The poem below by Walt Whitman expresses emotions akin to my own after I had recently spent a full day, and most of an evening, attending lectures by Richard Dawkins and other scientists at an atheist conference in Burbank, Ca.:
When I heard the learn’d astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide,
and measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with
much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.
Is this reaction to science on the part of Whitman, and my sympathy for it, a sign that an irrational spirit grips us? Or is this a proper and sane reaction to an excess of reductionism? Was William Wordsworth right—or merely hysterical—when he said, “We murder to dissect?”
Are the poets at war with the scientists?