That luminous modern thing

Eighty years ago this year, the philosopher George Santayana published an essay titled Revolutions in Science, from which the quote below is taken.

His essay was inspired by the theory of relativity, because he thought that such an abstruse theory may be an early symptom of scientific decline. I particularly like his phrase Soviet of seers – he certainly got that one right.

A system, even when it has serious rivals, may be maintained for centuries as religions are maintained, institutionally; but a movement comes to an end; it is followed presently by a period of assimilation which transforms it, or by a movement in some other direction.

 I ask myself accordingly whether the condition of the world in the coming years will be favourable to refined and paradoxical science. The extension of education will have enabled the uneducated to pronounce upon everything. Will the patronage of capital and enterprise subsist, to encourage discovery and reward invention?

 Will a jealous and dogmatic democracy respect the unintelligible insight of the few? Will a perhaps starving democracy support materially its Soviet of seers?

 But let us suppose that no utilitarian fanaticism supervenes, and no intellectual surfeit or discouragement. May not the very profundity of the new science and its metaphysical affinities lead it to bolder developments, inscrutable to the public and incompatible with one another, like the gnostic sects of declining antiquity?

 Then perhaps that luminous modern thing which until recently was called science, in contrast to all personal philosophies, may cease to exist altogether, being petrified into routine in the practitioners, and fading in the professors into abstruse speculations.

George Santayana – Revolutions in Science (1933)

13 comments for “That luminous modern thing

  1. Bunny
    February 17, 2013 at 9:26 am

    Thanks I will look this up.

    • February 17, 2013 at 6:36 pm

      He’s a fascinating philosopher. Mostly easy enough to read, but sometimes obscure.

      • Greg Tingey
        February 18, 2013 at 7:49 am

        That’s because he was an RC ….
        Totally obscur(antist)

        • February 18, 2013 at 11:03 am

          He was not an RC.

  2. Greg Tingey
    February 17, 2013 at 11:27 pm

    Santayana is labelled in Wiki as a “Pragmatist”, but I’m not buying it.
    He appears to have been RC & therefore immediately suspect.

    And, of course, he was talking pure 150% BOLLOCKS when it comes to Relativity.

    So you are quoting a suspect source, from 1933 on Science!
    We have learnt a little more since then – I note you don’t quote Mr S on Quantum Mechanics(!)
    Nor the practical results of that strangest of theories, including the computers we are using, or lasers or ……

    Now then James – I’ve asked you before – how much science do you actually understyand, because every time you spout infantile rubbish like this, you demean your credibilty another sizeable amount – don;t you?

    • February 18, 2013 at 9:09 am

      This piece isn’t by James.

    • February 18, 2013 at 11:02 am

      Santayana was an agnostic.

    • ivan
      February 18, 2013 at 2:30 pm

      Greg, methinks it is you that is talking 150% pure bollocks!

      The THEORY of relativity has been the one thing that has held back so many fields of science, fields that are only now beginning to venture beyond the constraints it imposed. Maybe if people had had a good look at the results of the Michelson Morley experiment – it was not a null result but did show about half of the calculated result – science, physics especially, might have progressed much faster than today and we might have had things like fusion power.

      • Greg Tingey
        February 19, 2013 at 9:01 am

        Oops, it is normally JH who rants on about science, which he plainly hasn’t a clue about.

        I note you use the word “theory” in the meaning “hypothesis” or “guess” – the one thing it isn’t, any more than the aforementioned QM or Evolution.
        Scientific theory: A basic all-encompsssing underlying explanation, often backed by mathematics, of many disparate phenomena.
        There aren’t actually, very many real THEORIES, bvecause they are as defined, above.

        NOW then …
        Ivan, err, relativity WORKS.
        So does QM, but let’s not go there, right now, shall we?

        I assume you are unaware of all the confirmations (all of which could have falsified General Rel) which have come in over the years – nearly 100 now?
        Now, please state your science qualifications beyong GCSE grse “C” or eff off, because I’m getting tired of this ignorant & stupid yapping.

        • ivan
          February 19, 2013 at 4:33 pm

          So you want to play my degree is better than your degrees (mine BSc imperial college and MSc Sydney University) rather than look at the facts.

          Yes relativity ‘works’ just as Newtonian orbital mechanics ‘works’. The fact that they work does NOT mean that they are the be all and end all of the argument.

          • Greg Tingey
            February 19, 2013 at 5:35 pm

            Yes, but you have to come up with an explanation (& in this case, supporting/expanatory mathematics) which not oly gives all the current, accepted “correct” answers, but does something new & provides further expanations, which the existing ones do not.
            You must conclusively disprove General Relativity (given that Newtonian Mechanics is a “special case” of the former – low velocities compared to “c”, no really large masses distorting the spacetime metric)

            Over to you – all practical suggestions gratefully recieved!

            • February 19, 2013 at 10:16 pm

              JH rants on about pseudo-science. Science he supports wholeheartedly. Clearly you have no idea of science, Greg.

              • Greg Tingey
                February 20, 2013 at 9:50 am

                How many times do I have to repeat:
                BSc Physics, MSc Engineering?

                And, JH – I suggest you read what I wrote last – & add a rider about Occam’s Razor, while you are at it?

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