October 6: Science and Potery

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October 6, 2014 at 13:25 #14871

A reflection of the text that we talked in relation to the book Science and Poetry

October 6, 2014 at 13:29 #14872

sorry I have to: Science and Pottery 😀

October 6, 2014 at 14:48 #14873

The poem I brought to class is the following

De zomer neemt afscheid
de bomen verkleuren
het wordt herfst en winter
onnodig te treuren
jaargetijden zijn net
als het leven
van mensen en dieren
het wordt terug gegeven
Een verdord blad
vergaan op de grond
de Ziel van de mens die
zijn thuis weer vond
dezelfde kringloop is
ze beschoren
een blad groeit weer aan
en een kind wordt geboren

It compares the changing of the seasons to the birth of a new born. It’s Dutch and it draws similarities between the climate and the Netherlands and the state of one soul, especially winter and fall being a depressing time. I think it shows some of the Dutch outlook on the climate and environment, and show an inability to be excited about these, unless it is spring or summer. This kind of interaction with nature shows a sort of idea about nature, that it is more or less to serve us. The Dutch are more occupied with water than other elements within the environment. I think in many cases it is seen that the Dutch do not appreciate the nature, unless it is there to serve us.

When reading Midgley and the Gaia hypothesis there are certainly some implications that I read. The Gaia hypothesis sounds reasonable to a scholar as me, with fairly little knowledge about the details of this hypothesis. Thinking about it seems to me it has two important implications. Te obvious one being that organisms automatically take care of certain levels in nature, all by themselves, such as the salinity in the ocean, and that humans have an effect on these levels, but that these organisms counteract these effects. However the other implication, and maybe the one more plausible one is that humans are such an organism, which is supposed to regulate the natural levels, however, we are the only organism with a different mind, a mind that has other occupations rather than just taking care of natural levels. The human mind is one that is more occupied with surviving among humans, and money for example. Now the questions become, can the other organisms carry the weight of the humans not counteract the change in those natural levels or not. I think that one way which helps, and gives at least a bit of hope for us, is that people need to become aware they are such an organism, and we are not the only dependent on the human, but also on all the other organisms, only whose don’t need convincing, we just have to make sure we don’t kill them.

October 6, 2014 at 16:06 #14874

Mary Midgley Seminar:

Following our discussion this morning I looked into Mary Midgley a bit more online. I came across an interview she did with a journalist from The Guardian just this March which I found interesting to read as it gave her a bit more dimension! While a poor substitute for an actual seminar with her, it at least gives a rough peek into her life, albeit from some random guy’s perspective. If any of you felt similarly curious about the philosopher then voila: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/mar/23/mary-midgley-philosopher-soul-human-consciousness

(I was amused that two of her sons turned out to be physicists.) 🙂

In any event, I found Midgley to be a rather approachable read. Whether this is because we’ve been over this territory before or just because she has an easy writing style I’m not entirely sure. As I mentioned in the seminar, Midgley did provide a new vocabulary in which to discuss the void between science and humanities, this time grounding it in the division between mind and body. I was interested in her discussion about theoretical physics and religion. Midgley points out that of all the scientific disciplines theoretical physics has successfully combined science and religion. Midgley doesn’t provide an answer about this and instead asks, “Is there perhaps some special reason why religious talk of this kind can count as a proper language for physics, but becomes inappropriate and scandalous when the chemical and biological concerns of Gaian thinking are in question?” I suppose that an investigation of this size would merit its own book, but I wish it were easy enough to answer and slip into this chapter. 🙂 At the very least it is an interesting question to keep in the back of the mind going forward.

As for the poetry/art aspect of our discussion, I really quite enjoyed it. I think it successfully illustrated the possibilities for education through narratives which are hidden in various art forms. I think sometimes pulling heart strings garners more action than ‘hard facts’. As we seem to need immediate action in dealing with environmental degradation perhaps it is time to attempt a new strategy in engaging people. Personally, I feel humour helps when it comes to tackling such vast and depressing issues such as climate change. Not to make light of it, but to come at the topic from another angle. For me, the painting I chose has a tongue in cheek drama to it. While it does not resonate in the same heartfelt way as childhood poetry and songs, it makes me feel slightly connected to a larger community of people expressing themselves through art, and as such makes me feel a bit hopeful.

October 7, 2014 at 14:24 #14899

Reading Midgley’s Poetry and Science did not bring any new information to me; we’ve discussed the effects of Cartesian dualism, when it comes to both the emergence of detached scientific paradigms and the construction of matter/mind divide, we’ve also discussed what Cartesian dualism entails when it comes to understanding entities outside us as possessing a mind or not (subject/object), we’ve contemplated holistic Gaian thinking many times. But what was new is that Midgley compressed this huge area of intellectual history of atomism, spanning from Democritus to contemporary scientists and showed how atomism and individualism legitimized each other from the 17th century onwards, only to bring us where we are – on a planet that cannot regulate its systems anymore and the same time we are unable to think about the natural environment in a way that is both fact-based and self-reflexive. Great. This is where Midgley is amazing and even healing; she compels the reader to explore new ways of self-reflection in relation to the materiality. She calls for a “widening of responsibility” ; not just towards other living entities, but towards Gaia and she claims that poetic thinking, mythopoiesis, can open up new ways of involvement with this self-regulating organism called Gaia. I have decided to “test” this approach, hence why I have chosen a short ecocriticism exercise for this seminar. I am very thankful to my colleagues for their contributions because in the end the exercise actually made sense, since when I did it alone, it seemed like fanciful daydreaming. Not just poetry, but visual art and even a scientific narrative were discussed. I’ve presented a Montenegrin folk ballad called Još ne sviče rujna zora (The red dawn has not yet risen; my translation), which has always touched me to the core and when the poem is understood through the concepts of ecological sensibility and romantic ecology (both are concepts used in ecocriticism) the poem opens up and sets the reader as the one experiencing sorrow (the narrator mourns the death of his/her beloved), since the pain is transported almost as if through nerves to “all that is alive” (see poem below). When reading the poem and especially when singing it, since it is traditionally not narrated but sung, one is in sorrow as if the collective organism is hurt. This poem evokes very strong emotions in me and indeed compels a person usually branding Gaian thinking as new-age BS, to rethink what is the underlying motive of my cynical disregard of holistic approaches.
There, I hope I didn’t get too cheesy with this reflection. And here is the poem I’ve chosen for the seminar (the translation is mine, meaning: no rhymes, no rhythm, no aesthetics whatsoever).

The red dawn has not yet risen
the mountain leaf is not atremble
the nightingale’s song is not yet heard
the song that announces the dawn.

The sound of the axes cannot be heard
nor the song of the shepherd
silence is all around and
all that is alive is reposing.

Let the dew covered blossoms blossom
let the spring grace herself with them,
I will gather the flowers no more,
for they are not for me.

I will gather the flowers no more,
for I have no one to gift
to whom I have given them
for she is covered with earth.

Every budding blade of grass
at least feels its own joy
but joy has deserted me
and fled away, oh so far away.

October 7, 2014 at 15:51 #14901

Reflection, by Yaqi Fu

In today’s seminar, I find the trial of combining the course literature and self-selected literature is quite interesting and rewarding, from which I saw different poems in the depicting of nature. In most of the time, poems are inclusive of nature, and beyond nature, presenting the highest reason of human. Human’s reason, in science shows human’s power in, to, against nature; while in poem, power becomes shaded in human itself, but mostly lies in nature. The power of nature let fantasy, let poem, and let philosophy sprout.

The power of nature is like the goodness of human, while human’s power is the guilt to nature. Nature’s power gives vitality and makes everything in order and rarely disturbed: born in spring, grown in summer, harvested in autumn and buried in winter. But human’s power in most of the case causes disasters, wars and robberies. Atrocity and enormity! The feat or the power of a general, if one has, is due to thousands of dead bones but with thousands of applause.

In return, the goodness of human, if one wants could be discovered in nature. In Chinese education, what I say is the traditional one, pupils were taught as “Human’s nature is good.”(人之初,性本善)at the beginning when they started to learn words. And almost all Chinese philosophy pointed to the way that human should learn from nature, instead of controlling nature. I am still thinking such education is good, of the goodness.

October 7, 2014 at 16:46 #14902

Reflection by Yongliang Gao

The poem I shared with you is called waterfall wonder at Mountain Lu by Bai Li:

Purple smokes arise from Censer Peak in sunlit, a waterfall hangs like a screen seen afar. Streams rush down from thousands feet, as if galaxy falls from the heaven.

It would be a litter difficult to apply the ecology criticism to analyze this poem though, as there is barely ecological sensibility or romantic ecology can be drawn out from the text, that is however exactly why I chose it, since it is special and the poet did not write the text as a reflection of human emotions, which is very unique in comparison with other poets in the same historical period. In a word, the poem let me get a sense of nature dominated view in art rather than putting humans in the center.

In terms of the book Science and Poetry, I have a doubt of Mary Midgley’s opinion, that is she upholds for individualism in the society majorly refers to the West though, she does not reason it that much and expresses it as a common sense. My concern is then: can we really choose how to behave as a human entity? I would say we were born with a lifestyle and do not have much capability of changing it as the culture will it so. For example, I was told and taught that collective actions are encouraged not individual actions and if I go against the doctrine, I will be judged and criticized by the entire society. I wonder how single individuals can compete with the whole society and the mighty culture that goes around the society.

October 8, 2014 at 10:10 #14908

Reply to Nick’s reflection

First I would like to say dank je wel Nick for bringing such a beautiful poem with you. I managed to understand some of it with my very basic knowledge of Dutch yay. I also find your analysis of the poem interesting; seeing it as a manifestation of the Dutch perception of nature, I mean. You also mentioned that the Dutch are very much involved with water and it got me interested whether the “battle with water” is a prominent theme in Dutch literature or maybe public discourse? In Slovenia for example water is not mainly seen as a threat, but we endow it with all kinds of mystical properties in folk wisdom.
I also found the bit where Midgley explains Gaia as a self-regulating organism comprised of vital parts that all contribute to this regulating processes to be most stimulating for my thoughts. You bring up an important issue; do humans as drivers of geological change (as is the hypothesis of the Anthropocene) still fit into this organism, meaning are we regulating in a way too but that is just not good for us anymore? How do we know what are the limits of this self-regulation? In the end I still think that Gaian thinking is just one way of approaching the planetary ecosystem in a holistic manner and one that demands an acceptance of many underlying assumptions, which simply do not make sense to us. I wonder if it can be effective at all at widening our responsibilites towards nonhuman nature.

October 8, 2014 at 14:56 #14912

Reply to Yaqi’s post
By Yongliang Gao

Thank you for your compliment about the seminar; Nisa and I will be very delightful. I agree with you on the opinion that “In most of the time, poems are inclusive of nature, and beyond nature, presenting the highest reason of human. Human’s reason, in science shows human’s power in, to, against nature; while in poem, power becomes shaded in human itself, but mostly lies in nature. The power of nature let fantasy, let poem, and let philosophy sprout” Partly it is because we share a very similar culture; and we basically learnt many poems in a way that is quite alike.

Besides, I have a comment on your view that “human’s power is the guilt to nature”. I think we, as humans are lack of an ability of foreseeing the natural consequences caused by human activities. For instance, if the former generations were able to anticipate the environmental contaminations of the industrial revolution, I wonder whether or not they would let the industrialization take place at such an enormous scale and at such a reimbursing cost. My comment is kind of digressive and irrelevant to the science and art discussion, but your comment reminds me of a need of moral debate here.

Yes, we were taught that “Human’s nature is good at the beginning” in China, which I believe is essentially opposite to the spirit of legislation in the West. Besides, I wonder if all men were born with a good nature, then what should be blame when someone become bad? I was grown up with the saying that “Human’s nature is good at the beginning” but I suspect it as I educated and socialised, I think everyone is two-faced in the holistic life span regardless of age. People are just too good at hiding and lying to others and normally prefer to show only the good face to whoever surrounded by because we know once we release out the evil part, we fail the whole world and that is how I understand Mary Midgley’s argument that human action is not only controlled by brain and body, but also by the social expectations.

October 8, 2014 at 15:05 #14913

Reply to Morag on Midgley and her book by Maria. I did not read the interview from the Guardian yet, but Morag has told us a little about her. She seems to be fully mentally acitve and a tough woman, although having the age of 95 years. Being an academic originally, she left and now work as an independent philosopher, yuo might say she is a pioneer, knowing both science and humanities. The philosophy field is new to me and despite it is interesting to listen to different stand points, it will never be a favourite academic topic, but I still enjoyed this seminar a lot.
Morag’s piece on nature was interestingly a painting she had had for years. A cracklingly dry landscape with dead trees and a penguin chick in a refridregerator, obviously put up by human(s) and fed by it parent. It actually reminded me about Gary Larson’s aimal comics which always have a sarcastic base behind the motif. A picture can be easier to remember and to visualize compared to written art, and I have already had Morag’s picture in mind several times. Of course it is an exaggerative view, but may be not for too long. With its humour it can start a discussion that can continue in to a more serious dialogue about what to do to prevent the climate change to continue as rapid as occurs now.

October 8, 2014 at 15:20 #14914

Reply to Nisa’s reflection
Thanks for your philosophical and poetical reflection! There are many things that I learned from your reflection: first, you mentioned Cartesian dualism, and which is beyond my mind when I start to think about the literature; second, you have discovered what Midgley’s real contribution, and such contribution brings readers new ways of “self-reflection in relation to the materiality”; third, you made the poetry thinking become reality, in our class where you let everyone’s poem contribute to and compose to a chorus, a chorus about Gaia thinking, about oneself.
Poem is of emotion, an emotion reserved in heart and only when we keep innocent in ourselves. I can understand your feeling about the poem that you chose, partly because from my experience, I have remembered many Chinese poems and some of them even made me shed tears when I read; partly because human’s emotion needs at least some places to dwell, and nature is the one for poetic emotion. There exist probably thousands of human’s emotions, if we can count, while the nature has even more, more emotions as we can not tell, but only see it change itself. The emotion of nature triggers us human in our heart and poem generates.

October 9, 2014 at 03:51 #14923
Sarah Rodrigue-Allouche

Mary Midgley – Science and Poetry- Reflection by Sarah Rodrigue-Allouche

I missed the seminar on Midgley’s book “Science and Poetry” and I have to say that it seems it has been a very inspirational one. It was a pleasure to read my colleagues’ feedbacks and the poems they had brought to class. I found the book extremely interesting to read but as Nisa wrote, it did not bring anything new to the debate we have had for the past year now. The argument that Western dissociative mind (between mind and body, between spirit and matter) is at the root of our ecological crisis has already been discussed extensively, when we read Carolyn Merchant “The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology and the Scientific Revolution” for example and will be discussed again at the next seminar when we’ll discuss Worthy’s “Invisible Nature”.
Yet, I really enjoyed reading Midgley because she deeply discusses some famous modern scientists’ arguments such as Richard Dawkins or Brian Goodwin. The points she makes about integrating two competitive worldviews in order to get a better understanding of our world does really speak to me, especially now in this current phase of my life where I am a volunteer for Shumei Natural Agriculture Farm. Shumei’s goal is to grow food spiritually: to communicate with the plants, to give them love and gratitude in order for them to thrive. But Shumei’s guidelines for gardening are also based on scientific and empirical observations of Mokichi Okada, the organization’s founder, after years spent in the field in contact with plants.
I do believe that the beautiful abundant crops here on the farm are a perfect embodiment of what Midgley supports: integrating a poetic worldview with a scientific one. The fact that Shumei’s members trust that the soil is endowed with spiritual power given by the Moon, the Sun and the Universe and that this spiritual power enables the plants to grow without any input of fertilizers does not spare them to know exactly in rational scientific terms what it means to grow plants, what nutrients the plants need and what is the chemical composition of the farm’s soil. Knowing about it in scientific terms does not deplete the poetry of this spiritual gardening lifestyle.
As Morag wrote “sometimes pulling heart strings garners more actions than ‘hard facts’” and indeed trying to touch people with some love, poetry and spirituality is probably the key to many of our issues. We had already discussed this idea in our class hosted by the History of Art department: how the Arts have a role to play in our current crisis. I do believe that romantic ecology is a good philosophy for facing the terrible disconnection between humans and Nature, and I did appreciate reading all of my colleagues’ poems. The diversity of the cultures represented within our Master Program reveals that romantic ecology is universal. Thanks to Yaqi and Gao, we get Eastern approaches, something extremely valuable to me as I now live within a Japanese spiritual community. Yet, after reading my Chinese colleagues’ comments about Midgley’s book, I also regret that the British philosopher did not discuss the Eastern worldviews more and narrowed herself to Western thought, something underlined by Yaqi and Gao.
To conclude, I would say that I am really happy to have arrived at a point in life where I feel I can safely include the poetic worldview to the scientific one and that I do not need to choose one perspective over the other. Actually, romantic ecology has only given me the will to study biology and natural history in depth, and to do it with a child’s mind and an open heart.

January 11, 2015 at 18:28 #15946

Complementary task, Markus Nyström

One of my earliest memories is from sitting by the kitchen table having breakfast and looking at my older sister and thinking: “How can I know that she is a person and not just a body?”. When I have told this to people, they sometimes do not believe me, but it is entirely true. I think I was five.

With “person” I of course ment “a subject”, that she had a mind of her own and was not just a fancy biological robot. My question was the question, the doubt, of the solipsist – a person doubting even the most plausable interpretation and understanding since no positive proof is available. The Cartian doubt.

Hearing and reading Midgley was highly rewarding. I sympathize with much of her points and think her writing was accessible and intelligent (a sometimes unusual mix in academia). There are many points that I feel like discussing, but I start with her criticism of “atomism”. What is interesting is how atomism, or reductionism as it is more often called, in Midgley’s perspective, has permeated all levels of understanding and how this reduce the importance of the the larger, emergent levels of reality – which, coincidentily, most often is the level immediately available to us. In debunking Dawkins, she points out how he tend to regard genes as real – the only thing really real – and the organism that is the result of those genes as “not exactly an illusion” but almost. Midgley’s argument is, in my opinion, very convincing, which is that the atomistic thinking hurts our understanding of the world and ourselves.

What atomism can lead to, in the long run, is that all organism – that is, also humans – are regarded as merely DNA, and, further, as nothing but atoms and quarks. This reminds me of a thought experiment described by Niel Evernden where he asked the reader to imagine that the value of a human being is the market price of the natural materials that she consists of – iron, calcium, carbon, etcetera. Evernden brings this up as an example of the bizarr and insane result of market thinking and scientific reductionism. The point, which both Evernden and Midgley tries to make, is that this type of reasoning leads not only to the wrong answers but the wrong questions. The problem with Evernden’s thought experiment is not that the value of a human being is “too low”, but that it is entirely the wrong way of valuing a human life in the first place.

Social atomism – individualism – is something I find so ingrained in the modern perception that I have troubles thinking around it. My childhood story is a case in point – no five-year-old would think like I did if it had not, in multiple different ways, been schooled into regarding herself as the undivided center of the universe. In the other end of the spectrum is, perhaps, communism or religious beliefs where the individual is regarded as unimportant to the collective. But Midgley’s analysis – thankfully – is intelligent enough to avoid the false dichotomy between capitalist individualism and communist collectivism. Instead, she argues that individuals are part of larger constallations – of societies and communities – also in the most rigid capitalist societies, which really is quite obvious. What is refreshing, in other words, is that she does not argue for one over the other – individualism over collectivism – but that she understands how they both are real, important, and forming our understanding of ourselves. I am “me”, but I am also part of “we”, even though ideology can obscure this, at least cognitively, if the ideology is too extreme in either way.

This reasoning brings yet another writer to mind, another favorite of mine, Mark Fisher with his book “Capitalist Realism”. In it, he argues, among other things, that mental health problems – rising quickly in the western world, especially among the young – is the result of a mentally unhealthy society, but the atomistic way of interpreting mental health leaves out the possibility of interpreting the issue of rising numbers of mental health problems as anything than chemical imalances in the (individual) brain. The mental health problem may be because of chemical imbalances in the brain – no one questions that – but that is not the sickness’ origin. A sick society is, a society where the individual is contantly taught to be in competition with other individuals in an ever faster information flow, instead of focusing on cooperation and common goals. The atomistic, individual perspective on people make it difficult – for the individual psychiatrist virtually impossible – to draw larger conclusions about the collective, the society. Perhaps the saddest thing about this is that the discussion about cure and treatment thus is individualized and chemical – psychofarma – while it perhaps ought to spark a political movement away from atomism. Thus, social atomism tends to lock itself in, re-inforcing itself.

If I had come to the seminar I most likely would have brought my favorite poem by the Swedish writer Stig Dagerman, “Gallrets visa är lång”:

Lång är gallrets visa
och grå som den gråaste höst.
Man har ett galler kring kroppen.
Man har ett galler till bröst.

Fågeln sjunger i skogen
långt bort där man inte är.
Man ville nog höra den sjunga,
men alltid är gallret där.

Långt bort är en skimrande gata.
Långt bort är en glimmande älv.
men sliter man sönder sitt galler
så sliter man sönder sig själv.

Galler (bars, as in a prison) is surrounding the person’s body and heart, and even though he can hear the bird sing in the forest, where he wishes to be, the bars are always in the way. But if you tear asunder the bars, you tear asunder yourself.

Pervasive metaphors, says Midgley in the video, is part of the substance of what the metaphor is suppsed to convey, there is no such thing as “only a metaphor” if the metaphor is pervasive way of describing something. The bars in the poem shows Dagerman’s being trapped, being imprisoned, behind the grey (iron), so that he cannot reach out to the bird in the forest or the shining river.

This metaphor, this poem, speaks to me, on many different levels. What are the bars behind which I am trapped? They are both discoursive (I cannot understand or percieve the world outside the vocabulary that I have at my disposal and which is culturally sanctioned) and physical (the convenience of modern life, the fear of hunger and cold, etcetera) stops me from trying to reach another state, another understanding or perception. And, perhaps, most importantly, there are social barriers, norms, which keeps me within the fold of the acceptable. This is why I simultaneously feel like mocking, as well as being intrigued by, people trying to reach new understandings of their place in the world, through meditation, being “sensuous” and “listening” in new ways, to other voices, and so on. I feel like derogatorily calling them all “hippies” and walk away at the same time as I am a little envious at their courage.

The metaphor of bars could perhaps be what Midgley refers to as a myth, even though, of course, she means larger stories, shared by vast number of people (like the “story” about the proleteriat and class struggle). About myths, Midgley says that myths are “imaginative vision which in some way manages to capture the point about how the world is.” The point, as it were, with my quoting Dagerman’s poem is that we (or at least I) are trapped in a certain way of thinking about the world. Maybe human beings always are.

Even though I love this poem, I disagree with it’s conclusion, that by tearing asunder the bars you tear asunder yourself. Maybe it is the other way around. Maybe, by tearing down that which holds you back, you indeed free yourself? But, again, perhaps my lean towards individualism shows through here, regarding myself as the solitary force of my life, while I at the same time belong to larger collectives and groups? By tearing asunder the bars I also distance myself from the convention of the culture and society that I live within, am a part of, so I would have to sacrifice my position. Maybe that is what breaks when you tear asunder the bars?

In closing, I would like to say that I did not attend many seminars in this course. I have instead opted to do many seminars as complimentary tasks afterwards. Now, having read and written for ten seminars, I can say that the seminar I wish mostly that I had attended was this one. Both because of the topic and the fascinating scholar but also because of the interesting pedagogical setup that Nisa and Gao were responsible for. Good job!

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