Hannah Dawson

Making the First Move

The Restless Clock: A History of the Centuries-Long Argument over What Makes Living Things Tick

By Jessica Riskin

University of Chicago Press 548pp £28 order from our bookshop

The world used to be full of magic and then science took it all away. If you went to university in the 16th century, you learned about a universe that pulsed with life and purpose. You learned that every individual thing has a natural motion to its proper end, an internal appetite for what is good for itself. A man, for example, desires to use his reason. An acorn has an appetite to turn into an oak. Even a stone thrown into the air, Aristotle wrote, has an appetite to fall to the ground.

The so-called scientific revolutionaries of the 17th century laughed at this view of nature. They said that it was an elaborate fantasy spun out of words rather than things, no more real than sprites. As Thomas Hobbes observed, it was pretty funny to say that ‘heavy bodies’ knew what was good for them (falling), when even human beings – who in England had just come through a civil war – did not seem to have a clue. 

Subscribe to read the full article

hamilton_sept2016_online

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • RT : I've got approx. 100 copies of from early 1990s-2000s to give away (most w/ covers).… ,
    • 'I Contain Multitudes is popular science writing at its best.' Wendy Moore is fascinated by a study on microbes ,
    • 'Costume of the life force? Words fail.' Germaine Greer on an ode to the condom ,
    • It's Write on Kew for the next four days. There are free copies of Literary Review about; why not dip your toe into the magazine?,
    • Which sci-fi author time-travelled to ancient Rome and lived a parallel life a persecuted Christian named Thomas? ,
    • You can pick up free copies of Literary Review at Write On Kew, which begins tomorrow. Fill your boots (with magazines).,
    • Michael Burleigh reads a survey of the rise of Asia ,