I've always been rather intrigued by the Enlightenment; I idolise people like David Hume and Sir Isaac Newton. Aristotle was a clever chap but his understanding was of his time. Theology grew as a means of adapting Aristotle to fit with Christian teaching, a job completed almost entirely by Thomas Aquinas and from that point on to challenge Aristotle was to challenge the church and those that did faced sever consequences -- one doesn't have to look much further that Galileo Galilee for evidence. Isaac Newton changed all of this, his empirical approach to understanding meant that knowledge could only be attained by experiment and with this science advanced and so came about the industrial revolution and it seems that we haven't looked back since...but I'm not so sure.
One of the recently unearthed and translated novels from the great author Alexandre Dumas is called 'One Thousand and One Ghosts'. Written at the height of the 1848 revolution it is a dark tale in which a group of diverse companions sit at dinner and tell what are ostensibly ghost stories. The guillotine is a good symbol of the Enlightenment, the scientifically designed, horrifically efficient machine for death. It represented all our new understanding of anatomy -- understanding that was hard to come by before the enlightenment as dissection was prohibited by church doctrine and as such inscribed into law. Dumas' ghost stories represent an adverse reaction to the Enlightenment, a return to spirituality and mysticism as an antidote to the science that brought about the reign of terror.
Richard Dawkins seems to be the champion of the new movement back to the enlightenment. I respect many of his beliefs; I am an atheist, I think astrology is a pile of nonsense, that psychics pray of the desperate hopes of the bereaved and so on and so forth but what he represents is something echoed around many universities -- that disciplines can only survive if they meet these 'scientific criteria'. This seems to signal the death-knell for many social sciences that cannot conform, my cherished subject of semiotics being one thereof.
Science does not have all the answers and Richard Dawkins would never claim that it does; it is a vehicle for attaining 'knowledge' and it presents a shifting understanding that adapts with new evidence and understanding but it never presents our full picture of culture or the human experience. As Dawkins states, we do have an amazing ability to find patterns in the random nature of universe, it's almost all we can do to separate our existence from that of the animals we eat or the insects we tread on it's the basis upon which we search for and 'find' meaning in life -- the question remains would you want a life without meaning. Perhaps ignorance can be bliss.
David Markson: This Is Not A Novel
6 years ago