Poetry and Essay

By Stuart Kauffman

In the mid-twentieth century, C.P. Snow wrote his famous essay, “Two Cultures”, decrying the split between high literary culture and a less esteemed scientific culture. Scientific culture has gained in stature considerably, and may reign as the dominant cultural ethos of secular First World society. Meanwhile, in part under the scientific curfew on values due to Hume’s naturalistic fallacy—one cannot derive an “ought” from an “is”—we have come to view science as if it were either the sole, or overwhelming pathway, to truth about the world, but value free. We look elsewhere, including religion and the arts, for our sense of values. Keats, in his near hatred of science, measuring all by “Rule and Line”, saw poetry as the soul’s answer to hard-edged science. Poetry has ricocheted off the wall of science in the West since Newton, loving it, hating it, sometimes fearful that the humanities have not the deep legitimacy of the sciences.

All this is profoundly wrong. And so, a tale of a transition in my own life which led to my fourth book, Reinventing the Sacred, which tries to say why our view of ourselves caught forever between two cultures is, in fact, profoundly wrong.

In 1992, I was at an improbable four-person meeting of the Gihan Foundation on a small ranch in Nambe, north of Santa Fe. Our task was to state the major problems confronting mankind—as if any four people could possibly do so. I, a scientist, was there, two journalists were there, and a mountain of a man, N. Scott Momaday, six foot six, 270 pounds, bass voice, Kiowa Pulitzer prize-winning poet, was there: “The most important problem confronting mankind is to reinvent the sacred!” The words baroomed from somewhere in Scott’s guts.


Lake publishes fiction, poetry, critical essays, interviews, reviews and visual arts related to the environment.
The magazine is issued twice a year.

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