Educational Observations: Science, the Humanities, and Death (Part I)
So I’m a POSTMODERN CONSERVATIVE. I’ll have a lot to say about what that means later. But one of beginning to explain why conservatism needs to be postmodern–or free of characteristic modern illusions (shared, to be sure, by most intellectuals who call themselves postmodern)–is to share some educational observations with you. I will, in fact, be doing a lot of that, often drawing from what I’ve written before:
1.There really is a massive contradiction between what we learn through SCIENCE and what we learn through the HUMANITIES. What we learn through SCIENCE seems more rigorous and more true, grounded as it is in an objective method. What we learn from the HUMANITIES seems to correspond better to our personal experiences. Poets (or even Taylor Swift) know more about love or just having sex than do the evolutionary biologists or the sexologists.
2. No person really believes what the scientists teach is completely true. Well, some people say they believe that, but nobody (except, maybe, the very rare [in our country] real Buddhist) really lives as if personal reality is nothing but an illusion to be gotten over. Socrates, it’s true, said that philosophy is learning how to die, which seems to mean using science to come to terms with one’s own ephemeral insignificance. Learning how to die, so the philosopher says, is using your mind to get over yourself. But Socrates never seems to have talked with anyone who actually lived that way.
3. Certainly Plato presented Socrates’ life as one of dramatic personal significance. Socrates, everyone knows, was courageous enough to die rather than surrender or even diss his singularly significant way of life. The fact that his death was a huge deal makes him real important, even for us.
4. Everyone knows that physics can account for everything but the nerdy, lonely, vain, envious, and somewhat self-forgetful physicist. There may be, for all I know, a perfect correspondence between the physicist’s mind and the cosmos. But the physicist, everyone also knows, is more than a mind, more than a big head. Even Sheldon on the funny TV show THE BIG BANG THEORY is an exaggeration, just as the other more pathetic and less self-sufficient characters are fairly realistic. Physicists want girlfriends, love their moms, and have friends for regular guy reasons too. The philosopher Leo Strauss said that the world—meaning cosmos or nature—is the home of the human mind, but even real guy philosophers (and in the classical world there was no difference between philosophers and scientists) are more than minds.
5. Sometimes nerdy scientists today put their hope in transhumanism—in biotechnological progress that will allow them to exist without bodily limitations and icky bodily desires and functions. Transhumanists, a study might show, are typically guys with really bad bodies who are full of unrequited love. They are so about the coming revenge of the nerds that they forget that even scientists and philosophers have to be animated by erotic longings that could only exist in beings with bodies, minds, and other stuff too—in persons.