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Friday, March 15, 2019

Is there room for creative imagination in science? | Arts & Humanities / Music - OUPblog

Not just once, but repeatedly, I have heard something like “I just didn’t see in science any room for my own imagination or creativity,” from young students clearly able to succeed at any subject they set their minds to, says Tom McLeish, Professor of Natural Philosophy at York University.

It is a tragedy that so many people do not perceive science as a creative. Yet it doesn’t take an Einstein to observe that without that essential creative first step of re-imagining what might be going on behind a natural phenomenon, there can be no science at all.

Einstein had something to say on the matter. As he wrote in his book with Leopold Infeld, “I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”

Every scientist knows this, but for two centuries we have been quiet about the imaginative first step of science, preferring stories that stress the empirical method or the logic of scientific discovery. Science education is full of it, focussing on final results, rather than the journeys toward them. Human stories of wonder, imagination, failed ideas, and glorious moments of illumination thread through the lives of all who actually do science. No wonder my young colleagues became disillusioned...

The project of listening to anyone who creates—be it with music or mathematics, oil paint or quantum theory—and the creative power of the constraints creators encounter, became a fascinating project.
A pattern of three modes of creative expression emerged...

As George Steiner wrote in his wonderful account of art and meaning, Real Presences: “Only art can go some way towards making accessible, towards waking into some measure of communicability, the sheer inhuman otherness of matter.” Precisely the same could be said of science.
Read more... 

Recommended Reading

The Poetry and Music of Science: Comparing Creativity in Science and Art
by Tom McLeish.
Source: OUPblog