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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Rise of the Book of Science

Part II of an essay about Science and Poetry


Glimpses of truth or beauty however apparent, are not absolute, or lasting, and must be appreciated within a given context, time, and place.

Poetry and science both must observe rules about these contexts. There's a time and place for each type of explanation, even notions about behavior, conduct, for reflections on honesty, about meter and grammar, about frames of reference, about measurement. The languages of both are just that, languages, and so context is everything.

In short there are rules. Initiates to poesy and science both are educated in these behaviors as part of their training. However fashionable it would be to imagine a freedom without restrictions, such a reality does not exist and neither for the student of language or science. These codes of professional conduct, though for the most advanced of scientists, and poets, freedom is found in negotiating around 'rules', a perception that such constraints are non-existent, for a brief moment anyways.

Lets imagine these guides to conduct highlighted in an imaginary bibliothèque carried in the minds of scientists and poets alike. Conduct within the body of science, just as conduct within the body of the Church, is codified, set down as a list of standards, which all scientific adepts have memorized.

Poets also in ancient times, learned complex meters, developed an ability to compose extemporaneously, trained in the cannons of poetic tradition, ability to compose freely, but within previously established forms.

These established forms represent the 'academy' of poets, when all with even a hint of native genius know that great poetry is not created by adherence to these rules.

Indeed revolution revitalizes both the arts and science, and those that seek harmony and stability do just that, they harmonize and stabilize, but they do not create. The greatest of poets and scientists act by throwing the established order off balance.

And indeed when early science is confronted as an activity of Western Christianity, that examination shows it to be structured in the same manner as biblical myth. Most of the West now accepts science unquestioningly, even with a zeal that at times seems religious.

I'm not quarreling with what has been learned from science. Indeed the enormous endorsement of science is modern technology, which verifies the utility of scientific theory.

Note that technological advance has been steady throughout human history, and has not relied solely upon a scientific framework of thought. The best steels were produced by medieval Japanese, who had no scientific theories of metallurgy, or inorganic chemistry to inform their practice.

I'm simply observing modern minds accept the scientific method as a superior way of thinking without question.Scientists uniformly believe this manner of thought won out over all the others due to inherent superiority of method, and that it will not be superseded or followed by another system of thought,for a very long time. Science is not a passing phase, say as one might characterize Greek paganism, or it's predecessors alchemy, or astrology.

Yet the pagan myths of the Mediterranean ruled humanity without question for about ten thousand years, the monotheistic systems, Christianity, Judaism and Islam, have been around for just two thousand or so, whereas science as a system of thinking has been fully enthroned for just a few hundred.

So goes a myth, the structures of thought which we do not question.

How did this happen?

Middle Age Europe, deeply gripped by a pervasive Christian mythos found itself threatened by scientific and mathematical ideas emerging from the Islamic and Vedic East, and an illicit culture of domestic paganism in the form of astrology, and alchemical sorcery. Along with other pagan remnants, witchcraft, prognostication, and folk medicine these forces jostled and shook the regimented modern hierarchy of organized religion and were combined in a blender of civil strife that dominated Europe from the fall of Rome, until the rise of science.

So our textbooks would have us believe.

Not easily, not clearly, not all of a sudden with a capital S. No. It happened slowly, as theories to explain the growing 'evidence' of experiments by alchemists, doctors, naturalists and others compared notes on the natural world and slowly glued those observations together with a growing body of theory to produce a body of work called science.

The glue of theory, while it tries to explain the why, why, is of late begrudgingly admitted to be a model for reality, a conceptual model, that is no closer to the why than any of the earlier primitive modes of thought.

For example mercuric oxide when heated in a closed retort produces mercury and what later would be known as oxygen. A theory of atoms and molecules then postulated why this happens, and that successful theory proved itself by being able to predict additional experimental results.

The body of theory functions well as a model of reality. Science is very good at predicting. At mid-level phonemena while it appears to offer explanations, it does not, simply because if you dig deeply enough you note that the final frontiers of science are essentially a periphery of unanswered questions, for which there is no explanation at all, only models.

Theory, on it's own is just theory. It's a body of thought, yes some of it is written down, but it is nothing tangible or physical. There is so far as we know, no part of the galaxy where the 'settings' for atomic behavior or 'theories' are stored. We generate theory. Humans do. So long as our theories match observations of the natural world, all is well. If the observation of reality run counter to what a theory predicts, then the theory must be wrong.

So the scientific method burst into reality. And this method itself, was like a theory. Again, it is man-made fictitious stuff, seeking to explain what scientists do. You won't find that migrating whales discuss human theories, nor photons or black holes. They do what they do. And we do what we do, which part of the time anyway, is to theorize.

Let's review for a moment.

Christianity, under attack from foreign, pagan, and Eastern influences, begins to admit that some things were happening in the natural world that cannot be explained by the Bible.

If you are a designer of electric motors, you probably believe science to be the new and greatest system of thought, and you probably doubt that it has any flaws. But as one who needs a complete theory to accept only part of it, then electricity itself is without final explanation. Quantum electrodynamics, while it can predict behaviors in electric fields, offers nary a mote of a word about why.

An 'electrical field' is a theoretical concept. So is gravitation.

The 'Bible' didn't have all the answers, but neither does the new book of science.

So a new mythos rushed into life to take it's place. That new myth claims to have answers, but really what it has are approximations, mathematical models to describe and predict reality.

The myth is that science is a fount of answers, not a construct of models. The greatest scientists are the first to admit how shabby the models really are.

The reality is quite the opposite. Look at the number of times science itself has reversed position on the most fundamental phenomena.

In fact science is constantly working hardest in the areas where scientific evidence and scientific theory do not agree.

So if you're with me, and haven't hung up, let us then ask ourselves how a new dominant mythos might suddenly rear its head autonomously from within the bodies of much older parents?

Is it not logical to believe that the structure of a new thought system would be patterned after the DNA of its parents?


I'll continue this essay with an examination of how science is structured along lines of biblical myth. Perhaps I'll even compare it to Islamic myth. We'll see how the many systems of thought that compose science are actually a smooth continuum from many ancestors and many sources.

Of Truth and Beauty

There is a persistent modern myth that the beauty of poetry, the mysterium which poetry produces in the listener, is in some way a product of work, talent, or craft.

Explanations for natural phenomena seem existentially bound to material explanations. "What makes a plant grow?", The seed, the code of DNA, a set of reactions inside the cells? What makes a car steer? The wheel. What makes a car run? The motor.

Surrounded by ready answers, depictions of reality gloss over a thick coating of myth, an opaque polymer of material causes. The water soaks the paper. The rain wets the field. That drink quenched my thirst.

What makes the walker walk? His feet? Aristotle's final cause, 'the desire to get somewhere', is not at our lips.

Yet human endeavors in this second millennium are are ubiquitously propelled by understandings that only look to the walker's feet, the car's wheel, or the plant seed.

What makes these things happen? 

What fuels life? What runs the universe? Why does gravity work? What is gravity? What is an electromagnetic field? What causes light appear to bend objects placed partly in water?

Yes we have models that attempt explanation, but even while accurate predicting these behaviors no fundamental understandings are offered. As seekers we are left with our own constructs. Models are human made stuff. Moreover the models in use have changed significantly over time, and over the life of science and are likely to change again.

Our science, our methodology for seeking knowledge, whispers nothing, dry mouthed.

Poetry similar to science, has chewed up the lives of millions of devotees and seen imaginative minds toil under similar rules.

Science proceeds, so we believe, incrementally, towards truth, just as poets often deceive themselves that the object of their progress is beauty. Exceptions to all rules abound, and so with a few hundred years of science and many thousands of years of poetry at our backs, it appears that some progress has been made, though the mysteriums left to uncover seem infinite, and in the case of science, perhaps too costly to ever finally unmask.

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