I had thought of naming this post: Science and the Quotidian Mind, but I was pretty sure no one would read it. Call me a cheap sensationalist, but you must admit, I’ve got you.
I’ve had a number of good friends over the years who have been scientists, some of them world-class in their respective fields of study. I’ve enjoyed their company, but I’ve also been disappointed with the woodenness of their thinking when it comes to the arts.
My friends tell me that the imagination is indispensable in their work. And they can even quote Einstein on the subject:
“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”
But their understanding of the imagination is not as inclusive as his. For these folk the imagination is just a tool for problem solving. It’s not a window to view the real world through; it’s more a technique for envisioning ways out of conceptual impasses.
They’re unable to get past the factness of things. Meaning eludes them.
I suspect that an assignment that required a report on Michelangelo’s David from them would read something like this:“The object known as David, by the Renaissance artist, Michelangelo is seventeen feet tall and weighs approximately six tons. It is made of marble and resembles a naked youth. It’s “head” and “hands” are too large, and it is said by some authorities to express Renaissance ideals.”
While that’s all perfectly true, it misses the point. When I ask my scientific friends, “what does it say?” (referring to any work of art) they look at me blankly. They seem to be unable to move from facts to meanings. Worse, they reduce meaning to facts in some sense. There’s a savanna theory for instance, which asserts with darwinian certitude that the reason some landscapes seem beautiful to us is because our prehistoric ancestors found savannas conducive to survival. (Darwinians have the same answer for everything, what C. S. Lewis is said to have called, “nothing-butterism”, meaning, whatever you think is the case can be reduced to “nothing but” survival.)
Seeing that the scientific method is a fairly recent phenomenon and we’ve had interest in meaning of things from the very beginning of recorded history, what is going on here?
I can’t help but believe something has gone wrong, that in the interest of understanding the world we’ve lost the world. The world is reduced to cause and effect, but its meaning is something we can no longer see.
Is there any hope? These days I despair for our children. STEM is everything (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) and the humanities are in disarray. Humanists have lost the transcendentals. Everything has been reduced to power games. The arts suffer from nothing-butterism too. (Can we even call these scholars “humanists” any longer?)
How can we be made to see again?