Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Art that sparks science questions

Some of us are looking for examples of art that precedes and sparks science.

Demonstrations of the opposite are easier to find, given that they result in an obvious artwork, and artists tend to discuss their motivations and influences more than scientists do.

As examples, see the previous post about the movie Interstellar, the discovery of accurate turbulence in Van Gogh's "Starry Night", Ed Belbruno's use of painting to discover natural phenomenon he then describes mathematically, and this fascinating documentary segment from CERN about photography:

The Invisible Photograph: Part 5 (Subatomic) from Carnegie Museum of Art on Vimeo.

I'd also propose this interesting bit that went around a few years back. it discussed how the CGI animators for the Lord of the Rings movies battle sequences were having trouble because they programmed their characters with AI (essentially, free-will) in order to avoid the artificial look of pre-programmed animation behavior.

Unfortunately for the animators, the characters wisely chose to run away rather than fight! As it turns out, this was apparently a bug in the software, but it triggered some intense discussion about the science of behavior, artificial intelligence, emergent properties, and the fight or flight response.


...I was showing them a book form, a pleated structure that sort of rotated around on itself, and this guy stood up and said, ‘That’s it!’ He had been working on something called an autophagosome, which has a double cell membrane and rotates around on itself during cellular division.” (...it’s like a temporary garbage truck that delivers cell waste to a lysosome, so that waste can be broken down) “He’d been trying for years to to visually depict how it moves. He could see it in his head, but couldn’t get it as a flat image to show his students. My book form moved the way forward.”
"Scientific thinking is almost synonymous with recognizing and forming patterns. Every hypothesis and theory is the discovery of a pattern within some set of observations. For this reason, artists, choreographers, and musicians, whose works invariably invent and play with patterns, have a great deal to teach scientists (Root-Bernstein & Root-Bernstein, 1999).

The father of the famous physicist Richard Feynman clearly understood this connection. He introduced his son to patterning games very much like those taught at such art schools as the Bauhaus when the boy was still a toddler. One of those games involved colored tiles like those used to make mosaics. Feynman senior would start a pattern and see whether Richard could finish it. Soon the boy was making up his own patterns and yet another pattern was set in motion (Feynman, 1988). As an adult, Richard Feynman discovered many new patterns in physics, which later won him a Nobel Prize.

Ned Seeman, one of the founders of the new science of nanotechnology (the making of functional objects out of molecule-sized materials), was similarly inspired by M. C. Escher’s patterns. Stumped by a problem concerning ways to make cubic structures out of DNA, Seeman realized that an Escher print that pictured a school of fish-like creatures swimming in three dimensions provided the solution (Nadrian Seeman, n.d.). Seeman now studies artists’ patterns explicitly for their insights into the processes of making structures (Seeman,in press).

Other scientists have also looked to the work of artists—or used their expressive forms—to hunt for clues to hidden patterns. Physicists, for instance, have worked with choreographers to illuminate the movement patterns of electrons; microbiologists have squaredanced their way through the processes of gene regulation. Some educators have likewise used creative movement in the science classroom. Witness Zafra Lerman’s work teaching chemistry through dance and theater."

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