This is not the first time in recent ages that I’ve ripped the plaster off this debate and it’s with good reason that I do now. Goad the wounds looking for answers on any question and any amount of people will offer a solution. But the greatness of those solutions is never accepted by all. Scientists do not have all the answers and nor should they pretend to. Those who eschew science in favour of the mystics should likewise sit back down, well… because they just should. The humanities choose not to ask the same questions asked by the others, but does not mean they cannot be involved here.
In fact, the strength of providing any challenge with an interesting, if not entertaining, solution comes from drawing on all of the above. It is good to consider many different sources before assuming we have the best thoughts from our typical standpoint. To do this, we need to think differently. For instance, to talk like great scientists, we need to learn to think like artists.
Before anybody accuses me of creating a union between Christ and Belial, I need to point out that I’m stating nothing new. There is a huge history in a post-enlightenment world of scientists being more than that. Over two hundred years ago Birmingham, England, saw the formation of the Lunar Society. These innovators and entrepreneurs came from differing backgrounds and exchanged ideas, working together openly to solve the issues they faced. They were chemists, artists, gardeners, engineers, physicians and potters. but their strength lay in that they didn’t view themselves as sitting in these categories singularly. Rather, they described themselves as ‘natural philosophers’.
And why not? Look at the good that has been accomplished when scientists and artists have worked together though history. Obvious things like photography leap out as examples of geniuses in both camps working together to further their aims. Dazzle camouflage used on the ships used in WWII also illustrates how artists providing first aid to a problem that would be usually attended to in the science ward. Compare the self portrait sketches of Rembrandt with the images used by Dr Paul Ekman while studying facial emotion recognition. It begs the question, was Rembrandt not only the world’s greatest artist but also one of our most under-rated scientists to be studying areas we continue to pursue now?
So, the debate ensues… should scientists think more like artists, or vice versa? A better solution would be stop trying to categorise ourselves into the two cultures. Even though C. P. Snow famously delivered his thoughts on this issue many years ago, there is little evidence of a reuniting of these cultures.
And it is a cultural shift that is required. We need to think more widely about how we choose to communicate our ideas. There are always better ways of demonstrating something you are trying to say. Maybe my examples used here are insufficient and I’d welcome input. After all, I only chose this domain name because www.jonwoodnaturalphilosophy.com seemed a little too long to type every day.
If you consider yourself to be a natural philosopher then please ally yourself to this blog and we can start to heal this cultural wound with more than one BandAid.