Jean-Patrick Connerade, is emeritus professor of physics at Imperial College London, UK, and the president of the European Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters (EASAL). He is also a poet in his own right, writing in French, under the pen name of Chaunes. He is also a former president of EuroScience.
To many, science would seem the very opposite of poetry, being born of reason and rational deduction, whereas a poem appears as the fruit of imagination. Amongst all literary forms, poetry is the one most likely to be associated with the irrational. This could perhaps explain the hidden tension which has driven so many scientists, from Omar Khayyam to Robert Oppenheimer and from William Hamilton to Marie Curie to write poetry. And why so many poets, from Percy Bysshe Shelley to Edgar Allan Poe, from Gérard de Nerval to Primo Levi, have written poems inspired by science or by scientific themes.
In fact, Science and Poetry form a little understood harmony. They are connected examples of human creativity, much like the Ying and the Yang of Chinese philosophy. Mysteriously, they emerge as opposite or opposing facets of the same quest for truth and for perfection.
Since the second ESOF 2014 conference, held in Munich in 2006, poets and scientists have gathered to explore this fundamental connection. Some of the poets attending are renowned simply for their poetry, while others are also well-known scientists. Jean-Patrick Connerade organises a session unique to ESOF, entitled: Science meets Poetry IV: Danish connections.
In this exclusive interview to the EuroScientist, Jean-Patrick Connerade talks about the connection between science and poetry and beyond.
Connerade explains the reason for bringing poetry in a conference dedicated to science and policy. “Science is part of the culture in general, it is part of, what we might call the humanist tradition,” he says, “For some strange reason, science has drifted slightly from that humanist tradition. I think because of the very strong specialisation in science.”
He also makes the connection with poetry. “The poets in some sense are very close to the first questions which scientists ask themselves, which is about understanding the world. That’s what poets also try to do but they do so in a different perspective.”
This Science meets Poetry session is a chance to find out about contemporary poetry in its developing relationship to science and scientists. As part of the session, the panellists will explore Danish themes, including Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe’s forgotten life as a poet, and how it worked its way into Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. “There is a Danish connection running through much of European poetry, just as it runs through European physics. . . So it is in fact an extremely rich subject this connection with Denmark,” Connerade explains.
He then talks about the kind of skills from the humanities that could be included in the training of scientists. “Employers who recruit PhDs are complaining that they actually don’t know enough about expressing their thoughts, in a way which is intelligible perhaps to… the man in the street. Indeed some of these employers have been saying that universities should be able to teach them something about that. So it sounds as though PhD training, as it is, is not entirely successful in that area.”
He also talks about the first ambition that this session has to “attempt to restore the humanist connection between science and poetry, which has always existed in the past, and which has simply been forgotten.”
He goes on to describe the second ambition of such session, which is “to make scientists and the public alike aware of poetry today and the poets aware of science. . . It is possible for these two areas of knowledge to drift apart and to do so in a way that they function…in a closed world without knowing about each other… We think it is good for both to bring them together…We obviously want the public to understand that scientists are open to poetry. We have a number of scientists who are poets…. And the second aspect of that, of course, is that there are poets interested in science.”
Photo Credit: Jean Patrick Connerade
Go back to the ESOF 2014 Special Issue