Friday, May 25, 2012

How does the world of science differ from the world of art?

"How does the world of science differ from the world of art?" was a question posed to Scott Snibbe in an interview published in the recent Nature issue. Scott Snibbe is a media designer who, among other things, was executive producer of Björk's "Biophilia" project. If you're nuts you can pay 32 bucks for the interview, which fills roughly one page, here. I'll quote Snibbe's answer for you:
"There is an irreproducible uniqueness to an artist's work that makes the field less stressful than science. In science, if you don't make a certain discovery, someone else will, so even people in the same lab are competing with one another. In art, innovation and risk-taking are lauded, but in science there is an aversion to risk because people need to get grant money from conservative review boards. I know scientists who could speak a single sentence that would completely ruin their careers. [...]"
And if you've collected enough sentences that could ruin other people's careers, you get tenure.


  1. 'Art is uniquely well designed as a Darwinian system for producing new variations. It is not well designed to generate useful ideas. ... Art offers a system of "unnatural" variation. ... Art may produce results not directly useful except in terms of mattering to other humans, but in a species as highly social as ours this itself makes a difference. ... If art is "unnatural" variation, science is "unnatural" selection. ... It tests ideas not against human preferences but against a resistant world, and its methods of testing, by logic, observation, and experiment, encourage us to reject ideas that seem self-evident and apparently repeatedly confirmed by tradition.' — Brian Boyd, On the Origin of Stories

    Art and science are both cultural evolutionary systems. Art emphasizes variation and science emphasizes selection. Art is selected for novelty and emotional impact. Science is selected for suggesting novel experiments and observations and fitting with the experiments and observations it suggests.

  2. "And if you've collected enough sentences that could ruin other people's careers, you get tenure" I asked God for tenure, then I realized God doesn't work that way. So I sabotaged all who stood in my way, then asked God for forgiveness.

    The greatest obstacle to understanding reality is not ignorance but the illusion of knowledge. Reality is not a peer vote. Do opposite shoes violate the Equivalence Principle? Noether's theorems are powerless to act upon absolute discontinuous symmetries like chirality.

  3. May be it is not always a plus to be conservative in science. At least you have to give up conservatism, if something very simple and ingenious crossed your way. Today, if one follows arXiv many publications are complicated, often because they follow, or are very special theories. They are not very simple and theorists like me believe in simple theories. Of course GR is not simple, but its principles are. And QM has no easy interpretation but its formalism follows simple rules.

    Take care Kay

  4. Hi Kay,

    I think you have a point there, but the relevant issue is one of balance. We need both the conservative and the crazy, and I am afraid that we don't have enough crazy right now. The width of the edge has gotten very thin and if you stray just a little bit too far, you'll neither get your stuff published nor funding for it. I would appreciate certainly if there was more of an artistic free spirit that values creativity even if it seems somewhat nutty at first sight. I believe that we'd profit from it. Best,


  5. I don't like the distinction between mainstream and unorthodox research.

    The true distinction is between good ideas with real explanatory power and bad ideas.

    Good ideas can't be lost. I'm confident about that. They have their own dynamics and they eventually prevail over any establishment. Bad ideas on the other hand, no matter who promotes them, are doomed to oblivion.

    You know a good idea when you see it...

  6. "... enough crazy right now." Replace the -1/2 in the standard form of Einstein's field equations by -1/2 + dark-matter-compensation-constant, where the constant is sqrt((60±10)/4) * 10^-5, violating Newton/Einstein plus energy conservation. At low gravitational accelerations, an easy scaling argument shows the idea is approximately equivalent to Milgrom's acceleration law. At high gravitational accelerations, the idea is approximately correct according to gravitational lensing facts.

  7. Hi Giotis,

    I'm not sure who your comment is addressed to, for all I can see, nobody said anything about mainstream and "unorthodox." What I was talking about is the problem that if you presently want to propose a new idea, you have to do that in very very little and tiny steps because otherwise people stop listening and declare you crazy because they don't have the time to think about it. It's extremely tiresome and slows down progress. That is the case even if your idea uses only orthodox bells and whistles.

    "You know a good idea when you see it..."

    This is extremely questionable. In fact, I think in the history of science, good ideas have rarely immediately been recognized for their value, in many cases not even by the people who had them. Best,


  8. There are many mild connections of the world of science (physics in particular) and the world of art, which reveals the finding in science. For example, the expressionism anticipated the extrinsic perspective of quantum mechanics, the cubism anticipates the hyperdimensional perspective and the impressionism reflects the intrinsic perspective of general relativity. IMO these analogies do exist because both art both science are evolutionary systems (as Peter Turney already said) and the evolution of the multicomponent hyperdimensional systems can be described with the same law for energy spreading, like the scattering of energy inside of multiparticle systems. The art both anticipates, both reflects the evolution of human society, including the evolution of human knowledge.

  9. /*... if you've collected enough sentences that could ruin other people's careers, you get tenure... */

    The world of art is surprisingly similar to the world of science just with it. For example, you cannot make the money just with dripping of colored oil to the canvas, as J. Pollock already did, because you will not be original. You cannot make the money just with turning urinal on its back just like M. Duchamp did, because you will not be original anymore. You cannot make the money just with packing of feces into cans as Manzoni simply did, because you will not be original anymore.

    In similar way, you can write many books about relativity, but you will be never celebrated for it, like the Einstein - because you will not original. To become famous in science, you should become as original, as the most famous artist. Only celebrities will get most of money and social credit in both science both world of art.



Comment moderation on this blog is turned on.
Submitted comments will only appear after manual approval, which can take up to 24 hours.
Comments posted as "Unknown" go straight to junk.