Brief Notes on Science

Gonçalo M. Tavares

Artwork by Hidetoshi Yamada

We have seen how it is originally language which works on the construction of concepts, a labor taken over in later ages by science.

—Nietzsche


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Danger


     It is clear that Danger is the origin of the most efficient scientific methods.
     If Man were immortal, he would not yet have invented the wheel (one could say).


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Tedium and Conclusions


     It's tedium. Or else, the other element. Jorge Luis Borges affirmed that a literary text is only considered finished and definitive for two classes of reasons: weariness or religious faith. Thus too in scientific experiments.


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Abstraction


     Abstraction is useful in science if, as in the children's tale, you leave a trail of breadcrumbs in order to identify the way back. However, sometimes it is you who, absentmindedly or out of hunger, devours the very possibility of return. And you remain there, lost: among the splendid ideas.
     (The more you walk, the more your appetite grows, and your path becomes circular. If you're hungry and you spot a breadcrumb in front of you, what do you do?
     This is the scientist lost in the forest.)


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Differences and Similarities (1)


     Spotting the differences is one of the methods. Spotting the similarities is another.
     The mosquito that disturbs your harmony of sound and space, when it is smashed between your swift hands, becomes silent—just like your hands after the action. Thereafter you throw away the mosquito, and the harmony of sound and space returns. But don't imagine that it is definitive, this harmony. You know very well that it is not.


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Differences and Similarities (2)


     We can kill the mosquito or point at it and say: Mosquito.
     Classifications and categories begin with disharmony.


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Differences and Similarities (3)


     And harmony begins with Cruelty.
     "At a certain altitude, all is one," wrote Nietzsche in The Philosopher's Book.


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Precision


     To be precise in science is to make a mistake in a tone of voice that is more forceful than that of others.
     To put it another way: you pick up the target with both hands and press the bull's eye against the point of the arrowhead.
     This is scientific precision.


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Feelings and Science


     What is science useful for if it does not investigate feelings?
     It is useful for that which is not feeling.
     Is it, therefore, useful for man?
     It is useful for every part of man that is not feeling.


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The Familiar


     Science does not proceed toward Mystery. Nor toward the Strange.
     Science proceeds toward the Familiar.


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Investigating (1)


     How would it be possible to proceed toward Mystery? Toward that which I do not know?
     If I proceed toward Mystery it is because the Mystery has already been solved by me.
     If such a thing were to happen at the circus, people would call it a farce.
     You already know where they hid the jewel (you were the one who hid it) and now you're asking them to put a blindfold over your eyes.
     What are you doing, they ask you.
     Investigating, you reply.


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Investigating (2)


     But you're not investigating: you're entertaining yourself.
     You invent difficulties and concepts in order to delay your arrival.
     Tomorrow you shall arrive at the hiding place where just yesterday you hid the answer.


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Drawing and Science


     Everything that you cannot draw is an abstraction. Everything that you cannot draw is useless.
     (But how does one draw these two sentences?
     Is it useless to say that almost everything is useless? This is a problem.)


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Anthropomorphism


     It is clear that science is anthropomorphic.
     Is there anything that a serpent does that one could say is not the action of a serpent?
     All the acts of man are acts of man. (And science is an act of Man.)
     It is as large as the way we want to see it, and it is as small as the way we want to see it.
     (If you have a certain type of mirror you shall see, when facing it, an enormous image, but if you change your position and the position and characteristics of the mirror, you can see, when facing it, how small you are.
     It is clear that your size isn't conferred by you, but by the ruler. But you were the one who invented the ruler.)


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Hatred, Love, and Science


     You can do science out of hatred for a cause or a group of people.
     You can do science out of love for a cause of a group of people.
     You can obtain, out of hatred or love, identical scientific conclusions.


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Lies and Truth


     It is the organism—and its systems of repulsion and attraction—that decides if something is true or false.
     A Lie is that which repels my organic system of Truth detection.
     To say, then, that a lie is a lie seems like an overstatement.


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History of the Sciences (1)


     The History of the Sciences always finds itself slightly delayed in relation to the History of Desires.
     There are some famous metaphors, let's make use of them.
     It is as if the horses were Desire and the cart they're pulling were science.
     If the horses were detached from the cart, they would gain speed, but would lose their public utility; society wants function, not flight.
     But the worst happens with the cart itself. If the horses are detached from it, it will never move again.


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History of the Sciences (2)


     It is clear that it is the scientist with his whip who steers the horses and the cart.


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  History of the Sciences (3)


     If we enter into psychoanalytic territory we could say that childhood, pleasures, and fears guide the scientist's whip.


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History of the Sciences (4)


     If we enter into mystical terrain we could say that it is Destiny that guides the childhood, pleasures, and fears of an individual.


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History of the Sciences (5)


     Scientific investigations depend, therefore, on God, Chance, or Destiny (or whatever you want to call it).
     But, despite all this, they also depend on Reason.


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The Theory of Snow


     We know what snow is. It's enchanting, today. We play with it. We look around us and all we see is its white color. Our world has been taken over by snow.
     We know, therefore, what snow is. And we know what a scientific theory is.
     It's just that Winter is not eternal.


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Coercion and the Ephemeral (1)


     Let's talk about an illusion.
     It is not the coercive force of the things on the investigator that imposes the temporary truth of science.
     It is, rather, the coercive force of the investigator on the things that imposes the temporary truth of science.


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Coercion and the Ephemeral (2)


     Because it is easy to see: it isn't the things that are temporary, it's the investigators who are temporary.
     Newton died, as is well known; but the things that he saw did not.
     (And the things that he saw, and their transformations, are now called other names by the living.)


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Validation and Generations


     Those who are now living determine what the Truth is.
     It is the living generation that validates science.
     It is clear that it wasn't Einstein who proved that the theory of Relativity was true. It is the current generation that proves it when it declares that the proof that Einstein presented was correct.
     In terms of the validation of Truth, the most significant dead scientists are less important that the least significant living scientist.
     It's a narrative question: you know the end (the present) of the film. They died halfway through it.


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The Minimal and the Large


     To minimal things, science adds large things.
     To large things, science adds small things.


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Skepticism and Belief


     Skeptic like the skeptics, believer like the believers.
     The half that advances is the believer, the half that confirms is the skeptic.
     But the perfect scientist is also a gardener: he believes that beauty is knowledge.
     (The beautiful person holds a secret. She has discovered something.)


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Beauty and Science


     Beautification is another scientific methodology. Beauty is one of the shouts of Eureka.


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Investigations and Disequilibrium


     Lean forward into the future: at one end only your feet remain on the ground, your head presses forward.
     Investigating without disequilibrium is like trudging through mud: someone is going to sink.


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The New and Specialists


     You can only add something to World 1—whether it be a scientific discipline or merely an idea—if you have brought something from World 2.
     To put it another way, and being the obvious way forward:
     Nothing that belongs to World 1 is new to World 1.
     You want to bring yourself something new? Get outside yourself.
     You want to bring something new to this cubic box that measures one meter by one meter?
     Then search for something outside of it.
     This is the obvious presupposition of any investigation.
     How, then, are we to understand specialists?


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 The Quotidian


     The profound consequences of science can be observed in the habits of a housewife, a six-year-old child, or a dying old man.
     Observe the habits of a society and you shall see the extraordinary plane it has arrived at.
     In a thunderstorm the light comes first, and only much later does the sound arrive.


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The River


     What fraction of knowledge is enough for me to be happy?
     What fraction of knowledge is enough for me to make others happy?
     Is that which science discovers outside of these two fractions the part that is useless?
     (And on which bank of the river do you find yourself?)


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Classification


     Classification is a unanimous poetry.
     (Useless, therefore, for an individual.)


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Language


     Language utilizes science to achieve the illusion of Truth, just as language utilizes art to achieve the illusion of a certain sort of Beauty.


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The Stupid


     The only way to think—which is to say, to move forward—is to be imprecise, inexact, in relation to that which has already been thought.
     Whoever, in a debate, accuses the other, saying:
     "This is one more alteration in relation to what Your Excellence has said previously."
     Whoever says this is, in fact, accusing themselves.


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Imitation


     If what is now being thought is identical to what has already been thought, then such is not thought, it is imitation.
     "You're not thinking, you're imitating."
     This is a nasty insult.


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Objects


     Whoever defends the objectivity of science effaces herself as a subject and takes pride in this—she considers it an indispensable part of the method.
     However, there are people who do not believe in a science that is made up of objects.


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 The Cup


     An object does not investigate anything.
     A cup, for example: either they put water in it or wine or some other liquid, or they drop it on the floor.


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Scientific Instruments


     Scientific instruments aren't a response in Form to the Function of the Mysteries of the World.
     Each scientific instrument is a response to the necessities of an investigator.


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Instruments and Mystery


     The investigator's Hammer doesn't hammer the nails of the Mystery of the World, it hammers the nails of the investigator's own mind.
     (And those of his heart as well.)


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Boredom


     Is an unhappy scientific investigator a good scientific investigator?
     Is a lovesick scientific investigator a good scientific investigator?
     Those are two different problems, says the bored man.
     And this one, indeed, the bored man, cannot be a good investigator.


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Joy and Sadness


     But persist.
     What is the relationship between happiness and scientific method?
     Are there happy scientific methodologies?
     Are there sad scientific methodologies?
     I dare say that there are.


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A Hypothesis


     Joy is a catalyst for a scientific experiment; sadness, an inhibitor.
     Sadness restricts; how can a sad man discover something?
     Only those who are happy take risks.
     Sadness is anti-scientific.


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Your Excellence


     "Your Excellence is not utilizing the scientific method appropriately."
     Because Your Excellence is sad.


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The Evidence of the Proof


     For joy, everything is evident, everything is clear, everything is proven.
     Not so for sadness.
     Joy is indispensable in science because the illusion of evidence, which only joy can arrive at, is also indispensable.
     Proving something, proving anything at all, is an exuberance of the joyful heart.
     "You believe in yourself to such an extent that you believe in that which your mind proves."


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Love


     The useful methodology is a hammer.
     Science uses the hammer.
     Art uses science.
     (And love can render everything useless.)


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Love of Facts


     Let's return to the question at hand.
     Can a lovesick man prove something? Should we believe in him, in his objectivity (as it is called)?
     And can a man who is not lovesick prove something?
     But there is another way to approach the topic: understanding love as a way to prove something.
     "For me, this fact is more than proven: I love this fact."

translated from the Portuguese by Rhett McNeil



Gonçalo M. Tavares was born in Luanda, Angola, in 1970 and teaches theory of science in Lisbon. Nobel Laureate José Saramago stated: "In thirty years' time, if not before, Tavares will win the Nobel Prize, and I'm sure my prediction will come true . . . Tavares has no right to be writing so well at the age of 35. One feels like punching him." In 2005 Tavares won the José Saramago Prize. His novel Jerusalem was also awarded the Prêmio Portugal Telecom de Literatura em Língua Portuguesa 2007 and the LER/Millenium Prize. His novel Learning to Pray in the Age of Technique received the prestigious Best Foreign Book Prize 2010 in France.

Rhett McNeil is a scholar, critic, and literary translator from Texas, where he graduated Phi Beta Kappa from UT-Austin with degrees in English, Portuguese, and art history. He has an MA in comparative literature from Penn State University and is currently finishing a Ph.D. in the same department, with a doctoral minor in aesthetics. His translations include novels and short stories from some of the most innovative and accomplished authors on the world literary scene, including António  Lobo Antunes, Enrique Vila-Matas, and Gonçalo Tavares. McNeil also edited and translated a volume of short fiction by the Brazilian writer Machado de Assis. His translation of Tavares's Joseph Walser's Machine was longlisted for the 2013 Best Translated Book Award.



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