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Two Poets & the Transformative Impact of Scientific Knowledge on Human Lives

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Gaurav Ojha

Two Poets & the Transformative Impact of Scientific Knowledge on Human Lives

When I think of the progress of scientific knowledge, its applications, and its impact on
human welling, flourishing and quality of life, I take reference to two poets from different
historical periods. First of all, let us take the case of 19th-century romantic poet John
Keats who died at the young age of 25 due to tuberculosis. For the people surviving in
these modern times, we have medications and vaccines for this disease, however,
during his romantic period, the great poet would only hope for survival by traveling to a
place with a better and suitable climate for delaying the damages caused by
tuberculosis. Besides, Keats for the hope of better health also participated in
experimental therapy of extreme diet that only caused further bodily deterioration, but
considering medications and therapies available during that time, the young poet had no
choice.

We can only speculate what the poet would have produced only if he had survived for
another ten years, as the poet wrote in this poem Ode to a Grecian Urn “Heard
melodies are sweet, but those unheard are sweeter”, therefore we can argue that his
published poem is sweet and we can only presume that those poems that died with the
poet would have also been much sweeter for us readers. Although the industrial
revolution had gathered momentum during his lifetime, medical sciences were still at its
formative stage, without any substantial scientific knowledge regarding medical
procedures for this fatal disease. Therefore without proper medication, John Keats died
early and just think of those illnesses that would have killed so many us without any
antibiotics and vaccines.

In the 21st century, in a contrast to earlier periods in history, due to tremendous
progress in medical sciences both in terms of knowledge accumulation and
applications, Australian poet Clive James managed to survive with Chronic lymphocytic
leukemia and other associated complications for 10 years after his diagnosis. More
importantly, before his death at the age of eighty, the last ten years of his life were the
most creative. With death staring at his face, the poet wrote perhaps some profound
verses on the dimensions of life and death, nostalgia, and mortality. In this farewell
poem, Japanese Maple, Clive James writes, A final flood of colors will live on/As my
mind dies,/Burned by my vision of a world that shone/ So brightly at the last, and then
was gone. The brightness and the colors of life indeed fade. With new medications,
keeping the fragile poet alive and breathing for a decade, he was able to contemplate
thoughts in his mind and put them into verses on pages.

Rather ironically, however, in the knowledge domain where these poets belong, in arts,
education, humanities, and social sciences, contributions of scientific knowledge,
methodologies, and achievements are not acknowledged as important foundations for
social, aesthetic, ethical, intellectual, and cultural progress, indeed we have less
suffering, violence, pain, misery and needless deaths due to scientific progress and
achievements. Besides, different theoretical references in the domain of social sciences

are rather critical and even dismissive of scientific approaches, features, and standards
for the knowledge-building process. In arts, humanities, education, and social science
departments of universities, the relevance of an objective standard for truth has been
reduced to just another interpretation and the specific features of positivist research
methodologies have been rejected as rather restrictive and framed as Newtonian
reductionism, absolutism, unidimensional and intellectually oppressive.

Moreover, the knowledge generated in arts, education, humanities, and social science
departments is highly subjective, based on far-fetched interpretations, useless
theoretical assembling, anecdotal, personalized perspectives, and limited to a particular
case or context. Hence, due to its subjective, contextual, personalized, particularized,
narrative and interpretive characteristics and orientations, knowledge generated in the
domain of arts, education, and humanities, have very limited applied value, outcome
orientations, or utility. Whereas knowledge, evidence, data, and observations that have
been accumulated through scientific approaches, methodologies and orientations have
applied value and transformative implications for both society and individuals, indeed
antibiotics heal, airplanes fly, mobile phones connect, vaccines save millions of lives
and diabetes medicines maintain sugar levels. Progress in scientific knowledge doesn’t
mean we know everything, it simply means we know more than what we knew, indeed
scientific discoveries have contributed significantly to the social, cultural, and ethical
progress of society and enhanced the overall quality of human life.

According to cognitive scientist Steven Pinker, values of reason and science have
brought about tremendous progress in overall health index, life extension, economic
prosperity, safety and personal flourishing, and social well-being. Steven Pinker further
adds that enlightenment values of scientific methodologies, objective analysis, rational
evaluations and analysis, and freedom of expression are under threat from political
correctness and postmodernism. Moreover, the populism of postmodern theories and
interpretive paradigm in arts, education, and humanities, and theoretical passions for
critical theories and political correctness in social sciences have devalued and depleted
the incomparable impact of scientific progress on human civilization to the level of
oppressive grand narratives.

However, imagine a life without the progress of scientific knowledge, how short, difficult,
and hopeless living a human life would have been, a simple infection would be life-
threatening without the proper dose of antibiotics. Although we need aesthetics,
narratives, arts, and interpretations, when it comes to understanding any phenomenon,
event or occurrence or solving social problems, technological progress, or medical
concerns,  scientific approach and methods are the most effective, efficient, testable,
replicable, reliable and valid, and due to tremendous progress in scientific knowledge,
we are better than never before.

Reference:
Pinker, S. (2018). Enlightenment now: The case for reason, science, humanism, and
progress. Penguin

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