The following is neither art nor science. It is an opinion’s piece, an euphemism for custodial business on weekends. It is also inspired by Feyman’s “On Beauty” interview.
Fitting the universe on a snowflake
September 14 2012, Published in the Silhouette
I’m sorry. It might be bad to begin with an apology, and it might foreshadow a sympathetic, yet brooding tone. But know that I am sorry. I am sorry that you are stultified by an avalanche of books. I am sorry that you might be a fan of the Bobcats.
Most of all, I am sorry to say that art by itself – although an ubiquitous, available way to communicate the wonders of the world and although being entrenched in the very core of human existence – is not important. Believe it. For in this world, only both science and art hold any value.
Don’t swallow your paintbrush. Don’t tilt your head like this were all an abstract painting. The paragraphs are simple; the sentences even more so. There is no hidden meaning, no suggestive prose unsaid. All there is, and all there has been since humankind thought it prudent to scribble images onto a cave, is art – and in this art, is science.
Most would disagree. Seeing the world through a lens of self-possessed realism, they cling to the claim that the two are diametrically opposed. Art is an appreciation of the beautiful, a form of discovery reserved for the individual. Using the rocket fuel of creative juices, it manifests itself in every form of life.
This, of course, is undeniable. For better or for worse, art is everywhere. From a candy wrapper designed to entice the eyes to the very shape of the candy itself, art, or at least as far as the element of aesthetic appeal goes, maintains an intricate part of one’s cultural livelihood. Now as I sit in the Silhouette basement, this is certainly true. While ANDY editors work tirelessly to uncover the latest Hamiltonian trends, and posters suffocate the office’s free space, I am stuck in the smorgasbord of arts. Even this very sentence, a product of hair-pulling and late night coffee crawls, is perhaps considered an artwork by some – though probably not.
Science – or so people assert – is quite the opposite from art’s requisite beauty. Rather than being a meticulous endeavor into the innate, it is seen as a cold shuffling of the furniture of the universe. With pipettes and volumetric flasks, nuclear magnetic resonance and infrared spectra, the world loses its beauty when science uncovers the reason for it. It is an analysis, not a poem. And besides, who could see interest or beauty in the digestive system of an earthworm anyways?
I have a friend, an artist no less, who thinks as much. During a winter storm one year, he said, “Look how beautiful this all is. The carpet of snow, the bubbling of clouds – you scientists take it apart and make it dull.” With dark hazel eyes gleaming in a veil of whiteness, he thought that something so fascinatingly unique and geometrically perfect could only be appreciated as an art form.
I’m not sure. In fact, I am unsure about almost everything, even about being unsure. I live with uncertainty. Most of the happenings around me are explained with deep doubts, narrow approximations and unlikely probabilities. I know very little about this world, and for most things, I know nothing at all.
But there in the snow conjured straight from a Robert Frost poem, I couldn’t disagree more. To take my friend’s example, beauty is much more than face value. It does not simply belong to art just as it is not one-dimensional. To admire a snowflake falling is to forget how the snowflake falls. The snowflake is beautiful because it can fall, not because it is falling. It is not guaranteed to fall. Theoretically, we expect it to. And that’s comforting.
It is in this comfort, in this ability to explain the world with a scrupulous eye and an even more scrupulous hand, that art becomes a science and science becomes an art. Only by looking at the two, acknowledging both their intricate skills, their necessary conceits, and their meticulous designs, from art’s carnal imagination and passion to science’s hard analysis and rigor, can one truly appreciate the world. This is because the two are not different. Rather, they are one of the same.
In my friend’s case, not only did I see the majesty my friend observed, I saw everything else he didn’t. I thought of how the regular crystalline structure formed perfect little hexagonal crystals because of the hydrogen bonds electrostatic interactions; how this resulted in lower density than the liquid state, which in turn allows for the survival of aquatic life during the winter months; how this little water portion cycled through winds that bellowed throughout the whole world; how the world was a little rock knee deep in a cosmic sea; how the cosmic sea was in a Universe larger than we can observe; how we were part of this Universe and, more importantly, how it was part of us, the snowflake and everything else.
This deep connection with everything and anything was what made it beautiful. For the ultimate conclusion is not just appreciation, but the understanding that science and art both fit the whole of the Universe onto a snowflake. In fact, the Universe has no where else to go.