[Humanist] 22.348 cfp: Poetries and sciences in the 21st Century

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Sat Nov 22 11:24:44 CET 2008

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 22, No. 348.
         Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Fri, 21 Nov 2008 18:39:05 +0000
        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
        Subject: cfp: Poetries and sciences in the 21st Century

Call for papers
Interdisciplinary Science Reviews (www.isr-journal.org)
“Poetries and sciences in the 21st Century”

This is to invite proposals for contributions to a special issue of 
Interdisciplinary Science Reviews on the topic of “Poetries and sciences 
in the 21st Century”.  The intended aim of this issue is not just to say 
or even to sketch what we believe to be true of the relationship but 
also to question our views by considering where they come from, both in 
the present and in the past, and to speculate on what is to be done.

The title of this issue echoes the literary critic  I. A. Richards’ 
Poetries and Sciences, a work whose writing and revisions spanned the 
middle half of the 20th Century. In the book Richards asked what poetry 
could be in a world deeply and broadly affected by technoscience. The 
revolution it has brought about, he argued, is “too drastic to be met by 
any such half-measures” as promotion of wonder at the marvels of nature 
(1970: 52-3). What could wonder be but an attitude of ignorance when 
these marvels have or are assumed to have law-like explanation? Science 
has neutralized nature, he argued, and so deprived poetry of its 
original well-spring, “the Magical View of the world” (1970: 50). What 
could a poet say to those for whom making sense ultimately requires the 
radically plain style of scientific reasoning? His solution was to cut 
the language of imagination free from the language of belief, hence from 
epistemological certainty, implying our philosophical freedom to explore 
possible worlds.

Consider also the psychologist Jerome Bruner’s essay “Possible Castles”, 
in his Actual Minds, Possible Worlds (1986). Here Bruner argues that 
philosophical questioning of science (by Thomas Kuhn et al.) has 
reawakened the ancient, even tired question of the “two cultures” by 
revealing science itself to be historically contingent. In response to 
this reawakening he gives us two opposed trajectories for the sciences 
and the humanities. Both originate in curiosity and in speculation about 
the world. Both are highly disciplined forms of the human imagination. 
Both tell us how things are. Both thrive on anomalous relevatory detail. 
But the sciences move steadily away from ambiguity, Bruner argues, while 
the humanities move toward increasing “the alternativeness of human 
possibility” (Bruner 1986: 53). He concludes his essay by quoting 
Aristotle on the poet’s function: “to describe not the thing that has 
happened, but a kind of thing that might happen” (Poetics II.9). What 
matters to the poet, Bruner says, is verisimilitude to conceivable human 
experience. The poet’s job, we might say, is to expand what is 
conceivable by finding the right words, whereas the scientist’s is to 
extend what is explicable by equally audacious but differently directed 
acts of imagination.

Much closer to our time yet again, consider the physicist Robert B. 
Laughlin’s declaration that as much in physics as in biology we have 
come out of the reductionism which defined science throughout the 20th 
Century (2005: 208), creating Richards’ dilemma, into an Age of 
Emergence. If so, then the question to be rescued from the muddle of 
“two cultures” is truly vigorous and contemporary. Let us say that, to 
quote theoretical biologist Robert Rosen, we foreswear the crippling 
mental habit “of looking only downward toward subsystems, and never 
upward and outward” (2000: 2), which renders us unable to see emergent 
organizational principles, of poetry or of life itself. What then might 
poetry and science have to do with each other? What might that 
preeminent expression of technoscience, computing, have to say about 
poetry, and how might it go about the saying? How might our most 
adventurous theories of poetic discourse inform a computing that works 
“upward and outward” from its object of study?

The issue is intended for ISR 35.1 (March 2010). Submissions of 6,000 to 
10,000 words will be due by 1 October 2009. Please send a preliminary 
proposal of about 500 worlds to the Editor at your earliest convenience.

Willard McCarty
Editor, ISR

Bruner, Jerome. 1986. “Possible Castles”. In Actual Minds, Possible 
Worlds. 44-54. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press.
Laughlin, Robert B. 2005. A Different Universe: Reinventing Physics from 
the Bottom Down. New York: Basic Books.
Richards, I. A. 1970. Poetries and Sciences: A Reissue of Science and 
Poetry (1926, 1935) with Commentary. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
Rosen, Robert. 2000. Essays on Life Itself. Complexity in Ecological 
Systems Series. New York: Columbia University Press.

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