Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The History of Heaven and Earth 07: The First Scientific Experiment

Nature has created many men who are small and insignificant in appearance but who are endowed with spirit is so full of greatness and hearts of such boundless courage that they have no peace until they undertake difficult and almost impossible tasks and bring them to completion, to the astonishment of those who witness them. ...Thus, we should never turn up our noses when we meet people who in their physical appearance do not possess the initial grace and beauty that Nature should bestow upon skillful artisans when they come into the world ...This can be clearly seen in Filippo di Ser Brunellescho. – Giorgio Vasari (1511-1574)

Augustine, who, as mentioned at the end of my previous post, had developed a hermeneutical system for interpreting scripture based on a complex categorization of sign and signified (or “thing/reality” and “sign”), lived from 354 -430 A.D (which means he lived in the time of Constantine). Soon after, the Roman Empire broke apart, and the Roman “world” was fragmented. Power was brokered by much more localized kings, and, although intellectual thought didn’t stop, there was not much new development for some time. Then, suddenly, the 1200’s sort of saw an explosion of thought and cultural development.

Platonic texts having been pretty much lost since the time of Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), a distant student of Aristotle, wrote a giant, all-encompassing theological treatise called Summa Theologica, an enormous accomplishment that easily and clearly towered over every theological work that came before (and probably after) and still holds quite a bit of theological sway. Revisiting one of the themes mentioned at the end of my last post, as well as harkening forward to something mentioned in the opening quote of this post, Aquinas made ample, repeated, and numerous references to “nature” and the “nature” of a thing – which Aristotle never talked about, at least not in the same way (I don’t think there was even a word in Greek for “nature”).

A generation later, Dante (1265-1321) wrote his Divine Comedy. Part of why it was called a comedy is because it was written, basically, in the language of the common Italian man, rather than in the Latin language of the political and intellectual elite. Like Aquinas’ “summa”, this was significant to the idea of the upward mobility of man, of his scaling up his ladder of history, because Dante’s language in the Divine Comedy unified the many local variations of vernacular Italian. Where God separated the languages after Nimrod attempted the Tower, Dante (perhaps unintentionally) began to unify them, at least among the Italians.

I will discuss medieval icons in a future post of this series, but, for my purpose here, I need to mention that, around Dante’s time, painters started to make more of an effort towards their representations of the world appearing more like what and how our eye actually perceives the world to appear (as distinguished from how it actually is). For the first time, you start to see geometric constructions on two-dimensional surfaces that begin to apply some early, elementary, and not very accurate rules of perspective.

The NEWNESS of this attempt to be “visually accurate” can be attributed to a number of factors. Previously:

1) Man’s perception of the world was much more associated with our tactile and acoustic senses. Man also related to his perception of objects around him more through the relationship between the gravity of his body and the levity and light of heaven, as well as through his sense of touch, than he did through the rays of the light of his eye. This old way of being in the world is so foreign to us now that it is difficult to even make sense of the meaning of the string of words put together in my point (1), here (this implies a lens). It is, however, related to the originally and finally perceived ONEness of their world, as discussed in previous posts (in tandem with my discussion on demonstration). A giant part of what caused the intellectual explosion of new ideas soon after 1200 was Fibonocci’s arrival from his travels in North Africa with the number ZERO in his intellectual suitcase. Obviously (if we understand the relation between number and sense), part of what that did was change our perception of space and time.

2) Man had a lack of concern for precise and systematically accurate representation of physical reality. Previously, any representations of physical reality, whether in works of writing, painting, architecture, or sculpture, were clearly and obviously assumed to be APPROXIMATIONS. Once again, precise mapping over of physical reality with conceived, perceived, or crafted imitations is now so ingrained into our consciousness that it is difficult for us to understand what I am even referring to with this here point (2). Again, our difficulty here implies a lens. I will give more examples to help as we go along. The first modern experiment is a big one in this direction.

3) Once man did start to try to more precisely mimic the physical world with his representations of it (in this case, his visual representations in the art of painting), the science of it was found to be exceedingly difficult to master (as referenced in the opening quote of this particular blog post). We can still relate to point (3) about why what Brunelleschi did wasn’t done previously. “Evidence based nursing practice” changes before the text book espousing it is finished being read by its students, lol.

Those three points, then, explain WHY the first scientific experiment was NEW. A Professor named Samuel Edgerton states JUST HOW new and impactful it was when he says it "marked an event which ultimately was to change the modes, if not the course of Western history." The photograph at the beginning of this blog post depicts the building that Brunelleschi used to prove the truth of his newly invented perspective – the Baptistery of San Giovanni in Florence. The second image of this blog post, shown above in association with point (2), depicts what someone participating in the experiment would have seen.

This image, left, completes the picture of HOW the first modern scientific experiment was performed, what it “looked like”, so to speak. The image of the building that you see here in this third picture is one of the infamous “panels” painted by Brunelleschi himself. What you see the person holding up in front of the panel was a mirror. As you can see from the second picture, there was a hole in the panel through which to view either the mirror (and thus, Brunelleschi’s painting), or, after you remove the mirror from your field of vision, the Baptistery itself. Or, as you can see from the second picture, you would have seen the panel on one side of your field of vision and the Baptistery on the other. The panels were destroyed by Brunelleschi, so the nitty gritty details aren’t exactly known. Anyway, as the person previously holding the mirror would have seen, and, as Vasari noted in the opening quote of this blog post, to his astonishment, what he saw before and after removing the mirror looked the same! Or, you could say, the two sides of his field of vision looked the same: the side seeing the panel in the mirror and the side seeing the actual Baptistery.

A few things must be stressed here before moving on. For one, this was the INVENTION of perspective regarding man’s perception of his environment in conjunction with his technological achievements. Remember, we become what we behold! That is difficult to overstate in this case. Considering the VISUAL predominance of man’s perception from this point forward - as compared to his previous perception of the world dominated by his tactility, his sense of hearing, and his weight – man here suddenly became much more heavenly. The sense of SIGHT is governed by LIGHT.

Secondly, this was the beginning of a “point of view.” Again, this is something that we so take for granted that it is between impossible and difficult for us to imagine perceiving the world without one. Privacy and individualism were not prevalent anytime soon after Brunelleschi’s very first scientific experiment, but they also wouldn’t be possible without the “point of view” that came out of it.

Realize that, in order for the experiment to PROVE the truth that Brunelleschi was attempting to prove, one had to be standing in one particular position in relation to the Baptistery. Otherwise, the particular illusion of three-dimensional “depth” generated by the painting on the two-dimensional panel wouldn’t actually MATCH one’s actual view of the Baptistry, and the experiment would fail. The geometric construction of the contours of the Baptistery painting reflect the perspectival VIEW of someone standing in that exact position. Obviously, as well, the truth of Brunelleschi’s INVENTION was PROVEN by the “point of view” of ONE person. This is unlike how the love of God for humanity is demonstrated by and seen in the love among Christians in community.

Suddenly, the political leap to “personal rights” is much less of a leap. Hence the Renaissance revival of the Republic. I will address individualism more later, but, more in relation to the purpose of this series of blog posts (at this point), the point here is that an individual “point of view” is inseparable from the first scientific human’s representational attempt at mapping (or painting) over physical reality in (nearly) one to one fashion.

Thirdly, this was a redefinition of “depth.” Above, I mentioned the newly VISUAL predominance of man’s perception of his world. Previously, man's perception of the world was dominated by his sense of hearing, which implied a boundless, horizonless space in which the things to which we give our perception’s attention “come at us” from every direction all at once. The perceived origin of our sensed stimuli influences our idea of “where we come from.” Also, previously, man’s perception of the world, far moreso than being visual, was dominated by the relation between his weight or gravity and his levity or lightness. Stated analogically to man’s gravity and levity – and this analogy INCLUDES man’s SENSED REALITY – his perception of the world was dominated by the relationship between his body and his mind. This means there was previously a SENSED analogical relationship between the MIND and HEAVEN. Previous to the invention of perspective, then, DEPTH was in reference to what occurs along a vertical axis, the same axis on which lies Jacob’s ladder.

Otherwise and reflectively stated, man’s perception, previous to the invention of perspective, was GOVERNED by his relationship to the environment in which he was CONTAINED. This is to say that the very categorical structure of his perception was FORMED by the relation between the gravity of earth and the levity (and LIGHT) of heaven. Perspective was the beginning of heading towards an individual man’s (thinking of his) governing his own perception of the world rather than his perception being primarily in the mode of receiving sensed stimuli from his environment.

With the LIGHT of the sense of sight replacing the WEIGHT of his body (and also replacing the BODIES OF sound coming from all angles to his ears), man’s idea of DEPTH soon became centered along a horizontal axis extending from the seeing man out to his environment. The route to heaven became a bridge (soon to become a cinematic projection). In reality, the whole reason men were so shocked by Brunelleschi’s accomplishment was, because they still primarily thought of themselves as contained within a larger world than themselves. That’s why (when you look at the third image of this blog post, you can see that) the upper half of Brunelleschi’s panel is a mirror; he didn’t presume to try to fix the heavens in place. I am referring to perspective as the beginning of perception’s extension from man (as compared to the reception of stimuli), because both the “costruzione legittima” (legitimate construction) of the rules of perspective and a bridge are man made constructions. Jacob’s ladder was given in a dream.

To say it in short and in the context of the shaping of who man is, when depth was redefined along the horizontal axis, man’s weight was replaced by light. Again, we become what we behold. In the long view, the final implication is that the first scientific experiment, which was also the invention of perspective, MADE each individual man into a piece of heaven. Man found himself, with one giant leap for mankind, miles higher up the Tower of Babel than ever before.

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