Friday, March 12, 2010

We should have been able to have it all: science and jena se qua.

A few weeks ago I heard some announcers on Radio 4 (didn't notice who) showing their ignorance by laughing at Prince Charles (for whom personally my feelings are ambivalent) because he said in a speech that he was not in favour of the Enlightenment or we should take another look at it. They said he was waaay behind the times and essentially wanted to go back to the Dark Ages. Although its name makes it sound like all that went before it was darkness, it is a name the supporters chose and could be seen as a propaganda tool. It is foolish to believe that because they named their movement The Enlightenment that the ideals espoused by the leaders of the movement have to be correct and superior. Fascists have given the name "Freedom" to their movements and we didn't believe them. The remarks of the announcers show how accepted the values of the Enlightenment have become.

I have been thinking about this for a few weeks. Everything I hear seems at the moment to relate to this idea. This blog is what finally spurred me to write this post. "Art for Life’s Sake: The Necessity of Making and Viewing Art" In this blog post they ask "Why should contemporary humankind, which operates in a culture that prizes left-brain competencies, care about fostering right-”brainedness”?"
Prizing these "left-brain competencies" is directly related to the Enlightenment values being accept wholeheartedly as the correct structure of our society.

Most bookkeeping uses the values of the Enlightenment and so you only see actions and assets that can be measured in a concrete way. That is never the whole story. Many other things happen in a business but because they cannot be measured in a "scientific way" they are not counted, are invisible.

In Tacita Dean's book Place we learn that the word "place" was a hot topic of concern for the ancient Greek philosophers as it meant many things that were hard to grasp like "sense of place" and "place in society and the world". They said it was the fundamental thing to think about, because if you didn't solve the problem of "place" you couldn't go on to anything else. Everything started with "place". (The word was rich enough to write a whole book about.) It is nearly impossible for us to understand this now as the meaning of the word was changed completely by the Enlightenment. Valuing only that which could easily be measured they robbed the word of all its richness and meaning and replaced it with the easily defined and measured meaning of "location". The other parts were left out because the inflated egos of the Enlightenment fathers were insufficient to the task of measuring it completely. So they left out what they were not capable of, what was too hard. To leave out that which is inconvenient to your theory seems a bit like cheating, doesn't it. If they were really good we should have been able to have it all: science and jena se qua.

This leads me back to Prince Charles. Radio 4 announcers: your ignorance, lack of philosophical education, and assumption that the way things are done/thought now is the only way they should be done/thought, is a disappointment. A world made of only bare-bones, measurable, concrete ideas with no room for nuance, colour or flavour should sadden us all.

The Prince Charles story, the post on the Venetian Red blog, the accounting series on Radio 4 and the book Place are all causing me to think about this recently. But for some time I have been thinking about it in relation to the great colour scientists of the past. They left out the mysterious part of measuring and describing colour and made it seem simple. But everyone today still has a really hard time with it. Because their systems are insufficient. Science alone is not good enough. How do you measure my feelings about ultramarine blue or compare them to your feelings about crimson?

If I wanted to change the world, have everything be based upon my values, get rid of that pesky Romantic way of seeing the world, simplify things (by getting rid of the interesting parts), it sure would be clever of me to call my philosophy "The Enlightenment", wouldn't it? That would set everyone straight!

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