The Arts of Discovery


Why do so many of the poets draw attention to the fact that they are making poetry?  … These poetic works are not, or at least not primarily, didactic tracts where one might expect to find overt mention or explicit use of rhetorical techniques and strategies.  Rather, the poems of the troubadours contain some of the most beautiful and lyrical verse of all time.  Why, then, ‘spoil it’ with the metalanguage of rhetoric?”

“Rhetoric and Hermeneutics”

Sarah Spence

Societies, like individuals, operate on certain unconscious assumptions, which at first fuel their development, and later hasten their demise.  The respective roles of the sciences and the arts, the first as a vehicle of discovery, the second as a means of entertainment, is just such an assumption in our culture.  Anyone who would demand that papers on theoretical physics or molecular biology must be entertaining would be seen, at best, as an eccentric kook, and at worst, as a dangerous heretic.

Take a minute now to absorb what the implications of this change in perspective would mean for the sciences?  for society?  for the search for and the application of knowledge? 

If the bastions of science were stormed by entertainers, and the scientific method were corrupted by the necessity of entertaining its “audience,” what would happen to science as a force for discovery and change? 

Most people, and certainly most scientists would be appalled by such a transmutation, but gradually, for centuries now, the arts have been relegated to just that role in the culture.  We allow that the arts may imagine, speculate, amuse, stimulate, or inspire, but few would give them preeminence in the power to research and to discover new and critical truths about the world.

Thirteen years ago, I discovered the structure of a linguistic form, which could hold a virtually infinite number of narratives, themes, and metaphors.  This form could even allow for innovations in the basic structure of language itself, that is, innovations and transformations of lexicon and syntax, and all without losing the structural integrity that makes a form a form.  The result of this discovery can be seen in a work that I call A Monument of Wonders, and as a whole, it is a linguistic, cognitively operational model of language, consciousness, and time.

I have called the structure of this form a “discovery” because it seems not to be merely a personal burgeoning of imagination, or even a human creation, but rather appears to embody some property of the universe, just as do atoms or DNA.  In this case, however, the discovery pertains to aspects of language, which like atoms and DNA, have their own nearly infinite varieties of permutation.  It also requires, just as does research into physics or chemistry, a foray into realms invisible to ordinary consciousness and perception.  The discovery is not to be found in the content of the narratives, themes, or metaphors, but rather in the invisible substructures of language from which these aspects of “meaning” emerge.  In brief, to fully grasp it, the reader has to engage in a sort of meta-reading, where these invisible structures and forms are operational.  In may seem strange to say, but what makes words “mean” is not the ordinary “meaning” that we ascribe to them. 

The idea of a worker in words as an explorer, whose discoveries are analogous to the explorations of scientists, is not new, but it has long since fallen out of the general consciousness of Western Civilization.  From about A.D. 1000 to the middle of the 13th century, a species of versifiers called “troubadours” flourished in southern France.  The word “troubadour” derives from an expression meaning “to find.”  Almost everything we think about romantic love, and in a sense, the entire family and social structure of modernity, not to mention almost the entire form of our interior lives vis à vis male and female relationships, is derived from their linguistic discoveries.  They were called troubadours, finders, not authors, because the word “author” was reserved for those who were authorities in some specialized field of knowledge.  The work of the authorities of the time of the troubadours — their medicine, physics, theology — is now viewed as scientific hogwash, bizarre conglomerations of superstition propped up by intricate systems of logic.  But the linguistic discoveries of the troubadours, and their subsequent influence on the way our whole culture thinks, acts, and pursues its path into the future are as vital as ever. 

In the battle for social legitimacy, authors have long since won the day.  It is the poets who are seen as more or less irrelevant kooks and eccentrics. No matter how emotionally compelling, imaginatively stimulating, personally inspiring no one in our culture would take a poet’s work in the everyday language of words as seriously as a physicist’s work in the specialized language of mathematics.  Collectively we seem to have no inkling that the discoveries of poets, in so far as they are made in the most intimate reaches of our psyches, might perhaps be even more vital to our future survival on this planet as any made by our scientific authorities.

As a culture, we are willing to give research grants of millions or even billions of dollars to physicists who might enable us to capture and utilize new forms of energy or to travel in space, or to biologists who seek cures for our chronic and tormenting diseases, but little or no support is given to our own troubadours, whose inquiries into the metaphysical substructures of language could infinitely enrich our lives, and perhaps even change the suicidal course we are pursing in our relationships with one another and with the life of the planet itself. 

Let us hope that the funders and philanthropists catch on before it is too late.  And let us take the arts out of the box of entertainment, and allow them to pursue their course freely as a vehicles for discovery.

I will end with a modest prophesy.  Perhaps a shift in these priorities could lead to an historical shift as profound as the one which moved us from superstition to science.  Perhaps if the poets began to view their work, not so much as personal self-expression, but as voyages of discovery to map an inner space of linguistic possibilities, we might collectively experience a rebirth of wonder. 

Roy Dean Doughty is the author or A Monument of Wonders, a literary work combining poetry and fiction, which explores the marriage of language, consciousness and time.  As a daily practice conducted in conjunction with his Kryia meditation, he has also written a poem every day for more than twenty years.  He is the creator of The Ten Thousand Poem Project and the author of  Fourteen Poems, Yodo International Press, 1987, Clear Mo(u)rningand Spirit Chronologies. His work has been featured on “The Oneness Program” KEST Radio, San Francisco, VoiceAmerica Radio, Phoenix, Arizona, and Unity, FM radio.  He can also be read at, and

Image copyright Jeff Clay / Clayhaus Photography

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