An early diagram of Leibniz’s based on the combinatory principles of Raymond Lull.
I have written before about the importance of Leibniz, especially when it comes to complex metaphysical questions. Some have wondered in the past why I have seen him as important, and I want to explain what I began to notice several years ago. This is not to say that I think all of his ideas are correct. Indeed, several of his ideas seem a bit strange, but there are definitely crucial insights and ideas handed down in the western tradition that Leibniz brought to light that would ultimately lead to the computational machine we call the computer. Certainly others were involved in this long process, such as Pascal and other mathematicians, but Leibniz occupies a central role.
As readers of my site may have noticed, my interview with James Kelley highlighted several questions surrounding figures of that era speculating on optics and the ability to influence men and nations for propaganda and psy ops purposes. Specifically, Dr. John Dee theorized different notions about magical mirrors that might be erected to influence others. James Kelley offered the tantalizing idea that the “007” symbolism Dee used in his communiques with Elizabeth may be two mirrors with the seven occupying the point of light reflecting outwards, with the two 0s being mirrors placed like two mirrors would have been in the optical experiments of his day. Kelley mentioned the theory of Dee being that the universe was a vast body of luminous light corresponding to the androgynous Adam Kadmon of Jewish Kabbalistic lore, and the light in the eye of the human being the means by which the rays that refracted off objects could thus transmit the emblems of information-knowledge into our heads.
Much needs to be said here. For one, this theory is very close to Aristotle’s view that the mind abstracts universals from the phantasm that enters the mind through sense experience. In similar fashion, Enlightenment theorists, including the esoterists, were fascinated by these notions, as well as the Platonic illuminist theory of epistemology that Augustine argued for. Ron Nash has an interesting book contrasting the Augustinian and Thomistic conceptions of knowledge, with Thomas following Aristotle in the great synthesis more than Plato, though Aquinas did think he had synthesized the two by placing the archetypes of forms of things in the divine essence. In this regard, Augustine’s illuminism is very similar to Aquinas’, as both seek to base human knowledge on the reflected analogies that are in man’s mind that lead him to a contemplative journey back to the One.
For both Aquinas and Augustine the archetypes or forms of things that are in the divine essence become a kind of mental path the convert must make, as he is led through life on the perilous quest to see the true nature of things in God, yet the fatal flaw that the East elucidates here is that the goal of this quest is to find the essence of God. For Aquinas and Augustine, the foundation of natural and supernatural knowledge is the illuminating grace God gives to see the true forms of things in the absolutely simple divine essence. Thus, for both theologians, the divine essence is literally spoken of as a kind of mirror of reality that the mind of man refracts, leading him from the creaturely analogies back to the true forms in the essence of the One, the divine essence of God, synonymous with the divine Mind.
This is divine exemplarism, but with a unique twist that distinguishes the western view from the eastern: Maximos the Confessor placed these archetypes or logoi as energies of God in the one Logos, not as the divine essence. This has crucial implications for theology, but in terms of my focus here, there are massive implications for epistemology. James has laid out many of these implications in his book Anatomyzing Divinity, but as he mentioned in our interview, there appear to be interesting parallels with the track of western civilization as its top scientists and philosophers like Bacon, Leibniz, Descartes, Dee and Newton take this alchemical-Platonic view of “trinities” everywhere and reverse engineer them into a technological idea of a great god computer, if you will.
For many Renaissance and Enlightenment thinkers, the mind is a mirror of the world, capable of “imaging” anything in the world, and following the Platonic and Aristotelian theories of illumination, in a sense potentially infinite. The form of any thing can enter the mind through the eye, be stored in the mind and reproduced via memory, etc. Thus for many of these thinkers, not only does it appear they had a mechanistic view of man as their presupposition for the scientific revolution, but a more esoteric notion of creating a computing machine. With the assumption of man as a kind of biological machine, it was thus posited that a mechanical being might be created.
Readers will immediately think of the ancient kabbalistic legend of the Golem, the mechanical man that can be created with the proper symbols and magic. Rabbi Isaac of Luria supposedly created one, being a master of the kabbalistic arts. However, rather than pass away into the bin of history as an unknown myth, I suspect that in the esoteric societies of Dee and Leibniz and company, the myth persisted, and when combined with these other theories of Augustino-platonic illuminism, Augustinian epistemic mirror emblemism, etc., the stage was set for the proposal of concepts that would evolve into the complex computing systems we now have.
In this article, I want to analyze some of the ideas of Leibniz. We know that Leibniz was the founder of calculus, and particularly theories that would be instrumental for the creation of the computer, but are there esoteric ideas beyond mere mathematics at work? Do the concepts of mirror-imaging and reflecting, the monadology, space and extension in Leibniz, demonstrate any possible connection to the what we see before us in these complex instruments known as personal computers? What about the ideas that Dr. John Dee had, as James Kelley as noted, that served to influence later scientists to create great eyes in the sky that could peer anywhere, as well as projecting images everywhere, propagandizing masses? Continue reading