Home | Blogs | Mad professors and free spirits

Mad professors and free spirits

idea.nottingham.ac.uk image: Dementia Day to Day blogs banner

Topics: 
approaches to dementia care, creative writing, research
Jim Findlay and Ulrike Johansson in Inside Out of Mind, written and directed by Tanya Myers of Meeting Ground theatre company

In generating public understanding about dementia, the arts and social sciences have as much to offer as neuroscience.  This is the starting-point of a group which has been invited to take up the 2016-2018 residency in The Hub at Wellcome Collection, a flagship space and resource for interdisciplinary projects exploring health and wellbeing. Bringing together a rich network including scientists, artists, clinicians, public health experts and broadcasters, the group will examine and challenge perceptions of dementia through both scientific and creative experimentation. They have been awarded £1 million to develop the project over two years. More than 60 individuals, charities and institutions in field of dementia and the arts will be involved in the hub, led by Sebastian Crutch (Project Director; UCL Dementia Research Centre).  The goal of this hub – yet to be formally named - is ‘to shape, enrich and inform the public and professional perception and understanding of dementia through science and the creative arts’. Its ambition is to ‘change the way scientists and artists interact’.  Of course that is a false dichotomy: we are all artists insofar as we have creativity programmed into us; and in a sense we are all scientists discovering and navigating the world around us by experimentation. Yet we are categorised from an early age, told what we can and cannot do well, encouraged in certain trajectories by well-meaning parents and teachers. As a grown-up academic researcher I fall into the ‘scientist’ category.  Yet what I do is entirely creative: I generate knowledge out of data, design complex studies to answer difficult questions, nurture talent and compose prose which is intended to convey ideas in a meaningful way.  I’d argue that the concentration which this work – science – demands and the satisfaction to be derived from it are just as profound as those experienced by a skilled artist. So where is the divide between an artist and scientist?  Communication and the pursuit of understanding seem to be a common purpose.  Leaving aside stereotypes (mad professor and free spirit) it seems to me to be something to do with how each relates to their respective community. Perhaps scientists observe shared norms, whereas artists – or so I assume – resist being governed?   I will leave you to reflect on this conundrum – please share your thoughts with other readers of this blog. 

Your comments

You'd be very welcome to leave a comment on this blog post. 

Your comment won't appear straight away as we'll need to check it first: thank you for your patience.

When leaving comments please bear in mind our posting rules.

"The source of all true art and science"

Professor Schneider highlights an interesting and relevant topic; the divide between artist and scientist. I for one wrestled with this conundrum for most of my academic life. In order to answer it one needs to ask another question; ‘where is the divide between art and science?’

As a child, my parents were told by my teachers I was good at music and math (the latter being the subject of boasting in conversations of course). Math was seen as the key to my education, whilst music was the enjoyable past-time I could pursue in my spare time. They were separate subjects both governed by their own finite paradigms.

Like any loving parents, mine wanted what was best for me… and so, I was forced against my will to attend grimace-inducing, ear-screeching violin lessons! However, in time, chaotic noise transcended into controlled and expressive musical notes (the divide between noise and music is a topic for another day). Little did I know back then, this experience would lead to a profound passion for the arts. I fell in love with music.

I also loved math. I loved that “Eureka” moment I had when I wrapped my head around a difficult concept and it just clicked. I loved the sense of reward gained from reaching the correct answer after countless pages of calculations (I stress the correct answer since an incorrect one would arouse quite the opposite feeling!).

Certainly music and math are, in certain ways, attuned to one another. There are basic uses for mathematics in music production (tone, frequencies, tuning systems, etc.) and in music theory (scale constructs, harmonies, etc.). There have even been musical applications of abstract algebra, set theory and number theory with some composers incorporating the ‘golden ratio’ and Fibonacci numbers into their work. So, where is the divide?

In school, my guidance counsellor would have me believe that scientists are not creative and artists are not logical. Yet, having completed a BA in Psychology and MA in Music Therapy, I’d argue that both traits are essential in both professions (although I would also speculate the logic in the life choices of certain artists!). Artists and scientists are bound by a common goal and purpose. They are avatars of human creativity.

The difference between the arts and science is not that they are two sides to the same coin, or even different branches from the same tree. They are manifestations of the same thing; our curiosity. Einstein once said; “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science.”

Math provided me with an understanding of universal laws while music provided me with the ability express myself. Similarly, science provides us with an understanding of the universal experience while the arts provide a universal understanding of personal experience. Science might explain a feeling whereas the arts communicate it.

Artists may very well resist being governed by rules, as Professor Schneider illuminates. However, it seems rules are necessary in order to create art, just as rules are necessary in order for the scientist to understand. Artists use rules to channel their creativity. They test their limits or find the exception to the rule. They embrace whatever obstacle is before them, conceptual or real.

Perhaps science needs artists to “break the rules”. The arts have an innate and endless capacity for communication, expression, and shared experience. Considering some limitations of the scientific, evidenced-based paradigm, the arts have a crucial role to play in developing new models of scientific thinking. In the same way that necessity breathes invention, embracing limitations drives creativity. If we embrace our limitations, who knows what we might create? If we play the music of our math, who knows what we might hear?

Professor Schneider

Professor Schneider highlights an interesting and relevant topic; the divide between artist and scientist. I for one wrestled with this conundrum for most of my academic life. In order to answer it one needs to ask another question; ‘where is the divide between art and science?’

As a child, my parents were told by my teachers I was good at music and math (the latter being the subject of boasting in conversations). Math was seen as the key to my education, whilst music was the enjoyable past-time I could pursue in recreationally. They were separate subjects both governed by their own finite paradigms.  

Like any loving parents, mine wanted what was best for me… and so, I was forced against my will to attend grimace-inducing, ear-screeching violin lessons! However, in time, chaotic noise transcended into controlled and expressive musical notes (the divide between noise and music is a topic for another day). Little did I back then, this experience would lead to a profound passion for the arts. I fell in love with music.

I also loved math. I loved that “Eureka” moment I had when I wrapped my head around a difficult concept and it just clicked. I loved the sense of reward gained from reaching the correct answer after countless pages of calculations (I stress the correct answer since an incorrect one would arouse quite the opposite feeling!).

Certainly music and math are, in certain ways, attuned to one another. There are basic uses for mathematics in music production (tone, frequencies, tuning systems, etc.) and in music theory (scale constructs, harmonies, etc.). There have even been musical applications of abstract algebra, set theory and number theory with some composers incorporating the ‘golden ratio’ and Fibonacci numbers into their work. So, where is the divide?

In school, my guidance counsellor would have me believe that scientists are not creative and artists are not logical. Yet, having completed a BA in Psychology and MA in Music Therapy, I’d argue that both traits are essential in both professions (although I would also speculate the logic in the life choices of certain artists!). Artists and scientists are bound by a common goal and purpose. They are avatars of human creativity.

The difference between the arts and science is not that they are two sides to the same coin, or even different branches from the same tree. They are manifestations of the same thing; our curiosity. Einstein once said; “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science.”

Math provided me with an understanding of universal laws while music provided me with the ability express myself. Similarly, science provides us with an understanding of the universal experience while the arts provide a universal understanding of personal experience. Science might explain a feeling whereas the arts communicate it.

Artists may very well resist being governed by rules, as Professor Schneider illuminates. However, it seems rules are necessary in order to create art, just as rules are necessary in order for the scientist to understand. Artists use rules to channel their creativity. They test their limits or find the exception to the rule. They embrace whatever obstacle is before them, conceptual or real.

Perhaps science needs creative thinkers to “break the rules”. The arts have an innate and endless capacity for communication, expression, and shared experience. Considering some limitations of the scientific, evidenced-based paradigm, the arts have a crucial role to play in developing new models of scientific thinking. In the same way that necessity breathes invention, embracing limitations drives creativity. If we embrace our limitations, who knows what we might create?  If we play the music of our math, who knows what we might hear?

Add new comment

CAPTCHA
This is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

See more like this

Emma Broome

This month, Professor Cathy Greenblat has been visiting the TAnDem Arts and Dementia Doctoral Training Centre. Cathy, a former Professor of Sociology, has engaged in photographic projects around aging, dementia and end of life care.  Her work has become well known with people working in the demen

Anne de Gruchy

This is a tale of woe! For want of a Health and Welfare Lasting Power of Attorney (POA) our family find ourselves with a Catch 22 dilemma in getting services for my dad. We are going in circles, believe me, we are going in circles! Please read, and take note, all you carers out there…

Anne de Gruchy

The situation with my lovely dad is becoming untenable. ‘Becoming’ is probably rather too tame a word for it – things have changed rapidly over the last nine months and I feel like we are dealing with a runaway steam train (dad would love that analogy) about to hit the buffers.