The Elizabethan age considered itself scientific, indeed the word ‘science’ was used to mean ‘knowledge’. The so called Age of Reason was a much later term applied by historians of science to broad-brush the slow ascent of experimental-based knowledge. What we now call science originated from the attempts to separate the observer from the method of experiment; a method that would employ only the intellectual functions to arrive at a repeatable conclusion, backed up by numbers – the mathematics of quantity.
In so doing, the kind of knowledge that became ‘science’ cut itself off from any intimacy, religious or otherwise, that mankind had felt towards the cosmos – his home – for thousands of years. It is said that the average Elizabethan farmworker would have known the heavens much more intimately than most of us do, today. For them, it was life and death, planting and reaping – and a warning of things to come, like the winter. Occasionally, it also contained dark portents…
A clear night sky was a boon, and immediately synchronised them with their year; a cycle that fed them, if they were lucky. We can imagine the relationship with such a sky. It would be a constant living book, in which was written their own life-story as well as that of all life on Earth.
Perhaps the loss of this intimate relationship was a necessary step. Man turned inwards and began to calculate, rather than see. Intimate vision gave way to accuracy – but only within the mind–self-referentially. Emotions, valued in the artist, were not considered useful in the men of science, who, by a nineteenth century built on the foundations of the Elizabethans, were beginning to create a psychological ‘truth’ for mankind that required only the authentication of numbers, having ‘achieved’ a separation from the essential ‘quality’ of something. Qualities could only be experienced; they were not susceptible to numbers, and therefore suspect and unreliable. The idea of ‘humanness’ was to be, quite literally, taken out of the equation. In their eyes, what watched an experiment was not the observer, it was the ‘truth’.
Continue reading: Magical Man at the Dawn of Science – The Silent Eye