Monday, March 31, 2008

Ursula Le Guin reviews a Salman Rushdie book in The Guardian. This is perhaps the best part.

Some boast that science has ousted the incomprehensible; others cry that science has driven magic out of the world and plead for "re-enchantment". But it's clear that Charles Darwin lived in as wondrous a world, as full of discoveries, amazements and profound mysteries, as that of any fantasist. The people who disenchant the world are not the scientists, but those who see it as meaningless in itself, a machine operated by a deity. Science and literary fantasy would seem to be intellectually incompatible, yet both describe the world; the imagination functions actively in both modes, seeking meaning, and wins intellectual consent through strict attention to detail and coherence of thought, whether one is describing a beetle or an enchantress. Religion, which prescribes and proscribes, is irreconcilable with both of them, and since it demands belief, must shun their common ground, imagination. So the true believer must condemn both Darwin and Rushdie as "disobedient, irreverent, iconoclastic" dissidents from revealed truth.


monado said...

Very neat! Thanks for pointing this out.

Francis Ocoma said...

Sir Pat, I wonder what religion Ms. Le Guin was talking about. What utterly blind belief system would dare claim that they have absolute rule over all kinds of thought, that they can determine the objectively true value of everything whatsoever? What religion is this that condemns the world as nothing but an insignificant machine, running forever and ever under the supervision of some cold god? What insipid, cruel religion is this that would not even allow the slightest Mystery nor tiniest Awe?

Come to think of it, I know what religion this is. It is the religion whose god is a goddess with the name of Mother Nature, whose philosophy is Absolute Empiricism, whose theology is Progess, and whose goal is to produce cold-hearted Nietzschean Supermen.

But apparently, that's not what Ms. Le Guin was thinking of. She was thinking of the bad, bad Christian Church. Heh. As a believer I don't feel very limited as to what I am allowed to imagine, and I've always thought of the world as a wonderfully intricate, mysterious and complex Gift, with many secrets left for us to find out or at least guess at (via our imagination).

Imagination is only useful for Science and for Literature (and Religion) if it is based on something concrete. The concrete thing may be a deduced truth, or an observed truth, or even (gasp) a revealed truth. You simply cannot write a story, for example, unless you have a definition of what a story is and is not (e.g. it is NOT a random non-symbolic jumble of letters). Your definition may be wrong, it may even be ridiculous, but you can't write a story without it.

It's funny how someone could claim that Dogma is necessarily anti-imagination, given the blindingly obvious wealth of contrary evidence (e.g. art, literature, music, etc.). How about the ironic fact that "iconoclast" is a term used for those against certain products of religious *imagination*? Positively hilarious!

missingpoints said...

Empiricism isn't a religion. And understanding the mysteries of the universe leads to even greater awe. Awe that one can verify through independent experimentation. The cool thing about science is that it's results are true for everyone and does not rely on articles of faith. Science has no goal (except maybe to keep asking questions) and to ascribe one is to be dishonest.

Revealed truths, ha! What is the difference between that and something a prophet imagined?

Anyhoo, I'm guessing she is referring to most evangelical christian churches: the ones who insist on a 6,000 year old earth and purposely keep their children ignorant so as not to tarnish their faith.

Or perhaps Islam, which used to be a leader in arts and sciences until some idiot decided they remain forever in the 7th century.

You're Catholic and (unlike most catholics) understand the intellectual tradition that it comes with (from Aquinas to Teilhard) so you're not as rigid as US fundamentalists. A church that apologized to Galileo (albeit centuries late) is way better than a those who insist they're correct despite contrary evidence.

Francis Ocoma said...

Yes, Empiricism per se is not a religion, just as mere atheism isn't a religion. Empiricism is a tool, a very useful one, and the central tool for modern science. I was merely pointing out that there does exist a certain belief system wherein the observable is the only reality, where everything that does not look like a cog in the Machine has to be discarded as useless and illusory, where the Mind must rid itself of all unnecessary emotions and immerse itself in cold, hard logic. This point of view (which only the craziest of atheists hold) is the Enemy of everything, not just of Imagination, but also of Compassion, Mercy, Love, Hope...because in this point of view all of those concepts are not real in any important sense.

Science lends itself to human imagination only because we treat scientific empiricism as a tool alongside imagination. Once empiricism becomes the center, once it becomes the Ideal, then imagination cannot last. If what is observable is all there is, then why do we need to strive to explore and imagine new things? Because of an innate need to explore? "Bah!", says the Absolute Empiricist, "There no such thing as an innate need. Imagination is not real, and thus cannot produce real things. Leave me to my rocks and twigs!"

Science is good, but Science is not good in itself. It cannot even survive by itself. It is not everything.

P.S. I suppose "revealed truth" is something we just can't talk about right now due to an important difference in our first principles, but supposing (you may use your wildest imagination if you have to) a god did come down to Earth a few thousand years ago, then revealed truth would be something more than a prophet's dreams: it would be a god's own spoken teachings.

missingpoints said...

Well, science is a process, it is neither good nor evil. And right now it is still the best way to interpret the world.