The Poetics of Thought

Queerness and Mystery

Posted in Uncategorized by Fred McVittie on August 28, 2009

The starting point for this section of the project might be framed by two quotations from scientists at the heart of the empirical tradition. The first is from the biologist JBS Haldane who famously remarked that ‘The universe is not only queerer than we suppose but queerer than we can suppose’ (Haldane, 1927). By this he meant that the physical makeup of human bodies and human minds is inevitably limited and the result of this limitation is that much of the physical world is outside of the grasp not only of our hands but also of our minds. An overwhelming amount of the universe is composed of entities that are too small to see, to fast to keep up with, too enduring to outlive, too brief to glimpse, too vast to hold in a single thought and too far away to spend the same moment of time with. The world that our senses both construct and construe, both limit and give birth to, is a tiny subset of the entirety of what happens, a small island of sensitive human supposition in an ocean of queerness and insensibility. We approach this ocean clutching the mental equivalent of stone axes and flint arrowheads; what hope do we have of seriously navigating these seas and mapping the lands beyond the horizon?

Standing in paradoxical parallel to this expression are the words of Albert Einstein, who is reputed to have said that ‘The eternal mystery of the world is its comprehensibility…The fact that it is comprehensible is a miracle. ‘ (Einstein in Calaprice, 1996: 272). There is no sense here of our ever reaching a point in scientific enquiry at which we are confronted by a world beyond our ken; the point that Haldane seems to find inevitable. Instead there is the sense of a looking back and a looking around, at seeing how far we have come and the incomparable queerness that we have miraculously found the means to suppose.

The rest of this section of the project might be thought of as an exploration of the terms in which these ideas come to operate; the queerness of the world and the strange and poetic devices through which the eternal mystery is made comprehensible.

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Haldane, J. B. S. (1927). Possible Worlds: And Other Essays. London, Chatto and Windus.

Calaprice, Alice, The Quotable Einstein (Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey, 1996).

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  1. Kaposvári Márk said, on August 28, 2009 at 5:38 pm

    this overall picture brings to my mind a sequence of pretty naive questions, which on second thought will probably prove shamefully spurious, but it is never a mistake to engage our immediate impressions, and I would like to share them with you, so, for instance,

    is there a way beyond patterns (or dynamic structures, gestalts) for organisms?

    or to put it more precariously: can we ever tap into a universal “theme”? can the cosmos “intimate” anything of its “theme” to the percpetually limited variations on it?

    aesthetic distortions?

    how about compression?
    if cognition was seen as compression (Turner and Fauconnier), then the body, the extensions (concrete and abstract) of which give birth to and in-form cognition, would also seem to be a process of compression…
    naah, ok,
    is there intuition?

    is the rhythm of walking and talking and heartbeat a matter of physical constraints or maybe a reflection of the rules of resonating “particles”?

    is the poetry of cognition more of an isolated blob that refracts “only” the shimmering ocean around, or rather something that being integral to it partly expresses it?

    how could we correlate the notion of intuition with the notion of poetry?

    as I said, these questions bubbled up on the fly, but maybe they buzz for more than just one day,

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