Ramblings & ephemera

Science, secrecy, & mysticism

From "Secret Science", on Ockham’s Razor:

Etymologically, the word ‘science’ just means knowledge, and in pre-modern Europe, when most people would have framed their understanding according to a religious doctrine, questing after new knowledge about the created world could be rather suspect. Things understood according to the word of God were revealed to you, and the work of creation was revealed to your senses. Any form of knowledge that had to be earnestly sought after was by definition, hidden. A landmark study of magnetism, published in 1600 by Queen Elizabeth’s physician, William Gilbert, begins with a statement about "the discovery of secret things and the investigation of hidden causes."

Gilbert’s book was to become one of the foundation texts of the new science of electricity a century later, but writing in 1600, he was aware of the need to argue the case for why ‘things formerly hid in deplorable darkness’ must be brought to the knowledge of mankind.

In Gilbert’s time, seeking forms of knowledge that might enable you to perform operations with material objects and substances carried the implication that you were interfering with the divine work of creation.

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