Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Unweave a Rainbow, Poe and Science

Keats has a rather famous line in Lamia about cold science. Note that philosophy here refers to natural philosophy which was what science was called prior to about 1900 and awful is in the sense of fills with awe and more modernly would be awesome.

...                             Do not all charms fly
At the mere touch of cold philosophy?
here was an awful rainbow once in heaven:
We know her woof, her texture; she is given
In the dull catalogue of common things.
Philosophy will clip an Angel's wings, 
Conquer all mysteries by rule and line,
Empty the haunted air, and gnomed mine—
Unweave a rainbow, as it erewhile made
The tender-person'd Lamia melt into a shade.

 Poe wrote a sonnet along these lines, To Science:
Science! true daughter of Old Time thou art!
    Who alterest all things with thy peering eyes.
Why preyest thou thus upon the poet's heart,
    Vulture, whose wings are dull realities?
How should he love thee? or how deem thee wise,
     Who wouldst not leave him in his wandering
To seek for treasure in the jewelled skies,
    Albeit he soared with an undaunted wing?
Hast thou not dragged Diana from her car?
    And driven the Hamadryad from the wood
To seek a shelter in some happier star?
    Hast thou not torn the Naiad from her flood,
The Elfin from the green grass, and from me
The summer dream beneath the tamarind tree?

And there are modern day iterations of this  line of thought, notably the Insane Clown Posse's song Miracles:

I see miracles all around me
Stop and look around, it’s all astounding
Water, fire, air and dirt
Fucking magnets, how do they work?
And I don’t wanna talk to a scientist
Y’all motherfuckers lying, and getting me pissed

And these lines of thought are simply backwards. It's one thing to be stunned by the awesomeness of nature, but it isn't surface deep. If you understand how awesome it is, there's another layer of awesome underneath and seems to be awesome all the way down. It's isn't Vultures who wings are dull realities, but rather the Wright brothers looking at the wings of turkey vultures and noticing how they curl and use the idea to make the first really functional airplane. "How should he love thee? or how deem thee wise." how can't you? It's a great solution to a hard problem and nature had a 4 billion year head start. That somehow rainbows become less magical when you understand them. There's beauty in the understanding and that's added to the beauty of the thing.

I daresay some of this is just an understanding from religion. That religion is widely held to be a mysterious and wonderful thing. but everybody knows it's hollow and if you actually look at it you'll find that the emperor's new clothes aren't as fine and elegant as you've heard. That if you think of mystery by analogy to fake mystery and beauty with analogy to fake beauty, then it seems like all charms fly at the touch of cold philosophy, but in reality only fake charms fly when put to some basic questions. Real beauty however is magnified, the beauty of a butterfly's wing gives us great wisdom as to how to make non-volatile displays for next generation devices, and something as common as a spider building a web is a source of awe.

Looking at the world, finds beauty in abundance but God in nothing. And when you cast your wonderment in terms of the supernatural that things are either magic or they shit, then you've so grossly misapprehended reality to suppose that understanding that clam shells are really super strong cold ceramic technology with cross spaced fragments to prevent cracking and built by a decentralized process that looks like half recipe and half dance with proteins in lock step with unknown partners.



A veggie Poe Boy sandwhich, cool.

Unknown said...

All the science does not detract from the beauty of a rainbow, nor does it detract from the belief systems of people.

Tatarize said...

Most of the belief systems of people are hapless oddities. They aren't actually that beautiful. I understand that culturally having people do things might be somewhat entertaining, but the beauty of religion is then just reduced to being about the same as the beauty of a LAN Gaming meeting, or lecture.

Unknown said...

I must presume you are including your belief system as well ?
Computers and computer games are a product of the mind. Religions, of which Atheism is a member and said to be "the fastest growing religion", is also a product of the mind.
Like going back in time, the only way this would be possible is if we live in a virtual reality world, that is a computer game, which if you agree would indicate a hapless oddity.

Tatarize said...

My belief system is generally materialism, not atheism. There's a clear difference between intellectual property and false beliefs. The universe is full of beauty, very little of that is people who believe silly things.

Unknown said...

Oops I was referring to your profile where you say "a liberal atheist".
Although I must admit looking at your blog etc you do appear to be someone who says let's get on with life.
Let the others believe and enjoy what they want, it is their lives not mine or yours. If their beliefs make them happy then that is their way and I can only smile at their happiness.
To you and I it may be silly but to them it is not. Am I now elevating myself above them by mocking their beliefs while in their eyes mine may be just as ludicrous.
This philosophy "It is, No it is not" has been going on for centuries; Surely we could spend our time in better more fruitful pursuits.
I consider a spider as beautiful while others I know run away screaming in fear and disgust. Yet I see some spiders as dangerous but necessary.