Wednesday, 11 January 2012
Science, Art and Mystery: Registers of Discourse
Mainstream science supposes that we live in a causal, linear universe composed of inert, inanimate matter. It assumes that nature itself is non-minded, lacking an intelligence or consciousness. It further supposes that human consciousness is an illusory by-product of material reality; that we lack the indwelling essence that mythologies worldwide refer to as ‘spirit’. Science suggests that our seemingly transcendent consciousness is simply a quirk of our biochemistry and neurophysiology.
But as many artists, psychics and mystics are well aware, this position is untenable and little more than a cultural imposture. The fact that Western ideologies defend, engage and tackle concepts from this assumed-default position of rational materialism – having an axiomatic response to a cultural postulate – should highlight the blind-spot inherent within the paradigm. The fact that it is not recognized as a paradigm but rather as self-evident truth should further highlight the deeply embedded nature of this belief-system.
In my experience belief-systems tend to exclude, marginalize or belittle any data that it does not understand, especially if the troublesome data threatens to overturn or poke holes in the paradigm on which the belief-system is based. On a daily, personal level I think much of this behaviour is unconscious, perhaps owing to the basic human desire to speak with conviction on the ways of the world. To admit that such conviction is perhaps a cultural imposture, a sly shorthand, might make an individual feel especially vulnerable.
It should be obvious that Science does not like mystery, as mystery is evidence of the limits or presuppositions inherent within the discourse. Therefore science generally ignores mystery of any kind, but especially mystery pertaining to the specific subject at hand, and ultimately denies mystery’s presence.
It seems to me that this is due in no small part to the mercurial, holistic nature of Mystery. Often times, the presence of Mystery in any field hints at interconnectivity, complementarity and symbolic similarities across different registers of discourse. In short, the presence of Mystery seems to imply MULTI-DIMENSIONALITY: the simultaneous communication of hidden, invisible variables across various modes of categorization.
Even the most hard-minded Objective Materialist can sense the mystical connotations to this particular definition of Mystery – and might recoil as a result. But perhaps this is why mainstream Science chooses to ignore or deny the gaps, blind-spots and inconsistencies within its own belief-systems – because to do otherwise is to become all too cognizant of Mystery, and its possibly mystical implications.
I think this fear is two-fold. Firstly, few people like to admit that their personal belief-system is at best a powerful and profound work of fiction, and at worst is a constricting and inconsistent nonsense. Secondly, I think that Science by its own definition deals in quantitative information. It has no adequate register or language for dealing with truly qualitative information. Science deals with empiricism, repeatability and falsifiability – three things that qualitative information (and by association Mystery itself) does not bend so easily to. In this sense Mystery is the enemy of Science, whereas Mystery is the ally of Art.
Art often deals in the nuances, subtleties and resonances applicable to the ‘gravitational effect’ of Mystery’s invisible variables. Art often discusses and makes mechanical use of interconnectivity, complementarity and simultaneous communication in differing registers. We could argue then that Art is the organic, associatively-ordered science of the invisible. It is a ‘soft-science’ in that it has order and specificity, but its various elements and domains are associatively interlinked, reliant upon contextual reference rather than ‘objective’ considerations.
In a sense, one could consider Art as the ultimate refutation of cold, mechanical Objective Materialism. The existence of Art highlights that the realm of the human psyche is enriched and nurtured by the presence of Mystery, rather than threatened by it as mainstream Science so often appears to be.
One can argue that the existence of Science does not negate the reality and validity of Art, and conversely Art does not negate the reality and validity of Science. What does seem to be the case is that Science can speak in only one register and Art can speak in many, due to the fact that Science ignores the limits of its own language.
If Science and Art are therefore two modes of discourse that appear discontinuous but are in fact associatively connected by what they choose to omit or include in their respective languages – we can then hopefully come to an astute observation. Science and Art, or Materialism and Imagination, are not two halves of an either/or binary where one position is true and the other is false. Rather they are subtly interconnected languages in differing registers that attempt to comprehend seemingly-opposed aspects of our existence.
Therefore, the idea that Objective Materialism can explain the entirety of human consciousness is clearly untenable. Its general inability to discuss Mystery is evidence of this. If this were not the case then Science would have absorbed the functionality of Art in some profound, practical way. So, the idea that human consciousness is nothing more than a quirk of biochemical neurophysiology is revealed as woefully incomplete – because the scientific definition of objective material reality contains blind-spots, inconsistencies and mysteries that it cannot include within its own register. A Science that discusses its own flaws and blind-spots would not produce much conviction in its unassailability – and unassailability is what most Western mindsets assume as a prerequisite of ‘objective reality’. To assume otherwise is to flirt with the notion that reality itself is somehow fluid and mysterious – subject to interpretation. And this realization would lead us inevitably back to the strangely multidimensional presence of Mystery.
One thing is clear, to my mind at least; if we find ourselves unable to discuss this Mystery in one language or register, we must then broaden that language or seek out one in which it can be effectively discussed. We must attempt to divine the interrelationship between what appears to be the thing itself and our various ways of talking about it.