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The ten thousand things and the one true only.

by Kip Manley

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Things to keep in mind:
The secret of the cheapest and the lowest.

Consider the barrenness of the notions that earthly things fall because they sink to the earth’s center or that fire rises to the empyrean home of burning suns and stars (i.e., the Aristotelian teleologies in physics). Yes, they accord well with our sense that falling and rising are peculiarly interesting aspects of the observed world. For centuries, however, the former made it harder to get to the Newtonian insight that all matter attracts all matter—and the Earth just happens, in a boring, quantitative way, to be the largest lump around. Similarly, the latter made it harder to see that anything less dense floats in anything more dense. Fire isn’t heading home. It’s just buoyant in a limited, measurable sense that has nothing to do with its romantic and sentimental associations.

Ditto for Galileo’s distinction between primary and secondary qualities; ditto for entelechies in biology. The mechanization of the world picture had its costs: One could no longer appreciate Dante in the same way, because Satan’s imprisonment at the Earth’s center—as far as possible from the heavens—had become a matter of sound physics and cosmology.

Such developments have moved around considerations of the Platonic overworld until it becomes the object of most of Rilke’s poetry, or—in another direction—the Symbolique of that extraordinary psychoanalyst, whose seminars I attended for four months during my second stay in Paris…

Timothy Hasler


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