The arts as a connection between science and society
Technological innovation has connected us all in ways not thought possible a few decades ago. I am able to connect via the internet with my dance gurus in India from NYC and benefit from their wisdom and pedagogy. How is it, with so many means for connection around us, that we seem more disconnected than ever before? Some of that disconnectedness exists between individuals. Among older adults, isolation and loneliness are acute. But there is also a disconnect between people and ideas. As a scientist, a disconnect relevant to me is that between science and society. There seems to be a distrust of science, as though people see science as a platform for politics and polemics, and do not see science in all its glory, inherent uncertainty, ambiguity, messiness, nuances and most of all, in the joy of discovery.
I suggest that the arts can help to address the disconnect between the sciences and society.
It is possible that familiarity with the sciences can make us better artists. There are many ways in which the arts have helped society understand and contextualize science; the dissemination of public health and science-related messages being especially important over the last few years. In a series I call “Creatures on the Move”, I explore animals in my neighborhood, their unique movements, and talk about the neural mechanism that make that movement possible. By examining the biodiversity around me in an artistic way, I am a better scientist-educator.
It is also true that pursuit of the arts can make us better scientists. The arts can help scientists communicate in a humanistic, empathetic way, and appreciate the beauty of the science we are studying. In addition, science is uniquely empowered to do something to relieve physical suffering. So why is it that our scientific training talks and teaches us so little about what suffering is, and how we can alleviate it? Could scientists appreciate suffering if in our training, we were exposed to art and literature that depicts suffering and its nuances?
In previous blog posts, I have suggested that science and art are complementary ways to understand the world. But they are not mutually exclusive. A more grounded and holistic understanding of reality through the arts can help us as scientists to consider alternate viewpoints and to direct our curiosity. The arts and sciences can help bring people together, help develop a common vocabulary and a common language by which people can understand the world around us.
In the words of my mentor Margie (didi) Sastry (writer, editor, translator, researcher, and teacher with over 4 decades of experience in the creative landscape) "the reality is that arts and sciences are like lenses or filters to look at the same world and phenomena. The misunderstanding about science being ivory tower, lab tinkering crazy coots and arts and humanities are linked to something that are not practical and are airy fairy causes alienation. Like each eye sees differently but the brain resolves it as a whole. Arts and science melded give us a wholesome holistic view of the world.”
[Special thanks to Margie Sastry, Lauren Harte-Hargrove, Sminu Achary, Joe Thomas, and Vibhakar Kotak for their comments on this article.]
My name is Sloka. I am a neuroscientist and Bharatanatyam dancer; you can find more about me here.