Unweaving the Rainbow

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Unweaving the Rainbow

Postby adonais » Mon Feb 19, 2007 12:39 am

I'm currently reading this book by Richard Dawkins, and it is (based on the title I might have expected it) replete with Keats snippets, quotes and discussion. Dawkins makes it his thesis that Keats was misguided in his condemnation of Newton for "destroying all the poetry of the rainbow", and that, quite contrary, in the unwoven rainbow lies all the wonders of the world. He even goes so far as to suggest that Keats might have been an even better and more inspired poet, if he could have seen the beauty of the truth behind the rainbow. Well, that's Dawkins. But it's a very nice read in any case, and Keats is in good company with many quotes and discussions of other poets' relationship to science.
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Postby Malia » Mon Feb 19, 2007 2:57 am

I guess it's the quintessential thing for a Romantic to say--that science "destroys" the rainbow by breaking its myterious beauty down into component parts like a machine--but it is *somewhat* ironic that Keats would say such a thing considering his first career was in the scientific field of medicine. Medicine certainly laid the foundation for his poetry as there are references to it (or at least a knowledge of it and especially of anatomy) throughout Keats's poetry--two examples off the top of my head are Keats's description of the beheading in Isabella and the Pot of Basil and the description of the 'poet dreamer' almost dying (stroke-like) as he struggles to reach the first step of the stairs that lead to Moneta's throne in Fall of Hyperion. So, whether Keats realized it or not, science can--and *does*--work in tandem with the etherial and imaginative to create fabulous poetry. They act, in a way, as yin and yang--or to use Keats's vocabulary, "light and shade" both of which are needed to create an outstanding poem.
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Postby adonais » Mon Feb 19, 2007 4:35 am

Malia wrote:--but it is *somewhat* ironic that Keats would say such a thing considering his first career was in the scientific field of medicine.

Yeah, ironic from one perspective maybe, but also understandable from the point of view that science, for Keats, had not exactly been a bringer of good news. It seems instead to have turned him against the "cold philosophy" of reason (as in Lamia, and his statement "I shall never be a reasoner...")

But like Dawkins also suggests in this book, because of his initial affinity for medicine, among his company Keats was probably the one in the best position to understand and appreciate the beauty of science, had he wanted to -- certainly, he was much better equipped than poor Coleridge, whose sporadic forays into pseudoscience seems to be mostly exercises in self-obfuscation.

But instead they drank "to the confusion of mathematics" :)
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Postby Malia » Mon Feb 19, 2007 4:51 am

adonais wrote:But instead they drank "to the confusion of mathematics" :)


I could drink to that! ;)
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Postby dks » Mon Feb 19, 2007 7:48 am

I've got that book, as well...
"I am certain of nothing but the holiness of the heart's affections and the Truth of Imagination."
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Postby Saturn » Mon Feb 19, 2007 2:51 pm

I'd gladly drink confusion to Mathematics :lol:

I understand what Dawkins is saying but Keats I think was not denigrating science per se, just pointing out from the poet's perspective that there needs to be a mystery about things that poetry can explore and inhabit, so if science explains all natural and supernatural phenomena it leaves little room for the imagination of the poet to explore.
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Postby adonais » Tue Feb 20, 2007 12:38 am

That may have been part of what Keats was thinking, and it goes hand in hand with his negative capability philosophy. But I think this is a fallacy:
if science explains all natural and supernatural phenomena it leaves little room for the imagination of the poet to explore.

You might be speaking for Keats, and not for yourself, but whatever the case I think this just ain't true. This is an unnecessary conflict that they (the romatic poets who believed this, and who drank to the confusion of mathematics) needlessly invented. To my mind, understanding how something works never detracts from its beauty, it only adds. Like Feynman said, "The beauty that is there for you is also available for me. But I see a deeper beauty that isn't so readily available to others." I think Keats may have been missing out by uglifying the rainbow after it had been passed through a prism, which is a shame, because he seemed otherwise to have a propensity for reason and the natural sciences, although he would ostensibly have no truck with either.

Looks like there are no mathematicians on here. I wonder if this is all just sour grapes....now as well as back then ;)
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Postby Saturn » Tue Feb 20, 2007 12:41 am

Mathematics has always defeated me - I don't have the brain of a logician so I have an in-built prejudice against anyone who is accomplished in that field :lol:
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Postby Becky » Tue Feb 20, 2007 2:19 pm

Here's to applied mathematics. May it never be of any use!


:lol: :lol: :lol:


but i think the drinking toast is to something like advanced mathematics. Sometimes i could say the same about poetry though - i like it best when its just being poetry, not ideology. Especially when Richard Dawkins gets a hold of it uurrggh, grrr, simultaneously, in my limited experience of him
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Postby adonais » Tue Feb 20, 2007 8:13 pm

Becky wrote:but i think the drinking toast is to something like advanced mathematics. Sometimes i could say the same about poetry though - i like it best when its just being poetry, not ideology.

I'll drink to that...

Especially when Richard Dawkins gets a hold of it uurrggh, grrr, simultaneously, in my limited experience of him

Yes, he does have an ability to.....well, you know. Actually I've heard from others that they didn't like this particular book by him at all, and I'm inclined to agree that this is not one of his better books. I found The Selfish Gene and The Blind Watchmaker to be excellent though, and of a wholly different caliber than Unweaving the Rainbow, which perhaps doesn't quite work for everybody. I guess it is what happens when an evolutionary biologist starts spouting physics and poetry in the same sentence (or is given a chair and wind up with nothing better to do than to write books). But the poetry somehow more than makes up for it in my opinion :)
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Re: Unweaving the Rainbow

Postby Macbetht » Fri Nov 11, 2011 9:51 am

Think that this words are great "We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here".
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Re: Unweaving the Rainbow

Postby Ennis » Tue Feb 21, 2012 9:35 pm

Let's all have a cyber-space "claret feast" and drink to the uselessness of mathematics. We'll keep that damned rainbow woven. . . .
Last edited by Ennis on Wed Mar 07, 2012 8:05 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Unweaving the Rainbow

Postby Saturn » Tue Feb 21, 2012 9:59 pm

:lol: Confusion, hellfire and damnation to mathematics! I'll drink to that!
"Oh what a misery it is to have an intellect in splints".
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Re: Unweaving the Rainbow

Postby jesleeall » Tue Feb 21, 2012 11:16 pm

One (belated) thought: wasn't Keats at a dinner or party when he joined in with others who were disparaging science and made the "unweaving" comment? According to his biographers, he was always making extravagant statements, "rhodomontades," that he didn't necessarily fully believe in. I always thought this comment, made in high spirits at a party, probably fell somewhere in that category.
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Re: Unweaving the Rainbow

Postby Ennis » Wed Feb 22, 2012 8:28 pm

jesleeall wrote:One (belated) thought: wasn't Keats at a dinner or party when he joined in with others who were disparaging science and made the "unweaving" comment? According to his biographers, he was always making extravagant statements, "rhodomontades," that he didn't necessarily fully believe in. I always thought this comment, made in high spirits at a party, probably fell somewhere in that category.



jesleeall,

I believe Keats wrote the "rainbow" statement in a letter or a poem, but I'm not too sure aout that.

"Philopsophy can clip an angel's wings,
Conquer all mystery by (with?) rule and line;
Empty the haunted air, the gnomed mine,
Unweave a rainbow."

I doubt I've punctuated correctly.

After looking up the quote, I located it in Lamia, Book II, beginning with verse 237.
"But if you will fully love me, though there may be some fire, 'twill not be more than we can bear when moistened and bedewed with Pleasures." JK to FB 08.07.1819
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