How Did Darwin Lose His Taste For Poetry?

So we all know Charles Darwin is accredited with blowing up the world – or perhaps something like it. I might guess that millions refer to Darwin to prove a point or prop up a pivoting opinion or justify a dissension and yet have never actually read Origin of a Species beyond the few highly quotable bits. When I consider all the controversy, and all the opposing thinkers who have taken to argue with the dead man Darwin, I realize I have had little to offer – and – that I don’t really much care about the fact.

There is one thing I might hold up as a bit of damning evidence against the great Darwin – and it is nothing strictly to do with faith vs science – but more along the lines of art vs science, or perhaps better stated, science to the exclusion of art… I once a while back read the quote:

“But now for many years I cannot endure to read a line of poetry” ~Charles Darwin
« The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin – Day 27 of 188

I have no need to prove the thinking of Darwin “wrong”… but must question what sort of thinking would lead a human to lose their taste for the things which exemplify their very humanity? More importantly, how might I protect myself from such thinking?

Further in said letter, Darwin notes:
“My mind seems to have become a kind of machine for grinding general laws out of large collections of facts, but why this should have caused the atrophy of that part of the brain alone, on which the higher tastes depend, I cannot conceive.”

I personally find this utterly tragic. It suggests we can poison our minds with our thinking activities (or thinking idleness even?). For Darwin, he spent countless hours “grinding” on facts and it killed the “higher” capabilities of art – poetry, music, imagery (although there is a small note in Darwins letter that made me smile about still enjoying the novelic viewing of a pretty woman – so porn wins :).

I have no intention to say science is bad. It would seem today that any question about the use of science immediately makes one anti-science. That is not the case here at all. We equate truth and facts as synonymous, but there are many vehicles to discover truth besides empirical fact. Every story ever written is attempting to display some truth through events and persons which likely were invented. For example, I get a lot of truth from Dr Seuss although I don’t get a lot of facts. It would seem a pursuit of truth which restricts attention away from anything other than cold hard fact does not result in a healthy mind or a happy life.

I am not questioning science, but rather scientism – the belief that there is no truth outside of the empirical method, and worse… that there is nothing of any value apart from cold hard fact. Science is good for the mind like kale is good for the body – but what would happen to your body if you determined nothing but kale was actually food? I think Darwin is expressing regret, not for his science, but for his scientism. Not even for his love of scientific pursuit, but for usage of scientific thinking to the exclusion of any other kind of thinking – other kinds of truth seeking. Maybe I am putting words in Darwin’s mouth with this, but how would you understand him when he says that his pursuit of facts caused the “atrophy of that part of the brain on which the higher tastes depend” and in his reflection, “a loss of happiness”?

To re-state a thing – Darwin is accredited with immense influence on the thinking of human society. Since he himself laments the outcomes of his work on his own mind – how can the above influence be called “good”? Shakespeare also had immense influence on the thinking of human society – above and beyond what can be measured even – but he did so through art rather than science. Some would say ole Billy boy was a hack and a thief – perhaps it is so, but perhaps it is also a sign of his mind being steeped in humanity. He often carried the ugliness that is found in human society – the pettiness and brokenness and madness – and somehow put his finger on the beauty that resides with the shambles. Science has no such finger. Science, it would seem, when taken to an extreme breaks that finger. Grinding on facts makes a powdery dust of beauty and goodness and truth in the human experience, or at least it did for Darwin.

If I were to offer any criticism of Darwin at all – it would be simply to agree with his own reflective findings in this letter:
“…if I had to live my life again, I would have made a rule to read some poetry and listen to some music at least once every week; for perhaps the parts of my brain now atrophied would thus have been kept active through use. The loss of these tastes is a loss of happiness, and may possibly be injurious to the intellect, and more probably to the moral character, by enfeebling the emotional part of our nature.”