Wednesday 20 November 2013

Can there ever be a deed as dark as this?

Back in the school days we played a what-if game: what if a Caesar or an Alexander the Great had tanks, or jet fighters? And so we imagined all kinds of situations the Germanic tribes or the Egyptians would have had to deal with.

Of course, it was silly. If metallurgy, or aerodynamics had evolved sufficiently, the other side would have had something similar and so the advantage would not have been of the kind we boys indulged in.

Today we invent a new material almost every month. We know more and more about galaxies far away. We experiment with the atom. Our literature, our art, our very way of thinking expands into areas that were hidden even from our phantasises not so long ago.

All this is possible because of minds who over the generations have processed and manipulated information discovered by those before them. The more there is known the greater the opportunity to explore further still.

For Europe it began in the 17th century when individuals here and there dared to step beyond the confines their church had manufactured. Like an animal reared in captivity which can't believe the space outside its cage is real, most huddled fearfully within the prison that was built around them. Yet Descartes, Spinoza, Newton, and later Maxwell, Euler, Bohr and all the others made use of the freedom which at first seemed so alien.

At first retribution had been swift, for a Galileo as well as for a Giordano Bruno. Galileo, the rational scientist, relented and hid his notes for later while suffering house arrest. Bruno, the fiery monk, did not and was tortured by the Inquisition for eight years before finally burned at the stake.

For a thousand years the darkness was thrown over the European mind, and for a thousand years a curios intelligence was treated to cruelty only those inspired by a god can invent.

Now consider: if four hundred years of science have resulted in our current state of knowledge, where would we be today if the entire process had started around 500CE? If particle colliders had been around in 900CE? If Otto the Great would have been on Facebook? If the plagues had been treated with modern medicine?

Furthermore, if the intelligent minds then had been allowed to continue from the discoveries of ancient Greece and Rome?

Conjecture is fraught with danger if it is done on a small scale. But just as all the variance contained within the space of two thousand years is so abundant, so is the potential of its posited version. Hence this kind of musing is justified.

And so I ask: what abhorrence is it that engulfs an entire continent in such darkness for a thousand years?