Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Cosmology and Newton’s Magic

Science, as it was once practiced, devoted much of itself toward the sacred. I've heard this said many times, and, in general, understand something about what this means, but only a little. For help, I came across this quote in an anthology called The Practical Cogitator (I highly highly recommend it). John Maynard Keynes says this about Isaac Newton, a great mathematician whose discovery or "invention" of calculus made modern technology possible, a man who, in his later years, was chastised by the Church of England for his scandalous conclusions, such as a Creator needing to be unlike His creation, if only we looked closely at nature to fully realize that. Anyhow, here's what Keynes says about Newton and what went through his mind as he examined the world:
Why do we call [Isaac 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 believe that these clues were to be found partly in the evidence of the heavens and in the constitution of elements. . . . He regarded the universe as a cryptogram set by the Almighty—just as he himself wrapt the discovery of calculus in a cryptogram when he communicated with Leibnitz.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is all very nice, but what does it mean today, especially for Muslims? Every Muslim is familiar with the hoary dictum that "there is no conflict between Islam and science". Except when there is. For one example, see

8/08/2007 12:54 PM  
Blogger fromclay said...

Interesting comment, Anon. On one level, I would agree with you in abstraction, but still not sure how this relates to this post. I had to re-read it twice to see where I advanced the mantra: No conflict between science and religion in Islam. I never brought that up here at all. Instead I mentioned a general statement about science and its past sacred function. That's all. So if you just wanted to leave a link to the article, just say so. No need to fabricate drama.

8/08/2007 1:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well it's your blog, so you can do what you want. But I think my question relates practically to your statement about science and its past (and perhaps, present) sacred function.

8/08/2007 1:42 PM  
Anonymous electromagnetic said...

Thank you very much for this passage alluding to the past sacred character of science (at least in the eyes of Newton). In one of my university courses on the history and philosophy of science, I recall my professor (a historian of physics) observing that modern historians of science are often embarassed by the fact that with greater knowledge of the full corpus of Newton's writings, we now know that he wrote more about "alchemy" than he did about physics.

8/10/2007 5:36 PM  
Blogger fromclay said...

Electro, thanks for that. This embarrassment they feel is so close-minded, one wonders about their research.

8/11/2007 11:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is the J.M Keynes quote from 'the practical cogitator'? I tried looking through the index but couldnt find it. Let me know if you recall what section was it from.

8/14/2007 8:41 AM  
Blogger fromclay said...

In the edition of "The Practical Cogitator" (3rd edition) that I have, it's on page 257, Part IV, "And Scrutinizers Her." Hope that helps.

8/14/2007 9:51 AM  

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