Wilson 1988

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Bachelard argues that the microscope acted as an impediment to knowledge (86)

"My claim is that the microscope was an instrument of enablement which permitted its devotees to maintain and extend a Baconian theory of the interpretation of nature. This theory was itself anti-occultists in its insistence on the replacement of the direct 'reading' of nature by a dispassionate form of visual inspection coupled with processing by the Baconian inductive 'machine.' Had the entrance of the lense into modern science been delayed, it is difficult in turn to imagine that philosophers of the late seventeenth century would have addressed themselves so energetically to the problems generated by this shift: the problems of visual perception, of the nature and existence of physical minima, and above all of the theological significance of natural forms." (89)
"[Bacon] is attacking not only a set of theories about the natural powers of natural objects (indeed he ascribes to many natural objects powers of a highly 'occult' and magical nature) but an epistemology based on a false estimation of the possibilities of interpretation. If Bacon was correct, the old Book of Nature was not readable in so manyw ays as had been thought. 'All Herbs, Flowers, Trees, and other things which proceed out of the earth,' according to Oswald Croll, the neo-Paracelsian, 'are Books and Magic Signs, communicated to us by the immense mercy of God, which Signs are our Medicine.' This picture of universal legibility is precisely the one which Bacon rejects." (90-1)

Hooke, drawing on Bacon's Novum Organum, sees "the microscope as the instrument of conceptual salvation" (97); "the microcope was critical for what both [Hooke and Power] present as the reestablishment of a conceptual empire, the restitution of what Bacon called 'that commerce between the mind of man and the nature of things,' corrupted by time" (99)

"Hooke's problem -- the problem of early microscopy in general -- was to answer the objection that this look at the inner workings of things was in fact only a new form of looking at their surfaces, no more capable of binding knowledge and power into one than the older, naive, unassisted form of sense-perception. Thus Hooke attempts by way of compensation to transform microscopical observation into something else: into geometry or grammar." (100)

Malpighi attacked by colleague, who argued that using a microscope to better see surfaces doesn't tell us anything about function

"This suggests that in the late 17th century 'Empiricism' stood for the claim not that all true knowledge is acquired through sensory experience but that all true knowledge is acquired through ordinary unassisted sensory experience." (103)

Locke doesn't like the microscope; Leibniz does -- wants "inquiry into analogies" (qtd on 104)

  • "The value of the microscope for Leibniz was tus that it appeared to provide direct confirmation for certain of his metaphysical doctrines by demonstrating the possibility of an endless sequence of lifeforms and so their irreducibility to mere machines." (104)

Berkeley believes the microscope shows not the same object more clearly, but a new object; "the the microscope gives us no information about our own world and its objects" (105)

"Those who still employed the old language, who spoke as Hooke does of the 'signatures' of seeds of thyme, were partly attempting to express an altered understanding of the interpretation of nature, partly harkening back to a form of interpretation which the microscope was helping to render obsolete." (106)
"What the microscope did in revealing layer after layer of articulated structuer was to restore the solidity and accessibility to the understanding of an otherwise atomized and mathematicized world." (107)