Monday, 7 October 2013

Befuddling the Bourgeoisie

Kaspar tells us a story.  He doesn’t want to.  For he has listened to the advice of his guardian and will only start a story if he can finish it.  A sensible suggestion turned into dogma through too rigid an application.  Of course Professor Daumer was only trying to help.  He wanted to give Kaspar’s thoughts greater power by providing them with more coherence.  Alas!  In mistaking an apothegm for a law he stifles his protégé, whose original ideas transgress the normal conventions.  This kindly man still doesn’t understand his young friend.  Even now he wants him to be a simple bourgeois, his ideal of the good citizen.  As if Goethe could be made into an accountant.  Ummphhh.  Arrrghh.  Ouch!  The great man bursts the seams of his trousers; he rips the arms of his suit… His temper up he throws the ledger across the room, where it smashes the office window…  Wild with talk his words erupt all over us.  We call 999, and he runs down a back alleyway…  Later the police arrive and arrest a line of poetry.

Kaspar wants to tell a story.  But his innate gentleness and his rigorous education have given him too strong a respect for the opinions of his dull acquaintances.  He thus submits to their views; afraid of breaking their rules, which he believes must be correct and true.  He will not tell a story that has no ending.

But these are good people, and in their compassion – Kaspar is dying - they relax their views; his guardian encouraging him say what he can see…

A blind man leads a caravan across the desert.  It is lost, for the men are confused by the presence of a mountain that they thought did not exist.  There is discussion and disagreement, and no one knows what to do.  The blind leader bends down and picks up a handful of sand.  He eats some.  Now he knows!  The mountain is a mirage.  They can walk through it.  The others believe him, and they reach the city, where this story, Kaspar says, will begin.

This fable rich in meaning is a very precise metaphorical description of Kaspar’s relationship to his society; and thus a short commentary on the film we have just seen.  Kaspar Hauser is the blind leader who has led this town’s inhabitants into the city... 

What is this city?  It is a symbol.  It represents the mystery of the world that underlies everyday phenomena, and which can be grasped only through intuition and creative insight.  Kaspar is “blind” because he lacks the limited vision of these citizens: for them life does not extend beyond the mundane reality of their senses as revealed to them by the science of the day.  For Kaspar such a perspective – the world seen through the eyes of the educated classes - is an illusion.  And he has shown them this on many occasions.  He has made them walk through their imaginary mountains to look at strange vistas full of paradoxes and riddles that reveal the mysterious essence of life.  Life!  How odd it is.  But few of these bourgeois want to hear such truths.  Many do not understand them; for they have been educated to believe that all phenomena can be explained – that reality is a solid and well-furnished home built for their own comfort.  This is the truth that Professor Daumer wishes to instil into his young friend.  Kaspar has a very different kind of mind.  Highly intelligent it is full of eccentric ideas that contain insights that befuddle ordinary intellects, which inevitably dismisses them as foolish and hopelessly wrong.  The best and most brilliant example is Kaspar’s refutation of the totalitarian logic of a German professor who believes that there is only one answer to his favourite puzzle (which he prizes for its difficulty).

There are two towns.  In one all the people tell the truth; in the other they all lie.  Between these towns there is a crossroads.  Standing there you meet a man from each town.  You ask where they come from.  Both say the town of truth.  Now, there is only one question that can prove the liar is lying...  Kaspar thinks about this.  Excited, and desperate to show his cleverness, the professor cannot restrain himself and blurts out the right answer: the question must contain a double negative (that is, the truth can only be established by a formal logical trick).  Kaspar says this is not correct, and insists, despite the professor’s interruptions, that he can expose the liar with a different question.  “I would ask if he is a tree frog.  He would have to say yes, and I would know he is lying.”  The professor is livid with rage, and shouts out that this is “mere description” and has nothing to do with the rules of logic.  When Kathe says that she understands the problem now, the professor replies that this has nothing to do with understanding!   Exposed as the fool he is.

The truth is often more direct than the complicated reasoning that mediocre academics and bureaucrats impose upon it.  Complex and involved expositions can, as here, often be a disguise for ignorance (“universities are full of people who pretend to know things they don’t”). But this is minor satire. 

Kaspar’s answer exposes the sort of mind that prefers academic rules and academic conventions (which are often learned by rote and imbibed as habit) to genuinely original thought; many professors not thinkers but unsophisticated collectors and collators of facts and propositions.ii  Of course this is not to deny the utility of such scholarship.  The problem occurs when such (important but limited) skills are confused with thinking and are espoused with arrogant self-regard, as here.  The source of this professor’s self-esteem is the method he has acquired; a method that obscures rather than elucidates the problems of the world.iii  Kaspar is too simple and too profound to taken in by such artificial constructions.  To him the world is strange - his perceptions are fresher and more alive than this schoolman’s - and so he must think hard about it.iv  To such a mind the professor’s method is both superficial and foolish; it is beside the point.  And there is more…  The rules of reason are by themselves inadequate to properly grasp the inner workings of reality,v but it is precisely this narrowly prescribed rationality that pervades the academy, the source of the intellectual ideas that his guardian wants to implant in Kaspar.  It is Professor Daumer’s biggest mistake.  To grasp life’s essence you need the particular vision of someone like Kaspar Hauser, whose mind sees things in an especially direct way: through the apprehension of the concrete particular and by intuitive insight.vi  Those fancy spectacles we call ideas and general theories are little use to characters such as him.

At its best such knowledge helps this town to be a civilised and progressive place.  However, this knowledge, although powerful and socially productive, is too general and too formal to grasp the mysteries of life, which require strong perceptions and sudden intuitions that go beyond or even bypass the rationalizing mind.  These educated bourgeois are highly knowledgeable and conscientious but they are also unaware of the limitations of their ideas.  To them they are indubitably correct.  “Only look at what we have achieved!”  When confronted with Kaspar’s strange ideas their instinct is to either dismiss or to domesticate them.  Thus Professor Daumer’s attempt to train Kaspar to think like himself.  He is partially successful - his protégé is reluctant to tell his story about the desert caravan.  But Kaspar Hauser’s perceptions and intuitive insight are too strong to be wholly conditioned by his patron.  The blind leader eats the sand.  He ingests reality directly to apprehend the real nature of things: the mountains are a mirage; the professor’s logic is a fake; the bourgeois conventions of this town are a prison cell as well as a schoolhouse room.  Insight marks out the gifted.  It is necessarily individual and odd.  There is more than one way of looking at the world, although all communities will deny this – only they know what is right.

Contemporary liberalism does not depreciate emotion in the abstract, and in the abstract it sets great store by variousness and possibility.  Yet, as is true of any other human entity, the conscious and the unconscious life of liberalism are not always in accord.  So far as liberalism is active and positive, so far, that is, as it moves toward organization, it tends to select the emotions and qualities that are most susceptible of organization.  As it carries out its active and positive ends it unconsciously limits its view of the world to what it can deal with, and it unconsciously tends to develop theories and principles, particularly in relation to the nature of the human mind, that justify its limitation.  Its characteristic paradox appears again, and in another form, in the very interests of its great primal act of imagination by which it establishes its essence and existence – in the interests, that is, of its vision of a general enlargement and freedom and rational direction of human life – it drifts toward a denial of the emotions and the imagination.  And in the very interest of affirming its confidence in the power of the mind, it inclines to constrict and make mechanical is conception of the nature of mind.  Mill… understood from his own experience that the imagination was properly the joint possession of the emotions and the intellect, that it was fed by the emotions, and that without it the intellect withers and dies, that without it the mind cannot work and cannot properly conceive itself.  I do not know whether or not Mill had particularly in mind a sentence from the passage from Thomas Burnet’s Archaeologiae Philosophicae which Coleridge quotes as the epigraph to The Ancient Mariner, the sentence in which Burnet says that a judicious belief in the existence of demons has the effect of keeping the mind from becoming ‘narrow, and lapsed entirely into mean thoughts’, but he surely understood what Coleridge, who believed in demons as little as Mill did, intended by his citation of the passage.  Coleridge wanted to enforce by that quaint sentence from Burnet what is the general import of The Ancient Mariner apart from any more particular doctrine that exegesis may discover – that the world is a complex and unexpected and terrible place which is not always to be understood by the mind as we use it in our everyday tasks.  (Lionel Trilling, The Liberal Imagination.  My emphasis)

This is the paradox: those who most prize the individual are those who snuff her out.vii  These townsfolk are today’s liberals – humane, progressive and containing within their class a sliding scale of the educated from the university professor down to the high school student.  The most civilised they also the most intolerant of the idiosyncratic (because they live their life through ideas, which, crucially, they believe are absolute and true).

The conclusion of Kaspar’s story expresses a hope: that his listeners will follow him into the unknown.  This hope is to be denied. The old patterns will be repeated after his death; the population impervious to ideas they view as strange.  During the autopsy a lesion is discovered on his brain.  The experts believe this explains everything – his thoughts are due to a damaged cranium.  The notary seals Kaspar’s fate: his report, which he describes as “exact” and “complete”, confirms the established view; it reasons away the odd and the anomalous as a physical abnormality.  With report in hand the notary walks down a long winding road and vanishes into the perspective line, just like Kaspar’s murderer when he first left the town’s square.  Es ist sehr klar!  The autopsy has executed its subject.  The town is safe at last.

The creative person is intuitively linked to the inner spirit of nature.  This is why Kaspar believes an apple can jump over a person’s foot – because it is clever and wants to avoid an obstacle.  His guardian thinks such ideas are silly, yet he misses completely the mythic truth such thoughts contain.  Thus he doesn’t reflect on a puzzle that Kaspar has uncovered: there must be something inside the apple to make it jump and roll.  The man’s mind is too prosaic to comprehend his young friend’s thought experiments.

A thinker will see the world differently.  This is precisely what makes her a thinker.  Often she may see it wrong – because her perspective is too distorted or too idiosyncratic.  Thus Kaspar believes a giant built the high tower; an obvious and easily corrected mistake.  But then he has a flash of real insight: the room inside the tower must be larger than the tower itself, because “when I turn around inside the room it surrounds me completely, but when I turn away from this wall there is nothing but open space.”  Size is relative to the perspective you choose.  Kaspar Hauser has a pre-scientific view of nature, which gives his own thoughts, buzzing with fresh perceptions, vitality and truth.  The consequence is that while his individual theories are wrong he is asking the right questions; questions which the mechanical science of the day could not answer; the reason it fell into redundancy in the next century.viii

Kaspar is alive to the weirdness of the world.  It is why he can think with such penetration and simplicity.  His guardian, in contrast, believes he knows the fundamental nature of reality; for him knowledge exists not in asking puzzling questions but in adding to the collection of facts and theories that he has already acquired.  He is, too use that much-maligned word, a Positivist.  Such intellects prefer pre-existing (pre-packaged?) ideas to fresh impressions (the source of new knowledge);ix they thus filter out all the interesting stuff that might help them see the world in different and revealing ways.  Kaspar cannot afford such complacency.  He knows he doesn’t understand the world - he is told so every day - and thus he is keen to reconcile the differences between what he experiences with what he is expected to think; the source of those odd and penetrating questions, which the town’s educated class treat as idiocies.  Knowledge can be a form of ignorance.  It is also a murder weapon.  What!  Yes: because it destroys our intuitive sense by denying it validity; only what can be observed, labelled, and generalized is believed to be true and real.x  Education, when put into the wrong hands, is a serial killer.

Life is being constantly created.xi    The artist taps into this eternal flux to make his art, the genius to ask new questions.xii   It is a story that never finishes… There is no end to reality.  It cannot be summed up in one pretty phrase, or delineated with absolute precision in a single official report.  The caravan doesn’t vanish when it enters the city, although it may seep away...  But these are hard things to think about.  And these good citizens are too respectable, too educated, too nice, to doubt their social situation.  They have learned their lessons too well to believe that “everything solid melts into air”,xiii that today’s truths are tomorrow’s mistakes. They really do believe that a story must have a start, a middle and an end; and that Kaspar has finished his.  For such characters knowledge begins where creation ends; little more than a collection of objects that an expert collates, catalogues and puts into his filing cabinets.  Stuffed animals in an old museum case.

The similarities between the academic mentality and that of the bourgeoisie are obvious.  Kaspar is an object of curiosity, a victim to be cured, an ignoramus who has to be educated… His interior life has no value unless it can be manipulated in some way.xiv  Life must be useful.  And to be useful, as Lionel Trilling notes, it has to be readily comprehensible; thus the preference of the liberal classes for simple abstractions that enclose life within small and clearly defined boundaries.  Emotions, creative thought, nature’s mysteries, are too wild and intangible to be so easily contained, and are therefore a source of tension: the bourgeois are of course human; while they need science and education to ensure their success; yet all these independent entities which are liable to go their own way – as when David Hume discovered that there is no rational foundation to reason.  My god!  The very things the bourgeoisie depend upon also threaten their existence; knowledge a perpetual revolution whose foundations are shifting and insecure.xv   “Kaspar Hauser must be educated! with our simple abstractions” (the last four words sotto voce).  And when that fails…  A lesion is discovered in his brain that proves he was insane.  The diagnosis is of course meaningless – the damage may have nothing at all to do with Kaspar’s thoughts; it was almost certainly caused by the first murder attempt.  But it suits this town’s prejudices.  Kill these bizarre ideas rather that let them run about the streets, where some clever child might find them.  Herzog’s irony intact to the end.

When I think of Werner Herzog I imagine him in a white coat in a laboratory.  He stands at his workbench dissecting images, which he puts onto slides to observe under a microscope.  He is so laconic.  So cool.  We see it in this film.  We are not shown some interior expressionist vision (the cause of much disappointment when I first saw this film years ago) but are made to look at the Kaspar Hauser case from the outside.  It is a clinical investigation.  And Herzog has quite specific material in mind for his slides: Kaspar Hauser is the microscope the director uses to peer down at the prejudices of the 19th century’s bourgeoisie.

We see them clearly.  But what about our own prejudices?  Herzog’s My Best Fiend suggests an important one.  When filming in the Amazon jungle Klaus Kinski imagined himself as Rousseau’s Natural Man.  In his typically ironic way Herzog dismisses this as a clichéd fantasy: Kinski’s primitiveness is actually a sign of his civilisation.  This is our illusion today.  We want to be, and often think we are, “authentic”; casting off our middle class chains in order to be “workers”, “rebels” “ethnics”, “mystics”, or natural men and women.xvi  Consumed by an idea…  How bourgeois!xvii

It is part of a wider phenomenon; the intellectual project which seeks to naturalize the world, reducing metaphysical mysteries of the universe to what are believed to be the hard facts of nature.  In the process nature has become our new god. 

My guess is that many critics will see Kaspar Hauser as a wild child who because of his wildness can pierce society’s fictions to see the underlying reality.  Although such a view is not wholly wrong it is inadequate: Kaspar represents not the “savage mind” but an artist who has a vision unique to himself.

In the film’s long first scene Kaspar is locked up inside a room.  There are moments when he looks like a child playing with his toy.  At other times he acts like a domesticated animal; indeed there are occasions when he sounds like a mooing cow.  This is Herzog’s insight: the artist is neither a civilised bourgeois nor a wild animal.  He is something in between, with the instinct of a free beast, the perceptions of a child, and mind of a mature adult.   He needs civilisation to educate him, but at the same time he must remain largely impervious to it; a high-wire act that often proves fatal.

We look up.  We gawp.  We shout out… There is a scream…  People are crying; there is pandemonium around us; we hear an ambulance… I lead my distraught friend away…  Kaspar Hauser has fallen!





[i] Ernest Gellner, Words and Things.  (The quote is from memory)
[ii] For a good example see my criticisms of Peter Gay in Too Rich to Accept the Rags this Shopkeeper Sells?
[iii] “The defects of German philosophy are those of professionalism: a closed atmosphere, books instead of life (not as well as life – immense learning and immense ignorance together), inability to communicate discoveries to the world at large, contempt for good style, inbreeding, lack of general culture, gruesome earnestness.”  (R.J.  Hollingdale, Nietzsche)
[iv] Compare with Bryan Magee’s:
            “Until I was five I shared a bed with my sister, three and a half years older than me.  After our parents had switched out the light we would chatter away in the darkness until we fell asleep.  But I could never afterwards remember falling asleep.  It was always the same: one moment I was talking to my sister in the dark, and the next I was waking up in a sunlit room having been asleep all night.  Yet every night there must have come a time when I stopped talking and settled down to sleep.  It was incomprehensible to me that I did not experience that, and never remembered it.
“When I confided my bafflement to my sister she was dismissive.  ‘Nobody remembers it,’ she said in confident tones of finality, as if that were all there was to it.  I remained dissatisfied.  How does she know” I thought.  All that means is she doesn’t remember it.  I bet she’s never talked about it to anybody else.”  So I set myself to keep a keen watch on my self, so that I would know when I was falling asleep, in the same sort of way as people try to catch the light in a refrigerator going out whey they close the door.  But it was no use.  Everything continued just as before.  One moment I’d be chattering away to my sister in the darkness on, say, a Monday evening, and the next thing I knew I’d be waking up in broad daylight and it would be several hours into Tuesday.  That going to sleep was something I did every night yet never experienced was for years a source of active mystification to me.” (Confessions of a Philosopher)
[v] See the discussion in my Dear Mr Albert….
[vi] See the Schopenhauer quote about the artist’s vision in my Russian Climate. 
There are highly suggestive passages in W.G. Runciman’s Relative deprivation and social justice, which suggest that the tendency to look at the world in simple abstractions is an imposed one – we have to learn it at school.
            “They all, however, have in common that the point of the comparison made did not derive from the fact that the reference group was on one side or the other of the manual/non-manual line.  Almost all of them imply a comparison close to the actual situation of the respondent.  None could be termed in any sense ‘class-conscious’, and most of them suggest or, sometimes, directly state a comparison based on a particular feature of the respondent’s personal situation.
“A few direct quotations may bring out both the flavour and the range of the replies coded under this heading.  ‘People with no children’, said a woman with four of them.  ‘Where there is a man working in the family’, said an unmarried woman.  ‘People who get extra money by letting off part of the house’, said an 82-year old widow.  ‘Army officers retiring since I did,’ said a retired army officer. ‘People that have good health and are able to be in full time work’, said a retired draper.  ‘People on night work,’ said a 63-year old brazier in the engineering industry, ‘I have now had to do day work – I’m getting old.’  ‘People farming in a bigger way who can get subsidies’, said a smallholder, ‘I don’t have enough acreage to be entitled to any.’  ‘University research people who went into research instead of teaching’, said a schoolteacher’s wife.”
            Runciman in this famous and subtle book does not seriously reflect on the differences between this kind of thinking and his own.  In the concluding section of this work he uses John Rawls’ theory of justice to interpret our attitudes to social inequality.  Using such a theory he shows that at least people’s ideas of relative deprivation can be demonstrated to be wrong.  However, what he doesn’t properly consider is that to make such judgements people like the retired brazier or the 82-year old widow would have to fundamentally change the way they think.  That is, to arrive at a more correct understanding of their social position they would have to think naturally in abstractions like class.  To do this their culture would have to radically transformed, even destroyed.  What Runciman takes for granted is that his outlook is essential beneficent.  However, this is not obvious: for these characters such a way of looking at things might be viewed as an imposition, a kind of intellectual imperialism (the source, perhaps, of the working classes historically ambivalent attitudes towards education).
In the film it is the servant Kathe who both understands and agrees with Kaspar.  It is the world of the professor that she finds alien.  Clearly there is something very odd about education.  Most of it designed not induce the student to question and interrogate the world – that is, to understand it -, but rather to acculturate them.  This is achieved not so much through the subject content as through its underlying form - by encouraging us to think via simple abstractions.
[vii] See the discussion in my Civilized Bigotry; particularly the footnotes.
[viii] See A.N. Whitehead’s Science and the Modern World and Bertrand Russell’s Outline of Philosophy.
[ix] This is of course a classic empiricist argument.  See David Hume’s A Treatise of Human Nature.
[x] For an example see Lewis Wolpert’s Malignant Sadness.  This is a very good book, but it has one huge weakness – it doesn’t consider how society itself may be one of the causes of mental illness.  For a sharp contrast see Émile Durkheim’s Suicide, where social reality is recognised as an independent variable.  This is surely correct.  The nature of a nation or an institution is more than the sum of its parts, the reason why, perhaps, a scientist like Wolpert cannot take it seriously - everything has to be reduced to observable and measurable facts.
[xi] “If we were not much larger than an electron, we should not have this impression of stability, which is only due to the grossness of our senses.  King’s Cross, which to us looks solid, would be too vast to be conceived except by a few eccentric mathematicians.  The bits of it that we could see would consist of little tiny points of matter, never coming into contact with each other, but perpetually whizzing round each other in an inconceivably rapid ballet-dance.  The world of experience would be quite as mad as the one in which the different parts of Edinburgh go for walks in different directions.  If – to take the opposite extreme – you were as large as the sun and lived as long, with a corresponding slowness of perception, you would again find a higgledy-piggledy universe without permanence – stars and planets would come and go like morning mists, and nothing would remain in a fixed position relatively to anything else.  The notion of comparative stability which forms part of our ordinary outlook is thus due to the fact that we are about the size we are, and live on a planet of which the surface is not very hot.  If this were not the case, we should not find prerelativity physics intellectually satisfying.  Indeed we should never have invented such theories.  We should have had to arrive at relativity physics at one bound, or remain ignorant of scientific laws.  It is fortunate for us that we were not faced with this alternative, since it is almost inconceivable that one man could have done the work of Euclid, Galileo, Newton and Einstein.  Yet without such an incredible genius physics could hardly have been discovered in a world where the universal flux was obvious to non-scientific observation.”  (Bertrand Russell, quoted in Stanislav Andreski’s Social Sciences as Sorcery.  My emphasis.)
[xii] For a wonderful expression of this view see Jeremy Isaac’s interview with John Berger.
[xiii] The phrase is too good to waste, although I’m using it in a different way from Marx.  For a discussion of the more prosaic German original see Richard J. Evan’s review of a recent biography.  The author’s translation and analysis of this phrase is a wonderful example of the dull literalism that Kaspar exposes in this film.
[xiv] For an extraordinary example of this idea when transplanted into India see Satyajit Ray’s Branches of the Tree.  The hero’s motto is an English one: worship work.
[xv] “In order to solve the riddle of experience, and to explain how natural science and experience are at all possible, Kant constructed his theory of experience and of natural science.  I admire this theory as a truly heroic attempt to solve the paradox of experience, yet I believe that it answers a false question, and hence that it is in part irrelevant.  Kant, the great discoverer of the riddle of experience, was in error about one important point.  But his error, I hasten to add, was quite unavoidable, and it detracts in no way from his magnificent achievement.  What was this error?  As I have said, Kant, like almost all philosophers and epistemologists right into the twentieth century, was convinced that Newton’s theory was true.  This conviction was inescapable.  Newton’s theory had made the most astonishing and exact predictions, all of which had proved strikingly correct.  Only ignorant men could doubt its truth.  How little we may reproach Kant for his belief is best shown by the fact that even Henri Poincaré, the greatest mathematician, physicist and philosopher of his generation, who died shortly before the First World War, believed like Kant that Newton’s theory was true and irrefutable.  Poincaré was one of the few scientists who felt about Kant’s paradox almost as strongly as Kant himself: and though he proposed a solution which differed somewhat from Kant’s, it was only a variant of it.  The important point, however, is that he fully shared Kant’s error, as I have called it.  It was an unavoidable error – unavoidable, that is, before Einstein.
“Even those who do not accept Einstein’s theory of gravitation ought to admit that his was an achievement of truly epoch-making significance.  For his theory established at least that Newton’s theory, no matter whether true or false, was certainly not the only possible system of celestial mechanics that could explain the phenomena in a simple and convincing way.  For the first time in more than 200 years Newton’s theory became problematical.  It had become, during these two centuries, a dangerous dogma – a dogma of almost stupefying power.  I have no objection to those oppose Einstein’s theory on scientific grounds.  But even Einstein’s opponents, like his greatest admirers, ought to be grateful to him for having freed physics of the paralysing belief in the incontestable truth of Newton’s theory.  Thanks to Einstein we now look upon this theory as a hypothesis (or a system of hypotheses) – perhaps the most magnificent and the most important hypothesis in the history of science, and certainly an astonishing approximation to the truth.
“Now if, unlike Kant, we consider Newton’s theory as a hypothesis whose truth is problematical, then we must radically alter Kant’s problem.  No wonder then that his solution no longer suits the new post-Einsteinian formulation of the problem, and that it must amended accordingly.
“Kant’s solution of the problem is well known.  He assumed, correctly I think, that the world as we know it is our interpretation of the observable facts in the light of theories that we ourselves invent.  As Kant puts it: ‘Our intellect does not draw its laws from nature…  but imposes them upon nature.’  While I regard this formulation of Kant’s as essentially correct, I feel that it is a little too radical, and I should therefore like to put it in the following modified form: ‘Our intellect does not draw its laws from nature, but tries – with varying degrees of success – to impose upon nature laws which it freely invents.’  The difference is this.  Kant’s formulation not only implies that our reason attempts to impose laws upon nature, but also that is invariably successful in this.  For Kant believed that Newton’s laws were successfully imposed upon nature by us: that we were bound to interpret nature by means of these laws; form which he concluded that they must be true a priori.  This is how Kant saw matters; and Poincaré saw them in a similar way.
“Yet we know since Einstein that very different theories and very different interpretations are also possible, and that they may even be superior to Newton’s.  Thus reason is capable of more than one interpretation.  Nor can it impose its interpretation upon nature once and for all time.  Reason works by trial and error. We invent our myths and our theories and we try them out: we try to see how far they take us.  And we improve our theories if we can.  The better theory is the one that has the greater explanatory power: that explains more; that explains with greater precision; and that allows us to make better predictions.
“Since Kant believed that it was our task to explain the uniqueness and the truth of Newton’s theory, he was led to the belief that his theory followed inescapably and with logical necessity from the laws of our understanding.  The modification of Kant’s solution which I propose, in accordance with the Einsteinian revolution, frees us from this compulsion.  In this way, theories are seen to be the free creations of our own minds, the result of an almost poetic intuition, of an attempt to understand intuitively the laws of nature.  But we no longer try to force our creations upon nature.  On the contrary, we question nature, as Kant taught us to do; and we try to elicit from her negative answers concerning the truth of our theories: we do not try to prove or to verify them, but we test them by trying to disprove or to falsify them, to refute them.
“In this way the freedom and boldness of our theoretical creations can be controlled and tempered by self-criticism, and by the severest tests we can design.  It is here, through our critical methods of testing, that scientific rigour and logic enter into empirical science.” (Karl Popper, quoted in Bryan Magee’s, Confession of a Philosopher.  My emphasis)
[xvi] The middle class nature of the 1960s counter-cultural revolt is brought out in Angus Wilson’s As If By Magic.  The very act of throwing off bourgeois convention is itself a bourgeois trait.
[xvii] This is wonderfully captured in a number of essays in Jonathan Raban’s Driving Home.  What struck me about the American liberals described in this book is just how religious they are.  However, their religion isn’t Christianity – it is good old-fashioned liberalism as described by Lionel Trilling. 
Secularism has been so badly misunderstood.  It is itself a religion, replacing the contents of one – Christianity, Judaism, Islam – with those of another: secular liberalism, which contains within itself the spirit of capitalism. 

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