Figuring \w+ out

The fall of poetry


I found myself taking notes while listening to the EconTalk episode Erik Hoel on Consciousness, Free Will, and the Limits of Science. The interview discussed our intrinsic and extrinsic understandings of ourselves and the world.

One of the topics discussed was whether it is possible for the brain to understand itself, and whether neuroscience can or should unite the extrinsic and intrinsic. This was an interesting conversation, but it is not the focus of my writing, so I will not comment on it. However, I do recommend listening to the whole interview, as it raises many interesting points to contemplate.

Another topic discussed was the growth of human intrinsic understanding. This is the section of the interview that is of interest to me here.

The way we think about ourselves is not constant. This means that the way we consume ancient art and literature is not the same today as when it was created. For example, strong emotional reactions are rare in ancient literature. This is because a rich language for describing our minds did not exist at the time.

I cannot say I enjoy poetry. For much of my life I did not value poetry. However, in the past couple of years I have been moved to desire to value poetry, although I have mostly been unsuccessful in this pursuit.

In the interview, the host states that poetry is a way to express things that we don't always have the words for. As someone who rarely is able to find the words to express what I'm thinking or feeling this description of poetry leads me to desire it even more.

However, perhaps our increased intrinsic understanding and rich language is a reason why poetry has fallen out of favor. In ancient times, our intrinsic knowledge and language were not sufficient to communicate what we were feeling inside. Poetry filled that gap, and was therefore highly valued. It was commonly written, memorized, and recited. Today, we understand ourselves to a greater depth and have a rich language for communicating, which has led to a diminished role of poetry.

I believe there are many reasons poetry has lost it's luster, but this was a novel reason for me, which I wanted to share.