Note — Nov 25, 2018

We Are All Bewildered Machines

Seen in → No.58

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“Bewilderment is the antidote to scientific reductionism.”

The author, Nautilus’ features editor Kevin Berger, has been diving deeply in science topics and has been worrying / wondering if understanding too much takes away from the magic, if he really wants to understand so much of our workings as to consider us “biological machines.” Through conversation with Richard Powers and quotes by Lewis Thomas he instead shows us how humanities and science are tied by bewilderment, and how the more we know, the more we can be in awe of what we understand.

The “purpose of all science, like living, which amounts to the same thing, was not the accumulation of gnostic power, fixing of formulas for the names of God, stockpiling brutal efficiency, accomplishing the sadistic myth of progress,” Powers wrote. “The purpose of science was to revive and cultivate a perpetual state of wonder. For nothing deserved wonder so much as our capacity to feel it.” […]

“We would be better off if we had never invented the terms ‘science’ and ‘humanities’ and then set them up as if they represented two different kinds of intellectual enterprise.” Despite the fact we did, he wrote, there was a “common earth beneath the feet of all the humanists and all the scientists, a single underlying view,” and that view “is called bewilderment.” “Most things in the world are unsettling and bewildering, and it is a mistake to try to explain them away; they are there for marveling at and wondering at, and we should be doing more of this.” […]

Being exposed to the neurons that make our limbs move, or learning the modal scales that distinguish Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, are not ends in themselves. They are journeys into the depths of beauty and humanity.” […]

“That’s our superpower, that’s humankind’s superpower—to be an artist and a scientist and to find ways in which each one of those capacities enhances and gives depth to the other.”