Monday, March 1, 2010

Parallelism in Art and Science Essay

Most people consider art and science to be two totally opposite fields. The former relies on the subjective side of man whereas the other is concerned with objectivity. However, certain aspects are common to art and science. In "Interpretation in Science and Art", Harold Osborne lays down the commonalities and differences between the two.

Osborne defines science as "[interpreting] the world by bringing order and regularity into the kaleidoscopic variety of experience, subduing its vagaries in the interest of understanding." Furthermore, the basic principles and concepts in science are formulated not by deduction or logical reasoning but through intuition. Many, if not all of the great discoveries in science began as intuitive insights which were verified by observation later on. Examples would be Planck's quantum hypothesis, Pauli's exclusion principle, and Einstein's attribution of deflection of light to the curvature of space, among others.

Art, on the other hand, concerns itself with creating "perceptible constructs" [for] the enrichment of perceptual experience and adding to the cultural heritage of mankind." Perceptible constructs are thought of to be direct apprehension of the world as opposed to theoretical knowledge about it.

Representational artists would depict a part of the phenomenal world in the hopes of creating a perceptible construct which can claim appreciation as an aesthetic object. Perceptual unity in every work i.e., viewing the art as coalescing and coherently compact whole enables us to expand our vision and perceptual powers.

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Comparing art and science, Osborne lays down the following to be the most important comparisons between them: (i) Both bring new order into the world; (ii) A scientific theory once accepted is in principle common property whereas interpretation in the arts relies on subjectivity and individuality; (iii) Both originate as an act of creative insight which cannot be reduced to rule; (iv) Imaginary situations have no place in science whereas in the arts, they make a major contribution; (v) Scientific interpretation is open and invariant for every man unlike in the arts which requires a special skill or ability to be able to appreciate its products; and (vi) Science deals with things that can be quantified as common to individual in the mass while subject matter in the art may deal with quality and interpretation is supremely individual.

With regards to the statements mentioned above, I would have to agree to most of them. In actuality, it is clear how both science and the arts spring from creativity. While evidence of creativity is obvious in the arts, creativity in science is usually undermined. While most think that new ideas in science are observations of what is already there, they fail to realize that without creativity as a springboard, the scientist will not be able to think of how to collate those observations as one coherent scientific theory. A creative mind is necessary to be able to come up with explanations that are new, fresh to the scientific world. In this sense, scientific ideas and their written work can be considered literature. Moreover, it takes a great deal of creativity to be able to notice the minute details which a scientist looks for and even more creativity to come up with the designs for new equipment and experimental processes. The making of these new equipment and processes is oftentimes creating a work of art in itself. Try talking to an inventor and this idea will be apparent.

When the topic of beauty is regarded, it is not as easy to define beauty in the sciences as it is in the arts. Still, beauty is present in the way certain phenomena are explained by the scientist. Like works of art, a scientific theory has to contain coherence, lucidity, elegance and scope. The concept of beauty in science is not only in the aesthetic sense. With this statement, I am inclined to agree. Unlike in the arts, relevance plays the primary role. If I were to choose which is more beautiful, the ancient belief that everything revolves around the earth or the empirically provable Copernican theory of the earth revolving around the sun, I pick the latter. Although the former may be beautifully worded and may sufficiently explain a phenomenon based on the data of its times, its relevance today has waned because it has already been disproved. This is consistent with the idea of science as a field which demands that concepts and theories be proven, oftentimes empirically, before it can be relevant. Unlike in the arts wherein a work depicting disproved ideas are still revered. For example, sculptures of the Greek period, whose depiction of the human as a perfect creation detached from emotions, is still admired for its beauty.

I would, however, tend to object to Osborne's idea that the interpretation of science is open and invariant for every man while the arts require a "perceptual skill which arises from a special ability often restricted". I believe that like the arts, true interpretation of science requires a special skill that must be trained and cultivated. It is true that basic knowledge of science is widespread and common to many but this is brought about by the greater exposure given to science by society. If exposure to the world of arts were not limited, then perhaps a basic understanding of how to interpret art can become common to everyone. Still, it holds true that to be able to understand the grandiose of the world of science, one needs to learn the language of science which invariably requires a special skill that has to be first instilled in an individual. Just like in the arts.

In the end, we can see that important parallelisms exist between the arts and science. The major point being that both try to depict the world they live in. The scientist tries to do this by using observations and by quantifying everything while the artist concerns himself with any possible medium. Both of them also contain subjectivity and creativity. Despite the nature of science to be concerned only with the objective side, we still cannot take away the fact that scientists are human beings and as such, they cannot be purely objective. It is this subjectivity which provides for the diverse opinions in the world of science. And the presence of this subjectivity, coupled by the creativity factor, enables scientists to come up with new ideas and new scientific "works of art".

The major difference that we have to realize is their subject matter. Because scientists are concerned with only the things that are quantifiable, the role of subjectivity is limited, both in the creation and interpretation of their works. For the artist, subjectivity is not as limited.

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