Keats was so upset by scientific understanding that he complained Newton had “unweaved the rainbow” with his explanation of prismatic refraction of light. Yet this argument presupposes that understanding somehow lessens one’s emotional response. That supposition seems shaky. Surely when we understand Beethoven’s 5th symphony was supposed to be his 4th (he got stuck, and so completed the Eroica first, throwing the joke out of synch) we get even more pleasure from his “game of fours?” Surely our emotional response to Picasso’s cubist period is enriched and deepened by our knowledge that he was playing with the (then-new) concept of relativity? In my own life I’ve always found precision and understanding to enrich every aspect of my life rather than diminish it.

Personally, when I look at a rainbow I feel even more joy and awe knowing that it is the result of millions of tiny water droplets interposing themselves for a fraction of a second between my retina and the sun’s rays than I would if I merely stared uncomprehending at its polychromatic beauty.

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Anyone who enjoys my articles here on Medium may be interested in my books Why Democracy Failed and The Praying Ape, both available from Amazon.

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