Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Relationships between Arts and Science

These days we often find the topics on the relation between arts and science in newspapers. (Here I mean arts and humanities by "arts," and natural sciences by "science.") An example is the news that the Faculty of Culture and Information Science was opened in April 2005 at Kyotanabe Campus of Doshisha University, Kyoto, Japan [1].

At the Web site of the Doshisha University [2] they write the characteristics of this faculty as follows: "The educational programs are designed for students to understand the significance of cultures by analyzing them with the concept of data science. The curriculum promotes the interdisciplinary methods which connect the traditional studies in the field of humanities with information science."

This is a trend to be welcomed in education and research at universities. However, the analysis of the products of humanities by the method of science is only one of many possible aspects of interaction between arts and science. I write here a few examples of other aspects I have learned from the book-review pages of the science journal "Nature" (It is to be noted that the book review pages in this journal have been entitled "Books & Arts" since 2003, and includes introductions to exhibitions and stage arts related to science or the "Science in Culture" column.)

In the book "Madam Bovary's Ovaries" [3], David Barash and Nanelle Barash attempted to interpret fiction in terms of biology. The reviewer of the book, Michel Raymond writes [4] that the classical boundaries between biology and the social sciences are fading away and that the above authors explore various aspects of human mating strategies, rooting human behaviors within the animal repertoire and using novels instead of scholarly publications. Raymond also gives a useful suggestion that an evolutionary book could provide some welcome insights on the historical origin of the novel in various human cultures and its relationship with other kinds of literature such as myths or fairly tales.

The neuroscientist Steven Rose published the book "The 21st-Century Brain" [5]. The reviewer John Marshall of this book writes as follows [6]: Rose stresses the observation that individual life stories are shaped by culture, society and technology and is even prepared to believe that science is perhaps intrinsically incomplete and must be complemented by the kind of knowledge we gain from arts. Marshall warns that Rose's observation, however true, does little to bridge the gap between brain and mind. At this point it does not seem that Marshall looks at the future.

The above examples are related to the usefulness of arts to complement research in science. The next example shows an aspect different from these.

Paul Davies reviewed [7] the book "Warped Passages" written by Lisa Randall [8]. This is a book for general readers on hidden dimensions being studied at the frontier of theoretical physics. Davis writes, "Perhaps readers don't really intend to follow [popular-science books] studiously, but wade through the expositions as a cultural experience, rather like reflecting on a Jackson Pollock painting -- you know it's very clever and you assume it means something profound to the creator." [Pollock (1912-1956) is an American painter famous for drip painting.] Davies's words may be a little extreme, but suggest that artists and scientists can learn each other about their methods of expressions.

  1. Asahi-Shimbun (April 8, 2005).
  2. Web site, Doshisha University.
  3. D. P. Barash and N. R. Barash, "Madam Bovary's Ovaries: A Darwinian Look at Literature" (Delacorte Press, 2005).
  4. M. Raymond, Nature Vol. 435, p. 28 (2005).
  5. S. Rose, "The 21st-Century Brain: Explaining, Mending and Manipulating the Mind" (Jonathan Cape, 2005); Published in the US as "The Future of the Brain" (Oxford University Press, 2005).
  6. J. C. Marshall, Nature Vol. 435, p. 27 (2005).
  7. P. Davies, Nature Vol. 435, p. 1161 (2005).
  8. L. Randall, "Warped Passages: Unravelling the Universe's Hidden Dimensions" (Allen Lane, 2005); To be published in the US in September by Ecco (HarperCollins).

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