When Thomas Browne in his idiosyncratic and bizarre Religio Medici asks that burning and old age philosophical question, 'how many eyes does a snail have?,' he does not heed the advice of what a philosophical contemporary Francis Bacon might suggest, 'Get a microscope and look!' Rather, he begins, 'Aristotle says...'; and then continues, 'Galen says...' Rather than just looking himself, he consults the ancient and medieval philosophers: what do they say?
Browne may be one of those thinkers, as Bacon says, 'interested in words not things,' inherited traditions of interpretation and not the world itself. Bacon thought that medieval philosophers were so engrossed in the picture of the world and the patterns that they believed it to have, that they failed to see the world as it is. Though we may understand - in our own post-Baconian world - that there is no such thing as the world 'as it is,' without perspective (or even traditions of interpretation). But we can understand Bacon's frustrations: 'look at the snail; will you?!?'
But what would we do? Are we closer to Browne or Bacon? A student stated the obvious: 'what would we do? we'd google it.'
As twitter and facebook become the prisms through which we see the world - newspapers I have been told only exist now to be cited on twitter - we have less in contact with a reality which is not virtual. Does this make us - post-modern as we think we are - akin not to Renaissance men such as Bacon, but closer to Thomas Browne and the medieval mindset he represents?
Are we inhabiting, despite our pretensions to the contrary, the New Medievalism? And are there some things - not only snails - at which we should be looking more closely? What are we missing?