In most of the world, expertise is making a comeback. We are placing our faith in healthcare professionals such as Dr Tony Holohan and Prof Philip Nolan to lead us through the current pandemic. In the US, where the ascent of experts is on shakier ground, Dr Anthony Fauci is the target of both immoderate adulation and inexplicable death threats.
As the period of isolation begins to wind down across Europe, however, some countries are looking beyond doctors and scientists to other forms of expertise. In Germany, for instance, philosophers, historians and theologians are being pressed into service to help map out the origins and future course of the crisis.
In Ireland, Prof Daniel Carey of NUI Galway has called for a significant investment across the fields of the humanities and the social sciences in order to address the effects of a crisis that threatens not only our physical health but also our social, political and economic wellbeing.
Part of the challenge we face is learning to ask the right questions, which, when answered, will help prevent another pandemic. We dont just need a vaccine for the disease. We need an interdisciplinary approach to diagnosing and treating the conditions that enabled it to proliferate in the first place.
Such a holistic approach will mean broadening our understanding of the kinds of expertise needed at a moment like this. Pathogens and people together make a pandemic, and we cannot eradicate the pathogen without understanding, respecting and working with people. Doing so takes the co-ordinated efforts of historians, anthropologists, artists, sociolinguists and writers, all of whom are experts in narrative and representation in short, scholars and practitioners of the humanities.
In our present crisis, however, it can seem like the sciences are tasked with finding a cure while the arts and humanities provide consolation and entertainment. It is true that many of us are turning now to literature and the arts for a portal to the most profound human connection, but the humanities offer even more when understood as a set of approaches that enrich scientific inquiry as well.
This crisis should, for instance, bring increased attention to the field known as the medical humanities. Ida Milnes recent bookon the Spanish flu in Ireland has unexpectedly and tragically become a handbook for our times, offering insights into the demographics and progression of the disease, as well as the impact of political decisions on the pandemic. The Spanish flu made its way into the literature written in its wake including WB Yeatss The Second Coming and we can anticipate that much of our understanding of the human experience of Covid-19 will be revealed to us through the world of the arts in the coming months and years.
As we explore in a collection of essays we have recently edited, this cross-fertilisation of the sciences and the humanities is far from new in Ireland. In fact, the period that produced some of Irelands most famous and most experimental writers was also, and not coincidentally, a time of the greatest cross-disciplinary flowering of innovative ways to understand our physical world and our place in it.
What made the practitioners of modernism in Irish literature so famous (think Yeats, James Joyce, Elizabeth Bowen, Samuel Beckett) was their active participation in a broad range of ways of thinking about what makes our world modern. The history of these imaginative collaborations to find complex answers (and questions) for a complex world is one that we would do well to remember today.
Among the well-known Irish writers at the turn of the last century were established scientists such as novelist Emily Lawless. Her novel Grania (1892) was a model of precise, detailed descriptions of the natural world, shaped by her own scientific inquiries, which were praised by Darwin. Meanwhile, the naturalist Maude Delap was busy crossing and recrossing the boundaries of natural history, life-writing, and ethnography.
Medical doctors too were part of the revolution in Irish writing and ideas, with Oliver St John Gogarty perhaps equally famous for his wit and his poetry as he was for his skill as an otorhinolaryngologist. While St John Gogarty was a household name in his time, many of us now know him better from his appearance as Buck Mulligan, the medical student in James Joyces Ulysses.
Joyce himself was a sometime student of medicine, and his lost first play featured a doctor living and working through an outbreak of the plague. This alternative career path is written all over Ulysses. As critic Enda Duffy has argued, Joyce was inspired by world-famous 19th-century Irish cardiologists in his clinical rather than metaphorical treatment of the heart. With its painstaking attention to the rhythms of the heart, Ulysses is a psychosomatic treatise as much as it is an extended diagnosis of Irish life and culture.
The extraordinary cross-fertilisations of literature and science at the time were not just the domain of those with specialist scientific training. Indeed, some of the greatest insights into the contemporary world of science came from those who kept their distance from it.
Samuel Beckett, for example, had no formal scientific training, but he was obsessed with conditions of the mind and body, and read widely in scientific scholarship. His reading shaped the endless parade of diseased, afflicted, and impotent characters in his work. But as Chris Ackerley writes, Beckett also cast a critical eye on popular advances in biological sciences.
Beckett was writing when the pseudoscience of eugenics, a key inspiration for the racial theories of Hitler, was on the rise, and Becketts skeptical glance at the science of the body sounded a note of warning. His was an early voice in the field of what we know today as bioethics; his work drew on scientific innovations, but he was also willing to resist and even oppose those innovations when they lost sight of our common humanity.
It is not the case, as we might suspect, that the arts simply represent or communicate scientific knowledge. Though it is true that many modernist writers were enamoured of engines or entranced by quantum mechanics, a closer look reveals there has long been two-way traffic (as Gillian Beer puts it in her study of Darwin) between science and the creative arts.
We can find a concrete example of this in the work of Erwin Schrdinger, director of the Dublin Institute for Advanced Study in the 1940s. A believer in the inextricability of science, philosophy and literature, Schrdinger admitted in his 1944 book What Is Life? that the mysteries of how life is made and sustained eluded the explanatory powers of the science of physics.
Flann OBrien (Brian ONolan/Myles na gCopaleen), an avid reader of popular science, wrote in one of his Cruiskeen Lawn columns in The Irish Times that Schrdingers admission was a clear acknowledgment of his and others indebtedness to the imaginative work of writers and artists for his comprehension of the life-cell.
Many of Schrdingers contemporaries in the scientific disciplines saw themselves as taking part in the discovery and invention of a more complex world, right alongside Pablo Picasso and Mainie Jellett, Yeats and Joyce. As literary critic Mark Morrison has argued, the early years of the 20th century saw not only an artistic and literary modernism but also a scientific and technological modernism.
Einstein, Heisenber and Hubble understood their work as being driven by imagination, artistic experimentation and the avant-garde, not separate from them. But this history of the disciplines working together to forge a new and a better world has been obscured in the intervening decades.
Right now is the moment for us to take a page from this forgotten history. What a thorough historical and critical examination of modernist literature tells us is that science, technology and the arts and humanities are richer together: not simply parallel, but intertwined. And what is needed now is a recognition that our field of knowledge about the pandemic is shaped by science, certainly, but also by stories, by assumptions, by politics, by history, by rhetoric by the very things that humanists study. If these go unexamined, our solutions to the crisis will only go so far.
In responding to the Covid-19 crisis, Ireland has an opportunity to learn from its pioneering past and to understand again the vital place of the arts and humanities in discovering how humans fall ill and how they heal.
Kathryn Conrad (University of Kansas), Ciln Parsons (Georgetown University), and Julie McCormick Weng (Texas State University) have recently edited Science, Technology, and Irish Modernism (Syracuse University Press, 2019), from which many of the ideas in this article are drawn.
The rest is here:
- Quantum and classical computers handle time differently. What does that mean for AI? - The Next Web - September 18th, 2020
- The Fate of Schrdinger's Cat Probably Isn't in The Hands of Gravity, Experiment Finds - ScienceAlert - September 18th, 2020
- Hybrid lightmatter particles offer tantalising new way to control chemistry - Chemistry World - September 18th, 2020
- Scientists Have Shown There's No 'Butterfly Effect' in the Quantum World - VICE - August 19th, 2020
- How Physics Erases The Beginning Of The Universe - Forbes - August 19th, 2020
- Does the Butterfly Effect Exist? Maybe, But Not in the Quantum Realm - Discover Magazine - August 19th, 2020
- Dismantling disciplinary boundaries and decolonizing young India: Decoding the National Educational Policy (20 - The Times of India Blog - August 19th, 2020
- The spread of 'stranger than we can think' - Yahoo Lifestyle - August 19th, 2020
- Raytheon Technologies invests in new transformational STEM high school - PRNewswire - August 19th, 2020
- The Wheel of Time and the Storytelling Problem in the Concept of a Binary - tor.com - August 19th, 2020
- Physicists witness time crystals interacting for the first time ever - New Atlas - August 19th, 2020
- Quantum mechanics is immune to the butterfly effect - The Economist - August 17th, 2020
- Major quantum computational breakthrough is shaking up physics and maths - The Conversation UK - August 17th, 2020
- Physicists watch quantum particles tunnel through solid barriers. Here's what they found. - Space.com - August 17th, 2020
- The science of marketing: taking inspiration from quantum physics - The Drum - August 17th, 2020
- Here's why we need to build a quantum security coalition - World Economic Forum - August 17th, 2020
- The Spread of 'Stranger Than We Can Think' - SFGate - August 17th, 2020
- Nuh Gedik and Pablo Jarillo-Herrero are 2020 Moore Experimental Investigators in Quantum Materials - MIT News - August 17th, 2020
- Students in the news | Announcements - Indiana Gazette - August 17th, 2020
- Indian American Engineer Develops Parachute That Helped Curiosity Land on Mars - India West - August 17th, 2020
- How Quantum Mechanics will Change the Tech Industry - Unite.AI - July 21st, 2020
- Money & Markets: After the virus, make sure you've read the inflationary playbook - E&T Magazine - July 21st, 2020
- Bruce Lee: Inside the mind of the martial arts icon - CNN - July 21st, 2020
- Read Before Pontificating on Quantum Technology - War on the Rocks - July 13th, 2020
- The universe's clock might have bigger ticks than we imagine - Livescience.com - July 13th, 2020
- Testing Einstein's theory of relativity | OUPblog - OUPblog - July 13th, 2020
- Scientists Say This Is the Smallest Unit of Time That Could Exist - lintelligencer - July 13th, 2020
- Study: The Period of the Universe's Clock - lintelligencer - July 13th, 2020
- Book review: From Infinity to Man: The Fundamental Ideas of Kabbalah - The Jerusalem Post - July 8th, 2020
- Book review: Travels with Sushi in the Land of the Mind - The Jerusalem Post - July 8th, 2020
- WATCH: Follow along as this drag queen connects the dots between quantum physics and queer identity - Queerty - July 8th, 2020
- Raytheon Technologies to release second quarter results on July 28, 2020 - PRNewswire - July 8th, 2020
- A Brighter Tomorrow > News > USC Dornsife - USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences - July 8th, 2020
- The logic of the impossible: Moses our rabbi - The Jerusalem Post - July 8th, 2020
- Professor tackles one more mystery about quantum mechanics and times flow - GeekWire - July 5th, 2020
- Quantum fluctuations can jiggle objects on the human scale - MIT News - July 5th, 2020
- Want to Know the Speed of a Complex Nuclear Reaction? - Popular Mechanics - July 5th, 2020
- Try to consciously change the world it might just work - Sentinel & Enterprise - July 5th, 2020
- The Death of Fashion Shows? Not So Fast. | Tim's Take | BoF - The Business of Fashion - July 5th, 2020
- U of T and Hebrew University of Jerusalem launch research and innovation partnership - News@UofT - July 5th, 2020
- Max Planck Created Quantum Theory and Laid a New Foundation for Physics - Interesting Engineering - June 21st, 2020
- Do we need a 'Quantum Generation'? | TheHill - The Hill - June 21st, 2020
- 'Everything was centered around Sara, he was lost': Abhishek Kapoor on Sushant Singh Rajput after 'Kedarnath' - DNA India - June 21st, 2020
- RHOBH: What's with Denise Richards Husband Aaron Phypers? - Screen Rant - June 21st, 2020
- Restructuring cybersecurity with the power of quantum - TechRadar - June 21st, 2020
- In the atmosphere of Mars, a green glow offers scientists hints for future visits - NBCNews.com - June 21st, 2020
- Nano-motor of just 16 atoms runs at the boundary of quantum physics - New Atlas - June 20th, 2020
- Physics - The Period of the Universe's Clock - Physics - June 20th, 2020
- Why Gravity Is Not Like the Other Forces - Quanta Magazine - June 20th, 2020
- Toronto-based Association Quantum appoints Northern Hive PR - Business Up North - June 20th, 2020
- Physicists have proposed a new theory for Bose-Einstein condensates - Tech Explorist - June 20th, 2020
- Intricate Beauty, Quasiperiodic Structures, and the Cascade to Criticality - SciTechDaily - June 20th, 2020
- AI And The Parallel Universe - AI Daily - June 20th, 2020
- The stories a muon could tell - Symmetry magazine - June 20th, 2020
- Physicists Have Reversed Time on The Smallest Scale Using a Quantum Computer - ScienceAlert - June 13th, 2020
- Duckworth on Education: The Feynman Technique - EMSWorld - June 13th, 2020
- Sussex Uni physicist creates the fifth state of matter whilst working from home - The Tab - June 13th, 2020
- Beware of 'Theories of Everything' - Scientific American - June 13th, 2020
- Francesca Vidotto: The Quantum Properties of Space-Time - JSTOR Daily - June 1st, 2020
- What Is the Many-Worlds Theory of Quantum Mechanics? - The Wire - June 1st, 2020
- MIT Student Probing Reality Through Physics, Philosophy and Writing - SciTechDaily - June 1st, 2020
- An Indian Origin Physicist Created the Fifth State of Matter from Her Living Room - News18 - June 1st, 2020
- Quantum Physicist Invents Code to Achieve the Impossible - Interesting Engineering - May 24th, 2020
- What does the Tenet title mean? Quantum mechanics and Einsteins theory - Explica - May 24th, 2020
- Covid 19 Pandemic: Quantum Computing Technologies Market 2020, Share, Growth, Trends And Forecast To 2025 - 3rd Watch News - May 24th, 2020
- Scientists Create a Cluster of 15 Trillion Entangled Atoms for the First Time Ever - Dual Dove - May 24th, 2020
- Teaching the next generation of quantum scientists | Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences - Harvard School of... - May 23rd, 2020
- Nasa discovers parallel universe where time runs backwards? Know the truth - Business Standard - May 23rd, 2020
- Company Hopes to Have Carbon Nanotube COVID-19 Detector Available in June - SciTechDaily - May 23rd, 2020
- The world is not as real as we think. - Patheos - May 23rd, 2020
- Physicists Just Built The First Working Prototype Of A 'Quantum Radar' - ScienceAlert - May 19th, 2020
- Quantum Brakes to Learn About the Forces Within Molecules - SciTechDaily - May 19th, 2020
- Armin Strom Discusses Resonance With PhD Of Quantum Physics And Watch Collector In An Easy-To-Understand Way (Video) - Quill & Pad - May 19th, 2020
- Embedded in the community: Outstanding physics student is a third-generation ASU student - ASU Now - May 19th, 2020
- 50 Years of Physical Review B: Solid Hits in Condensed Matter Research - Physics - May 19th, 2020
- Exploring the quantum field, from the sun's core to the Big Bang - MIT News - May 14th, 2020
- Registration Open for Inaugural IEEE International Conference on Quantum Computing and Engineering (QCE20) - thepress.net - May 14th, 2020
- 3 Simple Reasons Why Wolfram's New 'Fundamental Theory' Is Not Yet Science - Forbes - May 14th, 2020
- The Era of Anomalies - Physics - May 14th, 2020
- Exploring new tools in string theory - Space.com - May 14th, 2020