In the field of science, Einstein’s Cosmological Considerations (1917) mark a turning point: what you have there is an attempt to think of the cosmos as a whole instead of simply weighing and measuring its parts.
Rather than a commentary on this text (they exist elsewhere), what I propose, in our particular context, is to delve into the psychological background of this research as evidenced in Einstein’s private correspondence, notably with Max Born. Phrases turn up there that indicate, back of « research », an intimate problematics, an existential questioning, a general space of thought.
Einstein speaks, for example, of his « savagely speculative » way of thinking, and of the necessity for science, if it is to make headway, perhaps even reach something like a completeness, to move out from all « mechanical, specialized logic » and take « a huge intellectual leap ». Then there’s the conception he has of his own person: « I feel so much in contact with all that lives that I scarcely want to know where individuality begins and where it ends. » And finally there’s that passage in a letter of 1927 in which he speaks of his predicament, his dilemma, as a scientist. What he laments there is the distance that can be felt between logical structures and what he calls the « lovely slices of live ». If one aims at absolute clarity, the only language is mathematics. But by sticking exclusively to mathematics, you lose the « living story », the substantiality of lived life. Absolute clarity and living truth are, tragically (he goes so far as to use this word), incompatible.
The question that arises here, in the general space of thought that specialization loses sight of, is this: might it be possible to reconcile, to harmonize, precision with delight in the « delicious slices of life », clarity with « living narrative »?
Might a completely different field be possible?
One can see perhaps an approach to it in the beginnings of thermodynamics and quantic physics, where Maxwell’s « demon » does his dance. In classical science, of which Einstein could be called the last great representative (he is an eccentric classicist), chance and disorder, the aleatory and the chaotic, are ephemeral, passing phenomena. Behind them lies a determining necessity. As the famous phrase puts it: « God doesn’t play at dice », otherwise translated: « God doesn’t shoot craps ». But with thermodynamics (the agitation of molecules in a gas) and quantum physics (the turbulence of elementary particles), chance, disorder, the indeterminate are no longer seen as illusions due to our ignorance, but part integral of the great universe-multiverse. We emerge from the hard sciences, from rigid scientism, and enter a field that is fluctuant, irregular, complex.
Up to now, the attempts to develop, on the basis of laboratory studies, a discourse that could be integrated into a culture have never gone much further than verbose tautology or manierist rhetoric. A discourse on the edge of a new logos gets lost in logorhea.
But it’s significant that in certain studies devoted to scientific thought these last few years, at the turn of a page, in the last lines of a final chapter, the word « poetics » turns up.
It’s the case of the book, The New Alliance (1976), by the historian of the sciences, Isabelle Stengen, and the physicist, Ilya Prigogine, where we come across an injunction to « listen in poetically to nature ».
Again, when in 1987, Fernand Hallyn publishes La Structure poétique du monde, it’s not to speak about Mallarmé, but about Copernicus and Kepler. Which of course doesn’t mean that the door is open to the starry-eyed enthusiasms of all the poetasters of the century, or to the facile lyricism of certain astrophysicists.
To pursue our exploration, when in Le Roman cosmogonique (1989) François Foulatier exposes the piecemeal state of contemporary knowledge and points to a potential movement towards a future unity, it’s in terms of poetics that he speaks.
While I’m at it, I draw attention to the autopoetics that emerges in the biology of Varela and Maturana: the complex development of a self-organizing system that know how to use both order and disorder. It’s the image of a poetic life.
Then, there is the aesthetic cartography that is adumbrated, projected, in the last stages of Gregory Bateson’s studies in anthropology, psychology and cybernetics.
What we’re seeing in all this are signs of the need for a new composite field, and tentative movements towards such.
It’s this composite field I’ve called geopoetics.