Science, Art, Litt, Science based Art & Science Communication
A VIEW ON HOW SCIENTIFIC CREATIVITY DIFFERS FROM ARTISTIC CREATIVITY AND HOW ARTISTS CAN HELP SCIENCE and the people around if they want to BY CHANGING THEIR CREATIVE MECHANISMS
The most erroneous stories are those we think we know best -- and therefore never scrutinize or question. -Stephen Jay Gould, paleontologist, biologist, author (1941-2002)
Scientists and artists are coming together very frequently these days because of the sci-art interactions. And as a keen observer of these interactions I find some strange things happening. I want to bring these observations before the world of science so that it takes measures to stop science from losing its own identity because of these interactions.
First read another of my blog here to understand this one better.
I feel when people around you say a thing over and over again, you tend to think that it is true and actually start believing it is true ( that is what advertising is all about). I think this is happening in the science-art arena too. When artists say over and over again they can advance science with art ( especially at the research level), even scientists are starting to believe in it and I have seen scientists too parroting the same words! This is what scientists should be cautious about and I am worried about. They should not lose their identity as scientists and forget the rules of science when they interact with artists. They should not lose their reasoning power and ability to question things. They should not forget to draw the lines between various fields. They should not play it safe.
Another example I want to give is the Wellcome Trust's report (1) where scientists who participated in their projects said 'after interacting with artists they are prepared to take more risks'! This really stumped me. Because I was told several times and brought up with the idea that "Scientists are the people who boldly go to places where no man has ever gone before!" Scientists are people who always took great risks including the ones to their own lives!(20)
Who took risks to go into space (22)? Who took risks to go to the moon? Who are now taking risks now to go to the Mars? Who took risks to go deep into the seas to study the ecosystems, biology, metallurgy and undersea volcanoes? Who are working in the Antarctica despite all the risks? Why do volcanologists take so many risks to go near active volcanoes and sometimes get killed? I have seen Microbiologists in our labs taking risks while working with dangerous microbes. I have seen one of my friends, who is a scientist in chemical technology and experimenting with a new chemical, burning both his hands severely when the new chemical exploded in his hands with the result that doctors amputated two of his fingers! I myself had caused two fire accidents in my lab and got a warning from my boss. But still I went ahead with my experiment and succeeded the third time and got a pat on my back from the same boss who warned me earlier! Who are the people who go deep into the earth, underground caves, deep jungles in the name of science? I have seen people working with high voltage electricity, nuclear technology (23) etc. which again pose great risk to people who work with them. You will find a list of scientists who took risks and were killed by their own work here: scientists-who-were-killed-by-their-own-experiments
Watch this video that proves the same!
In her article "Would A Scientist Survive The Zombie Apocalypse?", Alice Ly, a scientist, says scientists have " Nerves of Steel" : From steady scientific hands, we move onto scientific nerves of steel. A typical lab-based scientist will have to do all manner of dangerous and difficult tasks as part of their daily work. Be near powerful magnets and lasers? Not a problem. Handling hazardous chemicals? Piece of cake. When the time comes to have to stare down our fear of mice and put our hand into the cage, it will be done (25).
So, where is the problem?
Are scientists afraid of failures and therefore are unable to take risks? Each and every scientist knows failure is a part of scientific research. Very few scientists succeed in their first attempts. This is because they always tread on new grounds and with untested and unsafe new methods. Edison failed several times and actually said when asked how he felt about his failures, " I have learned how I cannot make a bulb in 999 ways"! Scientists are people who always took risks sometimes calculated and sometimes unintended ones. Then what are these scientists who worked with the artists talking about? Maybe they are talking about the risks they are now taking in saying things which are untested and untried as truth like others! Bad for science!
Some scientists - mimicking the artists - are arguing that if scientists embrace the culture, they would be able to communicate science in a better way because by understanding it, you can connect with people more closely(21). I want to ask them here and now - can't a scientist who was born into and grew up in a culture understand it as well as any artist can? Or as well as any other person of humanities can? This is just like saying scientists are dumb and cannot comprehend the culture they are familiar with and therefore can't deal with cultural conditioning of the minds of the people around them. This argument really is rubbish and it is like insulting science and scientists! Become better communicators using scientific methods. Science is not inferior to art in the communicating process - just remove the complicated jargon. Connect with people in the right way! That is enough.
As a promoter of science-art interactions I am embarrassed to hear from several scientists that told me that the free advises artists and science-artists come up with to give to scientists as if the latter were really dumb was quite sickening. I wouldn’t be where I am and do what I do if I didn’t believe that arts and literature and the study of them have an important role in the world, but most of the counselling people offer is maddening to me as well. They’re completely vague, or make empty claims about “big questions” and “critical thinking” (as if these are not properties of science). Undoubtedly people who indulge in these things know nothing about the practice of science. They purport to be defending “the humanities” from attacks, but mostly just pander to the sensibilities of an educated elite who already agree with them. But this will increase a void between art and science more. Scientists who are indulging in repeating what artists say should be more cautious about this.
While bringing artists into labs, scientists should also take care to see that the artists understand fully what they are dealing with. They say half knowledge is always dangerous. Scientists should not leave things to artists alone. They should supervise everything during collaborations. I feel this is important especially in Bio-art related activities (6). Scientists should not leave live organisms, most importantly live microbes which could cause harm to the people outside with artists. Unlimited artistic freedom is a dangerous thing. Some artists argued with me that there should not be any restrictions during collaborations and artists should have freedom to do whatever they want to do which I think is a very absurd thing to say. These artists don't understand fully the consequences of their actions. There are controversies (19) regarding what scientists themselves are trying to do with regard to science-art .
And some scientists because of their attachment to sci-art are unable to see things clearly and are taking the parameters of art to see things. For instance they are saying things like 'art could have helped the scientists' , 'music might have helped the Nobel laureates' ! The words 'could have and might have' are perception and belief based ones and are usually used by the art world. Proof based words would be 'is/are responsible' , 'has/have helped' . These are the words the scientists should be using after thorough and full proof verification!
A few scientists are promoting science-art by using the words " I believe this is true " instead of "this has been proved correct" (4)! Yes, when a scientist says such things, ordinary people usually believe them! But a true scientist knows 'belief' has no place in science! Only truth can survive in the tough world of science. "Believe" is a word scientists should use rarely and only with great care. To believe something is to accept it on faith without evidence or logical explanation. This is completely contrary to the scientific method and fundamental principals of science. It is possible for a scientist to be aware and to understand and to seek knowledge but belief is best left to the artists, philosophers and the theologians.
Strict old-style boundaries like the ones assumed to exist between art and science are eroding, according to some artists, and traditional dichotomies such as intellect versus emotion, reason versus intuition, and the poetic versus practical, are becoming less distinct under the influence of unprecedented communication networks and analytical tools that revealing higher resolution and greater clarity the complex layers of things and ideas (7).
Are they? I think this is just a wishful thinking because I see no evidence of such things happening in the field of science, not yet!. If this truly happens in science because of science-art interactions, it is really bad for science. Because intellect, reason and practical are the life lines of science. If they are cut, science doesn't exist at all! And emotions and intuitions are not at all good for science!
After interacting with artists for six years one scientist said(17) : "The interaction with artists reminded me that science provides only one of many valid ways of “knowing” the natural world. While this may sound more humbling than useful, it has provided me opportunities for talking science with groups whose primary connection to nature is more sensory, intuitive, or spiritual than it is intellectual."
Instead of making people realize the scientific way of understanding nature which is more closer to truth, he went their way of understanding it! It is up to him to do whatever he wants to do. But if he says intuition is a valid way of understanding things something is wrong with the way he approaches science! That is what scientists should be cautious about! They are starting to believe in 'alternate ways ' of understanding the world as valid too instead of scientific way of doing it after interacting with artists! Surprised to hear this from a scientist!
Contrary to what artists think and say, Science already has in built- what the artists call- 'aspects of art' - like creativity, observing, imagination, visualization, imaging, pattern recognition, pattern invention analogizing, dimensional thinking, transforming data into visual and graphic forms, converting theories into mechanical procedures etc. Scientists have been using all these things successfully since ages (8)! They need not learn these things again from the artists. What are science-illustrations, X-ray and MRI images, satellite images, PET- CT scans, angiograms ( processes that allow doctors to view the flow of blood in blood vessels ), 3-D mapping (13) and 3-D printing?
All scientists know that 'scientific visualization' is one of the important aspects of the field of science. The purpose of scientific visualization is to graphically illustrate scientific data to enable scientists to understand, illustrate, and glean insight from their data. Data visualization (16) is the study of the visual representation of data, meaning "information that has been abstracted in some schematic form, including attributes or variables for the units of information". The main goal of data visualization is to communicate information clearly and effectively through graphical means. Scientists apply their taste in visual aesthetics to their visual displays of data as do artists, as in the case of a scientist who carefully selects colors or arranges forms used in his/her design of a chip or rendered image. These are aesthetic decisions, signs that the scientist is to some degree thinking as does a visual artist. Although untrained in the processes, many of the best scientists frequently work from visual geometric models in their minds, and identify research problems on the basis of these visual models or paradigms. From the paradigm, the analysis and experiment is derived. This ability to pre-visualize a potential solution to a problem and to build 3 or 4-D (3-D plus time) conceptual models is basic to their scientific process. So, don't scientists know how to understand and proceed with their work and also communicate their hypotheses, observations and conclusions derived from it to the world outside? There is nothing new in this aspect (18) and what artists are trying to say that art should become a part of science! Art is already a part of science! In fact I never thought art as a different entity from science because of our education system until artists in the WEST tried to emphasize the importance of STEAM based education models! However, if artists want to make data visualization more easy and understandable to laymen and help in science communication, that would really be helpful. But I have seen some of the data getting lost in translation done by the artists in their experiments as a result people couldn't understand it properly and the pictures based on it failed to generate the questions they should have helped initiate (12). I feel this situation arose because the artists themselves failed to understand the scientific data or don't have a grip on how to represent it and didn't take the help of scientists either to interpret it properly.
Read the article on how scientists outshine arts students with experiments in creative writing here
What makes a good visualisation anyway? If you want to actually be able to understand and use your complex data, it needs to be penetrable but not absurdly simplified. Putting figures into a colourful pie chart may create a pleasing result but it's easy to pick style over substance and lose all meaning along the way (24). The answer, apparently according to some experts, is a lot more science than art! And they actually have pretty strong opinions on the right way to do these things. We are all familiar, for example, with red meaning bad, or green meaning good. Or are we? "A very common behaviour in visual analysis is using red or green, with red bad and green good. If the thing is green it means you're doing well, if it's red you're doing badly, or if the bar is small it's red and if it's big it's green. "The problem with that is that in Asia those colours have precisely the opposite meaning. In Asia it's red good and green bad. "It also turns out that red-green colour blindness is the most common form of colour blindness. If you're giving people a gradation between red and green to show difference, they often can't see that difference. So the visual cue which you've given them is useless."
The problem is not colour per se, however. That said, colour intensity is something we as human beings are very attuned to seeing. We perceive the intensity of the colour much more dramatically than the actual hue.
In some products, when you try and use colour as part of the visualisation, we will default to using colour intensity as the visual indicator of magnitude because we know that people see it more easily, perceive difference at a higher level and it doesn't create issues with colour blindness. The sources of these biases and preferences run deep. The science is rooted in the human being's perception and also biases. We tend to see patterns where they don't exist, we tend to see outliers very easily, we notice things that are off to the side. Good data visualisation is about exploiting these innate characteristics. All of these points about psychology and biology come back to innate differences about how our visual perception works, and it's rooted in evolutionary biases. As humans we're very attuned to differences in intensity in colour because it's useful in terms of foraging for berries and nuts and the sort of things we would have done. We are so attuned to motion because it almost inevitably results in a threat or opportunity: something's going to eat us or we're going to try and eat something. There are no value judgements; it's not good or bad, it just is. So the question is how do you take advantage of these things rather than ignore them and let them get in the way. So next time you have to think about communicating data visually, it might be worth to think in scientific terms, according to these experts!
Artistic studies are different from scientific research. In artistic studies, I have noted, speculation, beliefs and the opinion of the author plays a major role in coming to a conclusion. While scientific research and conclusions need proof beyond doubt. Most of the science-art papers are based on ‘artistic studies’ rather than ‘scientific research’ and therefore need not be true.
That is what I argue about. And I sometimes argue like a child with others. Behind these arguments there is this worry that science is losing its own identity in the sci-art arena which is a dangerous trend. Almost everybody in the sci-art arena now says artists and scientists think and work in the same way ( this assumption is based on the reports I read till now. I have given several links to the reports on the pages of sci-art news group and you can check them yourself). This is becoming the opening statement of each and every sci-artist -irrespective of the fields they come from- of their talks or write-ups. As a reporter of sci-art news on Art Lab, daily I read at least five statements like these and this is sickening me. A silent minority, although doesn't say it directly, is giving its consent indirectly by not speaking anything against it. I asked these people several times, if what they say is true why art and science have deviated from each another and evolved into two separate subjects instead of becoming one. It is true that there are some things the disciplines of art and science share. Here are some words that resonate for both fields: creativity, research, observation, experimentation, discovery, collaboration, and innovation. But the difference between the fields lies in the way the work is done ( I found it very difficult to get adjusted to the art world because of these differences in the beginning). People just refuse to answer your genuine Qs and sometimes avoid your questions altogether because this suits them better. When you know that something is not true and when the whole world says it is true, you tend to go mad! Right now I am trying to keep my sanity and identity intact despite all this. There is a saying here: "If nobody comes with you after hearing to your call, go alone, but never deviate from what you believe is true. Ultimately it is the truth that triumphs". I am sure even science teaches us the same. The pioneers in science faced several difficulties but never deviated from their paths. Finally the world had no other go but to accept the facts. It is the scientists and their work who or what the world remembers and not their critics or tormentors. (: Whenever you find whole world against you just turn around and lead the world - Anonymous :)
I have listed ( and the list is very big!) the differences between art, literature and science based on my experiences and wrote an article and posted on Sci-Art Lab network group science art. I am still working on it and it takes some time for all the facts and points to come together. Without knowing the differences, it is difficult to understand why they were separated in the first place and how one can build bridges between them.
I think artistic creativity is fundamentally different from scientific creativity. Artist's depend mostly on "their thoughts, ideas, beliefs and personal views" for their work whereas scientists' base their work on natural laws and facts and how to fit their informed ideas into these laws to creatively invent or discover something. The imagination of a scientist is based on reality. A scientist has to get his imagination right to succeed where as the artist need not do it right to move forward. In fact, the inadequacies of artists' imagination are what moves the art world forward! They are not the same like several people think and say. At the basic level some overlapping occurs but as you go deep into the subjects, the differences become very clear and I always wonder why people say both artists and scientists do things in similar ways like these ones in the references (2, 5,15). I think, people who are experts in only one field try to analyse things in other fields too such illusionary perceptions arise. I will give an example here. When artists, writers and poets look at the moon they see it as a silver ball in the sky and describe it or paint it in this manner. I even read some stories where the crescent moon was described as a jewel in the hair of a God! This thinking reflects in their creativity ( metaphor and fiction). Now scientists think in terms of a rocky, dusty satellite that moves in space around the earth trapped in its gravity field when they think about the moon and they use their creativity to take the help of the gravity of the moon to accelerate space ships or change their course to send them to other planets to save fuel and time - the mechanism is called "gravity assist " (3) ( fact). Artists and poets even blamed scientists for disrupting their romantic ideas about moon by landing on it! Of course in some areas of science where there is inadequacy in terms of understanding and equipment to study things - like for example Astro-Physics and Theoretical Physics - some scientists might use metaphor and wild imaginations like artists do. But this is not the norm. If you take such examples and say all scientists do things similar to artists that becomes 'fallacy of composition'. In life sciences, for instance, if you want to know about shapes or structure of microbes, just take a microscope and see the fact with your own eyes or test a protein or enzyme in a test tube or in a petri-dish or a flask to know its function in reality! There is no use of metaphors here!
We use metaphors for descriptions - while communicating to others but not for conducting research. But these metaphors sometimes also take the shape of scientific jargon! Yes, we use some in-built aspects that are similar to art in science. But they have evolved along with scientific processes and methodology and took different route to take shape. We cannot equate both the processes. Even though Theoretical Physicists use wild imaginations and metaphors like artists do, they ultimately have to fit their thoughts into meaningful scientific formulas and equations that have to be proved some day. Otherwise they don't have any meaning at all! E = mc 2 would have become just a work of art like shown below had it not been analyzed thoroughly and scientifically and proved to be right over and over again!
An art installation
When artists stop after wondering about something based on their beliefs and imagining things, scientists actually go ahead and investigate and verify whether what they have imagined based on the information available at the time is correct or not. Unlike in art the creative act in science generally results in finding a good and 'realistic' solution to a problem. So believe me when I say they don't do things in the same way. I have many personalities and as an artist I do things differently and when in my lab, I do things differently. As a writer and poet, I do things differently and I become a different person on AL network. As a designer I do things very differently. Long back I had drawn the lines between various fields I work in and I don't allow myself to cross these lines now so that I can efficiently do my work in different fields. I also feel one has to completely abandon one field and its parameters to go and work efficiently into another. I used to wonder whether there are any middle grounds, but couldn't find any that don't interfere with the existing ones. I also wonder whether anybody can show this in a new light!
Now some people who are promoting science art say, the two cultures discourse and the partitioning of creative work into art vs science maybe be a stumbling block to really understanding and supporting the new emerging practices.
But I feel as there is a fundamental difference between artistic creativity and the scientific creativity, I think artistic creativity actually creates problems while dealing with sciences because your personal emotions and views have no place in the scientific research. Everybody in the world of science have to obey natural laws and the rules of science. You have to be emotion free while doing research in science ( please read one of my articles here: http://kkartlab.in/group/some-science/forum/topics/science-and-spir... - to understand better what I am trying to say). Just because you believe in something or think it is true ( on which artistic creativity depends) it doesn't become a fact ( on which scientific creativity depends). Beliefs and facts need not agree with each other! I actually see a clash here! And I don't think artistic creativity can help scientific creativity much unless artists too base their creativity on facts and truth. Art can help science students at the basic level. Art can also help in communicating science in a better way. Artists, like others, can show scientists to see things differently from their personal points of view. But to expect to do more to the scientific research without changing their way of thinking or reasoning based on personal attachments is expecting too much and just a wishful thinking! Then again when artists change their way of reasoning based on neutral and unattached approach that again becomes a scientific way of life! They have then crossed the line and went into the realm of science! They have become people of science and are not artists any more! Yes, artistic creativity can help science by changing its ways of operating and coming into the realm of facts by abandoning its fiction status and from dealing with sensational ideas to the developmental ones (14). You need a deep understanding of science to actually manipulate concepts in novel ways and get creative in science. Even though I am from the field of science, I never claim I can do something drastic like finding out something new in physics or chemistry because my field is microbiology! Unless I work closely with physicists or chemists, I know how difficult it is to do that! Unless a person that has talents in several fields is able to differentiate between them and overcome the difficulties and able to connect properly the ideas and thoughts and modify them to fruitfully evolve creative ideas, it is extremely difficult for artistic creativity to help science. Yes, Art can definitely 'promote' science. "Advance" is a controversial word! Both artists and scientists should keep these things in mind before venturing into the sci-art arena.
Doubt isn’t a weapon to be used until it slaughters all creative thoughts. It is a tool to help us avoid the very human instinct to believe what appears to be true, and what we wish to be true. Scientists, most of all, should know this.
Bertrand Russell: “Do not feel absolutely certain of anything. While doubt often comes across as a sign of weakness, it is also an effective defense mechanism, and it's an essential operating principle for science." He also said: “Intellectual integrity made it quite impossible for me to accept the myths and dogmas of even very great scientists, more particularly of the belligerent and so-called advanced nations. Indeed, those intellectuals who accepted them were abdicating their functions for the joy of feeling themselves at one with the herd.”— Bertrand Russell 1872-1969.
Sci-art, yes. But science-art at the cost of science? Definitely a big 'NO'.