The Partnership of Science and Poetry

Ever watch a bird fight its reflection in your window? The bird cannot relate the image to itself, so it can only treat the image as an interloper. Unlike the bird, you can look at a mirror and see not just attributes but also relationships—not just the image but also how the image relates to you. Unlike the bird, you can look at things two ways at once.

There are, it is said, two approaches to thought. There is the razor sharp, analytical approach; and there is the soft focus, valuing approach. One is called the scientific approach, the other the poetic approach. One is called heartless, the other mindless. You can't have them both, they say, so you must choose one or the other. That is, you cannot look at things two ways at once.

But life cannot succeed in a frenzy of emotion without scientific analysis, and it cannot be enjoyed in a chill of analysis without emotion. Handling life requires science and poetry in partnership. Because that partnership comes naturally to man, we build nests of steel and concrete instead of leaves and twigs.

To appraise a diamond, you examine individual facets while appreciating the overall sparkle. To live a life, you do the details while fitting them into a plan. To think is to look at everything two ways at once, seeing precise differences while combining by relationships. If science is precise and poetry fuzzy, then to think is to be precise and fuzzy at the same time.

A better way to say that is with two words: identity and context. When you watch TV and remark on a good speech in a bad drama, you are focusing on a particular and comparing it to a context. If you say, "That is an apple," you are identifying a particular object in the context of similar objects. Since you are looking at it two ways at once, you can examine a particular apple down to the atomic level, while keeping in mind where it fits in the range of apples, and what that means to your life. You look at the apple as a fact, and also as a value.

Those who tell you to keep emotion out of your reasoning are telling you to think like a bird. To think is to see differences while you see relationships. When thought is emotional, it is because you are taking into account relationships to you. Thinking cannot succeed as a juggling of fact without evaluation any more than it can succeed as evaluation without facts. Passion is part of thinking because it is part of the context in which you explore identities.

Substituting emotion for facts is refusing to think. Banning emotion is refusing to value. Grasping identity in context is getting human cognition right.

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