Paragraphs to Stimulate Discussion of Poetry and Science
from Jared Smith
November 21, 2010
Source: Jasmin Discussions, 30 Nov 2020
I think that we can all start out with the assumption that anybody who is reading Leonardo on a regular basis or is participating in this YASMIN discussion already understands at least intuitively that both the arts and the sciences are related to pattern-thinking, as well as to a striving to recognize within each newly perceived or hard won pattern something which is larger or more magnificent than anything which we have ever perceived before. Each of us, whether scientist or artist, rushes along one corridor or another of linear thought which will propel us to a desired level of sensitivity to the world about us or to a level of desired control over that which we can control, and then suddenly those who are luckiest among us find our linear paths exploded by other linear paths that come from congruent angles or by parallel awarenesses stemming from perhaps sub-quantum foci that suddenly explode our past arguments or awareness and carry us toward even greater appreciations of what surrounds us and what we are composed of. Wonderful discussions of the parallels between creative thought in the arts and creative thought in the sciences can be found in such books as Arthur Kostler’s Act of Creation, or in the proceedings of
Myron Color’s Creative Science Seminar series, or of course in the archives of any issue of Leonardo.
What determines the degree of value we place upon an insight or a thought process that allows us to determine whether it is art or science, then? That is harder to define. Oppenheimer wrote and translated French Romantic poetry: was that separate from his work with nuclear physics? Coleridge and Shelley and Lord Byron were Romantic poets, yet they shared in-depth intellectual discussions with the leading scientists of their day and published at times in the same small-circulation journals bending their intellects on both sides, artistic and scientific through both linear and nonlinear junctions to such matters as what defines the spark of life that animates men and is that spark if recreated by scientific or technological means then the same as life itself. (I refer you to Richard Holmes remarkable book (The Age of Wonder.) Were these the same questions that reverberated through the marble sculptures and the earthen tones of paint that Michelangelo wove his visions around, and with which he illustrated a vision of touch and singularity that arises from a man’s extended finger and the hand of that which is greater than he? Do any of these things that we think of in our deeper moments, that we quest for, have any discernible value to define them as arts or sciences separate from each other when measured in the scope of our existence—or do we
merely severely limit ourselves by defining them as first one and then another? If T.S. Eliot was right in his determination and definition of an “objective correlative” in art or in poetry as being a series of images which when read by any careful reader (any scientist who is trained in the art?) will produce within that reader only one vision or understanding which is the same in each person who reads it thusly, cannot one say that the words of a poet must be wielded with as much care
and knowledge and skill as the mathematics of quantum physics scrawled out in hard earned bursts of joy on university blackboards. Are not the visions brought by the words of one poet to a select and educated few as dramatic in their meaning and intent, and as decisive in their creation, as that of a director at CERN to a similarly well educated and small, select group? Can those two groups overlap, and is there value in that?
Well, yes, perhaps, you might say so, if we could only know which poet or which artist were wielding the right vision and sharpening with the right tools or words. But how could we know? Who could verify?
This is important because as we all know in science and with regard to technology, when we mix ingredients or procedures together while controlling all variables, we will always get the same action and reaction, the same objective correlative. And that action and reaction may have value, or they may not. And if they do have value, it may take many decades or even hundreds of years to determine what that value is and whether it lies within the intellectual or material realm. We have a great many institutions of learning which turn out a great many men and women of considerable intellect who are trained to study each scientific theorem as it evolves and to place it within other theorems for greater substance and meaning.
At times, this study and evolving is a time-curdling process where the mind grows infinitely older and achieves little; but at times, it can take flight in new and unexpected colonies of bacilli blossoming into definable space on a petri dish, taking shape as a poem from the small things we know about the expanding world around us. Call it art. Call it nonlinear spontaneity. And when it sings in the back rooms of our minds, when it speaks in a language that reverberates not only with our higher brain functions but also within the reptile brain we have so little understanding of, when it creates a song that we know is worth listening to in the quietness of our non-salaried time, and makes us feel alive as individuals in ways we cannot explain with out mathematical formulas or our surface linguistics, let’s call it poetry with the honor it so deserves.
Poetry at its best is the only art that combines linear thought with musical rhythms and meter to produce an exacting language that transcends the speech of our time.
–Jared Smith, 11/21/10