Monday, July 13, 2009

Nostradamus II: Limitations of Shared Knowledge

In my previous post, I wrote the following paragraph:

"It may be that Nostradamus sold his soul to Satan for a few dollars and the power to see into the future. It may be that he was a tormented genius, tormented because his genius gave him knowledge that was so unbelievable for the time period. It may be both, or neither of these things."

I'd like to pick up the conversation here, and hopefully my thoughts will flow like clear water on this early Monday morning.

I was intrigued by my own thoughts (ha!) regarding Nostradamus. I had some really interesting conversations with my husband and father over the weekend as we battled out our ideas regarding knowledge that is limited by, or ahead of, its time.

There were many avenues of compelling discussion, and while I enjoyed being 'in the moment', I do regret not writing down our oh-so-educated comments as they were falling from our oh-so-educated mouths.

One such avenue we meandered on was the limitations of shared knowledge.

Galileo, as you know, was a brilliant observer of the heavens. He is credited with being the father of modern science, astronomy, physics, and other notable titles. Most famously, he researched and championed heliocentrism, or the idea that the sun is the center of the universe. For this astonishing discovery, he was denounced by clergy members and warned by the Church to recant such heretical nonsense. The Roman Catholic Church said that heliocentrism was 'false and contrary to Holy Scripture'.

We can yell at the Church for such idiocy, or we can realize that in the 1600's there simply wasn't enough compelling information to show them the truth of Galileo's claims.

Or was there?

Back to Galileo.

He stayed quiet enough to fly under the radar for a few years. He then hit the radar with a fantastic flying leap by writing Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, which (though I haven't read or researched it) further confirmed his astronomical findings.

Galileo Galilei spent the rest of his life under house arrest.

It is easy to shake our heads at the ignorance of those who failed to see Galileo's brilliant discoveries. Truth be told, however, most of us would have seen him as many of his contemporaries did: a crazy intellectual who flew in the face of the sacred teachings of Mother Church.

I said about Nostradamus that perhaps he was a tormented genius. We like this phrase (or, at least, I like this phrase) because it conjures the feeling of romantically clinging to intellectually charged ideas. However, I highly doubt that I would like to be a tormented genius. At least, not in the literal sense. I wonder how long I would hold fast to my ideas, birthed from nights of frustration, blood, and sweat, if they won me the high prize of life-long house arrest.

Again, we (I) passionately say that no matter the cost, we will stay true to what we know. This is usually, however, applied to religious persecution, and not intellectual. When I know that my soul is in peril, I'm more apt to adhere to the belief in question. When my life's study and passion is in peril, would I be as willing to stay true?

But what if intellectual and religious persecution merge?

Galileo cared for his soul, I think. He wanted to be accepted by the Church, be allowed the sacrament of Holy Communion, and not be deemed a heretic. Whether this stemmed from genuine spiritual devotion or a desire to keep community is unknown, as each man or woman is afforded their own conscience. But he desired to be accepted, which is a good sign that he cared.

He wanted to remain in good standing...and yet, he couldn't deny the truth that his genius led him to understand.

As any researcher, teacher, scientist or artist would, he wanted to share his findings with the world. He wanted to instruct, and I'm sure he did so, eloquently and thoroughly. But the people didn't understand him. Maybe they had their hands over their ears. Maybe they couldn't understand his exceptional intellect. Maybe he didn't have appropriate language and examples to really explain the universe to others. Or, he could have been reined in by his own vast genius ability, kept locked within his knowledge.

Whatever happened, I do find his story to be both exhilarating and tragic. Exhilarating because of his devotion to what he knew..just knew to be true. Tragic because he must have felt so lonely and misunderstood.

Why would God give someone knowledge that seems so very advanced for the time? If God put Galileo on Earth to live in a specific time, why would his brain aspire to thoughts that would otherwise be thought fantastical or heretical for years, even centuries to come?

In my dad's blog (, he notes that Nostradamus foretold of a European monster leader named Hinster who would waylay many of God's children. This was CENTURIES before Hitler committed his atrocities. What was the point of Nostradamus having this kind of information? Was it to warn or instruct us? Was it to show that some of his predictions were correct, and so to point us to others? Did it even have a purpose?

Any discovery made at any time has its champions and its critics. But, there seem to be some discoveries that are made so far before their 'time' that nobody is ready to receive them. It isn't until years pass and the world turns and predictions fail and information is outdated that someone thinks....'Wait...I remember something about Galileo'...and then all of a sudden his years of house arrest are not in vain.

I fear that I'm boring you, when I should just get to the point. (Do I have one? I'm still not sure!)

Knowledge comes from intellectual gifting and the rigors of applied study. Genius comes from our genes (or in spite of them), and from the one who created us. Genius doesn't always meet knowledge, but often it does. This happens in every age, in every time, in every part of the world. We would indeed inhabit a dark place if those lights ever cease to burn.

Galileo didn't think his knowledge was at odds with his faith. Many leaders of the Church thought otherwise. He was punished for trust in knowledge above faith. But in the end...he held to both. Galileo embraced the purpose of his genius and knew that he was onto something...he had a hunch, and was able to support it farther than anyone at that time was able to do. He also was a believer, who (to my knowledge) never recanted the faith, never damned the men who condemned him.

He tried to share, but was kept from really conveying the message. We don't know whose fault this is, but only that it resulted in unfortunate outcomes.

Here I am again, grasping at wisps of ideas rather than intelligible text. I think there's something going on here though...and I hope I have the genius, or at least the dedication to knowledge, to lay it out. I would like to understand for myself, and even for you. Knowledge is a sweet morsel to be savored, but really is meant to be shared. Only then can it grow and multiply and feed the masses.

Galileo tasted the sweetness of the fruit of his labors, as did Nostradamus, and countless others. But how glad they would have been if others could have enjoyed as well! I hope they are able to take as much joy now, knowing that their food is shared.


Tracy said...

"Or was there?"

I just heard menacing music at this part. I couldn't even finish reading before telling you this.

Back to the blog...

Kimberly said...

Wonderful thoughts, Tiffany. You made my head hurt a little, but I think I follow you. We need to be careful what we deem valuable and what we deem worthless. The opposite could be true - especially within the church.