The main area in which these people never managed to excel was the natural sciences. The natural sciences rest on the realization that the universe rests upon certain fundamental and unchangeable laws that govern the way in which it functions. New laws can be derived from previous ones, old ones refuted or the knowledge of them improved by the discovery of new ones. Natural sciences such as physics, chemistry, biology, mathematics, all view the world as fundamentally measurable, describable, quantifiable and knowable.
They operate under the assumption that all of existence is a vastly complex system with many subsystems that form the areas of interest of the separate sciences. The progress in the search for knowledge in any of these areas can be easily observed and proven. Physics, which started as a speculative branch of philosophy concerning the nature of the universe, has evolved into an incredibly precise and exact science which deftly describes the laws that govern the physical world.
It has analyzed its structure from the smallest particle in particle physics, to the largest galaxy in astrophysics. It has taken upon itself the marvellous task of learning how the mechanism of God’s clock functions, leading to many incredible technological discoveries, the most impressive and famous of which is the atom bomb. Chemistry is physics’ fussy spouse, in the sense that it is also concerned with matter, but focuses on the details, on its composition, behaviour, structure and properties, as well as the changes it undergoes during chemical reactions.
Advances in chemistry have led to remarkable breakthroughs across an incredible array of fields, including medicine, military technology, construction, agriculture etc. Biology studies life and the way that it interacts with other life and its environment. It is a very complicated endeavour, essentially because it constantly discovers new species that change the way we think about the ones we already know.
Biology helps us understand our place in the world, in this enormously intricate biosphere that is at the same time incredibly fragile and needs our complete understanding in order to preserve it. Mathematics studies structure, quantity, space and change. It divines the patterns and relations between objects. It is the most powerful tool at the disposal of scientists and a language in its own right, used to describe concepts that normal human languages are not made to encompass.
It has grown from a practical consideration into a field and a practice all of its own, divested from material reality and exploring its internal space, infinitely playing with relations and abstractions and increasing our knowledge of concepts that we cannot yet relate to objective reality, but as far as mathematicians are concerned- we soon will. A very different area of knowledge, if it can be even called thus, is art. It is the end result of a conscious striving by people to alter the state of a person’s emotions, senses or intellect through the manipulation of symbolic elements.
Art has historically developed alongside society, becoming a symbolic reflection of the most important and powerful forces affecting it at a given time. There are three ways of valuing the aesthetic value of art, on which our appraisal in terms of progress achieved in the search for knowledge will depend. The first is the realist viewpoint that posits that aesthetic quality is an absolute value, independent of any individual human view. The second one is objectivist and also claims that it is an absolute value, but a value that depends on general human experience.
The third approach, the relativist one, asserts that art is not an absolute value, but rather depends on, and varies with the experience of individual humans. The relativist approach doesn’t allow us to appraise any objective kind of progress and therefore we will take the former two in attempting to prove that progress in art has occurred. The humble beginnings of human artistic striving can be observed in cave paintings, unsophisticated as they are, nevertheless showing a powerful motivation in Man to create and document his everyday life, believing in the symbolic power of these representations.
Through the various subsequent ages, art is seen to rise and fall in quality with the degree of progress or decadence evident in the respective civilizations, even going so far as going hand in hand with scientific, cultural and territorial expansion. I believe that knowledge-seeking is one of the most fundamental qualities of mankind, regardless of the area in question and that progress here can be undoubtedly observed, and while absolute knowledge of the universe will probably never be attained, it is even more glorious a realization that we will forever have something towards which to strive.