Rational Romanticism


     Many rationalists dismiss emotion as lacking intrinsic and practical value. Many romantics dismiss science as lacking emotional and spiritual value. Most people assume that emotion and rationality are mutually exclusive. Unfortunately, these attitudes have caused a schism between the cultures of imagination and science. I propose that unifying rationality and romanticism will open the floodgates to a beautiful future.

     Some behaviors which are considered as illogical by the pure rationalist actually do have logical consistency when approached from the perspective of rational romanticism. I would argue that major risks are worthwhile even if there is insufficient data to predict the “degree of risk.” For instance, ambitious research projects are less likely to succeed than more moderate ones and it is difficult to gain a reasonable measure for the degree of risk involved in such projects. Some researchers might deem ambitious projects as having too much unknown risk to pursue. But throughout history, we have seen that the people who ignore boundaries and even apparent impossibilities, the people who keep obsessively fighting to make their vision a reality no matter the odds, we have seen that these are the people who change the world. The space program was once considered ludicrous as was heavier-than-air flight. Experts and laypeople alike have scoffed at inventions such as the lightbulb, the automobile, and the home computer.

     By contrast, the activities of scientists have often befuddled and frightened more artistically inclined peoples. In stories, science and technology usually appears as a tool of the villains. Consider Frankenstein, Gattaca, Brave New World, Jurassic Park, The Terminator, and countless other fearmongering works of fiction. (It should be noted that Frankenstein may or may not have originally been intended this way, but that it is almost always interpreted in an anti-science manner by the public). The stereotype of the mad scientist frames science as at best irresponsible and arrogant and at worst evil. The poetry magazine Carbon Culture features poems that are centered almost exclusively on attacking technology. Transhumanists are nearly universally vilified or dismissed as crazy by the media. Religious and environmental “bioethicists” like Fukayama, Kass, and McKibben viciously denounce science as immoral. We are living in an age when the activities of emotionally-minded individuals hold science back rather than driving it forward. Emotion is powerful and intrinsically valuable, but it should be used for constructive and not destructive purposes.

     If we cultivate rational romanticism, we can achieve wonders. The cultures of imagination and science are currently opposed. But by bringing them together, science will not be limited by status quo bias or stifling pragmatism. Likewise, art will not be limited by an aversion to the beauty found in science and technology. In this scenario, science and art will be synonymous. Emotional intensity will be channeled towards solving challenges and enriching the human experience. With the combined power of science and emotion, we can make dreams into reality.

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