Thoughts on Science
The storytelling side of science is not just peripheral, and not just pedagogy, but the very point of it all. Science properly done is one of the humanities, as a fine physics teacher once said. The point of science is to help us to understand what we are and how we got here, and for this we need the great stories: the tale of how, once upon a time, there was a Big Bang, the Darwinian epic of the evolution of life on Earth and now the story we are just beginning to learn to tell: the amazing adventure of the primate autobiographers who finally taught themselves how to tell the story of the amazing adventure of the primate autobiographers.
Thus science began by excluding all the predicates that come to the things from our encounter with them. The exclusion is however only provisional: when it will have learned to invest it, science, will little by little reintroduce what it first put aside as subjective; but it will integrate it as a particular case of the relations and objects that define the world for science. Then the world will close in over itself, and, except for what within us thinks and builds science, that impartial spectator that inhabits us, we will become parts or moments of the Great Object.
Science is and always has been that admirable, active, ingenious, and bold way of thinking whose fundamental bias is to treat everything as though it were an object-in-general . . . as though it meant nothing to us and yet was predetermined for our use.
Science is preparing a sovereign ignorance, a feeling that there is no such thing as "knowing," that it was a kind of arrogance to dream of it, more, that we no longer have the least notion that warrants our considering "knowledge" even a possibility—that "knowing" itself is a contradictory idea. We translate a primeval mythology and vanity of mankind into the hard fact: "knowledge-in-itself" is as impermissible a concept as is "thing-in-itself." Seduction by "number and logic," seduction by "laws."
But science, spurred by its powerful illusion, speeds irresistibly towards its limits, where its optimism, concealed in the essence of logic, suffers shipwreck. For the periphery of the circle of science has an infinite number of points; and while there is no telling how this circle could ever be surveyed completely, noble and gifted men nevertheless reach e'er half their time and inevitably, such boundary points on the periphery from which one gazes into what defies illumination. When they see to their horror how logic coils up at these boundaries and bites its own tail suddenly the new form of insight breaks through, tragic insight, which, merely to be endured, needs art as a protection and a remedy.
[The real goal of science is to understand] the essence of what our species has been and still is, beyond thought and beneath society: an essence that may be vouchsafed to us in a mineral more beautiful than any work of Man; in the scent, more subtly evolved than our books, that lingers in the heart of a lily; or in the wink of an eye, heavy with patience, serenity, and mutual forgiveness, that sometimes, through an involuntary understanding, one can exchange with a cat.
If the natural sciences had been developed in Socrates' day as they are now, all the sophists would have been scientists. One would have hung a microscope outside his shop in order to attract customers, and then would have had a sign painted saying: Learn and see through a giant microscope how a man thinks (and on reading the advertisement Socrates would have said: that is how men who do not think behave).
[Scientists] have now got hold of this method of knowledge, which by definition, excludes man and all his values from the object to be known and they have found it very useful. But not content with this, they go on insisting that the method itself has a human value and enhances human dignity. They are like children thinking they can have it both ways. First they insist on cutting out awe and reverence and wisdom and substituting sophistication as the goal of knowledge; and then they talk about this method of theirs with reverence and awe and expect us to look up to them as wise and venerable men.
If I could penetrate matter, grasp idea, follow life through its metamorphoses, understanding being in its modes, and thus from one to the other, reascending the ladder of causes like a series of steps, reunite in myself those scattered phenomena and put them back into motion in the synthesis from which my scalpel detached them.
mind can function without accepting authority, custom, and tradition: it
must rely on them for the mere use of a language. Empirical induction strictly
applied, can yield no knowledge at all, and the mechanistic explanation
of the universe is a meaningless ideal. Not because of the much evoked
Principle of Indeterminacy, which is irrelevant, but because the prediction
of all atomic positions in the universe would not answer any question of
interest to anybody. And as to the naturalistic explanation of morality,
it must ignore, and so by implication deny, the very existence of human
responsibility. It too is absurd.
Many scientific theories have, for very long periods of time, stood the test of experience until they had to be discarded owing to man's decision, not merely to make other experiments, but to have different experiences.
The scientist is the contemporary monk copyist, writing over old literature on the palimpsest of experience, triumphantly announcing his faithfulness and accuracy in transferring the copy. Hypotheses non fingo. He only selects according to the canons of his school.
The public demand that every man remain in his own field. Nowhere would anyone grant that science and poetry can be united. People forgot that science had developed from poetry and they failed to take into consideration that a swing of the pendulum might beneficently reunite the two, at a higher level and to mutual advantage.
Science is spectrum analysis; Art's photosynthesis.He has religion
I have a commonplace-book for facts and another for poetry, but I find it difficult always to preserve the vague distinction I had in my mind, for the most interesting and beautiful facts are so much the more poetry and that is their success. They are translated from earth to heaven. I see that if my facts were sufficiently vital and significant, perhaps transmuted more into the substance of the human mind, I should need but one book of poetry to contain them all.
It may turn out that consciousness is a much more generalized mechanism, shared round not only among ourselves but with all the other conjoined things of the biosphere. Thus, since we are not, perhaps, so absolutely central, we may be able to get a look at [life], but we will need a new technology for this kind of neurobiology; in which case we will likely find that we have a whole eternity of astonishment stretching out ahead of us. Always assuming, of course, that we're still here.
We must rely on our scientists to help us find the way through the near distance, but for the longer stretch of the future we are dependent on the poets. We should learn to question them more closely, and listen more carefully.
It is for a later period to discover the closer unifying laws that are already present in the works themselves. When this true conception of art is achieved, then there will no longer be any possible distinction between science and inspired creation. The further one presses forward, the greater becomes the identity of everything, and finally we have the impression of being faced by a work not of man but of nature.
Consider this contrast: when Darwin or Einstein proclaim theories which modify our ideas, it is a triumph for science. We do not go about saying that there is another defeat for science, because its old ideas have been abandoned. We know that another step of scientific insight has been gained.
Religion will not regain its old power until it can face change in the same spirit as does science. Its principles may be eternal, but the expression of those principles requires continual development. . . . If the religion is the sound expression of truth, this modification will only exhibit more exactly the exact point which is of importance. This process is a gain. In so far, therefore, as any religion has any contact with physical facts, it is to be expected that the point of view of those facts must be continually modified as scientific knowledge advances.
Our environing world is a spiritual structure in us and in our historical life. Here then, there is no reason for one who makes his theme the spirit as spirit to demand for it any but a purely spiritual explanation. And this has general validity: to look upon environing nature as in itself alien to spirit, and consequently to desire to support humanistic science with natural science and thus presumably to make the former exact, is nonsense.
Obviously, too, it is forgotten that natural science (like all sciences as such) is a title for spiritual activities, those of natural scientists in cooperation with each other; as such these activities belong, as do all spiritual occurrences to the realm of what should be explained by means of a science of the spirit. Is it not, then, nonsensical and circular, to desire to explain by means of natural science the historical, even "natural science," to explain it by involving natural science and its laws of nature, both of which, as produced by spirit, are themselves part of the problem?
Many take to science out of a joyful sense of superior intellectual power; science is their own special sport to which they look for vivid experience and the satisfaction of ambition; many others are to be found in the temple who have offered the products of their brains on this altar for purely utilitarian purposes. Were an angel of the Lord to come and drive all the people belonging to these two categories out of the temple, it would be noticeably emptier but there would still be some men of both present and past times left inside. . . . If the types we have just expelled were the only types there were, the temple would never have existed any more than one can have a wood consisting of nothing but creepers. . . . those who have found favor with the angel are somewhat odd, uncommunicative, solitary fellows, really less like each other than the hosts of the rejected.
What has brought them to the temple . . . no single answer will cover. . . . escape from everyday life, with its painful crudity and hopeless dreariness, from the fetters of one's own shifting desires. A finely tempered nature longs to escape from his noisy cramped surroundings into the silence of the high mountains where the eye ranges freely through the still pure air and fondly traces out the restful contours apparently built for eternity.
At such moments [when a world view disintegrates] men may believe that they have lost something beyond price, for a grand vision has faded into despair and self-assurance given place to the humiliation of man's inability to understand himself. . . . Change cannot come until neither loyalty to the old nor fear of the new can longer delay it. Such a transformation is all the more difficult because it seems to require the greater to be sacrificed for the less. Each real advance is paid for by aiming at less in order to achieve more. The crucial step cannot be taken until men are ready to choose the less which can be realized in place of the more which had remained a dream.
[The life-denying character of our paradigm] is based, simply, on intellection, and on a narrowly selected kind of intellection, gets only to dead ends in science. It excludes all the other human capacities to know and make sense of things. Instead, being based on a tiny part of a rare (peculiar) variety of human being, it excludes humans as whole beings and in general. It inevitably produces less-than-half-knowledge which when applied inevitably produces side-effects, and it is guided by an attitude that disdains the great majority of humans. It views reality as an array of fragments: splits the world into little dead pieces. It is a destructive, lethal, little paradigm.