How Artists and Scientists Explain the World

The Cosmos We Seek to Explain

Artists and scientists explain the world in very different ways. Surprisingly, scientists are abstract while artists are concrete. (Image: public domain.)

A crucial aspect of all creative work is the attempt to garner, and then communicate, insights into our lives and the world in which we live. The shallower forms of popular psychology seem to have influenced many creativity researchers and authors who write books about the creative process. One commonly meets the claim that the creative process is identical in both artists and scientists. In fact, to wander just a bit, some writers go so far as to say everyone probably has the same capacity for creativity. It just manifests in different ways depending on where the individual’s interests lie or what his life situation is. These notions may sell books by making the average person feel they are as creative as anyone else is, but they do nothing to explain the obvious reality that some folks stand far above the rest when it comes to creative ability.

Let us return to the idea that the creative process is identical in both artists and scientists. It is a huge mistake to lump the two types of creators in the same category. We must remember that the artist wants to embody his vision in a physical object, or in the case of writers, in a story about physical objects and people. To paint, sculpt, or tell a tale, artists start with people and objects as they are in the real world. Their goal is to communicate what they know about their subject in a simple straightforward manner that anyone can understand. The process does not require a lot of conceptualization. In fact, too much conceptualization will ruin the quality of the work by making it hard to comprehend.

Scientists have a radically different goal. Like artists, they want to explain the world, but they do not illuminate reality by modelling it from a particular perspective. They are looking for a theory based on high-level conceptualization and abstract ideas. Instead of setting the stage and doing a play, they go behind the scenes to explain the rules of drama, the various acting methods, lighting techniques, and so on. The very same conceptualization that wrecks the artist’s work is the essence of the scientist’s endeavours.

The tendency to lump everything together has always been popular. Some people just naturally prefer a “one size fits all” explanation. Unfortunately, we pay a price for this rudimentary approach. Notice how such a simple position brings all discussion to a halt. That is it. Problem solved. We can dust off our hands and move on to the next job. My favourite saying from the populous world of shallow philosophizing and obscurantist mysticism is that old chestnut: “Everything is one.” Wow! The entire cosmos, past, present, and future reduced to a single facile conceptualization. Now we can all feel safe. I only hope our poor heads do not crack from boredom!

The all-is-one philosophy ignores the reality that creative individuals of all kinds are unusually sensitive to subtle differences. Instead of lumping everything together, they tease things apart to reveal new perspectives and illuminating insights.

Author: Thomas Cotterill

I am a manic-depressive made philosophical by my long struggle with the disruptive mood disorder, during which I spent sixteen years living as a forest hermit. I write philosophical essays, fantasy, and science fiction. My attempt to integrate creativity, psychology, philosophy, and spirituality imbues everything I write. You will find hundreds of related essays and articles on my blog. I live quietly in British Columbia's scenic Fraser Valley, a beautiful place in which to wax philosophical.

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