Friday, April 10, 2009

How could they be so right and, yet, then so wrong?

Galileo Galilei is rightly considered the father of modern science. Thomas Jefferson is rightly considered one of the fathers of modern individual rights. Isaac Newton is rightly considered the father of modern physics.

The readers of this blog know that the name of this blog is taken from Galileo's revolutionary scientific publication expounding on the heliocentric theory (taken from many telescopic observations of Jupiter's moons and other data), which eventually overturned the primitive church-expounding theory that the Earth was the center of the universe. I have equal reverence for Newton and Jefferson. These three men are worthy of sincere worship and veneration on par with Shakespeare in the literary realm. They are the beloved. I love them and what they stand for as the best in human endeavor and accomplishment in one short human lifespan.

And yet ...

And yet Galileo was a devout Catholic, a believer that comets were simply apparitions of light, a harsh critic of Kepler's moon-caused tides, a denouncer of Copernicus' elliptical planetary orbits and more.

And yet Jefferson was a slave owner, a believer in the inferiority of some human races, an advocate of government intervention into individuals' lives to some degree, a believer in a higher being.

And yet Newton was an alchemist and theologian, a believer in astrology, a writer of many religious tracts.

What gives? How could men of such immense rationality and definitive interpolation of facts and the abstract hold such views, encapsulate such enormous dichotomies? How could a man who pioneered modern astronomy and physics and a man who pioneered individual hegemony and a man who pioneered work in calculus and gravity and optics hold views that rejected the very foundation of their great work: reason?

The long answer is that they did not understand fully what reason was. They did not have a methodical and explicit realization of the theory of concepts, a theory of the nature of man (rational), a theory of metaphysics and epistemology and ethics and politics. They did not hold in their minds the wonderful and awesome understanding of their own thought processes. They used the processes well most of the time, but they were almost clueless about the mind-machine.

The short answer? Objectivism.

These great and wonderful men were, in short, primitive in their view of human beings and the rational process, hindering their ubiquitous commitment to rationality in ALL matters of life. This led them to dishonesty in their search for truth -- meaning they averted their eyes from the facts and didn't revisit false cultural presumptions. They, in fact, became strident on issues in which they were wrong, indicating a subconscious understanding that they were not being true to their normally rational scientific endeavor.

Ayn Rand changed the way we now see the human mind. She herself said she may have not been able to create Objectivism if it had not been for such men as Galileo, Jefferson and Newton, whose blazing intellects showed the world how utterly magnificent and awe-inspiring the human mind is and can be.

So, as we approach the 400th anniversary of Galileo's first glimpse of Jupiter's moons through his man-made telescope, I wish to take a moment to gratefully thank him and his two intellectually kindred spirits for their stalwart and courageous work -- and I wish to thank Ayn Rand for taking their example and creating a philosophy that allows us no more dichotomies, that allows us unabashed happiness, that allows us control of our universe and a daily life filled with the joy of knowing we will never make the mistakes that great men before us made.

We can be right and know how not to be wrong.


Daniel said...

I liked this post.

With regards to Jefferson: it was precisely a proper view of the nature of man that he lacked, right?

Because his approach to judging this was not mystical. He simply made a wrong (and unfortunate) induction about black people--based on the data he had. Or at least that's my take on his view from what I've read thus far.

Ditto with religion. He of course thought that this area fell under reason--along with all knowledge.

He understood the nature of the universe (via both biology and physics) enough to delete all references to miracles in his own edited bible.

But he simply made an error in ruling out the possibility of a supernatural being entirely--because of an old argument that applied logic, though incorrectly.

If he had a proper view of the nature of man (and thus of consciousness)--these errors would not have occured or at least would have been a lot less likely.

And the result of that on his politics, in theory and in practice, would have been to make both more principled.

In any case, Jefferson's mistakes are unimportant relative to his achievements--particularly as it was his achievements, along with his method of applying logic to facts, that eventually fixed his errors.

He's a lot like Newton and Galileo in that regard, as well as another true hero--the first one of them all: Aristotle.

David Elmore said...

Yes, Daniel. It was Jefferson's mistaken view of man (man's mind) that caused his errors, and your comments are spot-on. Though I don't think his achievements fixed the errors; I think they made a country that allowed for the fixing of his errors -- via predominantly liberty, allowing someone like Ayn Rand to have a say in the matter without getting imprisoned.
Jefferson has a strong "sense" of liberty but could not properly define it. Here's his definition: "rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add 'within the limits of the law,' because law is often but the tyrant's will, and always so when it violates the rights of the individual." He's in the right territory, but his lack of perfect definition leaves too much to the imagination of terrorists who call themselves progressives.
Anyway, yes, Jefferson was a giant, and without him and Madison and the rest of the great Founders, we would not be having this conversation most likely. And, yes, Aristotle is the first of them all! :)