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Fact vs. Fiction: Who really wins the debate?

ewashburn's picture

 I was really fascinated by the debate between the Nobel laureate and Thomas Kurton from pages 149-152. The debate between science and the humanities is really interesting here, and it seems pretty obvious who's supposed to win. The writer is "the most painfully shy person who has ever been forced into a public spectacle," while Kurton is "charming," with "shoulders [that] bob like a boy on his first day of summer camp." The novelist's arguments are fatalistic, pessimistic, backward-looking, tragic, while Kurton's toothy explications on his theories are full of hope and the promise of progress. The audience to this debate seems totally taken in by Kurton, and at the end, Candace declares Kurton, "Optimism," to be the winner, "by a technical knockout."

But for all that Kurton's arguments are supposed to be the shinier of the two, and for all that Kurton is more winning and charismatic, I'm skeptical as to whether science or "optimism" actually wins. The writer's last argument struck me as particularly cutting, and struck me as the more grounded perspective (which is ironic, since science is supposed to be the more rational field):

"Enhance away, he says. Enhancement will mean nothing, in the long run. The remodeling of human nature will be as slapdash and flawed as its remodelers. We'll never feel enhanced. We'll always be banned from some further Eden. The misery business will remain a growth industry. When fiction goes real, reality will need a more resistant strain of fiction" (151-2).

This seems like the winning argument to me. For all that Kurton blathers on about how we can improve ourselves, he never mentions when it will be enough, or if it will be enough. I tend to agree with the writer that even if we're able to change our story and become better beings, we'll always need that far-reaching thing to strive for, because our condition will become commonplace. But that's just me, and I'll be the first to admit I take a Romantic, tragic view on life. What does everyone else think of this debate? Does anyone else think that Candace sells the novelist short?

Comments

skindeep's picture

in a review (the telegraph)

in a review (the telegraph) that i read about the book, the writer talks about the following claim in the book:

'' He tells us of the psychological research revealing that if people are asked to choose between a life in which their happiness would be consistently high – say, nine out of 10 – and one that started at two and ended at nine, most people would pick the latter option. This is because we need to hope that things will get better and want to be part of a narrative.''

this reminded me of your post. this idea that we need something to strive for, something to look forward to, hope to keep us working towards, ideals to meet - i think this in inherent in human nature because otherwise our lives would seem flat. there would be no reason to express yourself, no reason to work toward something, no reason to be. and perhaps none of that is necessary in the first place. but it sure feels necessary, and besides, it gives us the feeling of doing something, and consequently, of having done something.

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