Art and Science: Perspectives, not Polars

June 3, 2014 § Leave a comment

One thing that we humans love is to divide and polarise; to dichotomise. If it’s good vs bad, happy or sad or logical and creative, polarising things in our lives and our world makes everything a lot more convenient and less confusing. In the post-modern era, we’ve taken to polarising the arts and the sciences so heavily that we’ve forgotten how they’re inherently interconnected, and deal with the same universal questions, albeit in different ways. The failure to see the parallels and the interconnectedness between art and science could very well be damaging to our efforts towards truth-seeking and awareness of the world around us. So how are they so similar, and why would realising this similarity be beneficial?

Archimedes scientific discovery eureka funnyFrom Archimedes to Da Vinci to Benjamin Franklin, some of the world’s most brilliant minds have been artists and scientists, both. So many of the world’s greatest visionaries and inventors have achieved their greatest work through moments of intuitive clarity; flashes of illumination such as Archimedes’ famous ‘Eureka!’ moment when, as he lowered himself into his bath, Archimedes noticed the water level rising, and realised the displaced water rose according to his body volume. Great creative works that lead to revolutionary artistic movements – Filippo Brunelleschi’s development of linear perspective, Da Vinci’s anatomical research and Picasso’s Cubist work, for example – are similarly inspired by this almost indefinable spark of imagination and inspiration.

Where, then, does this similarity stem from? To start with, we’ll take a scientific approach (meta-analysis much?). Pop culture and psychology often incorrectly states that the brain is functionally lateralised. That is, functions are designated to either the left or right brain hemispheres, most often that the right side functions logically and the left side creatively. Recent science has thoroughly debunked this idea, however. Take a look at this article that studies problem-solving dealing with insight and creating connections – the kind of problem solving that, perhaps, greats like Archimedes or Einstein used in their revelations.

creativity and logic science and art brain lateralization lateralisation interesting psychology

Couresy of Bufferapp

The study shows that the superior temporal gyrus (STG) – a region of the brain in the right hemisphere, the side traditionally linked with creativity – was significantly activated. Another article displays the brain activation during moments of creativity. It shows three complex networks across both hemispheres of the brain being vital in creative functions. The conclusion? Eureka moments – responsible for so many of the revelations in science and art throughout history – stem from a creative function in the right side of the brain, and both logic and creativity utilise complex connections across both hemispheres of the brain.

Philosophically, even artistically, the fundamental similarity between the arts and sciences is that at their hearts lies mystery. The mystery of human beings, love, life and the universe all drive our need to express ourselves through art, and inform ourselves through science. Einstein said it best when he stated “The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science.” It would be an outright lie to say art and science are the same. They’re not; science seeks to empirically analyse the natural world, whereas art marvels in its wonder. However, they both seek understanding, and therefore pursue truth in the face of the astounding mysteries of the universe. This understanding is not a mere whimsical moment of intellectual masturbation. It’s one that has a serious, practical relationship with the real world, as Michelle and Robert-Root Bernstein state so eloquently below (Psychology Today):

But what do our students typically get, especially in high school and college? They get math without music. They get science without images, feelings and intuition. They get knowledge without imagination. Not only does intuition go undeveloped, many math and science teachers do not give credit to answers (even though they may be correct) that are not explicated by detailed logic.

So what is the end point to this? It’s all very well to revel in the mysterious, as well as the beautiful and profound connection between art and science, but we need action, and that action is educational reformation. Mathematics and the natural sciences, subjects that form the foundation of our understanding of the universe and it’s (unravelling) mysteries are taught so formulaically, so dispassionately, is it any wonder that these subjects are generally performed poorly at high school level, and the S.T.E.M fields garner less undergraduates? These subjects can be intriguing, inspiring, and the beauty in their connections or even physical manifestations can be almost artistic. It’s time, I think, that we treat them accordingly.


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