Are science and art diametrically opposed?

In summary, the conversation discusses the relationship between science and art, specifically how they both seek truth and knowledge but in different ways. The speaker argues that artists could benefit from learning about science and vice versa. The conversation also delves into the power and usefulness of literature and how it can shape society and ideas, despite not being as empirically sound as scientific theories. The conversation ends with a disagreement over whether or not literature and poetry can reveal new truths.
  • #1
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Recently I watched a documentary on Vladimir Nabokov's outlook on Kafka's Metamorphosis, and he made the comment, "The passion of science and the precision of art." Usually it is interpreted the other way around "The precision of science and the passion of art" according to modern interpretations of the normally (seemingly?) diametric fields.

Now, it seems to me that even though the sciences rely heavily on concrete facts and numerical reasoning, art seems to apply the same amount of detail but on a much more abstract scale (even though the goals of art may not always coincide with the goals of science, ie you don't see an artist trying to paint the energy levels of an excited atom or a poet describing the exact nature of superconductivity).

But the goals appear to be the same: the search for truth and knowledge. In this case, however, it is found in fundamentally different ways. Art in general seeks truth through usage of emotions and human nature (through the sharing of human experience), whereas science tends to find it through the formentioned logical reasoning and analysis (mainly to describe the fundamental through use of reduction). Both attempt to find the underlying nature of the structures that may per chance govern the way the universe operates.

So would it be to our benefit if artists were to take up science and scientists were to take up art? Different views can thus inspire ideas on both sides, and would thus enrich both fields. Now, they may not contribute exactly like a scientist or an artist would in their respective fields, but the peaceful exchange of philosophies doesn't seem all that unreasonable.
 
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  • #2
What truths has art discovered?
 
  • #3
cragwolf said:
What truths has art discovered?

For one thing, literature would be the best example. Literature (prose/poetry) has encompassed a wide range of such truths, or at least observations of human reality. A good example would probably be T.S. Eliot's The Wasteland, and probably numerous other poetry. It may not as empirically sound as mathematical proofs, but nevertheless it is the observation of our reality (just like physics, chemistry, biology, etc.)

I'm not too familiar with the visual arts, but contemporary music (kinda a broad generalization I know) seeks to convey emotions which in themselves, are depictions of the world we live in.
 
  • #4
But you can't do anything useful with a book or a poem. :)
 
  • #5
...You can't be serious.

Even if I were not a writer and not entirely passionate about the arts and fascinated with the way they reflect the scientific theories of their time, I would still be compelled to argue with you. How can you say that you cannot do anything useful with literature? May I remind you that the Bible, the Koran, the Torah, and (on the same level for some) The Origin of Species are all books? Religious texts particularly began as collections of stories for the followers of those religions so that they would not forget their past, and now they are the basis of most of modern society.

What books truly are, though, is the representation of ideas. Ideas are what shape us, change us, form us... how is that not power? Ideas can start wars, ideas can save lives, ideas can bring peace, and ideas can cause debates that last for centuries. How is that not use? Ideas are science. What is physics but an attempt to understand the universe? Is literature not the same thing?
 
  • #6
Pengwuino said:
But you can't do anything useful with a book or a poem. :)

that's a matter of perspective and opinion. without books, how could we learn about science? without poetry, how could (some of us) understand the beauty of the laws of physics?
 
  • #7
omg

OMG I just wrote an immense thing for my first post here in reply to this and hit some button on the left side of my keypad that took me back a page or something and when I came back to what I was writing it was gone! Thats bull****. I am on message boards where you can **** around all day and come back to the page where you were typing a reply and your text remains. So in this I think you have just witness the beggining and the end to my stay on this forum. I just wish I knew what happened to sciforums. I love that place. peace August Voss
 
  • #8
motai said:
For one thing, literature would be the best example. Literature (prose/poetry) has encompassed a wide range of such truths, or at least observations of human reality. A good example would probably be T.S. Eliot's The Wasteland, and probably numerous other poetry. It may not as empirically sound as mathematical proofs, but nevertheless it is the observation of our reality (just like physics, chemistry, biology, etc.)

I read this paragraph twice and I still can't find a single one of these truths that art has supposedly revealed. What I'm looking for is a truth that art has discovered. Not some truth that has been known all along by humans, but something first discovered by art. In science I can name countless examples, like the theory of evolution, how stars shine, how the redshift of galaxies scales with distance, how the strength of gravity varies with distance, how light gets absorbed by atoms, how an atom binds together, and so on. Certainly, art let's us experience certain emotional states, it entertains us, it enthralls us ... but what has art actually discovered?
 
  • #9
motai said:
Recently I watched a documentary on Vladimir Nabokov's outlook on Kafka's Metamorphosis, and he made the comment, "The passion of science and the precision of art." Usually it is interpreted the other way around "The precision of science and the passion of art" according to modern interpretations of the normally (seemingly?) diametric fields.

Now, it seems to me that even though the sciences rely heavily on concrete facts and numerical reasoning, art seems to apply the same amount of detail but on a much more abstract scale (even though the goals of art may not always coincide with the goals of science, ie you don't see an artist trying to paint the energy levels of an excited atom or a poet describing the exact nature of superconductivity).

But the goals appear to be the same: the search for truth and knowledge. In this case, however, it is found in fundamentally different ways. Art in general seeks truth through usage of emotions and human nature (through the sharing of human experience), whereas science tends to find it through the formentioned logical reasoning and analysis (mainly to describe the fundamental through use of reduction). Both attempt to find the underlying nature of the structures that may per chance govern the way the universe operates.

So would it be to our benefit if artists were to take up science and scientists were to take up art? Different views can thus inspire ideas on both sides, and would thus enrich both fields. Now, they may not contribute exactly like a scientist or an artist would in their respective fields, but the peaceful exchange of philosophies doesn't seem all that unreasonable.


I would say no, they are not opposed as many other people think (or at least i think they think). It more of a greyish area..

There is a dialogue between Sir William Rowan hamilton and William wordsworth: (this is Wordsworth talking to hamilton)

''You send me showers of verses which I receive with much pleasure ... yet have we fears that this employment may seduce you from the path of science. ... Again I do venture to submit to your consideration, whether the poetical parts of your nature would not find a field more favourable to their nature in the regions of prose, not because those regions are humbler, but because they may be gracefully and profitably trod, with footsteps less careful and in measures less elaborate. ''

http://www-groups.dcs.st-and.ac.uk/~history/Mathematicians/Hamilton.html
(see the link for more details)

That is a direct contact between two highly respected artists of the different disciplines. So would it benefit they swap roles? probably not. As we can see, people like wordsworth view Science as strained imagination.
 
  • #10
by Di Brant "At night they mused on the day mystery
of how flowers eat light"

I believe that art is related to everything. Art is an abstract expression of self. Artists study the way light moves, the shapes objects take at different angles, the way sounds vibrate objects, the way words and images influence emotions. They all come from art.

Have you seen the cubist works of Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque?
Instead of an image of external world we are given a world of its own, analogous to nature but built along different principles. Cubism seeks to reproduce different perspectives or forms simultaneously, as they might be seen by the mind's eye. It attempts to mimic the mind's power to abstract and synthesize its different impressions of the world into new 'wholes'.
Before science can begin there must be an observation and a question based on it. Somewhere in that question there is art. Science seeks to answer the why and when they do there is a truth and beauty to it. That expression is also art. Science without imagination is just memorization.
 
  • #11
cragwolf said:
I read this paragraph twice and I still can't find a single one of these truths that art has supposedly revealed. What I'm looking for is a truth that art has discovered. Not some truth that has been known all along by humans, but something first discovered by art. In science I can name countless examples, like the theory of evolution, how stars shine, how the redshift of galaxies scales with distance, how the strength of gravity varies with distance, how light gets absorbed by atoms, how an atom binds together, and so on. Certainly, art let's us experience certain emotional states, it entertains us, it enthralls us ... but what has art actually discovered?

In general, art cannot accurately describe quantitatively the things that science can (which explains the necessity of science), because art deals with things on a much more subjective level. Likewise, the perspectives of human experience in Chekhov's writing cannot possibly be expressed mathematically, but they represent certain truths about life and our reality that are indeed present. I don't see how that is a detriment to art per se, because in these cases it still is describing the world we see (though not on a mathematcially concise level and on the same subjects), but in this case the goals of art and science coincide. As Huckleberry and caitir said earlier, art can inspire ideas which can be a precursor to science.

Art may perhaps have "discovered" something in terms of making ideas come to fruition... the cave men probably found beauty in mathematics by etching a circle onto a stone thousands of years ago which subsequently lead to advancements in both aesthetic art and the mathematical sciences. The subjective nature of art prohibits an easy answer to your question. The nature of human experience described in Shakespeare's may not necessarily be as objective as Lord Rayleigh's discoveries in the field of physics, but realizations and insight exist within both fields of science and art that help to better describe the universe we live in.
 
  • #12
Bladibla said:
That is a direct contact between two highly respected artists of the different disciplines. So would it benefit they swap roles? probably not. As we can see, people like wordsworth view Science as strained imagination.

Thanks for the link Bladibla.

With all due respect to Wordsworth, his philosophies appear to come from a fairly narrow-minded outlook on the way science is advanced. His view towards science appears to be overly reductionist-materialistic and seems to lack a fundamental understanding why science is pursued (perhaps a bad experience or two?). Science is not advanced for the sake of putting off imagination (and leaving cold shells of the scientists who pursue it), but rather to discover the truths that govern the observable universe. Scientists do not worship atoms just as much as artists worship watercolor paintings. And while science does not necessitate abstract imagination since it is bound by the rules of logical reasoning, that does not make it any less valid than art in finding the truths in this world (though they may be fundamentally different such as human experience versus cosmology, etc).

Though science may not necessarily be as intuitive as art, creativity is required on behalf of the mathematics, especially when one tries to describe many different possible interpretations of the same reality (similar with the string theory/loop quantum gravity of modern physics). Hamilton seems to have a broader picture of the two, suggesting that mathematical representations have as much merit as any works of art.

One of Hamilton's sisters Eliza wrote poetry too and when Wordsworth came to Dunsink to visit, it was her poems that he liked rather than Hamilton's.

Hamilton's poetry may have not have been as eloquent as Wordsworth, but I suspect that Wordsworth probably wouldn't have understood Hamilton's mathematics the least bit at all, but this particular case displays the level of subjectiveness present within the field of literature.

Perhaps science and art differ in this respect, but for all intensive purposes the goals of both seem to be the same.
 
  • #13
cragwolf said:
I read this paragraph twice and I still can't find a single one of these truths that art has supposedly revealed. What I'm looking for is a truth that art has discovered. Not some truth that has been known all along by humans, but something first discovered by art. In science I can name countless examples, like the theory of evolution, how stars shine, how the redshift of galaxies scales with distance, how the strength of gravity varies with distance, how light gets absorbed by atoms, how an atom binds together, and so on. Certainly, art let's us experience certain emotional states, it entertains us, it enthralls us ... but what has art actually discovered?

A good argument... except that not everything is about discovery. Art is about understanding. You could discover something absolutely ground-shaking, but if no one understands it then it will never be used. Discovery without understanding is useless, confined to only one person. Art is about exploration and communication, about nurturing the creativity that leads to the discovery which will lead to understanding which will lead to an ideal state of being. Einstein himself said that music led him to his discoveries. Art is necessary to science, necessary to help it grow.
 
  • #14
If I may just budge my way in a bit for this:

"Truth is the kind of error without which a certain species of life could not live. The value for LIFE is ultimately decisive."

This quote gives me reason to believe that art and science can both provide "truths". They are at least similar in some fashion.

On the other hand, they sometimes oppose in style - science assumes a metaphysical world that they can truly learn, study and catalog, while art takes in appearances and imagination to showcase alternative viewpoints - a showcase that involves going beyond the level of language and numbers.
 
  • #15
motai said:
In general, art cannot accurately describe quantitatively the things that science can (which explains the necessity of science), because art deals with things on a much more subjective level. Likewise, the perspectives of human experience in Chekhov's writing cannot possibly be expressed mathematically, but they represent certain truths about life and our reality that are indeed present.

Like what? What insights into human experience has Chekhov or Shakespeare or Faulkner discovered? I don't need it expressed mathematically. Just use words like they did. These are not rhetorical questions, by the way.
 
  • #16
Humanity

I think I post this somwhere else, but anyway...

Arts, science and philosophy (of couerse there are other branches, but I will use these ones only) are all branches of humanity. In the impossible and ifinite way to perfection (unexists) and to understand nature. They need each other to work and alone they are nothing, although each works with only one of the other.
 
  • #17
The visual arts require a lot of science to succeed. In fact, technique carries the day, in visual arts. It takes a lot of cunning to create art, and in realism, it takes a great deal of distancing from attachment to subject to see and then create what is seen, using knowledge of how reflected light acts, how color affects the human psyche, how objects really look, and how to make it work within a medium.

A lot has been said about the right and left brain functions, science seems a left brain function, except for the theorists, the stars of science who see grand universal interplay, with their right brains. Science is a lot more communal and hierarchical, while art is in its essence a solitary act, except for group dynamics like orchestra, or dance, or theater. Science relies on a lot of assent, and structure; art recreates a piece of the cosmos, using the sciences left brain physics and calculation to make physical what was once the energy of creative ideation.

I think it is all the same stuff, people have a passion for the sciences, but play it out incrementally; and artists have a passion for creation, and are doomed to play that out incrementally too.
 
  • #18
cragwolf said:
Like what? What insights into human experience has Chekhov or Shakespeare or Faulkner discovered? I don't need it expressed mathematically. Just use words like they did. These are not rhetorical questions, by the way.

Insight into human experience is why literature exists in the first place. For example, in Chekhov's In Exile, one of the characters deals with the perturbing questions of loneliness and being separated from his family, and not ever getting the chance to see them again. The thing that separated him from the other characters is that he maintained hope and actively tries to return home. Frankly, my description alone of the experience does not do the story justice, one must read it for oneself.

It is all too easy to just describe an emotional state (or human experience) instead of portraying it in a literary manner. This is especially true in poetry, where there are many different interpretations of the same emotion, and exist in varying degrees of possible states. It can mean the difference between confusion and bewilderment.

As for the other two, many human trends that existed in Shakespeare's time also exist now. The indecisiveness of Hamlet, the trustworthyness of Othello, and the cruel and deceptive nature of Iago all manifest in his plays (and also in contemporary society for that matter). Faulkner dealt with the decline of the Southern aristocracy, differing psychological states, and the waste that is left behind in its wake. All of these authors described at least in part the mechanisms that describe human experience to this day, despite being there for several centuries.

There are so many different insights presented by literature that it is impossible to describe it in a single post. Whether it be the 20th century themes of isolation and desolation presented by playwrights such as Edward Albee and his Zoo Story that represented the impartiality of urban America, or extended into the realm of poetry and Eliot's Wasteland, such themes are a very important aspect of the literary world. Of course, there are numerous other themes that exist within the branches of literature, and all reflect important ideas that explain human experience.

To say that literature does not reveal human nature undermines the entire concept. It is not there solely for entertainment, for that would be like science without the interpretation; all numbers with no meaning.
 
  • #19
If you have read Shakespeare, or seen Shakespeare performed, then you know that he had enormous insight into the human psyche, archetypes, conflict and resolution, betrayal, villainy, the sweep of history, affection, rejection, affectation, and relation, and the many small things that make up the essential liveliness that is to be human. A demand is being made to prove that these artists had some innate understanding. The fact that Shakespeare is played again and again, and studied in order to be properly educated, indicates a high value is placed on his understanding of things human, and his poetic descriptions of universals that were so then, and still now.

Here is something. I am always amazed to read a play again, and realizing I am hearing the source of so many sayings, that I hear on a daily basis.

Macbeth's Soliloquy



To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow; a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

There is a speech in Hamlet where Polonius sends his son off into the world, I will look for it. I am always amazed at what is there, that every parent tries in vain to communicate to a child approaching adulthood.

Polonius tells his son: Beware Of entrance to a quarrel, but,
being in, Bear’t that th’ opposed may beware of thee. Give every man they ear, but few
thy voice. Take each man’s censure, but reserve they judgment. Costly thy habit as thy
purse can buy, But not expressed in fancy (rich, not gaudy) For the apparel oft proclaims
the man, And they in France of the best rank and station (Are) of a most select and
generous chief in that. Neither a borrower or a lender (be,) For (loan) oft loses both itself
and friend, And borrowing (dulls the) edge of husbandry. This above all: to thine own self
be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.
(1. 3. 71-87) The advice that Polonius gives to Laertes is simple and sounds foolish being
told to a person of Laertes’ age. Martin Orkin comments on the nature of Polonius’
speech: 2 “Shakespeare’s first audience would recognize in Polonius’ predilection for such
commonplace expressions of worldly wisdom a mind that runs along conventional tracks,
sticking only to what is practically useful in terms of worldly self-advancement” (Orkin
 
  • #20
I don't doubt that artists such as Shakespeare and Dostoevsky created insights about human nature. What I doubt is:

1) That they were the first to discover these insights. Or in other words, that their insights represent new knowledge about the world. I find it difficult to believe that intelligent people from every place and every time did not also have these insights. Maybe they didn't express them as beautifully, but they had them all the same.

2) The truth of these insights (which is not the same as saying that they're flat-out wrong). I'm sure you'll agree that what we get from artists are very subjective impressions of the world. They aren't testable in the way that scientific theories are. I'm wary of attaching the label "truth" to scientific theories, and hence even the thought of using "art" and "truth" in the same sentence makes me very uncomfortable.

3) The desire of these artists to find truths as opposed to beauty. I've heard it said that a good writer never let truth get in the way of a good story. A throwaway line perhaps, but I'm not so sure. When I read a book, listen to music, watch a film, I often feel that the artist is more interested in seducing me with beauty than revealing a universal truth. There's no reason why truth has to be beautiful, so the same should apply to art if it is indeed a search for truth.

Maybe the view of the masses, that art is about entertainment and beauty is right. Maybe art is a retreat from the truth -- which is often very ugly -- into a beautiful fantasy world. Then again, maybe I am clueless when it comes to art.
 
  • #21
cragwolf:
I tend to agree with you, but:
How about regarding art as a kind of juggling game in which the balls you're using to make fascinating patterns are not a set of logical axioms we choose in maths, but rather, a set of interesting (equally arbitrarily chosen) personalities?
After all, many mathematicians retreat into the world of math because that world is more beautiful and comprehensible than the "real" world.

That is, I regard a piece of art as a grand game which is equally interesting to observe/partake in as studying a mathematical text.
Whether you get entertainment value, or learning value out of either, is to me not a particularly important issue.

And, another issue:
I love Shakespeare because he can tell a riveting tale with recognizable persons who are jostled together in surprising, fascinating and new ways.
I couldn' care less if I've only been entertained by Shakespeare, or learned something from him.
I think both have occurred, but I'm not sure..
 
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  • #22
I feel compelled to enter this debate even though my knowledge of science is not good, I think art needs some more defence. Also I can't do the blue quote boxes, but Cragwolfe is saying that there aren't discoveries in art.
Firstly, your example, Shakespeare - who's work is drips with layer upon layer of insight incoroporated with unique eloquence. Perhaps the insights were not absolutely original but evolved and metamorphosized over human history until they were included by him, but by the same token, the distance of stars, atoms etc are all evolved, metamorphisized ancient thoughts.
Secondly, this is judging art with the parameters of science. Of course science deals with physical things and these can be tested physically, that is the nature of it. Art isn't meant to be judged like that. It is judged on its insight and how clearly it gets its message across. In visual art that is insight, applied with elements of design, with the use of principles - such as symmetry, balance, rhythm, proportion, etc to creat a unified whole. Perhaps the original insight may be misguided but we may still learn from that, which brings us to how science and art are similar- they both give us all a greater awareness of the universe and our existence.
Cragwolf might be confusing wisdom and knowledge. So few people understand the symbols, equations, subtleties, and all the amazing knowledge that science can offer. these should be interpreted with understanding for everyone to enjoy and learn from. This is a good reason for science and art to work together. Surely one or a few with insight is not as valuable as the process of translating and sharing that insight broadly?
Cragwolf has mentioned observable proof, but scientists work a great deal on theories before they can be verified. If superstrings etc were to unify the forces, explain dark matter, explain the origins of the universe, space and time and the expanding universe and everything else in one anomoly free unified way according to all criteria asked of it, would observable proof be necessary? In this instance should science be judged not by proof but by unification, like art?
In fact, should science and art actually be more alike, but their symmetry has been broken by spontaneous cyncism.
 
  • #23
arildno said:
After all, many mathematicians retreat into the world of math because that world is more beautiful and comprehensible than the "real" world.

One can think of mathematics as a kind of art, and one can think of it as a kind of science. Numerous debates have taken place here in these forums on the question of whether mathematics is created (like art) or discovered (like science). And some people think this is a false dichotomy. I'm not confident enough to comment on that.

That is, I regard a piece of art as a grand game which is equally interesting to observe/partake in as studying a mathematical text.
Whether you get entertainment value, or learning value out of either, is to me not a particularly important issue.

I won't argue with this.

fi said:
I feel compelled to enter this debate even though my knowledge of science is not good, I think art needs some more defence.

Well, I don't think that I'm attacking art.

Firstly, your example, Shakespeare - who's work is drips with layer upon layer of insight incoroporated with unique eloquence. Perhaps the insights were not absolutely original but evolved and metamorphosized over human history until they were included by him, but by the same token, the distance of stars, atoms etc are all evolved, metamorphisized ancient thoughts.

This I cannot agree with. Certainly, there are some ideas (e.g. atoms) which do have ancient origins, but there are far more other ideas in modern-day science which simply have no historical precursors. For example, much of quantum mechanics and general relativity consist of totally original ideas. These represent completely new knowledge. Nothing like that exists in art, as far as I can tell.

Perhaps the original insight may be misguided but we may still learn from that, which brings us to how science and art are similar- they both give us all a greater awareness of the universe and our existence.

I seriously doubt that about art. How can you be so sure that art is giving you a greater awareness of the universe and our existence? In science, you have some feedback from repeatable experiments, so you can test your ideas and see how well they conform to reality. This doesn't prove their truth, but it does tell you if you're on the wrong track. In art, you have ... what exactly? Subjective opinion? You read Shakespeare and ... he verifies your prejudices? I'm being a little bit cruel here, but I can't rely on art for anything other than entertainment. Certainly not truth.

Cragwolf has mentioned observable proof, but scientists work a great deal on theories before they can be verified. If superstrings etc were to unify the forces, explain dark matter, explain the origins of the universe, space and time and the expanding universe and everything else in one anomoly free unified way according to all criteria asked of it, would observable proof be necessary?

You bet your bottom dollar it would! In fact, until string theory becomes testable, one really shouldn't call it a theory. At the moment it remains nothing more than a tantalising and hugely sophisticated series of speculations about physical reality. This sort of creative work is certainly very necessary in science. We need the theoreticians as much as we need the experimentalists. But science without experimentation is not science.
 
  • #24
cragwolf said:
I don't doubt that artists such as Shakespeare and Dostoevsky created insights about human nature. What I doubt is:

1) That they were the first to discover these insights. Or in other words, that their insights represent new knowledge about the world. I find it difficult to believe that intelligent people from every place and every time did not also have these insights. Maybe they didn't express them as beautifully, but they had them all the same.

This exists as well in science. Someone perhaps may have discovered Newton's laws of motion before Newton, but didn't write them down, hence may have gotten lost. There are numerous incidents where scientists discovered things before the "official" discovery was made: Takakazu Seki Kowa discovered Bernoulli numbers before Bernoulli himself.

Sure, these insights were there before Shakespeare and other authors, but that doesn't necessarily imply that it is a detriment to art. These have existed since the beginning of human time, the beauty lies in the author's ability to convey and accurately represent such insights.

cragwolf said:
2) The truth of these insights (which is not the same as saying that they're flat-out wrong). I'm sure you'll agree that what we get from artists are very subjective impressions of the world. They aren't testable in the way that scientific theories are. I'm wary of attaching the label "truth" to scientific theories, and hence even the thought of using "art" and "truth" in the same sentence makes me very uncomfortable.

This obviously depends on how we define "truth" (which is a very tricky term it seems). I tend to think that scientific theories do have a certain amount of truth to them in that they are (as far as current knowledge goes) able to be tested and yield an amount of accurate results that describe the current universe, hence my usage of "truth." Now, not every scientific theory today is testable (such as string theory), so those are less able to convey any amount of truth (if any at all) than the tested Relativity and classical/quantum mechanics.

In the same way, art does the same thing, but on a less quantifyable level, and on human experiences and emotions. It is still a truthful portrayal of the world that we see.

cragwolf said:
3) The desire of these artists to find truths as opposed to beauty. I've heard it said that a good writer never let truth get in the way of a good story. A throwaway line perhaps, but I'm not so sure. When I read a book, listen to music, watch a film, I often feel that the artist is more interested in seducing me with beauty than revealing a universal truth. There's no reason why truth has to be beautiful, so the same should apply to art if it is indeed a search for truth.

Maybe the view of the masses, that art is about entertainment and beauty is right. Maybe art is a retreat from the truth -- which is often very ugly -- into a beautiful fantasy world. Then again, maybe I am clueless when it comes to art.

Hmm... are you sure you aren't confusing literary authors with yellow newsjournalists? Contemporary society tries to get us to watch things that make money, so the only things that aire are the ones that do. You will never see anything particularly insightful or noteworthy in most FOX programming (because one must sift past all the fluff and superficiality present), that is just the way our particular culture operates. Dostoyevsky will probably not show on the major networks because most people probably won't want to watch it. The real beauty and insight remains in the works of literary merit.

Truth, as it exists the way you would define it, would never reveal itself in TV programming of today, and I agree with you there.

cragwolf said:
For example, much of quantum mechanics and general relativity consist of totally original ideas. These represent completely new knowledge. Nothing like that exists in art, as far as I can tell.

Does this make art any less valid than science? They are, after all, using ideas to describe our reality. Shakespeares' portrayal of his characters are just as true today as they were back when they were written. Also, the way he set them up was "original" as far as the literary world was concerned back then. One of the beauties in art is that it can be manipulated to yield new and "original" ideas, kind of like how stream of consciousness poetry is so radically different than sonnets yet conveys much of the same emotion. It isn't necessarily "new" knowledge, but the approach it takes can put new perspectives on things.

cragwolf said:
I seriously doubt that about art. How can you be so sure that art is giving you a greater awareness of the universe and our existence? In science, you have some feedback from repeatable experiments, so you can test your ideas and see how well they conform to reality. This doesn't prove their truth, but it does tell you if you're on the wrong track. In art, you have ... what exactly? Subjective opinion? You read Shakespeare and ... he verifies your prejudices? I'm being a little bit cruel here, but I can't rely on art for anything other than entertainment. Certainly not truth.

How is art not giving us a greater awareness of our universe? Art cannot conform to the way science operates, as fi said. It still manages to produce a depiction of the world that science cannot in some ways. Shakespeare cannot be recreated through usage of differential equations just as much as diophantine equations can be represented in literature. However, the pursuit of knowledge for the sake of knowledge so that it can be spread and learned remains the same. Surely that applies to literature. A particular tone created in Chekhov's short stories is there for more than entertainment, I assure you.
 
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  • #25
motai:
A novel which lacks ENTERTAINMENT value, has NO LITERARY MERIT WHATSOEVER.
Then, that book is simply a philosophical essay in disguise; it needs its disguise because the "arguments" it presents wouldn't hold water if presented in essay form.
This is, essentially, the fallacy of modernism, and why the huge majority of so-called high-brow literature is just CRAP.

These books have nothing whatsoever in common with great authors like Sophocles, Shakespeare, Dostoyevsky and Ibsen; these guys knew how to tell a STORY, most modern authors don't, apart from those who, in general, appeal to the masses.
That's where you can find the modern-day GREAT authors, not among those studied in literary seminars at the university.
 
  • #26
arildno said:
This is, essentially, the fallacy of modernism, and why the huge majority of so-called high-brow literature is just CRAP.

These books have nothing whatsoever in common with great authors like Sophocles, Shakespeare, Dostoyevsky and Ibsen; these guys knew how to tell a STORY, most modern authors don't, apart from those who, in general, appeal to the masses.
That's where you can find the modern-day GREAT authors, not among those studied in literary seminars at the university.

The authors that you were referring to were the same ones that I was referring to :smile:, the good ol' classics.

I agree that most of the stuff being put out nowadays is hardly worth reading, and I usually care little for New York Times' Bestsellers. Like history, it may take some time to weed out the works of literary merit from the other stuff, and I'm usually on the lookout for modern authors who are able to convey some sense of insight like the great authors that you mentioned. As for the entertainment thing, that is great and all, but I am usually looking for something that has a little more meaning; even if it is a little too heavy on the didactic side.

I guess the modern authors that you are referring to are the ones who produce all the beach-reading stuff? I don't get that as well...

It's kinda like sifting through loads of crackpottery science to find the valid truths in scientific work. It is far more entertaining as well to read a modern physics textbook rather then get a headache over Gene Ray's TimeCube :biggrin:.
 
  • #27
cragwolf said:
I read this paragraph twice and I still can't find a single one of these truths that art has supposedly revealed. What I'm looking for is a truth that art has discovered. Not some truth that has been known all along by humans, but something first discovered by art. In science I can name countless examples, like the theory of evolution, how stars shine, how the redshift of galaxies scales with distance, how the strength of gravity varies with distance, how light gets absorbed by atoms, how an atom binds together, and so on. Certainly, art let's us experience certain emotional states, it entertains us, it enthralls us ... but what has art actually discovered?

Art is largely a promoter of self-knowledge. The artist(s) may have some insight into human nature and the human condition that has been overlooked by the viewer. When the viewer experiences the piece of art in question, he may be evoked to an epiphany about his own nature or condition. A good example is a girl I used to be a great friend of when I was still living in New Jersey. She used to speak of how Pearl Jam literally saved her life. Not only the music, but also the personality and shared experiences of Eddie Vedder, revealed to her the truth that her life was worth living. It's a melodramatic example and you probably think she's an idiot, but nonetheless, you can't deny that there is value in the kinds of things that can be learned from art. Study some Dante or Voltaire; they revealed rather profound truths about the societies they lived in. If they were the first to discover these truths and say them aloud, is that not the essence of discovery?
 
  • #28
motai said:
This exists as well in science. Someone perhaps may have discovered Newton's laws of motion before Newton, but didn't write them down, hence may have gotten lost. There are numerous incidents where scientists discovered things before the "official" discovery was made: Takakazu Seki Kowa discovered Bernoulli numbers before Bernoulli himself.

But priority of discovery isn't really pertinent to my point. Nearly all of the scientific knowledge we have now comes from the last few centuries, and much of that comes from the 20th century. This represents information about the universe that we never had in previous centuries. In other words, science routinely discovers new information about the universe. I contend that art doesn't discover anything new about the universe. Art certainly makes use of preexisting knowledge, and sometimes presents it in new ways, but no new information is added to our knowledge bank.

Sure, these insights were there before Shakespeare and other authors, but that doesn't necessarily imply that it is a detriment to art. These have existed since the beginning of human time, the beauty lies in the author's ability to convey and accurately represent such insights.

I agree more or less, although I'm not sure that the beauty of art necessarily lies in accurately representing preexisting knowledge about the world.

It is still a truthful portrayal of the world that we see.

Sometimes, but not usually. You can, of course, restrict the definition of art, but I don't see why a work of art full of falsity, misguided ideas and outright lies can't be beautiful.

Does this make art any less valid than science?

It makes it utterly invalid as a truth-discovering method. Sure, you may be able to find truth in art, but that's not the same as art discovering new truth. But of course art is valid in other ways.

They are, after all, using ideas to describe our reality. ... It isn't necessarily "new" knowledge, but the approach it takes can put new perspectives on things.

Sure, although one thing that I can't help but add here, even though it's irrelevant to my main point, is my impression that art is overrated when it comes to providing us with new perspectives on the world. It certainly can't compete with science in this regard. How can anything in art compare with the perspectives of reality forced on us by the discovery of relativity, big bang cosmology and quantum mechanics? And what can compare to the mind-boggling paths that logic has led us down in mathematical fields such topology, analysis, and number theory? It's as if minds restrained (as they are by logic and experiment in science) create far greater works of imagination than minds unrestrained (as they are in art).
 
  • #29
cragwolf said:
But priority of discovery isn't really pertinent to my point. Nearly all of the scientific knowledge we have now comes from the last few centuries, and much of that comes from the 20th century. This represents information about the universe that we never had in previous centuries. In other words, science routinely discovers new information about the universe. I contend that art doesn't discover anything new about the universe. Art certainly makes use of preexisting knowledge, and sometimes presents it in new ways, but no new information is added to our knowledge bank.

Whether or not you are correct to say that art is incapable of giving (or at least has never given) new information about the external world, I still maintain that the purpose of art, aside from its entertainment and asthetic value, is to open up avenues by which one may attain self-knowledge. Art can quite often teach you something about yourself, something that neither you nor anybody else knew previously. The other important function that it serves epistemically is that it can present new ways of looking at the world and specific situations within the world and within one's own life that might not have occurred otherwise. I don't know whether or not this constitutes the creation of new knowledge, but it is certainly useful. Stimulating new and creative ways of thinking can even be useful to the scientist.
 
  • #30
How many scientists are there in the world that have been inspired by artists? Writers like Jules Verne and Isaac Asimov have inspired scientists, and I'm sure science has inspired art as well. 'Through the Looking Glass' by Lewis Carroll, a mathematician, comes to mind. I remember reading 'Hyperspace' by Michio Kaku and in the first chapter he describes a pool of fish swimming just under the surface of the water and wondered what the world must look like to them if they were to be removed from the pool. It's an anecdote he uses to open his book, but it is also a legitimate memory that inspired curiosity in him.

How can science create new discoveries if there are no original new thoughts? Where does the drive to discover new ideas come from? Until we can quantify the human psyche there is no clear line between science and art besides the lines we draw for ourselves.

I can understand the argument that art has not contributed new discoveries. In a sense it may even be right. But the thought is separated from the action when art is denied to contribute to science.
 
  • #31
motai said:
I guess the modern authors that you are referring to are the ones who produce all the beach-reading stuff? I don't get that as well...
Not necessarily; Margaret Atwood is, for example, a great modern author.
Roald Dahl was a great short-story writer, and I happen to think that "Dolores Claiborne" by Stephen King is a great novel.

Of course, I won't deny that you can read all of them on the beach and get pleasure out of it..
 
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  • #32
loseyourname said:
Whether or not you are correct to say that art is incapable of giving (or at least has never given) new information about the external world, I still maintain that the purpose of art, aside from its entertainment and asthetic value, is to open up avenues by which one may attain self-knowledge.

Possibly, although I personally find it difficult to distinguish between self-knowledge, self-justification, and self-delusion. I'm skeptical of any knowledge which hasn't been passed through the wringer of experiment and logic. Unfortunately, many very important questions (especially those about the "internal world") can't be analysed in this way and thus will remain forever unanswered. Some people can't stand unanswered questions so they look elsewhere and naturally find the answers they want to hear. The previous sentence is a flippant, arrogant, throwaway line, so feel free to ignore it.
 
  • #33
I'm not going to call your response flippant or arrogant, crag, but it is very cynical to think that you cannot know anything about yourself outside of what can be experimentally verified. Certainly people can delude themselves and often do, but one of the functions of good art is to help the viewer to see through these delusions. There are other ways; therapy comes to mind, as do random jarring events. Aside from all these lofty purposes, however, art performs a much simpler and less contentious function in that it can teach to better appreciate the world around you. Whether or not this constitutes any form of truth I won't comment on, but it is definitely a skill worth learning. This is actually one of the aspects of art that it has in common with science - both can teach you to look at the world in new and exciting ways, and to better appreciate what you see. They are different paths for different people. Many find science to be boring and difficult to grasp; many find art boring and difficult to grasp.
 
  • #34
We cannot hide behind the sturdy wooden gate of logic all the time. If something isn't experimentally viable at this point we speculate and postulate the different possible outcomes. This thought process closely follows not only scientists but also artists (who want to know things just as much as scientists do). We cannot answer everything at this point, but this shouldn't keep us from wondering possible circumstances, and it is this realm that art portrays itself quite well.

Does this mean that we are looking for answers we want to hear? Probably not. Because it is these possibilities that describe what we see around us, even if it is the most absurd thing around. It isn't just telling what we want to hear, but rather a reflection of the world around us (with exceptions to the pure-entertainment value items). In some level it is possible for us to relate to most abstract of work, though we may not necessarily understand it.

Franz Kafka's Metamorphosis was highly illogical, but even in this most absurd of circumstance, insight into human experience is shown through Samsa's surrealistic transformation into a dung beetle. Now, since this isn't experimentally verifyable and doesn't conform to the standard rules of logic, does this make Kafka's work any less valid than scientific results?

Instead of seeing art as a non-contributor to human experience since it doesn't follow the formal rules of logic, it would probably be better to see it as a means to explain the things that are usually not easily quantifyable.
 
  • #35
Thanks to all for your replies. I'll keep ruminating over what has been said.
 

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