Morton on Arts vs. Science [Guilty Planet]


Oliver Morton wrote a delightful book all about photosynthesis called Eating the Sun: How Plants Power the Planet, which I reviewed earlier this year for Search Magazine (R.I.P.) under the title "A Song for the Heartless". One of my favorite passages in the book beautifully explains the difference between art and science:

Discoveries feel determined. They are there to be made, and if one person doesn't, another will. This doesn't lessen the achievement; indeed it can give it spice. The thought that 'this is the way the world is--and I am the first to see it as such' is an intoxicating one. It is not unique to science- a poet may have the same feeling, or a painter- but the scientist who feels this way has the feeling in full measure, because he knows that it is in the nature of science that what he first sees as a truth will, if he is right, eventually be received as such universally. It will change the way the world is seen by everyone. No artistic insight can make this claim so universally. But the other side of this power is that a truth we accept as truly universal loses the need for an author. It becomes part of the way the world is, regardless of who saw it first, and in time the identity of whoever it may have been who first looked out from that particular peak in Darien is lost.

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