Re: art&science

From: Damien Broderick (
Date: Mon Apr 10 2000 - 22:21:31 MDT

>""<> writes:
>> Art, science: what is the (main) difference?
>> My opinion is simple.
>> Sciences have some "attractor-like" pattern.
>> Researchers "discover" exactly the same thing (law, theorem, ...).
>> Even in very different times, countries, "languages" '(i.e. quantum
>> mechanics).
>> That's definitely not true, in art.
>> Michelangelo is far from Raffaello, etc..
>> In art there's not a common language, world, meaning, aim,
>> object, etc.

Here are some comments from my forthcoming (July) Greenwood Press book
TRANSREALIST FICTION that I think somewhat overlap this enquiry:


On the face of it, looked at through traditional prejudice, it's hard to
find a pair of concepts more estranged than `science' and `fiction'. Each
seems to square off against the other, key instances of the celebrated
split between the Two Cultures, artistic humanities versus natural
sciences. Recall a roster of the mythology of their oppositions:
        Science, we suppose, is the disciplined quest for absolute, fundamental
truth. All art, by contrast (to bend Walter Pater's famous dictum) aspires
to the conditional.
        Fiction's home is the heart, while science dwells in the head.
        Science seeks to condense the empirical into broad generalisations,
compress the thousand things into naked equations: the objective. Fiction
strives to render or construct the contingent, the particular, the fleeting
and ambiguous: the subjective.
        Fiction burrows inward, science soars outward.
        Science simplifies into stark graphs valid for all times and places.
Fiction complexifies into nuance, joy, heartbreak, the uncanny, the
sublime, the provisional, the extraordinary within the ordinary.
        Such divisions into contrasted categories swiftly fall apart, however. Is
it fiction or science which is holistic rather than reductive? Science, we
guess at first, is surely the very paradigm of the reductive, stripping the
meat and fat from the bone, boiling down the flensed carcase into a
skeletal substrate, all sumptuous life reduced to numbers. But that's true
also of the mechanics of fiction, as narratologists show us: every imagined
action, in folk story and Tolstoy alike, derives from a handful or two of
types, functions, actants, deployed in words built from an equally small
number of distinguishable acoustic or graphic segments. Meanwhile, even the
most austere and limited science cannot (or should not) escape the context
of its whole surround, as the non-local connections of quantum theory
prove, the vast geometries of Relativity's inertial frames, the dense
ecological webs of the life sciences, the no-less-dense economic and
psychological webs of culture. Fiction's mythemes, science's vectors and
tensors, serve alike to direct us in (re)constructing stories adequate, in
some appropriate and contextually satisfying fashion, to the unspeakable
plenitude of the world.
        So the unpromising zeugma science fiction is not so anomalous after all,
perhaps. Science and fiction alike are attempts on an imaginative embrace
of the world we move through, the world within which we have our being as
striving, suffering, malicious and loving human beings. That world extends,
we now know, from elementary strings or membranes in eleven dimensions
supporting the quantum, all the way out to the unbounded boundaries of a
cosmos tens of billions of light-years in extent, 13 billion years old.
        To sit beside a spark-spitting, hand-warming fire in the dark of the night
and tell stories beneath the stars is to find yourself poised between
infinitesimal and infinite, speaking (even in the tongues of angels, even
with charity) in a language always inadequate to the world's capture. And
even granting those limits, so much of the world is now known best by the
several sciences that it would be absurd and self-mutilating for a
story-teller to ignore that rich, dense and exfoliating wisdom, just as a
scientist lacking utterance, argument, engagement, contest, narrative is
not merely mute but entirely ineffectual qua scientist, let alone as a
fellow denizen of the human community.



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