19/42 Secret History: Leibniz the Optimist and Alchemy (vs. Isaac Newton's science, Voltaire)

Uploaded by GaryGeckDotCom on 15.08.2012

Natural disaster…
And war.
There is no question that mankinds history has been paved with destruction and pain.
But this is not the story of a pessimist. It is the story of an eternal optimist. Born
in Germany at the end of the 30 years war. A war fought primarily in Germany. That left
millions dead…
This is the story of Leibniz.
The Enlightenment, is often associated with the promotion of knowledge and end to religious
intolerance and superstition. Many of the French and English Enlightenment figures are
the founding fathers of Anglo-American philosophy and thought with their focus on materialism,
empiricism and practical common sense. I should point out that they stand in direct opposition
philosophically to Leibniz and his tradition.
Isaac newton, John Locke, Pierre Bayle are examples of Enlightenment figures. Another
good example is Voltaire. But even though Voltaire is an Enlightenment figure, we will
see, how Voltaire’s attack on Leibniz is very similar to the Church’s attack on a
heretic. Dr. Martin Evans of Stanford university has
two excellent lectures to his students on Voltaire’s mockery of Leibniz in the Candide
as part of a course called Literature of Crisis-an amazing course available completely online.
I will provide the link below to this podcast. In this lecture, after Professor Evans says
that the utterly terrible Lisbon earthquakes and tsunamis that killed so many thousands
had completely rocked Voltaire’s worldview at a time when he was actually flirting with
the philosophy of Leibniz . According to Dr. Evans, this was thanks in part to Voltaire’s
Leibnizian mistress, but the event shattered Voltaire’s ability to support an optimistic
philosophy. [clip 1]
Professor Evens then goes on to quote the Christian theologian Saint Augustine who compares
the evil we see in the world (disease, earthquakes, etc.) to the dark regions of a painting which
on their own are ugly but make the whole or total picture one of magnificent harmony and
beauty. That represents the totalists answer or theocidy. Then two more theodicies are
offered. The Manicheans offered a dualist mixture of good and evil in the world like
pleasure and pain. Thirdly, the biblical answer based on genesis from the Christian dogma
claims that evil exists because the serpent tempted mankind away from God’s perfect
plan …tempted away with the with the knowledge of good and evil.
[Clip 2b]
In the three theodicies that Professor Evans mentions (Leibniz’s totalism, the Manichean
dualism and the Christian doctrine of original sin), Voltaire-according to Dr. Evens’-possibly
accepted Leibniz’s totalist view as valid, however, according to Voltaire’s own letters
quoted in this lecture he sought to convert the philosophers he called heretics away from
being Leibnizians because they committed the sin of consuming the knowledge of good and
evil…tempted by freethinker Leibniz himself drawing parallels to Lucifer.
[clip 5] The Enlightenment or the Age of Reason which
provides the backbone of modern Anglo-American thought is associated with freedom from religious
dogma and the promotion of free thought. But here, in Dr. Evans’ interpretation, we have
a major Enlightenment figure, Voltaire, more or less telling us to be stupid slaves to
the plan
of ‘His Majesty’. [Clip4]
We don’t need to know the plan, we must simply execute our small part according to
Voltaire, in fact it is forbidden to know the plan. Philosophy would undergo many attacks
in the centuries to follow from this very view. The attack and attempted eradication,
in philosophy, of metaphysics. We will see in later videos how logical positivism, for
example, continued Voltaire’s cause of eradicating purely free conceptual generalizations in
philosophy. That is, to convert Heretics. But, Leibniz’s optimism is really one of
knowledge. About the world being able to know and gradually knowing more and becoming happy
through this. As the great scholar Professor Allison Coudert of UC Davis said in her excellent
book Leibniz and the Kabbalah on page 125 Leibniz’s optimism is not captured in Voltaire’s
simple mantra that this is the best of all possible worlds.
According to Professor Coudert, Leibniz really believes “that this world is the best because
it has the capacity to become better and better.” Professor Coudert says that, in his later
years, Leibniz held the gnostic view that all individual things eventually reach perfection
through repeated transformations and that Leibniz reached this view after the influence
of his friend, the Kabbalist Mercurius von Helmont.
Quoting Leibniz on page 128-129 Professor Coudert highlights a few sentences: “God
contains all in one and everything tends toward this one; this is the highest good of all
things… The immortal part of man must dominate astral
fate…wisdom is greater than fate (those who think about the immortal part of themselves
recognize the angels as brothers… Those who engage in contemplating these things
and dwell on eternal matters, removing the soul from sensible thing, will be removed
from corporeal contagion and dominate the stars. They will see the clouds and the stars
of heaven beneath their feet…” Leibniz goes on to add that “Men become
happy by ‘obtaining divinity’…” And refers to God as “a maximum of infinity…”
[upbeat in garden] In our story thus far, we have the surprising revelation that Voltaire
was actually against free conceptualizations of the mind. But this interpretation of Voltaire
would not have surprised the 20th century mathematical logician Kurt Gödel who is the
subject of parts 22-28 of this 42 part video series.
[turn dark and play dark knight] Gödel’s friend, Karl Menger wrote in his memoirs that
Gödel believed in a centuries old conspiracy, not only to suppress Leibniz’s writings,
but to generally keep mankind from exploiting the power of free, conceptual thinking.
Quoting pages 222-223 of Reminiscences of the Vienna Circle, Menger asked Gödel: “Who
had an interest in destroying Leibniz’s writings?” “Naturally those people who
do not want man to become more intelligent,” he replied. Since it was unclear to me whom
he suspected, I asked after groping for a response. “Don’t you think that they would
sooner have destroyed Voltaire’s writings?” Gödel’s astonishing answer was: “Whoever
became more intelligent by reading the writings of Voltaire?”
During Voltaire’s lifetime, Europe was still engulfed in a nasty intellectual civil war
between Newton’s system and Leibniz’s. Both systems represented two possible foundations
for the new era that was just beginning-perhaps best generalized as the scientific age that
we are still living in today where science has more respect than philosophy and where
mysticism has virtually no respect at all…but it never has really had any respect with the
ruling system. [show Christian church] For example, just 46 years before Leibniz’s
birth the Roman Catholic Church burned Giordano Bruno alive for views. Bruno, was both a mystic
and a legitimate scientist far ahead of his time. I have come across Bruno’s name several
times in Gödel’s personal, unpublished notebooks.
However, Voltaire was a Newtonian as was the Enlightenment, in England, in America, and
even on the continent where Leibniz support was centered. Even in Germany, Newton had
great popularity. For example, the great German mathematician, Karl Gauss’s sided with Newton
in science. In this illustration, Newton’s almost godlike light shines down on Voltaire.
As the modern Age of Science grew from a lowly place in the Dark Ages to its current position
of dominance, the Church lost much of its political power. The Church’s position was
based on the authority of its doctrines, allegedly based on revelation-an authority to be followed-even
in the face of reason… Today, historians often exalt the Enlightenment
for dethroning the Church and allowing science to freely advance. But it is often overlooked
that there was another contender for the modern scientific age…and this one based on Leibniz
and his tradition-a worldview arguably more free because it encompassed not only reason
but metaphysics and even mysticism on its fringes. But in the end Voltaire’s side
won and would define the zeitgeist of the centuries to follow... Leibniz’s larger
historical tradition, a heresy of the age of the Church would remain a heresy in the
coming age of science as well… Fittingly the default philosophical schema
in the Age of Science puts science above philosophy instead of the other way around, as you might
find in Leibniz’s tradition….To the credit of Newtonian Science, it might be wrong, but
it can get us to the moon… But as Kurt Gödel once wrote in a letter
as reported in Reflections on Kurt Gödel on pag e 123]”: “You are completely right
that mankind is not improved through the moon flight. This has to do with the old conflict
between ‘natural’ and ‘spiritual’ sciences. There would be no danger of an atomic
war if advances in history, the science of right and of state, philosophy, psychology,
literature, art, etc. were as great as in physics. But instead of such progress, one
is struck by significant regresses in many of the spiritual sciences. “
We have touched upon the contrast between Leibniz and Newton and the war between their
two worldviews. In future videos we will further explore how even though Leibniz and Newton
are each alchemists and highly motivated by esoteric teachings, they represent two very
different kinds of esotericists. Newton kept his obsessions with secret knowledge hidden
and saw himself more as a prophet. To oversimplify a bit for clarity
Newton represents: -Those who keep their esoteric knowledge secret.
They have no interests in bettering mankind by spreading what they know.
Leibniz represents: -Those who publically promote human knowledge
for the betterment of mankind. With Newton time is absolute. With Leibniz
time is relative and really doesn’t exist in a pure sense.
Newton represents: -Those who believe in the limitations of human
speculation and who a skeptical of metaphysics. Instead Newton relies on divine revelation
through prophecy. Leibnitz represents:
-Those who promote speculation, metaphysics and free conceptualizations.
With Newton: -The forbidden apple falls on his head by
chance. As for Leibniz:
-He eats of the forbidden apple without apologies and encourages us to as well…
These differences are highlighted in Professor Allison Coudert’s paper Newton and the Rosicrucian
Enlightenment when she writes: “For Newton, the greatest scientist of his age, was decidedly
hostile to Gnostics of any sort and this included Rosicrucians….Newton’s criticism of Gnosticism
lies at the heart of his conflict with Leibniz.” partly relying on the work of Frank Manuel.
Coudert later goes on saying that Newton “was especially antagonized by the Jewish Kabbalah,
which he considered a major source for the Gnosticism that had distorted the clear, straightforward
teaching of early Christianity.” Later she goes on: “Newton believed that
the primitive Christianity had been contaminated by three sources: The Kabbalah, Platonism,
and Gnosticism. He looked for the source of all three heresies in Egypt and variously
suggested that Kabbalists learned their odius doctrines from Plato or vice versa. He objected
to Platonists, Kabbalists, and Gnostics on similar grounds. All three were responsible
for introducing metaphysics into theology, thereby distorting the simple teaching of
primitive Christianity. Newton insists that the ‘Scriptures were given to teach men
not metaphysics but morals.’” Leibniz is more in alignment with Giordano
Bruno. Professor Coudert, in the previously mentioned paper writes that to Bruno: “Those
who willingly accept limits to intellectual inquiry are ‘asses’ in his opinion because
[now quoting Bruno:] ‘they remain unable to stretch out their hands…like Adam to
pluck the forbidden fruit from the tree of knowledge, and in consequence they remain
without the fruits of the tree of life…’” Leibniz belongs to the esoteric tradition
which, unlike Newton, believes in emanation, innate ideas and optimism. Leibniz was influenced
by the Kabbalah which Newton so despised. There is an important point of clarity needed
here. Again quoting professor Coudert’s paper: “Although Plotinus accused Gnostics
of despising the sensible world…this was not true of all Gnostics. In recent years,
especially as a result of the gnostic texts found at Nag Hammadi, certain Gnostics have
been shown to have had a more optimistic world view, and this is the view that survived in
the Hermetic texts translated by Ficino, in alchemy, in the Kabbalah, and, in Neoplatonism.
In these sources one can find a ‘monadic gnosis,’ in which there was no chasm between
man and God or need for a mediator between the two. Thus I would agree wholeheartedly
with Trevor-Roper’s suggestion that the origins of the Enlightenment are to be found
in heresy. ”
If one thinks about the Enlightenment, and the origins of the scientific age with a much
wider historical view than one focused on Newton, Voltaire, Locke, Thomas Jefferson
et al., one sees that it also has much to attribute to the other tradition which encourages
man to become divine through eating the forbidden fruit.
In fact Professor Coudert’s paper is more or less in defense of Francis’s Yates’
thesis that the larger enlightenment movement was more the result of Hermeticists, magicians
and mystics than skeptics and materialists. Yates called this the Rosicrucian Enlightenment.
Professor Coudert’s agrees with this thesis so long as hermeticism is downplayed a bit
and in its place is Gnosticism. This is despite the fact that Newton opposed Gnosticism. And
I think this exposes an historical bias few may be aware of. For Voltaire’s movement
was successful in making Newton the Messiah of the enlightenment. To this day, we often
ignore the fact that the move to the age of reason was already well underway before Newton
and, I would argue, would have been fine without him.
As the great scholar [Anst Cassiroh] Ernst Cassier wrote in his article “Newton and
“Most of the empirical evidence [Newton] needed for
constructing his optical theories or his theory of gravitation was
contained in the work of former scientists or contemporaries-in
the work of Galileo and Kepler, of Snellius and Fermat, of Christian
Huyghens, and of Halley 'or Hooke. Newton's real merit lay
in uniting and concentrating the different and dispersed achievements
of these men. The most important and the most characteristic
feature of his work was not so much the discovery of new
facts as the new interpretation of data already available.”
this interpretation, of Newton’s is highly motivated by what professor Coudert describes
as his desire to bring mankind back to prelapsian perfection through Newtonian Science-a science
free of metaphysics. Newton’s ultimate quest was to uncover the Prisca Theologia or the
single, true ancient esoteric religion. It is similar but not exactly the same as the
perennial philosophy of Leibniz and his tradition of western mystics because theirs shows up
every now and then through history while Newton’s must be ancient.
According to the Helen Fryman’s article called The religious beliefs of Sir Isaac
Newton, “…divine revelation as Newton understood it centered on two books, Daniel
and Revelation, which revealed the almighty dominion of God over history as natural philosophy
reveal His dominion over nature” Voltaire actually learned from Samuel Clarke
much of newton’s religious views, not just his scientific ones.
My thesis is that the anti-gnostic, anti-metaphysical war waged by Newton and Voltaire would have
been ideal if it had remained a minor critical-counter trend to the larger gnostic trends of the
enlightenment. However, they were too effective at dominating the zietgesit and may actually
have done more harm than good. For there are many things of value in Leibniz’s life work
that were ignored until someone else rediscovered them-sometimes a century or more later. A
good example was mathematical logic. It might clarify matters to see two Enlightenments
at work. One being the Greater movement away from religious authority and towards scientific
and scholarly progress and is thanks to the modern emergence of Gnosticism and ancient
secret knowledge that was forbidden during the Dark ages. It began, not with Newton’s
principia, but with Renaissance magic, hermeticism, the re-emergence of Platonism, neo-platonism
and above all else Gnosticism and the kabbalah. This is enlightenment supported by Professor
Coudert’s paper and also in Yates’ book The Rosicrucian Enlightenment which go into
much more depth than I do here …The other lesser enlightenment, as I call it, is of
the empiricists and Newtonians was in reality a smaller counter-movement to this greater
one according to my thesis. Along with newton and Voltaire, this lesser enlightenment consisted
of figured like Locke, Bayle and Thomas Jefferson. While it certainly had some good ideas, it
was not without its religious and philosophical extremism in its hatred of metaphysics. It
is my thesis that the correct view is too subtle for such extremists. To this day, metaphysics
is alive and well despite heroic attempts for over 200 years to kill it off.
In this image I offer my view of intellectual progress in western history albeit in an oversimplified
way to make it clear. The real picture probably looks like this.
Many protestant currents of thought at the time that were in alignment with what I call
the lesser enlightenment favored nominalist anti-realism which is the extreme opposite
from Platonic realism. Socinianism is a good example and Locke and possible the others
were favorable of it. Unlike Platonism with its focus on internal experience and innate
ideas, nominalism focuses on external reality and thus favors empiricism and rejects universals.
On the one hand they oppose the Catholic Church’s weakened Aristotelian Realism, but a more
obvious enemy was the pure realism of Platonism. This nominalism would become the default bias
of the modern age-especially in English speaking nations. It is my thesis in this video series
that the Platonists like Leibniz, Cantor and Gödel made their great discoveries which
advanced human knowledge as a direct result of being Platonists (Gödel even stressed
this at times) and that Gnosticism and Platonism has played a very large part in moving mankind
forward nominalism and skepticism, are important too, I would argue, as healthy counter movements
to curb the excesses of unbridled idealism and keep it honest, but while Leibniz was
a Platonist, he was not an unbridled one…he took the best from all philosophies and even
had his roots in Aristotelianiam. His Platonism was well tested.
Today the religious aspects of nominalism have gone away but the history books are already
written …and it is only when we become aware of the intellectual legacies we have both
inherited and forgotten that we can judge them on their merits instead of take them
on as some sort of default. The mistake made by Voltaire and his small,
extremist movement was to conspire to base the modern world on a purely negative attitude.
And this sheds some light on Gödel’s conspiracy theories regarding a dark force keeping mankind
from advancing and why he saw humanity as being off track since the times of Leibniz.
Historians often give the lesser enlightenment credit for doing away with Church political
rule and the emergence of religious tolerance and free speech and thought. But on closer
examination, we find that they were attacking the free speculations of metaphysics and the
idea that man can obtain divine knowledge through philosophy at least as much as they
attacked anything else. If the modern emergence of Gnosticism is what
brought mankind out of the Dark ages, then the counter movement of Newton and Voltaire
is a step against this progress. Which is a good thing, as I have stated, so long as
it is only a critical for of skepticism, but a disastrous thing if blown out of proportion
as it has been. While the enlightenment of Newton and Voltaire
are often associated with religious tolerance, the truth is more complex and in some ways
the complete opposite. Voltaire, Newton and others were motivated by a religious intolerance
to destroy Leibniz and to exalt Newton as a Christlike figure of the modern world. A
view Newton held and one that Voltaire spent much of his energy promoting. To Newton, Leibniz
was a heathen to be destroyed and to quote Dr. Kurt von s. Kynell’s book The mind of
Leibniz “William Whiston incredulously reported that ‘Sir Isaac Newton also once pleasantly
told Doctor Clarke that he had broke Leibnitz’s [sic] Heart with his Reply to him.’” This
was during the calculus war that we will cover in a later video. If Newton was the god of
the enlightenment, he was certainly a most wrathful one.
I would like to now quote Hegel in his Lectures on the History of Philosophy when writing
about Leibniz, he begins:
“As in other respects, Leibnitz represents the extreme antithesis to Newton, so in respect
of philosophy he presents a striking contrast to Locke and his empiricism, and also to Spinoza.
He upholds thought as against the perception of the English school, and in lieu of sensuous
Being he maintains Being for thought to be the essence of truth, just as Boehme at an
earlier time upheld implicit Being. While Spinoza asserted the universality, the oneness
of substance merely, and while with Locke we saw infinite determinations made the basis,
Leibnitz, by means of his fundamental principle of individuality, brings out the essentiality
of the opposite aspect of Spinoza's philosophy, existence for self, the monad, but the monad
regarded as the absolute Notion, though perhaps not yet as the "I." The opposed principles,
which were forced asunder, find their completion in each other, since Leibnitz's principle
of individuation completed Spinoza's system as far as outward aspect goes.”
Later on Hegel then offers a brief summary of Leibniz’s early biography covered in
other videos in this series. Hegel is references Leibniz’s involvement as secretary of a
Rosicrucian secret society. Hegel writes that shortly after Leibniz was awarded his doctorate
in law “…he became acquainted in Nüremberg with a company of alchemists, with whose ongoings
he became associated. Here he made extracts from alchemistic writings, and studied the
mysteries of this occult science. His activity in the pursuit of learning extended also to
historical, diplomatic, mathematical and philosophical subjects…”
Hegel adds a caveat about Leibniz’s only popularly published book in his lifetime the
Theodicy and offers criticism:
“Leibnitz's Théodicée is not what we can altogether appreciate; it is a justification
of God in regard to the evil in the world...Buhle says: ‘His philosophy is not so much the
product of free, independent, original speculation, as the result of well-tested earlier’ and
later ‘systems, an eclecticism whose defects he tried to remedy in his own way. It is a
desultory treatment of Philosophy in letters.’ Leibnitz followed the same general plan in
his philosophy as the physicists adopt when they advance a hypothesis to explain existing
data. He has it that general conceptions of the Idea are to be found, from which the particular
may be derived; here, on account of existing data, the general conception, for example
the determination of force or matter furnished by reflection, must have its determinations
disposed in such a way that it fits in with the data. Thus the philosophy of Leibnitz
seems to be not so much a philosophic system as an hypothesis regarding the existence of
the world, namely how it is to be determined in accordance with the metaphysical determinations
and the data and assumptions of the ordinary conception, which are accepted as valid - thoughts
which are moreover propounded without the sequence pertaining to the Notion and mainly
in narrative style, and which taken by themselves show no necessity in their connection. Leibnitz's
philosophy therefore appears like a string of arbitrary assertions, which follow one
on another like a metaphysical romance; it is only when we see what he wished thereby
to avoid that we learn to appreciate its value. Leibnitz's philosophy is an idealism of the
intellectuality of the universe…” …Leibnitz's philosophy … makes fundamental
the absolute multiplicity of individual substances, which after the example of the ancients he
named monads - an expression already used by the Pythagoreans.”
We will discuss Monadology later, but Hegel goes on to describe the what he calls “the
universal”. It stands in contrast to the monads in that monads-even though they have
some element of unity in themselves-can make up a multiplicity. The universal, on the other
hand unifies. Hegel goes on:
“The universal itself, absolute essence, which with Leibnitz is something quite different
from the monads, separates itself also into two sides, namely universal Being and Being
as the unity of opposites. That universal is God, as the cause of the
world, to the consciousness of whom the above principle of sufficient reason certainly forms
the transition. The existence of God is only an inference from eternal truths; for these
must as the laws of nature have a universal sufficient reason which determines itself
as none other than God. Eternal truth is therefore the consciousness of the universal and absolute
in and for itself; and this universal and absolute is God, who, as one with Himself,
the monad of monads, is the absolute Monad. Here we again have the wearisome proof of
His existence: He is the fountain of eternal truths and Notions, and without Him no potentiality
would have actuality; He has the prerogative of existing immediately in His potentiality.
God is here also the unity of potentiality and actuality, but in an uncomprehending manner;
what is necessary, but not comprehended, is transferred to Him. Thus God is at first comprehended
chiefly as universal, but already in the aspect of the relation of opposites.”
This is interesting that Hegel stresses the concept of the unification of opposites. Such
a concept comes directly from Nicholas of Cusa. Who spoke about the unification of opposites
as being God in great length. Concerning the unity of opposites as viewed by Leibniz, Hegel
continues: “As regards … the absolute relation of
opposites, it occurs in the first place in the form of absolute opposites of thought,
the good and the evil. ‘God is the Author of the world,’ says Leibnitz; that refers
directly to evil. It is round this relation that philosophy specially revolves, but to
the unity of which it did not then attain; the evil in the world was not comprehended,
because no advance was made beyond the fixed opposition. The result of Leibnitz's Théodicée
is an optimism supported on the lame and wearisome thought that God, since a world had to be
brought into existence, chose out of infinitely many possible worlds the best possible - the
most perfect, so far as it could be perfect, considering the finite element which it was
to contain. This may very well be said in a general way, but this perfection is no determined
thought, but a loose popular expression, a sort of babble respecting an imaginary or
fanciful potentiality; Voltaire made merry over it. Nor is the nature of the finite therein
defined. Because the world, it is said, has to be the epitome of finite Beings, evil could
not be separated from it, since evil is negation, finitude.”
So Hegel is unsatisfied with the degree to which Leibniz fails to determine the concept
of both the perfect and infinite and the evil and finite. We often will look into how these
ideas can be made more exact throughout this video series.
Please continue on to the next video where we will dig deeper into Leibniz’s philosophy
and life and remember to visit garygeck.com for more info.