A Poetic Worldview

Someone asked me the other day what was the opposite of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths). An interesting question because it begs a binary answer.

imageOne might think the opposite of STEM is the Arts and Humanities but I don’t think that really captures the difference enough. When ones worldview is shaped by yearning for control, mechanics, measurement and numerics, even the Arts and Humanities can easily fall into that worldview. I’ve seen plenty of Sociology, Psychology and Arts squeezed into the worldview of STEM.

So, my response to the question was Poetics. Maybe Poetics is most antithetical to the worldview of STEM. The idea of Poetics comes from Aristotle (de poetica 335bc) and denotes those aesthetical things that defy measurement and stir the unconscious. Aristotle also coupled Rhetoric with Poetics.

One can’t understand Poetics from a STEM worldview. The quest to control struggles to understand things that are beyond control. This is why the risk and safety industry regardless of labels, spin and marketing about difference always returns to the ideology of controls, systems and measurement.

The interests of Poetics are in all things that cannot be measured: love, faith, trust, dance, care, art, expression, poetry, metaphysics, death, suffering, religion, mystery, semiotics, aesthetics, drama, music, wonder and emotions. Whilst some of these are part of Arts and Humanities, Poetics is not the same. Even in the Arts and Humanities are schools of thought that endeavour to justify identity through measurement.

The quest to measure is the quest to control. Nothing is more threatening to dreams of infallibility than something that can’t be measured. In many cases the Rhetoric of difference is superficial, the worldview is the same.

Just because something can’t be measured doesn’t mean it is not significant. However in Poetics everything is felt not measured. You can’t measure love and trust but you sure know when they are not present. You can feel love and wonder in an experience but you can’t measure such mysteries. Whilst a song and music can provoke tears we often don’t know why. Poetics doesn’t need to know why, it simply needs to know what is. Whilst STEM is often about doing, Poetics is about being.

Poetics is interested in: mimesis, intuition, the unconscious, mystery, catharsis, metaphor and dialectics. Poetics is observed and felt not controlled and measured. This is why the STEM worldview can’t understand it and tries to understand Poetics through a STEM lens. It can’t!

Poetics is part of an Existentialist Phenomenological philosophy. Poetics has a focus on experience and being and has no interest in measurement. Often when people don’t understand an experience like: love, suffering, despair, death and grief they turn to Poetics because STEM has no clue or connection with the mysteries of fallible living. Why does this matter for risk and safety?

I was chatting to a safety person recently whose organisation has experienced an accidental death. Of course, the safety person has had no education in pastoral care yet was required to become deeply involved in the matter. Some aspects of counselling were outsourced to psychologists but once care is professionalised it loses effectiveness. This is why EAP is rarely taken up in organisations.

When someone dies – STEM is about as useful as a glass hammer. In the face of mystery, uncertainty, darkness and despair only Poetics knows how to connect with fallibility. Zero looks pretty stupid at a funeral service.

It is amusing to watch Safety struggle with the experiences of life that cannot be measured. In the face of the mysteries of death and harm Safety must cling to a delusional faith in Zero and then deny that it is an expression of faith. It is amusing to observe Safety become more deeply religious, ritualistic and sacralistic under Zero and then use religious discourse to deny its own ideology. Such is the blindness of the STEM-only worldview. Most often the empiricism of STEM shuts itself out of experiencing the realities of Poetics.

So, how does one get in touch with Poetics? By seeking things of wonder and mystery we learn about Poetics. By accepting a lack of control in fallibility one experiences Poetics. By falling in love and singing a song one becomes Poetic. And in Poetics one connects with oneself. In Poetics it’s all risk and no safety.

Dr Rob Long

Dr Rob Long

Expert in Social Psychology, Principal & Trainer at Human Dymensions
Dr Rob Long

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Dr Rob Long
PhD., MEd., MOH., BEd., BTh., Dip T., Dip Min., Cert IV TAA, MRMIA Rob is the founder of Human Dymensions and has extensive experience, qualifications and expertise across a range of sectors including government, education, corporate, industry and community sectors over 30 years. Rob has worked at all levels of the education and training sector including serving on various post graduate executive, post graduate supervision, post graduate course design and implementation programs.

6 Replies to “A Poetic Worldview”

  1. Safety and education have been commodified and I don’t expect too many AIHS or NSCA acolytes would have bothered reading or understanding the significance of On the Road or Desolation Angels by Jack Kerouac, One flew over the cuckoo’s nest by Ken Kesey or Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S Thompson.

    Most of the morons are still struggling with James Reason or Sidney Dekker.

    1. It’s actually much worse, many don’t read at all or if they do read a little it’s all within the same genre. I can’t think of one safety publication that is worth reading. The best way to develop maturity and vision in safety is not to read safety books.

  2. I was recently watching the performance of John Cleese in The Architect Sketch:

    It reflects and aligns perfectly with the application criteria to become a fellow of the AIHS.

  3. Hi Rob, Was your reference to the usefulness of a glass hammer a purposeful juxtaposition between art and STEM? I found the analogy quite rich, since my immediate response was “I want one”, not to hammer in nails, but in my mind it would be a beautiful thing to own and look at (I love pure glass ornaments). So I found the analogy with a glass hammer to illustrate “poetically” the point between something being purposefully useful as a tool, and something purposefully useless as a tool, but still useful for the pure purpose of beauty. (Incidentally, I find most tools are made with a certain amount of beauty, and not only for purpose. Most people I know will prefer the better looking tool, all else being equal. Beauty is part of our life in all aspects. As such, I think there is a parallel with safety, in that some integral parts of life have a more subtle purpose, like just making the world better to look at.)

    1. Wynand,
      the Poetic worldview understands the world metaphorically hence the beauty of the glass hammer. Metaphor is the key to understanding human expression which is a paradox because metaphor is indirect speech. Yet I can see a glass hammer in my mind and therefore it exists. Similarly I can see Maxwells Silver Hammer but it never came down on my head.
      The intelligence of Poetics understands the vehicle of meaning we convey through language and all semiotics much more than the passengers in that vehicle. The wonder of that vehicle that you can make your own is existential to you and I may not know it. Neither can I control it.
      The wonder, beauty and mystery of human love which can never be known to STEM is our hope that the most important things in life cannot be measured.

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