Think You Know the Difference Between Art and Science?

Not So Fast, There. Allow Me to Blur the Lines for You.

Drawing Boxes and Coloring Inside the Lines. Maybe Not.

Human beings have a tendency to divide things up into black and white. Real life often does not operate in that manner. Making hard divisions where they do not really exist deprives us of one of the joys of having a brain. To see how ideas and capacities cross over is one of life’s great joys. Let’s look at a few examples and celebrate the mélange.

Science, Anyone?

For much of my life, I thought of Science as hard data and rigorous processes. That is true, as far as it goes. But there is more. To begin, much of science is about hypotheses, concepts, and demonstrated proof. Carrying out this takes objective thinking, sure. But much of it is preceded by creative thinking, flights of fancy even. One has to imagine the impossible and seek to connect it to reality if breakthroughs are to occur. In other words, the work may be plebian. The thinking is anything but ordinary.

I became aware of an art + science connection in reading about advanced mathematics. Honesty compels me to note something here. I topped out at Algebra I in high school and never went back into mathematics in any serious way thereafter. Still, I understand that the highest mathematics are pure communication. Discussion in the upper reaches of mathematics seems like some form of poetry. When we eventually encounter an advanced interplanitary civilization mathematics will likely be our common language. That is, of course, unless they made contact because they thought we looked tasty. But I digress.

Let’s look from a different perspective. It is not possible to reflect on the balance of a tree, the symmetry of a nautilus shell, or the symphony of a galaxy and ignore the beauty therein. This is artistry on a cosmic level. Let me be clear: none of what I just said here is in any way an endorsement of “intelligent design,” or similar schemes. That sort of nonsense insults both science and art. It shortchanges the hard work nature has done over ions.

I am, rather, celebrating that in the deepest recesses of science and technology, there is beauty. We ignore that only at great loss. I know there are many scientists who feel this way. They are deeply spiritual, awed by nature. One could even say they are delighted by the universe. They revel in what science helps them see and understand. Science and beauty – art, if you will, on a natural, cosmic scale – coexist in a perfectly natural way.

Art for the Soul AND for the Intellect

I used to think of art as a creative but an intellectually soft endeavor. Creativity? Yes, surely. Precision and discipline? Not so much. Boy, was I wrong.

Music was the first art form that taught me to relook my assumptions. Children with music in their background do better in other disciplines, especially mathematics. As one studies music, the connection is obvious. There is structure, relationships, connections, and discipline in creating music. This has much in common with the world of mathematics and engineering. A brain analysis of a mathematician and a composer would show striking similarities.

In a similar way, many art forms reach their zenith with elements of balance or contrast. They make use of the material world in ways that stimulate our senses and our brains. This is a pattern many good scientists, engineers, and architects would readily recognize. They do similar things, although in completely different domains. Still, the similarities and connections are there.

Shall We Dance?

A conductor can combine many different sounds to create something new and harmonious (or cacophonous). So, too, can a scientist bring together different elements to create new knowledge.

When we launched the Pioneer space craft, we sent with them golden disks. We did so in hopes that someone or something would one day find them. Contained in these disks was information about who and where we are. We also tried to communicate what we are about. Mathematics was the chosen language to convey much of this. We chose to include our music and other bits of art to express who we are. Science and the arts, in perfect harmony, working together to help define us.

If we are to dance fully through this life, I suggest we invite both science and art to be our companions. One without the other is a flat sided wheel. And who would want to dance with that?

Have fun, stay curious.

         Bill Clontz

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