Are there watersheds in the history of science? A continental divide between basins of right and wrong ideas? I was pondering these questions when one of my favorite passages from Leibniz came to mind.
It is true that God sees all at once the whole sequence of this universe, when he chooses it, and that thus he has no need of the connexion of effects and causes in order to foresee these effects. But since his wisdom causes him to choose a sequence in perfect connexion, he cannot but see one part of the sequence in the other.
It is one of the rules of my system of general harmony, that the present is big with the future, and that he who sees all sees in that which is that which shall be.
What is more, I have proved conclusively that God sees in each portion of the universe the whole universe, owing to the perfect connexion of things. He is infinitely more discerning than Pythagoras, who judged the height of Hercules by the size of his footprint. There must therefore be no doubt that effects follow their causes determinately, in spite of contingency and even of freedom, which nevertheless exist together with certainty or determination.
Right or wrong side of history?
On the one hand it envisions a thoroughgoing determinism. On the other hand it foreshadows latter-day ideas about a holographic universe. And it does all this while laying out its own theory of history, whose core idea is the germ of the differential calculus.
Gottfried Wilhelm (Freiherr von) Leibniz, Theodicy : Essays on the Goodness of God, the Freedom of Man, and the Origin of Evil, edited with an introduction by Austin Farrer, translated by E.M. Huggard from C.J. Gerhardt’s edition of the Collected Philosophical Works, 1875–1890. Routledge 1951. Open Court 1985. Paragraph 360, page 341.