The Thought and The Imagined

The Christian proclivity for trinity has historically moved western writing toward fitting exemplars of a virtue into tripartite formulae.  A common one is Beethoven, Mozart, and Bach as the archetypal forms of genius.  Beethoven representing the painful tortured extraction, Mozart the spontaneous creative, and Bach as the ordered total cognitive variety.  Here too I formulate my own professionally deformed division: Galileo, Kepler, and Newton as the archetypal forms of scientists.

Galileo can be taken as the prototypical experimentalist; who drew from personal temperament a tacit awareness of what would later be formalized as the scientific method. Here he represents the physicist as thinker, mechanistic in his approach, the world supervenes on the physical.

Though Kepler is the well known as the creator of the three laws of planetary motion, a topic normally introduced to students during high school physics; he is more appropriately characterized as a mathematician(not bound to the physicalist’s mind set or corresponding interdictions).  He inherited Tycho Brahe’s data set of celestial measurements and as a mathematician, set to fitting a curve.  A devout Christian, he already knew the curve he must find; God as a perfect being, had created a perfect world, and by this, the curve(the orbits) must be circular, the perfect shape.  This notion of the circle as the perfect shape extended from the pre-Christian Greeks and was passed onto him by the Scholasticism that still hung in the air.  Failing to fit a circular curve despite numerous manipulations to the data, he found himself at an impasse; noticing the imperfection in God’s perfect world, he attempted a revised, and teleologically motivated fit.   It was decided that the fall of man and the introduction of original sin into the world, was the cause for the aberration of God’s creation.  A new attempt was made: the data might be modified to fit an ovoidal curvature(egg-shaped).  Once more, pulling unknowingly on pre-Christian notions(this time pagan), that an egg, as the symbol of life, was what was left of God’s perfect world.  Still the data did not fit and Kepler had run dry of arbitrary cosmological constraints for the model of our world.  Fitting a curve to the data at hand, he found that the orbits of planetary bodies formed ellipses; to my knowledge he never found a satisfactory teleological argument.  Kepler had a trait necessary in all researchers, to only be ninety percent pig-headed.  The ten percent of reality that was able to find its way through, eventually forced him to find a mathematical correspondence with the world as it was observed.

Now, Newton is known for tremendous works: his Principia, the independent discovery of calculus, a byzantine optics so wrong, but so total, that it likely set the field back by a century, and so many other major achievements—that would be impossible to recapture here.  His greatest preoccupation was not in the sciences however, and he spent far more time involved in the occult and alchemy.  His greatest obsession was finding out the original measurements to the Temple of Solomon, as by some obscure means this would allow him to foretell the second coming of Christ.  It was this principle which greatly informed his often deterministic and distinctly mechanical world view—the world as artifice.  Though he is taken as the preeminent physicist, Newton did not operate as a scientist, but as a mystic.  Mixing alchemy, the occult, and eschatology, his major influences were George Starkey and John Dee; this work formed a major portion of his writings and this seems to have been the work he valued the most.  Newton was a true theoretician, and many theoreticians since, have operated as mystics in science.  Mystics work by imagination, not by thought, they are not measured in their speech, but speak extemporaneously of visions obscured.  Avoiding all of the typical quantum mysticism, many theoreticians have gained great insights into the quantum through imagination rather than thought.  Bohm is the most prominent example, but Josephson possessed this bent as well, Feynman was said to have had an almost psychic intuition for guessing the answer and then working backwards toward the problem(though he denied any supernatural process vehemently).  Pauli’s tendency to break experimental setups whenever he was near, brought him to a great interest in Jung’s synchronicity.  I would say that the real mystics of today hide out most often in the theoretical sciences(or at least the sciences), and are of a decidedly secular substance, but imaginative in process.  Mytiscs are “not those gurus selling some comfort in the marketplace,” to quote the unquotable man.

I cannot point to a proper survey, but personal experience has revealed that mathematicians hold institutional religious beliefs far more frequently than hard scientists.  Apparently, in mathematics: the one form of inculcation is not mutually exclusive with the other.

Artwork: Philosophers; Mikhail Nesterov

©matthewludwig

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