Science and Crafts

So, it happened a few days ago that someone said to me, how can you be still be fiddling around with arts and crafts; you are a doctoral candidate (also implying it should be beneath me to meditate on the meaning and application of colour). As I know myself reasonably well, I understand such activities as my creative outlet; there is a certain joy to crafting objects out of yarn.
It was the burden of the educated man two centuries ago to have been well-versed in the arts even if he were a scientist, as there was no such thing as photography, and he would have to draw his subject matter as truthfully as he could, which was very difficult before the invention of the camera lucida (that little mechanism with a lens one would set up above a drawing board, which would reflect the image of the subject onto the drawing board). When Charles Babbage made his Difference Engine (said to be the ancestor of the modern day computer), he himself designed the parts that constituted it. Herschel Sr. built his own enormous telescope.
That such scientists were so well-read allowed them to compose their own poetry (oh, the beauteous verse of J.C. Maxwell: "and in the midst were the wranglers playing with the symbols"). Those who had consciously given themselves over to literary pursuits applied those lessons in the humanities to life (eg. Maxwell, who suffered the loss of the death of friends, found the wisdom in how to move forwards at such times from his earlier reading). While those scientists valued the "clearness" of scientific law over the "ingenious nonsense" (Newton) of poetry, they shared an understanding of the importance of the metaphor and symbolism, which is poetic. Though Maxwell sought "freedom from the tyranny of words", he considered his task to "interpret" the "language" of nature.
Many scientists of the day dabbled in colour theory; developed the tools used for art today (the camera, the technological evolution of colour, wherein digital colour theory, which basically tricks the eyes, is far removed from the science of colour theory) and socialised with men of the arts (which continued into the early 20th century, when, for instance, Tesla hobnobbed with Twain).
Tyndall, in his book on Faraday, explains that one "would expect science to be passionless, cold, dry... Not always. Man carries heart in all things," because one cannot "separate the moral and the emotional from the intellectual."

 Elements: frame: minitoko; flower: shabby princess;
starbursts, ric rac and pearls: pugly pixel;
background: SKC photography.  

Why would it be ludicrous for a single person to want to experience life from both the perspective of art and science? Nor am I inclined to agree that one should cease certain activities because of one's station. For instance, Charles Babbage applied lessons from observing textile factories to the execution of his Analytical Engine. One ought to be exposed to diverse subject matter in order to be open to a wider range of concepts to choose from when interpreting and bringing meaning to the world.
If our most profound understandings are created through our ability to see similarity where there is difference, it stands to follow that the ease of the creation of such metaphors will be relative to our familiarity with the subject matter. We can see waves in electricity, behaviour in molecules, Latin in the maths of the humanities - all depending on our points of departure. We can soar above matter as we unite it through increased perspective.
The wish to soar is gained through our passions. We all have our passions. I do not think one can be happy if one extinguishes them, though we may suffer because of them. Still, I do not wish to advocate letting the passions run wild, but think they ought to be restrained within the law of Aristotle's golden mean. We all have a unique composition of talents, and I believe that these should be explored. Again, it will be easier, and come more naturally.
Our obligation to ourselves in pursuing these passions is to seek meaning in our pursuits, which may not be  immediately apparent. Helmholtz warned of scientific discovery that one mustn't look for practical applications "immediately" - that such an endeavour will end in vain. It seems there is more to be said of the pursuit than to production or application.
While some scientists disdained the flowers produced by the soul as being inferior to the crisp vision of the garden flower as described by science, others accepted that there is a human component to the soul - that this, and only this, brings a heart to science. All endeavours, including science, should be conducted ethically (it is from ethics that we learn of Aristotle's golden mean).
It is enticingly easy to get caught up in all the exciting ideas we can read about and study, tempting to float on our imaginations to distant heights. It is easy to get trapped up there with all those fantastical ideas, where we soon pale and sicken from the unrealistic confines of such ivory towers. For this reason, there is much to be said in favour of manual, tactile work. It teaches patience, limitations (the mind works faster than the hands), humility, measure.
So, in response to the criticism I received, I would say: childhood games and tactile play keep the mind young, enthusiastic, balanced - and artful.

No comments:

Post a Comment