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In Context #15 (Spring, 2006, pp. 3-6); copyright 2006 by The Nature Institute

The Light of Sense Experience
Georg Maier

This article consists of excerpts from two books. The immediately following text is from Optik der Bilder (1986) by physicist Georg Maier (excerpt translated by Henrike Holdrege and Stephen L. Talbott). The second half of the article is taken from a new book entitled Being on Earth: Practice In Tending the Appearances, co-authored by Maier along with the late Stephen Edelglass (also a physicist) and the late Ronald Brady (a philosopher). See below for further information.

The development of natural science over these last centuries has brought an increasing distrust of sense perception. This is remarkable, since during this same time nature observation and experiment were exalted as the sole sources of experience. The apparent contradiction dissolves when we recognize what sort of reality the leading thinkers were willing to acknowledge. The program laid down by such pioneers of natural science as Descartes and Locke was guided by a particular criterion of reality: as essential properties of things they accepted only "primary" qualities - that is, position (locus), movement, spatial form - qualities readily yielding to mathematical treatment.

By contrast, the "secondary," inessential qualities included sound, taste, s