The Writer Reads Some Science
by David Eide .

Why do I read so much science? It appears to be a great amount but truth to tell I was ignorant of science for many developing years. It wasn’t until I was totally alone in the sad wail of the world that I began to look closely at science, besides the obligatory science learned in school; most of which I had forgotten or never picked up. I remember one physics class I had in high school that housed the elite. I didn’t compete too well in this class. I had taken it only at the insistence of my father who told me that if, “you learn nothing else in school, learn physics.” The teacher was an old Norwegian who told jokes such as “why is the farmer respected? Because he’s outstanding in his field” and saw my usefulness in class as the “enforcer” of sorts to keep the nerds in line. Now that I look back at it I was so shy and silent these teachers had to find some way to involve me with everything else going on. I didn’t know what was going on.

I gradually accepted the idea that science, if not replacing religion, had replaced theology and that the ground of reality existed in scientific inquiry rather than revelation. I would look up occasionally into the surrounding world and construct “myths” of various kinds, including the shift of power from the internal sense of men and women to the outer sense of men and women represented by science and technology. For a brief moment I could see the machinery of theory and technique in everything all at once, which seemed at the time to be the jagged jaws of Nature eating her children.

But the idea of science as a modern myth stuck with me. I saw science more as a construction of absolute value and belief through which the desires of human beings move from one side to the other side. I learned as much as I could. Science has a kind of hypnotic stare to it that is fixed on your own curiosity. One science that has fascinated me from childhood is astronomy, an inheritance from my father who used to tell my brothers and I tales of navigating the plane he flew in the war by the stars, who purchased a telescope when I was young and would take me out to the backyard and locate various constellations and individual stars for me.

I always held out that creative scientists understand the limits of science and it’s only the vulgar among them who insist that science surpass its limitations into realms where it has no business. A conflict may exist between revealed, inspired writings of sacred books and the scientific method but the modern type has the resources and perspective to resolve the conflict to ensure that each is maximized for the benefit of human beings.

I feel good about getting re-aquatinted with astronomy and cosmology. I am intimidated by the math but I enjoy what it does to the imagination. I’m not tempted though, personally, to replace God with theories but neither am I willing to close off discoveries in favor of old beliefs. There is a difference between a fact and a truth; a fact and a revealed insight. The one similarity is that they can be and often are challenged by other facts and other insights. We are always in the process of coming to some conclusion as to what each is. It makes its own havoc I suppose but then puts the burden on the self-ruling, common sense of individuals. If they support the wrong facts or the wrong insights, then they are buried by history so the stakes are rather high. It requires rigor on all sides without crushing out the act of insight, fact-finding, or creativity.

I’ve been pushing my way through the old classics like Newton’s Optiks and Galileo’s Two Sciences. I’m fairly well read in the “history of science” that I find fruitful especially when it can show the exchanges between pure science and practical science. It’s always a good thing to rouse the lazy brain and get some discipline to parts of the head that have been dormant for a while.

I’m interested in anthropology as well but I tend not to “isolate” this particular branch of learning, turning it instead on the living relations existing in the present time and always getting the sense that what anthropology presents are gestures of the spirit still alive and active in the world; in one’s own community and the world at large. What it does is break the band of dangerous prejudices hidden by the guises and veils of mere cosmopolitan life rampant in the so-called globalized world.

But these questions are raised in my mind about science:

  • What does it inspire imaginatively?
  • What dreams does it inspire and what dreams does it complete?
  • Does it play the individual human being for a fool?
  • What tasks does it entail for a person living in the middle of its techniques?
  • Does it make any and all forms of previous knowing obsolete?
  • What “world view” underlie the whole operation?
  • Does it implicitly have a tragic view of life or does it have a liberal view of life or no view at all? And if no view at all is that a defect or a strength?

I read science with some or all of the questions in mind and always in relation to the psychology of “repression.” When you repress various values and energies will they seek their “revenge”? Does a scientific society live with this? I think so if you take a quick look around.

I think I began to study theories of various types to understand aspects of the world that is carried by individuals. I recognize that every theory starts at some time in the concrete, was a response to a condition. There is nothing “theoretical” about a human being but there does seem to be quite an effort to turn the human being into a theoretical entity. That’s something the writer naturally opposes. Theory is power or is quickly converted into action. The paradox is that if most things socially have developed out of “theory” to “stop” would be to secure the theory into absolute fact and rob the world of its creative character.

What I find most dangerous in a “theoretical man” is the alienation he suffers and tries to compensate by more and more theory and this is seen clearly in the economic state which is almost completely theory and seems aloof from real problems that never seem to get solved.

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I wouldn’t say, exactly, that the scientific culture we live in is a god-less, poet-less boredom but it does run into a problem. As it succeeds, as it increases the ability to materialize former dreams, as miracles become more refined the utter exhaustion from disillusionment sets in among the recipients of its success. A loathing, an absurdity, a deliberate vandalism of the intellect occurs to try and escape the killing of dreams because soon enough the miracles of scientific vision overpower the visions of individuals, even if the miracles have become exhausted, drained of meaning and merely self-serving after a time.

When I read scientists or listen to them they have a kind of buoyant optimism and curious belief that now everything has been thrown over and human evolution is truly under the guidance of human minds. All kinds of wild speculation occur that in their way seem to be acts of desperation. There's a limit to the limitless. It's as though some scientists see their role as leading humanity to this new horizon where the gods are dispensed with and the only real power is a few mathematic wizards. Since most people don't have a foggiest idea of what these theories are they look at the wizards themselves and see eccentric, semi-arrogant politicians of the stars. And it comes down to this: the fact that black holes exist, that space/time is curved, that the birth, growth and death of stars can be explained simply doesn't resonate in the human soul. It may be a fascinating puzzle for the mind but it is hardly the only way to relate to the universe.

Scientists, generally speaking, as men and citizens have a combination of angst and the most bizarre, defective proposals one could imagine. Perhaps it is a lesson to learn from specialization: what pressure it puts on the ego to come up with the "mighty scheme" to save and/or redeem everything. With all kinds of excessive baggage in the modern mind you are bound to come across the attenuation of healthy, vital ideas. Rather, the scientist becomes like the old Roman emperor whose emaciated passion is disguised by his scheme to save the world.

In the limitless universe there are enormous limits. If in looking at the world one perceives that there are no limits then one has surrendered to the function of the dominant myth, which is to say, that there exists no limit that can't be overcome. But we know for every advance in scientific/technological life there are new obstacles erected. At the very least there are all the new learning curves that must be learned and applied in real time just to get familiar with the new technology!

Perspective has something to do with it. In other ages distance was measured by a marching army; distance and speed were equations dependent on the bodies experience of travelling the road to battle or commerce. We, in this age have the perspective of supersonic jets, rockets, laser light, computers, internets not to mention endless space, Earth's "insignificance' among billions of galaxies, geological time and so on. The power, speed and omniscience of the technical world is seen in relation to what it brings about in its wake. This is the interface between the technological and human universe. And a question immediately arises, "what is human imagination weaving around technology and what is it weaving around the innate potential of human beings?

Science makes objectification itself a power that is readily absorbed by the larger culture so everything and everyone is reduced and objectified through distinct motives of power.

Since science says it is replacing the spiritual then we ask this of science: "Can one love your point of view? Can one generate love from this point of view?"

If I want to know the chemical make-up of Mars I will go to science 100% of the time. In fact, just about all questions of "how" can be addressed by science. It has meaning since so much of the world is built up and out by science and technology. And I am better off for trying to understand how that has come to be. But as a human being I experience the effects of that world. And that creates a different space that I must account for.

There is a kind of idiocy in science where the human being is left behind and nothing exists but mathematical formulas only a tiny fraction of the people can interpret. This is just in the realm of knowledge and discovery but it doesn't endear the activity to free people. They understand that for all the purity of scientific discovery it will, inevitably, be weaponized and used against people. Perhaps that is a stereotype but perhaps it's a recognition that science has become a mighty power in the world. It is no longer lonely truth defending itself against the Pope and crazy Kings. It is a power and therefore subject to the same "laws" of corruption any power is susceptible to. It has crossed that threshold as an activity.

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1979


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