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Kamarck, Edward (ed.) / Arts in society: confrontation between art and technology

Kilby, Clyde S.
[Editorial comment: the lost myth],   pp. [unnumbered]-163 PDF (10.1 MB)

Page 158

therefore, insofar as it is related to
the progressive stages of certainty
described by Bacon seems to be the result
of an oversell which was neither intended
by the best practitioners of the method nor
indeed inherent in the method. Rather
the despair is owing to two popular
misunderstandings. One is the supposition
that science actually does move "as
if by machinery" toward its goals, the
other that its reach is endless.
Not infrequently leading scientists have
pointed out that believing such an
apparently obvious thing as the "simple
sensuous perception" is actually an act of
faith and that imagination is about as
necessary in all real science as in artistic
creativity. Warren Weaver, vice-president
for the natural and medical sciences of
the Rockefeller Foundation, declares "the
shocking fact is that science simply does
not have detailed and precise access
to what we ordinarily call the external
world." Instead of dealing with hard, real
fact, Weaver insists that science is "playing
a subtle game with nature, all based on
an unproved and unprovable faith that
this procedure is meaningful and
158     rewarding.' As to the supposed infinite
outreach of science, Dr. Charles Singer
of the University of London, writing on the
history of science in the latest edition of the
Britannica Encyclopedia, says that there
"cannot be a 'science' of the whole universe;
for it is impossible to attain this by
adding the sciences together, and there
are vast regions of experience, such as art,
literature, and philosophy, that are
refractory to scientific treatment." It is a
popular belief in Science Unlimited, a
faith that nothing whatever is beyond the
reach of science and that any other
approach to truth is as antiquated as an
auto graveyard, which has left us, in
Matthew Arnold's words, with the feeling of
Wandering between two worlds, one dead,
The other powerless to be born.
Another possible cause of our despair is
the seeming revelations of science about a
mechanistic universe, man's animal
origin, psychological behaviorism, and the
like, leaving us with the feeling of being
hardly more than biological specimens.
A minor sign of this, I think, is the
increasing frequency of our adoption of
words like "react," "interact", and
"feedback." The "Broadcaster," a little
sheet of announcements at my college,
has more than once read, "Come out this
evening at 8:00 and interact with
Professor Brown on So-and-So." The
suggestion seems to be that no arrival at
anything like a truth or even a tenable
conclusion is to be reached and that
only a kind of low-grade cerebral game on
the order of ping-pong will be played.
After this little stunt we can drink a bit of
coffee, then go on our way as if nothing
had really happened. The discovery of any
real certainty must be left, apparently,
to the computer.
Yet the ancient ideal of Truth, Beauty
and Goodness has never been abrogated.
The universe, if we are to believe the
majority of the scientists themselves, is
more than physical, and its structures,
harmonies and meaning rise above
measurement. The universal must precede
rather than follow the sensuous perception
before any greatly significant meaning
can appear, and the effort of man to
dispossess himself of a "given," to stand
outside himself and act "as if by
machinery," is both impossible and, as
to any ultimate knowledge, the surest means
of falsification. Hence it is possible,
if one will, fo find readily at hand a vertical
as well as a horizontal and at least a
working approximation to the absolute and
transcendent. "The cosmic religious
experience is the strongest and noblest
mainspring of scientific research," said
Albert Einstein. "The most beautiful and
profound emotion we can experience
is the sensation of the mystical. It is the
sower of all true science. He to whom this
emotion is a stranger, who can no longer
wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as
good as dead. To know that what is
impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting
itself as the highest wisdom and the most
radiant beauty which our dull faculties
can comprehend only in their most
primitive forms - this knowledge, this
feeling is at the center of true
The conclusion seems clear that we must
pursue values and truth as wise men
have always pursued them, that is, by
summoning the whole man to thought
within a hierarchical universe. This, then,
is my first suggestion for the repossession
of our lost myth.

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