One of our most brilliant social critics—and the author of the bestselling The Middle Mind—presents a scathing critique of the “delusions” of science alongside a rousing defense of the role of art and philosophy in our culture
The so-called new atheists, most famously Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, made a splash in the new millennium. They told the evangelical and the liberal believer that they must give up religion and submit to science.
More recently, neuroscientists and their fans in the media have delivered a variation on this message: the mapping of the human brain will soon be completed, and we will know what we are and how we should act. Their faith is that the scientific method provides the best understanding not only of the physical world but also of art, culture, economics, and anything left over. The message is nearly the same as that of the new atheists: submit to science.
In short, the rich philosophical debates of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries have been nearly totally abandoned, argues Curtis White. An atheist himself, White fears what this new turn toward “scientism” will do to our culture if allowed to flourish without challenge. After all, is creativity really just chemicals in the brain? Is it wrong to ponder “Why is there something instead of nothing?” or “What is our purpose on Earth?” These were some of the original concerns of the Romantic movement, which pushed back against the dogmas of science in a nearly forgotten era.
In this brilliant multipart critique, White aims at a TED talk by a distinguished neuroscientist in which we are told that human thought is merely the product of our “connectome”—neural connections in the brain that are yet to be fully understood . . . He examines the ideas of a widely respected physicist who argues that a new understanding of the origins of the universe trumps all religious and philosophical inquiry . . . and ends with an eloquent defense of the poetry and philosophy of Romanticism, which White believes our technology and science-obsessed world desperately needs to rediscover.
It’s the only way, he argues, that we can see our world clearly . . . and change it.
“A symptomatic tour of the real sense of anxiety about the disenchantment of all those qualities that make us feel most alive and unique in the world.”
—New York Times Book Review
“[White's] brisk takedowns of Hitchens, Hawking, Krauss, Lehrer and others are sharp and necessary, wielding elementary logic against figures who should know better. [White shows] just how easily good science can shade into the self-aggrandizing ideology of scientism.”
—Mark Kingwell, Globe and Mail
“There’s certainly a very real need to march on that citadel, because the idea that there can be only one kind of truth has to be deeply damaging to the intellectual development of a culture.”
—Mark O’Connell, Slate
“An important and necessary book.”
—Philadelphia Review of Books
“Thoroughly well researched and astutely put… An essential read.”
“White’s prose is fluid and often enjoyable… White clearly knows his stuff when it comes to classic literature, and offers an interesting sidebar on the development of Romanticism.”
“A bracing and necessary critique by an able arguer.”
—Toronto Star, Books of Note
“A highly readable yet powerful defense of the importance of the humanities against those who believe science to be the last interpretative framework standing. It is destined to become a classic among artists, dreamers, revolutionaries, and anyone who, like Kierkegaard, believes asking questions to be as important a quest as finding answers.”
“A witty critique of scientific overreach that celebrates the totality of human achievement.”
Praise for Curtis White and The Middle Mind
“Cogent, acute, beautiful, merciless, and true.” —David Foster Wallace
“Re-visioning the world takes brawling muscle and a sneer. Curtis White gots that.” —Andrei Codrescu
“The most inspiringly wicked social critic of the moment . . . White exalts the subversive pleasures of the imagination, not simply as a tactic for individual psychic survival, but also as a spark for collective engagement.” —Will Blythe
“Curtis White writes out of an admirable intellectual sophistication combined with viscerality, pain, and humor.” —John Barth
“A master of bewitchments, parodies, and dazzling tropes.” —Paul Auster
“Not the least pleasure in reading the book resides in the refreshing malevolent irony that transpires from every page. Absolutely indispensable.” —Slavoj iek
From the Hardcover edition.