Sunday, September 01, 2013


Wikimedia Commons
Sir Isaac Newton
Pencil Drawing, 1795
Laying the foundation for understanding systems theory as it relates to biology, physics, psychology and ecology, Fritjof Capra in The Web of Life, takes us back to William Blake's opposition to the mechanistic view of the universe advocated by Isaac Newton.  

The Web of Life, Page 19:

"In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the medieval world-view, based on Aristotelian philosophy and Christian theology, changed radically. The notion of an organic, living, and spiritual universe was replaced by that of the world as a machine, and the world machine became the dominant metaphor of the modern era. This radical change was brought about by the new discoveries in physics, astronomy, and mathematics known as the Scientific Revolution and associated with the names of Copernicus, Galileo, Descartes, Bacon, and Newton."
Page 21
"The first strong opposition to the mechanistic Cartesian paradigm came from the Romantic movement in art, literature, and philosophy in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. William Blake, the great mystical poet and painter who exerted a strong influence on English Romanticism, was a passionate critic of Newton. He summarized his critique in these celebrated lines:

May God us keep
from single vision and Newton's sleep."

Newton's role in initiating a scientific and philosophical revolution is noted in this passage in which Newton seized the trumpet and announced the apocalypse when Albion's Angel hesitated to signal the last doom.

Europe, Plate 12, (E 65) 
Between the clouds of Urizen the flames of Orc roll heavy
Around the limbs of Albions Guardian, his flesh consuming.
Howlings & hissings, shrieks & groans, & voices of despair
Arise around him in the cloudy       
Heavens of Albion, Furious

Plate 13
The red limb'd Angel siez'd, in horror and torment;
The Trump of the last doom; but he could not blow the iron tube!
Thrice he assay'd presumptuous to awake the dead to Judgment.

A mighty Spirit leap'd from the land of Albion,
Nam'd Newton; he siez'd the Trump, & blow'd the enormous blast! 
Here we see Urizen turning over to Newton & Locke the sense based philosophy of analyzing every living thing into non-living parts. 

Song of Los, Plate 4, (E 68)
"Thus the terrible race of Los & Enitharmon gave
Laws & Religions to the sons of Har binding them more
And more to Earth: closing and restraining:                      
Till a Philosophy of Five Senses was complete
Urizen wept & gave it into the hands of Newton & Locke"
Blake identifies Satan as Newton's pantocrator in this passage. The clockwork universe whose wheels turn like the cogged wheels of the machines in a mill, eliminates the presence of a Divine Providence. The eternal dimension doesn't have a place in a world explained by the laws and forces defined by Newton.

Milton, Plate 4, (E 98)
"O Satan my youngest born, art thou not Prince of the Starry Hosts
And of the Wheels of Heaven, to turn the Mills day & night?  
Art thou not Newtons Pantocrator weaving the Woof of Locke
 To Mortals thy Mills seem every thing & the Harrow of Shaddai
A scheme of Human conduct invisible & incomprehensible" 
This passage is a continuation of the idea that the connection between God and man is destroyed in a religion which leaves no place for man to be influenced by Divine intervention.

Milton, Plate 40 [46], (E 141)
Are those who contemn Religion & seek to annihilate it
Become in their Femin[in]e portions the causes & promoters       
Of these Religions, how is this thing? this Newtonian Phantasm
This Voltaire & Rousseau: this Hume & Gibbon & Bolingbroke
This Natural Religion! this impossible absurdity"
The consequences of the revolution in understanding the structure of the universe as capable of being explained by analyzing its parts as material objects is emphatically rejected by Blake.

Milton, Plate 40 [47], (E 142)
"The Negation must be destroyd to redeem the Contraries
The Negation is the Spectre; the Reasoning Power in Man
This is a false Body: an Incrustation over my Immortal           
Spirit; a Selfhood, which must be put off & annihilated alway
To cleanse the Face of my Spirit by Self-examination.

Plate 41 [48]
To bathe in the Waters of Life; to wash off the Not Human
I come in Self-annihilation & the grandeur of Inspiration
To cast off Rational Demonstration by Faith in the Saviour
To cast off the rotten rags of Memory by Inspiration
To cast off Bacon, Locke & Newton from Albions covering          
To take off his filthy garments, & clothe him with Imagination
To cast aside from Poetry, all that is not Inspiration"

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