Science and Imagination
'The great French philosopher Voltaire would remark, “we are all now disciples of Newton”.
They were all “asleep”, Blake gravely noted, "intent on reducing the divine relationships and character to straight lines, parabolas, and ratios".
Blake's image of Newton under the sea being the measuring architect, illustrates all that may be hidden from him, by using measuring alone.
Blake accepted the new science and cosmology discovered by Newton. He even took lessons in mathematics; but thought the age of reason was being too rational, ignoring spiritual aspects of any collective consciousness carried through the ages, and was justifiably concerned it would lead to humanity's downfall. He was probably one of the earliest psychological enquirers. He knew life is far more than any restrictive organisation into lines and numbers, to which purpose he created a character 'Urizen' to represent what he sees as the limitations of Newton.
Now a fourfold vision I see,
And a fourfold vision is given to me;
‘Tis fourfold in my supreme delight
And threefold in soft Beulah’s night
And twofold Always. May God us keep
From Single vision & Newton’s sleep!
William Blake, Extract from letter to Thomas Butts, 2nd October 1800
Physicist Werner Heisenberg quotes appear to correspond with Blake's idea of "Newton's sleep".
"The ontology of materialism rested upon the illusion that the kind of existence, the direct “actuality” of the world around us, can be extrapolated into the atomic range. This extrapolation is impossible, however."
"We have to remember that what we observe is not nature in itself but nature exposed to our method of questioning"
Measuring in a traditional way won't get the answers at the atomic level. Blake would have understood Heisenberg's insight to a 'method of questioning' [when only using reductionist materialist science].
Book: 'ETERNITY'S SUNRISE' by Leo Damrosch. Chapter: ATOMS AND VISIONARY INSIGHT
“Deduct from a rose its redness,” he wrote, “from a lily its whiteness, from a diamond its hardness, from a sponge its softness, from an oak its height, from a daisy its lowness, and rectify everything in nature as the philosophers do, and then we shall return to chaos.” William BLAKE
This is very insightful about the identity and meaning of things.
Damrosch's quote from a modern science historian expresses how in the age of discovery it was feared harmony and creativity would suffer. We now see in 2022 how this is happening with the march of technocracy.
Damrosch: 'Blake understood these implications and utterly despised them.'
“The world that people had thought themselves living in [before empiricism] a world rich with colour and sound, redolent with fragrance, filled with gladness, love and beauty, speaking everywhere of purposive harmony and creative ideals - was now crowded into minute corners of the brains of scattered organic beings. The really important world outside was a world hard, cold, colourless, silent, and dead; a world of quantity, a world of mathematically computable motions in mechanical regularity.” '
Damrosch: ''Newton wrote:
"God formed matter in solid, massy, hard, impenetrable, movable particles,” which resemble each other just as much “as the sands on the shore.” Whenever we open our eyes, the stream of particles strikes our retinas and triggers signals in the brain."
In response to Newton's description of the matter, Blake had his own fascinating reasoning on energy and metaphysics.
Energy is the only life and is from the Body and Reason is the bound or outward circumference of Energy.
Blake was more a psychologist and spiritualist with a focus on consciousness.
[Add Links for this to his 4-fold story with Beulah etc.]
And every sand becomes a gem
Reflected in the beams divine
Blown back they blind the mocking eye
But still in Israel’s paths they shine
The atoms of Democritus
And Newton’s particles of light
Are sands upon the Red Sea shore
Where Israel’s tents do shine so bright
Damrosch sees the poem as depicting a spiritual light force, rather than a 'hailstorm of particles'. 'He envokes a great symbolic story, the Exodus from bondage to freedom. The light that illuminates that journey is a spiritual force, not a hailstorm of material particles'
Whilst Blake's Biblical analogy fits with his own preoccupation with Biblical illustrations, he may have had even more insightful vision beyond that simple poetic meaning; one of a future where reductionist science would dominate in a way which would divorce humanity from a spiritual or divine existence.
Now in 2022 [now 2023], we see that technology and pharmaceutical science have become reductionist, with no bars on advances in genetic engineering, and when AI will control things, with NO humane feeling whatsoever. An incidental fact is that many of the new science-tech and pharma-biotech companies are Jewish run or owned, which brings a heavy salience to a different reading we could impose on Blake's 'atoms of Democritus' and 'Newton's particles of light' being 'sands upon the red sea shore'. In fact Netanahu contracted with Pfizer to use his entire population for data study, the majority of them being vaccinated against C.19. Some times Blake's writing is almost like Nostradamus; and who can say whether there have not been people who could see the future.
Blake explained how spiritual light is not just a matter of material particles; that it was not correct to describe everything in reductionist form. He welcomed the move away from religious orthodoxy, but did not want that to mean the loss of all meanings. We cannot nowadays know exactly how the new 'scientific' mindset of 1700s was affecting people's outlook on their future; whether many were aware the direction science was taking. We can though determine that Blake was a modern thinking man: he didn't need rigid church dogmas when he had his own spiritualist insights, akin to quantum physics, and much of his writing explored the psyche.
To see the world in a grain of sand,
and heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
and eternity in an hour.
He may have been inspired by 17th century German mystic, Jacob Boehme, who wrote:
"When I take up a stone or clod of earth and look upon it, then I see that which is above and that which is below; yea, I see the whole world therein.”
Eternity, likewise, is present in each moment of lived experience; it is the river of time in which we are continuously immersed. He coined a memorable term for it. “The Eternal Now”. [check quotes]
“Eternity is in love with the productions of time”
Blake - ‘The Marriage of Heaven and Hell’.
Note: Some writers of their day - thoughts on Newtonian Physics:
Nature and Nature’s laws lay hid in night;
God said, “Let Newton be!” and all was light.
Newton with his prism and silent face,
The marble index of a mind for ever
Voyaging through strange seas of thought, alone.
To promote the Blake retrospective exhibition at the Tate in 2019, his last artwork was projected on the dome of St. Paul's Cathedral: an image of 'creator God' but also man as 'Urizen' the measurer and controller of all things. The latter seems fitting these days when all things; political health and media are under more and more control. Visionary and prophetic Blake would be up in arms about how things are going today, and be saying 'I warned you..!'
Blake's outlook on the rationally measured world was a recurrent theme pursued in his character URIZEN until his death. Even though science has advanced civilization by technology, in 2020's we see just how far 'rational' science has come, all the way to nuclear weapons, bioweapons and biotech modifications; towards the planned alteration of humans. We can imagine Blake today would be ranting about biotechnology and technocracy.