SCIENCE, POETRY, DEMOCRACY by Jonathan Vos PostHas Science shaped the world but exhausted its potential, and if so, what shall reconnect us to the world? Vaclav Havel, President of the Czech Republic, received the Philadelphia Liberty Medal at Independence Hall on July 4, 1994, and challenged the American post-modern world-view [New York Times, 8 July 94, Op-Ed]. But he asked only half the question; gave only half the answer. "Our civilization does not have its own spirit, its own esthetic," Havel said. "This is related to the crisis, or the transformation of science as the basis of the modern conception of the world. The dizzying development of science, with its unconditional faith in objective reality and complete dependency on general and rationally knowable laws, led to the birth of modern technological civilization. It is the first civilization that spans the entire globe and binds together all societies, submitting them to a common global destiny." This summary is both true and false. True, in that the triumvirate of science, engineering, and technology which Havel lumps together as "science," creates a physical and cultural infrastructure which transcends all limits of East and West, Capitalism and Socialism, Judeo-Christianity and Islam and Shinto and Animism. More than true, in that we live in a Trans-Global culture whose bounds have been robotically extended beyond the limits of the Solar System, embracing many moons and asteroids, plus 8 of 9 planets, with Pluto to be visited in the first years of the new Millennium.
Uncertain, Undecidable, RelativeYet Havel only describes 17th or 19th century science in emphasizing "objective reality" and "rationally knowable laws." Our century has gone deeper in the metaphysics of science. Werner Heisenberg, who stayed in Germany and arguably fought a rear-guard action to keep the A-bomb from Nazi hands, cast out "objective reality" in its Newtonian sense, by describing the marriage of observer and observed in his principle of Quantum Uncertainty. Kurt Godel demonstrated the limits of mathematics, Queen of Science, in which any sufficiently powerful mathematical system has statements which are true but Undecidable -- cannot be proven to be true. Einstein deepened the inseparable link between observer and observed, through Relativity. And inside Black Holes (to use the phrase invented by John Archibald Wheeler), all physical laws break down at the "singularity." Vaclav Havel, limiting science, seeks an unlimited humanity. "The relationship to the world that modern science fostered and shaped appears to have exhausted its potential. The relationship is missing something. It fails to connect with the most intrinsic nature of reality and with natural human experience. It produces a state of schizophrenia: man as an observer is becoming completely alienated from himself as a being." One word for what is missing is "Poetry." Poetry is that language, its roots far earlier than civilization itself, that grasps at the unspeakable nature of reality and the shared core of living human experience. What science lacks, poetry provides. Not just the poetry of Homer, Dante, Shakespeare, and Poe -- the poetry of Allan Ginsberg ("Queen of the May" in Prague Spring), Frank Zappa and John Lennon, acknowledged influences on Havel's own life.
Beauty is Truth"Classical modern science described only the surface of things, a single dimension of reality.... We may know immeasurably more about the universe than our ancestors did, and yet it increasingly seems they knew something more essential about it than we do, something that escapes us," he says. Poetry is that something, a diamond blade that cuts beneath the surface of things to the pulsing heart of the world; truth inexpressable by equations; beauty, fear, and love unknowable to mere quarks and leptons. Physicists yearn for this, and named two of the six fundemental types of quarks as "Truth" and "Beauty" -- echoing John Keats, who equated the two. 25 years since humans landed on the Moon, Havel opens the door to "post-modern science" including the "anthropic cosmological principle" and the "Gaia Hypothesis." The former "brings us an idea, perhaps as old as humanity itself, that we are not just an accidental anomaly, the microscopic caprice of a tiny particle whirling in the endless depths of the universe. Instead, we are mysteriously connected to the universe, we are mirrored in it, just as the entire evolution of the universe is mirrored in us." The latter resurrects the Earth Mother as a "dense network of mutual interactions between the organic and inorganic portions of the Earth's surface ... a kind of mega-organism." So science and poetry have met, mated, and given birth to a universe of meaning, a universe of life and super-life, and universe in which we have a purpose and a responsibility, a universe in which we dance with comets, galavant with galaxies, and sing with stars. In such a corybantic cosmos, human values are enhanced, and democracy takes wing above all walls of tyranny. "Science and Democracy" was a slogan at Tienanmen Square. "Science, Poetry, and Democracy" is the rallying cry of the new Millennium. Awaken, Havel and humanity, to the marriage of science and poetry, of fiction and science fiction. Embrace the freedom of democracy and self-transcendence that sweeps the worlds to the music of Albert Einstein's violin. Read and be ravished by the published poetry of noted scientists in the tradition of Lucretius, such as Elias Canetti (Bulgarian Chemist, Nobel Laureate in Literature 1981), Biologist/Poet Julian Huxley, Chemist/Poet Humphry Davy, Astrophysicist/Poet Alan P. Lightman, Physicist/Poet James Clerk Maxwell, Biologist/Poet Lewis Thomas, Archaeologist/Poet Loren Eisley, Chilean Mathematician/Poet Nicanor Parra, and Havel's own compatriot: Czech immunologist/poet Miroslav Holub. Nobel winning genius Physicist Richard Feynman, who also painted exquisitely and co-authored one anthologized poem with me, summarized poetically the mingled quest of poetry and science in the questioning questing quatrain mantra: "I wonder why? I wonder why? I wonder why I wonder? I wonder why I wonder why I wonder why I wonder?"
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