JB: Let's move on to your ideas about metaphors.
ENO: "The other worlds theory" you might say, is one part of my idea. The other part is what I call "the metaphors theory." Humans actually codify most of their knowledge not in terms of mathematical tables, sets of statistics and scientific laws, but in terms of metaphors. Most of the things we normally have to deal with understanding are complex, fuzzy, messy, changing, and in fact poorly delineated. We don't actually know where the boundaries of them are, let alone being able to make clear questions about them. We spend a lot of our time as ordinary humans navigating through complicated situations with one another, that require constant negotiation, and constant new attempts to understand.
Science is, of course, one extreme version of this process. Science works by trying to say, okay, I can separate off this piece of the world from the rest. Effectively we can say, I've separated that off, and then I can make some theories and predictions about it. Science therefore enables us to come up with a structure upon which we can build useful metaphors. This is why artists are interested in science ÷ it's because science keeps coming up with big ideas, like chaos, like complexity, that we then think, ah yes, perhaps that's how a lot of things work. Then we have a new metaphor. We don't have to fully understand the science that made that metaphor.
A lot of those kinds of metaphors derive from science, but a lot of them derive from literature, poetry, music. We live in a big construction of metaphors ÷nearly all of our knowledge is rather fuzzy in that sense. One of the things that artists do is invent metaphors, break up metaphors, challenge them, pull them apart, put them together in new order and so on. One of the things art does also is to remind you constantly of this process that you're most of the time engaged in ÷ the process of metaphor-making. I am interested in the work of George Lakoff. I thought that Metaphors We Live By was a very interesting book, because it pulls you away from the old model of the mind having two departments, the rational department and the kind of intuitive department. It says, no, it's not quite like that, it says there's a continuum, that there are places where we can be strictly rational, such as when I'm doing my accounts with my calculator, when I'm making precise estimates of how I'll make something and what it'll be like. I can use all of the purely rational tools for that. But then there's a whole continuum, which is actually unbroken as far as I can see, where at the one end I can be entirely rational, then I can be pretty logical but I have to make a few guesses, right down to another end here where it's pure hunch. It's absolutely pure hunch.
JB: How does it all come together? Or, does it come together at all?
ENO: Mostly we're given the impression that there are just these two separate ways of doing things. However, I believe that one is constantly navigating along that whole spectrum. And that process of navigation is a process of donning different kinds of metaphor, accepting the usefulness of different kinds of metaphor. Once again this hasn't been really worked on by art writers.
Again, any of the interesting work on this has been done from the position of science, and has therefore tended to want to address that end of the spectrum of things. If I drew that spectrum of the highly rational to the highly intuitive, what I would have to say is that we don't spend much of our time at either of those extremes. We spend most of our time negotiating somewhere along the middle.
You have art writers who constantly celebrate the "intuition" extreme, and think that this is the sort of apex of human existence, and you have scientists who by default almost dignify the other one. That's where they live, or that's where they'd like to live. They want to be able to make the kind of statements that push that boundary. What I would like to see is a conversation that admits that we spend most of our time somewhere in the middle, and we ought to find a way of thinking about it.
I suppose at the root of all this is the feeling that possibly the only way that humans can remain cooperative is by those of us who are artists or who are interested in the arts realizing that we have some kind of a job to do. It's no good any more as far as I'm concerned for artists to just take the Bohemian attitude of, oh, it just comes out of me, and I don't know what I'm doing, etc. I just can't stand that, I don't want this romantic attitude that says artists shouldn't be part of this planet. This is a real job, and it has to do something.
JB: How do you do this job?
ENO: I wrote to Richard Dawkins recently who had just given The Richard Dimbleby Lecture on BBC1 in which he said that England always celebrates the arts, and doesn't celebrate the sciences. In fact he's right; there is a sort of liberal humanistic culture here which acts like art is wonderful and science is something that people should just get on with, and tell us when you've come up with a new washing machine or something. He gave the impression in his lecture that there was therefore a much better understanding of the arts than of the sciences, and I said I felt exactly the reverse was true, that people had a very poor understanding of the arts, and the reason they could happily waffle on about it was because their waffle was unchallengeable. There's such a poor conversation about it that you can say whatever crap you want to, and nobody's going to call you on it. The other thing is that everybody recognizes the power of science. We recognize the power of cloning technologies, of nuclear weapons and so on. Everybody knows that science is powerful and could be dangerous, therefore there's a whole lot of criticism on that basis. What people don't realize is that culture is powerful and could be dangerous too. As long as culture is talked about as though it's a kind of nice little add-on to make things look a bit better in this sort of brutal life we all lead, as long as it's just seen as the icing on the cake, then people won't realize that it's the medium in which we're immersed, and which is forming us, which is making us what we are and what we think.
Dawkins wrote back saying my letter came at a good time because what he's thinking about more and more is memes, rather than genes, and of course memes is what culture is about. Culture is the landscape of memes.
JB: What prompted you to contact him?
ENO: I had written a short letter. I'm sure he gets loads of mail, I didn't want to burden him, especially after a television lecture. But the appalling thing is that when you find out how much mail people do get, it's virtually zero. One of the things that changed my life a few years ago was listening to a radio program we have on Sunday evening called "In Committee." It's the reports of the parliamentary select committees, which like your American committees have the task of addressing particular issues and then making a recommendation. There had been one very hot issue which was about whether there should be a third nuclear power station in a particular area. It had been a big media thing for months and months. Finally the report came, and the chairman of the committee read the report, and he said that well, in the six months that the committee has been sitting we've had a tremendous public response on this issue. We've received almost 150 letters. I was amazed! ÷ this constitutes a terrific response? You suddenly realize actually that a letter can make a difference.
What makes a difference is knowing that somebody's listening, and paying attention. I've written a few things for papers and so on, and what counts is knowing that the conversation has gotten through. I don't care about the figures, that the piece reached 500,000 readers ÷ for it doesn't make any difference if they didn't read it. But if you know that it reached two or three, and you then enter into a conversation with them, then that's made a difference. I'm sure you know that.