Context in Art and Science

The art of science. A seeming dichotomy, which may be less distinct than once imagined. Science is the careful crafting of knowledge through experimentation and verification. Methodology varies, but verification typically relies upon statistical, computational, logical, or a combination thereof in order to make its way into the realm known as knowledge. Science, as a totality of human effort, is an organic being. And knowledge, as its extension, is also an amorphous, far-reaching entity in itself. The digestion and interpretation of knowledge in humans breeds an entirely new creature: thought. (These terms are here loosely defined in order to put forth a feeling of an idea that I have. This may be a typical occurrence in this space, analytic philosophy aside…)

Thoughts about knowledge can take may different forms, with varying emphases and applications. One may see a particular function and now blend the current knowledge with past knowledge in order to come to a completely new conclusion, yielding emergent properties not present in either concept alone. Transposing ideas in this manner can be likened to stacking layers of colored cellophane paper and shining a light through it: the resulting color is present in its totality in neither of the filters, but together a new color emerges. Fauconnier & Turner (2003) propose blending theory to explain this phenomena in which the elements from two mental spaces are blended by bringing together certain elements from each one into a new, emergent space, which yields the new concept. But I would conjecture that this blending is unstable, it may vary based upon what one perceives as important at this time. That is, elements are selected based upon the pragmatics of the situation and the logic that frames the particular context, as Brandt (2005) proposes. With respect to knowledge representation, this means that the significance and impact of a piece of information is based upon the state of the viewer at that time. Additionally, this impact can be changed with accompanying cues that may strike the viewer or induce a certain state of mind.

What does this have to do with art, you may ask? My original though, that of art vs. science, or the art of science, or vice versa, is that the same interpretational implications and pragmatic cognitive influences appear in the gallery as well as the conference. What one brings to the piece influences how it is read, as is the case in acquiring any piece of knowledge. In fact, it is said that to effectively code information into semantic memory it behooves one to associate this new piece of information with an existing element in memory. However, just as the heisenberg principle of uncertainty states that we may only measure speed at the sacrifice of location, and vice versa, we may only store and interpret new information at the expense of relating it to the old. I’m not sure if it is really at the expense of, because that sounds negative, but what I am trying to say is that the new will inadvertently be colored, influenced, changed, altered, skewed if you will, by that that was already in place, and this connection may be difficult to break. Known as fixation in the design literature, and often experience by experts and specialists, this entrenched form of thought may be a hindrance to creative thinking. The specialist can quickly isolate problems from just a few cues and can determine the remedy for the situation, however completely new problems for which a creative solution is required may stump the seasoned pro. The mind schematizes situations and chunks them into set scripts that are easily retrievable and applicable, but not so easily applied outside of their domain, which is where cues can come in handy, as I started to suggest earlier.

A problem viewed in a new context can strike new associations and allow the mind to think about the situation in different ways, thus fundamentally altering the problem space. Boden (1994) calls this new way of thinking a psychologically creative way of thinking versus historically creative (never happened before). The same creative process lies behind creating art and the knowledge crafting practices of the often rigidly conceived machine of science. Intermixing these processes, as in maybe associating art with scientific theory in some synaesthetic way. For example, authors of employ such a tactic when they include a poetic quote at the beginning of a chapter. This helps to frame the reader in a certain manner and provoke a mood that is receptive to a timbre of information. It primes the mind in a certain direction. A type of brainwashing I suppose, but an effective and responsible propaganda technique, I would say. There should be more efforts into this direction in order to understand the sway of complimentary or strikingly different domains juxtaposed.


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