Tuesday, September 6, 2016

science vs art

There isn't a real difference between them. But that's how humankind understand things. By breaking down life, our experience into chunks. The chunks so apparently distinct that the separate schools form around them. The schools develop their own separated conceits. Ergo, science is very different from art. While as human we experience them together. This is my opinion. I'll share it. And I'll explain it but I don't care to argue.

Let's have an example.

I signed up for college. I knew this was gong to be a very long and difficult trek. I am not particularly academic. I'm lazy and I don't like to study. Either I get it right off by paying attention to somebody who is interesting, or I don't.

Very early, a science 101 was required. Best to get that out of the way right off. I picked up the book for Biology and tried to read it. Every word was beyond me. I realized on the spot, reading the first pages, I would have to learn an entire new language. I was dismayed. I pictured the whole task ahead being this way. I sat down in despair and nearly cried. I'm too stupid. I'm not up to this. It is not my cup of tea. I don't care for all these incredibly specific scientific words. They bother me greatly.

Words, words, words, words words, Jesus Christ, people you are obsessed with in-club vocabulary. Fine. I'll master your buzzwords and toss them back to you. That will be my way of convincing you I've mastered your material, then allow myself to forget them for their utter uselessness. Useless to real understanding.

I'm an artist goddamnit. And you're not.

 I copped a very bad attitude right off.

The key to the class is understanding cell division. The textbook is loaded with words identifying phases. Then phases within phases, and names for the bits doing separate things within phases, activated by bits with other names. Lordy, they do love naming things. And naming them the most difficult erudite manner possible. They contrive a name drawn from another ancient language for every tiny little bit, every activity, every phase with phases. Son of bitch this is going to be hard.

And to explain what they discovered through microphotography, their photographic evidence of phases, they have an artist draw pictures of all that they're explaining and put each separate phase inside a circle. Like this, from wikipedia, but there are several other versions:

click, it gets bigger. Eh, don't bother. 

The next page in the textbook was microphotographs of all this happening. The photographs did not match the drawings! I flipped back and forth trying to see how they match, and they simply do not match. 

And I realized they just made all this shit up! They've contrived their own vocabulary to explain what they think they are seeing and so they can have the means to discuss it. 

While in reality cell division is not divided into karyokinesis further divided into  prophase, pro metaphase, metaphase, anaphase, and telophase and the ending cytokinesis does not overlap with the first. The photographs didn't match because they were taken between all these phases. It's why I couldn't make sense of them. They don't fit because the process is not broken down into distinct bits, just because the activity is noted. It's a process. A single continuous process that runs smoothly. It cannot be separated by frames.  It's most clearly described as a miracle. It's art! This is Nature's art. And professors have divided the art, the miracle of life, into phases and given them scientific names. They've reduced the stupefying jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring miracle of life, Nature's art, into lowly scientific terms of superficial surface comprehension. 

Nobody ever mentioned a miracle. There is no mention of art. And this process is stunningly beautiful. 

Fine. This is all on your stupid terms. Yes, I copped a very bad attitude very early on. Going to college is going to make me a whole lot dumber. But to pass, I must accept and learn their stultifying ways. Now how am I going to learn these meaningless words? I saw the micrographs. I grasped the miracle. I'll flip back and I decide to study their drawing. So I did. 

I drew circles on a page and filled the circles as they drew them. Different than wikipedia has them. I wrote all the words and drew a line to the object of attention and marveled again at the process occurring knowing full well it runs smoothly from one circle to another, there must be 1,000 circles between each circle they're showing. But without any names because they land in between phases of scientific discussion. There are actually a million intermediate phases unnamed. That is the real Nature's art. 

This is how I chose to study the subject, by concentrating on their key bit of textbook art. And right at that moment Meyer walked behind me and asked me, "What are you doing?" 

"I'm studying my biology class." 

"Looks to me like you're goofing around drawing pictures." 

I stopped. Hurt. Hey, I'm a sensitive bloke you must know. Why take a jab at me? I respected his opinion highly. He really is very smart. He's smarter than I am. Older. Far more accomplished. I have a lot I can learn from him. I admire him. I respect his opinion. Why did he say that? Is it true? Am I just trying to get out of studying? 

Bullshit. This is how I study. Go to hell you unartistic dope. Fuck off and leave me alone. 

Man, I copped a bad attitude. 

I went to the final exam uncertain of myself because my entire study amounted to comprehending the nature of the microphotographs that did not match the artist's rendition. The only vocabulary I bothered mastering were the words on that single page. 

The final exam was passed out to all the students who hadn't already dropped out, a half full theater. The exam amounted to a a single page filled with 12 blank circles. The single question was: "Choose either mitosis or meiosis (the sex cell version ) and fill in the circles. 

I got this! 

Oh, Baby, I so got this. Here comes my "A." 

I drew happily. All I had to do was recall what I already drew. The words are all pfft. 

Also, PSYCH! There are not 12 circles. Only ten in the textbook. Naner naner, the professor is faking us out. She drew two extra circles to confuse. The professor is a very mean woman. A motorcycle dyke, actually. My type of gal. I can understand a woman like that. We'd be friends were it not a class. 

I look around the theater. All the other students were completely bewildered. None were prepared for this. They were stumped. All of them were. It was a very large class and every student in there was positively stumped. They were angry. It was unfair to them. They became very bitter about the unfair challenge. And this is the final. A very important grade. They're all thinking they should have dropped out. All along there was nothing about drawing anything. They did not sign up for art class and now they are asked to draw. They cannot do it. None of them can. 

Except me. 

La la la. 

Silly me. Fuck you, Meyer. I get an "A" in a class that I'm unfit for. I win.

That was one of the very first classes in college. And I knew an artistic approach will see me through all of it. Because in our totality there is no real separation between STEM and the arts. I understood this very young. 

So there's that. 

I am alone in this estimation. Nobody agrees with me. I realize that. Professors whom I respect greatly will argue this to the ground and bury it deeply. STEM scientific and legal types will disagree strongly. Their conceit depends on their vast separation. Arts are for people not smart enough for science. Arts are for lazy people. 

Like me. 

It is a very good review. The film is about aliens that land and new type of language is shown. One that is not spoken, one that happens all at once. It doesn't go boink, boink boink, it goes poof here are all the ideas at once. And that manner of language forms a manner of thinking. 

I argued with Dr. Fred on this subject. That language determines how we think. I know that by expanding language that the manner of my thinking changed with it. New vocabulary introduced new concepts and further provided new avenues for thought to traverse by neural firing. He argued against that into the ground. He refused to accept my insight. Even though he spoke only English. He refused to respect mah authoritah! 
It’s ingrained so deeply in Western culture that science and art are oppositional disciplines, that math and physics belong to one branch of endeavor and creativity, expressiveness and philosophy to another. And that is why great science fiction cinema — and this is great science fiction cinema — can feel like such a pre-eminent genre. Here, using an art form that was itself born of technology, we get to venture out past those simplistic binaries to where there is poetry in mathematics and physics in philosophy — out into the frontiers of our universe and our power to comprehend where science and art are the very same thing. “Arrival” brings us there, and though the conclusions are earthbound and have so much to do with the nature of humanity and our relationship to mortality, my God, they’re full of stars. 
Thank you Jessica. I needed that. Finally someone who agrees.


virgil xenophon said...

Really, REALLY insightful commentary, Chip. VERY nice post..

bagoh20 said...

The Lord told me once that if your art is good enough, mankind will make a science out of it, but I think he was just talking down to me. He likes to mess with my head.

MamaM said...

Seconding virgil x's response.

This one is aces, up, down, and every which way. Messing with the head while hitting the center, smack dab on.

The October Artist Mag arrived last week with an article about a guy who paints/assembles pictures in acrylic and gold, reflecting the concept of Kintsugi. His name is Bruno Capolongo.


Julie Pascal said...

School has started for my kids in college so I was grouching to my oldest about a teacher I'd had a year or so ago who refused to just give us the real terms but wanted us to make up new terms on account of she'd gone to some seminar that summer that said if students decided themselves how to describe something that they learned it better. The experience was like being short and having your tall brother hold something just out of your reach and you think, yeah, I could go to the next room and get a chair but it would be useless and wasted effort when your brother could just hand you the item. So we resented her. All of us.

She did give us a term one day, "These are called index fossils... I don't know why they use that name, makes no sense to me." I was *appalled*.

So I ask my son... Son. You've never had a class that talked about index fossils, right? Can you tell me what an index fossil is just from the name? He did so. I said, yes, before they could use nuclear isotopes to tell how old things were they used the progression of different types of fossils to tell how old sediments were. And then he went on to explain what would make a *good* index fossil, including that a good index fossil would have the widest possible distribution on the earth for the shortest time frame.

But my professor thought that we didn't need to learn the *real* technical terms and thought that "index fossil" wasn't descriptive enough. ARGH.

For the rest... I think that STEM requires a great deal of creativity or how does one imagine what one doesn't know? How does one apply what you know to new situations? We did lots of drawing in class and on field trips because science is *observation* and drawing helps you observe, notice details, and determine relationships.

Another thing they did in our science classes was explain that the current research on learning was that it was easiest for students to learn facts on their own and hardest for them to learn real world applications. I don't comprehend this whatsoever. Learning the facts and concepts was always hardest for me. And I don't understand the brain that does not immediately fit a new concept into half a dozen real world situations.

Julie Pascal said...

Music is Physics. Waveforms and interference. Visual art is shapes, relationships, etc., etc., so basically math and geometry.

So if there is a body of work different and separate from science, it's not Art.

Methadras said...

Well, everything is really physics when you get right down to it. However, there are nuances that a lot of people will miss. For example, as a mechanical engineer I create designs that are utterly rooted in known scientific and physics principals, but if you've seen the world around you, you will see nothing but engineering. Everything you use has been engineered by someone like me at one time or another, but that is what I call technical art, not art as people know and understand it. From the cars you drive, to the houses you live in, to the cups you drink out of. All of it was developed from the mind of an engineer using principals discovered by others.

We as engineers take those abstracts and distill them to working, physical forms of technical art. Some are good at it and some are not.