Poetry and the Sciences
My brain feels as though it has gone through a dozen mammograms, squeezed to its limits.And I deserve this for eavesdropping on two scientists, renown in their fields.
Charles Pellegrino ( see my book reviews on two of his dozen and more books on my blog) responded to a question by Steven Sittenreich, who asked, “Please tell me what you think of this note on Leonard(Susskind.” I found Pellegrino’s answer stirring and beautiful. I can’t explain why, maybe it was because it was so simply stated like a haiku poem.
“DNA does not care whether it lives in you or me or in a bacterium. The Earth has evolved the perfect parasite. If we disappear utterly, it will still be dreaming at the hydrothermal vents, waiting to pass down through the next chain reaction of diverging lineages. You are just one of the temporary masks that DNA wears.
Men die, cattle die, termites die. All that truly lives on are bacteria (immortal fission) - and, perhaps, our deeds.
Pellegrino’s response aroused my curiosity to the question being asked. As I eavesdropped further, I was fascinated to hear the poetry in both these men of sciences. I always pictured Scientists to be that dull body of intelligence, alive only to facts, deaf to the arts.
It was the poet in both men that glued me to their conversations. Scientists and Poets as One. Wow. These two poet scientists bring scientific knowledge down to the humanitarian level. When there are no answers, there must be poetry.
Science & Poetry
A black and a white swan
Send ripples across the lake.
Their dance soon becomes one.
by frances ( well, you didn’t expect me to remain just an eavesdropper, did you?
They continued to destroy my myth of scientists by being human.Here are some snippets from my eavesdropping. ( I’ll bring you Sittenreich’s question later.)
Sittenreich’s response to Pellegrino when my request for permission to use Sittenreich’s comments was sent to him.
Sittenreich: I am just curious as to why this particular note appeals to you. After all, I have sent you half a book of these tidbits over the past thirteen months.
Pellegrino: Who knows why a particular passage suddenly stirs something? Could even be just the right combination of words you used (compressed, like Haiku-perfect), combined with yet another recurrence of Ground Zero lung, …your writing…hmmm…time for another cup of Frances’ tea.
Sittenreich: When I was sixteen I used to think that the world was a boring place and the two most boring things in it were physics and chemistry. How could I have been so woefully misguided? I started off my academic studies at Queens College with two consecutive Ds in chemistry and a C in philosophy. Mathematics and music was only slightly less boring to me. Economics and accounting were also deadly boring and computer science and programmming were sickening.
The mind has to grow up just as the body has to come to maturity.
God has made the world in the most bizarre possible way and that is because she is God and doesn’t think like us.
Pellegrino: So, you too, poetic?
And now back to the sciences. This is where my eavesdropping began. Sittenreich asked Pellegrino what he thought of his comments:
Sittenreich on Leonard Susskind’s “The Black Hole War” (2008)
Susskind, on page 282, expressed dismay that Darwinian natural selection should not have screened out such irrational and superstitious practices as religion.The Modern Synthesis in biology reduces living things such as humans to (as he said) information sequences transmitted by chemicals. The very same introns found in mice also appear in humans as do some of the genes in bacteria. There is good reason to say that all of life is descended from acommon ancestor. This is what is called in logic a necessary condition. But a necessary condition may not be a sufficient condition. Something is missing in the Modern Synthesis and that something is entirely consistentwith the informational system of nucleotide sequences in a 3.5 letter alphabet.
Now it would not be correct to say that the power of living things to adapt and grow is rooted in the intrinsic combinatory properties of the chemicals of life such as nitrogen, carbon, oxygen etc because it is entirelyimpossible to imagine how life got started in the first place. Paul Davies in the Fifth Element put the odds of life forming on this planet at 1 in 10**40000– and that’s probably too generous. Either conditions on the early earth were different or there is an unseen hand involved. As Alan Butler puts it, this unseen hand could be
a) a supernatural being, b) a member of an alien civilization, or c) ourselves from the future (I know that he thinks time travel into the past is a no no).
Additionally, the roots of life are also somehow related to certain parameters of the carbon atom and, at a deeper level, to a perfect balance of universal constants such as h, c, the anti-gravity constant Lambda, the balance of the gravitational and the electrostatic forces, and the Sommerfeld fine structure constant Alpha. Fred Hoyle who was twice the atheist he is, said that the elements that make up life have the “look of having been tampered with.” All this, I realize, rehashes the Weak Anthropic Principle but we are mostly quite limited to the point of view of this universe
The presence of the religious instinct in all human cultures extending back to the Neanderthal, is the result of some special tampering of the human genome by someone or something. That’s why it is there even though, as Susskind pointed out, it is counterproductive for survival. Someone or something wants us to bow to him or her or it. David Icke captures this idea in the title of his latest (otherwise crazy) book *Humans, Get Off Your Knees.
What do you think, Mr. Evolutionary Biologist? Have we been genetically engineered to fear the Lord?
I heard on NPR a few days ago, that we need to surround ourselves with people who are more knowledgeable than we are so we can constantly expand our minds and our own humanity. Charles Pellegrino and Steve Sittenreich, thank you for allowing this eavesdropper around your distinguished company.