A Call for More Dialogue Between Science and the Humanities

Chris Mooney over at Science Progress (for Maeve Adams):

Nearly ten years ago, to get myself officially clear of college, I wrote a senior English essay about parallels between the work of Charles Darwin and the writings of several Victorian novelists. I singled out Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations and George Eliot’s Middlemarch in particular. It seemed to me that the scientist and the novelists alike sought to address a particularly prevalent human failing: How we deceive ourselves into believing what we want about reality, rather than what is true, by selectively reading the evidence (rather than considering it in its entirety).

In short, I argued that Dickens and Eliot were proposing a kind of “scientific method” for avoiding self delusion, in life and especially in love. Darwin, meanwhile, had a similar approach to the naturalists who had come before him and had tried desperately to fit species into Linnean categories that just didn’t work any more—in the process disregarding the full range of evidence from nature, which showed insensible gradations between variations and species that, in turn, suggested common ancestry rather than immutability.

On some level, then, the scientist and the novelists were engaged in closely related endeavors.

Coming from this background, of course I found myself intrigued by Jonah Lehrer’s clever little book, Proust Was a Neuroscientist, recently released by Houghton Mifflin.