A former student asked me here last week: do you plan to publish something on this “incredibly important” conversation? He meant the conversation between science and faith and the lively conversation with physicists (and one biologist) that took place on deepgraceoftheory.com between 2007-09. So here’s an update on what I’ve been doing since then.
The conversation attempted here is important, I agree, and yes, I am planning to publish things related to it, and growing out of it. I am finishing up a sequence of essays on Greek theory of knowing — a theory of the irreducibly many ways of knowing on which liberal arts education was originally based — working out of the Greek texts of Plato and Aristotle, but surveying the entire course of the arts & sciences (liberal arts) tradition in Western history and more broadly. These essays are addressed primarily to literary theorists in my own field, but I try to keep the natural scientists and mathematicians always in view as well. So I discuss elegant paradigms for disciplined knowing taken from Galileo and Newton, and from geometry and mathematics, as well as linguistics and poetics.
If these essays help to initiate the kind of respectful conversation between the ways of knowing that we all would love to see, then I will go back to finishing my book, which is addressed to a more general audience, especially to physicists and to theists and to anyone else who cares about the liberal arts and the life of the mind, and who is saddened by the distrust and misunderstanding between “science” and “religion,” as between cultural theorists and those academics who are more scientifically oriented (including analytic philosophers like Dawson and Searle).
I have been working on this particular task for more than nine years now. If I had known how hard it was going to be, perhaps I might never have started. But at this point, at last, I have the arc and sweep of my larger argument worked out, and not simply various pieces of it. The work has crystalized, so to speak, and I’m happy with the essays I will begin sending out for publication this fall. [Update in 2018: This didn’t happen. I sensed that the essays were still too narrowly focused–hence ineffective for my purposes. As it turned out, I needed to do a lot more thinking, until 2018, to understand how to show that they were tied in the larger historical & philosophic analysis.]
The lively back and forth on this website a few years ago proved to be a real springboard for me: it continues to guide me and give me insight into the problems I am treating from the point of view of the physicists and biologists. I cringe to think of the many missteps I would be making unawares, if it had not been for their honest expressions of dismay and impatience with this “innumerate humanist” (sometimes even when I thought I had been the most clear, tactful, and forbearing). The physicists — and one biologist — who conversed with me here taught me what the hot buttons really are and how to avoid pushing them accidentally; I suspect this will have improved my ability to communicate persuasively with the scientific segment of my audience.
So I am very grateful to the great conversation partners I had here from the natural sciences, mostly sent over originally by Jennifer Ouelette from Cocktail Party Physics, or else engaged with originally at Sean Carroll’s Cosmic Variance website. (3quarksdaily.com was also very helpful in orienting me — it is a treasure of a news and features aggregator for those in the sciences, and its editors were encouraging to me.) I am especially grateful to the Socratic lovers of deliberative conversation who faithfully discussed my “Wily Socrates” posts — and participated in that one very long conversation — a real workout for everyone involved — on Part I of my introductory lecture on Literary Theory (over in Pages).
Traces of that conversation on Plato’s Ion will surely be discernible in the work that will have emerged from it.
2 thoughts on “Update from Janet, September 2011”
I know it’s been two years, but I wanted to add here that I was referring to the broader project of communicating an understanding of “ways of knowing,” since I do think that most debates between “opposing sides” of things like science and religion are at bottom epistemological.
You going to like my essays in 2014!