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Art and science, quite a duality

When you hear the word "science", what do you think first? Most people would think of something like "reason" or "knowledge". Then, what about "art"? I think some would agree that we tend to think of "judgment" or "intuition". For that matter there is a common belief that art and science are absolutely different. Of course they are if we only consider art and science as methods, but in fact they are more than just methods, let this article be an attempt to explain why art and science are a duality.

What is science? What is art?

Let's break into science first, I promise it will be concise. Science, or should I say "doing science", consists in a rigorous method in order to describe natural phenomena. The result of this method are parts of knowledge that contribute to the whole human knowledge, so that result is written down across the ages. Knowledge can of course evolve and it does, as an example Newton law was considered true before Einstein theory of relativity. Scientific method can be split in five steps such as :

  • 1st step : Observe and think about questions in order to define what you want to answer to. For instance we want to study the water, we have observed that water boil for whatever reason. We want to find out what makes water boil.
  • 2nd step : Formulate hypotheses. This step is about describing what could cause the phenomenon we are observing. For instance, water boils due to its temperature and it appears to be the only cause.
  • 3rd step : Experiment in order to validate or invalidate hypotheses made in step 2. For instance, pour water in a pan, put a thermometer in the water and finally heat the pan up until water boils. At this point, the thermometer shows something like 99.8°c.
  • 4th step : Conclude. Write down how the result was found and why the hypothesis are validated.
  • 5th step : Someone has to review conclusions. At this point it only consists on doing the same experimentation as in step 3, and then drawing conclusions that validate or invalidate the hypotheses. Let's come back with our example. Someone else wants to control if water boils due to its temperature. She setups the same experimentation and she retrieves the result. The water do boil at a certain temperature, but the value is 93.3°c. That's it, in fact water boils at a certain temperature but the value is different from one experimentation to another, a new problem is exposed now. Why the temperature differs that much? Something else is the cause, but what now? — Here is why is you wonder, the guy who reviewed did his experimentation in altitude (2000 meters).
Scientific methodology applied to observation on boiling water

Now art. In it's simple definition, art is lots of human activities, and of course not all human activities are art. When someone is doing something in order to express her feelings and to convey a message, she is doing art. It is a common understanding that art is a quest for aesthetic, do to so artists represent the world by adding their how vision. With that said, due to the huge range of art activities, art includes lots of totally different skills : from body skills (dancing, painting, playing an instrument) to intellectual skills (writing, imagining, abstracting).

In conclusion, science is about reasoning and art is about judging. But... There is one part shared by both art and science : it is observation. Remember, the 1st step of scientific methodology is about observing and in art it is crucial to observe the world. Observation is linked to the personality of the observer, beautiful minds are capable to influence the way most people think. For instance, Isaac Newton observed the apple like an object attracted by a force while everyone were thinking of just a falling apple.

When science influences art

Okay, this one is pretty easy! Everybody can think of a technology that helped art to become wider, the cinema is probably the most popular art activity.

For this article we will study a little bit one particular subject, Euclidean geometry (4th dimension) which were one of a hot science topic in early 1900. In 1902 a renowned French mathematician called Henri Poincaré published a book called Science and Hypothesis1.

In this book Henri Poincaré speaks about Euclidean geometry and our experience, how we perceive space. He says that we are influenced by our brain when we see things because everything we see is perceived in two dimensions, the 3rd dimension is brought by another brain function which the effect is known as perspective. Then, Poincaré differentiates two brain functions which are vergence and accommodation.

Vergence and accomodation scheme.2

Another chapter is about the 4th dimension. Nowadays, it is not as strange as it was back in days. In the book Henri explains how we can think of a world in four dimensions. This is far from being a topic in this article and it is quite complex, I leave you an incredible video by Carl Sagan in which he explains the 4th dimension the same way it is explained in Poincaré's Science and Hypothesis.

"Wait, you only speak about science right there?", yes I did! In fact, Poincaré's book influenced a French-Spanish painter and sculptor : Pablo Picasso. In 1906, Picasso showed after 9 months of work his new oil painting to the public, The Young Ladies Of Avignon. At this time, Picasso was looking for releasing something that would amaze the public and other artists... He achieved his goal. To do that he got the inspiration from Poincaré's work which I elaborated earlier.

The Young Ladies Of Avignon shows five nude women prostitute.

Their position is unnatural, that's not to say awkward. One woman is interesting : the one crouched in the right corner. We can see at once her face and her chest, it's like her face is turned by three sixty degrees but it's not the case. Indeed, Picasso tried here to illustrate the 4th dimension. Imagine you observe a creature in a two dimensions world, because you are an observer in the 3rd dimension you can see everything in the creature's world. Think of the same for the painting but now the painting world is in three dimensions and you, as an observer, are in the 4th dimension, so that you can see everything at once. It's true that it's not perfect, but it is art and it is about imagining how it could be this way. One more thing, if you look carefully you can see that Picasso painted the sky which is mixed with the white sheet, again, it is an attempt to tell to the observer "hey, actually the prostitutes are in three dimensions and you are in the 4th so that you see the inside and the outside at once!".

When art influences science

Be aware that it happens, but it is discreet. By the way, I had to choose one particular example to keep this article not too long. In the note section I will reference other examples to show you that art influences science at times3 4.

In 1969 Michael Crichton published a book called The Andromeda Strain. The plot of the story is a military satellite that returned on Earth with an extraterrestrial microorganism which appears to be lethal for terrestrial animal. Human is endangered.

In 1975, Paul Berg, was the organizer of the Asilomar conference on recombinant DNA to discuss about the potential biohazards and regulation of biotechnology . It was in 1974, Berg and other scientists had called for a voluntary moratorium on recombinant DNA research until they could evaluate the risks. It is shared that the participants of the conference read the book The Andromeda Strain and were influenced by the disaster told in the fiction.

By now, scientists are aware of potential risks of certain researches. That's why you often hear about GMO or CERN experimentations, but those moratorium are unfortunately exploited by conpirationists who are not afraid to scare people to sell them books or even to sell them related stuff such as survival shelters.

Art and science, a duality

Art and science are not that different, they influence each other. At the end, art and science both aim the same objective : representing the world. As we are all humans, we are all influenced by our own experience. Remember Poincaré who defines how we perceive Euclidean geometry in real world with our eyes, we can extend this sense, sight, to other senses that are our instruments to experiment the world. Artists and scientists use those instruments the same way to achieve something slightly similar. Artists are focused on being imaginative, and scientists try to be as near of the reality as possible, but now... What is "reality" if everything is processed by our brain?

I made a video about it. If you are interested, tell me so that I work on a translate for the video as it is in French...

1 Science and Hypothesis

2 Vergence and accomodation

3 When art advanced science - Albreicht Dürer

4 Loi du contraste simultané des couleurs (Apologies I didn't find any resource in English, scientific law edified by studying works of art)

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