Art and science aren't at odds with each other. They are just different ways of understanding the world, friends rather than foes. Many artists love science. Many scientists love the arts.
The notion that scientists are cold-blooded creatures who only care about objective reality obviously is ridiculous. But some people believe in that ridiculous notion.
So that's why I'm sharing some passages from physicist Brian Greene's new book, "Until the End of Time: Mind, Matter, and Our Search for Meaning in an Evolving Universe."
Here's part of what Greene says about art in his book's Instinct and Creativity chapter.
Art may have had adaptive utility directly at the level of the individual, a perspective I find particularly compelling. The arts provide an arena unbounded by the strictures of flat-footed truth and everyday physical reality, allowing the mind to jump and twist and tumble as it explores all manner of imagined novelty.
A mind that assiduously sticks to what's true is a mind that explores a wholly limited realm of possibility. But a mind that becomes accustomed to freely crossing the boundary between what's real and what's imagined -- all the while keeping clear tabs on which is which -- is a mind that becomes adept at breaking the bonds of conventional thinking. Such a mind is primed for innovation and ingenuity.
...I'm partial to the view that sharpening ingenuity, exercising creativity, broadening perspective, and building cohesion provides a template for how the arts mattered to natural selection.
With this perspective the arts join language, story, myth, and religion as the means by which the human mind thinks symbolically, reasons counterfactually, imagines freely, and works collaboratively. Over the sweep of time, it is these capacities that have given rise to our culturally, scientifically, and technologically rich world.
All the same, even if your view of art's evolutionary role veers toward creamy desserts, we can surely agree that myriad forms of art have been a steady and valued presence throughout human history. Which means that inner lives and social exchanges have embraced modes of engagement that do not place a premium on factual information conveyed through language.
...The most arresting art can induce in us rarefied states of mind and body comparable to those reduced by our most affecting real-world encounters, similarly molding and enhancing our engagement with truth.
Discussion, analysis, and interpretation can further shape these experiences, but the most potent do not rely on a linguistic intermediary. Indeed, even for language-based arts, it is the imagery and sensations that, in the most moving experiences, leave the most lasting mark.
As elegantly described by poet Jane Hirshfield, "When a writer brings into language a new image that is fully right, what is knowable of existence expands."
Nobel laureate Saul Bellow speaks too to art's singular capacity for expanding the knowable: "Only art penetrates what pride, passion, intelligence and habit erect on all sides -- the seeming realities of this world. There is another reality, the genuine one, which we lose sight of. This other reality is always sending us hints, which without art, we can't receive."
And without that other reality, Bellow notes, channeling thoughts set down by Proust, existence is reduced to a "terminology for practical ends which we falsely call life."
Survival rests upon amassing information that accurately describes the world. And progress, in the conventional sense of increased control over our surroundings, requires a clear grasp of how these facts integrate into nature's workings. Such are the raw materials for fashioning practical ends.
They are the basis for what we label objective truth and often associate with scientific understanding. But however comprehensive such knowledge may be, it will always fall short of providing an exhaustive account of the human experience.
Artistic truth touches a distinct layer; it tells a higher-level story, one that in the words of Joseph Conrad "appeals to that part of our being which is not dependent on wisdom" and speaks instead to "our capacity for delight and wonder, to the sense of mystery surrounding our lives; to our sense of pity, and beauty, and pain; to the latent feeling of fellowship with all creation... in dreams, in joy, in sorrow, in aspirations, in illusions, in hope, in fear... which binds together all humanity -- the dead to the living and the living to the unborn."
...Make no mistake. We are all bags of particles -- both mind and body -- and the physical facts about the particles can fully address how they interact and behave. But such facts, the particulate narrative, shed only monochrome light on the richly colored stories of how we humans navigate the complex worlds of thought, perception, and emotion.
And when our perceptions blend thought and emotion, when we feel thoughts as well as think them, our experience steps yet further beyond the bounds of mechanistic explanation. We gain access to worlds otherwise uncharted. As Proust emphasized, this is to be celebrated.
Only through art, he noted, can we enter the secret universe of another, the only journey in which we truly "fly from star to star," a journey that cannot be navigated by "direct and conscious methods."
Although focused on the arts, Proust's perspective resonates with my own long-held take on modern physics. "The only true voyage of discovery," he once said, "would be not to visit strange lands but to possess other eyes, to see the universe through the eyes of another, of a hundred others."
For centuries, we physicists have relied on mathematics and experiment to reshape our eyes, to reveal layers of reality untouched by generations of the past, to allow us to see familiar landscapes in shocking new ways.
With these tools, we have found that the strangest of lands have emerged by intently examining the very realms we have long inhabited. All the same, to acquire such knowledge and to utilize the power of science more generally, we must follow the unshakable directive to look past the peculiarities of how each of our distinct collections and cells takes in the world, and home in on objective qualities of reality.
For the rest, the all-too-human truths, our nested stories rely on art. As George Bernard Shaw put it, "You use a glass mirror to see your face, you use works of art to see your soul."