Artfulness & science
by Joe Palmer
[ opinion - may 08 ]
In The American Scholar Brian Boyd pleads:
I and others want literature to return to the artfulness of literary art and to reach out to science, now that science has at last found ways to explore human nature and human minds. Since these are, respectively, the subject and the object of literature, it would be fatal for literary study to continue to cut itself off from science, from the power of discovery possible through submitting ideas to the rule of evidence.
I'd like to suggest here that there is little new in science submitted to the rule of evidence - maybe a new O-Henry twist, a telling metaphor, or simply words well laid - nothing much we haven't seen before. Literature is all a story we tell each other, and as our story becomes more and more intimate and we share it with fewer and fewer people, the message becomes more and more special, specific, narrow, focused, trivial, and eventually meaningless, just like scientific investigation. Particle Physics has narrowed its object down to become the interactions of angels, fairies, elves, pixies, and leprechauns in a giant particle collider at CERN. On the other hand, Cosmology has expanded to the zodiac and wishing on a star. Paradoxically, as we look both closer and closer at what is smaller and smaller and bigger and bigger, what we write about what we see becomes more general and universal, approaching meaningful truth for everyone.
Except for our affections, our feelings, it is all "cerebral celebrity", as the philosopher Daniel Dennett has described it, or "fame in the brain", that is, excitement in our puny consciousness and whatever lies beyond the threshold of awareness.
As an old Buddhist bonze once told me, "As the Man in Black says, I keep a close watch on this heart of mine. Everything else is illusion."
Important information for all regular CERN dosimeter holders: Do not forget to read your dosimeter, even if you have not entered the controlled radiation areas.