Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Art vs. science? The battle that never was | NASA’s Michelle Thaller | Big Think

Fernando, I think you’re doing somethingthat has been a real passion part of my life and that is that you’re combining scienceand art. And I think it was a mistake in our cultureto ever separate the two. There’s a lot of mythology around that. People often talk about, for example, “rightbrain” versus “left brain” and a lot of people don’t realize that there’s reallyno scientific evidence of that at all; it’s more of an analogy than anything else. There isn’t one part of your brain that’slogical and scientific and another that creative and artistic. .

And I find that there’s as much realityand profound exploration of the universe that can be done through art as is done throughscience. I think they are different ways of humansexploring and pushing the boundaries of what we know and what we can do. And one of the things that I’ve been veryproud in my life is collaborating with artists trying to actually add science into theirart. And at NASA we actually have many, many artiststhat work for us. Some of them do things that are fairly routinein the sense that we have lots of data coming in from the Hubble Space Telescope and theartists may help us get the images looking .

Beautiful, help us frame them right. We may have data coming in from earth sciencesatellites just in the form of numbers, and artists help us make that into beautiful mapsand simulations that help us understand the atmosphere. But it might surprise you to know that weactually have conceptual artists at NASA too. Artist that aren’t tasked with dealing withimagery or data, but they’re asked simply to interpret discoveries through their art. And one of the most amazing people at NASAis a man named Dan Goods of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and you can find him on the Internetand he’s done TED Talks on this as well. .

And Dan simply is a conceptual artist tryingto make people understand viscerally how profound some of the discoveries we make are. He’s done art installations about planetsaround other stars. There’s one that gets me every time, it’svery simple: you walk into the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and there’s a floor to ceilingseries of just clear plastic columns and they have little LED lights inside them. And Dan has linked this—in real time—towhen we are uploading instructions to our spacecraft in space and when we are downloadingthe data, and you actually see that as lights, little lights in the LEDs in the columns movingup towards space in a beautiful pattern. .

And then when we’re downloading data sayfrom a spacecraft around Jupiter, when we’re receiving it you see the lights coming downas new information comes down from space. And as you walk around during your day atJPL you see the pulse of discovery right in front of you, and it’s real, it’s actuallylinked to the commands coming to and from the spacecraft. So it makes you pause and think about whatyou’re doing, and this is to me the real core of art to make you stop, question thereality around you, think about what’s really going on and how you can view it differently. So, many organizations take this very seriously:there are workshops, there are conferences .

On the intersection of arts and science, there’seven a new acronym. You may have heard of the acronym STEM ineducation, which stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics. And a lot of people across the disciplineacross the world are trying to change that to STEAM, science, technology, engineering,arts and mathematics. They’re not separate. They should be presented as a whole. People learn science differently. People’s minds work differently. .

Art can help people learn science. So there is really this wonderful synergythat can exist between art and science. So there isn’t a single institution I canpoint you to in terms of these people specialize in that, but know that there really is a veryserious inclusion of art in the science that’s going on right now and that needs to continue,I think even for the survival of science. We have to make something relevant to ourculture and relevant to people, and art is going to help us do that.

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