Monday, August 11, 2008

Reason excludes creativity and intuition by Keith Tyson in New Scientist

4: Reason excludes creativity and intuition

Reason is lost without art, says Turner prizewinner Keith Tyson. Watch a related video.

Reason excludes creativity and intuition

  • 23 July 2008
  • Special Report from New Scientist Print Edition. Subscribe and get 4 free issues.
  • Artist Keith Tyson

I'M A great lover of science. It's a fascinating language that I use regularly, and its brilliant insights have inspired my artworks, including some based on mathematical systems that are attempting to visualise higher dimensions: things that we can't make a picture of yet which can be described mathematically. The challenge is to find ways I can use concepts that cannot be visualised in two, three or four dimensions, and yet somehow cast shadows into the world, rather like a hypercube. These concepts are very exciting because they're both rational and counterintuitive.

Here art has an advantage over science in that its methodology can be tumbling and contradictory, whereas strict mathematical language tends to be built on axioms, rules of inference and theorems, and has to be consistent. With art you make a creative leap of faith, and later you explain it.

I'm not interested in science as a process, but I am interested in nature, and science is a very convenient and elegant language to use to explore that. I have works I call the Nature Paintings, not because they are pictures of nature, as in Constable, but because they are paintings made by nature, made by the same forces that made me and you, and the Earth.

They happened when I tried to find chemicals with different viscosities and hydrophobic qualities that didn't mix well and reacted in certain ways to heat. I put them together to create chemical reactions that were scale-invariant, so zoom in and the painting looks as intricate and fractally beautiful as it does from a distance. Some of the paintings are reminiscent of cell structures or river basins. My conclusion, rational or otherwise, is that this is because the same mathematical laws, in a closed system, operate in my painting as operate in that cell wall or river basin. So, I really didn't do them, nature did - although I get a cut!

This makes me feel nostalgic for the days when there was no differentiation between being a natural historian or an artist-theologian. The lives of Newton or da Vinci seem much richer. The specification and reductionism of knowledge has given us many technological advancements, but I feel that we've lost a holistic synthesis. That's not a cerebral question, it's an emotional one.

If you're using reason alone, you're looking at the phenomena and at your paradigm. Ultimately, you will change your paradigm to make sense of the paradoxes that occur, so reason can be a very slow process - it requires a very incremental approach, since those axioms must be preserved if the method of reason is going to be maintained.

Using a more intuitive approach can accelerate the process, but to prove or disprove the result by reason is a long process, and as an artist you're impatient. When people say things, you draw conclusions that are not reasonable, but they are emotional or intuitive, and often very fulfilling creatively - science would never accept that.

When we look at the offspring of reason, such as string theory, which is currently getting a bad press, they look as if reason originally came up with extremely elegant ideas but that now they've got very convoluted. My intuition is that a much simpler paradigm is required to solve the problem: so long as you're trying to solve it using the kind of thinking that created it, you'll come up with complex, bizarre ideas. If you're going to have a grand unified idea of reality, which is basically the simplest reflection of your paradigm, it's hard to do that the incremental way because you can't make a sweeping judgement: you're "artistically" stuck in your process!

Read about all the problems with reason in our special issue

From issue 2666 of New Scientist magazine, 23 July 2008, page 47

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