Art and Science: The Two Cultures Converging

December 1-3, 2017

Future Event

Man tries to make for himself in the fashion that suits him best a simplified and intelligible picture of the world; he then tries to some extent to substitute this cosmos of his for the world of experience, and thus to overcome it. This is what the painter, the poet, the speculative philosopher, and the natural scientist do, each in his own fashion. Each makes this cosmos and its construction the pivot of his emotional life, in order to find in this way the peace and security which he cannot find in the narrow whirlpool of personal experience.

—Albert Einstein

We have every reason to believe that different disciplines and dedications have much to gain from each other. Imhotep, one of the earliest polymaths, was a physician, astronomer, and an engineer—but, as an architect, he also had a gift for design, and as a poet, a penchant for the art of writing. Far away, millennia later, Zhang Heng became noted in the histories of the Han Dynasty as an early scientist and scholar, although this was not at any expense for talent of art, as his contemporary wrote that “the splendour of his art were one with those of the gods.” Likewise, from the works of Da Vinci and Hildegard de Bingen, to geniuses of our time, the bond between the sciences and art is observed across the world and throughout the ages.

This is not just true within individuals or a phenomenon seen in great thinkers alone. Our quotidian experience tells us so, abundant with the evidence of each field’s dependence on, and advancement of, the other: from the drawing of star maps and anatomical sketches to the math and physics of optics and perspective, to the latest technological advances in computer design.

Two cultures converge as we discuss the significance of art and science in this three day series.

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Presented by the Helix Center for Interdiscplinary Investigation and SciArt Center


Stuart Firestein

Former Chair of Department of Biological Sciences, Columbia University

Stuart Firestein is the former Chair of Columbia University’s Department of Biological Sciences, where he studies the vertebrate olfactory system. Aside from its molecular detection capabilities, the olfactory system serves as a model for investigating general principles and mechanisms of signaling and perception in the brain. Dr. Firestein’s laboratory seeks to answer that fundamental human… read more »

David Grinspoon is an astrobiologist and prize-winning author. He is a Senior Scientist at the Planetary Science Institute. His research focuses on climate evolution on Earth-like planets and potential conditions for life elsewhere in the universe. He is involved with several interplanetary spacecraft missions for NASA, the European Space Agency and the Japanese Space Agency…. read more »

Farzad Mahootian

Faculty of Liberal Studies, New York University; affiliated scholar, Consortium for Science Policy and Outcomes, Arizona State University

Farzad Mahootian is on the Faculty of Liberal Studies at New York University and an affiliated scholar with the Consortium for Science Policy and Outcomes at Arizona State University. His interdisciplinary research focuses on the interactions of myth, metaphor and science—most recently in the context of research laboratory ethnographies. Publications include: “Lab as Dynamic System:… read more »

Tyler Volk is professor of biology and environmental studies at New York University. In his just-released book, Quarks to Culture: How We Came to Be (Columbia University Press, May, 2017) Volk explores a rhythm within what he calls the “grand sequence,” which has progressed as a series of levels of sizes and innovations from elementary… read more »