Counter - Revolutions

Book Reviews Of The Spheres
The Sleepwalkers. Arthur Koestler. Hutchinsons. 25/-. has done a magnificent job in following and setting out
Kepler’s amazing, agonising train of thought—how he uses
SUB-TITLED “A history of man’s changing vision of the erroneous data, makes mistakes in arithmetic, the mistakes
universe”, the main part of this book is concerned with the cancel out, realises his errors and tries to explain why they
revolution in cosmology associated mostly with the names of cancelled and is again mistaken, how he draw wrong con-
Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo and Newton. In his introduction, clusions, corrects them, then later forgets what he has
Koestler defines his aim as being to inquire into the psychol- done and uses his earlier false ideas, and how this erratic,
ogy of scientific discovery and incidentally to debunk but still rational process is all the time mixed up with ideas
legends attaching to it. This is needed. An honest biography and ways of thought which are fantastic in the true sense of
of a scientist, especially one alive during the last century or the word.
so, is something almost non-existent and Koestler rightly A satisfactory feature of this section is that the life and the
sees that the marble pedestal approach, long abandoned in work are seen together as the actions and responses of a single
other branches of historiography, must go here too. So long personality. Almost always the biography of a scientist is
as science’s official histories insist on pictures of perfection, either the story of the personal life of a man who happened
the complementary unofficial pictures of absent-minded to earn his living and reputation from some knack which
professors, evil geniuses and cold destroyers of spiritual have been sword-swallowing; or the story of a trail of
values, etc., must likewise persist. discovery which is from time to time interrupted by a new
Secondly, Koestler wants to inquire into the division of appointment, a war or an expedition. Either way, science as a
science and religion at what he believes to be its source in human creation tends to be lost sight of. That is to say, when
the conflict of Galileo with the Church. Thirdly, he expresses one has described the state of a science at a particular time
himself concerned about the cold war between the sciences and its needs and means for advances in certain directions,
and humanities. one has by no means explained the motives and drives of the
Copernicus, in Koestler’s account, appears as a reluctant man who brought about these advances. It is a man, not a
dragon but an unattractive one, timid, conventional, pedantic method which solves a scientific problem. Only in examining
and dull, conservative in a revolutionary age and attempting
nothing outside astronomy in an age of brilliant all-rounders the whole of a man’s life does one see what it means to
—an innovator in spite of himself. Koestler shows that create science at a particular time and place—whether this
instead of marking a break with Aristotelian physics, life be typical of that of his contemporaries or exceptional.
Copernicus’ idea was a last attempt to reconcile it with the This is true, however distinct the ‘life’ and the ‘work’ may
facts. Moreover, Copernicus never made any astronomical seem—they must still be related through the same personality.
observations of his own, and performed his calculations on There is no doubt of the excellent job Koestler has done
out-of-date observations which had, in any case, been here, and anyone capable of being interested by science will
falsified to fit the theories of other people. Koestler concludes find it fascinating.
that only an obsessionally conservative mind would have
bothered to attack the problem in the way that Copernicus Galileo’s Trial
This is perhaps too severe. The most natural way of Then we come to Galileo, whose observations with the
interpreting the apparent motion of the fixed stars and the newly discovered telescope and whose propaganda did much
sun is by the revolution of spheres around the earth. This was to establish the new cosmology; and this is where the fun
the basis of the Aristotlelian dogma. It is then quite natural really begins. For the treatment of Galileo is every bit as
to seek to explain the motions of the planets on the basis of bad as that of Kepler is good. Koestler is trying to maintain
circular motions. Given the idea of a sun-centred universe, the unlikely theory that the conflict between religion and
it would again automatically be the first thing to have been science, symbolised in the trial of Galileo, was not in any
tried. Koestler throughout the book makes a great point of way inevitable; the whole issue has been misrepresented in
the complexities of Copernicus’ theory, exaggerating some- picturesque legends; that there was no question of the
what their importance. suppression of science but the vain and arrogant Galileo
The longest and best part of the book concerns the lives provoked the whole sad business by trying to push the
and discoveries of Kepler, who found the elliptical form of theologians and everybody else around. The result was “to
the planetary orbits a necessary preliminary to Newton’s inject a poison into the climate of our culture which is still
discovery of gravitation, and Tycho Brahe, who supplied there”, namely “the greatest disaster in the history of
the necessary accurate observational data. The thought of
such early scientists as Paracelsus, Gilbert and Descartes thought”, the divorce of science and religion. To maintain
makes us realise “the fallacy of the belief that at some point that a whole main intellectual trend of centuries (in the
between the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, man shook Protestant world especially!) was determined by a judicial
off the superstitions of medieval religion, like a puppy decision of a few helpless cardinals who never even under-
getting out of the water, and started on the bright new road stood the issues, is distinctly eccentric. To do so, as Koestler
of Science”. For in these minds we find modern intuitions does, without a word of explanation or justification shows,
hopelessly mixed with mediaeval idea. In Kepler this contra- perhaps, that same contempt for the intelligence of one’s
diction is sharper than in anyone because of the very exact- contemporaries which he erroneously attributes to Galileo.
ness, and exactingness, of his purely scientific achievements. The antipathy Koestler has conceived for Galileo, who is
A delightful thing about Kepler is that he has left a vivid for him the archetype of the modern scientist, has prevented
account of the progress of his work so that one is able to his drawing a lifelike and insightful portrait of his main
follow it step by step. Unlike Newton he did not knock human subject—indeed the book often fails to show even
away the scaffolding. He provides almost unique material for ordinary perception, as when it fails to connect the sometimes
anyone interested in the psychology of discovery. Mr. Koestler bitter and sarcastic mood of The Assayer with Galileo’s

illness, combined with the surrounding misunderstandings; it, Koestler fails miserably; which is perhaps why he is
or when it says “he knew that the threat of torture was relatively lenient with Galileo here, letting him off with
merely a ritual formula, which could not be carried out” “unconscious self-deception”. (One sees why the kind of
and leaves it at that. Mr. Koestler’s Galileo is an uncon- abuse quoted in this paragraph has dropped out of scientific
vincing stage villain; vanity, vanity, vanity is the sole motive literature—one looks a charlie if one proves to be as mistaken
of all his actions, political or scientific. Nor does the author as Koestler is.)
get inside the minds of Bellarmine and Galileo’s other Mr. Koestler deplores the isolation of natural science from
theological opponents as Santillana has done in his book, other branches of intellectual activity. Yet acceptance of this
The Crime of Galileo! He seems never to overcome his division seems to underlie many of the judgments on Galileo
surprise that they were not all ignorant fanatics. Thus he and is even more noticeable in his curt treatment of Bruno,
is hardly able to deal with the real issues. (Or perhaps it is whom he dismisses: “His teachings of the infinity of the
because he is unwilling to face these issues that he cannot universe and the plurality of inhabited worlds, his pantheism
get inside the minds of his characters.) and universal ethics exerted a considerable influence on
Less forgivable than any imaginative oversights is the subsequent generations; but he was a poet and metaphysician,
violent bias which Koestler has introduced into his presenta- not a scientific writer, and thus does not enter into this
tion of purely factual history. Typical distortions are:—the narrative”. In a book of this kind this is a serious omission.
way he tries to characterise Galileo’s treatment of Kepler Here is a metaphysician whose thought flowed from Coper-
as shabby, omitting to mention that the former was Kepler’s nicanism, and that, as metaphysics, has rarely flowed from
sponsor for the most coveted chair in Italy; the worthless scientific discoveries. To admit the “earthy” nature of other
evidence of foreigners he quotes on p. 373 to prove the heavenly bodies gives rise immediately to speculation on
dislike of Galileo in his native country; his deduction on the multiplicity of inhabited worlds, and the vastly increased
p. 479 that Galileo had not read Copernicus—from a scale of the new universe is an impulse to thinking on the
mistake in an English translation of one of Galiloe’s books; Infinite Universe and Worlds. Then there is the historical
and the incredibly twisted argument by which he makes fact that Cardinal Bellarmine, Galileo’s chief religious
Galileo’s Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina say things opponent, had been one of the Inquisitors in the trial
quite different from what it in fact says. By means of these leading to the burning alive of Bruno. Koestler claims that
and many more such manoeuvres he goes all out to blacken there is no connection between the two events. Quite apart
the character of Galileo. from the implication that there is no connection between
The result is that, as history, the chapters on Galileo are freedom of scientific thought and freedom of thought
valueless. It is one thing to demolish legends. But Koestler’s generally, it is hard to imagine that the heresies which Bruno
work is likely to be the source of new, and basically anti- had shown cosmological speculation could lead to were not
scientific legends. Thus already Professor Lovell has said, in the front of the minds of Bellarmine and the Inquisition,
“it is the fashion to blame the Roman Church for this and hence a major factor in the conflict between Galileo and
persecution of Galileo. I think, however, we should do well the Church. Koestler here insists on the very division he
to remember, first, Galileo was led by his brilliant intuitive elsewhere complains of—he tries to keep science and
gifts to do battle with a persistence which may have been “culture” separate even when the connection is obvious.
somewhat intemperate, secondly that his persecutors appear This helps defeat one of the main objects of the book—
to have been victims of a muddle and intrigue quite out of an assessment of the cultural effects of scientific discovery—
keeping with the great philosophical and religious system and at the same time dodges a central issue behind the clash
they were intended to guard” (The Individual and the of Science and the Church, which was this cultural effect.
Universe, 1959). Koestler surprisingly rests his case against
Galileo primarily on the accusation of scientific charlatanism,
so far as the question of movement of the earth is concerned Comfortable Clichés
—that he had no proof of it and was therefore speaking out
of turn in propagating it, that he tried to conceal his lack The book ends with an epilogue summarising the state
of proof by a smoke screen of verbiage and pseudo-science, of modem physics. Much of it reminds one of those rather
and if he had offered real proof of the earth’s motion the silly articles one comes across in establishment newspapers
Church would have accepted it. under such titles as Science and Faith. Old clichés—“the stuff
of the world is mind-stuff”, “matter has evaporated”—the
metaphysician’s way of saying that its behaviour does not
Isolation of Science correspond with one’s preconceptions—are trotted out
uncritically, supported by quotations from Jeans, Eddington
Three arguments in favour of the Copernican universe and A. N. Whitehead. Distinguished and even great scientists,
which Galileo used, Koestler says are wrong. One concerning the popular and philosophical writings of these men are
the sunspot paths, Koestler calls “a deliberate attempt to notorious for loose and sloppy thought. No one would deny
confuse and mislead” and “an imposture rare in the annals the philosophical difficulties of modern physics. But the
of science”. However, Galileo’s actual argument here is whole question is dealt with here so superficially and
almost the exact opposite of what Koestler says it is. The uncritically that it is hardly worth commenting on.
astronomical arguments are termed “downright dishonest” One may say then that the book is well worth reading,
because Galileo does not mention the complexities of the especially for the scientist, for the fascinating section on
Copernican theory. Though it is too technical to be shown Kepler and Brahe, but for that alone. The sections on
properly here, Koestler could not have written this if he ancient cosmology and on Newton which I have not dis-
had really understood these arguments. Briefly, the point is cussed, are unexceptionable, but uninspired and apparently
that Galileo does not mention the corresponding complexities do not take advantage of modern research on the subject.
of the rival Ptolemaic theory either. Amusingly enough, it The section on Galileo, despite an impressive weight of
would have been just like his character and methods to what looks like evidence, scholarship and close argument,
have avoided the complications equally in both theories, is distorted and unreliable as history and the same probably
for fear that ignorant persons might have misunderstood applies to the section on Copernicus—to an extent which it
and imagined they had an argument to attack him. Thirdly, is almost impossible for anyone not an expert in this difficult
the key theory of the tides is declared to be “completely branch of research to assess. As history unreliable, as
out of keeping with his intellectual stature”. But although science laughable, narrow in its human sympathies and
it has long been known to be false, when it comes to refuting naive in its interpretations, there is not much that can be
said for it unless it is that it will remain, like Jeans’s writings, generosity and commonsense, sometimes with fear and
a comfort to religious apologists for decades. It reflects stupidity.”
general movements of thought at the present time both in Mr. Clutton-Brock’s understanding, however, is not one-
its loss of confidence in the constructive value of science by sided, and his conclusions are well documented. He shows
tarianism and conformism in thought in which many how the Hilton-Young and Bledisloe Commissions of 1929
Christians see a religious revival. and 1939 advised against any form of association which
Edward Whitehead would put Southern Rhodesia in a dominant position over
either or both the two Northern Protectorates. With a telling
quotation he brings out their belief that federation would
lead inevitably to amalgamation—for which the campaign
is already starting. The widespread nature of the Africans’
opposition to Federation is stressed too, both historically
Mr. Brock’s and at present. It is worth our being reminded of this,
although now even the British Government accepts that
opposition exists; it merely attributes it to lack of under-
Nyasaland standing and misinformation.
Dawn in Nyasaland is, however, honestly documented, so
that one understands the unusual application of the term
Dawn in Nyasaland. Guy Clutton-Brock. Hodder & ‘apartheid’ to conditions in Southern Rhodesia—the Land
Stoughton. 3/6. Apportionment Act, the Native Land Husbandry Act, the
THE OFFICIAL policy in the Federation of Rhodesia and Pass System, residential segregation, and so on. The
Nyasaland is that of ‘Partnership’. Apart from the fact that implications of these are clearly brought out, as is the little
this is supposed to be an entirely different concept to the known fact that when Southern Rhodesia was granted
South African policy of apartheid, partnership has never internal self-government in 1923 the country was officially
been officially defined. As a consequence individuals are free from separationist policies. The African Reserves were
free to define the term almost as they please. Guy Clutton- for the use of Africans who wished to live a tribal communal
Brock’s definition obviously deals with people, not life, and the rest of the country was for anyone not doing so
abstractions; it is not partnership between Africans as a —regardless of race. This policy was completely reversed
group and Europeans as a group which he supports, but within seven years.
partnership between individuals who happen to be Africans,
Europeans, or Asians. The fact that there is little need for
the term ‘partnership’ as a political concept if this definition Whose Responsibility?
is used, accounts for Mr. Clutton-Brock’s statement that The policies and attitudes of Southern Rhodesia are very
the “alternatives are integration in a non-racial society or important to the consideration of this question because of
separation in a race conscious society. There is no middle its dominant position in the federal system. Mr. Clutton-Brock
way which has yet been tried or which appears practicable”. shows how Rhodesian dominance and the concomitant
The whole purpose of his book is to express opposition to European supremacy is achieved despite the official ‘non-
separation, under whatever guise it masquerades, and to racial franchise’. He gives the number of European voters
express “a belief in ‘the common man’—that he exists, that as well as the number of Africans, the General as well as
he is more important than anything else on earth, that he is the Special voters’ qualifications—which is more than can
in fact the point of the whole Creation”. be said for many official documents.
This attitude is fundamental to any consideration of affairs This book is not great literature; it is, however, a book of
in Central Africa, and it is in the light of it that the judge- pressing importance for the coming years. The one major
ments made must be viewed. Anyone who does not think omission is that it makes no more than side references to the
that Africans are individuals—some good, some bad, but equal opposition to Federation of Northern Rhodesian
mostly a bit of each like the rest of us—will finish this book Africans; but this would probably have required at least an
without being convinced by the case built up. Yet this book, extra 50 pages and pushed up the cost beyond its present
like any other on this subject, inevitably talks of ‘Africans’, modest 3s. 6d. The important thing is that this is an honest
‘Settlers’ or ‘Europeans’, and ‘Other Races’. This is the result book, putting the position fairly, with understanding and
og history, and social, economic and political developments without bitterness.
in the territories now encompassed within the Central For these reasons it must be read, for the conference which
African Federation. Whatever else, these three territories will decide the future of the area takes place in 1960.
are race conscious, and every act of government, business People in Britain in particular would do well to ponder
or individuals is seen through a filter of racial glasses. over the paragraph on page 51:
The book describes the background of the Nyasaland “For twenty years the people of Nyasaland have been
opposition to incorporation in the Federation, and the resisting invasion from the south by all possible constitutional
reason for this opposition. The author has visited Nyasaland means. They have debated in the Legislative Council, made
on many occasions, but his residence is in Southern Rhodesia, speeches, written memoranda, sent delegations to the United
where for many years he worked on St. Faith’s Farm, Kingdom Government and the United Nations. What more
putting into practice his beliefs in co-operative economic and could they have done? For how long is it possible for the
social endeavour. These facts have led him to understand United Kingdom Government in Westminster and the
the opposition by Africans to any association with Southern Protectorate Government in Nyasaland to remain blind to
Rhodesia. The book is not a diatribe against settlers—in what is happening on the Continent of Africa, in Central
which classification he includes himself. On the contrary, Africa and in Nyasaland? How long can the patience of
he shows deep understanding of them and their attitudes: the people of Nyasaland continue? Where does the
“Those who have settled in Southern Rhodesia form a varied responsibility lie if it becomes exhausted and they err from
collection of middle class people, neither better nor worse the ‘constitutional ways’ which have proved so abortive?
than ordinary people anywhere . . . A new community arising Who bears the blame in the sight of God if the pot boils
in a virgin land inevitably contains all sorts of people, subject over?”
to a wide variety of temptations. They are often uncertain Whether in the sight of God or of humanity, this question
of themselves and of their future, and liable to react to their needs answering honestly by each one of us.
circumstances irrationally and inconsistently, sometimes with J. E. Walker