There are two aspects of Isaac Newtonís thought that are not always mentioned in his short biographies or excerpted writings, which I find interesting and personally meaningful: his acceptance of unitarian monotheism (meaning that God is One, without partner, alone-not divisible into three, as in the Christian trinity, the Hindu Trimurti , various pagan traditions,etc. or the logical extension of the polytheistic idea, three hundred and some odd million, as in Hinduism) and his critical analysis of the Bible. These were relatively dangerous things to do at Newtonís time.
In 1690, Newton sent John Locke a small packet containing his remarks on the corruption of the text of the New testament with reference to I John 5.7 and I Timothy 3.16. He hoped that Locke could help him have the manuscript translated into French and published in France, since he felt it would be too dangerous to print it in England. It was called "A Historical Account of Two Notable Corruptions of Scripture." In 1692, an attempt was made to publish a Latin translation of it anonymously. When he heard of this, Newton entreated Locke to take steps to prevent this publication, since he felt the time was not ripe for it.
In his "Historical Account", Newton says, referring to I John 5.7,
"In all the vehement universal and lasting controversy about the Trinity in Jeromeís time
and both before and long enough after it, this text of the "three in heaven" was never
once thought of. It is now in everybodyís mouth and accounted the main text for the
business and would assuredly have been so too with them, had it been in their books."
"Let them make good sense of it who are able. For my part I can make none. If it be said that we are not to determine what is Scripture and what not by our private judgements, I confess it in places not controverted, but in disputed places I love to take up with what I can best understand. It is the temper of the hot and superstitious art of mankind in matters of religion ever to be fond of mysteries, and for that reason to like be3st what they understand least. Such men may use the Apostle John as they please, but I have the honour for him as to believe that he wrote good sense and therefore take that to be his which is best."
According to Newton, this verse appeared for the first time in the third ediciton of Erasmusí New Testament. He believed that before the publication of this edition, the "spurious text" was not to be found in the New Testament: "When they got the Trinity into his edition they threw by their manuscript, if they had one, as an almanac out of date. And can such shuffling dealings satisfy considering men?" He continues, "It is rather a danger in religion than an advantage to make it now lean on a broken reed."
In referring to I Timothy 3.16, Newton says: "in all the times of the hot and lasting Arian contrversy it never came into play...they that read "God manifested in the flesh" think it one of the most obvious and pertinent texts for the business." (Anti-trinitarian Biographies. III, A. Wallace, pg. 438)
Newton was opposed to the allegorical or double interpretation of the Old Testament. He did not regard all the books of the Scriptures as having the same authority. According to Whiston, Newton also wrote a dissertation upon two other texts which Athanasius had attempted to corrupt, but there is no trace of it today. (Jesus, A Prophet of Islam. Muhammad ĎAta ur-Rahim, pg. 155-156)
After mentioning some of the things I like about Newton, I would like to mention some of limitations and destructive qualities that the Newtonian and Cartesian mechanistic scientific world views "initiated" and perpetuated.
The physicist Dr. Fritjof Capra in The Tao of Physics expounds upon this issue in great depth, while providing a survey of contemporary physics. "The exploration of the atomic and subatomic world in the 20th century has revealed an unsuspected limitation of classical ideas, and has necessitated a radical revision of many of our basic concepts. The concept of matter in subatomic physics, for example, is totally different from the traditional idea of a material substance in classical physics. The same is true for concepts like space, time, or cause and effect. The concepts, however, are fundamental to our outlook on the world around us and with their radical transformation our whole world-view has begun to change." (page 3)
"The birth of modern science was preceded and accompanied by a devleopment of philosphical thought which led to an extreme formulation of the spirit/matter dualism. This formulation appeared in the seventeenth century in the philosophy of Rene Descartes who based his view of nature on a fundamental division into two separate and independent realms: that of mind (res cogitans), and that of matter (res extensa). The "Cartesian" division allowed scientists to treat matter as dead and completely separate from themselves, and to see the material world as a multitude of different objects assembled into a huge machine. Such a mechanistic world view was held by Isaac Newton, who constructed his mechanics on its basis and made it the foundation of classical physics. From the second half of the seventeenth to end of the nineteenth century, the mechanistic Newtonian model of the universe dominated all scientific thought...The philosophy of Descartes was not only important for the develoment of classical physics, but also had a tremendous influence on the general way of thinking up to the present day. Descartesís famous sentence "Cogito ergo sum"-"I think, therefore I exist"-has led Westerners to equate their identity with their mind, instead of their whole organism. As a consequence of the Cartesian division, most individuals are aware of themselves as isolated egos existing "inside" their bodies. The mind has been separated from the body and given the futile task of controlling it, thus causing an apparent conflict between the conscious will and the involuntary instincts. Each individual has been split up further into a large number of seperate compartments, according to his or her activities, talents, feelings, beliefs, etc., which are engaged in endless conflicts generating continuous metaphysical confusion and frustration.
This fragmentation mirrors our view of the world "outside," which is seen as a multitude of separate objects and events. The natural environment is treated as if it consisted of seperate parts to be exploited by different interest groups. The fragmented view is further extended to society, which is split into different nations, races, religious and political groups. The belief that all these fragments-in ourselves, in our environment, and in our society-are really separate can be seen as the essential reason for the present series of social, ecological, and cultural crises. It has alienated us from nature and from our fellow human beings. It has brought a grossly unjust distribution of natural resources, creating economic and political disorder; an ever-rising wave of violence, both spontaneous and institutionalized, and an ugly polluted environment in which life has often become physically and mentally unhealthy.
The Cartesian division and the mechanistic world view have thus been beneficial and detrimental at the same time. They were extremely unsuccessful in the development of classical physics and technology, but had many adverse consequences for our civilization. It is fascinating to see that twentieth-century science, which originated in the Cartesian split and in the mechanistics world-view, and which indeed only became possible because of such a view, now overcomes this fragmentation and leads back to the idea of unity expressed in the early Greek and Eastern philosophies." (Capra, pg. 8-10)
Einstein also criticized Cartesian and Kantian conceptions of physics (though relatively briefly in Appendix V of his Relativity: The Special and the General Theory. translated by Robert Lawson-pages 136-137.
I thought that the following excerpt from Neil Postmanís Technopoly might also be interesting to the class. The subject is Sir Francis Bacon.
"Ironically, Bacon was not himself a scientist, or at least not much of one. He did no pioneering work in any field of research. He did not uncover any new law of nature or generate a single fresh hypothesis. He was not even well informed about the scientific investigations of his own time. And though he pride himself on being the creator of a revolutionary advance in scientific method, posterity has not allowed him this presumption. Indeed, his most famous experiment makes its claim on our attention because Bacon died as a result of it. He and his good friend Dr. Witherborne were taking a coach ride on a wintry day when, seeing snow on the ground, Bacon wondered if flesh might not be preserved in snow, as it is in salt.
The two decided to find out at once. They bought a hen, removed its innards, and stuffed the body with snow. Poor Bacon never learned the result of his experiment, because he fell immediately ill from the cold, most probably with bronchitis, and died three days later. For this he sometimes regarded as a martyr to experimental science." (Postman 37)
"...Bacon is the first man of technocracy, but it was some time before he was joined by the multitude. He died in 1626, and it took another 150 years for European culture to pass to the mentality of the modern world-that is, to technocracy." (Postman 38)
It is interesting that both Descartes and Bacon-men of science and reason-and leading initiators of the scientific and technological methodology that would produce the modern age-died as a result of not having enough holistic awareness of their body and environment to keep themselves out of the cold.
I think this is related to the Capra excerpt I provided earlier on the fragmented mechanistic view of reality of this type of western mind.
Edward Said points out in Orientalism that the ideas of science and progress have very political dimensions. Said links the neo-imperialist ideas of Henry Kissinger to earlier imperialists-Cromer, Lyall, and Balfour in very several interesting passages.
"It is natural for men in power to survey from time to time the world with which they must deal. Balfour did it frequently. Our contemporary Henry Kissinger does it also, rarely with more express frankneess than in his essay "Domestic Structure and Foreign Policy." The drama he depicts is a real one, in which the United states must manage its behavior in the world under the pressures of domestic forces on the one hand and of foreign realities on the other. Kissingerís discourse must for that reason alone establish a polarity between the United States and the world; in addition, of course, he speaks consciously as an authoritative voice for the major Western power, whose recent history and present reality have placed it before a world that does not easily accept its power and dominance. Kissinger feels that the United States can deal less problematically with the industrial, developed West than it can with the developing world. Again, the contemporary actuality of relations between the United States and the so-called Third World (which includes China, Indochina, the Near East, Africa, and Latin America) is manifestly a thorny set of problems, which even Kissinger cannot hide.
Kissingerís method in the essay proceeds according to what linguists call binary opposition: that is, he shows that there are two styles in foreign policy (the prophetic and the political), two types of technique, two periods, and so forth. When at the end of the historical part of his argument he is brought face to face with the contemporary world, he divides it accordingly into two halves, the developed and the developing countries. The first half, which is the West, "is deeply committed to the notion that the real world is external to the observer, that knowledge consists of recording and classifying data-the more accurately the better." Kissingerís proof for this is the Newtonian revolution, which has not taken place in the developing world: "Cultures which escaped the early impact of Newtonian thinking have retained the essentially pre-Newtonian view that the real wrold is almost completely internal to the observer." Consequently, he adds, "empirical relaity has a much deeper significance for many of the countries than for the West because in a certain sense they never went through the process of discovering it.
Unlike Cromer, Kissinger does not need to quote Sir Alfred Lyall on the Orientalís inabilty to be accurate; the point he makes is sufficiently unarguable to require no special validation. We had our Newtonian revolution; they didnít. As thinkers we are better off than they are. Good: the lines are drawn in much the same way, finally, as Balfour and Cromer drew them...Numerous wars and revolutions have proved conclusively that the pre-Newtonian prophetic style, which Kissinger associates both with "inaccurate" developing coutnies and with Europe before the Congress of Vienna, is not entirely without its successes. Again, unlike Balfour and Cromer, Kissinger therefore feels obliged to respect this pre-Newtonian perspective, since "it offers great flexibility with respect to the contemporary revolutionary turmoil." Thus the duty of men in the post-Newtonian (real) world is to "construct and international order before a crisis imposes it as a necessity": in other words, we must still find a way by which the developing world can be contained...Kissinger may not have known on what fund of pedigreed knowledge he was drawing when he cut the world up into pre-Newtonian and post-Newtonian conceptions of reality. But the distinction is identical with the Orientalists...And like Orientalismís distinction Kissingerís is not value-free, despite the apparent neutrality of his tone. Thus such words as "prophetic," "accuracy," "internal," "empirical reality" and "order" are scattered throughout his description, and they characterize either attractive, familiar, desirable virtues or menacing, peculiar, disorderly defects. Both the traditional Orientalist...and Kissinger conceive of the difference between cultures, first, as creating a battlefront that seperates them, and second, as inviting the West to control, contain, and otherwise govern (through superior knowledge and the accomodating power) the Other. With what effect and at what considerable expense such militant divisions have been maintained, no one at present needs be reminded." (Said 46-48)
I found it interesting that the NY Times bestselling book-The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order-(a book which Henry Kissinger found significant, saying "Sam Huntington, one of the Westís most eminent political scientists, presents a challenging framework for understanding the realities of global politics in the NEXT CENTURY. The Clash of Civilizations...is one of the most important books to have emerged since the end of the Cold War")-poses the Chinese and the Islamic civilizations as threats to Western Civilization. He partcularly singles out Islam and Islamic civilization as dangerous to the west. Huntington is a war-monger and his books continues in the hallowed tradition of the Orientalists in many ways. He is, as a retired history professor at C.S.U.F. once told me, "a firm believer in Western Civilization." The relevance of the current conflict of multiculturism vs. the "classical" literary canon had not really hit my mind until I read this passage, in the conclusion (or near it) in Huntingtonís book:
"Some Americans have promoted multiculturalism at home; some have promoted universalism abroad; and some have done both. MULTICULTURALISM AT HOME THREATENS THE UNITED STATES AND THE WEST; UNIVERSALISM ABROAD THREATENS THE WEST AND THE WORLD. BOTH DENY THE UNIQUENESS OF WESTERN CULTURE. The global monoculturalists watn to make the world like America. The domestic multiculturalists want to make American like the world. A MULTICULTURAL AMERICA IS IMPOSSIBLE BECAUSE A NON-WESTERN AMERICA IS NOT AMERICAN. A multi-cultural world is unavoidable because global empire is impossible. THE PRESERVATION OF THE UNITED STATES AND THE WEST REQUIRES THE RENEWAL OF WESTERN IDENTITY. The security of the world requires acceptance of global multiculturality."
(Huntington, pg. 318)
I would like to discuss several of the issues perspectives on reality (or unreality) like Huntingtonís raise at a future date.
The P.E.R. and other readings also raised innumerable issues I would like to comment upon-but time constrains my ability to do so.