Art or Science?

Is management an art or a science? This is the direction in which the conversation in the comments section of an earlier post on Recession-proofing Your Career veered. The answer, just as with other questions in life, is not clear cut, nor all-pleasing at all times.

But to me, the question should be different. Are art and science really so different, so different as to be used as antonyms of some sort? I do not think so. The Wellcome Trust, the UK’s largest medical research charity, also seems to consider art inspired by science a cause worthy of some Β£5.5M since 2002.

The beauty of science and mathematics, in my mind, is better than, if not at least akin to the best of art. As some of you may know from my past writings, I am no philistine, a term which is a shame to use as a derogation, when the early history of Philistines shows them to be quite a cultured people. But I digress.

My attention was recently drawn, by a friend and fellow PhD student on a train ride from Cambridge to London, to a beautiful example of art converging with science and the merged entity being thrown in the midst of the community’s quotidian life.

Alongside the train track runs a cycle track and footpath. And on that footpath have been laid some 10,000 colour stripes. These stripes represent the genetic code for a vital human gene: the BRCA2, which was sequenced at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Cambridge. BRCA2 (pronounced “Bracker Two”) is, as some of you may know, is a human gene, alterations or mutations in which may be involved in some cases of breast and ovarian cancer.

Here is a picture of the said pattern of BRCA2 made of coloured stripes, that I took from the moving train.

BRCA-Cam

(c) Picture taken by me, on Nokia N95, February 2008: The BRCA2 gene map on the cycle path from Shelford to Addenbrooke’s, Cambridge

Art or science? What do you think?

Me? I think there is no separation between the two. Science is the art of explanation; art is the science of making more than the literal sense of the explanation in a broader, richer, more complex context.

Other genetics-related readings on this blog:

The genetic research gold rush

Farmaceuticals

70 Replies to “Art or Science?”

  1. Shefaly, I do not think the separation between art and science is artificial – and as an aside, how the heck do you keep all of your directed responses to commentors straight?

    Science has a “right” and “wrong” aspect to it, while art does not. In that sense, I would submit that God is artist, not scientist; creation is just that: a creation, neither right nor wrong. Since that time, we have spent thousands of years trying to figure out the rules and conditions that the creation follows, a search that I believe will ultimately be in vain – wouldn’t it have been nice to have been the one to not have had any rules to follow, to have just created (as all artists do) and say “there – it is what it is, like it or not!”

  2. Shefaly, I do not think the separation between art and science is artificial – and as an aside, how the heck do you keep all of your directed responses to commentors straight?

    Science has a “right” and “wrong” aspect to it, while art does not. In that sense, I would submit that God is artist, not scientist; creation is just that: a creation, neither right nor wrong. Since that time, we have spent thousands of years trying to figure out the rules and conditions that the creation follows, a search that I believe will ultimately be in vain – wouldn’t it have been nice to have been the one to not have had any rules to follow, to have just created (as all artists do) and say “there – it is what it is, like it or not!”

  3. Worth,

    Whether God is an artist or a scientist I don’t know (i.e. I am too lazy to apply my mind to the question). But notwithstanding Einstein’s assurance to the contrary, I do believe he is a gambler. That means he works within the framework of the laws of probability, which is statistics — nearly mathematics. So the true nature of God hinges on whether math is a science or an art.

    PS: I suppose you know Niels Bohr’s famous rejoinder — “Einstein, stop telling God what to do with his dice.”

  4. Worth,

    Whether God is an artist or a scientist I don’t know (i.e. I am too lazy to apply my mind to the question). But notwithstanding Einstein’s assurance to the contrary, I do believe he is a gambler. That means he works within the framework of the laws of probability, which is statistics — nearly mathematics. So the true nature of God hinges on whether math is a science or an art.

    PS: I suppose you know Niels Bohr’s famous rejoinder — “Einstein, stop telling God what to do with his dice.”

  5. @ Worth: Thanks for the note. By the aside, did you mean how I keep them in the same sequence, or how do I keep them appropriate? Either way the more the comments, the more the time it takes to compose the reply, but I try my best πŸ™‚

    On a pedantic note, I would say science provides ‘correct’ and ‘incorrect’ explanations; societal and temporal context, as I otherwise note in my response to The Necromancer, adds the ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ (or even ‘popular’ or ‘unpopular’) to the mix.

    For me, the separation remains artificial for many reasons. Amongst them, scientific epiphanies are so beautiful and inspired, that they are like what we call art. You sure remember the story about Kekule and the benzene ring? He apparently resolved the structure question in a dream! Can you imagine how Marie Curie must have felt when she first noticed radium’s radiation? In a poetic twist, she died probably due to the radiation she was exposed to, in her labs. No less tragic than Sylvia Plath, I’d say.

    @ Vivek: On that note, Ian Stewart’s “Does God Play Dice?” would be worth recommending. An accessible book, considering it tries to explain chaos theory..

  6. @ Worth: Thanks for the note. By the aside, did you mean how I keep them in the same sequence, or how do I keep them appropriate? Either way the more the comments, the more the time it takes to compose the reply, but I try my best πŸ™‚

    On a pedantic note, I would say science provides ‘correct’ and ‘incorrect’ explanations; societal and temporal context, as I otherwise note in my response to The Necromancer, adds the ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ (or even ‘popular’ or ‘unpopular’) to the mix.

    For me, the separation remains artificial for many reasons. Amongst them, scientific epiphanies are so beautiful and inspired, that they are like what we call art. You sure remember the story about Kekule and the benzene ring? He apparently resolved the structure question in a dream! Can you imagine how Marie Curie must have felt when she first noticed radium’s radiation? In a poetic twist, she died probably due to the radiation she was exposed to, in her labs. No less tragic than Sylvia Plath, I’d say.

    @ Vivek: On that note, Ian Stewart’s “Does God Play Dice?” would be worth recommending. An accessible book, considering it tries to explain chaos theory..

  7. Thanks Shefaly,

    I have seen reviews and also browsed through it in a bookshop (at the wrong time and place), and had made a mental note to pick it up. Thanks for the reminder.

    Re. the last para of your response to Worth, you have put so elegantly what I wanted to say but didn’t because I could not articulate my thoughts too well (I try to follow another one of Bohr’s dicta — “Never express yourself more clearly than you are able to think” — not always very successfully πŸ™‚ )

  8. Thanks Shefaly,

    I have seen reviews and also browsed through it in a bookshop (at the wrong time and place), and had made a mental note to pick it up. Thanks for the reminder.

    Re. the last para of your response to Worth, you have put so elegantly what I wanted to say but didn’t because I could not articulate my thoughts too well (I try to follow another one of Bohr’s dicta — “Never express yourself more clearly than you are able to think” — not always very successfully πŸ™‚ )

  9. @ Vivek: Since you invoke Bohr, another of his quotes stands out in this context:

    “The opposite of a fact is falsehood, but the opposite of one profound truth may very well be another profound truth.”

  10. @ Vivek: Since you invoke Bohr, another of his quotes stands out in this context:

    “The opposite of a fact is falsehood, but the opposite of one profound truth may very well be another profound truth.”

  11. Shefaly,

    I am familiar with this quotation (though I am astonished to find you using the transatlantic noun ‘quote’) :-).

    AFAIK the first part of that quotation should read, “The opposite of a correct statement is a false statement…”. Not that it is such a profound issue πŸ™‚ . I am just assuming that my source (can’t remember; ages ago) was authoritative. In reality Bohr may well have said it in Danish or German, and a number of different English translations could be floating around.

  12. Shefaly,

    I am familiar with this quotation (though I am astonished to find you using the transatlantic noun ‘quote’) :-).

    AFAIK the first part of that quotation should read, “The opposite of a correct statement is a false statement…”. Not that it is such a profound issue πŸ™‚ . I am just assuming that my source (can’t remember; ages ago) was authoritative. In reality Bohr may well have said it in Danish or German, and a number of different English translations could be floating around.

  13. Wow, you guys. I feel out of my league intellectually here.
    All I can say is that I have suffered an innate case of biophilia all my life. It has led me to live where I live, and always look under that rock. Not given to reflection on art so much, so I probably do play loose with the terminology. Art is anything I can’t find in a field guide or nail down in scientific mode.
    That some ferns and the nautilus form are very pleasing, as are all the wonders I encounter out there, slime molds, rocks and all.
    Nature doesn’t care for our sciences or art, it just creates the best forms for a given condition.
    She creates her own symmetry, when needed.
    Love the comments – Vivek, you are extremely articulate and I appreciate all your comments, as well as others’….Shefaly, you must feel like one proud momma πŸ™‚
    Feral-ly yours,
    Jackie

  14. Wow, you guys. I feel out of my league intellectually here.
    All I can say is that I have suffered an innate case of biophilia all my life. It has led me to live where I live, and always look under that rock. Not given to reflection on art so much, so I probably do play loose with the terminology. Art is anything I can’t find in a field guide or nail down in scientific mode.
    That some ferns and the nautilus form are very pleasing, as are all the wonders I encounter out there, slime molds, rocks and all.
    Nature doesn’t care for our sciences or art, it just creates the best forms for a given condition.
    She creates her own symmetry, when needed.
    Love the comments – Vivek, you are extremely articulate and I appreciate all your comments, as well as others’….Shefaly, you must feel like one proud momma πŸ™‚
    Feral-ly yours,
    Jackie

  15. @ Jackie,

    Shouldn’t biophilia be a great motivator of reflection on art? The way I see it, nature provokes and nurtures both science and art.

    And contrary to what you seem to suggest, there does not have to be a nexus between biophilia and bibliophobia.

    @ Shefaly,

    Re. Jackie’s “poud momma” compliment, include me out πŸ™‚ of the brood. Nothing personal of course πŸ™‚ .

  16. @ Jackie,

    Shouldn’t biophilia be a great motivator of reflection on art? The way I see it, nature provokes and nurtures both science and art.

    And contrary to what you seem to suggest, there does not have to be a nexus between biophilia and bibliophobia.

    @ Shefaly,

    Re. Jackie’s “poud momma” compliment, include me out πŸ™‚ of the brood. Nothing personal of course πŸ™‚ .

  17. Management is knowing what not to do. This list is un-ending, if you are working in a big company. You should know both scientific – what not to do list and also artistic – what not to do list; No exception there i guess πŸ™‚

    Destination Infinity.

  18. Management is knowing what not to do. This list is un-ending, if you are working in a big company. You should know both scientific – what not to do list and also artistic – what not to do list; No exception there i guess πŸ™‚

    Destination Infinity.

What do YOU think?