Archive for the 'Knowledge' Category

July 28, 2020

“Some say the work of philosophy originated with the barbarians. For among the Persians are the Magi, among the Babylonians and Assyrians the Chaldeans, among the Indians the Gymnosophists (lit. naked philosophers), and among the Celts and Gauls, those called ‘Druids’ and holy people, according to what Aristotle says in the book on Magic and Sotion in the twenty-third book of the Succession of Philosophers.”

~ “Lives of the eminent philosophers”, Diogenes Laertius.

July 28, 2020

“Execestus, the Phocian tyrant, used to wear two enchanted rings, and he used to determine the appropriate time to act by the sound they made against one another. But, he still died, murdered by treachery despite being warned by the sound, as Aristotle says in the Phocian Constitution.”

~ “Stromateus”, Clement of Alexandria.

July 12, 2020

“My father has zero intellectual insecurities… It has never crossed his mind to be concerned that the world thinks he’s an idiot. He’s not in that game. So if he doesn’t understand something, he just asks you. He doesn’t care if he sounds foolish. He will ask the most obvious question without any sort of concern about it… So he asks lots and lots of dumb, in the best sense of that word, questions. He’ll say to someone, ‘I don’t understand. Explain that to me.’ He’ll just keep asking questions until he gets it right, and I grew up listening to him do this in every conceivable setting.”

~ Malcolm Gladwell

July 6, 2020

“Why do I call [Newton] a magician? Because he looked on the whole universe and all that is in it as a riddle, as a secret which could be read by applying pure thought to certain evidence, certain mystic clues which god had laid about the world to allow a sort of philosopher’s treasure hunt to the esoteric brotherhood. He believed that these clues were to be found partly in the evidence of the heavens and in the constitution of elements (and that is what gives the false suggestion of his being an experimental natural philosopher), but also partly in certain papers and traditions handed down by the brethren in an unbroken chain back to the original cryptic revelation in Babylonia. He regarded the universe as a cryptogram set by the almighty – just as he himself wrapt the discovery of the calculus in a cryptogram when he communicated with Leibniz. By pure thought, by concentration of mind, the riddle, he believed, would be revealed to the initiate.”

“All would be revealed to him if only he could persevere to the end, uninterrupted, by himself, no one coming into the room, reading, copying, testing — all by himself, no interruption for god’s sake, no disclosure, no discordant breakings in or criticism, with fear and shrinking as he assailed these half-ordained, half-forbidden things, creeping back into the bosom of the godhead as into his mother’s womb. ‘Voyaging through strange seas of thought alone’, not as Charles Lamb ‘a fellow who believed nothing unless it was as clear as the three sides of a triangle’.”

“There is an unusual number of manuscripts of the early English alchemists in the libraries of Cambridge. It may be that there was some continuous esoteric tradition within the University which sprang into activity again in the twenty years from 1650 to 1670. At any rate, Newton was clearly an unbridled addict. It is this with which he was occupied ‘about 6 weeks at spring and 6 at the fall when the fire in the elaboratory scarcely went out’ at the very years when he was composing the Principia – and about this he told Humphrey Newton not a word. Moreover, he was almost entirely concerned, not in serious experiment, but in trying to read the riddle of tradition, to find meaning in cryptic verses, to imitate the alleged but largely imaginary experiments of the initiates of past centuries. Newton has left behind him a vast mass of records of these studies. I believe that the greater part are translations and copies made by him of existing books and manuscripts. But there are also extensive records of experiments. I have glanced through a great quantity of this at least 100,000 words, I should say. It is utterly impossible to deny that it is wholly magical and wholly devoid of scientific value; and also impossible not to admit that Newton devoted years of work to it.”

~ “Newton, the Man”. John Maynard Keynes.

July 6, 2020

“[…] ‘He was so happy in his conjectures’, said De Morgan, ‘as to seem to know more than he could possibly have any means of proving’. The proofs, for what they are worth, were, as I have said, dressed up afterwards — they were not the instrument of discovery.”

“There is the story of how he informed Halley of one of his most fundamental discoveries of planetary motion. ‘Yes,’ replied Halley, ‘but how do you know that? Have you proved it?’ Newton was taken aback — ‘Why, I’ve known it for years’, he replied. ‘If you’ll give me a few days, I’ll certainly find you a proof of it’ — as in due course he did.”

“Again, there is some evidence that Newton in preparing the Principia was held up almost to the last moment by lack of proof that you could treat a solid sphere as though all its mass was concentrated at the centre, and only hit on the proof a year before publication. But this was a truth which he had known for certain and had always assumed for many years.”

“Certainly there can be no doubt that the peculiar geometrical form in which the exposition of the Principia is dressed up bears no resemblance at all to the mental processes by which Newton actually arrived at his conclusions.”

“His experiments were always, I suspect, a means, not of discovery, but always of verifying what he knew already.”

~ “Newton, the Man”. John Maynard Keynes.

Humboldt and nature

April 26, 2020

“This was a world pulsating with life, a world in which man is nothing.” ~ Alexander von Humboldt

“Knowledge could not be gained from books alone, Humboldt believed. To understand the world, a scientist had to be in nature — to feel and experience it — a notion that Goethe had explored in Faust when he depicted Heinrich Faust’s assistant Wagner as a single-minded and one-dimensional character who saw no reason to learn from nature itself but only from books.”

“Humboldt was a scientist who did not just want to make sense of the natural world intellectually but also wanted to experience nature viscerally.”

“The most important part of Cosmos was the long introduction of almost one hundred pages. Here Humboldt spelled out his vision — of a world that pulsated with life. […] Nature was a ‘living whole’ where organisms were bound together in a ‘net-like intricate fabric’.”
~ “The invention of nature”, Andrea Wulf.

“The beasts of the forest retire to the thickets; the birds hide themselves beneath the foliage of the trees, or in the crevices of the rocks. Yet, amid this apparent silence, when we lend an attentive ear to the most feeble sounds transmitted by the air, we hear a dull vibration, a continual murmur, a hum of insects, that fill, if we may use the expression, all the lower strata of the air. Nothing is better fitted to make man feel the extent and power of organic life. Myriads of insects creep upon the soil, and flutter round the plants parched by the ardour of the sun. A confused noise issues from every bush, from the decayed trunks of trees, from the clefts of the rock, and from the ground undermined by the lizards, millepedes, and cecilias. There are so many voices proclaiming to us, that all nature breathes; and that, under a thousand different forms, life is diffused throughout the cracked and dusty soil, as well as in the bosom of the waters, and in the air that circulates around us.”
~ “Personal Narrative”, Alexander von Humboldt.


Romantic science

April 26, 2020

“Once a limit had been established, be it that of one’s own body, experience or tradition, the Romantic impulse was to widen the scope, and to open the view to the infinite. There was a predilection for the unfinished and incomplete, matched by an instinctive aversion to anything that was predictable and clearly delineated. […] At the point of having secured a career that was destined to make him one of the most powerful men in the Prussian state administration, Humboldt threw it away for an idea of almost spectacular vagueness — something that amounted, at that stage, to little more than an ill-defined yearning to travel.”

“The Romantic preference for the fragment carries within it the acknowledgement that one can never give a full and true representation of reality. At the same time, it points to the presence of a greater whole, one beyond description and therefore out of reach, forever ideal.”

“The great hope of Romantic science is not just to understand nature as an object. There is an idea that nature, elevated into a subject, should in turn effect a transformation in the observer. […] Humboldt achieved this ambition — he was transformed by his experience of nature. He encountered a world that was defined almost in opposition to all he had known, and in it, more truly found his own self. He returned to Europe at peace with the persone he was.”
~ “A longing for wide and unknown things”, Maren Meinhardt.

“I cannot exist without experiments.” ~ Alexander von Humboldt

“Goethe wrote Faust in bursts of activity that often coincided with Humboldt’s visits. Faust, like Humboldt, was driven by a relentless striving for knowledge, by a ‘feverish unrest’. […] Like Humboldt, Faust was trying to discover ‘all Nature’s hidden powers’. When Faust declares his ambition in the first scene, ‘That I may detect the innermost force / Which binds the world, and guides its course’, it could have been Humboldt speaking. That something of Humboldt was in Goethe’s Faust — or something of Faust in Humboldt — was obvious to many; so much so that people commented on the resemblance when the play was finally published in 1808.”

“The real purpose of the voyage, Humboldt said, was to discover how ‘all forces of nature are interlaced and interwoven’ — how organic and inorganic nature interacted. Man needs to strive for ‘the good and the great’, Humboldt wrote in his last letter from Spain, ‘the rest depends on destiny’.”

“Coleridge called for a new approach to the sciences in reaction to the loss of the ‘spirit of Nature’. Neither Coleridge nor Wordsworth turned against science itself but against the prevailing ‘microscopic view’. Like Humboldt, they took issue with the division of science into ever more specialized approaches. Coleridge called these philosophers the ‘Little-ists’.”

“Where others insisted that nature was stripped of its magic as humankind penetrated into its deepest secrets, Humboldt believed exactly the opposite. […] Knowledge, he said, could never ‘kill the creative force of imagination’ — instead it brought excitement, astonishment and wondrousness. […] One look at the heavens, Humboldt said, was all it took: the brilliant stars ‘delight the senses and inspire the mind’, yet at the same time they move along a path of mathematical precision.”
~ “The invention of nature”, Andrea Wulf.

“Thoreau, like Emerson, was searching for the unity of nature but in the end they would choose different avenues. Thoreau would follow Humboldt in his belief that the ‘whole’ could only be comprehended by understanding the connections, correlations and details. Emerson on the other hand believed that this unity could not be discovered through rational thought alone but also by intuition or through some kind of revelation from god. Like the romantics in England such as Coleridge and the German idealists such as Schelling, Emerson and his fellow transcendentalists in America were reacting against scientific methods that were associated with deductive reasoning and empirical research. To examine nature like that, Emerson said, tended to ‘cloud the sight’. Instead, man had to find spiritual truth in nature. Scientists were only materialists whose ‘spirit is matter reduced to extreme thinness’, he wrote.”
~ “The invention of nature”, Andrea Wulf.

German Romanticism and mining

April 26, 2020

“The person who had introduced the motif of the Blue Flower” — the mysterious, ethereal symbol of German Romanticism — “was Friedrich von Hardenberg, who wrote under his better-known pen name, Novalis. Like Humboldt, he was a mining inspector, as well as an alumnus of Germany’s foremost mining academy. Many of Romanticism’s leading figures worked in mining or wrote about it, and the connection left a mark on the thinking of the time. Going inside the earth became a metaphor for turning inside, towards the self and its dark depths, in the search for personal enlightenment and truth.”

“In his novel fragment Heinrich von Ofterdingen, the Blue Flower is reached by way of an underground passage through a mountain cave. The protagonist is advised to become a miner if he wants to discover nature’s deepest secrets.”

“Novalis’ Ofterdingen miners are pulled in two directions. On the one hand, a desire for a more profound knowledge draws them deeper and deeper inside the earth. At the same time, they are peripatetic, never staying at any mine for long, seemingly compelled to seek out new and unfamiliar ground”

~ “A longing for wide and unknown things”, Maren Meinhardt.

Friedrich Kayssler

May 30, 2019

“And here, poor fool, with all more lore,
I stand no wiser than before. […]
And see, that nothing can be known!
That knowledge cuts me to the bone. […]
No dog would endure such a curst existence!
Wherefore from magic I seek assistance, […]
That I may detect the inmost force
Which binds the world and guides its course.”
~ “Faust I”, J.W. von Goethe.


October 14, 2018

“We must trust the perfection of the creation so far as to believe that whatever curiosity the order of things has awakened in our minds, the order of things can satisfy. […] Nature is already, in its forms and tendencies, describing its own design.”
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson