Friday, August 10, 2012

"Those eight minutes point the road to a complete reformation of astronomy"

"If progress had been continuous and organic, all that we know, for instance, about the theory of numbers, or analytical geometry, should have been discovered within a few gen- erations after Euclid. For this development did not depend on technological advances or the taming of nature: the whole corpus of mathematics is potentially there in the ten bil- lion neurons of the computing machine inside the human skull. Yet the brain is supposed to have remained anatomically stable for something like a hundred thousand years. The jerky and basically irrational progress of knowledge is probably related to the fact that evolution had endowed homo sapiens with an organ which he was unable to put to proper use. Neurologists have estimated that even at the present stage we are only using two or three per cent of the potentialities of its built-in "circuits". The history of discovery is, from this point of view, one of random penetrations into the uncharted Arabias in the convolu- tions of the human brain."

"Thus within the foreseeable future, man will either destroy himself or take off for the stars. It is doubtful whether reasoned argument will play any significant part in the ultimate de- cision, but if it does, a clearer insight into the evolution of ideas which led to the present predicament may be of some value. The muddle of inspiration and delusion, of visionary insight and dogmatic blindness, of millennial obsessions and disciplined double-think, which this narrative has tried to retrace, may serve as a cautionary tale against the hubris of science – or rather of the philosophical outlook based on it. The dials on our laboratory panels are turning into another version of the shadows in the cave. Our hypnotic enslave- ment to the numerical aspects of reality has dulled our perception of non-quantitative moral values; the resultant end-justifies-the-means ethics may be a major factor in our un- doing. Conversely, the example of Plato's obsession with perfect spheres, of Aristotle's ar- row propelled by the surrounding air, the forty-eight epicycles of Canon Koppernigk and his moral cowardice, Tycho's mania of grandeur, Kepler's sun-spokes, Galileo's confidence tricks, and Descartes' pituitary soul, may have some sobering effect on the worshippers of the new Baal, lording it over the moral vacuum with his electronic brain."

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