Monday, 29 October 2012

Witchcraft, Natural Philosophy And The Universe

Imagine human knowledge as a finite but growing circle on an infinite plane. However large the circle grows, there is always an infinity beyond it. As the circle grows, both its area, the known, and its circumference, the contact with the unknown, increase. Thus, the more we know, the more we realize how little we know. Someone with a small circle has a small circumference and thus has very little contact with the unknown or awareness of its extent.

"What does he know of England who only England knows?"

A Kurt Vonnegut novel contains the rhyme:

"My name is Yon Yonson.
"I live in Wisconsin.
"I work in the paper mills there.
"When people ask me my name, I say,
" 'My name is Yon Yonson...' " etc.

That expresses someone that knows who he is, where he is, what he does and nothing else and is proud to repeat this endlessly instead of listening to anyone or anything else. The name implies sameness with his father. Not only has Yon always been in Wisconsin but his family has.

In Roma Mater (London, 1989) by Poul and Karen Anderson, the inhabitants of the city of Ys already know enough, both through witchcraft and through natural philosophy (early science), to know that there is a very great deal that they do not know.

A Witch-Queen in a trance says:

" 'It is lonely being a spirit out of the flesh. The stars are more far away than ever we knew; the cold of those vastnesses comes seeping down over the world, through and through me.' " (p. 90)

Authors and readers know that the Queen senses interstellar space but how can she be aware of it?

An astrologer, who is thus also an astronomer, says:

" 'I am not at all sure of the horoscopes I cast...If there is fate, then methinks 'tis on a grander scale, the forces of it all but incomprehensible to us.' " (p. 328)

He is old and experienced and is enough of a natural philosopher to sense that there is more to natural laws and to their effects on humanity than can be expressed in the kind of horoscopes that he has inherited from his ancestors.

Returning to the Witch-Queens, one of them says:

" 'This is something that must be, lest the time-stream flow still worse awry.' " (p. 345)

Does she sense something of what future physicists or time travelers might come to know about alternative time-streams? In Poul Anderson's "Star of the Sea," which also refers to a goddess but is historical science fiction, not historical fantasy, Time Patrollers know that they have traveled back to a time before a split in events and that they must guide events "...out of the unstable space-time zone..." - an extraordinary concept. (Anderson, The Time Patrol (New York, 1991), p. 391).

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