The Modern Prometheus

"What the scientists learned from the romanticists ... has served only to intrench more strongly the scientific method and the scientific criterion of truth in the minds of all educated men," writes J.H. Randall, who describes, in detail, some of the "assumptions of the scientific faith".
The method is perhaps most simply defined as "mechanistic analysis", "explaining complex phenomena by isolating simpler elements and processes whose behaviour can be mathematically formulated and predicted". Randall claims that even after Schrödinger, the basic method of science has remained mechanistic, even though such models are "misleading as well as illuminating". However, this illuminates underlying belief in the order of nature. It is interesting to consider whether science could exist if the universe were utterly chaotic; random rhizomes of fragments, defying law and order (I'd guess it could not).
Randall writes that this scientific faith takes evolution as its symbol: after all, it is the progress of scientific theory and discovery which has most impressed itself on the modern mind. Here, we have an arrow drawn over all that is not known for certain. And if there is no final scientific knowledge, we may speak of "a growth of a scientific faith". While, "on the one hand [we are] less confident of mathematical hypotheses unchecked by the most careful experimentation... on the other, this very mass of observations led men to the formulation and verification of sweeping generalizations". There are gaps in most any theory or symbol.


In the basic Prometheus myth, an imbalanced overreach runs amok: that which is gained is then taken away. Φύσις κρύπτεσθαι φιλεῖ (10). "We still have no information as to how races branched out from each other, where we first lived, where civilization arose. Our past is forgotten. We can forget it again," writes Davenport.
What I get from reading Randall, alongside Davenport, is that while the Victorian novel has ambiguous, unresolved endings, this concurs with the scientific and romantic break from narrow forms, stressing the experimental, experiential - and related methods. Though Goethe "aspired after the stars, he never really saw them". We may gain a science to lose ourselves.
"If the rationalists were not always reasonable, neither were the romanticists always irrational. So long as there was a common inspiration, hatred of the old system ... they could well cooperate". Thence the creation of a narrative that doesn't "know how to resolve itself". Traces of this romantic rebellion remain in the shrunken head of specialization and dearth of meaning that can be transmitted through words - scorned for their lack of empiricism or archaism.
What a paradox, for if science can be a faith, then surely there is reason to accept that there will be bridges only argument can build? This is why Plato is dismissed: where he had no evidence about the nature of the universe, he used argument.
Science is only one way of looking. I would like to point out that Maxwell, who Einstein ranked alongside Newton, did not consider his experiments to impinge on his beliefs at all. His understanding of life was greater than his eponymous equations.
I think we should accept that argument is sine qua non and that there will always be a deficit of evidence in "literature" and "philosophy" (ah, dear trivium, where argument came first). If myths, like of Prometheus, are derided in our scientific age, I would wonder if this is further proof that there is a faith to be undermined by such allegory. "We still dream idiotic and awful images. We still draw, sculpt, enrapture ourselves with music dance, pray, and keep superstitions that would make a Malay laugh. As there is no absolute definition of a human being, it is unanswerable to ask if we have remained human," writes Davenport.
The story of man, and even our science, that can resolve itself must address our idiosyncrasies. If we may be romantic about our science, might we also be permitted imaginative forays into the past, to reconsider how to tell our own story? But perhaps Prometheus wishes to revel further, incognito.

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