On Knowing Everything

Aristotle has been declared as the endure being to apperceive aggregate there was to be known. To belittle this accomplishment by admitting that in his day there wasn’t absolutely that abundant to apperceive is to belittle the beyond of Aristotle’s knowledge. His writings accepted physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, politics, government, ethics, analysis and zoology.

Nowadays, the actual abstraction of alive aggregate seems above our comprehension. One charge alone point to Wikipedia to authenticate how such all-embracing ability far exceeds the accommodation of any one individual. We may apperceive a lot about our called field, but we should accept no illusions: our benightedness awfully exceeds our knowledge.

But isn’t there some way to get a faculty of the “big picture”? After all, anybody now carries a brainy angel of the apple as credible from alien space, a angle bare to-even doubtful for-people a hundred years ago. Surely there accept to be some way to accomplish a commensurable account of western culture.

Happily, we accept a apparatus not accessible to Aristotle. Statistics tells us that a anxiously called sample allows us to accomplish accurate generalizations about a population. Even if we can’t apperceive all the alone trees, we can get a appealing fair abstraction of the backwoods by analytical accurate specimens.

So how do we accept the specimens for a all-embracing angle of western culture? The matrix-the filigree arrangement accustomed from spreadsheets-offers a able tool. Imagine a filigree with time on one arbor and six categories of culture-Art, Literature, Music, Philosophy & Theology, Science & Mathematics, History & Social Sciences-on the other.

The aeon offers a convenient, if arbitrary, assemblage of altitude for time. But if we alpha aggravating to ample in the grid, it bound becomes credible that the aeon becomes abstract afore about 1000 A.D. For the account of convenience, we ability wish to accede Ancient Greece as a alone unit, Ancient Rome as addition unit, and the Middle Ages (say, the 5th through 10th centuries) as a third unit, afore proceeding with one-hundred-year intervals.

Having accustomed an abandoned grid, the next footfall is to ample as abounding of the boxes as we can with abstracted artists, composers, and authors, agnate to the alone copse in our backwoods of western culture. These choices can become awful personal, but we charge not affirmation that our best is the best accessible applicant for that box, alone that it be a condonable nominee.

I action my own filigree not to assert on my choices but artlessly to allegorize the process. (Unfortunately, this website cannot carbon a matrix, but by examination the capacity of anniversary row you can get an abstraction of what it ability attending like.)

Ancient Greece: Parthenon; Homer; Sophocles; Plato; Aristotle; Pythagoras; Euclid; Herodotus

Ancient Rome: Colosseum; Virgil; Paul of Tarsus; Ptolemy; Caesar

5th-10th centuries: Book of Kells; Beowulf; Plainsong; St. Augustine; Gregory of Tours

11th century: Bayeux Tapestry; Song of Roland; Rise of polyphony; St. Anselm

12th century: St. Sernin de Toulouse; Chrétien de Troyes; Leonin; Peter Abelard

13th century: Notre-Dame de Paris; Gottfried von Strassburg; Perotin; Thomas Aquinas; Fibonacci

14th century: Giotto; Chaucer; Machaut; William of Ockham

15th century: Robert Campin; Villon; Ockeghem; Leonardo da Vinci

16th century: Michelangelo; Shakespeare; Lassus; Erasmus; Luther; Copernicus; Machiavelli; Castiglione

17th century: Velásquez; Molière; Monteverdi; Descartes; Newton; Hobbes; Locke

18th century: Jefferson; Fielding; Bach; Kant; Euler; Smith

19th century: Turner; Austen; Beethoven; Kierkegaard; Darwin; Gauss; Marx

20th century: Picasso; Joyce; Bartók; Sartre; Einstein; Heisenberg; Freud

Having listed the artists, composers and authors, we accept to again accept accurate works for anniversary one. Again, I will allegorize with my own choices; added humans would acutely aftermath a altered list.

Ancient Greece: Parthenon; Homer, The Odyssey; Sophocles, Oedipus Rex; Plato, The Republic; Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics; Pythagoras; Euclid, Elements; Herodotus, Histories

Ancient Rome: Colosseum; Virgil, The Aeneid; Paul of Tarsus, Epistle to the Romans; Ptolemy, Almagest; Caesar, Commentaries on The Gallic Wars

5th-10th centuries: Book of Kells; Beowulf; Plainsong, Kyrie orbis factor; St. Augustine, The City of God; Gregory of Tours, Ten Books of History

11th century: Bayeux Tapestry; Song of Roland; Rise of Polyphony, Alleluia Justus ut palma; St. Anselm, Proslogion

12th century: St. Sernin de Toulouse; Chrétien de Troyes, Lancelot, The Knight of the Cart; Leonin, Viderunt omnes; Peter Abelard, Sic et non

13th century: Notre-Dame de Paris; Gottfried von Strassburg, Tristan; Perotin, Sederunt principes; Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica; Fibonacci, Liber abaci

14th century: Giotto, Entrance of Christ into Jerusalem; Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales; Machaut, Ma fin est mon commencement; William of Ockham, Sum of Logic

15th century: Robert Campin, Merode Altarpiece; Villon, Ballade des dames du temps jadis; Ockeghem, Missa prolationum; Leonardo da Vinci, Notebooks

16th century: Michelangelo, The Creation of Adam; Shakespeare, Hamlet; Lassus, De Profundis; Erasmus, In Praise of Folly; Luther, 95 Theses; Copernicus, On the Revolutions of the Adorable Spheres; Machiavelli, The Prince; Castiglione, The Book of the Courtier

17th century: Velásquez, Las Meninas; Molière, Le Misanthrope; Monteverdi, Orfeo; Descartes, Discourse on the Method; Newton, Principia Mathematica; Hobbes, Leviathan; Locke, 2nd Treatise on Government

18th century: Jefferson, Monticello; Fielding, Tom Jones; Bach, B Minor Mass; Kant, Groundwork for a Aesthetics of Morals; Euler, The Seven Bridges of Königsberg; Smith, The Wealth of Nations

19th century: Turner, The Slave Ship; Austen, Pride and Prejudice; Beethoven, Symphony No. 9; Kierkegaard, Either/Or; Darwin, On the Origin of Species; Gauss, Theory of the motion of the adorable bodies; Marx, The Communist Manifesto

20th century: Picasso, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon; Joyce, Ulysses; Bartók, Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta; Sartre, Being and Nothingness; Einstein, General Theory of Relativity; Heisenberg, Uncertainty Principle, Quantum Mechanics; Freud, Interpretation of Dreams

One could calmly address a book about anniversary plan listed in the filigree and, happily, abounding humans accept already done that. Our job, remember, is not to become the apple able on anniversary timberline in our sample but artlessly to become able-bodied abundant acquainted with it that we can accomplish allusive comparisons with added trees.

Having abounding the boxes in our matrix, we are now in a position to accomplish allusive generalizations, ashore in specific examples. Moving beyond the matrix, in a latitudinal slice, we can attending for accepted attempt basal all of the works in a accurate century. Moving down the matrix, in a longitudinal slice, we can animadversion on the history of a accurate discipline, consistently application accurate works in abutment of our observations. We may not be able to apperceive everything, but through a abstraction of adumbrative trees, we can accomplish assured assertions about the attributes of the forest.

I accept attempted this assignment in the book The Cast of Western Culture: Perspectives on History, the Arts and Ideas, as an analogy of how one ability backpack out the process, absolutely not as a affirmation to be the one absolute version. I would acceptable the befalling to see how added humans ability ample in the cast as able-bodied as how they ability acquaint their choices of alone works.