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Converging Streams: Art and Science

A meditation on the ways art and science “converge and coalesce” in the human search for understanding. Read about the creation of this piece:

Narrator and artist: Alioscia Hamma, lecturer in the Perimeter Scholars International (PSI) program and Associate Professor, Tsinghua University, China.

[Closed captioning can be toggled on in bottom-right of video]

“Two traditions have traversed the history of Western art and science, converging like two streams sharing the same riverbed.

The Platonic tradition holds that appearance is but an illusion – that reality lies beyond the veil of perception in an ideal world governed by beauty and symmetry. This is the tradition exemplified by Emmy Noether’s theorem, which connects symmetry and conservation laws in physics. It is the tradition underlying the art of the renaissance painters – Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo. In this view, we are the inhabitants of Plato’s cave, seeing only the flickering shadows of reality.

The other tradition – a Galilean tradition – seeks not to approximate some perfect ideal, but to understand the presence of nature as it makes entrance into our experience. This is the tradition of empirical scientists, who probe and measure physical reality as it presents itself to us. In art, it is the impressionistic tradition of Velasquez, Monet, Renoir.

In physics, both streams of thought antagonize and coalesce as we seek to understand the universe.

The Platonic tradition demands that the laws of physics possess mathematical beauty. Beauty is the way to truth.

The Galilean tradition is sensory. It venerates the presence of Nature and demands that we heed our experiences. It implores us to observe and measure reality as it is presented to us through our senses.

When we make art, when we do physics, we breathe both traditions. We need Plato and Galileo. We need Emmy Noether and Claude Monet. We need string theory and apples falling from trees.

It is in this tension – in the swirling eddies of converging streams – that we find vitality in the human adventure.”

Join the conversation:

Video recorded/edited by Max Lantz. Interview and writing by Colin Hunter. Recorded at Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, 2015.


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