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Every generation scorns the picture of ‘reality’ which came before

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Throughout history, our predecessors in science and philosophy have been convinced that their particular understanding of reality was, at least largely, correct. Yet time and again, subsequent generations have proven—or at least were convinced of having proven—them wrong. Each generation has looked upon the ideas of their predecessors as naïve, simplistic, even superstitious.During the Renaissance, scientists attempted to explain electrostatic attraction by postulating the existence of an invisible elastic substance—called ‘effluvium’—that supposedly stretched out across bodies. Strange as it may sound now, at the time effluvium was as plausible an explanation for empirical observations as subatomic particles today, which are equally invisible beyond the effects they putatively produce.As the Renaissance gave way to the Enlightenment, scientists began trying to frame every phenomenon in terms of the action of small corpuscles—atoms—interacting with each other through direct contact. An...

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