Thursday 28 January 2010

Science, Or Why I Don't Just Do Art

It's not something that I talk about all that often, but I am actually a great lover of science. My dad is an engineer, so I've had an awareness of the rational forces that hold the fabric of the universe together since I was little (he once helped me make a warren truss bridge out of drinking straws and push pins). I always thoroughly enjoyed biology, chemistry and physics at school, although I confess that anatomy held my attention the longest. I'm continually fascinated by how things work, and I suppose anatomy is similar to mechanics, in a way - it's simply mechanics on an organic level.

Anyway. I'm already starting to digress. Now, as well as loving science, I'm also heavily interested in the arts, and humanities. You can look at me as being split down the middle, if you like, a bit like Spock. Science, logic, rationality and reason on one side, and creativity, art, language and music on the other. So when BBC Four decided to run a programme on the history of chemistry, I was thrilled. You just don't see "history" and "chemistry" in the same sentence often enough. Episode two is on today (you can catch Chemistry: A Volatile History on BBC iPlayer) although I finally got around to watching the first episode with my dinner.

I was hooked! I learned how to get phosphorous from urine, how to make an electrical current using salt water, copper and zinc, and how thermometers work. It's all truly fascinating stuff, and I think that science, in a way, actually helps me to be more creative. Some might believe that in drawing back the curtains and showing what the world is made of, and how the universe works, scientists are destroying the magic and wonder of life. I disagree. In showing me how all of these random elements interact in a particular way, I'm even more in awe that the whole system works at all.

Air is made up of 21% oxygen. Only a few percent less and we couldn't breathe. But how does it stay at the right percentage?! It's questions like this that don't make me go, "Oh, there's no magic in the world, it's all science..." It's things like this that make me go, "Science makes it work...but HOW?!"

The world is wonderful, people.


Anonymous said...

The world is full of contradictions! I've been a science & art 'double major' as long as I can remember, even settling on linguistics when I did the actual college thing. They're such very different ways of looking at things, but I just don't have the *power* to give either of them up. Wouldn't really want to if I could.

It's the contradictions that *make* the wonder, after all. What keeps the oxygen concentration at the right level? Nothing. There is no right level, except from the perspective of those of us who breathe it. In fact, oxygen is quite toxic to life in general; we're just adapted to deal with it. How did we adapt? Simple: the ones that couldn't handle it died, leaving only the ones that could. Evolution is fueled by death, which makes it rather sad in a way, but still pretty wondrous.

Perhaps that's what the 'arty' side's for: dealing with the realities that might be too heavy to bear without a touch of color and light. Reading journals & correspondence of great famous scientists, I find it fascinating how poetic they are. It's as if all that knowledge somehow forces a deeper, wiser, more artistic perspective. Warmth is needed to balance the cold hard facts.

I wonder if the reverse is also true? Does our imagination drive us to seek knowledge? Einstein considered imagination more important than knowledge; perhaps that's what he meant. Maybe the unquantifiable 'sense of wonder' is the reason we look for solid answers in the first place. And then when we find them, we need the 'wonder' to make 'sense' of it all, bringing us full circle. Whatever it is, it's definately something to wonder at.

Hmm.... I wonder if that made any sense?

Icy Sedgwick said...

Yes, that made sense. :-) Thanks for such an eloquent comment!

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