Monthly Archives: May 2013

On Keats, the Subconscious, and Being a God

On Keats

For the first time since my school days, I recently set about reading something about the insa and outs of poetry.  It is actually amazing that I remembered as much of it as I did, from so long ago.  Along my meanderings, I ran across the term, “Negative Capability,” a phrase coine by the poet John  Keats about 200 years ago.

[Wikipedia] Negative capability describes the capacity of human beings to transcend and revise their contexts. The term has been used by poets and philosophers to describe the ability of the individual to perceive, think, and operate beyond any presupposition of a predetermined capacity of the human being. It further captures the rejection of the constraints of any context, and the ability to experience phenomenon free from epistemological bounds, as well as to assert one’s own will and individuality upon their activity. The term was first used by the Romantic poet John Keats to critique those who sought to categorize all experience and phenomena and turn them into a theory of knowledge. It has recently been appropriated by philosopher and social theorist Roberto Mangabeira Unger to comment on human nature and to explain how human beings innovate and resist within confining social contexts. The concept has also inspired psychoanalytic practices and twentieth-century art and literary criticism.

Here is what Keats wrote to his brothers, in critiquing fellow poet Samuel Coleridge and a few others:
I had not a dispute but a disquisition with Dilke, upon various subjects; several things dove-tailed in my mind, and at once it struck me what quality went to form a Man of Achievement, especially in Literature, and which Shakespeare possessed so enormously – I mean Negative Capability, that is, when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason – Coleridge, for instance, would let go by a fine isolated verisimilitude caught from the Penetralium of mystery, from being incapable of remaining content with half-knowledge. This pursued through volumes would perhaps take us no further than this, that with a great poet the sense of Beauty overcomes every other consideration, or rather obliterates all consideration.
I most often reach after fact and reason.  But I am also a guy who knows when a situation or piece of information has me beat.  In other words, that I know when I can’t do something with whatever it is that I am focused on.  If it is information I’d like to be able to do something with someday, I have enough experience with such things that I know I have to put it in a corner of my mind and let time, events, and my subconscious mind work out a way to bring it back to me further along its evolution or mine, hopefully when I can do something with it or about it.  In fact, I’ve held onto some thoughts and glimpses for years and years – not knowing what, if anything, I will ever be able to do with them.  Some have come back to me, and some haven’t.

Who knows? It might even be that I will live long enough to have them ALL come back to me. Continue reading

What We Don’t Know, Hopefully Not Because We Were Afraid To Ask

“It’s doing about as well as consensus science ever does, meaning it’s right until it’s wrong, and in neither case does it affect the truth on the ground.”

Willis Eschenbach, WUWT

Well, Willis, science is not the search for the truth about nature; it is the attempt to interpret nature.  Science, then, is a collection of interpretations, not the reality itself, even though it is almost always portrayed as reality itself. 

If you look back in the textbooks 125 years (I have to some extent), you will find that the certainty/consensus then was every bit as high as it is now.  That was, after all, the period when a US Congressman wanted to eliminate the US Patent Office because everything that needed inventing had already been invented.  Brain dead?  Certainly.  We now know that a VERY sizable portion of what the interpretations 125 years ago were wrong. 

The certainty about us knowing all the Big Stuff – thinking that pervades science today – is a claim made by scientists that is as wrong now as it was 125 years ago, and as wrong as religious ideas – founded on a belief in magic – have been all along.

The framework of Gradualism/Uniformitarianism is pervasive in science today.  Yet 30 years ago paleontologist Stephen J Gould had to address the fact that the vast majority of evolution occurred during momentary surges such as the Cambrian Explosion.  The evidence simply did not support slow, gradual, consistent evolving from one species into another.  In between the explosions of species almost nothing happened.  Though adaptations can be seen happening even today, evolving from one species to another has not been seen, either in our time or in the fossil record.  The evidence “on the ground” simply has conflicted with Darwinian evolution, even before Darwin had personally evolved into ashes and dust.  The Gradualism had to be “adjusted” – to allow for “catastrophes” – and Gould called the adjustment “Punctuated Equilibrium” (PE).  It meant that Gradualism is the normal static state, but when change comes it comes with a bang – i.e., a catastrophic event. Continue reading