From Zero to Infinity: A Story of Everything

(From: Biologically-Inspired Computing for the Arts: Scientific Data through Graphics, Anna Ursyn, University of Northern Colorado, USA (ed.); Information Science Reference (an imprint of IGI Global), Hershey, PA, 2012, pp. 356 - 377.)


Chapter 20

Clayton S. Spada  and Victor Raphael 


ABSTRACT 

Art, science, and spirituality comprise a triumvirate of conceptual and process-oriented contexts founded on different philosophical tenets, but all serving to help interpret human experience with the universe. This chapter examines the potential value in leveraging a generalist perspective as a counterbalance against deconstruction to perceived elemental units so as to avoid becoming bound by paradigm. Art and science are addressed as related observational methods that engage hand and mind to explore hypotheses about and represent the varied aspects of existence. A practicing artist and a practicing art-ist/scientist present examples of artworks that evolved from their collaborative project, entitled From Zero to Infinity, to illustrate the commonalities that art and science share with respect to pragmatic and creative processes, while not equating art with science as similar cognitive domains. 

 

INTRODUCTION: MAKING SENSE OF REALITY 


There is no science without fancy and no art without facts. (Vladimir Nabokov, from Appel, 1967:141)


What happens to us as human beings when we face the immense vastness and uncontrollable chaos of nature? In his The Critique of Judgement Kant (1790) wrote, 


The mind feels itself set in motion in representation of the sublime in nature; whereas in the aesthetic judgement upon what is beautiful therein it is in restful contemplation. This movement may (especially in its beginnings) be compared to a vibration, i.e., with a rapidly alternating repul- sion and attraction produced by one and the same object. (Kant, 1790: Section 27).

 

Since the beginning of human communication – first with drawing and speech, then followed much later by written language – humankind has tried to understand and represent the world and its role in it (Botha & Knight, 2009). A concern with the nature of reality has been a central question that has compelled every culture to invent stories explaining the origins, structure, and eventual fate of the universe. These include oral histories and scriptures that describe the labors of a single omnipotent god or a pantheon of deities or the powers of ineffable forces in shaping the fabric of existence. Some traditions hold that nothing is real and everything is in constant flux through infinite space and time, while others envision a giant serpent floating in nothingness, swallowing its own tail to encircle the heavens and the world supported on the back of a giant creature, such as an elephant or turtle (Aveni, 1994; Barber & Barber, 2004). This quest for understanding continues unabated, as scientists hunt for elusive subatomic particles they hypothesize will tell them whether the universe will expand forever or continually cycle between expansion and contraction. There is even hope that science may be on the verge of bringing together the four principal forces (gravity, electromagnetism, the nuclear strong force, and the nuclear weak force) into a Grand Unified Theory that will reveal a more sublime level of causality (Gleiser, 1997). The largest questions often lure the sharpest minds into the narrowest corridors. Faced with the ostensible starkness of simply being, some thinkers turn to the godly in search of a more remote explanation for why things are as they are. Confronted with the transience of their lives set within the context of an apparently indetermi- nate cosmos, they opt to invoke some model of a continued sentient existence as solace against the prospect of oblivion (Polyani, 1946). Others reject any arguments for a higher order of meaning or directed intent, pointing instead to pure chance as the prime driver. Challenged by evidence suggesting an overarching rational structure that governs even chaos (Gleick, 1987), these minds plumb ever deeper into reductive compartmentalization of the highly integrated system that comprises physical nature. 


Despite the widely held perception that the science and spirituality are in opposition, scientific and metaphysical perspectives have integrated well throughout history. The ancient Egyptians directed their advanced architectural, medical and metallurgic technologies to theistic ends. Logic and mathematics flourished under Hinduism and Buddhism. Muslim hakeems (polymath scholars) contributed to many fields of both religious and secular learning during the Islamic Golden Age (circa 750 – 1258 CE), and 19th Century Christian communities welcomed scientists who claimed that they were not concerned with discovering and explaining the ultimate nature of reality (Habgood, 1964; Margenau & Varghese, 1991; Turner 1997). Given that science is deeply rooted in philosophy, it is ironic that the quarter between science and the spiritual continues to be widely perceived largely as an empty void, traversed here and there by lonely explorers navigating well outside the norms of either tradition.

 

Ancient Chinese, Greek, and Islamic thinkers clearly recognized that investigating ‘how’ and ‘why’demanded distinctly different methodological approaches, but they did not discriminate these forms of reasoning as strictly segregated “fields” (Boorstin, 1983; Freely, 2010). From its roots in ancient Greece through the Enlightenment and Colonial periods, science was conducted as ontological investigation designed to reveal “truths” concerning physical reality. Indeed, even while the architects of the Age of Enlightenment attempted to avoid metaphysics, they were compelled to practice it to effectively counter the flaws and gaps in their explanations (Miller, 1996; Staguhn, 1992; Wilson, 1998). The decline of logical em- piricism and the rise of linguistic and sociologi- cal conceptions in science during the early 20th Century led to a philosophical paradigm shift that de-emphasized the establishment of universal or ontological truth – relegated today by most modern scientists to the realm of philosophy – and more inclined towards pragmatic, functional modeling of physical systems (Devlin, 1997; Polyani, 1946). 

 

Despite the impressive roster of leading scientific thinkers working in biology, chemistry, mathematics, and physics that have made excursions into metaphysical territory over the past two centuries, such efforts have met with mixed reactions from the modern scientific community at large. At best, such forays seem to have failed to set up fertile ground for dialog between science and philosophy, on the whole being dismissed as personal speculative journeys. At worst, oppositions have hardened. Physicist Charles Percy Snow, in his celebrated and influential 1959 Rede Lecture, The Two Cultures, claimed that a near-complete breakdown of communication had developed between the sciences and the humanities, and that this did not bode well for arriving at solutions to problems at the global scale (Snow, 1959). In his lecture, Snow essentially revisited the schism between scientists and “intellectuals” that the 18th Century British empiricists had promoted. A more recent exchange illustrates how caustic some parties have become: in a response to physi- cist Richard Feynman’s quip that “philosophy of science is about as useful to scientists as orni- thology is to birds” philosopher Craig Callender retorted in a webcast telephone conversation with philosopher Jonathan Schaffer that “it is likely that ornithological knowledge would be of great benefit to birds, were it possible for them to possess it.” (Callender & Schaffer, 2010: 8 minutes 35 seconds - 9 minutes 41 seconds).

 

On the other hand, others have stepped forth in fulfillment of Snow’s hope that a “third culture” would eventually emerge to bridge what is in effect an artificially constructed gap. Biologist Edward O. Wilson, widely acknowledged as the “father of sociobiology” and recognized for his secular outlook with respect to religious and ethical issues, wrote Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge to present how interdisciplinary approaches that have been used to unite the sci- ences might serve as models for bringing together the sciences with the humanities (Wilson, 1998). The term “consilience” was believed to have first been coined by William Whewell in 1840 in his The Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences, but with roots extending back to the ancient Greek philosopher, Thales of Miletus (ca. 6 BCE), who believed that the material world is governed by an intrinsic order that is logically comprehensible (Wilson, 1998). Wilson is a prominent proponent of the modern viewpoint espousing the notion of scientific realism, that science describes the world as it really is, independent of what we may wish it to be, and that the various branches of science study compartments of reality that depend on and help in understanding factors studied in other branches. He defines human nature as a set of epigenetic rules — changes in gene expression mediated by mechanisms other than alteration in the underlying DNA base pair sequence — that constitute the genetic patterns of mental develop- ment. Ritual and culture, according to Wilson, are products, rather than parts of human nature, and interdisciplinary inquiry into psychological and sociological phenomena can be investigated with scientific methods. Wilson also makes the interesting claim that appreciation of art is part of human nature but art itself is not. So, science and the spiritual are thus sundered, but the long-standing relationship between science and art still endures.

 

The commonalities shared between art and science have been contemplated since antiquity. Beginning with the first philosophers of nature in the 6th Century BC and continuing through the next century, the ancient Greeks came to distinguish the knowledge of principles through “disinterested understanding” (epistêmê: knowledge, science) from the implication of the knowledge of principles within the context of a rational method involved in the production of something or the accomplishment of some objective (techné: craft, craftsmanship, art) (Zalta, 2010). This distinction extended to the structure of the ancient Greek polis in that the practice of the Mechanical Arts (techné, which included both medicine and music because these involved working with the hand was generally relegated to the lower class while “free” men engaged in the Liberal Arts (epistêmê, which included ethics and philosophy, and also politics) (Dorter, 1973; Zalta, 2010). However, epistêmê could also imply knowledge of how to do something in a craft-like way (technê), such knowledge being most useful when reduced to practice, as opposed to consideration on purely theoretical or aesthetic grounds. The ancient Greeks thus tended to regard techné manifested as art for art’s sake in a negative light, but assumed a positive view when it was employed in the practical application of a skill (Bloom, 1991; Zalta, 2010). Hence, the etymological derivation of technique, the term most commonly referenced to the methods artists employ, and technology, the directed use of scientific knowledge toward functional ends.

 

Both art and science are therefore rational methods for engaging the hand and the mind, under the guidance of careful observation, to investigate hypotheses and construct representations of our experience of the universe. Science works from specific instances of the contingent so as to establish more global relationships while art starts with generalities that are subsequently deconstructed to a personal level. The commonality of potentials and pitfalls shared by art and science suggests the prospect of improved progress toward maximizing our knowledge of the world when these disciplines converse. Like scientists, artists query culture and history, mythology and science, nature and mind, and even the materials with which they work, and then analyze and organize their observations into the scaffold of a coherent proposition that is then put forth in a public forum for independent evaluation and discussion. Scientists also share with artists a long-standing reliance on visual communication in order to effectively describe as well as depict their representations of what lies beyond superficial perceptions (Kemp, 2000; Miller, 1996; Robin, 1992).

 

In the cognitive sciences, there is no firm consensus on the degree to which reasoning can be explained as the mental manipulation of symbols, or, by extension, how abstract ideas come to be visualized (Elgin, 1997). Cognitive scientists suggest that the mind draws upon two sorts of representations: description and depiction. Descriptions arise from propositions – irreducible logical constituents from which “true” or “false” may be determined – while depictions are image-like representations created through the arrangement of object-oriented elements “borrowed” from experience with the tangible world (Miller, 1996; Mithen, 1996).

 

The issue of how information is stored and processed in the functional architecture of the mind has been addressed by revisiting the ancient Greek model of knowledge with the presumption that there are two kinds of knowing: declarative and procedural. Declarative knowledge functions as an intrinsic framework that is constructed within the arena of fact-like representation, while procedural knowledge refers to knowing a process for accomplishing an objective (Barber & Barber, 2004; Miller, 1996; Mithen, 1996). As with the ancient Greek scheme in which epistemological and technical knowledge can sometimes be in- determinate, the distinction between declarative and procedural knowledge can sometimes become quite ambiguous.

 

Many artists (and scientists) have come to regard the terra incognita between the indefinably metaphysical and the strictly analytical as fruitful territory from which to launch their investigations. We have done just that in From Zero to Infinity, an ongoing creative collaborative project that weaves the biggest of questions and the smallest of details into poignant arguments for discovering fresh ways of uncovering the untold unconventional riches and unexpected complexity that the universe has to offer. In this sense, a principal aim of our collaboration is to encourage a more unfettered cross-examination between two crucial requisites for conducting good science and making good art: curiosity and imagination. 

   

PROCESS: THE “MAGIC ZONE” 


In a society where tradition and deeply-held belief systems are in short supply, having a broad overview can help clear the path toward meaningful work. (Orland, 2006:105)

 

There is a “magic zone” in any creative process that is difficult and maybe even impossible to reduce to objective description. It is perhaps helpful to imagine this concept more as a space or state of being that encourages the collision of unconscious free association with conscious predilection. The “magic zone” grants equal standing to banality and profundity, and an intercourse between rationality and whimsy. This state is at once quite fragile and easily disrupted by attempts to mediate it, yet definitive enough to permit a full awareness of involvement with it. To put it in simpler terms: the magic of creativity typically fares best with a willingness to become totally immersed in paradox.

 

Collaboration might be fundamentally defined as bringing two or more “magic zones” into confluence to facilitate growth of knowledge and experience, which in turn increases the degree of complexity, and thus of paradox. Paradox provides the prospect of fashioning a host of conceptual and phenomenological arguments into new aggregate experiences that embrace a greater depth of meaning (Wagner, 2009). In fact, increased collaboration and interdisciplinary interaction has been the rule rather than the exception in both contemporary art and science. 


Our working process was reshaped and enriched when we were granted access to the rare manuscripts and books held in Special Collections Department at the Doheny Memorial Libraries, University of Southern California. The experience of being granted access to and handling centuries-old volumes under the expert guidance of dedicated librarians bolstered a reverence for the knowledge of the past and its profound relationship to the present-day intellectual and spiritual climate. The institution’s digital imaging laboratory provided high-resolution digital image files from which visual elements were extracted and incorporated into new artworks. The success of this association has led the authors to seek out additional cooperative prospects with specialists, institutions, and laboratories that span a variety of disciplines from the so-called “hard” sciences to psychology, sociology, and theology. 


We have long been fascinated with the hidden interrelationships of all things and have been beguiled into the impossible attempt to tell a Story of Everything. Our collaborative work takes as its territory that space between science and art, where reason and emotion, ego and id, conscious- ness and instinct, fuse into novel constructs that might help us better appreciate the grand schematic we call reality and our place within this system. For almost a decade we have been engaged in a creative journey to trace the threads that inform how the mind relates to the contingent, finding visual inspiration in myriad sources, including works on classical philosophy, Newtonian optics, the Spanish Inquisition, Darwin’s voyage on the Beagle, mythical creatures, electromagnetism, Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks, Native American religious rites, molecular biology, quantum physics, and the Pioneer 10 spacecraft. Such diverse sources have exerted their own distinctive pull on our intellectual and creative processes as we try to coax our free associations from the realm of the inexpressible into the theater of the explicable.

 

The production of our visual statements is a complex undertaking — yielding multilayered images that conjure ideas of disciplines that do not yet exist: allegorical astrophysics, cartographic cave art, mythological microbiology, and cabbalistic quantum mechanics. Our working process can best be visualized as an old-style railroad handcar that is propelled down the track by two people alternately pushing down on their side of a pivoting rocker arm. Take that model of operation. Make it high tech. Then take away the track. That’s the paradigm for our project. Specifically, we bounce high-resolution layered digital files back and forth between our Southern California studios with no preconceptions about what may happen to them on the “other side.” Some works have been pushed along in this back-and-forth fashion for up to two years before reaching their final form as 24 x 30-inch archival pigment-based inkjet prints. In adopting this iterative approach, we have reaffirmed the basic conceptual arena of our operations by shaping art in the space between two minds.

 

Starting with abstracted images of the cosmos previously captured onto Polaroid 600 or Spectra “instant” integral print film, gold and various other metal leafs are applied by hand to the surface of the photographs, and these unique artworks in their own right are subsequently rephotographed with a high-resolution digital scanning camera back to create image files that serve as the basis for more extensive experimentation within the virtual domain. Objective technical processes and intuitive leaps of faith are joined into a workflow that can best be characterized as a kind of latter-day alchemical methodology: layers from digitized images of woodcuts, engravings, lithographs, etchings, and other visual media, as well as artwork redrawn or created de novo with vector graphic software, are modified and intertwined into complex composite images often comprising scores of separate layers and masks and file sizes sometimes exceeding several gigabytes. Processing variables such as blend modes, channel mixing, opacity settings, and tone remapping more often than not result in serendipitous synergistic interactions between visual elements that supplant any pre-visualized expectations we may harbor. While intuition cannot be forced into action on demand in a workflow, it can be accommodated if we recognize when it springs into action. The creation of these works is therefore akin to conducting an experiment, in that specific outcomes are rarely certain.

 

Given our operating territory between science and metaphysics, it is hardly surprising that photo-based technologies were selected as the foundation for our collaborative effort. Photography has had a remarkably parallel science/art duality from its inception. The ability to capture and preserve shadows was made possible by the invention of photosensitive emulsions concurrently and separately developed by an artist and a scientist during the 19th Century. Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre was a French theatrical impresario and panorama painter seeking a practical way to speed up the creation of realistic color images for his new popular entertainment, the Diorama (Newhall, 1982). William Henry Fox Talbot was an English scientist and mathematician who happened upon “photogenic drawing” while pursuing optical research, his invention motivated by romance (here defined as the space between love and frustration). While honeymooning in the Italian Alps, his self-acknowledged botched attempts to make souvenir drawings of the Lake Como scenery, even with the use of a camera lucida drawing aid, led him to seek a means of capturing and preserving the interaction of light – arguably the most ephemeral of natural phenomena – with the tangible (Greenough et al., 1989; Newhall, 1982).

 

Our creative process thus employs a fusion of technologies and artistic techniques that date back through centuries, starting as far back as 4 BC when the Chinese philosopher Mo Tzu first formally described the formation of images through a small hole in the wall of a darkened space (Hammond, 1981). Historical and conceptual strata are thereby added to the open-ended inquiries posed by the resulting artworks. Themes of creation and destruction, harmony and strife, infinity and emptiness, resonate from the amalgamation of inspiration and tangible constituents drawn from works by Newton, Einstein, Coleridge, Da Vinci, Paracelsus, Dame Rose Macaulay, and from among many other written works such as The Divine Comedy, Hamlet, and Paradise Lost. We have also mined personal and public archives for imagery obtained through optical and electron microscopes, earth-bound and orbiting telescopes, deep-space probes, and linear accelerator experiments. We do not presume that the associations we devise represent a working path toward objectively defined answers, but rather that our exercises might perhaps suggest another means by which the structure of the universe itself can be made more evident in the threads – or questions – that unify mankind’s many attempts to understand it.

 

OUTCOMES: TOWARD THE INVENTION OF NEW POSTULATES 


We used to think that if we knew one, we knew two, because one and one are two. We are finding that we must learn a great deal more about ‘and’. (Sir Arthur Eddington, from Mackay & Ebison, 1969:89)

 

Much advanced scientific work in the past few decades has been focused on “big picture” questions about the underlying structure of the universe, such as how it all came into being and what its ultimate fate might be. While the three-dimensional world we can observe seems governed by the mechanical laws of classical Newtonian physics, such behaviors break down in the face of infinitesimally small objects like quarks or infinitely powerful ones like black holes. Indeed, theoretical physicists have recently put forth a hypothesis that our universe may actually reside within a wormhole that stretches between other universes (Than, 2010). This remarkable proposition bears metaphorical similarity to the lyrical Hindu model depicting the heavenly overlooking our world supported on the backs of elephants, which in turn are standing on the shell of a turtle, this entire scheme surrounded by an ouroboros – a recurring symbol from ancient times signifying birth and rebirth. Problema X frames the supreme uncertainty concerning how much we really know about the universe and how reliable our perceptions are. 


Science is a system of knowledge concerning the physical world and its phenomena. It is based on empirical observations of the contingent and the conclusions drawn from those observations. Despite this rigorous process of questioning and analysis most seek answers to questions that are beyond rationality or scientific understanding. Because science cannot provide answers to inquiries of a purely philosophical nature, the quest for existential truth sometimes assumes sublime and sometimes ridiculous proportions. A reliance on prosaic descriptions of the directly perceivable electromagnetic spectrum or of some deity that sheer faith has turned into reality frequently impairs, even discourages, efforts to reach out for larger truths. Above Reason speaks to this need to know, in some form or another. Discovery often springs forth in the most surprising of ways from a fragile intersection between the metaphysically ineffable and the factually sterile.

 

The purpose of the earliest illustrations by humans on cave walls is still under debate. Their characteristics and locations have suggested to some investigators that the paintings may have been created to invoke magic for the hunt (Breuil, 1952) or as shamanistic devices to draw power from the cave walls or to evoke/represent trance states (Lewis-Williams, 2002; Morris, 2006). Others cite the broad range of quality of the paintings as evidence for their function as a means of communication or storytelling (Guthrie, 2006). A common characteristic of cave painting visual elements – including the so-called “entoptic” geometric representations – is their reference to observable objects or phenomena (Lewis-Williams, 2002; Lewis-Williams & Dowson, 1998). However, cave art “was not intended to mirror the surrounding world but to transcribe reality through filters of belief, tradition and ritual” (Clottes, 2002:96). The Egyptians made a conceptual leap with their ability to artistically represent abstract ideas, such as their pantheon of gods. Before the scientific revolution began around 1500 AD, priests, astrologers, alchemists, and philosophers all claimed to have the answers to the workings of the universe. One might argue that in illustrations of real or imagined experiences one can find a broader understanding of the natural world and the Final Causes of all things.

 

In Genesis, the images from research into particle physics are coupled with the story of the creation of the universe, matter and life as told in the Book of Genesis. Profoundly poetic in its expression, the biblically conveyed sequence of events (though not the timing) is rational and, in its broad generalities, supported by science. The diagram embedded in this work refers to the tracings of elemental sub-atomic particles, which have allowed us to probe the very nature of matter. Events at the quantum scale often challenge common sense developed from the perspective gained within the macroscopic context of lived experience and our personal sensory model of reality. Particles seemingly pop in and out of being, yet behave in statistically predictable ways that permit examination of their behavior. Because nature always holds surprises, there is plenty of room for rationality to peacefully coexist with unfettered awe.


Bubble Chamber directly engages the viewer within this frontier. Streams of protons accelerated to tremendous speeds along a huge underground conduit almost 700 feet in diameter smash into atomic targets placed in a chamber filled with liquid hydrogen, leading to high-energy collisions that release smaller particles. Mesmerizing trails of microscopic bubbles transiently suspended across a sea of liquid hydrogen, captured by ultra high-speed photography, serve as the only visible evidence that these particles exist. Faster moving particles form straight trails, while slower moving particles create spiral trails as they are deflected by magnetic-field generators positioned around this so-called “bubble chamber”. The “atom smasher” has afforded scientists a glimpse into the inner workings of atomic nuclei in a fashion akin to an astronomer using a telescope to study the cosmos. Scores of fundamental sub-atomic particles have been discovered through the use of this technology, increasing our understanding of the structure and nature of matter, and thus, of existence.

 

Devotees of astrology assert that our lives are governed by the positions of the planets and stars in relation to Earth. They also believe the precise location and time of our birth provides the key determination for many of our actions. While scientists reject such claims, there is evidence that implies our biology and psychology are connected to the broader environment in ways that might seem inscrutable or illogical to our rational senses (Tarnas, 2007). Beneath the Surface suggests that perhaps there is some truth to both viewpoints, though not for reasons we can readily apprehend. The malleability of what can appeal to logic as factual is further exemplified by the recent revival of a centuries-old debate over the number of star constellation signs comprising the astrological zodiac that began with the decision by ancient Babylonian astronomers to exclude Ophiuchus as a thirteenth group, consequentially setting the stage for unresolved confusion through the ages engendered by reference to either a seasonal or a sidereal calendar (Praetorius, 2011).


Against the backdrop of planet Earth and the sliver of atmosphere that protects life from the void of deep space, a diagram of Gavin de Beer’s classic phylogenetic tree of the animal kingdom serves as a starkly graphic reminder of the common ground that humankind shares with all life on the planet. It is unrealistic to hope that our activities as a species will have no impact on the integrated ecosystem within which we must survive, but this does not mean that we are absolved of the responsibility to mediate clearly unsustainable technological behaviors. In Common Ground, the image of Einstein’s handprints do not merely underline humanity’s ownership of this quandary, but also give hope that we have the capacity to solve the problems we have created.


Pioneer Greeting is a visual elaboration of our drive to be understood and acknowledged at a holistic level. A 6 x 9-inch gold anodized plaque was bolted to the Pioneer 10 spacecraft, which was sent out into deep space in 1972. It was designed to inform other intelligent life in the universe about who we are and where we come from. Male and female figures stand before an outline of the spacecraft. At the top left is a symbol of the hydrogen atom, the most common element in the universe. Below it, 14 lines radiate from a point representing the sun. Each line indicates the direction from the sun to a pulsar, a cosmic source of radio energy that should be known and understood by any civilization whose technology has advanced to the point of space travel. At the bottom of the plaque is a model of our solar system. The sun is at the left, followed by Mercury in sequence to Pluto. The background linear elements are derived from a radio astronomy map of a small sector of distant space, oriented so that radio signal strengths are displayed as contour lines, similar to the way a topological map shows elevations. Could signals generated by other intelligence be embedded in the tremen- dous background noise of the universe? Will another intelligence ever see this plaque? Will it ever be deciphered? The chance of either happening is infinitesimally small, but not impossible.


CONVERSATION: A UNIVERSE OF QUESTIONS


...neither the scientific system of mental devel- opment, nor the traditional, is adequate for our potentialities, for the work we have in front of us, for the world in which we ought to begin to live. (Snow, 1964:63 - 64) 

 

Friedrich August Kekulé von Stradonitz was a German theoretical chemist and principal formulator of the theory of chemical structure most known for his work on the structure and chemistry of benzene. He claimed to have realized the molecule’s ring-like shape after day-dreaming of a snake seizing its own tail (Benfey, 1958). George Pierre Seurat’s studies of the physics of color as an art student at the Academy of Fine Arts in Paris led to his invention of Pointillism, but it was the development of premixed synthetic pigments by French chemists in the late 19th Century that actually enabled him to create the paintings in which discrete dots and dashes of complementary colors placed adjacent to one another could, when viewed at a distance, be fused by the eye into vibrant blended colors and coherent whole forms (Schlain, 1991). American optical scientist Edwin Herbert Land, an expert in the physical and chemical properties of color, paved the way towards new means of creative expression in film making and photography with his inventions of the Polaroid lens and instant photography (Newhall, 1982; Jaccard, 2007). Harold Eugene “Doc” Edgerton, an American electrical engineer credited with transforming the stroboscope from an obscure laboratory instrument into the high-speed electronic flash technology widely employed in photography, spent most of his career presenting the beauty of fleeting events (Newhall, 1982; Orland, 2006). The histories of science and of art are replete with such examples of prepared minds seizing opportunities for the exchange of serendipity into design, and of the transformation of the pragmatic into the expressive. The histories of science and of art are also replete with examples of prepared minds doing just the opposite.


There is a large body of literature dating back thousands of years that has dealt with the confluence of the analytical, the creative and the spiritual facets of human cognition, generally resting on the presumption of some form of opposing dualism in attempting to elucidate how concept is translated through process into a result (Bloom, 1991; Bronowski, 1989; Jaccard, 2007; Leshan and Margenau, 1982; Kubler, 1962; Wilson, 1998; Wolff, 1999; Zalta, 2010). More recent expositions on creativity (Koestler, 1964; Kubler, 1962), the neurology and psychology of cognition and perception (Arnheim, 1969, 1974; Baltrusaitis, 1989; Doczi, 1981; Freedberg, 1989; Gombrich, 1989; Kappraff, 1991), and the applied organization of visual information (Hemenway, 2005; Huntley, 1970; Kemp, 2000; Tufte, 1990, 1997, 2001) also serve as excellent references that could lead to greater insight regarding how these aspects and mediators of real-world processes may function in relation to one another. However, the precision that may be afforded by teasing apart these constituents through reductionism does not satisfactorily resolve into comprehension of the cumulative experience. 


It should be stressed here that this chapter is not intended as an in-depth reexamination of the common misconception that art and science are mutually opposing and dissimilar cultures, nor is there a desire on the authors’ part to conflate art with science as equivalent states of knowledge so as to “rectify” their polarization. After all, scientists cannot be expected to conduct science from a similar perspective that artists handle art, nor should artists be compelled to justify their practice in the same way that scientists must pragmatically relate their conclusions to the methodology by which results were obtained. Science must remain science and art must remain art if they are to continue to fulfill their respective missions of inquiry. Still, we are compelled to join the league of historical and contemporary predecessors working in the arts and the sciences who have expressed their belief that there is great value in encouraging open-ended dialog between these worldviews as a means of defining a deeper individual relationship with the cosmos. 


Conducting science and making art are by nature different “attitudes of approach” toward solving problems. Perhaps the principal distinction between scientific and artistic workflows is that reproducibility defines success in the former, while the latter strives to achieve different outcomes from repeated inquiries. It may also be that conducting science and making art requires the management of a curious sort of tension between hubris and humility. Hubris because staying the course when striding forth into the unknown demands a great deal of confidence; humility because remaining engaged with a sense of awe helps to promote the next question. An artist can employ processes with as much methodological tenacity as a scientist would bring to bear in an experimental inquiry. Similarly, a scientist can and should remain open to the unexpected or unwanted result. This is the “magic zone” where the overlap between art and science and spirituality can come to life. In art as well as in science, what matters most to others is the conclusion, the product arising out of the process, but what often matters more to the artist and the scientist is the experience by which the conclusion was shaped from the process. As a consequence, the result assumes greater significance as a springboard for further questions than as a definitive resolution.

 

Millennia after Pythagoras of Samos suggested that planets and stars moved in uniform circular paths within crystalline spherical orbits arranged in proportion to one another, and that points at which these orbits rubbed against one another produced vibrations he termed the “music of the spheres,” NASA’s Voyager deep-space probes transmitted telemetry back to earth of planetary and solar sound emissions in the audible spec- trum (Jaccard, 2007). Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci, the quintessential Renaissance Man, used rigorous scientific investigation and meticulous observation to inform his artworks believing that it was a moral responsibility to accurately represent the perfection of Nature (Richter, 1970). In developing his conceptions of archetypes and the collective unconscious, Carl Jung sought a deeper understanding of matter and energy by engaging in numerous discussions with Albert Einstein, an accomplished violinist as well as the theoretical physicist who catalyzed a revolution in physics with his discovery of the Theory of General Relativity (Jung, 1968, 1981). Indeed, Einstein apparently perceived no chasm separating art and science when he is claimed to have said: “After a certain high level of technical skill is achieved, science and art tend to coalesce in esthetics, plasticity and form. The greatest scientists are artists as well.” (Jaccard, 2007:4). And the list of examples goes on (Benvenuti, 2006; Gleiser, 1997; Schrödinger, 1964; Staguhn, 1994).

 

In an expression of his desire to unify the factual with the ineffable, Henry David Thoreau made this journal entry on February 18, 1852:

 

I have a commonplace book for facts and another for poetry, but I find it difficult always to preserve the vague distinctions which I had in mind, for the most and interesting and beautiful are so much more poetry and that is their success. They are translated from earth to heaven. I see that if my facts were sufficiently vital and significant — perhaps transmuted more into the substance of the human mind — I should need but one book of poetry to contain them all. (Thoreau, 1852:356)


We prefer to follow Thoreau’s dictate. Although we exploit the iconographic freight and specific concerns of both science and the spiritual, we are not bound by the doctrinaire constraints of either. Until Thoreau’s time it was a common assumption that the observation of nature was inherently a spiritual enterprise that did not conflict with the tasks of science. Operating between two rich traditions, we draw on the vital and varied specifics of both – their symbols, suggestions, and substance – with the aim of making art that “contains them all.” So, here we are, confronted by unabashed artistic license professing some inside track to distilling every aspect of existence and human rationalization of existence into a ‘story of everything’. This may seem on the surface to be quite impudent. Be that as it may, expect no apologies for such hubris. It is an indispensable component in the equation that permits us to impartially question and examine everything and how we place ourselves within the context of everything else. We definitely do not have answers to anything, let alone a lock on a “story of everything”. The real joy actually lies in coming up with the questions.

REFERENCES

 

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Snow, C. P. (1964). The two cultures: And a second look. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. 

    

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ADDITIONAL READING


Adamson, G. (2007). Thinking through craft. London, UK: Victoria and Albert Museum/Berg. 


Batten, A. H. (1995). A most rare vision: Edding- ton’s thinking on the relation between science and religion. Journal of Scientific Exploration, 9(2), 231–255. 


Berger, J. (1972). Ways of seeing. London, UK: British Broadcasting Company/Penguin Books. 


Boden, M. A. (2003). The creative mind: Myths and mechanisms. London, UK: Routledge. 


Cartwright, N. (1983). How the laws of physics lie. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/0198247044.001.0001 


Cartwright, N. (1994). Fundamentalism vs. the patchwork of laws. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, 93, 279–292. 


Cassirer, E. (1946). Language and myth. New York, NY: Harper and Brothers. 


Cushing, T. (1998). Philosophical concepts in physics: The historical relation between philosophy and scientific theories. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. 


Dunne, J. (1997). Back to the rough ground: ‘Phronesis’ and ‘techne’ in modern philosophy and in Aristotle. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press. 


Eco, U. (1999). Serendipities. Language and lu- nacy. New York, NY: Harcourt Brace & Company. 


Elkins, J. (2000). How to use your eyes. New York, NY: Routledge. 

Foucault, M. (1970). The order of things: An ar- cheology of the human sciences. New York, NY: Pantheon Books. 


Goodman, N. (1978). Ways of worldmaking. Indianpolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Company. 

    

Gordon, C. (Ed.). (1980). Power/knowledge. Selected interviews and other writings, 1972 - 1977. New York, NY: Pantheon Books. 


Highwater, J. (1981). The primal mind. Vision and reality in Indian America. New York, NY: Meridian. 


Hoffman, D. D. (1998). Visual intelligence: How we create what we see. New York, NY: W. W. Norton. 


Hofstadter, D. R. (1979). Gödel, Escher, Bach. An eternal golden braid. New York, NY: Basic Books. 


Kandinsky, W. (1977). Concerning the spiritual in art. New York, NY: Dover Publications. 


Knorr-Cetina, K. (1999). Epistemic cultures: How the sciences make knowledge. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. 


Kosuth, J. (1991). Art after philosophy and after. Collected writings, 1966 – 1990. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press. 


Lakoff, G., & Johnson, M. (1980). Metaphors we live by. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. 


Lavédrine, B. (2009). Photographs of the past. Process and preservation. Los Angeles, CA: Getty Publications. 


Levi-Strauss, C. (1995). Myth and meaning. New York, NY: Schocken Books. 


Maynard, P. (1997). The engine of visualization. Thinking through photography. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. 


Mayr, E. (1992). The idea of teleology . Journal of the History of Ideas, 53, 117–135. doi:10.2307/2709913 


McManus, I. C. (2006). Measuring the culture of C. P. Snow’s two cultures. Empirical Studies of the Arts, 24(2), 219–227. doi:10.2190/5NM6- FV42-X38A-F3VP 


Nachmanovitch, S. (1990). Free play. The power of improvisation in life and the arts. New York, NY: Tarcher/Putnam. 


Ouspensky, P. D. (1976). In search of the miraculous. San Diego, CA: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Publishers. 


Rank, O. (1932). Art and artist. Creative urge and personality development. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company. 


Scharfstein, B. (2009). Art without borders. A philosophical exploration of art and humanity. Chicago, IL: Chicago University Press. 


Sennett, R. (2008). The craftsman. London, UK: Allen Lane. 


Virilio, P. (2003). Art and Fear. London, UK: Continuum. 


Zohar, D. (1990). The quantum self: Human nature and consciousness defined by the new physics. London, UK: Harper Collins. 


KEY TERMS AND DEFINITIONS 


Art: The particular human effort to imitate, represent, alter, counteract or supplement the natural through conscious arrangement, manipulation or production of colors, forms, movements, sounds, words or other material elements in a manner that affects aesthetic sensibilities. 


Contingent: What is possible or incidental, and dependent on something that may or may not occur, or that is unknown. Contingency describes the status of propositions that are neither true nor false under every possible valuation, the “truth value” of a proposition being dependent upon the “truth values” of the parts that comprise it. Contingent propositions rely on facts, whereas analytic propositions are taken as true without regard to any facts about which they address. There are at least three other classes of propositions, some  of which can overlap: tautological propositions, which are true no matter what the circumstances are or could be; contradictory propositions, which must be false no matter what the circumstances are or could be; and, possible propositions, which are true or could be true given certain circumstances. All necessarily true propositions and all contingent propositions are also possible propositions. 


Cosmology: A branch of astronomy that deals with the study of the origins, structure and changes of the present universe. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) distinguishes the study of the structure and changes in the present universe (cosmology) from the scientific inquiry into the origin and fate of the universe (cosmogony), but acknowledges the overlap of these scientific fields. Metaphysical cosmology encompasses the philosophical perspective that seeks to draw intuitive conclusions about the nature of the universe and its relationships with proposed supernatural factors drawn from the domains of religion and spiritual experience, and the placement of humanity in this broader context. 


Episteme: Rooted in the Greek word for “knowledge” (or “science”), which in turn comes from the verb “to know”, the more modern usage refers to paradigmatic practices and worldviews (particularly in science) and the grounding of knowledge in a necessary a priori framework (Foucault, 1970, Additional Reading Section). Episteme infers knowing through “disinterested understanding”, in contrast to an intent to accomplish a task (see Techne, below). 


Knowledge: The explicit (theoretical) and/or implicit (practical) understanding of a subject arising from familiarity with facts, descriptions, information or skills acquired through association, communication, intuition, learning, perception or reasoning (cognition). 


Ontological Argument: The metaphysical a priori argument designed to prove that the real objective existence of God is necessarily involved in the existence of the very idea of God (i.e., if the

existence of a supreme being can be imagined, then this supreme being must exist). 


Paradox: A conceptual or situational contradiction that apparently defies intuition or logic, arising from an outwardly appearing truth or group of truths. In many cases, paradoxical conditions can be resolved by demonstrating that one or more of the underlying premises are not valid. In the arts, paradoxes are often used to describe situations that are ironic or surprising, with no implication of contradiction. However, paradoxi- cal constructs have been presented that currently lack universally accepted solutions (e.g., Curry’s Paradox, Gödel’s Theorem; see Hofstadter, 1979 and Lakoff & Johnson, 1980, Additional Reading Section). 


Philosophy: The critical and systematic study of general and fundamental problems, including those related to existence, knowledge, language, mind, morality, reason and values, employing rational argument. The term is etymologically rooted in the Greek word philosophia, literally meaning the “love of wisdom”. 


Polaroid Integral “Instant” Color Film: A self-contained, self-processing color photographic film process involving the diffusion and transfer of color dyes from multiple light-sensitive layers into a receiving layer. Polaroid integral films differed from the first “instant” film technologies in that they did not require the positive image receiving layer to be peeled away from the negative light- sensitive substrate, but rather were completely sealed, allowing the user to actually observe the progress of chemical development of the image under ambient illumination. The Polaroid Corporation was started in 1937 by physicist Edwin Land to manufacture polarizing filters and various other optical devices. Two years later the company introduced the first “instant” black-and-white photographic roll film, called Polaroid, and a specialized camera (the Land camera) to be used with that film. The first “instant” color material was released in 1963, but it took nine more years before introduction of the SX-70 system, incorporating the first integral print film technology. Polaroid 600 and Spectra integral “instant” integral color films became available in the early 1980s (see Lavédrine, 2009, Additional Reading Section). 


Spirituality: An assumed immaterial reality or experience with the transcendent or immanent nature of the world. Although an integral component of religious experience, spirituality has come to be more broadly regarded as a personal orientation in life that can provide an “inner path” leading to the realization of the deepest meanings and values by which life should be lived, or the discovery of the essence of being (see Batten, 1995, Additional Reading Section). Spirituality is also often experienced as a source of inspiration. 


Techne: Rooted in the Greek word that is often translated as “art”, “craft” or “craftsmanship”, techne refers to the rational method of producing an object or achieving an objective, as opposed to understanding for the sake of understanding (see Episteme, above).