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Perceptions of Disparate Fields of Interest

  1. Oct 31, 2011 #1
    I often straddle two very separate worlds.

    First, let me explain. I am both a musician and a mathematician. I'm a fairly accomplished pianist (went to Interlochen, have won a few competitions, getting all my education paid for because of piano), and I say this NOT to brag, but to give some context. I am also an average mathematician, receiving my B.S. in mathematics recently (3.6 gpa in math, 3.8 gpa in music, and 3.79 gpa including gen eds overall from a well-known Michigan school, and I definitely didn't work as hard as I could because I was focused on my job at a major hospital). I'm also considering going back for my masters and possibly PhD in mathematics with a pedagogical/teaching emphasis. I love mathematics and science, but have no special talent for it other than a slightly above-average IQ, a passion for it, and some determination/hard work (which imho, are really all you really need to succeed... heck, I can anecdotally attest to the fact that you may only even need an average IQ!...:P).

    OK, enough about me.

    The problem: People in the arts many times don't understand people in the sciences, and vice versa. In general, musicians/artists/designers realize the importance of science, but don't get any reliable information on it or seem to think it's boring and end up making stupid decisions (like being suspicious of the theory of evolution and the role it has played in modern medicine, etc.). Conversely, people within any STEM field sometimes think that being a musician or artist is #1) Easy and/or inconsequential and #2) That 'those people' are leeches on society because all the hard work it takes to get a STEM degree doesn't seem to translate to other degrees (which is very false if you've ever looked at or completed a curriculum for visual art or music).

    In addition, the art/music/design side tend to see scientists (I use the term to mean anyone within the STEM model) as not creative (which is not true) and scientists tend to see artists/musicians/designers as not intelligent, logical, or capable of doing anything in science (which is also not true).

    I recognize that there are people on both sides that give each side a bad name, which is unfortunate. On the other hand, there are many people who understand both sides. I'm not accusing anyone outright, just the overall general perceptions, which I think I have explained more or less accurately. I have much experience with these perceptions, and I am looking for people who agree (in general) and can list some specific "stereotypes" or perceptions, and ways we can correct false ones.

    With all of that in mind (phew!), here is a specific question to focus the conversation: What are peoples' thoughts about the perceptions and/or stereotypes of different occupations, degrees, or fields of interest? This would include difficulty of the field/occupation, applicability, social status, and whatever other ideas one could come up with. For example, if you are a scientist (like most people here) please comment on how you view the arts or another "unrelated" (to you) subject. Likewise for musicians, philosophers, etc.

    Also, if there is anyone (and I'm sure there are at least some or many people here) that straddle two different worlds in some way, please also comment on your experiences.

    At the end of the day, I believe both the arts and sciences are required to have a wonderful human experience, and I think, unfortunately, many people are ignorant to this, most of the time through no fault of their own... it's just a cultural thing (at least in the US).

    I know this thread isn't perfectly worded, or perfect in any way, but I tried my best. Please be kind. This is a hard question to ask while getting all the nuances and caveats correct.
    Thanks for spending the time to read this. Future thanks to all those who reply.
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 31, 2011 #2


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    I have very high respect for people who have good organizational skills. The administrative assistants (formerly known as secretaries) at my work are phenomenal at that kind of stuff.

    We used to have a graphics/art guy (he got laid off :frown:), and he had a very different approach to...everything. I'm sure all of us scientists and engineers drove him crazy, but he was good to have around - it's good to have a fresh pair of eyes now and then.

    My biggest issue with artsy folks is that sometimes they go right past the best solution, because it's boring, to something flashier but clearly not practical (or even reasonable :biggrin:).
  4. Nov 1, 2011 #3
    I grew up within an hour of Interlochen (Cadillac) - I loved going there for shows and had a few friends attend there over the years. After being away from Michigan for a few years and in the plains... I miss trees.

    When I was at Michigan Tech almost 15 years ago, there were lots of engineering students whom were accomplished (but not professional) musicians - and they did it for fun. I think that the stereotypes are founded on a bit of ignorance of the other. A scientist without exposure to the arts may not have an appreciation for it: just as a thesbian without exposure to inquiry may not have an appreciation for it. However, I do think if you look closely you'll find quite a few professional actors and musicians with a lot of education and a technical background.

    A few that come to mind:
    Mayim Bialik (Blossom/Amy Farrah Fowler) - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mayim_Bialik
    Brian May (Queen) - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_may
    Mira Aroyo (Ladytron) - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mira_Aroyo
  5. Nov 1, 2011 #4


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    I am an (amateur) musician and a journeyman (graduate) scientist. Two of the people I jam with (we just jam, we don't write music really) are also journeyman scientists.

    I used to think programmers were boring people, but I'm now also a programmer and I find it be a fascinatingly deep subject all the sudden. I used to feel the same way about sailing too, but now I'm completely fascinated by it.

    Things just seem mundane when you haven't dug into them yourself.

    Now moose hunting - that's boring, opera - no thanks.
  6. Nov 1, 2011 #5


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    Some of the most talented musicians I know work(ed) in tech fields and moonlighted in music. I worked with a doctor who is a very talented cellist, for instance. A couple of the guys that regularly showed up at my open-mic jams were good guitarists/vocalists who were technicians by day. It was nice to have them show up and contribute their talents. My sister moonlights in a band on weekends and is a talented vocalist - her day job is as a coordinator and medical educator for a local health center.

    I'm a guitarist/vocalist/percussionist. In the last couple of decades, I have worked as an optician and an IT specialist, among other positions. I have subbed for the drummer in my sister's band when he had other commitments.

    To some people, it may seem that there is a dichotomy between the sciences and the arts, but that should be rejected out of hand. When I was in engineering school, my favorite ways to unwind were to play/compose music and to draw and illustrate using ink and watercolors.
  7. Nov 1, 2011 #6


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    Hey kings7.

    In terms of creativity, both require it. Mathematics is a very creative field despite what people tell you. Also I think most people think that creativity is the Mona Lisa, or a symphony from Mozart, and not something like an innovative trick to solve a class or DE's or the invention of calculus (which is huge on the creativity scale).

    Again as I mentioned before, I think the root of the problem is what people think creativity is. When people think math they think rules of arithmetic and personally it is not hard to see why most people think math is the antithesis of creativity. If you told someone about research, they might think you are just doing lots of experiments and recording data and some might argue that from that there is no creativity in science either.

    I play guitar every single day. I have a twelve string, an electric, and a spanish guitar. Usually I don't think that I have creative moments that much: what I tend to do is do a slight alteration of patterns that I have found when I have my "creative" moments. I would equate to a mathematics scenario where one day you find a neat substitution trick that helps immensely with solving problems and then you just variants of that to solve future problems.

    I think absolute pure creativity is something that is very hard to come by no matter what field you are talking about. You kind of have to be crazy or an excessively obsessed person with the right mind to have this.

    In terms of how I view creativity among different groups or classes of people? They are all the same. We all have different predispositions to things and I am not saying that everyone will be necessarily capable of being creative in the same way that another person can and vice-versa, but I do honestly think that we are all capable of being creative in some way, and it is not fair to judge someones creativity to be "better" or "worse" than anothers.

    In fact, I remember a show on years ago that was talking about maximum security prisons. Some of the inmates had developed a way of communication so that they could give orders to the lower ranked gang members and also for members on the outside that were related to business (drugs, hits, that kind of thing). Now I don't care who you are, but if you don't see the creativity involved in that, I don't think you really appreciate what creativity is.

    Think about all the inventions ever made. Most of these people are not people with graduate degrees, undergraduate degrees or even people who completed high school!

    So yeah to close, creativity is something that I think applies equally to everybody (albeit in different ways) and it is arrogant and ridiculous to say that only certain kinds of people are creative and others are not.
  8. Nov 1, 2011 #7

    Yeah, that can happen. It's definitely good to have a balanced approach in terms of creativity and also respecting rationality and logic.
  9. Nov 1, 2011 #8
    Cool! I've been to Cadillac a few times.

    Yes! And likewise, you'll find many scientists, mathematicians, and engineers with creative backgrounds!
  10. Nov 1, 2011 #9
    - Emphasis mine.

    That's definitely true! This could highlight some of the major problems with these perceptions, which might just be as simple as not being involved enough it. Now, I'm certainly not advocating being a jack of all trades and master of none, however I do think it is important to have a balanced approach to life (and then specialize in something).

    Like I mentioned above, creativity and scientific inquiry/logic/reason should be two of the founding bases for human cognition. The most beautiful thing is when they work together. This just goes to show how the arts and music can have even a practical value beyond the aesthetic pleasures... similar to how design encompasses visual art or style with functionality and engineering.
  11. Nov 1, 2011 #10
    That's awesome, and definitely very true about the arts and music being used to unwind or decompress (although you can also use the sciences to do that too in some respects!).

    I agree that there is a false dichotomy that exists. Obviously, they are fundamentally different in many ways, but that does not automatically lead to one being better than the other. If we're going to progress as a species, I think we need to recognize the value in both, and grow both in scientific inquiry and accuracy, as well as creativity and emotional intelligence.
  12. Nov 1, 2011 #11
    - Edited for space.

    I pretty much agree with everything you've posted! Thanks for sharing.

    It's definitely true that mathematics is very creative (which was my point in mentioning how people outside of it don't see it), but even more globally I mean that everything is creative in some way. Just like everything is technical in some way. People really like to put things in boxes, but any subject or field worth getting into (and that includes MOST of them out there... I'll save my quibbles with 'health communication' or 'sociology' for other threads) involves a deep amount of technical prowess and creativity.

    I think the aspect I run into more often is when scientists don't realize how technical art, design, and/or music is, and that the rigor involved, while not the same as axiomatic proof-based rigor in mathematics, is still of its own type (say, based on different 'axioms', loosely speaking).

    I think we're under-utilizing our intellectual resources by not having more arts and music in education from k-12 (in the US). Take music for example.... there are so many cognitive benefits to learning an instrument and music with depth (mostly classical), it's unbelievable.

    Someone who is proficient in that type of thinking who also has a solid background in traditional academics will go further than someone strong in just one of those types.
  13. Nov 1, 2011 #12


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    I heard a neuroscience podcast about "neurotypology" where the PI classifies people by their brain type and their behaviors/interests. She divided the results into three types, based on the amount of testosterone they were exposed to in the womb: Low T, Medium T, and High T.

    She then only discussed the extremes:

    -Low T had the biological effect of supporting more connectivity in the brain and result was that the subjects had more diverse interests

    -High T people (testosterone does a lot of pruning during development) were more specialized, excelling in more focused subjects.
  14. Nov 1, 2011 #13


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    That is a very good point. I haven't had a technical background in music, but I know a music teacher who is full time in that role with a PhD in some area of music. He told me the kind of things that musicians have to learn apart from the pure performance component and I think it is a pretty strict regimine and highly disciplined in the same sort of way the training for an engineer or a doctor is. Granted that you aren't playing with people's lives when you write music, but when you are playing a piece with 50 other people, you really have to be extremely disciplined as well as everyone else for the piece to really sound like it should.

    This issue is more of a political issue, and I think you'll find a lot of people will value things like english, mathematics, and science as "important", even if they don't really know these things are important. Also many consider PE (physical education) to be important, especially since the world is getting fatter. What I find ironic is that schools sell so much **** in terms of food where the nutritional content is "questionable". We want people to be healthy so we get them to play sport, but then feed them donuts after the game. I guess truth is stranger than fiction.

    Also one thing you have to realize is that creativity is not something that is highly encouraged in many schools (I'm talking high schools and below, but universities can fit in here to some extent), and this applies equally to mathematics as well as music.

    Someone who is proficient in that type of thinking who also has a solid background in traditional academics will go further than someone strong in just one of those types. The environment is mostly a "sit down, shut-up, and copy from the board" type scenario. The typical role of the teacher is an authority figure and discussion and discourse is not always encouraged.

    Another problem is that, many things are judged from an "economic" perspective. You know the line: "We need scientists to help grow our economy", "We need mathematicians and statisticians to grow our economy", and so on.

    Also look at the pressure that kids are under nowadays. It's an absolute mind **** for new students. They have to get top marks to get in to the top classes in year 7 from primary school. Then top marks to get into top classes for years 9 and 10. Then do all the extension units (or AP classes in the US) to get into uni. Then work like a dog in uni to get good grad position. Then work like a dog and climb the ladder to get the good house with the white picket fences and the middle class lifestyle.

    But while you are doing that you get in massive debt, get some kind of mental illness (like depression), end up finding out that the whole thing is bull-**** and then end up miserable.

    Again I repeat: truth is often stranger than fiction.
  15. Nov 1, 2011 #14
    ^ Indeed, that whole economic argument is very prominent in today's western societies. However, I kind of look at it as the difference between preventative and symptomatic treatment styles. We could make things more efficient and wonderful by helping earlier to stimulate cognitive growth and creativity, especially since these are intellectual areas that can help every aspects of one's life. This is not to say that everyone should or will become an artist or musician, but having those basic notions about expression, emotion, and creativity ingrained in oneself (kind of like having the multiplication tables ingrained) helps the quality of one's life immensely.

    Economies can grow in numerous ways. One of the best ways the creation of something, be it good or an idea. These innovations are the this that really stimulate growth, and the people that make them are usually well-rounded in terms of having both a creative and technical background (with obvious exceptions in both extremes).

    I agree that it's also true that schools sometimes kill creativity (see this talk http://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity.html).

    Science is probably the most important thing holding the fabric of our society together, but art is one of the most important reasons for why we hold it together.

    My point is that science can stimulate art, and art can stimulate science. And neither will reach its full potential without the other. This is what should change about modern educational systems.
  16. Nov 1, 2011 #15
    That sounds like an interesting study.

    I'd like to know whether the differences between the two extremes has more to do with focus, attention, and time rather than deriving the results directly from the amount of T. It could be that people with High T are less "ADD" than those with Low T, and this is what ends up attributing to the specialization.

    On another note, with my paltry understanding of neuroscience, more connectivity would seem to be ideal even over specialization in one area. Wouldn't it be easier (neuroplastically speaking) to specialize given the basis of more connectivity (Low T people) rather than to "spread out" given the basis of the more pruned people (High T people)?

    Unless the study is indicating that those with High T have more connectivity within a specific area, and those with Low T have more connectivity all around.
    Last edited: Nov 1, 2011
  17. Nov 1, 2011 #16


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    I don't think it would work like that. I think once you establish a regime, many different cooperating parts of your brain become dependent on that regime. I remember learning about hippocampal neural implants for alzheimers disease patients (funny, can't remember if it was rats, human trials, or both. I'm always generalizing mammals now); the "let's replace the bad part" philosophy. Improvement were noted after the implants, but eventually the new neurons fell to the disease too. The moral of the story being that sometimes the parts are the way they are because of some more global organizaiton (like possibly even genomic and proteomic networks) that underlies the "tip of the iceberg" that we observe.

    Here's the High-T/Low-T lady:
    http://www.zebrabrain.com/book.htm [Broken]

    (disclaimer: I have no idea how backed up this is by science, I mean it only as a musing)
    Last edited by a moderator: May 5, 2017
  18. Nov 1, 2011 #17
    I see. That all makes sense.

    Thanks for the link. I might check into her ideas a bit more to see how well-founded they are or if they're useful.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 5, 2017
  19. Nov 1, 2011 #18
    When I went to school I studied math. Specifically unbounded operators on a Banach space. I think that the study of bounded operators on a Banach space is for airheads. Now what were you saying about music?
  20. Nov 1, 2011 #19
    Can you please clarify what you're trying to say?
  21. Nov 1, 2011 #20
    Bounded operator is a strange name for a function that isn't bounded. What is bounded is the ratio between the length of a non-zero element of the Banach space in the domain of the operator divided into the length of its image under the operator. A simple example is the function A: x -> 2x. This function is not bounded, but the ratio |2x|/|x| = 2 is bounded. Boundedness is a strong property for a linear operator on a Banach space because it implies that the operator is continuous. This makes some proofs rather simple and suitable for mathematicians who are just starting out. As I matured mathematically, I focused my attention on unbounded linear operators. These are not continuous and many proofs that are relatively simple in the bounded case are often an order of magnitude more difficult for unbounded operators. None the less, they are important. Every Hilbert space is a Banach space under the norm derived from the inner product. For that reason, the position and momentum operators on the state space of quantum mechanics which are unbounded operators on a Hilbert space are also unbounded operators on a Banach space. I did not study these operators though since they are better handled using the full power of the Hilbert space axioms.
    Last edited: Nov 1, 2011
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