Science vs. Poetry?

Is there is conflict between the two? Consider the following quote.

In science one tries to tell people, in such a way as to be understood by everyone, something that no one ever knew before. But in poetry, it’s the exact opposite.
Paul Dirac

Paul Dirac is an interesting character but I think he is ignorant about the reality of science in these words. Certainly the best people and ideas that science has to offer can follow this dictum but the vast majority of science does not. You have much science that is as unintelligible to ‘people’ as poetry is reputed to be. Need an example? OK. Here is the title from a random article from the current Journal of Science:

Epochal Evolution Shapes the Phylodynamics of Interpandemic Influenza A (H3N2) in Humans
by Katia Koelle, Sarah Cobey, Bryan Grenfell, Mercedes Pascual

I’m a trained biologist (I have a bachelor’s and master’s degree in it) and I can figure out a little of what the authors are doing here but would someone untrained in science and, more specifically, in biology have any hope? I have my doubts. But perhaps I just picked a bad one. How about another random pick, this time by picking one of the research articles under the T’s in authors:

The Heartbeat of the Oligocene Climate System
Heiko Pälike, Richard D. Norris, Jens O. Herrle, Paul A. Wilson, Helen K. Coxall, Caroline H. Lear, Nicholas J. Shackleton, Aradhna K. Tripati, Bridget S. Wade

Can you understand what this means just from the title? I actually have to applaud the authors for using a term like ‘heartbeat’: it is, in fact, very poetic and unscientific but until you understand what heartbeat means to the authors you cannot know what this title means either.

But what is my point? I usually try to be brief in these golb entries after all. Well here it is, Mr. Dirac (this founder of quantum physics has unfortunately passed away and so I am unsure he can read or hear this rebuttal):

It takes a great deal of effort, perhaps too much in our complicated world, to make anything simple. Or, at least, simpler. Most ideas that are interesting and worth knowing take work to understand, to grok and to internalize. Science, Poetry and other things all have their own lingo that you need to learn in order to get at the shock and awe of the author’s words if they, in fact, exist. Science and the articles that expand it rarely makes itself understandable by everyone. And, I agree, poetry rarely achieves this either. I don’t think it is the function of either to do so. There are talented individuals who spend a lot of time trying to interpret them for us, the common masses, who don’t have the time to make these our areas of expertise. Like text book authors and TV science programs like Discovery or radio programs like Quirks and Quarks and English teachers and book clubs. They are the great interpreters these for the common woman and man. And sometimes they get it right and don’t put penguins and polar bears together doing it.


About tgrignon

I came I saw I rented the DVD
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