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Kamarck, Edward (ed.) / Arts in society: confrontation between art and technology
(1969)

Ianni, Lawrence A.
[Editorial comment: science and art as forms of communication: an inquiry into the place of art in a technologically-oriented society],   pp. [164]-175 PDF (13.2 MB)


Page 169

language of science and the verbal
language of literary art are symbol systems,
it is doubtful if the far-reaching and
significant nature of this fact is
appreciated. The nature of any
symbolic system is to have a substantial
independence from the thing it stands
for. Hence, the numerical symbols and
mathematical relationships in which
scientific formulations are cast are not
accurate because they must be but because
the arbitrary symbols appropriately accord
with the experiences of independently
functioning observers or users. Numbers
and mathematical operations are
objective, non-real, tokens that serve
as appropriate symbolic measurements for
occurrences in nature. Language is
no less a system of tokens by which man
takes the measure of the universe. This is
a fact seldom sufficiently appreciated,
particularly by literary critics who are fond
of hunting symbols in works of literature.
The deliberate and piecemeal hunt for
symbols in literary analysis seems often to
contain an unspoken assumption that
language is normally a rather literal and
necessary correspondence between
noises and things except in the rare
instances where a writer has taken the
conscious trouble to construct symbols.
Where it is held, this is an unfortunate
assumption because to be a symbolic
system generally is the very heart
and nature of language. Even our most
literal statements are the product
of the application of a symbolic system.
It should be fairly obvious that the two
sexual varieties of homo sapiens
in nature are not actually the words
"man" and "woman" but are tangibles
to which we apply the labels of English
with some degree of consistency. Thus, like
the mathematical abstractions of science,
the medium of literary art is a
comprehensive symbolic system of
communication. Both the scientific and
literary endeavors are attempts
to produce symbolic models that stand
for human experience.
Having briefly examined a poetic and
a scientific model of the same feature
of existence, we may now ask ourselves
what it is about these two models
of experience that gives to science and
art their distinctiveness as forms of
communication. Probably the most
general thing that could be said
is that the scientific and poetic models
differ in their degrees of precision. This, of
course, is only suggested in Maxwell's
paradox where the second law is
not considered in terms of the usual
measuring units of scientific endeavor, such
as calories, ergs and joules.
These precise discrete quantities, together
with the mathematical operations that
describe their relationship in an energy
conversion are characteristic of science at
its best. However, even in the thought
experiment that has been mentioned,
gas in the scientific model compares
with the term "brook" in the poem;
molecules are comparable to the term
"wave" in the poem and heat, as a single
distinct feature of existence, is
comparable to the term "existence" in
this poem. Thus, while both models have
implications about the sum total
of everything, the scientific model restricts
itself to a treatment of a few precise
features of reality and avoids making
any generalizations about the
relevant implications for other aspects of
existence. The poetic model, on the
contrary, not only deals in entities
from the less precise macro-world of
reality rather than the micro-world that
interests science, but also leaps to
generalizations about the implications of
one truth for other aspects of existence.
That is, in Frost's poem, what is
true about the wave is soon asserted
to be true for man also.
This difference between science and art
is characteristic rather than unique
to the example used. If we were to examine
a number of instances in which science
and poetry treat the same subject
matter, the most encompassing and
significant difference we would find is that
the scientific model of a fact or
phenomenon - either past or projected-
will be cast in much more precise, discrete
entities and more exact units of
discernment than will an artistic treatment
of the same or projected experience.
It is only when science turns to
the thought experiment or projected
experience that it becomes
quasi-metaphoric and approaches the kind
of imposition that is characteristic of
artistic models of experience. But even
at that, the validation of a scientific thought
experiment is sought in terms of measures
and precise units of consideration that
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