I noticed last week that the December issue of the magazine Seed has the short piece I mentioned I was working on a while back. I actually completely forgot about it, and just looked at it on the newsstand on the off-chance, and there it was. It is part of a larger cover story by Jonah Lehrer about science and art (which I’ve not yet read), with a number of other scientists giving their take. I was asked to contribute by picking a piece of art, and writing 100 (they said) words about how it connects to my science, Or I could talk about how a piece might have inspired me, or some combination of those sorts of things showing the intersection between science and art. It took me a while to come up with a short answer to this many-faceted and interesting issue. I actually did two completely separate pieces, before later focusing on one and polishing up the words for the magazine. and I’ll put the latter here (below), and later in the week the other will appear (probably over on Correlations). I’ll use the text I have here as I submitted it… I have not checked to see if it is identical to what appeared in the magazine yet. Go along and look at the magazine for the contributions from others. It is very interesting to see what pieces people chose, and why. What would you choose?
Tell us in the comments.
Leonardo da Vinci, Study for the Virgin of the Rocks, c. 1485 (Click for larger view.)
Leonardo da Vinci’s pencil study stunningly illustrates for me the key parallel between what an artist does and what I do. We’re striving for representation and expression, to capture some essential truth about our chosen subject with simplicity and economy. The piece firmly reminds me that my equations and diagrams are no more the world I’m trying to describe than the artist’s pencil strokes are the woman he drew. However, it shows me what is possible, despite that limitation. The woman that emerges from the simple pencil strokes is so alive that she stares into your soul. This is the lesson the piece taught me that continues to guide what I do: In capturing the universe, I must not confuse my equations with the real thing, but from the right ones some essential truths about nature will spring forth, transcending the mathematics and coming to life.
Some Related Asymptotia Posts (not exhaustive):