chapter  22
10 Pages

A science of qualities: B. C. Goodwin

One of the more curious aspects of the history of Western science is that the dominant scientific world-view of the sixteenth century assumed a deep unity between nature and gnosis (knowledge), hidden but accessible to imaginative thought and feeling; whereas what emerged in the seventeenth century was a science based upon a profound division between mind and the nature it contemplates, so that an "ontological gulf exists between consciousness and its object such that the real is, for the mind that relates to it cognitively, truly an object, that which stands over against the thinking mind, appearing to it but not in it' 1. This dramatic change of perception emerged from a fierce and fateful struggle for legitimacy and power between the members of groups championing radically different programmes of development and reform in Europe at the end of the sixteenth and the beginning of the seventeenth century. Francis Yates identified the monk Mersenne as a key figure in the demise of what he saw as a threatening, reforming and transforming Renaissance conception of

the cosmos: 'Mersenne attacks and discards the old Renaissance world; his Universal Harmony will have nothing to do with Francesco Giorgi, of whom he strongly disapproves' 2. Giorgi, the Franciscan friar whose De harmonica mundi of 1525 had incorporated the unifying themes of the thirteenth-century philosopher and mystic, Ramon Lull, was one of the major figures in developing and articulating the tradition of Renaissance nature philosophy. Within this tradition, 'all of reality was a single co-ordinated domain, every region of which was intrinsically related to every other region, so that to know the region called nature entailed knowing the whole sphere of Being within which nature was embedded' 1. Furthermore, this union of the knower and the known had the consequence that a change in one resulted in a coordinated change in the other, mind and nature therefore undergoing a co-operative transformation. But to achieve this knowledge and insight, the seeker had to make a commitment to spiritual enlightenment so as to experience gnosis, knowledge that transforms both self and other, mind and nature then simultaneously changing to states of greater harmony and unity. In alchemy, this dual transformation was described as golden illumination for the mind (or soul) of the practitioner of the art; while gold emerged in the crucible, nature undergoing simultaneous transmutation with spiritual illumination. Neither could occur without the other.