I keep wondering about our cutting-edge research into physiological sensation and the language we use to understand it. The Romantics, especially Goethe, lived inside the ferment of knowledge about the epistemological profile of sensations. They wondered whether sensations were anything other than the signs of objects outside ourselves, in the way written characters signified objects and words designated things. But as Romantic physiology desperately attempted to save sensory infallibility, Romantic physics continued its onslaught on it. No wonder that physics and physiology were then so often at war, especially in Germany.
Both groups – physicists and physiologists – struggled with the mechanisms of the natural world’s revelations. How, they asked, did nature reveal itself? To the reason, sight, or intuition: the three main contenders? Natural philosophers mounted a strong case for direct entry to the intuition, which philosophers Goethe and Schelling supported; and Hegel strengthened their case for intuition when claiming that poets, most of all, responded to such revelations as the result of heightened intuitions. The poet’s contribution, he thought, was vital to the further amplification of the scientist’s understanding. Hegel looked benignly on the famous pronouncement of Coleridge and Wordsworth about ‘the remotest discoveries of the Chemist, the Botanist, or Mineralogist …’