Science and poetry

The Asian scholar Arthur Waley once wrote:

All argument consists in proceeding from the known to the unknown, in persuad­ing people that the new thing you want them to think is not essentially different from or at any rate is not inconsistent with the old things they think already. This is the method of science, just as much as it is the method of rhetoric and poetry. But, as between science and forms of appeal such as poetry, there is a great difference in the nature of the link that joins the new to the old. Science shows that the new follows from the old according to the same principles that built up the old. “If you don’t accept what I now ask you to believe,” the scientist says, “you have no right to go on believing what you believe already.”   The link used by science is a logical one. Poetry and rhetoric are also concerned with bridging the gap between the new and the old; but they do not need to build a formal bridge. What they fling across the intervening space is a mere filament such as no sober foot would dare to tread. But it is not with the sober that poetry and eloquence have to deal. Their te, their essential power, consists in so intoxicating us that, endowed with the recklessness of drunken men, we dance across the chasm, hardly aware how we reached the other side.”    (Waley 1934, Introduction, pp. 96-97)

Arthur Waley [1934]: The Way and its Power: A Study of the Tao Te Ching and its Place in Chinese Thought. London, UK: George Allen and Unwin.

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