Seeing with the Eyes Shut
Imagination, Methodology, Spiritualism, Astronomy, Energy, Discovery, Invention, Truth, Controversy
Faraday 1859 , [De Morgan] 1859
Claims that it is well known that 'the whole race of poets, artists, romancers, novelists—all close their eyes to see' (65), and even 'the pretences of clairvoyants, however much disproved, tell in the same direction' (64). However, not even 'among the most extravagant romancers or spasmodic poets, is the effect of looking with the eyes closed so evident as in the scientific interpretation of nature' (65). In astronomy, for instance, the 'explanation of the elliptic orbit by gravity is possible only by looking away from, refusing to be influenced by, the obvious appearance—setting free the mind, as it were, by closing the outward sense' (65–66). Similarly, the principle of perpetual motion, 'the highest truth in science', can be apprehended only by 'tracing in imagination' forces which, in the experience of our senses, seem to be 'lost, dissipated, and no more to be found'. With our eyes shut each force 'stretches out in to the boundless universe which taxes our imagination still in vain'. (66) The ability to reject 'the natural dictates of sense [...] permeates all science' and 'distinguishes alike the discoverer and inventor'. In particular, it allows science's 'proudest names' to 'recognize obstacles that never have appeared, and calculate on elements which the field of vision does not include'. After all, any new 'truth is ever the improbable', and 'the innovator is one who affirms or acts against appearances; and truth, with us, has been but a series of innovations'. (67) Makes reference to Michael Faraday's assertion in a recently reprinted lecture [delivered at the Royal Institution in May 1854] that 'in experimenting, we must fix in our minds "clear ideas of the physically possible and impossible"', and defends it against the criticism of 'an eminent mathematician' [i.e. Augustus De Morgan] who implies that 'we should determine beforehand what events can happen' (68). Concludes that the 'two faculties' of sense and intellect must 'co-operate in science', but always 'the sense is that which must be subordinate' (69).
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