Postmodernism, Take 2: Science Cheats Us Out of Wonder

This one comes from Soren Kierkegaard’s journal (VII A 186) the same year he published his Concluding Unscientific Postscript to the Philosophical Fragments (1846), and it forthrightly witnesses to his repulsion at the triumphalistic Enlightenment perspectives that were carving up the world to quantify it and master it.  Here we see Kierkegaard’s heart to preserve the capacity for awe in the face of rumors of intellectual comprehension, and he, better than most in his day, foresaw the risks:

Almost everything that nowadays flourishes most conspicuously under the name of science (especially as natural science) is not really science but curiosity. In the end all corruption will come about as a consequence of the natural sciences… But such a scientific method becomes especially dangerous and pernicious when it would encroach also upon the sphere of spirit. Let it deal with plants and animals and stars in that way; but to deal with the human spirit in that way is blasphemy, which only weakens ethical and religious passion. Even the act of eating is more reasonable than speculating with a microscope upon the functions of digestion… A dreadful sophistry spreads microscopically and telescopically into tomes, and yet in the last resort produces nothing, qualitatively understood, though it does, to be sure, cheat men out of the simple, profound and passionate wonder which gives impetus to the ethical… The only certain thing is the ethical-religious.

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2 thoughts on “Postmodernism, Take 2: Science Cheats Us Out of Wonder

  1. To quote Clive Staples Lewis:

    “But you cannot go on ‘explaining away’ for ever: you will find that you have explained explanation itself away. You cannot go on ‘seeing through’ things for ever. The whole point of seeing through something is to see something through it. It is good that the window should be transparent, because the street or garden beyond it is opaque. How if you saw through the garden too? It is no use trying to ‘see through’ first principles. If you see through everything, then everything is transparent. But a wholly transparent world is an invisible world. To ‘see through’ all things is the same as not to see.” (The Abolition of Man)

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  2. “By reducing Nature to her mathematical elements it substituted a mechanical for a genial or animistic conception of the universe. The world was emptied, first of her indwelling spirits, then of her occult sympathies and antipathies, finally of her colours, smells, and tastes. (Kepler at the beginning of his career explained the motion of the planets by their anima motrices; before he died, he explained it mechanically.) The result was dualism rather than materialism. The mind, on whose ideal constructions the whole method depended, stood over against its object in ever sharper dissimilarity. Man with his new powers became rich like Midas but all that he touched had gone dead and cold. This process, slowly working, ensured during the next century the loss of the old mythical imagination: the conceit, and later the personified abstraction, takes its place. Later still, as a desperate attempt to bridge a gulf which begins to be found intolerable, we have the Nature poetry of the Romantics.”
    -CS Lewis, “English Literature in the Sixteenth Century”

    “The Subject becomes gorger, inflated, at the expense of the Object. But the matter does not rest there. The same method which has emptied the world now proceeds to empty ourselves. The masters of the method soon announce that we were just as mistaken (and mistaken in much the same way) when we attributed ‘souls, or ‘selves’ or ‘minds’ to human organisms, as when we attributed Dryads to the trees. Animism, apparently, begins at home. We, who have personified all other things, turn out to be ourselves mere personifications.”
    -CSL, Introduction to “The Hierarchy of Heaven and Earth”

    The only solution for this disenchantment of the world is to rekindle the sacramental imagination which is centered around the Eucharist. Also, your blog is fantastic Ian!

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