There seems to be an unfortunate chasm between the humanities and the hard sciences. The first is the domain of limp-wristed sissies that never quite grew out of that “I’m a tortured artist” stage of middle-school/high-school, and only the tough-minded skeptics interested in a pursuit of truth can make it where it really matters- the lab and the field. As one associates himself with these people- in college, coffee shops or at work- we find that these distinctions are rarely accurate. In fact, if history tells us anything, it is that such distinctions are false. The greatest minds in history, from Plato and Aristotle, to Anselm and Aquinas, through the age of Voltaire, Diderot and Rousseau, down to Darwin, Maxwell, Einsten, Heisenberg and Watson/Crick, have all had a penchant for the romantic side of humanity usually portrayed best by those individuals worshiped in humanities departments. I think there is a very good reason for that- it is because they are scientists that such great literary (and artistic works in general) feats are ruminated on. Let’s consider this a bit.

If there is anything that we are familiar with most, it is our own mind. David Hume rightly shewed that any investigation into the world must begin with the investigator himself- that is, psychology must precede metaphysics. Therefore it is the human mind that takes precedence over the rest of the worlds mysteries, and must remain so until it is solved.

What, then, is the status of the science of the mind in the appropriate fields over the recent years? Actually, it is both troubling and soothing at the same time. We are finding out that the mind is a perpetual black box, fending off all reductive attacks from all quarters. Now, that does not mean that we have no compiled an impressive list of data- certainly, we have more data than we know what to do with-but rather that there is yet to be found an actual explanation of many facets of our mental life. What is experience? What is consciousness? Why does red look the way it does? Why does heat feel the way it does? It seems in theory impossible to solve these questions. Any scientific explanation will take the following (rough) form:

Whenever patient reports mental state m, physical state p attends. At best this could bundle together certain events with each other, hardly a satisfying explanation. But perhaps the human mind is unable to be broken into? Perhaps, as a growing number of academics are beginning to “feel”, the psychological features of the mind are on their way to being exhausted while the phenomenal remains forever out of reach?

Hence the popularity of literature. If there can be no objective, 3rd person look into the human mind, we must rely on 1st person reports of that individual to make any progress in mind sciences. Who is the best at that? Well, it is the person able to report his own mental state with the most clarity and precision. Sounds like Shakespeare to me. He needs to be able to recreate in our minds the feel of love. Sounds like Goethe to me. The agony of dying? Try out Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilych.

The way I see it, if the mind really is something irreducible or non-physical, literature will provide immense usefulness for eternity necessarily.