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Subject

Sender

Date

Clues to the future

Robert Ransick

Jul 29, 1999

Science as a work of art

John Briggs

Aug 6, 1999

Re: Science as a work of art

Kerry J. Gordon

Aug 8, 1999

Re: Science as a work of art

Steve Rosen

Aug 18, 1999

Transdisciplinarity

Basarab Nicolescu

Aug 18, 1999

Meaning is in the experience

Ben Blum

Aug 9, 1999

Artists ahead of their time

Cynthia Pannucci

Aug 9, 1999

Re: Artists ahead of their time

Martin Kemp

Aug 9, 1999

Format for Future meetings

Martha Senger

Aug 21,1999

New Contributions

 

 

Photography and Science

Michael Brown

 

Art, Science and Music

Jonathan Kerr

 



Date: Thu, 29 Jul 1999 13:04:25 -0400
From: Robert Ransick, The New School University, N.Y. <RansickR@newschool.edu>
Subject:

I think your desire to include theater, dance or other artistic disciplines is very important.

I am interested in the future and believe that one of the fascinating elements that both art and science share is not how they fit into a progression of history (which is easier to map), but how they can provide clues as to where a culture or society is headed. Within this, I find the exchange between disciplines is probably more subtle and rich than obvious illustrations of mathematical equations via Escher, etc. I will try to provide you with some examples of what I mean in the next few days.


Date: Fri, 6 Aug 1999 01:10:22 -0400
From: John Briggs <jbriggs9@mail.map.com>
Subject: Science as a work of art

David,

Thanks for sending me some of the correspondence generated on the subject of art and science. After reading some of the comments, I thought I might add a couple of points. I guess I can't resist.

In my experience over the last couple of years, there's a fair amount of interest in the conjunction of science and art. But often the discussion boils down to one where the artists and scientists talk about how technology (fractals is one example) look like art or how artists are becoming scientifically literate and have found ways to use new technology to express their visions. In the first instance, I have my doubts about whether the readymades produced by scientific algorithms have much to do with art and in the second instance, while I can see that a discussion of new materials for artists would be of great interest to the artists themselves I don't think it advances very deeply into the issue of a real relationship between art and science. In fact, both discussions end up playing into the general cultural bias of a scientistic society: science is truth. According to this bias art can latch itself onto science and try to look more scientific or science can "play" a little at being artistic. but at bottom, hard science reigns. All this was quite evident at a conference I attended a couple of years ago on chaos and art. The artists in attendance were obviously intimidated and impressed with being invited to a scientific conference and did their best to describe the complex ways and ingenious they had integrated technology into their art. In fact they ended up sounding a great deal more scientific than the scientists did. The scientists for their part indulged in emotion that would have been quite out of place at a normal scientific conference. The situation obviously freed them up a bit. For all this, though, it didn't seem that the proposition of conjunction between art and science made much headway.

Now personally, I think the problem is that our cultural scientistic bias causes us to go at things exactly backward. In my view the real issue is not how to do art scientifically but how to do science as a work of art. This was an idea that Bohm proposed. Art, I think, has a great deal to teach us about how to approach truth. Science in general assumes that reality can be reduced to knowledge and that knowledge is as close to truth as we can get. Art keeps us in immediate sensual, emotional and psychological touch with the unknown and unknowable, with the magic, mystery and awesomeness of existence, with the void that lies inside our knowledge, and with the truth that moves and unfolds within that magical void. (And that's just for starters.) If we could, as Bohm suggested, learn to do science in the spirit of art mightn't we have a much better, richer, more profound science than we now have? (And the science we now seems to me fatally dangerous, at least hubristic, if that's a word). It might even be that the proper admixture of art could transform science into something that goes beyond the sterile materialism that now dominates it. It might even be that science could help us save the planet instead of deluding us into thinking that we can manage it. I'm thinking here about the proposal you and I made in Seven for a new kind of rationality--one that combines logic with harmony and with creative chaos. Our current rationality, modeled on Kantian, Descartian and Baconian science seems to me (pun intended) a dead end.

The conjunction of art and science is a great topic. But I would propose that we privilege art for a change since the whole of our culture privileges science to the extent that it becomes almost impossible to see how that privilege controls our very assumptions about the potentialities between art and science.

Oh, well, do I sound enough like a fanatic. Would this be sure to offend all the scientists you have in your discussion?

Anyway, that's the mist that rose in my mind from the landscape of the dialogue you shared with me. Thanks.


Date: Sun, 08 Aug 1999 18:03:21 -0400
From: Kerry J. Gordon <kjgordon@tvo.org>
Subject: Re: Science as a work of art

Dear David, As I read John Briggs message, particularly his observations on science as a work of art I was brought to mind of Paul Diracs assertion that it is more important to have beauty in ones equations than to have them fit experiment. Here Dirac is speaking of mathematics and the laws of physics in the context of Platonic ideal. In this sense science, like art, is perceived as an emergent phenomenon, a kind of revelation. Clearly scientists subjectively recognize a beautiful theory and in so doing imply that an intuitive, aesthetic response is as important to science and mathematics as a purely empirical one. To what extent can we consider beauty as a guiding principle for doing science? Are the fundamental laws of the universe the manifest expression of a transcendent image or merely the invention of the human mind. If we accept the former and understand the Laws of Physics in the same way as Beauty, which is to say a pre-existent archetypal image -- a treasure waiting to be known, then we might have to consider both the scientist and the artist as vessels or conduits, making manifest that which had previously existed only as potential. They themselves, artist and scientist, are not deemed the creators, but only the vehicles for the expression of beauty. There are many scientists and mathematicians (Einstein, Schrodinger, Godel) who subscribe to this notion and who have personally experienced scientific insight as a visionary (even mystical) experience. Still there are many more who have nothing but disdain for such a notion (Richard Dawkins comes immediately to mind). In any case, accepting the importance of aesthetics does not mitigate the need for rigorous empiricism in science (anymore than intuition obviates the need for technique in art), but it occurs to me that the concept of a transcendent reality (e.g., Bohms implicate order) lays the groundwork for a commonality between the creative processes inherent to both art and science. Koestler spoke eloquently of this relationship in his marvelous The Act of Creation. I read this book a great many years ago but I am struck now, as I was then, that the distinction between art and science is softened when we consider both from the perspective of creative process. Roger Penrose, a strong supporter of a Platonic view of a transcendent reality from which the manifest, differentiated universe springs, has this to say: Rigorous argument is usually the last step! Before that, one has to make many guesses, and for these, aesthetic convictions are enormously important.

Anyway that's my contribution for now. I hope someone finds it of interest.

Speak to you soon, Kerry


Date: Wed, 18 Aug 1999 22:32:27 EDT
From: Steve Rosen
Subject: Re: Science as a work of art

What John said about science and art seems right on target to me. He spoke of a conference he attended which purportedly was concerned with an interdisciplinary dialogue between science and art but which wound up privileging the former over the latter. Several years ago, I had a similar experience. The stated aim of the conference was the "integration" of science and art. What was not said was that the "integration" was to be carried out on *science's* terms. As a consequence, the "two cultures" remained as far apart as they have been since the days of Descartes. What would it take to open a *genuine* dialogue between the cultures of science and art, one in which neither side is privileged over the other? What would a "cross-cultural" exchange of this sort actually entail? If we don't address these questions in an explicit way, I believe the default setting will operate and science will implicitly dominate our discourse, as John described, even though we may *call* our transactions "interdisciplinary." So, in the meetings we are anticipating, I would hope the question can be explicitly addressed.

John Briggs also mentioned David Bohm's concern with "doing science as a work of art." This was an important theme in my own correspondence with Bohm (see my SCIENCE, PARADOX, AND THE MOEBIUS PRINCIPLE, chapter 13). We discussed the possibility of developing an approach to science in which the "poetry is kept alive" in the *very midst* of the scientific activity. That is to say, the roots of science ARE "poetic" (nonformal, concretely intuitive), but, until now, the game has been to deny those experiential roots so as to create the appearance that science's formalistic prose stand firmly on their own. What came out of the exchange with Bohm is that the intuitive underpinnings of science need to be expressly acknowledged and incorporated into the very doing of science. Here it would not be enough for a scientist to admit that, in the initial, "pre-scientific" phase of his or her work, intuition played a role but that now, with the "maturation" of the project into a work of "rigorous objectivity," nothing remains of that "primitive" origin. Rather, the "pre-scientific" creative matrix would be seen as operating from the ground *all the way up*, with formal structures being recognized as not only emergent from nonformal sources but ongoingly dependent upon them. By maintaining the tacit dimension in this way, by making it more than a matter of private experience that is left behind with the transition to the public domain of science proper, science would become a "work of art."

Well, you can see that the issue excites me. I would love to attend a meeting on it, especially one in which our very manner of communicating with each other could be improvisational enough to open up the creative field. As I said in my two previous messages, I believe this calls for *dialogue* rather than a series of formal monologues. I would agree however, that we should not try to impose a single format on our proceedings since that in itself could run counter to the spontaneity that we require.

I do have a logistical problem. The envisaged meeting is slated for late Spring or early Summer -- just the time when my wife and I will be pulling up roots in New York and transplanting ourselves to Vancouver, Canada. Apparently this means that, alas, I probably cannot attend.

Let's see what happens...

Steve Rosen


Date: Sat, 07 Aug 1999 00:08:27 +0000
From: Basarab Nicolescu <nicol@club-internet.fr>
Subject: Transdisciplinarity

Basarab Nicolescu is a physicist in Paris who has pursued an interest in interdisciplinary approaches. You may be interested to visit his web site.

Well, what is perhaps interesting for you, you can find on the site of the International Center for Transdisciplinary Reasearch (CIRET)
http://perso.club-internet.fr/nicol/ciret/

There are materials in English. I wrote a Manifesto of Transdisciplinarity, already translated in Brazil, and soon published in Portugal and Romania, but I found no American or English publisher, in spite that I offer them a superb English translation already made by two American natives.


Date: Mon, 9 Aug 1999 12:06:30 EDT
From: Ben Blum <ben@mail.alum.rpi.edu>
Subject: Meaning is in the experience

I have been enjoying the polylogue. My own take is experiential. I had the same subjective experience sitting at my desk with pencil and paper and finding out something new about black holes and performing a Brandenberg concerto with a Baroque orchestra. Both experiences involved a sense of total connection with the universe. The meaning of these experiences? For me, the meaning is in the experience.

I'd love to come to the meeting in Pari and would consider staying on.


Date: Mon, 09 Aug 1999 21:06:33 -0400
From: Cynthia Pannucci <asci@asci.org>
Subject: Artists ahead of their time

Date: Mon, 09 Aug 1999 21:06:33 -0400

I think that the artist is "ahead of her/his time" quite simply because of economics...... s/he is not owned by (((nor supported by))) his/her society and can therefore be a free-thinker and risk-taker ...nothing to lose! Of course, we are not speaking of "commercial artists". Like in science and technology,,,, when you must be mindful of the "bottomline", then your imagination cannot soar and you cannot make the free-wheeling "mind connections" that are the leaps of intuition or/synchronicity (as you might call it) where we allow ourselves to be propelled by our inner desires and dreams rather than outside needs of others. What came out of Bell Labs in the hey-day of the 1960's is an excellent example of that.... we did a panel on this bringing together some of the "old boys" (and one woman) and hope to edit the audio and video tapes for sale at our website sometime this year. http://www.asci.org/digipanel (some info archived)

If one is a sponge, like the child, and takes in and sorts information and feels experiences with all their senses and mental capabilities,,,, and then learns and masters skill-sets that enable the expression of ideas to come forth into tangible reality (a book, a painting, a soufflé, a well-designed city, space-ship or new game)..... voila, you have wonderful art.... art that is probably ahead of its time.

Because, from the titles of your books, you know better than anyone that (new ideas) are all in the air and one just captures, puts things/ideas together in unique ways (and so is each person), and transmits them out.

BUT,,,, one cannot be judgemental or fearful to be receptive and trusting of one's "first thought".... and one cannot be damaged by insecurity... in order to be a good transmitter! That's what separates the norm from the futurist in my mind.

Getting back to the artist and the scientist,,,,, I agree with you that in the end, it all comes down to a very personal matter. I have of late been perceiving of myself as a match-maker of art-sci sorts. I was a practicing artist for about 30 yrs. but decided that I needed at least to have health insurance and some sort of security that commission art projects had not provided. So, two years ago at age 50, I decided to do ASCI full-time if it was to ever pay me a salary after volunteering for 9 yrs. Anyway,,,

Many artists (not all by ANY means) are, like scientists... fascinated by the big (and the little) questions of how things/ body/universe works. And if one thinks long and deep enough, like you, it all seems to get to the metaphysical plane. So in that vein... it makes sense to me that "birds of a feather flock together". HOWEVER...and now we get to a silly physical detail... these fields have been artificially separated physically making it extremely difficult for those of the art & science communities to meet one another. Ghee... just think what they could dream up if they lived in close proximity of one another... or even knew each other through email???

One of my Board Members (actually he was at Bell Labs in the early days)... really "hit the head on the nail" when he said that .............. it's the concepts/ideas of projects that is the natural "draw" that will enable artists and scientists to collaborate. The shared passion for the "cause" needs to be there first... and all will fall into place. We hope the Break-out Sessions will be the vehicles to bringing out some of these shared project ideas and will generate sparks between people! The other panels /presentations about historical and recent models will lay the informational and inspirational springboards.

We are very excited about the event... last year's was a tremendous success (about 300 attended from around the world) and this one will build on the feedback from it. cheers,

Cynthia Pannucci
Founder/Director of ASCI
11 yrs. in service to "art&technology" field
http://www.asci.org


Date: Fri, 20 Aug 1999 11:13:25 +0100
From: Martin Kemp <martin.kemp@trinity.ox.ac.uk>
Subject: Re: Artists ahead of their time

Dear David,

As always, more telelgraphically than some of your more loquacious correspondents, and mainly to add a bibiolgraphic note. Michael Hue-Williams Fine Art, Cork St., London (dealer for Goldsworthy, Turrell et al) is publishing a book on the photographic artist Susan Dergres, called 'Liquid Form'. The reason I know is that I've provided the text, but the real point is to look at her images of natural orders and disorders. I have an advance copy, so it should be out shortly.

On the debate, I could (and might if I have time) take issue with Cynthia Pannucci's formulation that the artist is ahead of time because of freedom from direct funding. Neither part of this is true. The former is a cliché and is easily demonstrable as a determinist falacy, while the idea that the artist is free of fiancial/institutional dependencies and the scientist a servant of funding agencies is a myth. Sorry to sound so severe, but clichés, however eager and well-meaning, will not help.


Date: Sat, 21 Aug 1999
From: Martha Senger <msenger@well.com>
Subject:

Dear David,

As one who participated in the Art & Science meeting in London in March (and have since struggled with the mixed feelings it raised for me) it's good to hear the contradictions between what Jose Arguelles calls "the schizophrenic twins of modern Western culture" beginning to be addressed in the recent e-mail exchange!

I see a number of contexts emerging - something I felt eluded us in London as we attempted to discuss the issue without situating it in the context of the historical relation between art and science, including what happened to the lifeworld after art and science split off as separate spheres from their original pre-enlightenment unity, and how that led to the antinomies of modernism and the present postmodern moment that questions not only positivist science, reason, and history but also the continued existence of art as an autonomous sphere!

As J.M. Bernstein wrote in "The Fate of Art" - "Modernity is the separation of spheres, the becoming autonomous of truth, beauty and goodness from one another, and their developing into self-sufficient forms of practice: modern science and technology, private morality and modern legal forms, and modern art. This categorical separation of domains represents the dissolution of the metaphysical totalities of the pre-modern age," which in turn has led to the reification and rationalized violence of everyday life.

This situation, which makes up the postmodern condition, has finally caught up with us and must be addressed if we're to build a bridge between art and science and by that union - most critical for our species and planet - build a higher-order bridge between form and life. Gregory Bateson said we need to restore the "ecology of mind" - the metapattern or circuit between nonconscious analogue and conscious digital processes that's been broken and must be reconnected if we're not to end up in what he called an evolutionary cul-de-sac. In my assessment as a painter turned aesthetic theorist and activist, this means moving beyond the autonomy of art and science as we presently know them to a higher aesthetic synthesis of both which in turn means deconstructing the many-leveled contradictions that still divide them. (Remembering Hegel's admonition about "the seriousness, the torment, the patience, and the labor of the negative"!)

I thus agree wholeheartedly with Jemma's idea of a conference to be titled 'Beyond the barriers' or 'Breaking with boundaries' as it would create a complex context for our discussions capable of embracing related thinking in psychoanalysis, social anthropology and new philosophy that decenters the subject, allowing us to look at a broader aesthetic integration of poststructuralist thought. (Douglas Hofstadter comes to mind basing his theory of subcognition on the recursive patternings of Godel, Escher and Bach.)

Such a poetic-hermeneutical approach would allow for deepening the dialogue via what chaos theorist Ralph Abraham calls a "grok circle," the recursive process that advances the whole through symbolically interpreting the parts. Similarly, Claude Levi-Strauss proposed that primitive cultures are structured by their discourse which gave "discourse" a new and privileged status in deconstructivist and hermeneutic thinking, as well as in art. In this way, as he points out, mythological discourse becomes mythomorphic - that is, has the form of which it speaks.

I also agree that having people with different points of view "curate" topics would add to the richness of the dialogue while allowing them to be potentially cohered by a context that embraces difference but is relevant to them all.

A poststructuralist context would also call forth a focused rigor of thinking that, as Roger Malina said, has been too typically lacking in much art/science interdisciplinary thinking. For example, I read through the catalogue of an ambitious international conference held in Copenhagen in 1996, "Art Meets Science And Spirituality in a Changing Economy," that included such luminaries as David Bohm, the Dalai Lama, John Cage, Louwrien Wijers, and Ilya Prigogine - but despite the many brilliant individual ideas expressed, could find little coherence among them which I sense resulted from mixing ideas without examining their shared patterns and processes or lack thereof. Gregory Bateson's ideas of the primacy of pattern and the hierarchy of logical types seem relevant here - also the advent of chaos theory. As Ralph Abraham wrote in "Chaos, Gaia, Eros" - "the Chaos Revolution is emerging as a space-time pattern bringing chaotic order out of chaotic dis-order."

Thus I like Steve Rosen's idea of holding meetings that operate "dialogically" to allow the living out of the "holomovement" that David Bohm wrote about in an open, inter-imaginal process. The philosophical scope of Bohm's thinking has been an immense influence on me as an artist, concerned as he was with overcoming the fragmentation in our thinking that blocks its unfolding.

I see Bohm and an increasing number of others doing science as a work of art, as John Briggs suggested, inspired by an aesthetic and spiritual experience of the cosmos' elegant workings. I'd add that "meaning" science also encourages artists to address form and truth head-on again, where much contemporary art has, in the wake of deconstuction and the disasters of our era, backed away from the possibility of truth, or the engagement of artistic vision with the immense problems of our malformed life.

Marxist philosopher George Lucacs wrote "form and life have been divorced since the 17th century." That's the larger reunification I hope might come out of our conversations. It was toward this goal that I created the G2 Institute - a group of artists and scientists, including yourself, who're exploring a new domain that incorporates both spheres within the context of a new cultural paradigm I call integral aesthetics or aesthetic systems theory.

In "The Laws of Form" G. Spencer-Brown extended Boolean algebra to include a fourth class of statement, demonstrating that beyond the true, false, and meaningless a valid argument can also contain the IMAGINARY. As he writes, "the implications of this, in the fields of logic, philosophy, mathematics, and even physics, are profound...When the present existence has ceased to make sense, it can still come to sense again through the realization of its form," that is, by reflecting back and forth between an image and its content in a calculus of "cancellation and condensation" whereby "the existential condenses with the universal."

When translated into the cultural context of a form of life, an image of wholeness, economy, and beauty similarly permits disparate domains to be bootstrapped and nested within each other in what I envision as a fractal trajectory in phase space in the mode of mythic cultures -

That's what I experienced at an artist's live/work hotel in San Francisco, the Goodman Building, where an underground culture cohered & shifted to a collective state when our nonconforming habitat was threatened with demolition - a vector we maintained for a decade despite overwhelming odds due to identifying and evolving shared goals, values & strategies for action at often miraculous weekly meetings, where we'd opt out of what didn't feel right and reinforce what did. While some were drawn to engage the impending threat, it was not allowed to interfere with the nurturance of the building's culture, although some (including myself) were moved to engage the press and public in a dialogue about our differences in form. Ours was, in systems language, an autopoietic whole system that moved against the flow of entropy, triggering a cascade of synchronicities and new levels of order. What was more, time seemed to be absorbed by our drama, which I felt to be acting itself, in dream-mode -

This inner city epic of the real now serves as a heuristic myth for the G2 Institute in its critique of commodity culture, an integral way of living and working that conserves resources through its compact form as it creates complex, shared meaning through discourse and a multi-dimensional mix of self-managed functions - a 'cold' concensual alternative to the 'hot' society of competition and dominance that's destroying us and the planet. Goodman1 was lost but we've since created Goodman2, designing it on the topology of the torus which links mind and mass, form and chaos, to restore the structure of shared vision and practice that was broken during the industrial era. I call it chaos architecture.

In "Destiny and Control in Human Systems" philosopher-mathematician Charles Muses advanced a theory of "chronoetics" - a science of synchrony and qualitative time that links psychodynamics and chronotopology within a "chronotopological praxis," which he describes as "the analytic-interpretive art of conducting situations to optimal outcomes, by means of principles we are just beginning to understand..." He adds "The object is to surf on time...we come around a little differently each time - on a helix."

Such notions have the potential to trigger a leap to the higher space/time form of the Great Attractor we seem destined to meet. Alfred North Whitehead predicted such a concrescence in 1929, writing in "Process and Reality" - "The ultimate metaphysical principle is the advance from disjunction to conjunction, creating a novel entity other than the entities given in disjunction." He also said the teleology of the universe is directed to the production of beauty!

I wish it were possible to have a permanent gathering place in the States as well as at Pari. The G2 Institute will have a visiting studio available in San Francisco soon, but it will only accommodate a few people at a time. Perhaps we might look at doing something in collaboration with the Djerassi Foundation? Also, could we consider holding a conference here? As I've mentioned, the San Francisco Art Institute has expressed interest in hosting one -

It was inspiring to read your article "Blackfoot Physics and European Minds" on your website - it provides a profound explanation of what we've lost and illustration of what we might hope to regain.

All my best,

Martha


From: Michael Brown <mikebrown@hg29hh.freeserve.co.uk>

Dear David Peat,

I came upon your site by way of Frontier Perspectives, the publication of the Centre For Frontier Sciences, which listed the site as being of particular interest I am a physicist, retired from the nuclear power industry, and in retirement I have followed particular interests in the nature of consciousness and in art, particularly creating compound images using digital techniques together with photography. I have a Web site http://www.hg29hh.freeserve.co.uk/ in which I outline my thoughts on consciousness and in which I present a gallery of images, which includes panels using different styles. It includes many links to other sites of particular interest in these areas. One panel concerns the use of fractals in compound images, which I note came up in the discussions on your site, but note that the fractals are used as a technique, not as an end in themselves. I generate, colour and manipulate my own fractals patterns incidentally: I do not copy others. I have suitable software for doing so.

I visited your site and spent some time reading about the objectives: also some of the e-mail exchanges that are archived there. There were many points of interest , some of which I have encountered before, but one which I did not see discussed was the subjective nature of art as a whole or simply of colour perception. Having moved from the very objective world of science this aspect of art is striking to me and constituted one of leads in to the study of the nature of consciousness. Some of the images that I produce are abstract and following exhibitions, the feedback that I get is very varied indeed. The degree to which subjective perception of art is intrinsic, is a product of life's experience, or is learned is a fascinating puzzle, and a frustrating one when one is trying to promote a particular stimulus through pictorial art. I wonder whether it is possible to get an artistic message across to more than a few people with whom one is in tune.

It seems to me that scientists would learn a lot about art by participating in it more themselves. I am very grateful for my position of being retired and able to pursue my imaging interests without the worries of marketing, (although I do find that some of my images sell when I exhibit them in local exhibitions). The need to satisfy commercial demands very much colours the approach to art as some of my good friends who are not retired tell me.

Thus I would like to see some examples of art on your site, certainly from recognised artists, but more particularly from scientists with artistic interests, together with brief statements on what the images are meant to achieve, and comments from others about their personal responses to the images. The World Photo Gallery : http://www.hg29hh.freeserve.co.uk/gallery.htm has a display and comment facility, and allows each member space for up to 40 images together with comments. Mine (a different selection to those on the above site) are displayed together with comments at: http://worldphotogallery.com/cats/b/mikbrown.htm

Of course I would expect the comments on a site like yours to be more penetrating, as the WPG site is for photographers only. Nevertheless it demonstrates a system that works well technically. Such a facility would, I feel, provide scientists with better understandings of the aspirations and the difficulties of artists.


From Jonathan Kerr <kerr_jonathan@hotmail.com>

I've always found your writing on physics very much worth reading, and I see you as one of the few with the courage to face up to the difficulties as well as the triumphs in physics, and to set them out clearly. It was nice to find your website - as it happens the interface between art and science is an area on which I may be able to shed some light, as I work in both.

For me the main link between them is the way in which the mind makes progress in each, and you mention this aspect of the question. I'm a physicist and also a recording artist/musician.

I've found over years of songwriting that it generally seems to be a case of accessing something that is already there in the subconcious mind. When a worthwhile song is about to come out, one feels that a song is there for a day or two, and tries to get the subconscious to "cough it out". It's hard to estimate how much of the tune and words were already prepared somewhere in there before they bubbled up to the surface, but in general the better the song, the more complete it is when it arrives. The conscious mind, which is very separate, like a separate system (and far less talented), then adds the finishing touches, comparatively unaided.

Many songwriters have said that their best songs were written very quickly, and this fits with the idea that the best art gets prepared in the subconscious more or less complete, and then comes out whole.

TS Eliot said that the process of writing a poem involved finding out what one was really trying to say. John Lennon said that he'd been doing it for so long that if he wanted to he could construct a reasonable fake, but he didn't want to. The conscious mind certainly becomes adept at imitating the real thing - but the result is never as good as true inspiration from the subconscious.

There's evidence that the subconscious mind takes time to prepare a work of art - to some this might seem obvious. After writing a song one often notices little things, spread over a few days, that gave the mind ideas for the words of the song, but of which one was unaware at the time.

In physics or mathematics, when I'm trying to understand a structure or to solve a problem, the similarity is that the subconscious mind is always at least one step ahead. Making progress is about digging the next step out, from somewhere it is already known. Undoubtedly my many years of songwriting, and learning to dig things out of there, have helped with the equivalent process in physics.

Many have talked about the fact that there is some sort of link between music and mathematics, and that ability in one often goes with ability in the other. For me the best way to define the common ground is that both are about the ability to visualise an extended structure in the mind, which is only represented elsewhere in some limited way.

The subconscious mind certainly has the ability to create such structures, as in music, and also to create/discover them, as in mathematics and physics. I hope this is of interest to you - I'll continue to look at your website with interest and pleasure. Jonathan kerr




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