• In total there are 0 users online :: 0 registered, 0 hidden and 0 guests (based on users active over the past 60 minutes)
    Most users ever online was 871 on Fri Apr 19, 2024 12:00 am

I: Tools of the Trades: Writing Science (Neil deGrasse Tyson)

#176: May - July 2021 (Non-Fiction)
User avatar
geo

2C - MOD & GOLD
pets endangered by possible book avalanche
Posts: 4780
Joined: Sun Aug 03, 2008 4:24 am
15
Location: NC
Has thanked: 2198 times
Been thanked: 2201 times
United States of America

Re: I: Tools of the Trades: Writing Science (Neil deGrasse Tyson)

Unread post

DWill wrote:The Keats thing is a bit of a straw man anyway. What's so decisive about some stray remark this young poet made?

I haven't looked ahead in the book, but as Dawkins is a controversalist, I suspect we'll be commenting on controversial topics as we go through. An anthology of the best science writing would have a very different purpose, but that's not what RD wanted to do.
Dawkins did edit a book of science writing (The Oxford Book of Modern Science Writing) in 2009. I haven't read it yet.
-Geo
Question everything
User avatar
geo

2C - MOD & GOLD
pets endangered by possible book avalanche
Posts: 4780
Joined: Sun Aug 03, 2008 4:24 am
15
Location: NC
Has thanked: 2198 times
Been thanked: 2201 times
United States of America

Re: I: Tools of the Trades: Writing Science (Neil deGrasse Tyson)

Unread post

Mr. P wrote:
Keats thought that Newton was destroying the poetry of the rainbow by explaining the spectrum. And the message of my book is that you don’t: that by destroying the mystery you increase the poetry, you don’t decrease it.
How could anyone feel that knowing how a rainbow manifests takes anything away from the beauty? I just cannot make myself comprehend that. It absolutely adds to it, unless you prefer answers that are not answers. That makes it better? More poetic? More... Real?
Keats and other romantic poets showed reverence for the natural world, among other things, and saw science and technology as one of the things that estrange us from the natural world. Keats' narrative poem is undoubtedly much more than a diatribe against science. I apologize for my poor paraphrasing of it.

Also I'm sure Dawkins alludes to Keats' poem as a way to frame his own reverence for science. "Unweaving The Rainbow" makes a catchy title. I find myself wanting to read this book.

Apoparently "unweaving the rainbow" comes from Edgar Allan Poe's own poem, which pays homage to Keats' poem.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lamia_(poem)
-Geo
Question everything
User avatar
geo

2C - MOD & GOLD
pets endangered by possible book avalanche
Posts: 4780
Joined: Sun Aug 03, 2008 4:24 am
15
Location: NC
Has thanked: 2198 times
Been thanked: 2201 times
United States of America

Re: I: Tools of the Trades: Writing Science (Neil deGrasse Tyson)

Unread post

I see that Section I of this book includes the following subchapters:

- In conversation with Neil deGrasse Tyson
- The uncommon sense of science
- Are we all related?
- The timeless and the topical
- Fighting on two fronts
- Pornophilosophy
- Determinism and dialectics
- Tutorial-driven teaching
- Life after light
- A scientific education and the Deep Problems
- Rationalist, iconoclast, Renaissance man
- Revisiting the Selfish Gene

Sections II - VI also contain subchapters.

Do we want to add additional discussion threads for each of these subchapters or keep it like it is? Due to the diverse subject matter contained in this chapters, I think it would be more conducive to discussion to create additional threads. What do you guys think?
-Geo
Question everything
User avatar
Harry Marks
Bookasaurus
Posts: 1922
Joined: Sun May 01, 2011 10:42 am
13
Location: Denver, CO
Has thanked: 2341 times
Been thanked: 1022 times
Ukraine

Re: I: Tools of the Trades: Writing Science (Neil deGrasse Tyson)

Unread post

geo wrote:Keats and other romantic poets showed reverence for the natural world, among other things, and saw science and technology as one of the things that estrange us from the natural world.
I have started a fascinating book by Iain McGilchrist, Oxford psychologist, called "The Master and His Emissary" about the way the "Two Cultures" argument made 60 years ago by C.P. Snow plays out in differences between left and right brain modes of processing. Snow observed that the two cultures, science and the arts/humanities, not only don't talk to each other but in many ways can't. To McGilchrist, it isn't mutual incomprehensibility, it's the very different nature of the endeavors and how the difference leads to such different questions that they can't make sense of each other's perceptions.

Snow thought it was about specialization, and that is certainly part of it, but McGilchrist observes that specialization is a mainly left-brain process, and the problem is not that the humanities have gone down a different road so much as that they are specialists and therefore left-brainers. We discount the values that the humanities embody. We're all seeking tenure, now, and no one is looking after the culture.

The rainbow is at the heart of this problem. The right brain handles just seeing things, and knowing them as themselves. Once unwoven, that set of ways of perception gets demoted to minor amusement.
User avatar
DWill

1H - GOLD CONTRIBUTOR
BookTalk.org Hall of Fame
Posts: 6966
Joined: Thu Jan 31, 2008 8:05 am
16
Location: Luray, Virginia
Has thanked: 2262 times
Been thanked: 2470 times

Re: I: Tools of the Trades: Writing Science (Neil deGrasse Tyson)

Unread post

geo wrote: Keats and other romantic poets showed reverence for the natural world, among other things, and saw science and technology as one of the things that estrange us from the natural world. Keats' narrative poem is undoubtedly much more than a diatribe against science. I apologize for my poor paraphrasing of it.

Also I'm sure Dawkins alludes to Keats' poem as a way to frame his own reverence for science. "Unweaving The Rainbow" makes a catchy title. I find myself wanting to read this book.

Apoparently "unweaving the rainbow" comes from Edgar Allan Poe's own poem, which pays homage to Keats' poem.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lamia_(poem)
I think there's reason to be cautious about Romantic antagonism toward science. Keats really didn't delve much into social topics, and unlike Wordsworth and Coleridge, never set foot in a university. Wordsworth and Coleridge were the prominent intellects behind the movement. Both were quite interested in the science and scientists of that day, including Darwin--Erasmus Darwin, that is. Anyone who had the "Preface to the Lyrical Ballads" assigned might recall that Wordsworth finds commonalities between poets and men of science, and looks forward to the day when the average man will have command of what scientists are revealing. It seems the fact, though, that some of the science was highly speculative without experimental support. Erasmus Darwin's "The Botanic Garden: The Loves of the Plants," has a lot of what reads like flights of fancy, actually likely to inspire imagination. He also brought out a theory of evolution.

One of Wordsworth's most familiar poems begins, "The World is too Much with Us, Late and Soon." To me, it reads as a denunciation of industrialism and consumerism but not of science in particular.

Looking at the later Romantic movement in America, both Emerson and Thoreau had no animus toward science that I know of. They did insist that science should make us only more aware of the divinity in nature.
User avatar
Robert Tulip

2B - MOD & SILVER
BookTalk.org Hall of Fame
Posts: 6502
Joined: Tue Oct 04, 2005 9:16 pm
18
Location: Canberra
Has thanked: 2730 times
Been thanked: 2666 times
Contact:
Australia

Re: I: Tools of the Trades: Writing Science (Neil deGrasse Tyson)

Unread post

Mr. P wrote:
Keats thought that Newton was destroying the poetry of the rainbow by explaining the spectrum. And the message of my book is that you don’t: that by destroying the mystery you increase the poetry, you don’t decrease it.
How could anyone feel that knowing how a rainbow manifests takes anything away from the beauty?
The problem here touches on the nature of meaning. The scientific philosophy of logical positivism, which is basically where Dawkins and atheism come from, sees meaning in terms of objective information, facts, rather than in subjective opinions. Put in those terms it is obviously too extreme, but the idea is that with the example of a rainbow, the scientific meaning is determined by objective factual statements about what a rainbow is. Symbolic ideas like the rainbow as the divine covenant given by God to Noah to say there would never be another catastrophic world flood, or the rainbow as the symbol of gay pride, are constructed subjectively in culture. They treat the rainbow as a whole observation, for which its physical nature is basically irrelevant.

For these cultural perspectives, it is not that the science takes away from the beauty, as it obviously adds to it, but rather that the cultural meaning feels under pressure from the scientific attitude, as a question of social politics. People who live in a world of symbols often feel the academy regards them with disdain, and that scientific atheism lacks a social value system able to connect people in the way that conventional mythology can.
Mr. P wrote: I just cannot make myself comprehend that. It absolutely adds to it, unless you prefer answers that are not answers. That makes it better? More poetic? More... Real?
If we consider the example of the rainbow as divine covenant to Noah, it is obvious that the Biblical flood is pure mythology, although it is possibly grounded in wide cultural memory of the 300 foot sea level rise since the last glacial maximum 20,000 years ago. And yet, it retains a strong cultural hold because of the story it tells of the risk of moral depravity as leading to destruction.
Mr. P wrote: I have experienced wonder at what I have not known or understood, marveled at the mystery...but I have always then done my research. I have to know why and how. And after that learning, after gaining true understanding, or better understanding at the least, of the thing...I have mostly found myself truly AMAZED and more baffled and awed by the occurrence.
I am entirely the same. A sense of reverence and awe at the complex order of the cosmos and the elegance of nature should be at the foundation of spiritual wisdom, generating profound understanding of the fragile sensitivity of our life on this planet.
User avatar
Harry Marks
Bookasaurus
Posts: 1922
Joined: Sun May 01, 2011 10:42 am
13
Location: Denver, CO
Has thanked: 2341 times
Been thanked: 1022 times
Ukraine

Re: I: Tools of the Trades: Writing Science (Neil deGrasse Tyson)

Unread post

geo wrote:Keats and other romantic poets showed reverence for the natural world, among other things, and saw science and technology as one of the things that estrange us from the natural world. Keats' narrative poem is undoubtedly much more than a diatribe against science. I apologize for my poor paraphrasing of it.
I had to cut short my last post due to the pressures of real life, and probably will this one also. Worth it.

Rather than thinking in terms of diatribes "against science" I would favor taking the poetic reaction against "the learned astronomer" as a piece of raw data, in the spirit of "your emotions are valid." Science alienates the average person from experience, and it is unwise to leave the reintegration of common sense with scientific revolution up to the average person (i.e. the average voter). It is also unwise to treat the two views as completely incompatible.

I love reading about science. Tyson and company are "my tribe." I read every Asimov non-fiction book on physics and chemistry and biology that our public library had available, and loved them. Yet I perceived a problem for religion, which was also a big part of my life. My mother, a smart lady who cared about intellectual honesty, worked out her own version of a synthesis on evolution, which was that God is still the creator, but acted through evolution. I would not go for such a formulation today, but my point is that it worked. It allowed her to go on exploring the truths-for-life that she understood through the religious framework, without feeling that she had to choose between that and evidence.

When a scientist hears such a discussion or theory, the reaction tends to be to shake their head at the inadequacy of a "theory." Somehow they have trouble (Asperger's of a cultural variety?) taking on board that the formulation is a matter of letting the different parts of our lives rub along together in a productive and positive way. No, they feel they must insist on absolute fidelity to evidence. Well, that's a problem.

McGilchrist takes the view that left-brain instrumental processes (the left-brain runs the show when it comes to instrumental thinking) have been given control in modern culture. The way decisions are made and ideas processed, by specialists concerned as much for their social standing among other specialists as for the public good, essentially, has put specialization and instrumental thinking in charge. Without meaning to, we have left war to the generals (or worse, the arms merchants) and economics to the economists (or worse, to the dark money billionaires buying massive quantities of ads and university departments).

In the age of Donald Trump, do I really need to point out how anti-democratic that is?

I have no solution, but I am very interested in the question. I suspect that, rather than forcing the issue and continuing to empower specialists, we are going to have to build cultural institutions whose job it is to bridge the gap. Science writing is one example, but it is presently controlled by commercial values, so that the audience of a successful book and the holy grail of science writers is to please those who, like me, love science for its own sake. Worse, they sell more if they attack institutions not yet on board with scientific consensus. This will not do.
geo wrote:Apparently "unweaving the rainbow" comes from Edgar Allan Poe's own poem, which pays homage to Keats' poem.
Do not all charms fly
At the mere touch of cold philosophy?
There 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.
Essentially, I am arguing that we need "warm philosophy." Not just religious thinkers who understand science, and writers who understand economics, but also leaders (like Biden) who go to the trouble to reach out to both experts and ordinary folk, and science writers who take on board the problems that religion addresses.
User avatar
LanDroid

2A - MOD & BRONZE
Comandante Literario Supreme
Posts: 2802
Joined: Sat Jul 27, 2002 9:51 am
21
Location: Cincinnati, OH
Has thanked: 197 times
Been thanked: 1166 times
United States of America

Re: I: Tools of the Trades: Writing Science (Neil deGrasse Tyson)

Unread post

RD: A former professor of astronomy at Oxford told me a story of an American astrophysicist who writes learned articles in astronomical journals, mathematical papers, and the mathematics is premised on the belief that the universe is between 13 and 14 billion years old. And this man writes his papers and he does his mathematics and everything – and yet he privately believes the world is only six thousand years old. Well, you may be tolerant of that because you may say, ‘Well, as long as he gets his sums right, as long as his paper is well-researched …’
NDT: A well-researched paper, yes.
RD: I would say that man should be fired. He should not be a professor of astrophysics in an American university. And we might differ about that, because you might say his private beliefs are private, they’re nothing to do with me, if he does his astronomy right then that’s OK.
NDT: Yes, I agree with you that that’s how I would react. What he does at home, on Sunday, that’s his own thing – if it doesn’t enter the science classroom then I don’t care how he thinks.
I believe Dr. Danny Faulkner is the astrophysicist they are discussing. He works at Answers in Genesis, which owns and operates both the Creation Museum and the (Noah's) Ark Encounter in Northern Kentucky.
Dr. Danny Faulkner holds an MS in Physics from Clemson University and an MA and PhD in Astronomy from Indiana University, and he taught at the University of South Carolina Lancaster for over 26 years. He serves as editor of the Creation Research Society Quarterly and has published over 100 papers in various journals. He now works as a researcher, author, and speaker for Answers in Genesis.
https://answersingenesis.org/bios/danny-faulkner/
I'm interested in how the mind can be compartmentalized in such an extreme way that he is fully aware of all the evidence that the universe is 13 - 14 billion years old, yet also teaches the universe was created in 1 week about 6 thousand years ago. (Ken Ham would not allow Faulkner to be on staff at Answers in Genesis if he espoused any other opinion.) Perhaps he learned the science, but thinks it's all BS compared to the Bible. Or perhaps he's some sort of a unicorn, groomed to earn all those degrees merely to stamp an imprimatur on Young Earth Creationism. Faulkner being the son of a preacher and starting out at Bob Jones University leads me to think it's more the latter, perhaps both.

Faulkner is not the only unicorn. If you peruse the research staff at The Institute for Creation Science, you will find more of them.
_______________________________________________________
When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide My eyes from you; even though you multiply your prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are covered with blood.
Isaiah 1:15

But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.
Exodus 21: 23 - 25
User avatar
Harry Marks
Bookasaurus
Posts: 1922
Joined: Sun May 01, 2011 10:42 am
13
Location: Denver, CO
Has thanked: 2341 times
Been thanked: 1022 times
Ukraine

Re: I: Tools of the Trades: Writing Science (Neil deGrasse Tyson)

Unread post

Mr. P wrote:
Keats thought that Newton was destroying the poetry of the rainbow by explaining the spectrum. And the message of my book is that you don’t: that by destroying the mystery you increase the poetry, you don’t decrease it.
How could anyone feel that knowing how a rainbow manifests takes anything away from the beauty? I just cannot make myself comprehend that. It absolutely adds to it, unless you prefer answers that are not answers. That makes it better? More poetic? More... Real?
I feel fairly sure that there were people in Keats' time, and probably long before, who knew there was regularity to the rainbow. They would have known that only on days with both rain and sunshine would a rainbow appear, and that one could be seen in the spray from a waterfall, if the light was correct. So it isn't really fair to claim that Newton had spoiled it all.

But the mode of discussion about the rainbow matters. If it is a special thing, like spotting a moose or a badger, the mind will take it in as itself. If it is something we can generate at will, with a prism, then the mind will regard it as a phenomenon to be used, to be generated for specific purposes and with specific procedures. It begins to be less like a comet (or I suppose now one must say a black hole) and more like the flint and steel one uses to build a fire. The range of socially approved reactions to a rainbow narrows, and we begin to regard it as something about which one must be informed and avoid saying stupid things, rather than something to which our reactions can be poetic.
Mr. P wrote:I have experienced wonder at what I have not known or understood, marveled at the mystery...but I have always then done my research. I have to know why and how. And after that learning, after gaining true understanding, or better understanding at the least, of the thing...I have mostly found myself truly AMAZED and more baffled and awed by the occurrence.
I hope the average informed person begins to have the same attitude about sociological and anthropological phenomena. Can we have the same curiosity about why a gifted, insightful person like Keats or Poe or Whitman would be nauseated by having the scientist stand triumphant over the corpse of a star or a rainbow? Or why populist voters long for authority figures? It's lovely to have some smart person lay it out in incontrovertible evidence, but of course it is not going to happen that way because it is humans and their society we are talking about.

In all the fuss about cicadas, I heard a naturalist interviewed on NPR and say, "The purpose of all life is to reproduce." Now, on one "selfish gene" level I understood what was really being said, that the genes which live on and persist to the present day are the ones that have been part of a consistently reproducing process. But the arrogance of the way it was said was truly breathtaking. That humans, by inference, have a purpose, which is to reproduce. Excuse me?

Science writing, if it is to avoid being nauseating, is going to have to go to some trouble to avoid being reductionist about the things that matter to people. Like their perception of purpose.
User avatar
geo

2C - MOD & GOLD
pets endangered by possible book avalanche
Posts: 4780
Joined: Sun Aug 03, 2008 4:24 am
15
Location: NC
Has thanked: 2198 times
Been thanked: 2201 times
United States of America

Re: I: Tools of the Trades: Writing Science (Neil deGrasse Tyson)

Unread post

Harry Marks wrote:In all the fuss about cicadas, I heard a naturalist interviewed on NPR and say, "The purpose of all life is to reproduce." Now, on one "selfish gene" level I understood what was really being said, that the genes which live on and persist to the present day are the ones that have been part of a consistently reproducing process. But the arrogance of the way it was said was truly breathtaking. That humans, by inference, have a purpose, which is to reproduce. Excuse me?

Science writing, if it is to avoid being nauseating, is going to have to go to some trouble to avoid being reductionist about the things that matter to people. Like their perception of purpose.
It's very true from an evolutionary standpoint that humans exist to survive and procreate. It's also true that our lives have meaning and purpose. I think it's widely presumed that people know the difference between the two. Do we have to be told by scientists that we feel love for our spouses and children? The naturalist in the NPR program was speaking to his area of expertise. Science and poetry have different purposes, science to learn about the natural world, poetry to explore meaning.

I'm really very surprised that we are still talking about the idea that science ruins the poetry of a rainbow. Can anyone really say with a straight face that a sunset just isn't beautiful because they now understand that it's the result of light being scattered by particles in the atmosphere?
Harry Marks wrote:Can we have the same curiosity about why a gifted, insightful person like Keats or Poe or Whitman would be nauseated by having the scientist stand triumphant over the corpse of a star or a rainbow?
Now who's being reductive? These poems are vastly more nuanced and meaningful than how you paint them. Take a page from Whitman, if learning about science becomes too irksome—and I have to say the "learn'd astronomer" in this poem was probably not much like Carl Sagan—take a step outside and gaze up at the stars. The point Whitman makes is poignant, definitely not "down with science."

Here's Whitman again.
Stop this day and night with me and you shall possess the

origin of all poems,

You shall possess the good of the earth and sun, (there are
millions of suns left,)

You shall no longer take things at second or third hand, nor

look through the eyes of the dead, nor feed on the

spectres in books,

You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things

from me,

You shall listen to all sides and filter them from your self.
And Whitman again:
I like the scientific spirit—the holding off, the being sure but not too sure, the willingness to surrender ideas when the evidence is against them: this is ultimately fine—it always keeps the way beyond open.
-Geo
Question everything
Post Reply

Return to “Books do Furnish a Life - by Richard Dawkins”