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Kamarck, Edward (ed.) / Arts in society: confrontation between art and technology
(1969)

Kilby, Clyde S.
[Editorial comment: the lost myth],   pp. [unnumbered]-163 PDF (10.1 MB)


Page 156

worlds that have been: it simply drifts.
Hence the strange combination of a sense
of power and a sense of insecurity which
has taken up its abode in the soul of
modern man. To him is happening what
was said of the Regent during the minority
of Louis XV: he had all the talents except
the talent to make use of them."' This
sense of a broken and adrift civilization is,
I think, the most apparent thing on
our present horizon.
I should like to discuss mainly one possible
factor attendant upon even if not fully
causal to our atomized world. And I hope
I may be excused if, like so many others,
I go back to Lord Bacon and the year
1620. In the preface to his famous
Novum Organum he says, "I propose to
establish progressive stages of certainty . . .
starting directly from the simple sensuous
perception . . . (and having) no confidence
in the native and spontaneous process
of the mind . . . There remains but one
course for the recovery of a sound and
healthy condition, - namely, that the
entire work of the understanding be
commenced afresh, and the mind itself
be from the very outset not left to take its
156    own course, but guided at every step; and
the business be done as if by machinery."
This was the road, Bacon said, to
certainty and health. The thing which
had been at fault was "the native and
spontaneous process of the mind." The
remedy to overcome this outlaw was to
destroy, if I may put it so, its mythic
tendency. Bacon, with motives which are
understandable, wished to have something
certain, something men could quietly
and surely agree upon, money they could
put in the bank and get a receipt for, a
golden yardstick that would enable men
forever to say that a yard is a yard
is a yard.
But how could one begin to establish
Bacon's "progressive stages of certainty"
and perhaps in time move on to some
final glorious climax of finitude and total
knowing? Not backwards towards
metaphysics and theology. These were the
realms that had made Bacon and his
century dizzy and given them the longing
for certainty. Much earlier there had been
a period when the universe appeared
a splendid unity. Pythagoras and his
Brotherhood more than twenty centuries
before had discovered what they believed
to be a cosmos, one world, one whole,
inclusive universe, with a great
Mathematician at its center and
circumference. There are stories to the
effect that when Pythagoras discovered the
square on the hypotenuse he sacrificed a
hundred oxen, also that when irrational
numbers were discovered a penalty of death
was set for allowing such an heretical
idea to escape and work its evil in the
world. The Pythagorean spring had welled
up into a great river with glorious
tributaries such as Socrates, Plato,
Aristotle, Plotinus, Augustine, Aquinas and
the like. But after all the centuries there
was still not the certainty that Bacon
zealously longed for. How could that
certainty be attained?
"I propose," he said, "to establish
progressive stages of certainty starting
directly from the simple sensuous
perception." We know the direction that
was taken, what today we call science
(from sciens, knowing). And out of Bacon's
century and following there have flowed
rivers of knowing. One need only mention
such names as those of Galileo, Kepler,
Descartes, Newton, Locke, the
Encyclopedists, the Royal Society, etc.
and remind ourselves how chemistry
swallowed up alchemy and astronomy
swallowed up (or did it?) astrology. I need
not take any time describing the
ever-widening river of "progressive stages
of certainty" that flowed through the
nineteenth century and has become
something of an ocean in our time. Bacon's
method is far more successful today
than perhaps he ever dreamed. Many are
wondering if anything at all is beyond the
reach of the inductive method, from
physics to chemistry, from chemistry to
biology, from biology to psychology, from
psychology to sociology, etc. In medicine,
for instance, we can now do for men
what we do for automobiles - we can
supply new parts and there is talk of
starting all over again with some sort of
brand new man-made model. In Brave
New World Revisited Aldous Huxley spoke of
his shock at finding his imagined world
of total scientific control rapidly coming
into actuality within his own lifetime.
Dr. Philip Siekevitz, biochemist at
Rockefeller Institute, said not long ago:
"There is a golden age ahead on earth . .
We are approaching the greatest event in
human history . . . the deliberate changing
by man of many of his biological


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