The Follies of Science
An anecdote about the myopia of science and the mental-rational consciousness.
I was reading an article in today’s Guardian announcing an important “surprise” neurological discovery, “Newly discovered vessels beneath skull could link brain and immune system“. What was so interesting about the article for me, though, was a statement made by one of the discoverers,
“These vessels were just not supposed to be there based on what we know,” said Jonathan Kipnis, who led the work at the University of Virginia. “I thought the body was mapped and that these discoveries ended somewhere around the middle of the last century. But apparently they have not.”
O dear! They haven’t even scratched the surface of the mysteries of the body, and still there are those who seem to think that the game is up and that the body has been completely mapped.
It reminds me of the time science believed that there would be nothing after Newton — that Newton had given a complete picture of reality with his “Frame of the World” and everything else subsequently would be simply a “mop up operation” of adjusting and harmonising and coordinating science, philosophy, economics, art, religion, society-in-general with Newton’s laws and the Newtonian “Frame of the World”.
All somewhat premature, as it turns out. All quite myopic. The riddles and mysteries of the cosmos only kept expanding, and eventually along came Einstein and then quantum mechanics to open up vast new vistas and horizons of understanding and yet more mysteries and riddles. It was one of William Blake’s chief objections to Newtonianism and to those deluded who believed that Newton had provided a complete and final description of reality.
And here we have, once again, those who believe that our knowledge of the body is complete and final, or at least fully mapped and that there is nothing new to discover.
There is an old saying that seems to apply here: “pennywise but pound foolish”, which has more or less the same meaning as “can’t see the forest for the trees”, meaning obsessing with particulars and details while the Big Picture escapes attention, or “confusing the map with the territory”, as E.F. Schumacher put it in his Guide for the Perplexed. Consciousness far too narrowly focussed, which is the deficient aspect of perspectivisation, or what Nietzsche once called “nook-and-corner perspectivism”.
This closing of the mind to new possibilities (until reality intervenes and hits it on the head) is the very meaning of myopia. Too much analysis, not enough imagination.
We have become a civilisation of the “pennywise but the pound foolish”, as the old saying goes, and which now can’t see the forest for the trees either; myopic and given to tunnel vision. That’s the equivalent of what Blake referred to as “Single Vision”. It’s also what Carl Jung means when he stated “we have grown rich in knowledge but poor in wisdom”, ie, given the ego-nature too much authority in deciding what is and what is not valid.
Why on earth haven’t the anatomists, neurologists and biologists caught up with the insights of quantum mechanics? It’s as though they live on the proverbial “opposite sides of the railway track”. The body will never be completely and definitively mapped because it is an ecology that is constantly changing and evolving. It’s a universe in itself, and there will be no end to the discovery of “facts” about the body, because it is a living body, and thus no complete and definitive mapping will ever happen.