Not Only Where but Also What

Funny, it didn’t even seem like that much of a storm. I went out for a walk in it, thinking it was just a common or garden variety storm. I didn’t turn back after five minutes because I was drenched, so it can’t have been raining all that hard! It was certainly raining sideways, thanks to the wind, but I have been in many harder rains. I was wet when I got back but not soaked. And yet there were floods. And then awhile later there was more wind, and then there was a sudden unpleasant absence of electricity, which lasted more than seven hours. Nature can be so obstructive.

I was going to say something about meaning (and what we mean by it), but I want to say a little more about borders first, and also about what we mean by ‘science’. Those two things are essentially the same subject, but approached from different angles. What we mean by ‘science’ makes an enormous difference to what we mean by those formulas about the separate spheres – to where we draw those contentious borders between them. Or rather not all that contentious – not contentious enough. That’s my point. For some reason the platitude about ‘Science over here’ and ‘many other valuable things over here on the other side’ gets endlessly repeated and not questioned enough. If it can get repeated and not questioned even by such a thoroughgoing rationalist and scientist as Gould, we know something must be odd.

One thing worth mentioning is that it’s not only a matter of the location of the borders, but also one of what the borders are actually like. Are they sharp and clear like a fence or a wall? Or are they more vague and blurry, like, Oh, that range of hills; like, From about here to about over there somewhere. Or are they in fact not a border or division at all but a continuum. Maybe it is simply not the case that science is entirely different from poetry, emotion, love, justice and the other items that usually go in the other sphere. Maybe science is simply continuous with rational inquiry, only (as Susan Haack puts it) more so. If that’s the case (and I think it is) then is science really entirely irrelevant to, say, love, or poetry? Is it out of the question to think about either of those things in a rational way? One can think about things in a rational way without thereby excluding also thinking about them in a non-rational way, after all. And surely we all do. Martha Nussbaum has an excellent illustration of this, I’ve just remembered while typing, in Sex and Social Justice [sorry I can’t give the page reference at the moment, because I’m Away and don’t have it with me]. She’s discussing Nell Noddings’ ideas about women’s ‘different’ approach to knowledge via ‘caring,’ and she offers as example her feeling of unreflective love for her daughter on seeing her asleep on the couch after a basketball game. Very nice, says Nussbaum, but is it really true? Aren’t there all sorts of rational ideas underlying that unreflective feeling? How does she even know that is her daughter for example? And how does she know the sleep is a healthy athletic one and not a drug-induced stupor? And many more elaborations of the idea, which are both convincing and amusing.

So that’s the kind of thing I mean. The banal version means something like: science is in another sphere from love because you can’t stick love in a test tube or on a scale. True enough, but it doesn’t follow that you can’t learn anything at all about it by taking thought and even to some extent by considering evidence. And surely that applies to most of the items in the usual version of the Other Sphere. They may not belong in a test tube, but it doesn’t follow that there is nothing of interest or value to be said and thought about them via analysis and inquiry and investigation. The whole scheme is in fact a canard, and should be done away with.

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