Sunday, January 19, 2020

Nonsense Can Establish Sense

Nonsense is not always wasteful and destructive—the history of past three thousand years offers several instances of sense being established through nonsense. The cosmology of Homer and Hesiod was nonsense, but their legends played an important role in the evolution of Ancient Greek culture and philosophy. In their search for a method of turning base metals into gold, the alchemists of the Middle Ages discovered important facts of chemistry. In thirteenth century, Thomas Aquinas wanted to prove the existence of god but his efforts led to the rise of Aristotelian philosophy in Europe. In the seventeenth century, the scientists trying to prove the phlogiston theory of combustion managed to discover oxygen. The quest for the mythical golden city of El Dorado inspired the Spaniards in the sixteenth century to undertake risky expeditions to South America. The quest for the mythical island of Terra Australis inspired the exploration of the Southern Hemisphere between the fifteenth and eighteenth centuries. Human beings make their greatest achievements when they work for some purpose—it doesn’t matter whether the purpose is sensible or nonsensical.

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