Thursday, November 07, 2002

Writers Are, Like, Smart Guys, You Know: OK, this is self-serving. I came across a couple of articles about how brilliant and wonderful writers are, so I think you should read them. First, this article about pre-discovery - the act of explaining a cosmological concept long before it is discovered by physicists. Turns out Edgar Allen Poe pre-discovered the big bang and black holes, in his own way.

More impressively, David Lodge, author of a bunch of comic novels (including the delightful Changing Places), provides a longish read on how and why we may get the best insights about human consciousness from fiction.
There are some thinkers in cognitive science, or on the fringes of it, who have acknowledged as much. Noam Chomsky, for instance, has said: "It is quite possible... that we will always learn more about human life and personality from novels than from scientific psychology." The reason is that science tries to formulate general explanatory laws which apply universally, which were in operation before they were discovered, and which would have been discovered sooner or later by somebody.

Works of literature describe in the guise of fiction the dense specificity of personal experience, which is always unique, because each of us has a slightly or very different personal history, modifying every new experience we have; and the creation of literary texts recapitulates this uniqueness (that is to say, Jane Austen's Emma , for example, could not have been written by anybody else, and never will be written by anyone else again, but an experiment demonstrating the second law of thermodynamics is and must be repeatable by any competent scientist).
Well, of course I think so.