Adam Bly, founder & editor-in-chief of Seed Magazine, talks about science and arts.
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What Science Can Learn from the Arts So in two ways I think science can learn from the arts, at least two ways: one, very concretely in terms of ideas and the other in terms of communication. The idea is being let’s say a little bit more important. I think we’ve reached the point in science right now at the vanguard of science which I would consider to be theoretical physics and neuroscience where the ideas and the questions that we’re asking have become such that the tools at our disposal in sort of traditionally scientific ways may be inadequate to achieve the kind of ideas and truths that we seek. It takes $8 billion Super Colliders to move theoretical physics forward now and that may or may not yield satiating results. We’ll find out next year. Neuroscience has been built over the last little while from the bottom up. It’s a field that is dominated by bits of research and bits of understanding and is deficient right now is lacking for top down kind of masterful theories, big theories which certainly physics has. In both cases the study of consciousness requires that we certainly recognize that we, ourselves are in the equation as we’re studying consciousness which necessarily effects the equation. And in theoretical physics, if you believe string theory to be true or if at least you assume hypothesize and you use string theory as your dominant theory right now, you need an 11 dimensional universe. And so devising the experimental conditions and more importantly being able to even intellectually grasp that kind of an idea which our brains as we know them and as we currently use them are incapable of fathoming. An 11 dimensional universe is simply something that we don’t know how to think about, we also don’t know how to talk about, we don’t know how to draw. So we become bounded, limited by our own inadequacies in trying to understand a universe that didn’t build itself for us. And similarly trying to understand the mind, thinking about thinking is no simple task. And so there’s an important marriage I think in trying to achieve real understanding of these areas of the natural world in marrying both experiments and experience. There’s a wonderful book going to be coming out this fall called “Proust Was a Neuroscientist” by a writer at Seed named Jonah Lehrer based on a work that he published in a magazine which basically looks at some major thinkers in the 20th century from Proust, to Cezanne, to Stravinsky, to Escoffier to others and looks at how they very much in their expressions of experience in their writings, in their music, in their paintings, anticipated some of the discoveries in modern neuroscience. I think that when you look at multiple dimensional universes today, many physicists will site a 19th century book by Edwin Abbott called “Flatland” which sort of very beautifully articulated a world of two dimensions where everything one big sheet of paper and all of us were just sort of sheets of paper on another sheet of paper. And based on the size of the sheets of paper and how they interacted, that would determine the hierarchies in society and how we communicated. And then at some point this two dimensional world hears about, talks about third three dimensional world and they can’t even begin to fathom what a three dimensional world would be like in some distant space land somewhere. And that kind of interplay of not being able to even grasp the idea of a three dimensional universe is quite relevant to theoretical physics and many theoretical physicists today are citing Edwin Abbott’s work in the 19th century. I think metaphor and language is critical not only to communicating so this maybe bridges both the idea and the communication. It is not only critical to communicating scientific ideas outside of science to the people who fund it and so there’s very you know practical reasons why science needs new languages, new tools, new visualizations but also within science just to be able to navigate these very complex
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