Art vs. Science: A sign from the Gods

Part of an ongoing series about the humanities and the sciences at UC Berkeley.

Yesterday, I saw a sign from the Gods. Yes, the Gods. I am certain. And can you guess where it was?

In the Bathroom.

See, I told you they were windows into culture or something profound like that.

Now, now: hear me out. For those of you who aren’t Cal students, this requires a little explanation. Recently, the University has proposed raising student fees 15% next semester (det är bra att jag ska till Sverige!) and 40% more the following year (…kanske jag vill inte komma tillbaka!). Also faculty are taking pay cuts across the board, staff are taking furloughs, and students now have three extra days to study at the end of the shortened semester (yeessss. Finally!)

Naturally, this has upset quite a few people. Myself included, as my scholarship will no longer cover my entire tuition. It will be tough on everyone, and everyone is disgruntled. But to be perfectly honest: some are more disgruntled than others. Namely, the humanities departments. Man are they pissed off. So much so that they walked out of class on Thursday. My classes, however (Physics, Geophysics, MatLab) were not canceled. Maxwell’s equations work regardless of budget cuts, unfortunately.

So, what does this have to do with a sign in the bathroom? Well, the sign was quite literally a sign. Not kidding. It was a protest sign someone had left on the shelf below the mirror. Lovingly hand-drawn, it read: “Don’t Hate on the Humanities. Art is Life!” I was struck by it not only because of its convenient, startlingly symbolic location, but because it was absolutely, infallibly true. Art is Life.

But I say: Life is Science. By the commutative property (assuming that ‘art’ and ‘science’ are not matrices), Science is Art.

There was a rather disturbing article published in The Daily Californian the day prior to the protest. It made some pretty bold and some pretty despicable claims. It pretty much bastardized all studies that are not hard sciences-claiming that departments like ethnic studies and theater (o! my beloved!) have no tangible value to society and even accusing some humanities professors of being ‘whiners.’ In short, it was embarrassingly rude and pedantic.

I will not deny that the great majority of those who walked out on Thursday were humanities professors and students. Rebelliousness just seems to be more in their nature. They certainly have more daring wardrobes than scientists (but that’s a whole ‘nother blog post). And it is true that the humanities are feeling the effects of the cuts much more that the sciences. A lot of scientific research is funded by private grants, so research in the hard sciences at UC Berkeley will not be affected to the same degree. Don’t get me wrong: scientist have taken pay cuts, have taken furloughs, and have had to make sacrifices along with everyone else. But for some reason this whole protest seems to have opened up a weird sort of tacit divide on our campus. Scientists find “humanitarians” (for lack of a better word) too excessive, to aggressive, too ‘whiny’. Humanitarians find scientists too detached, too unfeeling. Neither group is correct.

It all comes down to the simple maxim that in their purest forms, art and science not only inextricably intertwined: they are really very much the same thing. They are creation, they are discovery, they are the search for beauty, for knowledge, for truth. They are the ultimate exercise in reflective thought: the embodiment our inexorable attempt to make something out of nothing, to light fires in the darkness, and to transcend physical limitation in our comprehension of the world. They are the best tools we have in our assessment and re-assessment the nature and the human experience, and they cannot exist without on another.

In his book “A Test of Poetry”, renowned poet Louis Zukofsky quotes physicist Micheal Faraday before each chapter. Each quote makes perfect, beautiful sense. Induced currents from changing eclectic field are as complex, as various, as rich, and as telling as verse. And–just consider this–once, Zukofsky read Faraday.

So scientists: don’t hate on the humanities. You owe them your very existence. All humanitarians: likewise. If we walk out, we should walk out together. The bathroom gods demand it.

In short: All physicists should read Zukofsky. All poets should read Faraday.


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3 Responses to “Art vs. Science: A sign from the Gods”

  1. strandsten Says:

    Arielle, this is really amazing to read. You create quite a profound linkage between the two which are often so sadly separated, and it’s really exciting to think about the possibilities of the connection. Now I’m going to find this physics poetry. Ja wohl!

  2. cmcm17 Says:

    1. Signs, poems, and sayings in the bathrooms never lie. I’m not being facetious — I think I have learned some of my most important life-lessons reading the stuff in the bathroom stalls.

    2. This is really brilliant. Your insight that both art and science are searching for truth, beauty, and (yes) creation is wonderful, and I think very apt. Also, I believe the root of science is scientia — knowledge. Often, I’ve felt that a divide between the sciences and the humanities comes from a belief that one group is doing something productive and another is just gaining knowledge for knowledge’s sake. But, at root, both are looking for knowledge and a way to understand our world. (I’m restating you I think)

    Much love!!

    • tornspira Says:

      What a fascinating note about the root of the word science! Thanks cowrinna! leave it to a latinist…

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