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Poetic Theories:

Can scientists learn from poets?

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Poetic Theories

Ken Binmore, Mary Midgley, Ruth Padel.

According to Richard Dawkins 'Science is poetic, ought to be poetic and has much to learn from poets'. Can poetry really contribute to the progress of science or is the poet's eye 'in fine frenzy rolling' no more than an imaginative flourish?

The Panel

Mathematician and game theorist Ken Binmore, moral philosopher Mary Midgley, and award-winning poet, novelist and great-great granddaughter of Charles Darwin Ruth Padel, examine the nature of science and art.

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Jump to what you want to see in the debate
  • Ruth Padel
    The Pitch
    Poetry shares much with science
  • Ken Binmore
    The Pitch
    Real science is nothing like poetry but should be inspirational
  • Mary Midgley
    The Pitch
    Science and poetry use metaphors and vision
  • The Debate
    Theme One
    Do science and poetry aim at truth?
  • The Debate
    Theme Two
    Does science need metaphor?
  • The Debate
    Theme Three
    Can scientists learn from poets?
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AvProtestant on 28/02/2014 12:53pm

The talk addressed the question "Can Scientist's Learn From Poetry?". A scientist feeling himself in a position to answer it presumes (one supposes) to be able to speak with some insight on both sides. Yet we have Professor Binmore blankly giving us: "Mary [Midgley, philosopher and author of "Poetry and Science" (Routledge)] doesn't know the meaning of truth". For the Professor, apparently, truth as verisimilitude is all and poetry is willful mis-representation. A debate is not the platform to encourage someone to suspend these beliefs, which would seem to be necessary to be able to consider the question in any meaningful way.

Ruth Padel used a scene from William Golding's novel "The Inheritors" to bring out a point to do with the grasping of "like" as thought. Golding's publisher Monteith, asked by Golding in 1955 if a scientist's advice was needed to qualify the telling of Neanderthals in his novel "The Inheritors", replied "If he had any suggestions to make they would be the wrong sort of suggestions".

Alastair Moody on 30/01/2014 9:56am

So glad Mary Midgley can draw out the inaquacy of the common notion of life without poetry (imaginative creation and re-creation in the broadest sense) being only, only, without joy. That "candy" view of art is wrong, as well as often condescending when it comes from the lips of moralising para- scientists. J S Mill writes penetratingly about this in his essay on Jeremy Bentham (1838), in which he refers to Bentham's habit of regarding poetic expression as willfully misleading while entertaining (and attempting to put into practice) a concept of a language that is completely plain.

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