Since the enunciation of our laws may vary with the conventions that we adopt, since these conventions may modify even the natural relations of these laws, is there in the manifold of these laws something independent of these conventions and which may, so to speak, play the rôle of universal invariant? For instance, the fiction has been introduced of beings who, having been educated in a world different from ours, would have been led to create a non-Euclidean geometry. If these beings were afterward suddenly transported into our world, they would observe the same laws as we, but they would enunciate them in an entirely different way. In truth there would still be something in common between the two enunciations, but this is because these beings do not yet differ enough from us. Beings still more strange may be imagined, and the part common to the two systems of enunciations will shrink more and more. Will it thus shrink in convergence toward zero, or will there remain an irreducible residue which will then be the universal invariant sought?
The question calls for precise statement. Is it desired that this common part of the enunciations be expressible in words? It is clear then that there are not words common to all languages, and we can not pretend to construct I know not what universal invariant which should be understood both by us and by the fictitious non-Euclidean geometers of whom I have just spoken; no more than we can construct a phrase which can be understood both by Germans who do not understand French and by French who do not understand German. But we have fixed rules which permit us to translate the French enunciations into German, and inversely. It is for that that grammars and dictionaries have been made. There are also fixed rules for translating the Euclidean language into the non-Euclidean language, or, if there are not, they could be made.
And even if there were neither interpreter nor dictionary, if the Germans and the French, after having lived centuries in separate worlds, found themselves all at once in contact, do you think there would be nothing in common between the science of the German books and that of the French books? The French and the Germans would certainly end by understanding each other, as the American Indians ended by understanding the language of their conquerors after the arrival of the Spanish.
But, it will be said, doubtless the French would be capable of understanding the Germans even without having learned German, but this is because there remains between the French and the Germans something in common, since both are men. We should still attain to an understanding with our hypothetical non-Euclideans, though they be not men, because they would still retain something human. But in any case a minimum of humanity is necessary.