Intuition and The Lure of Irrationality


And I’m far far away with my head up in the clouds
And I’m far far away with my feet down in the crowds

Slade, Far Far Away, 1974

Lately I noticed that more of my work drifts towards the romantic side of interpretations of nature. I wonder, is this a reason to worry? Romanticism is one of the most abused concepts in the history of ideas – and the ambiguity of the word “romantic” in the first sentence already hints at how much a term can be cursed by its transformative uses (beautiful and romantic share that fate).

What worries me even more is: am I getting trendy?

When the whole vampire-and-mystical-worlds-of-magic-genre in literature and film anew appeared in the early years of this century I was literally mystified. How could anyone in the 21st century being interested in that. Only when then also nationalism again reared its ugly head I started to see the connection. This had all been seen before – in a movement in the 19th century. We call this movement Romanticism.

Romanticism, however, was a counter movement to the sterile rationality of the age of enlightenment and the budding industrial revolution. And maybe that is why it is popular again – as a counter reaction to an over-dose of technology and a sense of being overwhelmed by the complexity of science (science-scepticism is a common theme then and now as well).

Now, don’t get me wrong: I am deeply attached to many works of art created during that period. Caspar David Friedrich and his friend Johan Christian Clausen Dahl continue to have a deep influence on me and my work. I do think that Friedrich is one of the greatest masters in the use of space on a canvas ever, period. I also do subscribe to their notion that our connection to nature is pre-rational. As you might have noticed by now, I also strongly believe that many of us (me included) have reason to exercise emotional bonding with nature in order to find a new definition of what it means to be a human on Earth. But, there is a but and as so often the magical word is: balance.

I love the poems of the romantic Joseph von Eichendorff but I equally (or even more) love the works of Heinrich Heine and Jane Austen. Both of the latter have roots in Romanticism but they also can laugh at its excesses. One of the great contributions of the English language to the world of ideas is, in my view, the term “common sense”. Both Heine and Austen ooze common sense and use humor as a tool to remind us to “keep our feet down in the crowds”.

If it weren’t such an oxymoron, I would call this approach enlightened romanticism. Let me instead call it intuitive rationalism. Intuition, I think, is not anti-rational but rather post-rational. It takes what we know and integrates it with what we feel. Great science has sprung forth from intuition and I think art can spring from it as well. But I see being guided by intuition not as giving in to the lure of irrationality. Intuition has to be constantly fed by knowledge and thus is a process grounded in fact but open to speculation. It is at the cutting-edge of physics, where nowadays the most speculative ideas are generated. We have reason to believe that nature might be different from what we thought it is and more in line with how we felt about it.

But that is no excuse to drift into irrationality. Therefore, I very much would like to avoid becoming a Romantic and rather be an Intuitionist. Ah, maybe I am not in so great danger to become trendy after all.


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