Deva (deva_fagan) wrote,

Science + Art

One of my not-so-pet peeves is when people present science and art as being somehow at war with one another, especially when the implication is that science does not involve creativity and imagination, or that art is not a useful way of making sense of our world.

So I was delighted by two different podcasts I listened to, recently, that both delved into aspects of art and science and how they are both creative and help us make sense of the world.

The first was this episode of On Being, an interview with physicist S. James Gates. That link will take you to a transcript, or you can listen to the full podcast via a link on the upper right.

The entire show was fascinating (and delves into pattern-finding as an essential part of human nature, which is a topic dear to my heart) but the part I especially loved was this:

Dr. Gates: It feels as though one makes a discovery of something that was already there. It often feels that way. It's almost like the equations are trying to tell you a story. It's a little bit what I hear about when authors discuss how they work, that when you write a character, then the character at some point begins to take over and begin to determine …

Ms. Tippett: Right. They come to life.

Dr. Gates: Right, come to life, and then gets you to tell the story that the character wants to tell. This sense of finding the mathematics that was already there is very similar to that, I think. That we discover these things, but there's something that seems to be pushing often. I mean, when you do the calculations, it's as if there's an imperative to follow a path and that this path then tells you the deeper story that the equations are trying to get out for us.

I love that notion! That in a way, physicists (and other scientists) are doing something similar to writers (and other artists): using their language to find and reveal truth.

One of my favorite parts of writing are those moments when I feel like the story is alive, that it is telling itself TO ME, rather than me being the one in control and telling it. That it exists independently in some way, with its own truth.

I would be curious what my fellow writers/artists and scientists think of this -- do you feel like the story/pattern is out there already, and you are searching for it, in order to... bear witness to it, in a way?

The other podcast is this one on Musical Language from Radiolab. In particular, the section starting at around 27:30 that asks the question "How does music make us feel things?" and goes on to talk about Igor Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, which caused riots when it was first performed (not because people loved it, but because it was so dissonant!) but later went on to become beloved and acclaimed.

The part that I found especially intriguing is the notion that we are discomfited by sounds that are unfamiliar, that our brains are not used to processing and can't make sense of (find patterns in). But that over time our brains can adapt, and find the patterns, and those unfamiliar things can become beautiful. I can't really do justice to the story here (especially the absolutely adorable voices of neurons trying to make sense of what they are hearing). So if you have any interest in this, please listen to the podcast!

Bringing this back to story-telling, I love it when I find positive characters in fiction who do have an interest in math/science. And I am wondering if any of you folks can recommend any books (esp YA or MG) that features such characters. Bonus points if anyone can suggest a book with a character who is adept at/interested in math/science and is ALSO creative and artistic (musician, writer, poet, painter, etc)!
Tags: art, science, storytelling
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