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December 03, 2008


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I often find myself saying that I think poetry fulfills a human need now that perhaps religion once filled: it creates a space in which not quite knowing, not quite understanding, is OK--more than OK--part of the point. It's a venue for negative capability, for awe and affect and the realization that we can come up against our own limits and yet still feel nourished by what we're experiencing. I think what I get from poetry in that vein is very similar to what, say, my mother gets from going to church.

Well. I have regularly, for the past year or so, touted the work of two atheist poets I know, on my site Podblack Blog.

One is 'The Digital Cuttlefish', who has a very popular blog and recently got his first self-published book out; the other is known as 'Dr Adequate' and he regularly writes on internet forums and also has a self-published book out.

As a former English Literature teacher who turned to investigating paranormal beliefs for my second M.Ed (much of the work on my blog involves superstitions) - I can quite frankly say that in my time interacting with atheists and skeptics that there's going to be a bias towards scientists making up that population. You're not going to get many Art majors. You will get extremely well-read people, sure. But their passions appear to lie more towards science, non-fiction, history and mathematics.

Mind, although the two poets I have mentioned are indeed both scientists (in different fields) - it certainly doesn't mean that skeptics and/or atheists (for one can be a deist skeptic) are going to be opposed to poetry.

But they are certainly *suspicious*.

I'd probably acknowledge the influence of postmodernism as a contributor to the suspicious attitude ("will people think that there are no 'truths' in science!!!"); people might think the fanciful, imaginative side will tend towards pseudoscience; that creative thought-experiments will excuse the more damaging things that religious belief can do.

During my time as a high-school teacher, I taught a variety of poems that investigated and discussed science (you can see this in my blog-post here: and I regularly promote the website of 'The Digital Cuttlefish' as a powerful medium for promoting questions about faith.

But I think my underlying summation of how you were treated is this:

1) The internet is often populated by jerks who think that they can treat you how they like because group-think is very comforting;
2) Just because you're also a skeptic and/or atheist doesn't mean that the popular clique (which never means 'community') can't feel as if you're not 'contributing' to the 'greater cause' by dumping all that 'arty stuff';
3) Let's see some of these whingers come up with even half as much interesting science and printed texts that contribute to questioning the world - and then ALSO come up with poetry that isn't going to have people remembering the self-indulgent wailing of pre-teen years ....

... and then they can think that we'll take their 'SCIENCE over POETRY ALWAYS!!' attitude with more than a 'bleah'.

I wouldn't get as many students interested in aspects of either science or poetry if there wasn't an opportunity for both to work together.


K. Sturgess.
(...who is yet to come up with a poetry book _or_ a text, but I'm working on the later... I recommend Stephen Fry's "The Ode Less Traveled" for those interested in investigating further the unity of intellectual challenge and creating poetry).

I love you both.


Yea, Podblack!

I'm not a poet, but I am an artist, and you mentioned art alongside poetry in the Inquiry interview (which I listened to three times in succession to make sure I got it all [and I still haven't, thank you]), so I feel obliged to chime in here.

I'll start with saying you're the first skeptic that 1) hasn't made me feel like a lesser skeptic for not being primarily science-minded and 2) has, in fact, affirmed the possibility of my being able to contribute to the skeptical movement through art in a very real way.

The part of the interview that made me replay and replay it was the part where you talk about art being a path to a specific kind of knowing. It's a kind of knowing with which I'm very familiar, and it's disheartening to hear it dismissed (sometimes to the point of ridicule) by the skeptic community.

Art has been able to explain life, as I experience it and as it's experienced by others, to me far more often and more accurately than science; and it was a kind of Damascus moment to hear that articulated by someone else. Nice to have that finally validated.

All in all, it was a pretty huge and heavy experience to have on a bus ride home from work.



I heard the interview last night and thought it just fine. The random remarks by others were just that: a random amalgam of nonsense that pretty much misunderstood key themes and terms in the interview, her, and her book. Luckily other posters came forward but unfortunately especially with the first post the affective tone was too bad but I think it random and not indicative of the overall appreciation of JMH and her work.

Thank goodness Einstein loved music and women. It's great that physicists paint and rock climb. That Poincare can create while staring into a fire. That meditation does alter one's perception of the universe. That exercise and conversation also change our perceptions. That art tells us somethin g not easily obtained by any other way. That expressed truth has an aesthetic to it. That form in itself can have a euphoric and epistemological basis. That introspection from within or heterophenomenologically from another has something to say. That our brain is divided into parts, components, computations that interact with each other to create the great theatre of consciousness.

You go grrrrl.

Jim newman

Here's a question for Laurel or anyone else who can answer it.

I'm an artist, but a scientist by training. I consider art to be a very important part of my life. For me, the best art is transcendent because it challenges my own preconceptions about my place in the universe. In seeing the world as others see it (or, rather, as I think others see it), I can see my own biases, and shed some of my fears. I transcend my former self. It's this ability of art to change my perspective that is so rewarding for me. I can certainly see the parallels with psychoanalysis.

However, although I can say that I know something more as a result of this transcendence, I am learning something more about myself, not so much the outside world.

Of course, science is also a transcendent force for me. Science literally shows me what I am and where I am and where I came from.

The overall picture looks like this. Science is fundamentally about the elimination of bias, revealing the outside world more clearly. Religion involves the amplification of bias, obscuring the outside world (and often the inner world too!). Art can often be an exploration of personal bias. I can't see how art is a way to get knowledge about the world in general, but I can see how it can help us know ourselves.

So what am I missing, if anything?

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