1. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    Literature & Science

    Discussion in 'Book Discussion' started by arron89, Jun 19, 2009.

    Thinking About Literature 1: Literature & Science

    (okay people time to put on your thinking caps for some serious literature discussion!! post your responses, give specific examples, lets have a lively and educational literary debate!! if this is successful, maybe we can do it more often, try to offer new perspectives on writing and literature to help the writers on this site)

    The Romantic poet John Keats famously disavowed science, claiming that scientists like Newton were responsible for "unweaving the rainbow", or destroying the sense of wonder the world held. Indeed, science has long been regarded as antithetical to the arts, being labelled "analytical" in response to the arts' "creativity". Yet the similarities between the two are numerous, and some authors in the 20th Century have repeatedly turned to science, rather than away from it, for inspiration.

    So, in what ways do you think literature can gain from an alliance with science, and how may literature, in turn, contribute to a scientific understanding of human nature and the physical universe?
     
  2. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    I need some time to think of a response. But in the meantime, here's an interesting fact: two of today's best authors, Ian McEwan and Cormac McCarthy, say that most of their friends are scientists.
     
  3. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Read Gödel, Escher, and Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas Hofstadter, or The Fractal Geometry of Nature by Benoit Mandelbrodt.
     
  4. A2theDre
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    A2theDre Active Member

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    Brief synopsis?
     
  5. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Nope.
     
  6. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    Care to elaborate Cog? Drive some discussion?
     
  7. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    A brief synopsis would not do either work justice. Both are beautifully written pieces of very thought provoking literature that have profound scientific relevance.
     
  8. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    Ok to give this a little nudge in some direction....
    Narrative is one of the primary concerns of literature. It can be used to create hypothetical stituations, and, depending on the skill of the writer, can be used to examine and reevaluate elements of human nature and the physical universe.
    How can/does science make use of narrative, especially with regard to popular science writing, and, on the other hand, how can writers make use of an "experimental" model when constructing their work?
     
  9. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Well, science has been improving and will continue to improve, especially in fields closely related to literature such as linguistics and psychology. When I think of science and literature, I think about understanding the human mind. Of course, literature helps with that by showing us a character's thoughts and action, but it is also useful to see what happens inside the mind from a scientific point of view.

    And on the other hand, literature helps science by providing the scientific community with a means of communication. In fact, a lot of Persian scientific texts in the middle ages were written in verse. On a side note, a lot of the science majors I know like to read science fiction more than anything else.

    All of these questions make me feel as if I'm writing an essay for school, haha.
     
  10. Leaka
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    Leaka Creative Mettle

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    Personally I think science and fiction come hand in hand.
    Scientist began studying about teleportation when Star Trek came out.
    I think that literature fascinates the logical thinkers.
    Sometimes science can make you go awww, but I really wanted to think that was true.
    But science comes in hand and helps us realize what is reality and what is not.
     
  11. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    So if a knowledge of literature can aid the communication of scientific ideas, do you think literature is a more or less effective means of transmission than mathematics, for instance?

    And what specifically about literary science writing is it that makes it more effective, if you believe it is.

    One possibility to consider is the power of empathy. The work of any good fiction author should enable you to empathise with at least one character, to get into their head, to understand them thoroughly. This is one of the reasons that fiction, as a form of entertainment at least, is very successful. So what if you apply the concept of empathy to scientific ideas and research. Perhaps an example would be the work of Oliver Sacks, who presents his psychological/neurological "case studies" as fully rounded, human characters (as opposed to rigid, flat figures, statistics, and medical observations). It allows the reader a far greater insight into the minds of the people he writes, and the way they cope with their various ailments, but does this literary aspect of the work compromise its scientific integrity?
     
  12. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Mathematics is a language, or set of languages. It is a more precise form of discourse than languages used in traditional literature, but it too can carry beauty of expression.

    Literature need not center around characters. It usually does, because the deepest fascination of human thought is contemplation of itself: why does it exist, where did it come from, where is it going, what is its purpose, how does it fit into the universe.

    Mathematics more ogten begins with the universe, in abstract, and converges toward human concerns. Comnventional literature starts with the human element but strives to generalize to universal truths.
     
  13. WashingtonIrving
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    Yeah, I think we're all probably reasonable people and aren't going to slip into any kind of oppositional mindset. Like all dichotomies, obviously it has its uses, because literature isn't science nor science literature, but you can take these things too far.

    Which is a roundabout way of not saying very much. But once we've established that the idea that some people have 'creative' minds and others 'scientific' minds is just a crude generalisation that doesn't cover most actually existing people, well it's hardly surprising that you're going to have literature and science being of mutual benefit to one another. There aren't 2 subsistent entities 'science' and 'literature', there are scientists and writers, and sometimes one person may be both, sometimes someone working within either discipline will take an interest in the other and we'll see the mutual benefit.

    Which, again, is a roundabout way of not saying very much either. But I think this displays my dislike for questions such as this, it seems like you can either make some trite functional observations like I've just done, or you can expound some sort of theory interweaving all of the disparate elements and produce some sort of synthesis 'explaining' how these elements can and do interact. But all that there really is are separate writers and scientists who are generally well educated and at times will tackle a problem using the methods of science and at other times will tackle it using the 'methods' of literature. They don't appeal to a theory of how literature and science interact when they are actually going about what we want to describe as the interaction of science and literature, they use a particular set of methods or way of looking at things. Which makes Cogito's answer particularly good, because he's essentially made the same point by noting that mathematics, the 'language' of science, or the 'language' of literature are just different ways for us to tackle a problem. As such, because it's always an individual person doing the tackling, they can use any language they wish, and so we get what we could call a beneficial relationship.

    I don't think that helped much, maybe I should have let Cogito make the point.
     

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