The great Jewish philosopher Baruch Spinoza, it is said, drew his conceptions of god and the universe from his work as an optician, grinding lenses day after day.
He lived a life singularly devoted to glass, in which his “evenings to evenings are equal.” So wrote Jorge Luis Borges in a poetic appreciation of Spinoza, of which he later commented, “[Spinoza] is polishing crystal lenses and is polishing a rather vast crystal philosophy of the universe. I think we might consider those tasks parallel. Spinoza is polishing his lenses, Spinoza is polishing vast diamonds, his ethics.The polishing of lenses, and work in optics generally, has a long philosophical pedigree, from the experiments of Renaissance artists and scholars, to the natural philosophers of the Scientific Revolution who made their own microscopes and pondered the nature of light. Over a century after Spinoza’s birth, polymath artist and thinker Johann Wolfgang von Goethe published his great work on optics, just one of many directions he turned his gaze. Unlike Spinoza, Goethe had little use for concepts of divinity or for systematic thinking.