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Remapping Reality: Chaos and Creativity in Science and. Literature. (Goethe— Nietzsche—Grass) (review). J. M. van der Laan. Goethe Yearbook, Volume
Table of contents

Some years ago, while exploring the open and questioning stance of eighteenth-century essayistic literature, I was struck by the compresence of instrumental reason and philosophical deconstruction that seemingly lies at the very heart of the Enlightenment proposition. Whereas instrumental reason is today associated with the precise and systemic thinking typical of technology and the natural sciences, deconstruction is aligned with an open-ended, antisystemic mode of humanistic questioning. Both attitudes share the skepticism of the inquiring mind, albeit to differing degrees.

One thrust leads to the establishment of systems, whereas the other seems intent upon deconstructing ordered paradigms. Could there, I wondered, be a hidden connection between the linearity of instrumental reason and scientific inquiry, on the one hand, and the nonlinearity of radical skepticism, now associated with postmodernism, on the other?

Both the scientific and the philosophic attitudes were and are motivated by the search for truth. Both represent an effort to get to the bottom of things, be it via foundationalism or hermeneutic universalism. Both are interested in truth and both suggest reasons why we are so interested in it. A period of retooling was necessary to gain better insight into the modes of scientific inquiry. I am indebted to a number of organizations for their generous support of this project.

A senior Fulbright research fellowship to Munich, Germany, enabled me to examine the nexus of chaos, Nietzsche, and creativity in the Bavarian State Library. Special thanks go to Dr. Merta and his cordial, helpful staff, who kept me supplied with materials and ample workspace. Interactions with members of the chaos research group at the Technical University there and an advanced seminar at the University of Munich helped to clarify the direction of this study.

A sabbatical leave from Vanderbilt University made it possible for me to write some of the theoretical sections of this study; a grant from the University Research Council at Vanderbilt University allowed me to visit archives and to meet with colleagues in refining my arguments.


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It was there, after experiencing how disciplines shape the way we see things, that I learned how important it is to develop a common language of dis- course. These opportunities allowed me to map out new pathways in talking about the Enlightenment and its legacies. I also wish to acknowledge contributions over the years by students at Penn, Vanderbilt, and Rutgers, who engaged in lively discussions in courses on Goethe, Nietzsche, Grass, chaos, and complexity.

Four groups deserve special mention because of their extraordinary devotion to the theoretical premises proposed in the following pages.

Genius, Notion of

Students in the Master of Liberal Arts Program at Vanderbilt eagerly delved with me into complexity and catastrophe theory in a course on creativity and metaphor in science and literature. Students in another course on complexity theory and postmodernism were instrumental in revealing similarities among science, philosophy, and literature. To all, I am deeply grateful. Many individuals read and responded to various parts of the manuscript during its long genesis. Clayton, David Ernst, Karl J. Without Shawn Kendrick, my copy editor, many imper- fections would have slipped through.

To her a hearty thanks! For the outcome, however, I bear full responsibility. Ernst Grabovszki solved many a formatting difficulty, for which I am deeply grateful. I dedicate this book to my right hand, Mecki, and my daughters, Monika and Kristin, who put up with my shifting moods throughout its genesis. They let me do my work and make doing my work worthwhile. My son, Brian, lucky lad, was spared everything.

Oh spart diess Wort — Ich bin nur schwer — so manche Pfund! Ich falle, falle immerfort, Und endlich auf den Grund. From the beginning of time, human beings have engaged in map making as an aid in getting from one place to another. Maps help us to know where we have been and where we are going. Maps are even used to explain why we are where we are.

Catalog Record: Remapping reality : chaos and creativity in | HathiTrust Digital Library

Over time, mapping reality became a highly sophisticated endeavor, with maps becoming ever more minutely detailed and nonlinear. On the extraterrestrial level, the Sloan Digital Sky Survey is charting distant galaxies with previously unimaginable clarity. Obviously, the more recent refinement in map making is directly related to increased information resulting from the extension of our senses since the advent of the original telescopes and microscopes.

Maps also serve particular purposes. There are road maps, topographical maps, charts of distant novae, maps of the jet stream, sequences of DNA, guides to museums, outlines of metaphysical thought, etc. Because of changing information, maps are constantly being redrawn and new ones emerge.

While some older cartographs provide too little detail, others prove to be too project specific and thus of little general use. This book is about important paradigm changes since the Enlightenment that have had and continue to have an impact upon our conceptions of reality and of our place in it, changes that affect how we see ourselves.

Description:

Central to the expansion of our knowledge about the world and the maps we make of it are factors such as our ethical and philosophical assumptions, the physical evidence produced by sense-extending instruments e. An essential ingredient in charting both the physical and metaphysical universe is the agonistic relationship between analytical reason and the desire for a totalizing vision of things.

It is, moreover, in keeping with the European Enlightenment — the wellspring of this study — as an attitude of awe and curiosity, as if the acquisition of some knowledge merely underscores what has yet to be learned and how it is interconnected. Thus, on the one hand this project is factual, on the other, speculative. Philosophical and ethical values play out within the fields of contest framed by science and literature.

At the center of rumination is the creative act in both nature and the arts. The chief hypothesis is the belief that science and the arts are interrelated via deep structures. As a synthetic process, interpretation is viewed as conjoining history, biography, personal confession, and the facts of science. In other words, scientific reductionism and artistic holism go hand in glove, as strange as that might sound. The result is a reinvigorated understanding of the legacies of the Enlightenment and, in particular, of the creative genius as part and parcel of the naturally creative universe.

About the author

At the heart of this undertaking is a concept of philosophy that pushes the envelope of inquiry to the extreme, one that begins to be genuine philosophy only when the inquirer insists upon an independent and thorough thinking through of the questions posed. It is a radical kind of thinking because its ultimate focus is on the root of things in the world of our experience. Oh, please spare me this sound.

Knopf, , Eine Minimalphilosophie Munich: C. Beck, , 35— The heaviness of an object, as we know from science, can be measured in terms of chemical or atomic composition as well as simple corporeal weight: the higher the number of elements or molecules in an object, the more complex its inner dynamic, the more concentrated its energy, and the greater the attraction exerted.

Moreover, without theory we would not know what to do with the details. Theory is thus a necessary part of map making, for it points the way. Seeking to know the final cause by becoming like God, Adam and Eve came to recognize the difference between good and evil. Their expulsion from Eden was tantamount to living in sin, to being subject to exertion, to the force of gravity, and to being earth bound. Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science, ed. The original quotation is found in KSA Of course, this interpretation complicates the opposition between good and evil in the Biblical story of creation.

All these issues figure prominently in the chapters that follow. Inevitably, the tendency in the popular realm has been to detach the object of study from its scientific moorings and unleash it on a dizzying journey across the pages of tabloids, paperbacks, and journals. Fausten, repr. Getting to the Bottom of Things Add to that the fact that the Social Sciences Citation Index for the years —96 lists documents on chaos and complexity for the field of economics, 95 for psychology, 75 for political science, 63 for psychiatry, 50 for international relations, and 25 for environmental studies and history each, and the stage is set for excess.

And these figures do not even include publications in the humanities. Weingart and Maasen published their analysis of the metaphoric uses of chaos in Configurations , a journal devoted to the study of science and literature. In scientific circles, chaos is used to describe unpredictable nonlinear movement that is apparently devoid of any overriding structuring principle.

This does not mean that there is no inherent order; it only suggests that the order is not discernible in ordinary terms. However, because chaos has been overused, even misappropriated, I have become more cautious about employing the term since I first began this project. On the other hand, it is not about mathematics or computer-generated images, nor does it simply equate chaos with fractal geometry.

Rather, I wish to underscore the fact that the rise of chaos as a catch- all phrase has signaled a growing sense that we have discovered a new tool for remapping our image of reality. Our world is what we would now call a periodic center,. Here and Although Paul R. Hereafter cited as HS. Thus I wish to conjoin chaos and creativity in an effort to go beyond common conceptions and challenge established patterns. Indeed, I wish to get to the bottom of things. In asking what good is chaos, I mean good to imply not only the immediate practical benefits of scientific knowledge, but more profoundly the ethical value of calling clearly ordered relationships into doubt by emphasizing the creation of the new.

To know the good entails being creative. Both the good and the chaotic are thus important to my undertaking, but not in any popular sense of the words. In an effort to avoid unnecessary confusion, I will, therefore, tend to speak more in terms of complexity theory, which, like the science of chaos, was born in the s and rose to prominence following the establishment of the Sante Fe Institute in Unlike chaos, complexity has remained ethically value free.

Yet complexity, too, has been heralded as a new paradigm in a slew of works mostly intended for a more limited audience, e. If chaos is the study of how simple deterministic systems can generate complicated behavior, then complexity is the study of how complex relational systems can generate simple behavior.

While both are embedded in community dynamics and involve multiple levels of interaction, complexity is the more general of the two. Like chaos, it has its critics as well as advocates. Ultimately, researchers wish to understand human nature itself. Humanists have of course always seen themselves in this role.

In one of its major contributions over the past three hundred years, science has taught us that we learn almost as much about an object indirectly, through its reflections and reverberations, as we do directly, through dissection and analysis. Today we are much more inclined to see humankind as part of a larger, complex ecosystem and to study humans in that wider context of immediate and more distant interconnections.