Sunday, January 10, 2010

From "Creative Self-Criticism in Science and in Art", Karl Popper

We can distinguish two kinds of criticism, one that has aesthetic and literary interests and one that has rational interests. The first leads from myth to poetry, the second leads from myth to science; or to be more precise, to natural science. The former evaluates the beauty of the language, the energy of the rhythm, the radiance and vividness of the images, the dramatic tension and its persuasive power. This kind of critical judgment leads to poetry, especially to epic and dramatic poetry; to petic song, and with it to classical music.

Rational criticism, by contrast, asks whether the mythical report is true; whether the world really evolved in the manner asserted: whether it could have been created as Hesiod tells us or, perhaps, in according with Genesis. Under the pressure of such questions myth becomes cosmology, the science of our world, of our environment; it turns into natural science.

My third thesis is that there are still many traces left over from the common origin of poetry and music on the one hand and cosmology and science on the other. I am not asserting that all poetry is mythical in character, or that all science is cosmology. But I wish to say is that in poetry—one only has to think of Hofmannsthal’s Jedermann—and in science, the creation of myths still plays an unexpectedly large role. Myths are our attempts, naïve and inspired by our imagination, to explain ourselves and our world to ourselves. A large part not only of poetry but also of science can still be described as a naïve attempt, inspired by imagination, at explaining our world to ourselves.

Poetry and science—and therefore also music—are blood relations. They stem from the attempt to understand our origin and our fate, and the origin and the fate of our world.

(trans. Laura J. Bennett)


  1. This is a beautiful piece. I love the distinction between science and poetry. As poetry and science both involve building blocks, they are both language phenomena. The difference I see lies in the actual blocks. Poetry arises from direct pre-language experience, whereas science (more specifically mathematics) involves indirect experience. To be more clear, in mathematics, we have empirical experience giving rise to numbers, variables, logics, and geometries. Particulars, in math, exist only in the sense that they are universally transferable to similar objects - otherwise, counting would be impossible.

  2. Hello Beloved Snail

    I agree with semipoet - this is a beautiful piece.

    The conversation between disciplines is something I'm daily engaged with. I see each discipline as autonomous with its own distinct voice and purpose, but - like instruments in an orchestra, or individual words in a poem - they make fuller sound and greater sense when in relationship with what's on either side of them. The same can be said of us as individuals, I think? We're a community made up of individuals, each contributing something unique - separate yet essential to each other, especially when it comes to making sense of the finer details of our remarkable, sometimes shocking, world.

    Science. Poetry. Art. Music. Mathematics (and so on)... each one is distinct and at the same time inherent in, and integral to the other; each one is similarly engaged in exploration, distillation, expression and communication.

    I'm so pleased to have discovered your blog and look forward to returning.


  3. Claire, Yes to these remarks. I also want to note that I think there was a time where poetry (much like painting) had a more direct connection to advances in other fields. It feels a shame to me this is largely lost now.

    & welcome. :)