Morton on Arts vs. Science


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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I'm reading it at the moment.
Totally agree that science and humanties needs to be closer -- it's what my doctorate is about!

By Laura Keynes (not verified) on 28 Oct 2009 #permalink

Interesting take on the immortality of the artistic visionary v. the transience of the scientific explorer. I suppose there's something to that, some seed of truth, although only if "everyone" refers to everyone in the scientific community, and not some more general culture. "Relativity", for instance might qualify as a "universally accepted truth", yet relatively few people even grasp yet, although it's been around for centuries, and so it's hardly universally accepted. In contrast, Picasso's cubist realization of relativity will always be his, and in ten thousand years his name might be affixed there...but who will be credited with discovering relativity in the physical Universe? Or will the notion have been discarded in favor of a deeper view?

By Kevin Parcell (not verified) on 30 Oct 2009 #permalink