Perhaps surprisingly, I see important resonances between the best scientists and the best fictional writers. I am sure that the reason is because there is no direct path to Absolute Truth in Humanity’s abilities and techniques. Whether you are a committed scientist or a dedicated writer, you have to find meaningful indirect routes, carrying sufficient Objective Content to deliver a measure of progress. But, of themselves, and in any particular production, these turn out to be never wholly sufficient.
Of course, I am not talking about all scientists, or all writers. I mean the very best in both these fields, who manage to reveal something of the Truth in their work.
This aspect wont be immediately evident, when considering the work of the majority of scientists, nor in that of most writers. For, the overwhelming majority of scientists are really technologists, and are primarily intent upon finding exploitable discoveries, while most writers readily admit to being entertaining story tellers. I am talking, in both areas, of those who earnestly tackle the question “Why?”.
For, believe it or not, such an imperative is not common to either most scientists or most writers: where a version of answering “How?” is considered sufficient. But, when you come across the very best writers, you are immediately aware that important things are being addressed, and you come away from reading their work with a definitely deeper understanding of important questions.
And, it is likewise, with the work of the best scientists (though I must emphasize that I do not include the “equation manipulators”, who currently dominate Sub Atomic Physics in this definition). I mean those who glimpse possible significant meanings, and are motivated to address why their studied areas are as they are.
We must realise that such people, in both areas, do not comfortably fit into the general social status quo! And, they are frequently given a hard time by those who feel threatened by their work. For, such purposely questioning work cannot but come up against the many things in their world, which hold it back, and keep it safe for those who currently hold sway.
For example, the writer of this piece is a scientist, and throughout his career he has been forced to take two unavoidable and directly contrasting roles in the opinions of his superiors. At first, he would invariably be the “blue-eyed boy”, for his abilities were soon evident, and he was seen as an asset to his superiors, and his place of work. But, such an interlude would never last! For, these entrepreneurs could not count upon his subservience to their requirements. He evidently had imperatives of his own to pursue. So, the alternative phase would always be that of the “enemy of the people”(see Ibsen’s famous play), in which he was seen as a thorn in the side of his superiors (and sometimes even his colleagues). The work being achieved was still of the same quality, but it no longer fitted in with the ambitions of his superiors.
The only way he was able to continue to make progress was by using his achievements to get a new job in another institution. It wasn’t that easy, for competition would always be with known locals, but in the end he usually made a good move, and the “blue-eyed boy”/”enemy of the people” oscillation would begin again. The policy adopted did in fact work, and he ended up as a professor in London University.
But, such a tumultuous journey was never plain sailing!
He, only rarely, found colleagues who had a similar approach, though when he did, he would remain (without promotion) at that particular post for a long time. In his most fruitful post, he stayed for ten years, and completed work, which finally allowed him to move into Higher Education.
The general state of his scientific colleagues in literally all of his posts was determined by the social imperatives of those in charge, so most employees subordinated themselves to that in order to slowly ascend the promotional ladder.
Now, though I am now a writer myself, I am not a creator of novels, and it is the best in that field, with which I feel the strongest resonances. But, they couldn’t be more different to the usual scientist. Whereas, the latter seek equations and useable discoveries, the writers never deal in anything similar, for it is invariably the qualities, both good and bad, of living that they pursue and reveal.