4. Separated from living things

Summary: The rationalistic empiricism of Francis Bacon, Galileo, Newton and Descartes overthrew the spiritual ethos that had prevailed for more than a thousand years. Indeed the Church had stifled empirical investigation as ungodly for so long, this can be considered an equal and opposite reaction. The revolution was so complete that the spiritual world never recovered its authority. Science and technology however, may be headed down the same path as the medieval churchmen. It is very important to become aware of the trap that we engineer for ourselves when we place complete faith in industry, science and technology.


    The view among empiricists that spiritual or emotional matters were of little concern had a profound impact. In 1623 Galileo wrote in The Assayer:

      To excite in us tastes, odors and sounds, I believe that nothing is required in external bodies except shapes, numbers and slow or rapid movements. I think that if ears, tongues and noses were removed, shapes and numbers and motions would remain, but not odors or tastes or sounds. The latter I believe are nothing other than names when separated from living things.

    With these words he crystallized the idea that internal, subjective processes were unimportant. Far from being rejected for its absurd oversimplification, the idea took hold that quantifiable factors were the only reality upon which scientific investigation was to focus. Francis Bacon, also active in the early seventeenth century agreed and proclaimed, "the invention of all causes and sciences will be the labor of but a few years." Galileo was wrong however. Physicist Fritjof Capra describes how sugar, composed of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen has the property of sweetness.

      strictly speaking, the sweetness is not a property of the chemical bonds. It is a sensory experience that arises when the sugar molecules interact with the chemistry of our taste buds, which in turn causes a set of neurons to fire in a certain way. The experience of sweetness results from that neural activity.