Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The interpretation of anomaly - Missing Link podcast review

The missing link podcast has a new episode with the compelling title Curiouser and curiouser. The issue greatly lives up to the title even if it must go with a disclaimer of explicit language. The explicit language comes from quoting late Renaissance material written by Ambroise Paré. The subject is our fascination with freaks of nature or any other exceptional occurrence or anomaly. Not only in current times, throughout the ages, people were interested.

The point of the show is that the way this interest is worked out and how oddities are explained is fundamentally different. Since the Enlightenment, nature is taken to be stable, uniform and its laws unchanging and everything must be explained within that framework. In earlier times, explanations were sought in the supernatural and hence, on the surface, people from there and then seem hopelessly infatuated with 'monsters'. Host Elizabeth Green Musselman points out, that in all times, people wanted to explain and in all times, the true challenge lies in explaining the exceptional.

There is an additional point that I think I picked up, but is kept slightly implicit. In the days before the Renaissance, or before the Late Middle Ages, the obsession with monsters and such was less, because of a more spiritual image of the world. I felt as if this means Platonic image of the world. Matter is chaotic and what is truly interesting is theory, the mind's construction. It is with the uncovering of Aristotle and possibly also with world shaking events such as the discovery of the New World, may be also the fall of Constantinople, may be also the disruption caused by the plague, that observing the world was necessary and all the puzzling excesses became relevant.

One could even make connections with the disruption of the Reformation and Witch Hunts (I am letting my mind loose here) to see this almost violent obsession with excess. Only after this disruption and the philosophical inclination towards order (such as with Hobbes), the stricter style of interpreting anomalies can evolve.

More about The Missing Link on this blog:
Domestic Science,
Missing Link with monotheists,
Missing Link with Popper,
An evolved controversy,
Time's Arrow.

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