Importance of Literature in Scientific World Essay

By | June 14, 2019


  • Literature, a product of the particular physical and social environment
  • The influence of science on great thinkers and writers of various generations
  • A clash between the scientist and the student of humanities
  • Science, a search for truth; literature, an interpretation of life
  • Modern writers expounding against the evils of science
  • Literature reflecting the characteristics of particular age
  • Revolt against science in 18th century
  • Trends in 20th century
  • Poetry, the source of earliest contracts with science
  • Imaginative treatment of science in two specific forms
  • The amalgamation of science and literature

Literature embraces all arts, sciences, knowledge and cultures. It is the product of particular physical and social environments. It encompasses the whole human life and activities of man. It is the expression of human emotions and feelings, views and opinions, awareness and ambition, imagination and ideas, actions and reactions and the mysterious and the mystical. Literature deals both with the real and the romantic, the grand and the grotesque, and mundane and the spiritual. All low and high, trifle and serious sentimental and humorous, beautiful and ugly and comic and tragic themes are reflected in the mighty mirror of literature.

As it is, all the creative writers reflect the tendencies of the age in which they live. Science that is creative like literature could not fail to impress and influence the great thinkers and writers of the various generations. In fact the modern developments in science and technology have so changed man’s environments and mode of life, and his conception of the universe and his place in it that the historian has had to revise his opinions about the fundamental shifts in human history. In the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century, many now see the most significant change in man’s fortune and future since the dawn of modern civilization.[the_ad id=”17141″]

The immense extension of scientific knowledge during last four centuries has unfortunately resulted in a division, which has arisen between the scientists on the one hand, and the student of humanities on the other. In fact of present distinction between science and humanities and specialization in them, is the natural result of great mass and intricacy of knowledge; but the search of all the scientists and the humanists is for truth and human well-being. Science is overwhelming all human activities and is bound to affect all the laymen, the scholars and the writers.

Science is both an end in itself as a search for truth, and also a means of promoting human happiness. It must, therefore, be considered not merely as a technique but also as an instrument of great philosophic and social significance. Literature is essentially an interpretation of life, and literary form, a technique for its expression. As such it must concern itself with science and technology increasingly because our lives are now inextricably bound up with the developments in this field.

Modern writers cannot help themselves getting deeply involved and express keen interest in the field of science and technology. Some of the modern writers, who deplore our essentially technological twentieth-century culture, have much of value to say about its evil results. But the future of literature must lie with new writers who can interpret and guide true humanistic values – the new scientific culture which has now come to stay. Science being the only common denominator among the peoples of the world can be called the religion of the modern world.

From the seventeenth century onwards, there have been writers who have appreciated these values and found science as a legitimate subject for imaginative composition and literature as a means for interpretation of science in terms of human life.

When we read and enjoy various literary forms, we are transported to the period to which they belong and live and feel with the people. Literature makes our life fuller and deeper. Elizabethan literature makes us keenly aware about the romance and adventures of the great period. The writings of eighteenth-century writers take us into the wonderful world of travels and adventures, and the many twentieth-century writers on scientific themes, feed our curiosity for unknown wonders and suspense and make us strongly aware about the physical world around us. Science has advanced in the spectacular fashion in recent history because scientists have been greedy for new knowledge about the universe. The writers on science subjects make the reader keenly aware about scientific methods and achievements.[the_ad id=”17142″]

The growth of physical sciences has had great influence on general literature apart from imaginative writing about specific themes. For example, the invention of printing in the fifteenth century ultimately made possible the literature of mass appeal in the late eighteenth century. And today science has created rivals for its own printing machine, in the presentation of literature through cinema, radio, cable and television in spoken and usually dramatized form. Scientific films, scripts and discoveries projected through audio-visual aids have great impact on the minds of the people. This has greatly influenced both the literary technique and the aesthetic receptivity of the public.

Again, the foundation of the Royal Society in 1662, with its insistence on a plain style of writing by its fellows, was one of the causes of change in prose style in the seventeenth century and the beginning of modern prose. Dryden critical essays afford the best example of the new plain and simple prose. The Society freely admitted both men of letters and scientists in its early days.

The Deism of eighteenth century, reflected though with some reservations, in A. Pope’s “Essay On Man”, was as much the result of the mechanism ideas implicit in Newton’s Principia Mathematica as of Locker’s Essay concerning ‘Human Understanding’ because the concept of the Universe as a machine negates all ideas of divine except the idea of God as the Great Creator who started the machine in the first place. This resulted in the revolt against science and scientific rationalism by William Blake and John Keats during the Romantic Revival. In the nineteenth century the discoveries of the geologists led by Sir Charles Lyell, and later reinforced by the evolutionary theories of Darwin and Huxley, led to the literature wholly concerned with the doubts and skepticism produced by the scientific discoveries on the fundamental religious beliefs.

Another aspect of the literary relationships of science and technology is theme of social and industrial reforms in a number of nineteenth-century verse and prose, fiction protesting against man’s use of technology following on the industrial revolution. When industrialism was new in England, it roused indignant protest on account of its ruthlessness and destruction of beauty. Carlyle eloquently expressed them in his book Past and Present.

The twentieth century saw a new change in literature side by side with development in science and technology; science has entered general fiction and drama in variety of ways. Industrialism and scientific research appear as new themes in the novels as diverse as D.H. Lawrence’s ‘Woman in Love’, Nigel Belchin’s ‘The Small Back Room’ and Sir Charles Snow’s ‘The New Man’. Likewise, discoveries in psychology and psychoanalysis have been one of the most powerful influences on the post 1918 novel. James Joyce demonstrates the new trend in the use of stream of consciousness narrative method, in importance of sex in D.H. Lawrence or in the behaviour interpretation of the character and human action in the novels of Aldous Huxley.[the_ad id=”17150″]

Scientific and industrial themes also sometimes form the subject matter of some international drama, Capek’s play R.U.R., Elmer Rice’s drama “The Adding Machine’; and in England Norman Nicholson’s verse play ‘Prophesy to the Wind’ and ‘The Burning Glass’ by Charles Morgan are some of the examples.

Modern fiction, drama, poetry, biography and autobiography, fantasy, utopia and anti-utopia, history of science, space, travels, ocean discoveries and scientific methods in literary criticism, all express the new tendencies of the scientific age. There are a number of magazines and journals that exclusively deal with scientific research, inventions and discoveries that have changed and are constantly changing our life, our views about the physical world and even religious beliefs.

The earliest literary contacts with science were in poetry. Didactic poems, which are in fact verified scientific expositions, are the first verse composition. This type of poetry became rarer as science grew more and more complex. Medieval science is repeated in the poetry of Dante and Chaucer. In the 17th century, the New Philosophy supplied imagery for many poets who did not necessarily accepted all its findings. Samuel Butler found subject matter for his satire in science. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries it was chiefly the philosophic implications of new science, which concerned the poets. Blake and Keats were opposed to science, whereas Wordsworth showed his disapproval for industrialism in his long poem. The excursion and disparages science in his poem “The Tables Turned’. Anyhow, his lyrical Ballads show acceptance of science as the subject matter of poetry. In the nineteenth century Tenyson’s poem ‘In Memoriam’ is the most note-worthy poem reflecting the impact of science on religious thoughts of the time.

In the twentieth century several poets have taken their pens to express scientific and technological themes, and ever more have borrowed their imagery from science. Some of the nineteenth-century poets like Lewis, Auden and Spencer were popularly known as Pylon School because of their fondness for machine imagery. The breakdown of the old traditional decorative style in poetry in our century can be traced to the influence of scientific ideas.[the_ad id=”17144″]

Two specific forms, which the imaginative treatment of science in prose has taken, are:

  1. Science Fiction
  2. Scientific Utopias

Fiction falls under two main divisions – a fantasia of prose and space travel stories by H. G. Wells, Edgar Allen Poe, Mary W. Shelley, Jules Verne and Olaf Stapledon. Samuel Butler, H. G. Wells and E. M. Forster tried their hands at scientific utopias, which became anti-utopias in case of writers who hold the view that science, human nature being what it is more likely to use for evil than for good.

Fantasia of possibility or narrative of adventures was a natural corollary of the Industrial Revolution. M. W. Shelley’s Frankenstein (1817) is the earliest example. H. G. Wells is the most famous exponent of the new form, which because debased later on in the hands of well-experienced writers. With some modern writers, the fantasia of possibility has taken the form of a narrative of inventions of scientific warfare, which has brought our civilization to an end.

Stories dealing with the flight of human beings on the planets are very old in origin. The first example was Lucian’s True History written in the second century A.D. The other examples that followed are by Kepler (1834), Bishop F. Gordwin (1683), John Wilkins (1838) and Cyrånco de Bergerac (1657). Their stories merely type of ‘Voyage Imagine’ as the modes of flight they adopt were never remotely scientific. Romances featuring space travel on a pseudo-scientific basis only developed in the 19th century with the stories of Edgar Poe, and Jules Verne. H.G. Wells was their main follower in the 20th century. The form received a new impetus with the development of rocket missiles and atomic science in the Second Great World War. Stapledon and G.S. Lewis stress the social, political and moral impact of space travel and compel us to think of moral aspects of man’s use of scientific inventions. [the_ad id=”17151″]

The role of science in producing utopia (or anti-utopia, according to the point of view) – a theme of universal interest today, was first discussed by Campanella in the book ‘City of the Sun’ (1602) The first English utopia connected with science was Lord Bacon’s New Atlantis (1627). Bacon was not concerned with social legislation at all but fond of sole recipe for utopia in the application of science to industry. Later writers frequently expressed the utopian ideas strongly featuring science for good or evil. Some of these works, for example Swift’s Voyage to Laputa in Gulliver’s Travels and Erewhon by Butler are, strictly speaking, neither utopia nor anti-utopia but the description of way of life in strange lands used as means of criticizing aspects of European civilization. The frequent attempts in this direction in the twentieth century, express progressive disbelief in man’s ability to use science only for human good; and growing belief that science is rapidly becoming not man’s servant but his master. It is also proved by events.

Thus for more than four centuries, in some respects since the beginnings of literature, there has been a relationship between science and literature. Today whether for good or evil, science is at the hub of our way of life. The more its nature and potentialities are discussed in imaginative literature, the more likelihood is there that its influence may be for good. A great future awaits for literature which is contemporary in the sense that it is concerned with the personal and moral problems of human beings, not in isolation but in the social background of a technological world and for such writers that can provide guidance in the solution of the problems which science has presented to mankind.

It is heartening to note that progress in science and its great future are engaging the attention of the writers who wish to popularize science and bring home its blessings by presenting the desired themes on cinema and television. Now scientific ideas are knocking at the doors of common men.

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