Minding the Heavens
The astronomy of the solar system and the nightly risings and settings of the stars were
understood better by these [Mesolithic] ancestors of modern Europeans than by anyone
else up to the time of Kepler … we are dealing with an extremely sophisticated culture
that is quite unlike our present one. This scares many people. (Robin Heath, in Phillipson
In Unweaving the Rainbow, Richard Dawkins takes to task those poets such as Keats and Blake who have denigrated the scientific project, and attempts to reconcile the human experience of wonder and awe in face of such visually striking phenomena as the rainbow with Newton’s account in terms of a measurable spectrum of light-waves impacting the human eye and brain. But there is more to this than meets the eye – as it were. For one thing, Newton’s division of the visual spectrum into seven colours has no basis in the very material reality he assumes and purports to explicate, but is founded in the mystical significance of the number ‘seven’, itself part of a much earlier, pre-scientific attempt by ancient thinkers to theorize the universe: a pre-existent proto-science through which humans in times long past interpreted to themselves the majestic pageant of Nature.
This book adopts a different strategy from that of Dawkins: for us, the scientific ‘grand narrative’ to which Dawkins and his like are committed has lost its credibility in the fragmentation of consciousness characteristic of the postmodern condition. Here the scientific project, for all its grandeur and austere beauty, is just one of a plurality of mythological narratives competing for our allegiance.1 Theoretically, we take our cue from the phenomenological tradition in European philosophy which, since the early twentieth-century work of Edmund Husserl, has pursued an approach to knowledge diametrically opposite to the reductionist and objectivist goal of mainstream Western science. Instead of stripping away the sensuous, body-based perception in pursuit of Galilean abstraction, phenomenology moves in the contrary direction, seeking the primary, corporeal knowing that necessarily precedes all conceptual accretions, including that most elaborated and prestigious ideological construction that is post-Enlightenment science.
Husserl and his innovative expositor Maurice Merleau-Ponty are the thinkers who have most advanced our understanding of the necessarily embodied nature of human consciousness, the primacy of bodily perception in constituting our awareness