Working in the Medium of Science

Jascha Hoffman in The New York Times:

BookScientists are logical, making observations and running experiments, then building theories that explain the data. Artists are emotional, working in solitude and by intuition. Or so we are told. In “Colliding Worlds,” the historian and philosopher Arthur I. Miller argues that artists and scientists have always had the same mission: to “fathom the reality beyond appearances, the world invisible to our eyes.” And he argues that after drifting apart during the Enlightenment, the twin branches of understanding have been coming back together over the last century, a reunification that is accelerating in the digital age.

Dr. Miller’s encyclopedic survey begins at the dawn of the 20th century, when physicists as well as painters were testing radical new models of space and time. In the vein of his previous book “Einstein, Picasso,” Dr. Miller shows how the discovery of quantum mechanics inspired a generation of avant-garde artists, including Picasso, Kandinsky and Dalí, who said, “It is with pi-mesons and the most gelatinous and indeterminate neutrinos that I want to paint the beauty of the angels and of reality.” Starting in the 1980s, Dr. Miller began to spend time with artists who have found their muse in science, and has watched as the scene grew. He knows the field like few others, interviewing many of the artists for hours at a stretch and visiting museums, galleries, media labs, and corporate behemoths like Pixar and Google. Inventors and engineers make up a large share of his subjects, among them Neri Oxman, who is using her knowledge of bone formation to design better buildings from concrete, and David Edwards, the founder of Le Laboratoire in Paris, who has come up with methods for inhaling food and beverages and transmitting odors using cellphones.

More here.