Monday, 24 June 2019

Diabolical Science

This blog has been about 30 years coming.It was inspired by reading Frances Yates work in the late 1980s and I saw something important about what i consider to be  a mistake in Western Cultural thought or perception, the beginnings of Modernity. The Renaissance was a cultural flowering and this feels like the cutting of that flower which still has significant consequences for the present time.

The art and archetecture of the Renaissance is both aesthetically pleasing and has a strong mythic force, a sense of unstrained mystery. I wasn't aware that their was theoretical work that reflected that. Yates showed that there were such writings which had been eclipsed in the minds of subsequent generations.This rich tradition that has been variously termed: Platonic Theology,  Christian Kabbalah and The Magical Hermetic tradition, exemplified in the writers like: Ramon Llull, Marsilio Ficino, Pico della Mirandola, Cornelius Aggrippa, Giordano Bruno, John Dee and Robert Fludd. Recently I have got around to read some of these writers to get a taste of their vision.

In my previous video I spoke of the evolution of consciousness and i will use quotes from Rudolf Steiner's the Riddles of Philosophy to give a basic outline of the story leading up to these writers. 

In the Centuries prior to the advent of Christ we see the emergence of Greek thought where intellectual forms replace an earlier picture based consciousness. Yet the way they experienced thought was very different to our experience.

Steiner writes:
(For) the Greek thinker, thought came as a perception...thought had the immediate power of conviction...For the Greeks, it was a question of being able to garner thoughts from the world. They were then themselves the witnesses of their truth.
Then moving into the early Christian Centuries we see spirituality reflected in the intellectual life in the work of Plotinus, Dionysius Areopigite and the Corpus Hermetica

After the exhaustion of Greek thought life, an age begins in the spiritual life of mankind in which the religious impulses become the driving forces of the intellectual world conceptions as well. For Plotinus, his own mystical experience was the source of inspiration of his ideas.
Steiner posits that moving into the middle Ages the vividness in the way thought was experienced was diminished by the emergence of the ego into consciousness:

The thinker of antiquity had the feeling that thought was given to him; the thinker of the later time had the impression that he was producing thought.
Frances Yates drew my attention to Marsilio Ficino who brought back to prominence Plato Plotinus, Dionysius Areopogite and the Hermetic Tradition all of which he either interpreted or translated in latin. Through Pico della Mirandola the Jewish Kaballah takes Christian form. Being aware of these writers makes me think they must have provided the the kind of atmosphere that contemporary viewers of Shakespeare's Tempest would have sensed in Prospero.

These writers presented a very unified sensibility, melding divine creation, geometry, myth, mind spirit the four elements the great macorcosm and the microcosm of man. John Dee's Hieroglyphic Monad starts off:
It is by the straight line and the circle that the first and most simple example and representation of all things may be demonstrated, whether such things be either  non-existent or merely hidden under Nature's veils.

Robert Fludd loved illustrations. This one maps the macrocosm from God represented by his divine name, through the three heavens of angels, the fixed stars the seven planets the globe of the earth, presided over by nature, the soul of the world with her head in the lower heaven of angels, her right hand bound to god, one foot on the dry land the other in the sea. The earth has the three realms: animal, vegetable and mineral. The ape of nature is art with its four spheres and many correspondences. What is fascinating about this picture is that it is a map of the great macrocosm it accepts a harmony between man god and nature and not only is it a system of knowledge, it is also aesthetically pleasing. It represents a unified consciousness, so at odds with our disparate disciplines of knowledge of the current time.

To give a taste of Fludd's writing I will quote from the beginning of The History of the Macrocosm:
Infinite nature, which is boundless Spirit, unutterable, not intelligible, outside of all imagination, beyond all essence, unnameable, known only to the heart, most wise, most merciful, FATHER, WORD, HOLY SPIRIT, the highest and only good, incomprehensible in height, the unity of all creatures, which is stronger than all power, greater than all distinction, more worthy than all praise, indivisible TRINITY, most splendid and indescribable light, in short, the divine mind, free and separate from mortal matter, glory of all, necessity, extremity and renewal: Here, I say, GOD, the highest and greatest of all, whose name was made blessed in eternity, skilfully formed the admirable machine of the entire Macrocosm, and beautifully adorned his structure Even all the Philosophers, both ancient and more recent,...-- the most ancient; Plato the innate source of the universe; others the infinite cause, both outside all things and yet in all things and everywhere; others - the Being of Beings, the Prime Cause insofar as other causes are derived from it, the maker and originator of all, and according to Plato, the repository of understanding... Next, Plato and Mercurius Trismegistus call him father, in so far as he is the originator of all fecundity and the begetter of all things; finally, the greater chorus of the Philosophers (among whom are named Democritus and Orpheus) concludes that GOD contains every name, since all is in him and he himself is in everything, not unlike the manner in which all straight lines drawn from the centre to the circumference are said to be in the centre: or just as Number is said to exist in unity, which is the common measure, source and origin of all numbers, and contains every number, joined to itself in a unique way. Wherefore, the Pythagoreans, and the most learned in science of numbers, likened the Monad or Unity to God the Maker, because he was, alone and by himself, before all, and also because he was the first mover and only activator that existed to complete the huge structure of the creation; moreover, they attributed the Dyad or Duality to his matter, or subject that he worked on, because it was the second constituent upon which the Maker worked to complete the world; and finally they assigned the Triad to that spiritual power, or fiery, shining essence of his, by which the said matter or substrate of the world was brought from the potential state to the actual...
In this relatively short section we see theat the starting point is always God, but also how geometry and number are integrated with theology and philosophy. To me this is also why Renaissance art is so good, it balances divine and human, it is beautiful, glorious, mythical and sanctified. 

The renaissance is something of a turning point between the middle ages and modernity. In Shakespeare we get renaissance colour but we also have the emergence of the modern sense of the individual. Then there is the birth of modern science.

Yates' in the Rosicrucian Enlightenment shines a light on the emergence of science through the establishment of the Royal Society.  I think the standard line of atheists is that scientific thinking shook off out dated magical and theological thinking through it's high minded rejection of superstition, but Yates paints a rather different picture, where thinkers like Fludd and Dee were esteemed and something happened that stripped away the magic. 
She writes of the birth of the Royal Society: the year 1648, for this was the year in which the meetings at Oxford began which are stated by Thomas Sprat in his official history of the Royal Society to have been the origin of the Royal Society... These Oxford meetings were held in Wilkins's rooms at Wadham College and they ran from about 1648 to about 1659, when the group moved to London and formed the nucleus of the Royal Society, founded in 1660. 
Yates adds some colour to the setting:
Describing `rarities' that he had seen in Wilkins's rooms at Wadham in 1654, Evelyn says that Wilkins had contrived a hollow statue which uttered words by a long, concealed pipe, and that he possessed many other 'artificial, mathematical, and magical curiosities'
Interesting to hear of magical curiosities at the birth of science and while this was happening the Rosicrucian Manifestoes were being published in English translation. which starts with this wonderful declaration of the perfection of the arts and society thus:
SEEING the only wise and merciful God in these latter days hath poured out so richly his mercy and goodness to mankind, whereby we do attain more and more to the perfect knowledge of his son Jesus Christ and nature, that justly we may boast of the happy time wherein there is not only discovered unto us the half part of the world, which was heretofore unknown and hidden, but he hath also made manifest unto us many wonderful and never heretofore seen works and creatures of nature, and moreover hath raised men indued with great wisdom, which might partly renew and reduce all arts (in this our age spotted and imperfect) to perfection; so that finally man might thereby understand his own nobleness and worth, and why he is called microcosmus, and how far his knowledge extendeth in nature.
In 1652 Thomas Vaughan published an English translation of the Fama and the Confessio, under the pseudonym of 'Eugenius Philalethes' 
Thomas Vaughan's patron is said to have been Sir Robert Moray, afterwards very influential in the formation of the Royal Society. The, as it were, public acknowledgement of the Fama and the Confessio may have encouraged John Webster, a Puritan divine, to come out with a remarkable work in which he urges that 'the philosophy of Hermes revived by the Paracelsian school' should be taught in the universities. 
Webster includes mathematics, particularly as recommended by John Dee in his Preface to Euclid from which Webster quotes at length, with ecstatic encomiums of Dee. He also profoundly reveres that `profoundly learned man Dr Fludd', and he is under the impression that if authors like these - and his book is an amalgam of Paracelsist, Agrippan and similar Renaissance magico-scientific type of thinking, with Dee and Fludd as his favourites -were taught in the universities

The teaching of this magico-scientific philosophy presents a rather different picture than how science actually developed although it is worth remembering that Newton himself pursued alchemical studies. John Dees reputation turned for the worse after his death, he had previously been well regarded, as  astrologer to Queen Elizabeth he had even chosen her Coronation day, and she was his patron although not a bountious one. He had been consulted by the royal navy to help with development of weaponry to help them defeat the Spanish, designed some of the first stage machinery for the theatre, introduced Euclid with an at the time famous Preface and had one of the largest library in Elizabethan England. But in an act of malice his magical diaries were published after his death and his reputation was tarnished as a practitioner of forbidden magic although for Dee himself he regarded the magical work he was doing was with angels, although his scrier Edward Kelley was a rather unsavoury character who had had his ears cut off for theft. So Dees reputation turned from that of a fairly central and influential and accomplished figure to that of a dark and forbidding bogyman to eventually a misguided and foolish purveyor of magical tricks. But Yates says:
Religious passions were still high, and a dreaded witch-scare might start at any moment to stop their efforts. So they drop Dee, and make their Baconianism as innocuous as possible. One wonders what they did with the references to the R.C. Brothers, their invisibility and their college, in the New Atlantis. 
Yates goes on:
There were many subjects which had to be avoided : utopian schemes for reform belonged to the revolutionary past which it was now better to forget. The Society had many enemies in its earlier years; its religious position seemed unclear; witch-scares were not altogether a thing of the past. The rule that religious matters were not to be discussed at the meetings, only scientific problems, must have seemed a wise precaution and, in the earlier years, the Baconian insistence on experiment, and on the collecting and testing of scientific data, guided the Society's efforts. A permanent Society for the advancement of natural science had arrived, a real and visible, not an imaginary and invisible, institution, but it was very restricted in its aims compared with earlier movements. It did not envisage the advancement of science within a reformed society, within a universal reformation of the whole world. The Fellows of the Royal Society were not concerned with healing the sick, and that gratis, nor with schemes for the reform of education. These men could have had no idea of what lay before the movement they were encouraging. To them its weakness would be more apparent than its strength, the dangers of extinction which still beset it. They had arrived ; they had made an Invisible College visible and real, and in order to preserve its delicate existence great caution was required. It all seemed, and was, very sensible. And although Baconian experiment was not in itself the infallible high road to scientific advance, yet the Royal Scociety, so respectable, so well organized, was a statement clear to all that science had arrived. Nothing could stop it now. 
I think in this we can start to recognise the rise of modern science, but it is interesting how the impetus of the move away from magic and Platonic Theology was not due to a standoffish scientific skepticism towards such things, but because of a the threat of persecution, their mathematics was stripped of it's magic to save themselves from the imputation of the diabolical, when to begin with at least their hearts and minds were aflame with magic and divine love.

Now this I think had very serious consequences, suddenly the theological and the experimental were split from one another and the collection of data came only from this fallen world. Truth took on a small t and the greater internal origin of Truth in God was entirely left out, even if it was still in the early practitioners consciousness

Hopefully what I have said so far gives some colour to the era and the transformations going on, now I'll end by giving a summary of three main turning points.

1. Renaissance thinking was Theistic in nature, God, the good the true and the beautiful was at the centre. In Fludd we can see a unified picture of reality from the divine through the angelic, the human and it's various arts down into the animal; vegetable and mineral. In reading Fludd or Ficino we can enjoy a sense of unified consciousness of both aesthetic and philosophical harmony.

2. Science was born in the Royal Society by people with deeply religious sensibility who compromised their ideas of religious and social reform through a fear of persecution. Their ideas were stripped down into an enquiry of the external world. Subsequent generations took this stripped down enquiry as the basis for Science and it came to be their exclusive method for discovery of truth. This was a fundamental error and is philosophically naive. Truth is always  something found through thinking, through contemplation it is found within, the bowing down to an idol of an external truth found exclusively through the senses, does not make sense and following this path leads to the death of meaning. This is one of the main cultural afflictions of the current time.

3. In a Magical paradigm our experiments are seen as either divine or diabolical, good or evil, of God or the Devil but to avoid persecution  a myth of Science was created as an impartial and amoral realm of disinterested enquiry neither good nor evil but purely for the advancement of a knowledge discreet from and independent of Divine knowledge. This amoral framework is false, none of our actions are outside  good and evil and this has allowed many diabolical scientific developments to take place under the guise of amorality that were immoral.


Frances Yates - The Rosicrucian Enlightenment

No comments:

Post a Comment