Bright Air, Brilliant Fire: On the Matter of the Mind

By Gerald M. Edelman | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 2
Putting the Mind Back into Nature

The way in which the persecution of Galileo has been remembered is a tribute to the quiet commencement of the most intimate change in outlook which the human race had yet encountered.

-- Alfred North Whitehead

want to go back to the beginnings of modern science and consider two towering figures of the seventeenth century, Galileo Galilei (figure 2-1) and René Descartes. In Science and the Modern World, Alfred North Whitehead observed that in inventing mathematical physics, Galileo removed the mind from nature. By this figure of speech, I suppose he meant that Galileo insisted that the observer must be objective, that he must avoid the vexing disputes of Aristotelian philosophers over matters of causation. A scientist should instead make measurements according to a model with no human projection or intention built into it and then search for correlative uniformities or laws that either support or disconfirm his or her claims.

This procedure has worked magnificently for physics and its companion sciences. Isaac Newton stands as the triumphant figure of its first full flowering. Even today after the Einsteinian revolution and the emergence of quantum mechanics, the Galilean procedure has not been swept aside. Albert Einstein's theory of relativity showed how the position and the velocity of the observer altered the measurement of space and time, and by taking acceleration into account it altered the very meaning of the word

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