Literature is a reflection of ideas prevalent in a society. Since science began to play a vital role in human civilization it too has had an impact on literature. Science has been leaving its impact on the literature of the peoples who have experienced the causes of scientific thought and discoveries. This becomes proof when one compares the literature of pre-scientific times with that of the post-scientific period. Before the rise of modern science, when religion and metaphysics rather than facts and figures held the attention of thinkers, literature was influenced greatly by world views that rested on popular beliefs and teachings.
Rather I wish to explore science and literature as two enterprises that absorb the human intellect and feelings, as two domains of civilized activity that have never ceased to inspire the very best in the human spirit, and to examine how and when they seem to come into conflict with each other.
So,What is Literature? To Robert Frost literature was “words that have become deeds”. To Ezra Pound literature was “news that always stayed news”. Some have insisted that one ought to make a distinction between literature and informational writing. Thomas de Quincy, for one, maintained that “all that literature seeks to communicate is power; all that is not literature, knowledge”. Leaving aside such inspirational definitions, let us define literature in terms of its essential ingredients, which are: words and enjoyment. If these are granted to be necessary, if not sufficient, conditions for any literature, only may define literature as a communicable vehicle of enjoyment in which thoughts, ideas and images are clothes in pleasing combinations of words. The vehicle is usually the printed medium. And so it is that literature appears in a variety of forms; as essays, as short stories, as poems, as plays, biographies, histories.
The definition of literature as suggested above is inadequate for at least two reasons. First, by including only the necessary conditions it tends to embrace within its scope much that would not be legitimately regarded as literature by purists. Thus a delightful combination of words and phrases, expressing thoughts and ideas of no intrinsic value, may make a claim for being called literature. Indeed many platitudes, perverseness, and plain nonsense, often do, on this score alone. Secondly, and this is closely related to the first criticism, this definition ignores one of the fundamental attributes of all literature, via, that is a meaningful commentary on some aspect of truth. If one takes into account this intrinsic quality of literature, the definition should refer to a specific mode of perception of truth and reality. It is at this point that a consideration of science becomes appropriate.