…how can I discover the universal bond that orders all things if I cannot lift a finger without creating an infinity of new entities? For with such a movement all the relations of position between my finger and all other objects change. The relations are the ways in which my mind perceives the connections between single entities, but what is the guarantee that this is universal and stable?”

“But you know that a certain thickness of glass corresponds to a certain power of vision, and it is because you know this that now you can make lenses like the ones you have lost: otherwise how could you?”

“An acute reply, Adso. In fact, I have worked out this proposition: equal thickness corresponds necessarily to equal power of vision. I have posited it because on other occasions I have had individual insights of the same type. To be sure, anyone who tests the curative property of herbs knows that individual herbs of the same species have equal effects of the same nature on the patient, and therefore the investigator formulates the proposition that every herb of a given type helps the feverish, or that every lens of such a type magnifies the eye’s vision to the same degree. The science Bacon spoke of rests unquestionably on these propositions. You understand, Adso, I must believe that my proposition works, because I learned it by experience; but to believe it I must assume there are universal laws. Yet I cannot speak of them, because the very concept that universal laws and an established order exist would imply that God is their prisoner, whereas God is something absolutely free, so that if He wanted, with a single act of His will He could make the world different.”

“And so, if I understand you correctly, you act, and you know why you act, but you don’t know why you know that you know what you do?”

I must say with pride that William gave me a look of admiration. “Perhaps that’s it. In any case, this tells you why I feel so uncertain of my truth, even if I believe in it.”

“You are more mystical than Ubertino!” I said spitefully.

Umberto Eco, The Name of The Rose.


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