Discussion on the science-literature relationship and more

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  • #1
Hak
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I have long been gripped by an argument that I believe is profound, rooted in the science-literature dichotomy. It tends to favor one particular branch of knowledge, advocating an aut-aut (either pure science, or applied science) that devalues and demonizes the other. Unfortunately, in my opinion, this is not the case. Although distant, humanae litterae and the theoretical-experimental sciences possess many points of contact. To cite the most striking example, Dante's Divine Comedy (Commedia) is a condensation of scientific knowledge of the highest order, ennobled by some of the greatest verses ever transposed onto the page. I have had the pleasure, prompted by heated curiosity, of reading all the hundred Cantos comprising this sum work, analyzing them in minute detail. Within it, one can detect an innumerable amount of references to all scientific disciplines: 1) LOGIC; 2) ARITHMETICS and THEORY OF NUMBERS; 3) ALGEBRA and CALCULATION OF PROBABILITIES; 4) GEOMETRY; 5) GEOLOGY; 6) MECHANICS; 7) RELATIVITY; 8) PHYSICS OF CAOS; 9) OPTICS and ACUSTICS; 10) THERMODYNAMICS; 11) ELECTROMAGNETISM; 12) PLANETOLOGY; 13) ASTRONAUTICS; 14) ASTRONOMY (in the sense of stargazing); 15) ASTRONOMIC GEOGRAPHY; 16) ASTROPHYSICS and large-scale study of the universe; 17) GENERAL RELATIVITY; 18) QUANTUM MECHANICS; 19) THEORY OF SUPERSTRINGS and BRANES. Crazy.
I don't know if you are familiar with the article written by Rovelli (an Italian physicist) some time ago, in which he argues that Dante uses a hypersphere as a model for Paradiso, to make it clear how impossible it is for us mere mortals to visualize something so divine.
In classroom reading, of necessity, many scientific aspects are lost, sometimes also due to the poor ability of professors to connect different subjects (a problem that grips both humanities and science professors, with a few rare exceptions. I would not want you to think that I think the problem is unidirectional: many physics and science professors also have serious gaps in philosophy, history, literature et cetera). I find the physics-literature relationship extremely exciting.
In this regard, I cite another great example of a literary-scientist, namely Galileo. Reading Galileo's Italian gives one chills. The clarity with which he shows us (it really seems we can see them!) the mental experiments is disarming, so much so that even Calvin praises Galilei's language.
Another aspect easily connected with science is metaphysics, although, all too often, physicists consider the latter branch of knowledge "fluff." A (very good) physics professor I know persists in demonizing this branch, unconditionally offending any kind of religious-metaphysical attitude because it is contrary to science. Having passed the positivist parenthesis, there have been many who have then tried to unite these two branches of knowledge: Einstein is perhaps one of the first, and his greatness is also to be found in that aspect (you will all have read the article he wrote for the "Scientific American" around the 1950s, in which he calls himself a "domesticated metaphysician"... magnificent!), then Popper, Kuhn, and especially Feyerabend in "Against Method," to date my favorite book on epistemology. More generally, I believe the connections between the humanistic and scientific fields are fundamental. A proposal that I am trying (in my small way, for now) to carry forward and which could favor this meeting would be to change the wording "Physics" in school curricula (at least Italian, I don't know if also English or American) with that of "History of Physics". In this way, professors would be more inclined to dedicate a part of the program to the history of the birth of the theory of interest (even an hour would be enough). This would encourage contact between physics and history and, in general, between science and humanism. Furthermore, it would remove from the minds of students the idea that physics is something immutable, a monument built in a distant past and which can no longer be touched. The wording "History of Physics" would instead make it clear that science is an ocean of ideas, theories and interpretations in continuous movement. What do you think? Let me know. Thanks.
 
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  • #2
Hak said:
I have long been gripped by an argument that I believe is profound, rooted in the science-literature dichotomy. It tends to favor one particular branch of knowledge, advocating an aut-aut (either pure science, or applied science) that devalues and demonizes the other. Unfortunately, in my opinion, this is not the case. Although distant, humanae litterae and the theoretical-experimental sciences possess many points of contact. To cite the most striking example, Dante's Divine Comedy (Commedia) is a condensation of scientific knowledge of the highest order, ennobled by some of the greatest verses ever transposed onto the page. I have had the pleasure, prompted by heated curiosity, of reading all the hundred Cantos comprising this sum work, analyzing them in minute detail. Within it, one can detect an innumerable amount of references to all scientific disciplines: 1) LOGIC; 2) ARITHMETICS and THEORY OF NUMBERS; 3) ALGEBRA and CALCULATION OF PROBABILITIES; 4) GEOMETRY; 5) GEOLOGY; 6) MECHANICS; 7) RELATIVITY; 8) PHYSICS OF CAOS; 9) OPTICS and ACUSTICS; 10) THERMODYNAMICS; 11) ELECTROMAGNETISM; 12) PLANETOLOGY; 13) ASTRONAUTICS; 14) ASTRONOMY (in the sense of stargazing); 15) ASTRONOMIC GEOGRAPHY; 16) ASTROPHYSICS and large-scale study of the universe; 17) GENERAL RELATIVITY; 18) QUANTUM MECHANICS; 19) THEORY OF SUPERSTRINGS and BRANES. Crazy.
I don't know if you are familiar with the article written by Rovelli (an Italian physicist) some time ago, in which he argues that Dante uses a hypersphere as a model for Paradiso, to make it clear how impossible it is for us mere mortals to visualize something so divine.
In classroom reading, of necessity, many scientific aspects are lost, sometimes also due to the poor ability of professors to connect different subjects (a problem that grips both humanities and science professors, with a few rare exceptions. I would not want you to think that I think the problem is unidirectional: many physics and science professors also have serious gaps in philosophy, history, literature et cetera). I find the physics-literature relationship extremely exciting.
In this regard, I cite another great example of a literary-scientist, namely Galileo. Reading Galileo's Italian gives one chills. The clarity with which he shows us (it really seems we can see them!) the mental experiments is disarming, so much so that even Calvin praises Galilei's language.
Another aspect easily connected with science is metaphysics, although, all too often, physicists consider the latter branch of knowledge "fluff." A (very good) physics professor I know persists in demonizing this branch, unconditionally offending any kind of religious-metaphysical attitude because it is contrary to science. Having passed the positivist parenthesis, there have been many who have then tried to unite these two branches of knowledge: Einstein is perhaps one of the first, and his greatness is also to be found in that aspect (you will all have read the article he wrote for the "Scientific American" around the 1950s, in which he calls himself a "domesticated metaphysician"... magnificent!), then Popper, Kuhn, and especially Feyerabend in "Against Method," to date my favorite book on epistemology. More generally, I believe the connections between the humanistic and scientific fields are fundamental. A proposal that I am trying (in my small way, for now) to carry forward and which could favor this meeting would be to change the wording "Physics" in school curricula (at least Italian, I don't know if also English or American) with that of "History of Physics". In this way, professors would be more inclined to dedicate a part of the program to the history of the birth of the theory of interest (even an hour would be enough). This would encourage contact between physics and history and, in general, between science and humanism. Furthermore, it would remove from the minds of students the idea that physics is something immutable, a monument built in a distant past and which can no longer be touched. The wording "History of Physics" would instead make it clear that science is an ocean of ideas, theories and interpretations in continuous movement. What do you think? Let me know. Thanks.
Yes a lot of very bright creative people have contributed to science and continue to do so.
Was that the gist?
 
  • #3
pinball1970 said:
Yes a lot of very bright creative people have contributed to science and continue to do so.
Was that the gist?
The gist was this, but I wanted to know if you agreed with my proposal, and what you thought about the demonization of "metaphysics" by physicists, in light of what I said. I don't want to pass off my opinions as unquestionable, I would just like a comparison with your opinions. Thanks.
 
  • #4
I remember the flipside of what the OP describes in a philosophy class in undergrad. Namely, the obvious lack of any knowledge of physics when the philosophy students tried to use physics to bolster some philosophical argument. I suppose the question for OP would be: What are you going to cut from the physics curriculum to teach some history/philosophy of physics? I am sympathetic to the idea of more highly valuing the humanities, but I'm not sure rehashing the often meandering route taken to get to our modern understanding is productive. Nor do I think philosophical interludes while teaching someone Newtonian mechanics will aid in the initial understanding.
 
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  • #5
Haborix said:
I remember the flipside of what the OP describes in a philosophy class in undergrad. Namely, the obvious lack of any knowledge of physics when the philosophy students tried to use physics to bolster some philosophical argument. I suppose the question for OP would be: What are you going to cut from the physics curriculum to teach some history/philosophy of physics? I am sympathetic to the idea of more highly valuing the humanities, but I'm not sure rehashing the often meandering route taken to get to our modern understanding is productive. Nor do I think philosophical interludes while teaching someone Newtonian mechanics will aid in the initial understanding.
I would not cut anything from the physics curriculum, nor did I mean to insert sterile philosophical interludes into the teaching of physics. I am enrolled in the Physics degree course and my education is scientific, not humanistic. My idea is only to add introductions on the history of physics, given that everyone knows the formulas and their applications to the various branches of physics but only the most experts know how ancient and modern scientific (physical) discoveries were arrived at. Am I wrong in thinking this? Let me know.
 
  • #6
Hak said:
Am I wrong in thinking this?
Yes.

You can't add anything to the curriculum without taking something out.
 
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  • #7
Hak said:
I would not cut anything from the physics curriculum, nor did I mean to insert sterile philosophical interludes into the teaching of physics. I am enrolled in the Physics degree course and my education is scientific, not humanistic. My idea is only to add introductions on the history of physics, given that everyone knows the formulas and their applications to the various branches of physics but only the most experts know how ancient and modern scientific (physical) discoveries were arrived at. Am I wrong in thinking this? Let me know.
I really don't think it is a matter of right or wrong, but just a question of where you will spend your time in a physics class. I actually regret not taking a history of science course taught by Steven Weinberg offered while I was an undergraduate.
 
  • #8
Haborix said:
I really don't think it is a matter of right or wrong, but just a question of where you will spend your time in a physics class. I actually regret not taking a history of science course taught by Steven Weinberg offered while I was an undergraduate.
Thanks for your contribution.
 
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  • #9
I was a zoology major as an undergrad, basically a biology major with plants and fungi de-emphasized.
I took lots of biology courses (more than needed for requirements).

I also had the time to take several history of science/medicine and philosophy of science courses.
This leaves the science courses undisturbed while adding the history and philosophy.

I think this (taking of additional courses) would be the best solution to these kind of problems.
I don't think it would be very effective to force people not interested in the subjects to take it as part of a different course.
 
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  • #10
Hak said:
A proposal that I am trying (in my small way, for now) to carry forward and which could favor this meeting would be to change the wording "Physics" in school curricula (at least Italian, I don't know if also English or American) with that of "History of Physics".
An interesting suggestion, but I don't agree with it.

Science (incl. physics) and History of Science (incl. physics) are different fields, and they both exist already and are both taught.

Courses in each fields may naturally include elements of eachother, but the courses have different objectives.
Simply, the objective of a science course is to teach science and the objective of a history of science course is to teach history of science.

(as a sidenote I'm personally interested in both science and the history of it :smile:).

Haborix said:
I actually regret not taking a history of science course taught by Steven Weinberg offered while I was an undergraduate.

I took a small course in history of science, and I enjoyed it. The teacher I had is actually a pretty famous (here in Sweden) teacher of physics, and she enjoys both physics and history of science. I also took some of her physics courses.
 
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  • #11
DennisN said:
An interesting suggestion, but I don't agree with it.

Science (incl. physics) and History of Science (incl. physics) are different fields, and they both exist already and are both taught.
Nor I.

My perception is the main reason/instance when scientists "demonize" or denigrate the humanities comes from when people with such education claim to be able to provide a relevant contribution to science. It's a significant source of annoyance on PF - it's insulting, really. People should recognize their lane and stay in it.

I had a high school history teacher who required all ideas in papers to have citations. If you wanted to say Joe Smith did X because Y, you needed to cite an academic source that says that; you couldn't make the connection on your own. Why? Because a high school kid taking history isn't qualified to have thoughts of their own on the subject (whether they believe they are original or not). Your first original thought would be allowed on your master's thesis (by then you should have complete knowledge of the community's thoughts). A lot of kids bristled at that, but it was true. These subjects are deep and dilettantes can't make real/meaningful contributions, with the exception of random discoveries (astronomy, paleontology).
 
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  • #12
Hak said:
A proposal that I am trying (in my small way, for now) to carry forward and which could favor this meeting would be to change the wording "Physics" in school curricula (at least Italian, I don't know if also English or American) with that of "History of Physics".
Why would you do that? Physics is a differents subject from History of Physics. Why confuse the two?
 
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  • #13
PeterDonis said:
Why would you do that? Physics is a differents subject from History of Physics. Why confuse the two?
I was talking about high school. I know they are two different subjects, I just thought that inserting a few excerpts from the History of Physics as an introduction to real Physics might benefit someone. It is a simple opinion of a student who has just started university and would like to improve on the school he had to pass from. Take it with a grain of salt. I thank you for your reply.
 
  • #14
My recollection of undergraduate physics (in the 1970s US) is that there was always / almost always some historical narrative included in the teaching. And, I always found it interesting. So, are you saying this is no longer true?
 
  • #15
The OP is now on a permanent vacation so this thread is closed.
 

Related to Discussion on the science-literature relationship and more

What is the relationship between science and literature?

The relationship between science and literature is multifaceted, involving the use of scientific themes and concepts in literary works, as well as the narrative techniques used by scientists to communicate their findings. Literature can explore the ethical, philosophical, and social implications of scientific advancements, while science can provide new perspectives and themes for literary exploration.

How does literature influence scientific thought and vice versa?

Literature can influence scientific thought by presenting imaginative scenarios that inspire scientific inquiry or by exploring the human aspects of scientific discoveries. Conversely, scientific advancements can influence literature by introducing new themes, such as technology and its impact on society, and by providing new metaphors and language for literary expression.

Can literary techniques improve scientific communication?

Yes, literary techniques can significantly improve scientific communication. Techniques such as storytelling, metaphors, and narrative structures can make complex scientific concepts more accessible and engaging to a broader audience. By humanizing scientific research and presenting it in a compelling way, scientists can better convey their findings and the significance of their work.

Are there any notable works that exemplify the intersection of science and literature?

There are many notable works that exemplify the intersection of science and literature. Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein" explores the ethical implications of scientific experimentation. Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World" delves into the societal impact of genetic engineering and psychological conditioning. More recently, works like Margaret Atwood's "Oryx and Crake" examine the consequences of biotechnology and environmental degradation.

How can interdisciplinary studies between science and literature benefit education?

Interdisciplinary studies between science and literature can benefit education by fostering critical thinking, creativity, and a deeper understanding of both fields. Students can learn to appreciate the humanistic aspects of scientific endeavors and the empirical rigor of literary analysis. This holistic approach can cultivate well-rounded individuals who are better equipped to address complex, real-world problems.

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