Intersecting Sets: A Poet looks at Science / Alice Major
Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, c2011.
I thoroughly enjoyed this set of essays exploring the intersection of poetry and science. These two subjects, as well as their interactions, are two of my absolute favourite things; I love to study the neuroscience of reading literature, for example. This book was very satisfying -- literary and poetic in style, it also had a high level of "scienticity", as Major develops her themes in various areas of biology, linguistics, physics and more.
She's a poet who was turned on to physics at a young age and is able to draw parallels between the literary arts and many areas of science, in a very natural way. Her chapter on linguistics and fractals was very precise and certainly took a lot of concentration to get through for this non-linguist! But, it was entirely comprehensible and sparked more and more new ideas... kind of like a fractal pattern itself. I really loved the chapters on physics and on neuroscience (my particular areas of interest). But I learned something with each entertaining and thoughtful essay, which to me is the sign of a great read. This is one of those books I classify as "dinner party books", since you learn so many tidbits to dazzle others with at your next dinner party! (I have a whole shelf of those)
Major's premise is that for too long, Science and Art have been considered separate spheres, at odds with each other, or perhaps even antagonistic. Scientists and Artists are assumed to hold competing worldviews. Major posits, however, that the separate worlds of Science and Art are more like a Venn diagram, with lots of commonality -- points of which she explores in her essays here. Or, as the title states, she's exploring the Intersecting Sets of Science and Art.
She does not claim to be a science writer, merely a poet who is interested in science and has kept up on developments in a layman's role. I am also a bookish individual with a strong interest in science, and I don't think that discussions of such should be limited to "professional" scientists or science writers. Both poetry and science allow for new understandings of our world, and new ways of seeing, even if from different angles. Major's particular angle is that of a longstanding poet, and her vision of how the 'dreamy' world of poetry and the 'rational' world of science intersect was compelling.
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