Two grinders

To many people, science and literature are the two most distant disciplines, with almost no connection between them. It is difficult to imagine what common ground can be found between a search for nature and a search for man’s own soul, or under what conditions the distance between them can be bridged. In our view, science is outward, the sum of human knowledge trying to find the mysteries of the external world; literature is inward, constantly searching for the secrets of the human heart and using the tools of language to express them appropriately. In fact, it may be accurate to quote Newton’s law of mechanics here: the forces of science and literature act on the same line, they are equal in size and opposite in direction. It is like two grinding wheels, what will be the result of grinding?

Since Plato purged the poets from the ideal state more than two thousand years ago, philosophy and science seem to dominate the world, literature can only wander and wander outside the citadel with a certain monopoly and natural legitimacy, and all the progress in the world seems to be attributed to the progress of science, while literature exists secretly in an illegitimate capacity in the folklore. It is a remarkable fact that in today’s universities the various studies of literature are taken for granted, while literary creation itself is unceremoniously excluded. The absence of literary creation has become a natural exception in all fields of artistic specialization.

However, this does not mean that literature has lost its importance, nor does it mean that those engaged in the study of other disciplines, as a result, defy its existence. In fact, both presences are equally important. Scientists, beginning thousands of years ago, have always set the primary purpose of science to discover the harmony of nature, which is built on a belief in the order of the universe. All assumptions, reasoning, and proofs start from here, and Einstein’s “God does not roll the dice” has become a maxim of scientific faith. Even the fact that quantum mechanics and other theories overturn classical mechanics hardly shakes the foundation of faith in the establishment of a harmonious and unified picture of knowledge in the world, nor does it shake the belief that human beings can comprehend the ultimate meaning of the world order with pure reason. Generations of scientists, from Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, Newton to Einstein, have made great efforts to this end and have brought us to a whole new century of science. While scientists devoted themselves to their careers, they never forgot the value and significance of literature, knowing that literature and science have never actually been separated, and that their difference merely implies two sides of the same coin.

The philosopher Whitehead discovered this long ago. Starting from Greek tragedy, he saw that “the essence of tragedy is not misfortune, but the inevitability of the relentless activity of things. This inevitability of fate must be illustrated by real misfortunes in life”. He believed that human beings must present these dramas in order to illustrate the futility of escape. In fact, this relentless inevitability, reflected in literature, is already full of scientific thought and already provides deep and clear insight into the concept of order, and the correspondence between the picture of life’s activities and the picture of the universe has been integrated into human thinking since the time of classical civilization. The ancient Chinese idea of divination and sacrifice and the unity of heaven and man, and the tradition of erudition in the eloquence of the Spring and Autumn and Warring States periods, already contained the desire of man to deduce the whole universe from himself, which abounded and lingered in the thoughts of the literati of the past. The birth of modern physics illustrates this point even more precisely; the envelopment of the material world by the laws of physics has actually amounted to some kind of law of life’s destiny.

Literature, with its own methods and means, constantly explores and examines the problem of the inner harmony of man and the nature of existence; it starts more from man and ends with him. Man becomes not only the object of literary care, description and exploration, but also the essential feature of literature’s inner constitution, which effectively condenses the universe into man himself. Science takes the opposite path approach, magnifying the activity of understanding man himself into the full spacetime of cosmic existence; it fuses the history of man’s knowledge of the world into the history of knowing himself. Its processes and operating paths reflect their respective characteristics. From Heraclitus’ understanding of time, Pythagoras’ understanding of number and the secrets of the universe, to the various understandings of man and the world in ancient religious thought, both science and literature draw on the best of human culture and transform it into their own nourishment. Not only are they homologous, but they share similar experiences and the same charged mass center.

The objectivist mindset of the medieval and ancient worlds had a profound influence on science, and this view dominated a range of scientific research activities, and a nature that was considered to be self-contained, emerged before us. Literature likewise shows a series of achievements following the Renaissance, where realism was brought to a climax. Balzac’s panoramic portrayal of society and Tolstoy’s reflections in War and Peace on the actual state of war and the observer’s errors of observation and the various factors that combine to determine the end, are highly consistent with scientific thought. Descartes’ metaphysical contemplation, the sharp philosophical view of “I think, therefore I am”, together with Einstein’s theory of relativity, brought subjectivism into science, and the concepts of matter, space, time, and the laws of the material world were given a chance to be understood anew. a chain of great scientific achievements. This is methodologically closer to literature, or it coincides and coincides with the modern theory of literature. Correspondingly, the birth of a series of modernist masterpieces, such as Proust’s magnum opus “In Memoriam”, Joyce’s “Ulysses” and Kafka’s “Metamorphoses”, brought us new literary resources and opened up new prospects for exploration.

Literature, fundamentally speaking, no matter what kind of ideas it carries, no matter what miracle of exploring various permutations and combinations of words, and no matter what depth of human understanding it reaches, ultimately has to return to the level of aesthetics. Without solving this problem, it would be difficult to call it art. From this point of understanding, science is also a kind of art, because in the view of scientists, aesthetic criteria are also the highest criteria of science. The Western scientist Pangal once said in an article: “Scientists do not study nature because it is useful to do so. They study nature because they get pleasure from it, and they get pleasure from it because it is beautiful. If nature were not beautiful, it would not be worth exploring, and life would not be worth existing.” In a sense, this understanding of life and the world goes back to the starting point of literary purposefulness.

We observe celestial bodies distant from us, invent tools to find the microcosm, and contemplate the origin of the universe, the origin of life and its journey from every angle because their beauty can constantly surprise us. A scientific theory, like a literary work, is measured by the size of its achievements, in a sense, not because of how correct they are, but because of their extraordinary aesthetic value. From the purest feelings to the most superb kinds of design, the process of scientific inquiry and the process of literary inquiry, the recognition of inevitability, are full of aesthetic significance. In any case, all paths to truth must be marked by beauty as a signpost.

I think literature and science need to be in constant communication, and they both feel the value and meaning of their existence because of each other’s existence. They are inseparable from each other as the two wings of civilization. They will enlighten each other, constantly realize the mutual transformation of their nutrition, and together form the ecological landscape of human civilization in a complementary way. The real prospect of scientific application also lies in the perfect integration with the humanistic spirit. The most important similarity between literature and science also lies in the fact that they both take innovation as a prerequisite for their own existence, and their standards in many aspects are never static, but change with time, which is the guarantee and the most charming feature that allows them to grow healthily. Otherwise, we could not have a history of science and literature, because the structure and essence of “history” is made by the force of change.

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