Wednesday, 18 October 2017

A Redundant Rivalry

Illustrator: Sayanta Midya

At the guillotine of logic and judgement I place an accumulation of all that is irrational and unfounded, with the prayer that the deity of Science be contented by the demolition of falsehood and the prevalence of reason. Thus having proven myself to be a scientific human being, I turn and observe my deference to the numen of Art and seek her blessings. It is in the consistency of worship to both these avatars of human excellence that I seek to find paradise.

Why do we have the acrimony? Science and Art have been at loggerheads for ages. Back in the Middle Ages in both India and Europe, religion exerted its profound influence over the art forms, and came into direct conflict with the rational and the logical. Progress of science was hindered by minds untrained in the domain of logic and analysis. While science eventually did manage to overthrow the shackles of the illogical, it retaliated with vehemence. A journal on the subject succinctly comments on the matter: “Artistic activity is totally gratuitous, while science aims at attaining a specific end.” Science didn’t look too kindly upon any sort of gratuitous activity. As of the present day, animosity between the two “camps” has gone down but there exists an undercurrent of mistrust and a touch of disregard for the other. Here I do not speak of the refined and broad-minded few but instead focus on the injudicious and unenlightened many. These are the sentiments responsible for a redundant rivalry foaming among intelligent humans.

Galileo was right all along.
Scientists and technologists yell themselves hoarse, that the world we are living in and the gratification we are deriving from it every moment of the day would not have been possible without the contributions of science and technology. Let us consider this argument at some depth. One has to agree that Art definitely is indebted to Science. It is only when the more mundane and less artistic elements of human life have been taken care of, that the human mind can focus itself on expression of its other – more artistic – side. Not to be ignored is the fact that technology has a lot to contribute to the elemental logistics of Art itself. From the optimally designed cast iron frame of a piano to the air-conditioned interiors and acoustically perfected furnishings of an auditorium, expression and performance of any art form today is heavily dependent on technology. So it is in conjunction with the technological progress of civilisation that Art merits to be judged – what quality of Art the cavemen of prehistory might have come up with had they been given a penthouse to live in and state-of-the-art drawing tools instead of charcoal is anybody’s guess.
Artists, on the other hand, consider a different perspective. When food for the body has been provided by Science, Art nourishes the heart and the soul. Appreciation of beauty and affinity towards perfection is what distinguishes humans from the lesser creations of God, and the artist carries the responsibility of pouring life and energy into what would otherwise become the mechanised world of Modern Times. A very commonly quoted anecdote goes like this: If you have an apple and I have an apple and we both exchange our apples, we are left with one apple each. But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we both exchange our ideas, we are left with two ideas each. Carrying this analogy forward, artists of the world are propagating a never ending chain of ideas and visions to millions across the world, through the gratifying exercise of self-expression.

But what is science, if not an attempt at self expression? Let us first attempt to declassify the mind of an artist. For sake of convenience, I assume an imaginary painter of my own construct to be the flag-bearer and representative of all those indulging in the profession of creative arts. The consummate beauty of what she sees – be it through her mind’s eye or through her biological ones – is what serves as the primary inspiration to set it down on a canvas as an expression of what is beautiful. Secondly, the other aspect to her painting is the enjoyable challenge of being able to represent on a two-dimensional piece of paper the precise object of art that she has visualised – glorious in the perfection of its representation. The impeccability of the creation serves as a highly cherished goal. I use the term “object of art” for lack of a better substitute, for it is not always an “object” which captures the fancy of a painter; something as ethereal as an idea may be sufficient for creating a masterpiece. The passion that instigates is thus two-fold, one ethereal and intangible, while the other more substantial and analysis-worthy.

I see here an exact correspondence with the psychology of a scientist. Ask any worshiper of Science about what is it that drives the adrenaline, and the most spontaneous and fundamental answer to that will surely be the sheer joy derived in revelation of the truth. Rumour has it that Sir Isaac Newton had made the mathematical breakthrough in the discovery of Calculus alone and by himself, but initially had not taken the initiative for the magnificent tool to be publicised and put to use by other stalwarts of Science. It had taken some amount of cajoling and persuasion to convince him to make public his discoveries, and we the pursuers of Science are ever grateful that the eccentric genius could be convinced into doing so. But Sir Isaac Newton apart, is the “object of discovery” all that matters, and not the expression of the object? It most certainly does. There is satisfaction to be derived from realisation of the truth, and equally so from communicating the beauty of the discovery in its flawless and immaculate form, to another mind willing to learn.

Leonardo da Vinci - Italian Renaissance polymath
Talented scientists and bright young engineers are often faced with the humongous problem of self-expression. In our society, nothing quite beats “Science” in the race to the peak of the social-approval pyramid – alas! But devotion to Science alone can never be sufficient in realising the full potential of the pursuer. Bypassing the popular discussion on why and how today’s society is stultifying expression and art and promoting mindless rigour, I would beg to stress on the point that proper and accurate expression of thought is as important to a man of Science as it is to a man of Art. Oh the gratification in being able to convey an idea to another person, precisely in the form in which I myself had conceived it! Expression of a mathematical formulation in precise scientific terms is no less an art than penning a razor-edged article where every word is whetted and sharpened to leave a mark. Expression of an idea in the form of seamless composition on the violin is no less a science than derivation of a new scientific concept destined to alter human history.

Each incomplete without the other.
In conclusion, there actually exists no scope for conflict. All the antagonism has its roots in the lack of exchange between the two communities. The barriers of “domains, subjects and streams” created by the narrow annals of contemporary education are partially to blame for this mess. True, it does no good to be a Jack of all trades and a Master at none, and neither is anyone expecting a person to humanly attempt to shine in every field of human excellence. But at the very least, it would do no harm to cultivate a sense of respect and regard for the realms of human reach which we are unfortunate enough to be unable to tap in the single and passing lifetime of a mayfly that God has allotted to each one of us. All of it, after all, comes down to the happiness and bliss in the human action of self-expression.

“Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic.”
-       Albus Dumbledore

      **Published in the October issue of the Elixir magazine.