The Outer Fringe

Americans: A Book of Lives ©1946 by Hermann Hagedorn has been really fun and informative.  In this excerpt, he shared horticulturist Luther Burbank’s concept of life, the universe, and everything:

“Life,” Burbank wrote, “is not material… the life-stream is not a substance. Life is a force– electrical, magnetic, a quality, not a quantity.” He saw a universe which was “absolutely all force, life, soul, thought, or whatever name we may choose to call it.” The time would come, he predicted, and the world of science caught up with him a generation later– when there would be no line left between force and matter. A dead material universe moved by outside forces, seemed to him “highly improbable. A universe of force alone,” he declared, “is probable, but requires great effort to make it conceivable, because we must conceive it in terms of our sense experience… All life on our planet is, so to speak, just on the outer fringe of this infinite ocean of force… We get discouraged with the material, but, if we could think of the force, we should see how steadily and surely it is impelling us all toward a better and higher and nobler destiny…”

The punctuation seems a little suspect, but I left it as I found it.  Maybe standards have changed over the last 70 years.

Burbank’s books are in the public domain, but they are very hard to come by.   Google Books has most of them available HERE,  but unfortunately they require you to have an account and use their app to access them; it’s a cumbersome process, the scan quality is poor, and frankly I decided it just wasn’t worth it.  I’m looking for better sources.

You can read more about the life of Luther Burbank at



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