Science and Romance

Sir Gustav Nossal is a eminent Australian immunologist who is obviously well respected but his work and significance, I confess, is lost on me since I am no expert in the academic world of immunology.  Those few I have managed to find who write about him do so with deep respect.

What grabbed my attention was the quote that I found in the Sydney Uni archive where he speaks about the epistemological limitations of science.  Something I have been arguing for years.  On one hand I find the quote holding a huge weight because of the one who writes them – a scientist who seems to be overwhelming respected by his peers.  But on the other hand, as I said, I have been saying something like this for some time, he is able to articulate it in a form that is far more poetic than me:

“Science deals with fundamentally repeatable, objective, verifiable observations. It deals with hypotheses of which you can at least say “this is not patently false.” But the human experience, on the other hand, does not just deal with verifiable facts. The human experience has Shakespeare. It has Beethoven. It has Thomas Aquinas. There is no scientist alive who can tell me how the brain of Shakespeare differs from the brain of the worst scribbler for the tabloid press. This is not yet and may never be in the realm of science… We have to access this huge other area of human experience through other means. Call them the humanities. Theology, of course, is one of the great humanities. A human being struggling to understand the cosmos and to understand his or her own consciousness is not at all antipathetic or opposed to me struggling to understand how cells make antibody molecules.”

Perhaps the same thing could be said in the lyrics of Coldplay, The Scientist.  Yes, I am quoting Coldplay lyrics as if they actually made sense, but in this case, perhaps they do….

I was just guessing
At numbers and figures
Pulling the puzzles apart

Questions of science
Science and progress
Do not speak as loud as my heart

There are simply somethings that science is limited in understanding.  In this case, why the relationship didn’t work.

Science is great, I love it, but it can’t tell you everything.


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