We 20th century Naughts share a common error when we think. We tend, against our better judgment and against our natures, to look at the universe and all that is in it – material or immaterial – scientifically, as though life were one big laboratory.
However, the cosmos is not a great scientific experiment nor can we live wise, successful, or prudent lives on that basis. Life is an art, not an experiment, and the differences are far-reaching.
So are the similarities. For example, both involve uncertainty and what we might loosely call experiments. The artist does not approach her work with complete certainty about where the next brush stroke belongs, how the next line should scan, or when the orchestra should reach the crescendo. She experiments.
The difference between art and science is not whether the artist and the scientist experiment, but how they judge the success of the experiment, which implies further that each has a different purpose for their experiments.
The artist judges by fitness – by whether the stroke, line, or note harmonize with the elements and idea of the specific work of art. The artist is formal.
The scientist judges by fitness as well, but his fitness carries a much narrower, a more precise (perhaps) purpose. Does the information gathered fit the hypothesis? The scientist is, at least in an ideal way, factual.
It’s ironic when you think about how little practical information can be gained through the so-called scientific method. No doubt, if we think about the discoveries made by scientists over the last 800 years, we are astonished. And some of those discoveries are so immensely powerful that they seem to be quite practical.
Nor do I want to diminish the use that has been made of many of these discoveries. But the scientific discoveries are only practical, that is to say, they only benefit people, when they are applied in an ethical context. When scientists function within a power context (in other words, when scientistific research is driven by political ends and the drives of businesses whose highest function is to make money), the results are quite mixed.
They are only beneficial to the people who benefit from them. And people only benefit from them when they are brought into an artistic framework.
I have to leave this point somewhat unfinished and no doubt provocative (please don’t make me say anything I didn’t say when you attack me – I am in no way opposed to science; I love it and I yearn to see it restored to its rightful place) because it isn’t what I meant to write about.
What I meant to write about is how I and virtually everybody I know is trained from early childhood to think in the scientific mode while the artistic mode atrophies.
We are trained to assume that things should be assessed quantitatively instead of formally.
We tend to believe what is scientifically compelling, and dismiss those elements of being that stand outside the reachof the sciences as either unimportant or as merely personal.
To read the news web sites, one would think that we don’t know of any other ways to find truth than through the sciences. Newspapers constantly call on experts, who generally are readers of statistics, often from a particular brand called “social sciences.”
Let me list a few examples of this bias that come easily to one’s mind:
We build our subdivisions (not neighborhoods) on the technical ideas of the civil engineers, not the formal ideas of the artists. Even our architecture tends toward a technical, rather than a formal approach.
Our economy is regulated by people who seem unable to even imagine valid information that stands outside their technical analysis. They do not think about the nature of an economy (which literally means “household customs”), of the household in it, of the soul in the household, etc.
Political science, so-called, is utterly informal. People learn how to scientifically measure and thus to manipulate the masses. The person in that mass does not merit the politician’s personal attention. The symbol embodied in a person, yes, but not the person.
Our inner cities are the results of technical analysis applied to a reality that is fundamentally artistic.
So are our suburbs, our schools, our malls, and even our entertainment, though at least movies and music are unable to completely eliminate the artistic element that makes up their essence.
Even religious life is approached scientifically in America. Consider church growth and even the Emerging church. Progressive, cutting edge, and failing utterly to grasp the nature of the Bride of Christ.
We don’t trust the person who cannot back his case up with the sheen of scientific research, regardless of whether the issue relies on scientific research. We might not even know how an issue could possibly NOT rely on said research.
The sciences are powerful and admirable. They are marvelous servants; it is their nature to serve. But they do not and they cannot tell us what is right and wrong, how things ought to be, what the nature and essence of a thing is, whether and how we should use the power they give us, or the forms of beauty.
They cannot tell us (though they can provide information – they can advise us) how to raise children, how to nourish our souls, how to love our spouses, how to develop our virtues, how to arrange our flowers, which books to read, how to manage our time, how to build our communities, the foundations of sound government, how to play an instrument, whether a song is beautiful, what love is, what truth is, what knowledge is, what goodness is, what justice is, what freedom is, or, for that matter, what anything IS.
Happily humans are not finally scientific by nature. We include a scientific impulse in our nature, but we are artists, formalists, creators by nature. Even the great scientists approached science like an art, and that is because underlying and mastering the scientific method is a deeper commitment to the arts of truth and knowledge. When that commitment is lost, the sciences become tyrannical and tyrants use the sciences for their ends.
This post is an appeal to get back to nature. To stop surrendering our common sense to the latest research. To stop believing that the misapplication of the methods of the natural sciences can save us. Only love can save us. Only beauty can save us. Only truth can save us. Only the Good can save us.
And, while each of these rejoices in the work of the natural sciences, none would ever bow their knee to them. Love never abdicates.