Friday, February 21, 2003

Thursday nights this term is a course on Magic Science and Religion in the Renaissance that you can read about here. The professor is completely anti-positivist and gets very cross with people who try to use 21st century science to make judgements about how well people were doing science in the past. I call this the examination school of history - you have a big score sheet of modern science and give ticks to Newton and Descartes but black marks to John Dee and Pico della Mirandola. Of course, Newton gets told off for spending too much time of theology and alchemy. So the positivist judges historical figures by how well they anticipated what we believe to be true. He will also tend to read modern notions into old texts where they are absent. Even the professor was doing this last night when he compared Arabic theories on rays to modern ideas about sound and light propagation. I couldn't see it myself.

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