Deepmala 17 – The Art of Science

Science is an exploration of the nature of reality, both inside and outside us. The empahsis here is on things which are quantifiable and measurable, theories which can be tested and demonstrated and facts which can be observed and verified by others. Is there something called art of science? Are these attributes of artistic creativity present in scientific endeavours also? Science has been considered to be a meeting place of two kinds of poetry; the poetry of action and the poetry of thought.

That Science admits aesthetic criteria just like the arts, has been expressed by a number of great scientists and mathematicians. The quest for beauty in science has found excellent expression in the writings of our own astrophysicist, Chandrasekhar. While examining the question as to the extent to which the quest for beauty is an aim in the pursuit of science, Chandrasekhar quotes Poincare. “The scientist does not study nature because it is useful to do so. He studies it because he takes pleasure in it; and he takes pleasure in it because it is beautiful. I mean the intimate beauty which comes from the harmonious order of its parts and which a pure intelligence can grasp… It is because simplicity and vastness are both beautiful that we seek by preference simple facts and vast facts; that we take delight, now in following the giant courses of the stars, now in scrutinizing with a microscope that prodigious smallness which is also a vastness, and, now in seeking in geological ages the traces of the past that attracts us because of its remoteness”.

The place of beauty in mathematical equations has been explained by Diracs a long time ago, but we cannot limit beauty to equations alone. There is beauty in the architecture of molecules and materials as well as in the pathways of transformations. There is beauty even in the way science works and develops.

The scientist who develops a theory or designs an experiment is no less creative than the artist who produces a parting or sculpture. Artists and scientists share certain common motivations. These include, among other things, a desire to make a positive contribution to the welfare of humanity as well as a sensitivity to aesthetics in their work, although their criteria for “beauty” may be quite different. Both Artists and Scientists seek a sense of order in the natural world. Scientists and artists are driven by a strong desire to interpret nature or the natural world. Nature has been one of the main sources of artistic inspiration for as long as humans have made art, an example being the paintings applied to cave walls, which were perhaps the first instance of the interweaving of art and science.

While their activities may differ, scientists and artists share one essential component in their work. Both are noted for a certain impatience or uneasiness with the conventional demands of social interaction, preferring to toil in comparative solitude in the sanctuary of the studio or the lab.

Imagination plays a vital part in both science and art, but in science it has certain constraints. As stated by Feynman, ‘whatever we are allowed to imagine in science has to be consistent with everything else that we know. The problem of creating something which is new, but which is consistent with everything which has been seen before, is one of extreme difficulty’. At the same time, the difficulty with science is often not with the new ideas, but in escaping the old ones. A certain amount of irreverence is essential for creative pursuit in science, which is the case in the art also.

The thinking man has always had a compulsive occupation with unfettered Intellectual explorations to satisfy his philosophical urges. Science is one of those urges. As an intellectual effort, science cannot be regarded as something apart. It is an important part of our culture. Science permeates our thinking today and it would be incorrect to completely separate it from what we normally refer to as humanities and social sciences. Natural science does not simply describe or explain Nature. It is a part of an interplay between nature and man. As Heisenberg has said, ‘Science describes nature as exposed to our method of questioning’. Our educational systems in the new century must be designed by fully understanding the nuances of this subtle dynamics.