Differences Make All the Difference: Art and Science
Updated: May 30
On the occasion of O’s second Foundation Day, on 31 March 2023, when artist Gigi Scaria and Dr. (Cdr) Arnab Das came together for the first time, to shine some light on underwater habitat degradation, they seemed the unlikeliest of allies to work together. The differences in their respective backgrounds — Art and Science — seemed stark and glaring to the audience in attendance that they were voiced loudly and clearly.
Although it is sensing the urgency of action needed to prevent greater global temperature rises that O insisted on striking an alliance with the seemingly unlikeliest of partnerships — Art and Science, on this particular occasion, represented by Gigi and Arnab respectively — the bewilderment clearly is indicative of the journey to the promised land as one that is bound to be long and hard. We can afford to have the journey be hard but not long because we are, as is, way behind schedule, and still are only playing catch up, with our present efforts at combating climate crisis.
It is now more than ever before and, in the process of specialisation, we understand our world, its peoples, cultures, beliefs and all things in fragments, in isolation, causing our perception and understanding of the world to be rather Western, biased, and conservative.
What is preventing us from getting ahead or reversing climate change? A precise answer is the culture of specialisation. It is now more than ever before and, in the process of specialisation, we understand our world, its peoples, cultures, beliefs and all things in fragments, in isolation, causing our perception and understanding of the world to be rather Western, biased, and conservative. When sustainability is approached sans Art it is a conservative, an unprogressive, a traditionalist approach — one that is bound to fail.
It, indeed, is easier to demolish physical structures and build new ones but rather challenging to inspire growth and transformation beyond the constraints of conditioned minds. To dismantle the belief that art and science are very different from each other and are opposite ends of a spectrum would need concerted effort. Considering how late in the day we are in addressing the oneness in art and science disciplines, especially at ensuring successful environmental and corporate sustainability, it is necessary that we have all the resources it takes to hurriedly make amends and tackle climate crisis.
Furthermore, it is important to know what we are up against — Competing and complex narratives and perspectives on sustainability, on integration, on race, on gender, on religion, on region, on culture and even on resources.
The oneness in art and science disciplines is not as simple and common as the popular narrative: Art helps express the science of things or art is the main medium of communication. It is much more complex than that.
A coherent picture to delve into would be impractical unless we make deliberate and purposeful attempts to press on away from specialisations and instead, be willing to see the whole picture —the big picture. And the first step towards that would be by acknowledging the oneness in art and science. Until then it would be as fraught with danger as separating the mind from the body. Now, the oneness in art and science disciplines is not as simple and common as the popular narrative: art helps express the science of things or art is the main medium of communication. It is much more complex than that. To gauge how widespread and long-term the damage has been, consider this example:
The evolution of the Fibonacci numbers and Pascal’s triangle in India:
Now, since Sanskrit poetry presents very many complex properties, as walking a tight rope, how would poets compose, particularly because the text had to be passed down orally? Mathematics in India has roots in Vedic poetry, too. Set in motion by an emphatic insistence on sound, Sanskrit poetry, thanks to Hemachandra and Pingala, among other Ancients, inspired many mathematical discoveries. Poets wrote:
(a) in terms of number of beats, and (b) in terms of number of syllabic rhythms.
So, in terms of beats, when composing a verse, the question is: In how many ways could a poet fill n number of beats with long or dirgha (d) and short or laghu (l) syllables in a verse? The solution derived by Hemachandra translates:
• Write the numbers 1 and 2 • Each subsequent number is the sum of the previous two
The nth number gives the number of possible ways of d and l to fill n beats. The sequence is:
1|2|3|5|8|13|21|34|55|89|144| and so on
This is the Hemachandra numbers from twelfth century India and known in the West as Fibonacci numbers from hundred years later in thirteenth century
Therefore, if n= 5, (in terms of Shakespeare’s preferred metre) then the number of types of morae from five iambic beats (five da-DUMs) would be eight.
Similarly, for syllabic rhythms, too, the solution was worked out, that is, how many types of syllabic rhythms comprising of monomoraic and bimoraic syllables could a poet compose for a verse of n syllables?
If n = 10, then 2^10 allows 1024 possible rhythms. This is what was called Pingala’s Meruprastaram in Ancient India predating Pascal’s Triangle in the West by at least 1800 years.
Drawing from these examples, one would not have to probe any further to appreciate the oneness in Art and Science. It is definitively indisputable and is not merely about expression and communication. The scale of damage that specialisation has brought about to the world in the light of climate crisis, therefore, would be more discernible and deductive now.
Futurist, Jamais Cascio said, “In a world of constant, imminent existential threats, the ability to recognise subtle, long-term processes and multi-generational changes wasn't a particularly important adaptive advantage.” However, today in the Anthropocene, the threats, indeed, are multi-generational and one that can no more be denied or delayed. So, let us look at some of the listed differences between Art and Science subjects, in the Anthropocene:
The American Chemical Society (ACS) in their effort at helping people understand the difference between art and science subjects says, “there are certainly key differences between doing science and making art. The goal of science is to create new understanding of how the world works and develop practical solutions that address challenges, such as climate change. Artists strive to evoke a sense of beauty or an emotional reaction through their work—whether it’s in dance, music, painting, or other art form. Science is designed to be objective and guided by data; art is subjective and deeply influenced by feelings and opinions.” And ACS differentiates thus while also quoting the Italian polymath Leonardo da Vinci: "To develop a complete mind: Study the science of art; study the art of science. Learn how to see. Realize that everything connects to everything else."
And in doing so the folly in their approach is unmistakable. Also, in spelling out science’s role as one that is to, “develop practical solutions that address challenges, such as climate change” and art’s as one where “artists strive to evoke a sense of beauty or an emotional reaction through their work—whether it’s in dance, music, painting, or other art form” it sheds light either on the scientific community’s inability to fathom the concept of deep time or the community’s arrogance and/or insecurity in acknowledging the profound role art plays, among other things, in addressing societal challenges, and in this context, climate change.
Naturalist E. O. Wilson in Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge said, "Neither science nor the arts can be complete without combining their separate strengths. Science needs the intuition and metaphorical power of the arts, and the arts need the fresh blood of science. … The key to the exchange between them is … reinvigoration of interpretation with the knowledge of science and its proprietary sense of the future. Interpretation is the logical channel of consilient explanation between science and the arts... "Behind Shakespeare, Leonardo, Mozart and others in the foremost rank are a vast legion whose realized powers form a descending continuum to those who are merely competent. ... What the masters of the Western canon, and those of other high cultures possessed in common was a combination of exceptional knowledge, technical skill, originality, sensitivity to detail, ambition, boldness, and drive. … Even the greatest works of art might be understood fundamentally with knowledge of the biologically evolved epigenetic rules that guided them."
The oneness in the humanly separated disciplines is unfathomable even for Wilson, as he recommends consilience.
The academic fragmentation is at its pinnacle, today, and the damage done over centuries of the illusion of separateness would take continuous and purposeful efforts to minimise the conditioning it has brought about in people, to even begin repair work.
As sociologist Elise M. Boulding pointed out we are suffering from “temporal exhaustion”. She had said, “If one is mentally out of breath all the time from dealing with the present, there is no energy left for imagining the future.” It is crucial to understand that the operative word here is imagining, and imagination is both about art and science as well as about a future that holds numerous questions: what is tomorrow? Will there be a tomorrow?
According to geologist Marcia Bjornerud Timefulness reveals how knowing the rhythms of Earth’s deep past and conceiving of time as a geologist does can give us the perspective we need for a more sustainable future.
Artist Gigi’s work gives expression to deep-time thinking, generational amnesia and temporal exhaustion. According to geologist Marcia Bjornerud Timefulness reveals how knowing the rhythms of Earth’s deep past and conceiving of time as a geologist does can give us the perspective we need for a more sustainable future. Gigi’s work recognises that Timefulness is key to our existence and like Bjornerud's work is cruical, Gigi's work is powerfully evocative and vital in the Anthropocene.
O’s commitment to environment is steadfast but our constant effort is about striking a balance and about bridging the gaps. We are especially passionate about opportunities that help drive our commitment to presenting the oneness in Art and Science. Therefore, this year, partnering with the Maritime Research Centre (MRC) — a foundation for Underwater Domain Awareness (UDA) — O has taken up the challenge to converge art and science disciplines in the underwater realm.
Arnab — founder and director of MRC, who is also a researcher, maritime strategist, technocrat and entrepreneur — is rather keen to explore the opportunity to converge and to create the much-anticipated installation with Gigi.
Arnab focuses on underwater acoustics. What is the ocean soundscape like? For many of us the question could even be as simple and basic as, does sound have anything to do with the underwater realm? So, there is plenty of work ahead for Arnab. He, very well, apprehends the inherent contradictions that specialisation whips up. He, in this undertaking, is cautious that working with an artist to create an installation is an unfamiliar terrain for him to venture into and he knows fully well that it is a social responsibility and commitment to be an arbitrator, to bridge the art and science gap, in his field.
C. P. Snow, an English novelist and physical chemist, cites that scientists and artists could no longer communicate with one another because those in one discipline lacked the knowledge possessed by those in the other. He worried that this mutual incomprehension prevented solutions to social problems. However, this is mostly the case with the present-day scientific community, globally.
But the present India’s attitude is one that is shaped by the long-lasting effects of colonialism, where conceptual understanding of mathematics or other sciences by artists seem to be slumbering within the boundaries demarcated, informally, of course, for artists alone. In this context the onus is mainly on the science and tech community to lift those boundaries and welcome and work with artists like Gigi.
For the Ancients of India, however, art held the key to scientific knowledge, but the West held and began propagating art and science as disconnected entities and as opposites. The fundamental difference in cultural thoughts, perhaps, is where it all changed. But the present India’s attitude is one that is shaped by the long-lasting effects of colonialism, where conceptual understanding of mathematics or other sciences by artists seem to be slumbering within the boundaries demarcated, informally, of course, for artists alone. In this context the onus is mainly on the science and tech community to lift those boundaries and welcome and work with artists like Gigi.
This project — to create an installation, mitigating individual biases, which will encourage art and science-led sustainable practices and cultivate timefulness — is O’s first of a series of initiatives under O’s Building Bridges programme, at extracting actionable knowledge, going ahead.
Further, O is committed to documenting this project (both visual and non-visual) in its entirety: from evolution to execution. The documentation will include all the challenges and opportunities that this partnership — Art and Science, between Arnab and Gigi — presents.
NEXT: Foundation Day II: Exploring Practices of Art and Science in UDA
Alden, Andrew. "What is Deep Time?" ThoughtCo, Jul. 30, 2021, thoughtco.com/what-is-deep-time-1440836.