That’s the question posed in this fascinating article by Jonah Lehrer at SEED Magazine. Riffing on the possibility that Niels Bohr may have been influenced by his interest in Cubism when he came up with his new model of the atom, Lehrer argues that science needs art in order to answer the most fundamental questions:
Physicists study the fabric of reality, the invisible laws and particles that define the material world. Neuroscientists study our perceptions of this world; they dissect the brain in order to understand the human animal. Together, these two sciences seek to solve the most ancient and epic of unknowns: What is everything? And who are we?
But before we can unravel these mysteries, our sciences must get past their present limitations. How can we make this happen? My answer is simple: Science needs the arts. We need to find a place for the artist within the experimental process, to rediscover what Bohr observed when he looked at those cubist paintings. The current constraints of science make it clear that the breach between our two cultures is not merely an academic problem that stifles conversation at cocktail parties. Rather, it is a practical problem, and it holds back science’s theories. If we want answers to our most essential questions, then we will need to bridge our cultural divide. By heeding the wisdom of the arts, science can gain the kinds of new insights and perspectives that are the seeds of scientific progress.
(Via Idea Festival.)
What do you think? Is he on to something, or is this just a romantic plea to an unromantic world to put art back on the pedestal of importance it once occupied?
(Image: “Juan Gris: Violin and Playing Cards (1995.403.14)”. In Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–.)