December 24, 2022

1. Films

A. Fiction Beast is a Youtube channel that discusses literature. I recommend the discussion of Japanese literature, a discussion that focuses on the renowned novelist Natsume Soseki.

B. The Young One (1960) is a good movie by the acclaimed director Luis Buñuel. It’s also known as White Trash and Island of Shame. It’s based on “Travelin’ Man,” a short story by Peter Matthiessen. It focuses on race relations in the American South. The theme song, played at the start and the end, is an old spiritual, “Sinner Man,” sung by Leon Bibb.

Tristana (1970) is another good movie by Buñuel, full of intelligence, wit, and taste. It’s about an innocent young woman and her playboy uncle, who takes advantage of her. While Young One is in English, Tristana is in Buñuel’s native Spanish. Tristana is based on a novel by Benito Pérez Galdós. Galdós is an important figure in Spanish literature, though I had never heard of him. He was born in 1843.

Viridiana (1961) is also directed by Buñuel, also based on a Galdós novel, and also in Spanish. Viridiana is a young, attractive woman, planning to become a nun. She becomes involved in the life of a country house, and tries to bring the spirit of Christianity to the house.

C. “Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly” is a good documentary. It pays special attention to Cape Ann, Massachusetts, where monarch butterflies like to stop on their migration. It’s made by an independent filmmaker, Kim Smith, who sometimes gets carried away with poetic language. It can be found on PBS, and it’s one hour long.

2. Graham Hancock

“Ancient Apocalypse” (2022) is a 4-hour Netflix film that looks at stone structures made by prehistoric peoples. It’s made by Graham Hancock, who says that establishment archeologists hate him because of his revolutionary ideas. Hancock has a wide following, and has appeared on Joe Rogan’s podcast. The filmmaker Roland Emmerich is a Hancock fan; Emmerich’s movie 2012 was inspired by Hancock’s theories.

Hancock argues that, at the end of the last Ice Age, sea levels rose as a result of melting ice, and these rising seas inundated ancient civilizations. He thinks there were civilizations earlier than the establishment believes, and he thinks that these early civilizations were linked to each other, and constructed pyramids on a common pattern. Whether you agree with him or not, he presents interesting structures in a lively manner (click here for a list of episodes, and places visited). Wikipedia gives him The Pseudo Treatment, calling his work pseudo-archeology, pseudo-science, etc.

In Episode 4, Hancock visits The Bimini Road, a line of huge stones near Bimini in the Bahamas. Wikipedia says, “Having rounded corners, the blocks composing these pavements resemble giant loaves of bread.” The stones are under-water, so Hancock dives down with scuba gear to investigate them. Since the water is shallow, Hancock argues that the stones were once on land, and later were covered by rising seas. Hancock argues that the Bahama islands were once much larger than they are now.

When he peered under the huge boulders, Hancock found that some of them were propped up by smaller stones; as Wikipedia says, “Most of the blocks were now clearly resting on either the underlying bedrock or on smaller stones on the sea floor.” I’ve noticed Indian stones propped by smaller stones, so I agree with Hancock that this is further proof of man-made origin; natural processes wouldn’t cause this. But many academics reject the idea of man-made origin; Wikipedia says, “The consensus among geologists and archaeologists is that the Bimini Road is a natural feature composed of beachrock.”

In my view, Hancock makes a strong case for a man-made origin. But what men made it? Did the native tribes that Columbus encountered have the ability to manipulate huge boulders? Was a more advanced civilization in the area during the Ice Age, as Hancock contends?

The last episode, Episode 8, goes to Murray Springs in southern Arizona, where a “black mat” is visible. The black mat is a line of black material on a cliff-side, a line that was laid down about 10,600 BC, perhaps by an asteroid impact, or by several impacts. These “mats” have been found in North America and Europe. They’re not unlike the line of material laid down by the asteroid that extinguished the dinosaurs.

The asteroid from 10,600 BC wiped out large mammals (mega-fauna), killed around half the human population of North America, blocked much of the sun’s heat, and triggered a cold period known as the Younger Dryas. “Where’s the impact crater?” If the asteroid struck an ice sheet, a mile-thick glacier, it might not leave an impact crater.

Wikipedia speaks of, “The Younger Dryas impact hypothesis (YDIH).” Wikipedia says, “Multiple meteor air bursts and/or impacts are said to have produced the Younger Dryas boundary layer (YDB), depositing peak concentrations of platinum, high-temperature spherules, melt-glass, and nano-diamonds, forming an isochronous datum at more than 50 sites across about 50 million km2 of Earth’s surface.” According to Wikipedia, “The YDIH remains a minority and disputed view.”

3. Snyder on Ukraine: Lectures 1-5

Timothy Snyder, a Yale professor who specializes in Eastern Europe, is teaching a class on the history of Ukraine, and posting the lectures on Youtube.1 His lectures have attracted considerable attention in Ukraine and elsewhere. His lectures throw light, not just on Ukrainian history, but also on EasternEuropean history, and Slavic history. Here are my notes on Snyder’s lectures:

Lecture 1
Ukrainian Questions Posed by Russian Invasion

  1. Kyiv began as a meeting-place of Byzantines from the south and Vikings from the north
  2. Vladimir the Great, ruler of Kievan Rus', was baptized around 1000 AD, and made Kievan Rus' a Christian state
  3. Both Putin and Zelensky are named after this Vladimir. “At its greatest extent in the mid-11th century, Kievan Rus' stretched from the White Sea in the north to the Black Sea in the south.... The modern nations of Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine all claim Kievan Rus' as their cultural ancestor, with Belarus and Russia deriving their names from it.”(Wikipedia)
  4. Southern Ukraine (Kherson, Crimea, etc.) wasn’t part of Kievan Rus'; Southern Ukraine was Greek, and later Ottoman
  5. Greeks and Jews were in Ukraine for a long time
  6. Ukraine was home to Christians, Jews, and Muslims
  7. Idea of nation is modern (originates 1800-1850)
  8. Idea of genocide also modern (the term “genocide” was coined in 1943 by Raphael Lemkin, after he learned about Armenian genocide)
  9. the ideas of the nation and of genocide rest on the concept of The People
  10. the concept of The People replaced the earlier view that equated the state with the king or the aristocracy
  11. Russians said, prior to recent invasion of Ukraine, that they aimed to destroy Ukraine; so the current war is genocidal
  12. History is about novelty, history is unpredictable; history doesn’t repeat and isn’t cyclical2

Lecture 2
The Genesis of Nations

  1. Idea of nation may be connected to rise of industry, growth of cities, and expansion of education; people identify not with a town but with masses like themselves; people identify with those who share their language
  2. many nations look back to a Golden Age, they say Eden was lost, but someday will be regained; Snyder calls this a widespread 3-part story
  3. Marxism also tells a 3-part story: a Golden Age without private property, a loss of Eden, eventually a Communist paradise
  4. like the idea of the nation, Marxism arose around 1850; but Marxism is different insofar as it speaks of an international proletariat, so Marxism is (at least theoretically) cosmopolitan, non-national
  5. in practice, Marxism struggled to get people to forget their national differences
  6. One Ukrainian scholar, Hrushevsky (born 1866), traced the history of the Ukrainian people at length, describing their distinctive language, customs, etc.
  7. Hrushevsky is an example of a trend in Russian Empire called “going to the people,” or social history or populism
  8. Hrushevsky said Ukraine has existed for a long time, but has no political being, and that’s a problem
  9. Hrushevsky is part of a trend toward writing long social histories to document the nation; politics is in the background, social history is in the foreground
  10. this social history raises the question, What about inhabitants who have different customs or different language? What about Jews, Greeks, and Muslims in Ukraine? So focusing on language and customs, as Hrushevsky did, leads to an emphasis on ethnicity, and raises questions about people of another ethnicity
  11. Hrushevsky himself had a Polish mother; those who wrote social history were inventing ethnicity, but they themselves were often from a minority group
  12. Lypynsky (born 1882) argued that the cities are multi-ethnic, we can’t develop a nation from Ukrainian-speakers in the countryside; Lypynsky was from a Polish noble family
  13. Lypynsky was answered by Dontsov (born 1883), who was a theorist of Ukrainian nationalism/fascism; this fascism might be compared to Italian fascism or to the French Action Francaise; Dontsov probably approved of Hrushevsky’s emphasis on “the people,” de-emphasis of minorities
  14. Dontsov was answered by Rudnytsky (born 1919), who said the nation is created by a political act, an act directed toward the future3
  15. so Rudnytsky would say anyone can take part in nation (minorities as well as ethnic Ukrainians)
  16. Rudnytsky had Jewish mother (or Jewish grandmother?), Ukrainian father, family spoke Polish
  17. Rudnytsky wins the argument, influences modern Ukraine
  18. Rudnytsky became an academic in U.S. and Canada (Dontsov was also a Canadian academic)

Lecture 3
Geography and Ancient History

  1. most specialists in Eastern Europe thought Russia would defeat Ukraine quickly, probably because they didn’t see Ukraine as a real nation, an independent nation with a long history; they saw Ukraine as naturally part of Russia, though Ukraine was independent from about 1200 AD to 1700 AD
  2. military specialists, on the other hand, did a better job of anticipating Ukrainian resistance
  3. some contemporary scholars emphasize globalization; they say places and people are becoming the same; but people occupy different “information spaces”; in the U.S., Republicans and Democrats occupy different information spaces, so they see things differently; Russians and Ukrainians see things differently; so Snyder questions the globalization thesis
  4. Lazar Baranovych was a Ukrainian cleric (Orthodox cleric) who lived around 1650; in his time, Russia and Poland-Lithuania were dividing Ukraine between them (Treaty of Andrusovo, 1667); east of Dnipro was Russia, west of Dnipro was Poland-Lithuania
  5. Baranovych argued that the roots of Russia were in Ukraine, in Kievan Rus', that Moscow was an outgrowth of Kyiv, that Moscow and Kyiv were all one country; in 1667, this wasn’t the accepted view in Moscow, but it became the accepted view
  6. in 1721, Russian Empire was formed, taking name “Russia” (from Kievan Rus'); so Baranovych’s view became a widespread view, influencing even how scholars in our time view Russia-Ukraine war
  7. in Baranovych’s time, Kyiv and Chernihiv were centers of scholarship, Moscow didn’t yet have academies

Lecture 4
Before Europe

  1. pagan gods were in the world, all around us; monotheism, on the other hand, detached God from the world
  2. for pagans, the dead were still around, the dead were still your kin; the dead could be helpful or harmful
  3. the dead must be properly buried, so they don’t become restless and harmful; certain types of death are problematic — suicide, drowning, hanging, etc.
  4. unquiet female dead become water spirits or meadow spirits, they lure you into the swamp by singing; male unquiet dead are vampires
  5. pagans cremated dead, Christians buried dead; since newly-converted Christians were uncomfortable with burying the dead, they put a stake through the dead, to keep the dead from wandering abroad as vampires; this led to the idea that a vampire could be stopped by driving a stake into his heart
  6. Berlin a Slavic word, Berlin was once in Slavic territory, Slavs were once further west
  7. the word “Slav” may mean people of the word, people who can speak and understand, as opposed to Germans
  8. Slav is also related to “slave,” since Slavs were originally pagans, and pagans could be enslaved
  9. around 860 AD, Cyril and Methodius were sent by the Byzantine church (the Eastern Orthodox Church) to convert the Slavs in Great Moravia (western Czech Republic); Cyril and Methodius are known as the “apostles to the Slavs”
  10. Cyril and Methodius develop a written language, Old Church Slavonic, so they can translate the Bible into a language that Moravians/Slavs can understand; Old Church Slavonic is written in Cyrillic alphabet
  11. Cyril and Methodius don’t succeed in converting the Moravians (i.e., the Czechs); the Czechs adopt western Christianity, and their royal house marries into Poland’s royal house, and brings Poland into western Christianity; Czechs and Poles are western Christians to this day
  12. Vikings tried to link Baltic Sea to Black Sea so they could trade — trade slaves, etc.4

Lecture 5
Vikings, Slavers, Lawgivers: The Kyiv State

  1. around 860 AD, the Franks (Charlemagne, etc.) are the leading western power, they subscribe to western Christianity, church and state are separate; the Byzantines are the leading eastern power, they subscribe to eastern Christianity, church and state are aligned
  2. the Franks and Byzantines compete to convert the Slavs to their brand of Christianity
  3. the Vikings become a sea power, responding to the Franks’ power on land
  4. Kyiv originally a trading post, where Vikings meet Byzantines, where Baltic Sea meets Black Sea
  5. first Slavic state is Moravia, formed about 820 AD; Moravia is influenced by the Franks, but they reach out to Byzantines, hoping to balance Frankish power
  6. Bulgarians a Turkic people, originally in Russia, originally Muslim; they enter what’s now Bulgaria and become eastern Christian, but in rivalry with Byzantium5
  7. the Rus were Vikings who came from Baltic toward Kyiv around 850 AD; at this time, there were Khazars in Ukraine (the Khazars were a Turkic people who were important in this region from about 650 AD to 950 AD6)
  8. in 988 AD, Rus leader Vladimir converts to eastern Christianity, marries the sister of the Byzantine emperor, Rus soldiers are stationed in Constantinople as a palace guard, Byzantine missionaries/clerics are active in Kyiv; in the 11th century, Saint Sophia Cathedral is built in Kyiv, still stands, named after Constantinople’s Hagia Sophia
  9. so Rus is extending Byzantine civilization northward; since Byzantines are the heirs of classical Greece and Rome, one might say that classical civilization is spreading northward
Lectures 6-10

4. Koestler on the History of Science

A. Putting Things Together

Arthur Koestler had a strong interest in the history of science, and he wrote about the history of science in The Sleepwalkers: A History of Man’s Changing Vision of the Universe. In 1964, five years after publishing Sleepwalkers, Koestler returned to the history of science in The Act of Creation. In 1978, he returned to the history of science yet again in Janus: A Summing Up.

Koestler likes to compare scientific creation to artistic creation, and he likes to compare both to humor/jokes. What do the scientist, the artist, and the humorist have in common? They put things together, they see analogies. Koestler writes,

Scientific discovery consists in seeing an analogy which nobody has seen before. When, in the Song of Songs, Solomon compared the Shulamite’s neck to a tower of ivory, he saw an analogy which nobody had seen before; when William Harvey perceived in the exposed heart of a fish, a messy kind of mechanical pump, he did the same.7

Philosophical discovery resembles scientific discovery. My most original theory, my theory of history, brings together psychology and philosophy, brings together Freud’s theory of life- and death-instincts with Hegel’s theory of society-as-an-organism.

Koestler says,

Creativity in science could be described as the art of putting two and two together to make five. In other words, it consists in combining previously unrelated domains of knowledge in such a way that you get more out of the emergent whole than you have put in.8

An example is Pythagoras, who noticed that iron bars of different lengths, when struck by blacksmiths, “gave out sounds of different pitch.... This spontaneous amalgamation of arithmetic and music was probably the starting-point of the science of physics.”

Another example of amalgamating, of putting things together, is Kepler linking the moon with tides. Koestler says that Kepler’s theory “opened up the infinite vista of modern astronomy.” Kepler’s theory might seem obvious today, but it was revolutionary in its time; “even Galileo treated Kepler’s theory of the tides as a bad joke.”9

Another example of combining is electromagnetism. Magnetism and electricity were long regarded as separate; around 1820, they began to be fused into electromagnetism. Einstein later fused matter and energy in his famous e = mc2.

An example from visual art is Picasso seeing an analogy between the handlebars of a bicycle and the horns of a bull.

Joyce compared shirts hung on a line to crucifixion (“on the higher beach a dryingline with two crucified shirts”). So the scientist, the artist, and the humorist all combine things in new ways, unexpected ways.

* * * * *

The conventional view is that science aims at truth, art at beauty. But Koestler argues that science often aims at beauty, and art often aims at truth. Koestler quotes Keats: “I am certain of nothing but of the holiness of the Heart’s affections and the truth of Imagination.” There’s a deep truth in imagination, in fiction; many of my essays try to set forth the philosophical meaning of fictional works. As Keats said, “Beauty is truth, truth beauty.”

A scientific truth has a certain beauty. Koestler writes, “Every valid scientific discovery gives rise, in the connoisseur, to the experience of beauty, because the solution of a vexing problem creates harmony out of dissonance.” Scientists are aware of this beauty, and sometimes they pursue beauty directly; Koestler quotes the physicist Dirac: “It is more important to have beauty in one’s equations than to have them fit experiment.”10 So Koestler argues that science is more beautiful, and art more truthful, than is commonly supposed.

It might be supposed that science advances, but art doesn’t. But here again, Koestler argues that science and art are more similar than we think. If we compare Italian painting from 1200 AD with Italian painting from 1600 AD, there’s an obvious advance, an advance in the direction of realism. Likewise, if we compare Greek sculpture from 500 BC with Greek sculpture from 300 BC, there’s an obvious advance in the direction of realism.

B. Simultaneous Discovery

Forty years ago, when I started writing philosophy, I remarked that different thinkers sometimes have the same idea at the same time. I called this “the idea of the time.” An example is Nietzsche and Dostoyevsky arguing, at the same time, that atheism would lead to a breakdown of morality, and to genocide. Another example is Newton and Leibniz discovering calculus at the same time. A third example is Darwin and Wallace discovering evolution-by-natural-selection at the same time.

Koestler makes the same point that I made, but with more detail, with more attention to science, and less attention to philosophy. Koestler writes,

Historical research into [simultaneous discoveries] is of fairly recent origin; it came as a surprise when, in 1922, Ogburn and Thomas published some hundred and fifty examples of discoveries and inventions which were made independently by several persons; and, more recently, Merton came to the seemingly paradoxical conclusion that “the pattern of independent multiple discoveries in science is... the dominant pattern rather than a subsidiary one.”11 He quotes as an example Lord Kelvin, whose published papers contain “at least thirty-two discoveries of his own which he subsequently found had also been made by others.” The “others” include some men of genius such as Cavendish and Helmholtz, but also some lesser lights.

The endless priority disputes which have poisoned the supposedly serene atmosphere of scientific research throughout the ages, and the unseemly haste of many scientists to establish priority by rushing into print — or, at least, depositing manuscripts in sealed envelopes with some learned society — point in the same direction. Some — among them Galileo and Hooke — even went to the length of publishing half-completed discoveries in the form of anagrams, to ensure priority without letting rivals in on the idea.

Merton says that the idea of simultaneous discovery has been in the air for about three centuries. He traces it to Francis Bacon. According to Bacon,

all innovations, social or scientific, “are the births of time.” “Time is the greatest innovator”.... He accounts his own part in advancing knowledge “a birth of time rather than of wit.” Once the needed antecedent conditions obtain, discoveries are off-shoots of their time, rather than turning up altogether at random.

Bacon believed that philosophers work alone, scientists in groups. “The individual man of science pursuing his daily labors entirely alone would at best produce small change. ‘The path of science is not, like that of philosophy, such that only one man can tread it at a time.’”

I wouldn’t draw a sharp distinction between science and philosophy. Einstein and Nietzsche were both partly solitary, partly influenced by other thinkers. One might even reverse Bacon’s argument, and say that scientists are solitary, philosophers sociable; when we think of Newton, we think of someone pondering and experimenting alone, but when we think of Socrates and Plato, we think of group discussions.

Benjamin Franklin said that his ideas often resembled those of his contemporary, Helvétius: “I have often noted, in reading the works of M. Helvétius, that, though we were born and brought up in two countries so remote from each other, we have often hit upon the same thoughts.”

In 1828, Macaulay discussed simultaneous discovery:

The doctrine of rent, now universally received by political economists, was propounded, at almost the same moment, by two writers unconnected with each other. Preceding speculators had long been blundering round about it; and it could not possibly have been missed much longer by the most heedless inquirer.

We are inclined to think that, with respect to every great addition which has been made to the stock of human knowledge, the case has been similar: that without Copernicus we should have been Copernicans — that without Columbus America would have been discovered — that without Locke we should have possessed a just theory of the origin of human ideas.

An example of simultaneous discovery is the Marxist view of history. In 1894, eleven years after Marx died, Engels wrote, “while Marx discovered the materialist conception of history, Thierry, Mignet, Guizot and all the English historians up to 1850 are the proof that it was being striven for, and the discovery of the same conception by Morgan proves that the time was ripe for it and that indeed it had to be discovered.”12

One scholar wrote,

Alexander Graham Bell and Elisha Gray both filed a patent for the telephone on the same day — within three hours of each other — and sunspots were simultaneously discovered by four scientists living in four different countries. The list of simultaneous independent inventions includes the airplane (2 people), the steamboat (5 people), photography (2 people), the telegraph (5 people), and the telescope (9 people). In science and math it includes decimal fractions (2 people), the theory of natural selection (2 people), the discovery of oxygen (2 people), molecular theory (2 people), and the conservation of energy (4 people).

C. Creating and Corroborating

Koestler describes the life-cycle of a revolutionary idea. He says that the insight comes first, sometimes via the unconscious, via “spontaneous intuitions and hunches of unknown origin.... The creative act [is] a dive into the twilight zones of consciousness.” The creative act often occurs in the blink of an eye. Later, much time is spent confirming and explaining the insight:

The last stage — verification, elaboration, consolidation — is by far the least spectacular, the most exacting, and occupies the longest periods of time both in the life of the individual and in the historical evolution of science. Copernicus picked up the ancient Pythagorean teaching of the sun as the center of all planetary motions when he was a student in Renaissance Italy (where the idea was much discussed at the time), and spent the rest of his life elaborating it into a system.

Darwin hit on the idea of evolution by natural selection at the age of twenty-nine; the remaining forty-four years of his life were devoted to its corroboration and exposition. Pasteur’s life reads like a story divided into several chapters. Each chapter represents a period which he devoted to one field of research; at the beginning of each period stands the publication of a short preliminary note which contained the basic discovery in a nutshell; then followed ten or fifteen years of elaboration, consolidation, clarification.13

D. Blind Spots

Koestler says that great thinkers often have blind spots; they go beyond earlier thinkers, but they close their eyes to the next discovery. He refers to these blind spots as “snowblindness” or a “blackout shutter.” Koestler writes, “This blackout shutter [is] strikingly evident in Galileo’s [mind], and in other geniuses like Aristotle, Ptolemy or Kepler. It looks as if, while part of their spirit were asking for more light, another part had been crying out for more darkness.” I’ve often discussed Einstein’s “snowblindness,” his resistance to quantum physics, his inability to grasp particle-entanglement.14

Discussing Copernicus’ blind spots, Koestler says, “Copernicus was an orthodox believer in the physics of Aristotle, and stubbornly clung to the dogma that all heavenly bodies must move in perfect circles at uniform velocities.” Koestler says that, in a manuscript, Copernicus mentions the idea of elliptical orbits, but then crosses it out; it doesn’t appear in his printed book.

Likewise, Kepler came close to the theory of gravity, but then backed away:

[Kepler] actually discovered universal gravity — then rejected it. In the Preface to the New Astronomy he explains that the tides are due to the attraction of the moon, and describes the working of gravity — even that the attracting force is proportionate to mass; but in the text of that book, and of all subsequent works, he has — incredible as it sounds — completely forgotten all about it.

Galileo also had blind spots:

Galileo revolutionized astronomy by the use of the telescope; but he refused to believe in the reality of comets and declared them to be optical illusions. For he too believed that heavenly bodies must move in perfect circles; and since comets moved in very elongated elliptical orbits, they could not be heavenly bodies.

As mentioned above, Galileo couldn’t accept Kepler’s idea that the moon caused tides.

E. The Impact of Science on the Humanities

Koestler isn’t interested in the history of science in the narrow sense. Koestler is interested in the broader question of man’s conception of the universe, and how this conception affects his view of himself and the world, how this conception affects the humanities. Discussing the work of Kepler, Newton, etc., Koestler says, “This mutation of the European mind in the seventeenth century is merely the latest example of the impact of the ‘Sciences’ on the ‘Humanities’ — of the inquiry into the nature of Nature on the inquiry into the nature of Man.”15 I’ve argued that our conception of the universe is more important, more fundamental, than our conception of God — more important than our belief in the existence or non-existence of God.

Koestler wants to build bridges between the sciences and the humanities — his own work was such a bridge. He speaks of the “wrongheadedness of erecting academic and social barriers” between the sciences and the humanities. He’s a critic of specialized knowledge. He says that great scientists are wide-ranging: “One-idea men, such as Copernicus or Darwin, seem to be the exceptions among the truly great, and multi-potentiality the rule.” Koestler spoke of, “The ominous trend towards over-specialization, its dangers to the creative mind, and the educational and administrative reforms needed to remedy it.”16

I’ve argued that quantum physics will affect our view of man and the universe, and thereby affect the humanities. Quantum physics can bridge the gap between the sciences and the humanities; quantum physics discusses entangled particles, and invites us to draw an analogy with entangled people. Quantum physics strikes a chord with mystics; one might say it’s more attractive to mystics, occultists, and humanists than it is to scientists.

Koestler says that the artist works within the worldview of his time, and this worldview is created by philosophy and science:

The novelist or poet does not create in a vacuum; his worldview is confined — whether he realizes it or not — to the philosophical and scientific panorama of his time. John Donne was a mystic, but he instantly realized the significance of Galileo’s telescope:

Man has weaved out a net, and this net thrown
Upon the Heavens, and now they are his own.

Newton had a comparable impact on literature; so of course had Darwin, Marx, Frazer of the Golden Bough, Freud or Einstein.17

In the early 1600s, Donne felt that the world was coming apart, the medieval worldview was crumbling. “’Tis all in pieces, all cohesion gone,” Donne wrote.18 One scholar, Herbert Grierson, said

Donne is not a metaphysical poet of the compass of Lucretius and Dante. He sets forth in his poetry no ordered system of the universe. The ordered system which Dante had set forth was breaking in pieces while Donne lived, under the criticism of Copernicus, Galileo, and others, and no poet was so conscious as Donne of the effect on the imagination of that disintegration. In [Donne’s work] mystical religion is made an escape from scientific skepticism.19

Grierson compared the impact of science on Donne to the impact of science on Tennyson:

Like Tennyson, Donne is much concerned with the progress of science, the revolution which was going on in men’s knowledge of the universe, and its disintegrating effect on accepted beliefs. To him the new astronomy is as bewildering in its displacement of the earth and disturbance of a concentric universe as the new geology was to be to Tennyson with the vistas which it opened into the infinities of time, the origin and the destiny of man.

The artist is always influenced by the worldview of his time, the philosophy/science of his time. The connected/entangled worldview of our time will probably influence the imaginative literature of our time, or of the next generation. Grierson quotes Donne:

The new philosophy calls all in doubt,
The Element of fire is quite put out;
The Sun is lost, and the earth, and no man’s wit
Can well direct him where to look for it.
And freely men confess that this world’s spent,
When in the Planets, and the Firmament
They seek so many new; they see that this
Is crumbled out again to his Atomies.20

Perhaps the phrase “crumbled out again to his Atomies” suggests separation, a disconnected state, an atomized state. If so, it’s equivalent to the phrase we quoted before, “All in pieces, all coherence gone.” Perhaps today’s theory of connectedness/entanglement can remedy this ‘crumbling into Atomies,’ this lack of cohesion.

Donne seems troubled by changes in the heavens, by the idea that stars aren’t eternal:

And in these Constellations then arise
New stars, and old do vanish from our eyes:
As though heaven suffered earthquakes, peace or war,
When new Towers rise, and old demolished are.

The phrase “new stars” may allude to Galileo’s observation of a supernova.21

* * * * *

Koestler said that his approach to the history of science resembled the approach of Thomas Kuhn, the renowned author of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. I’m a fan of Kuhn, but I think that, as a historian of science, Koestler is equal to Kuhn. Koestler writes,

There are some striking similarities between Kuhn’s schema and the one proposed in The Act of Creation, though they were developed independently of each other.... The progress of science... does not appear as a continuously ascending curve, but as a zigzag line, not unlike the history of art.22

An example would be the organic theory of the Renaissance, followed by the mechanical theory of the 1600s, followed by a return to the organic theory in the Romantic period (and in our time). This zigzag pattern could be compared to the history of art, where realism zigs to symbolism, then symbolism zags to something else.23

© L. James Hammond 2022
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1. In his early lectures, Snyder said that his class is probably the only class on Ukrainian history being taught in the U.S. In the 5th lecture, however, Snyder said that a Ukrainian historian named Serhii Plokhy is teaching a class at Harvard that deals with Ukrainian history after 1500 AD. Snyder has a high opinion of Plokhy, and one of the assigned texts in Snyder’s class is Plokhy’s The Gates of Europe: A History of Ukraine.

Snyder posted a syllabus on his Substack:
Ascherson, Black Sea
Plokhii, Gates of Europe
Snyder, Reconstruction of Nations
Snyder, Red Prince
Snyder, Bloodlands
Snyder, Road to Unfreedom
Pomerantsev, Nothing is True
Rudnyts'kyi, Essays in Modern Ukrainian History
Shore, Ukrainian Night back

2. My theory of history is about cycles, so I take a different view than Snyder. Snyder’s view is probably widespread in academia; Snyder’s view emphasizes chance and free will. Snyder is probably uncomfortable with the idea of fate/destiny, and he probably doesn’t accept the organic theory of society (the organic theory of society probably originates with Hegel, who spoke of a Zeitgeist, or spirit of the age; my theory says that society is an organism, and society has life- and death-instincts; doubtless Snyder would view my theory as mystical/metaphysical madness) back
3. Cf. Ortega: “In every true amalgamation, force has the character of an adjective. The substantive, motivating power always consists in a national dogma, an inspiring plan for a life in common.”(Invertebrate Spain, Ch. 1) back
4. The Norse languages used by the Vikings are Indo-European, as are the Slavic languages. back
5. Today’s Bulgarians are a mix of Turkic, Slavic, and Thracian peoples. The Bulgarian language is a Slavic language. back
6. In his book The Thirteenth Tribe (1976), Arthur Koestler “advanced a theory that Ashkenazi Jews are descended, not from the Israelites of antiquity, but from the Khazars, a Turkic people in the Caucasus that converted to Judaism in the 8th century and was later forced westwards.” Wikipedia back
7. I found this passage in Koestler’s anthology, Bricks to Babel, p. 342. It comes from an article on “Humor and Wit” that he wrote for Encyclopedia Britannica. The article, in turn, draws on The Act of Creation, Ch. V, “Moments of Truth.”

Koestler coined the term “bisociation” to describe how the humorist/artist/scientist puts things together. Wikipedia describes bisociation as “a blending of elements drawn from two previously unrelated matrices of thought.” Consider the following joke:
“Sir, I would like to ask for your daughter’s hand.”
“Why not? You have already had the rest.”
Koestler explains: “The daughter’s ‘hand’ is perceived first in a metaphorical frame of reference, then suddenly in a literal, anatomical context.”(Bricks to Babel, p. 328) back

8. Janus, Ch. VII, “The Art of Discovery” back
9. Ibid back
10. Bricks to Babel, Ch. 31, p. 371. The Keats quote is from p. 368.

Ruskin felt that visual art aimed at truth as well as beauty: “The pursuit of beauty, instead of leading us away from truth, increases the desire for it and the necessity of it tenfold.”(Modern Painters, edited by David Barrie, II, I, 1) back

11. See “Are Inventions Inevitable? A Note on Social Evolution,” by William F. Ogburn and Dorothy Thomas, Political Science Quarterly, Vol. 37, No. 1 (March, 1922), pp. 83-98,

Ogburn and Thomas write, “The French claim that D’Alibard was the first to discover the identity of lightning and electricity. He performed in May, 1752, the same experiment that Benjamin Franklin performed in June of the same year.... Boyle’s Law is known in French textbooks as Marriotte’s Law.”

“Merton” is Robert K. Merton, “a founding father of modern sociology, and a major contributor to the subfield of criminology.... Founded the sociology of science.” Merton developed the “Merton Thesis,” which says that Protestant religion fostered experimental science. The “Merton Thesis” was set forth in his 1938 book Science, Technology and Society in 17th-Century England. (The Merton Thesis may have influenced my professor, Donald Fleming, who wrote John William Draper and the Religion of Science.)

Merton’s piece on simultaneous discovery is called “Singletons and Multiples in Scientific Discovery,” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 105, #5 (October): 470-486,

One of the first to write about simultaneous discovery was Alfred L. Kroeber, whom Merton calls “the dean of American anthropologists.” See Kroeber’s article “The Superorganic,” American Anthropologist, XIX (1917), 33-213

Click here for another article on simultaneous discovery. back

12. Engels, Macaulay, and Franklin are all discussed in Merton’s essay. back
13. The Act of Creation, Ch. 10, “The Evolution of Ideas” back
14. I discussed Einstein here and here. Koestler discusses “snowblindness” in The Act of Creation, Ch. 9. He describes it as a thinker’s inability to grasp the full implications of his own theory. back
15. The Sleepwalkers, Preface. The historian Marjorie Nicolson wrote about how Newton’s theories affected poetry and affected the humanities in general. This is a topic that would interest Koestler, and one wonders if Koestler and Nicolson were aware of each other. back
16. The Act of Creation, Appendix II, “Some Features of Genius” ==> “Innocence and Experience” back
17. Bricks to Babel, Ch. 31, p. 371

Koestler mentions artists who were interested in science, and were guided by science. Renaissance artists were interested in perspective. Cezanne thought “all natural form can be reduced to spheres, cylinders and cones.” back

18. Koestler uses this quote numerous times; see, for example, Bricks to Babel, p. 643 and The Act of Creation, Ch. X, “The Evolution of Ideas” ==> “Creative Anarchy”
Donne speaks of “coherence,” not “cohesion.” back
19. See this text back
20. Quoted from “An Anatomy of the World, First Anniversary” (text here) back
21. Since the world was falling apart (in Donne’s view), no one was content to be a part of the whole, a part of society, everyone wanted to be unique:

All just supply, and all Relation:
Prince, Subject, Father, Son, are things forgot,
For every man alone thinks he hath got
To be a Phoenix, and that then can be
None of that kind, of which he is, but he.

We give Tocqueville credit for coining the term “individualism,” but here’s Donne talking about individualism two centuries before Tocqueville. back

22. Janus: A Summing Up, Ch. VIII, #9 back
23. Koestler contrasts his zigzag theory with George Sarton’s view that scientific progress is steady, and that scientific progress is the best example of the progress of mankind. Sarton is often called the father of the history of science; he was born about 20 years before Koestler, and about 35 years before Kuhn. back