Science, CERN and Art
I won’t go too much into what he wrote, because I’d like you to go there and read it, but he wrote about how he’s never really been interested in science, but enjoyed Chris’ article in the Guardian yesterday. Sizemore said:
Science needs the arts. It takes a satirical writer like Morris to reveal the absurdity and potential combined in something as jaw dropping as a God Particle emerging in a Compact Muon Solenoid. If this were not science it’d fit just as snugly on Brass Eye.
I wrote a reply and tried to post it on the blog, but all text formatting is lost entirely within the comments so it all came out as one, unreadable blob of text. I will post my reply here, link to it from there, and hopefully they’ll sort out the comments so i can post it in its entirety there. (below the fold)
Science doesn’t need Art. We don’t need ballet to prove gravity. We don’t need literature to make a laptop work. We don’t need rock bands to discover electricity.
Yes, I’m being facetious.
The Arts (and I include Religion in that) and Science are two sides of the same coin. A Poet may work to convey the emotions felt when looking at a sunset. An Astronomer may work to prove that the Sun isn’t actually travelling across the sky, but that the Earth is spinning on its axis whilst it travels around the Sun in a cosmic dance. A Musician may work to write symphonies which move us so greatly we think that playing them to our children will make them better people. A Scientist may work to find a way of using inaudible sound frequencies to create images of your unborn child. A Religious Writer may come up with a story about how the Universe was started by a supernatural being. Physicists at CERN are working to find out exactly what the Universe was like less than a billionth of a second after Time began. Both the Artist and the Scientist are looking to explain the human experience.
The role of the Artist is to seek out the profound and re-package it in a way that allows the rest of us to take a shortcut to ‘the answer’. Science, however, requires one to work just a little bit to see the profundity. Take one sentence from the paragraph you chose from Chris Morris’ article:
“We are making the coldest place in the universe.”
It’s actually EASY to reply, “Yea, whatever, that’s boring” to that. It takes a tiny bit of work to really think about what that sentence means, to realise the enormity of it. The diameter of the visible Universe is thought to be 92 billion light years across. There are 100 billion galaxies each containing 100 billion Stars. Some of those Stars are so much larger than our Sun that were they in the Sun’s position they would engulf all the planets up to and including Jupiter. And at CERN, we are making the 27km tunnel, which is located 100 metres underground, colder than the space between the Stars in our ridiculously enormous Universe.
WE are doing that. Not ‘the Scientists’, not ‘them’. WE. US. All of us. Just like WE went to the Moon, we are all a part of what is happening at CERN. To ignore it, to dismiss it or even to try and convince ones self that it’s ‘a waste of money’, ‘pointless’ or ‘elitist’ is, I think, to choose to deny yourself the chance to truly experience life.
It seems to be culturally acceptable to say, ‘I don’t understand science’ or ‘I think science is boring’ or ‘I don’t get what the big deal is about science’ in a way that one never hears about the arts. ‘I don’t understand music.’ ‘I think literature is boring.’ ‘I don’t get what the big deal is about art.’ Honestly, would you ever hear those latter sentences on something like The Late Review? Of course not. But I have heard people, supposed ‘intellectuals’, utter the former. They may be ‘good with words’, but in my eyes they are using ‘vocabulary’ to surf along the top of the true depths of the human experience.
The problem is, of course, that the vast majority of our politicians are Arts graduates. The vast majority of the people working in our Media, even within Science programming, are Arts graduates. Our celebrities and the famous for being famous are more often than not from the Arts. It is culturally acceptable, and I may even go so far as to say that it is encouraged within our culture, to be scientifically illiterate.
It’s seemingly easy for everyone to forget that the reason we are able to enjoy ‘Art’ is because of the scientific foundations on which it is built. From the ancient chemists experimenting to create pigments, paints and dyes from plants and animals around them, all the way to the last experiment at CERN that developed the World Wide Web, which allows people to watch last week’s Doctor Who on the iPlayer. The Arts has always needed Science. Maybe it’s time to give something back.
Science needs Artists. It needs people who have dedicated themselves to communicating emotions. People who may not have a science education, but who ‘get it’, even if they don’t really ‘understand’ it. People who take the tiniest amount of time to think about the remarkable discoveries being made and *feel* something (if you can watch this and not at least well up a little, then I can’t believe you are human!). People who see the awe and wonder in the real, physical Universe and want to share that with everyone else. People who understand that the discoveries being made really are for all mankind. People who are practised at recognising the profound and ‘re-packaging’ it for others to discover.
Scientists are not some other species. They are human beings. They fall in love. They fall out of love. They have parents. They have children. They have friends. They have favourite films, favourite books, favourite paintings, favourite songs. They are not disconnected from the world of Art and Emotion in the way that many Artists are disconnected from the world of Science.
Science cuts through cultural differences, it cuts through emotions, it cuts through interpretation and tries directly to answer the big questions. But after thousands of years of using the Arts as a filter through which we see someone else’s interpretation of what ‘the answer’ is, we have seemingly forgotten how to recognise the big questions.
How did we get here?
What are we made of?
Why do we exist at all?
I think this is what Science is all about- ‘the big questions’.