Remapping Reality: Chaos and Creativity in Science and Literature (Goethe, Nietzsche, Grass)

Remapping Reality: Chaos and Creativity in Science and Literature (Goethe, Nietzsche, Grass)

Remapping Reality: Chaos and Creativity in Science and Literature (Goethe, Nietzsche, Grass)

Remapping Reality: Chaos and Creativity in Science and Literature (Goethe, Nietzsche, Grass)

Synopsis

This book is about intersections among science, philosophy, and literature. It bridges the gap between the traditional cultures of science and the humanities by constituting an area of interaction that some have called a third culture. By asking questions about three disciplines rather than about just two, as is customary in research, this inquiry breaks new ground and resists easy categorization. It seeks to answer the following questions: What impact has the remapping of reality in scientific terms since the Copernican Revolution through thermodynamics, relativity theory, and quantum mechanics had on the way writers and thinkers conceptualized the place of human culture within the total economy of existence? What influence, on the other hand, have writers and philosophers had on the doing of science and on scientific paradigms of the world? Thirdly, where does humankind fit into the total picture with its uniquely moral nature?...

Excerpt

This book derives from an enduring interest in the Age of the Enlightenment. I had long noted the frequent boundary crossings between humanistic and scientific concerns in the Enlightenment project and have previously sought to explore them in an expanded approach to the phenomenon with a special emphasis on literary production and consumption. I offer now an innovative approach not discernible in previous studies on the Enlightenment and its legacies. Research of late gravitates to such prescient developments as race and gender construction, physical anthropology, the disciplining of knowledge, the concept of sociability, the rise of historicism, the shape of the public sphere, Enlightenment science, and nascent consumerism. Some years ago, while exploring the open and questioning stance of eighteenth-century essayistic literature, I was struck by the compresence of instrumental reason and philosophical deconstruction that seemingly lies at the very heart of the Enlightenment proposition. Whereas instrumental reason is today associated with the precise and systemic thinking typical of technology and the natural sciences, deconstruction is aligned with an open-ended, antisystemic mode of humanistic questioning. Both attitudes share the skepticism of the inquiring mind, albeit to differing degrees. One thrust leads to the establishment of systems, whereas the other seems intent upon deconstructing ordered paradigms. Could there, I wondered, be a hidden connection between the linearity of instrumental reason and scientific inquiry, on the one hand, and the nonlinearity of radical skepticism, now associated with postmodernism, on the other? Both the scientific and the philosophic attitudes were (and are) motivated by the search for truth. Both represent an effort to get to the bottom of things, be it via foundationalism or hermeneutic universalism. Both are interested in truth and both suggest reasons why we are so interested in it.

A period of retooling was necessary to gain better insight into the modes of scientific inquiry. I am indebted to a number of organizations for their generous support of this project. a senior Fulbright research fellowship to Munich, Germany, enabled me to examine the nexus of chaos, Nietzsche, and creativity in the Bavarian State Library. Special thanks go to Dr. Merta and his cordial, helpful staff, who kept me supplied with materials and ample workspace. Interactions with members of the chaos research group at the Technical University there and an advanced seminar at the University of Munich helped to clarify the direction of this study. a sabbatical leave from Vanderbilt University made it possible for me to write some of the theoretical sections of this study; a grant from the University Research Council at Vanderbilt University allowed me to visit archives and to meet with colleagues in refining my arguments. a year as the Rebecca Webb Wilson Fellow and as co-director of an interdisciplinary faculty seminar on “Science and Culture” at the Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities of Vanderbilt University honed the focus and refined the argument even further. in dialogue with a geneticist, laser physicist, critical theorist, mathematician, psychologist, historian . . .

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