia.WordPress.com.

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