Yeats and Science Fiction
CitationAlbright, Daniel. 1996. Yeats and science fiction. Bullan 2(2): 1-18.
AbstractThe young Yeats spent some years editing the poems of William Blake, and Yeats inherited much of Blake’s contempt for science, Blake’s sense that Newton was the devil who murdered the living cosmos and substituted dead mathematical abstractions. For all his life Yeats felt hostile to the extreme objectivism of Newtonian physics; but as he grew older he read popularized accounts of Einstein’s work, and he came to believe that advanced scientific thought was starting to converge with Yeats’s own philosophical beliefs–Berkeleian and occultist. Yeats believed this partly because he misunderstood some of the ideas of recent physics. But scientists themselves were in fact trying to work toward a vision of reality congruent with poetry (Whitehead called Shelley an excellent scientist; Crookes considered that the ectoplasmic emanations from spirit mediums might represent a new state of matter). And in a certain sense Yeats was right: later developments in physics have shown that the act of measuring can actually influence the physical world, so that mind and matter are indeed a far more integrated system than Newtonian physics would allow. In the course of this paper I will look not only at Yeats’s philosophical writings but also at a number of examples from Yeats’s poetry in which scientific ideas, such as wave vs. particle constructions of reality, are prominent.
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