Saturday, December 29, 2012

O Science! I cannot hold thee close enough...

I found the below in a review of Oliver Sacks' 'Hallucinations' in the Times this morning:

The idea of a “romantic science” can be traced to Goethe. The German philosopher, poet and scientist opposed a mechanistic, analytical science of static categories for a fluid and organic one. A. R. Luria, the 20th-century Soviet neurologist, who was a mentor to and friend of Sacks, evoked the tension between “romantic” and “classical” science in his intellectual autobiography, “The Making of Mind.” “Romantic scholars,” he wrote, “do not follow the path of reductionism.” Instead they strive “to preserve the wealth of living reality.” Classical scholars work piecemeal toward the formulation of abstract laws, and in the process they sometimes “murder to dissect.” Romantics may err in the other direction when their “artistic preferences and intuition” take over. Luria sought a middle ground — a science that preserves the part without losing the synthetic whole. This is not an easy balance to achieve, but for Sacks, unlike many clinicians in his field, it remains an ideal.

Seems to me there's something important going on in this.  One looks in vain, I think, for morality in nature, which simply is.  Then there's looking at nature, which science is about.  The word 'holistic' is used romantically as if it's remotely possible to imagine that science/medicine should be excluded when embracing the totality of existence, as if one can't study trees without destroying the forest.   And the romantic era's embrace of science, superbly documented in Richard Holmes' 'The Age of Wonder', is oft forgot in an uncritical celebration of Enlightenment 'virtues' at the expense of romanticism.  Emotion and rationality are oft contrasted as if they're not only unambiguously separable, but inevitably inimical to each other.  I think that's a mistake.

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