Science and Art: limits in scientific creativity

14 Apr

This is a follow up to my recent post in this theme. I got encouraging (thank you!) and interesting responses to that post, some of which deserve a highlight. First quote comes from Gregory Lent, an artist:

art is simply listening inwards and being aware of what you feel. true of both art appreciation, and art making …. the permission to do that is more an emotional allowing than any sort of training or “creativity” … it is merely conscious sensitivity …

scientists have this ability, of course, but are too wedded to the intellect to allow it to emerge, or to be part of the daily flow …

The next one is from Steven Grand, AI researcher:

The thing is, all creative thinkers use some kind of analogy. At the artistic end of the scale these analogies tend to be loose, suggestive metaphors. At the scientific end of the scale we build mathematical models. But in between come many shades of analogy, some more concrete and some metaphorical; some symbolic and some more touchy-feely.

The trick, of course, is to be able to shift freely up and down the continuum as required. Not all artists or scientists can do this, sadly. Many artists are unable to anchor their thoughts in reality and many scientists are too scared to let go of certainty.

And finally, a comment from Michael Nielsen, theoretical physicist (quantum information theorist to be precise), posted over at FriendFeed:

(…) I don’t think particularly verbally when I’m doing research. Not visually either. Instead, it’s a mishmash of spatial, kinesthetic, visual and linguistic; very, very hard to describe. In any case, I don’t think I fit your description. I suspect a lot of theoretical physicists don’t.

And actually I could end this post here, as these quotes nicely complement each other. However, there’s one more thing I wanted to add.

After noticing how limited my thinking patterns are, I suspect that there’s a lot of mental barriers for creative thinking in sciences, that are “inherited” during the training process (mainly the PhD studies). There’s quite a lot of “outside” barriers too (see brilliant post by Jean-Claude  on ego-less science), but my feeling is that great ideas don’t appear too often because we simply rarely fall off the track to find them. The times of Ansel Adams who took some of his most beatiful photographs from or in close proximity to his car are gone – science became a crowded tourists destination with thousands of eyes looking for a good picture from exactly the same spot.

I’m very happy where the topic has lead me. The whole theme of intersection between Science and Art becomes a quest for exploring limits in scientific creativity.

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Posted by on April 14, 2009 in Science and Art


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5 responses to “Science and Art: limits in scientific creativity

  1. Jean-Claude Bradley

    April 14, 2009 at 18:47

    Good conversation. I think that beauty in science (not sure about art) is all about simplicity. It is far more satisfying to find a simple way of doing something powerful (synthetic or analytic) than to arrive to it via brute force. At least that is what bothers me when designing experiments. Probably the mechanism to search for that simplicity is via analogies.

  2. Andrew Lang

    April 14, 2009 at 19:28

    Sometimes after I finish teaching and I look at the board and a particularly beautiful proof is up there, I find it hard to erase it for the next instructor. I often tell me students that when they start ‘seeing’ the beauty, they are becoming mathematicians.

  3. mariana

    April 15, 2009 at 08:24

    I was always sure that science and art go together. I am a scientists, and I do not have a single doubt that the things I program/write/plan, are artworks. Artworks and “scienceWorks” exist cause of their creator (and many other things), they need unconventional ways of thinking (like joining to sepparate fields that where never used together before) and they also require the courage to let go certanties.

  4. Peter

    April 16, 2009 at 07:02

    I agree with the prior posts. There is an indistinguishable line between great art and innovative science. Great post.

  5. Leviticus

    May 8, 2010 at 08:57

    Beautiful! A must-cite for this paper I’m writing on the creative nature of original scientific theories!

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