Historians know that the Enlightenment transition from a mechanistic worldview to one based on ‘sensibility’ – the view that personal subjectivity also counts – was the fundamental conceptual transformation of the eighteenth century century. The progression has been described in every possible way as a birth, a death, an advance, a lapse, a decay, a progression, a triumph.
The transition securely remains with us two centuries later as our best minds grapple with the riddles of the neuropsychological labyrinth. Sensibility – whatever it was in history – depended on awareness that selfhood and consciousness required some type of nervous system. It also began to classify people according to their degrees of benevolence, compassion, devotion, empathy, feeling, sensitivity, and states of consciousness. But forays into ‘freak sensibility’ – nervous systems gone wild – were ordinarily eschewed. Just the opposite of us today. The crazier they become, the more we seem enchanted.