ART & SCIENCE of ART & SCIENCE – 05-11-2017




Art & Science

ART and SCIENCE are catchphrases for configurations of cognitive functions. (localized and distributed coordinated processes in the brain and body that have more-or-less privileged connections with each other that make specific aspects of INPUT « INTEGRATION « OUTPUT more-or-less likely) ARTISTS and SCIENTISTS (and we are all more-or-less both) are highly motivated to make the contents of mind understandable (both to themselves and to others).    Our evolutionary biology has prioritized functions that support MEETING BIOLOGICAL NEEDS (both immediate and long-term)  As a working hypothesis we treat all specific COGNITIVE FUNCTIONS are highly ADAPTIVE (in the evolutionary past or developmental present) and contribute to direct and inclusive FITNESS. 


Cognitive dispositions and competencies are not distributed equally.  We all enjoy differences attributable to our genetic and cultural make-up.  And to the extent that we can communicate with ourselves and each other, our knowledge and understanding of the world in which we must survive and hopefully thrive can be enormously enlarged.  [See KNOWLEDGE IS POWER]


The differences and similarities of ART and SCIENCE as they might be useful to college instructors were explored in a recent conference presentation (Greenberg et al. 2017)[i] and the salient points for us are summarized below: 


TEACHING as a profession and as a calling is emerging from the shadow of the “two cultures” view of art and science as mutually exclusive domains of human consciousness and action[ii]. [a case can be made for specialization and focus that engenders research and scholarship “silos,” but as with most human undertakings, nothing in excess.  Infusions from sibling fields become necessary to refresh stimulate creative progress]

The importance of creativity and intuition to science, and empirically-driven perception and expression to art is no longer in doubt.  BUT the modes of theory and practice have yet to enjoy the rapprochement that will go beyond their co-expression as anything more than a mutually wary alliance.

In recent years, two trends provide reason for optimism: (1) looking beneath the surfaces of art and science as cultural constructs as well as adaptive human behavioral patterns[iii] has established that the best expressions involve the necessary interactivity of intention and motivation in most human activity, not least teaching.  And in concert with multidisciplinarity (2) the emerging appreciation of phenomenology in the classroom is giving instructors powerful new ways of communicating course content as well as identifying teachable moments—moments at which students are uniquely susceptible to transformative learning experiences (Greenberg et al. 2015)[iv]; moments that frequently had been hidden in plain sight.

Literature Review

Two of the great callings of our culture are that of the artist and that of the scientist.  We recognize the dispositions that seem to predispose us and others to one or another of these callings by their relative reliance on the two principle modes of reality-testing, correspondence (how well an internal mental percept represents or is represented in the external world) and coherence (how well an internal mental percept fits in with past, current, and anticipated percepts).  This balance refers also to one’s confidence in the validity of an internal representation of reality.[v]

ART[vi] emphasizes an individual’s unique sensitivity[vii], creativity, and powers of representation.[viii]  As a field, art emphasizes intuition and the sensual, and is subject to all those weaknesses of one’s senses: (a) being notoriously vulnerable to illusion, confusion, and bias and (b) being of uncertain origin: that is, corresponding to systematic flaws of perception or something of purely internal origin such as imagery imposed on scotoma, visual migraine, or vivid memories evoked by ambiguous stimuli.[ix] Non-conscious knowledge (latent learning, intuition) is highly valued and is often recognized by spontaneity and impulsiveness.  Reality-testing of artists emphasizes CORRESPONDENCE between an idea or contents of one’s mind and an external representation.  COHERENCE is the complementary form of reality-testing in which the validity of one’s ideas or actions is corroborated by how well they “fit in” with other ideas of that individual or the ideas of others.  The validity of an artist’s actions or production may be provided by other people’s applause or silence as representative of their shared but ineffable feelings.

Art “makes a stimulus special” (Dissanayake 1992[x]) and functions best by identifying and representing the “essence” of a constellation of ideas—a selective attention to a key fragment that evokes a larger phenomenon, a focal idea that can be the attractor for many related ideas—the “seed” around which a constellation of related ideas forms.[xi]

SCIENCE tells the best story it can with the best facts it has.  Confidence in any story (theory) about the external world is highly influenced by the integration of personally held beliefs and the beliefs of others (peers and mentors).  Thus coherence—the fitting together of beliefs—is a privileged aspect of reality-testing in science.  The contribution of consensus to coherence also results in a relative invulnerability of shared beliefs to individual differences and encourages an emphasis on objectivity and quantifiable content.[xii]  Good stories are aesthetically satisfying, but their ultimate test is that of making reliable predictions.  But even very good stories that lead to important adaptive advantages for those that apply them are often controversial (classical and quantum physics) and the stories are understood to be approximations in their representation of the “real world.”[xiii]   

Both ART and SCIENCE, then, utilize cognitive processes of AFFECT[xiv] and REASON with varying authority and influence, each backed by differing proportions of the two major modes of reality-testing: CORRESPONDENCE and COHERENCE, working in lock-step to provide us with more-or-less confidence in the validity of a belief.  The [BKS1] importance of individuality in how these processes develop and are applied is celebrated by the resurgence of interest in the phenomenology of teaching and learning.  PHENOMENOLOGY emphasizes the idea that one’s acquisition and creative deployment of new knowledge such as course content emerges from that individual’s uniqueness.  There is also a growing literature on the reliance of scientists on creative intuition, and of artists on orderly organization.  In haunting resonance, William James (1911) observed, “…percepts [emphasizing correspondence] and concepts [emphasizing coherence] interpenetrate and melt together, impregnate and fertilize each other. Neither, taken alone, knows reality in its completeness…. The world we practically live in is one in which it is impossible (except by theoretic retrospection) to disentangle the contributions of intellect from those of sense.”  [bracketed phrases added by authors]

ART and SCIENCE.   Art and Science represent distinctive constellations of cognitive abilities with privileged relationships (connectedness) as distinguishable parts of a whole.  Of course, there is significant overlap in the many processes of perception, integration, and expression that are more-or-less prioritized in their participation in their respective functions.  In the broad sense we intend, the processes are far more than relatively integrated centers of neural activity: they involve sensory input and action systems as well as extensive feedback and error-detection systems, much of which involves the body as the means of expression as well as experience (embodied and situated cognition)[xv].  Increasing the integration of cognitive abilities of students in the classroom also increases the prospect of an enduring transformative learning experience in which “students move from knowing course content to realizing such knowledge in a manner that transforms worldviews far beyond the college and university classroom.  (Greenberg et al. 2016).[xvi] 

We can capitalize on an insight of evolutionary biology which helps us conceptualize art and science as cognitive traits that participate in the adaptive function of whole individuals. To paraphrase Levins and Lewontin (1985)[xvii], “Parts and wholes … evolve in consequence of their relationship, and the relationship itself evolves. These are the properties of things that we call dialectical: that one thing cannot exist without the other, that one acquires its properties from its relation to the other, that the properties of both evolve as a consequence of their interpenetration.”[xviii] 




Cultural memes that have contributed to traditional views of ART and SCIENCE:

Points to Ponder as groups compose their views about art and science 

and their interaction with each other and with teaching[xix]


Art.   “A distinctive human universal … art can be viewed as ordinary behavior made special.”—Ellen Dissanayake (1992)[xx] 


All good art is abstract,” Susanne Langer (1957:69)

” . . . every art purporting to represent involves a process of reduction… This reduction is the beginning of art…” –Andre Malraux, The Voices of Silence 1953:275[xxi].

Science. “The method of scientific investigation is nothing but the expression of the necessary mode of working of the human mind.”—T.H. Huxley[xxii] … recalls Einstein: “Science is a refinement of everyday thinking.”


“Science is neither a philosophy or a belief system.  It is a combination of mental operations that has become increasingly the habit of educated peoples, a culture of illuminations hit upon be a fortunate turn of history that yielded the most effective way of learning about the real world ever conceived. –E.O. Wilson (1998)[xxiii]

Views of Relationship.  “Art is I, Science is we” –Claude Bernard[xxiv]


the technical and rational aspects of the disciplines [must not] take the place of the artistry (e.g. dealing with uncertainty, uniqueness or conflict) … [I am] concerned about … a ‘squeeze play’ in which technical rationality and dwindling professional autonomy in effect squeeze out the opportunity to focus on artistry in practice.”  —Schön’s (1987) view described by Vagle (2010)[xxv]


“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant.  We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”—Albert Einstein

Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them.”—David Hume[xxvi]

 “…parts and wholes evolve in consequence of their relationship, and the relationship itself evolves. These are the properties of things that we call dialectical: that one thing cannot exist without the other, that one acquires its properties from its relation to the other, that the properties of both evolve as a consequence of their interpenetration”—Levins and Lewontin11 

Motivation.  All men by nature desire to know. An indication of this is the delight we take in our senses; for even apart from their usefulness they are loved for themselves…”–Aristotle[xxvii]

“All of us have felt the pleasure of acquiring information … the enjoyment of such experiences is deeply connected to an innate hunger for information: Human beings are designed to be “infovores.” It’s a craving that begins with a simple preference for certain types of stimuli, then proceeds to more sophisticated levels of perception and cognition that draw on associations the brain makes with previous experiences.”—Biederman & Vessel[xxviii]

 “The scientist does not study nature because it is useful; he studies it because he delights in it, and he delights in it because it is beautiful. If  nature were not beautiful, it would not be worth knowing, and if nature were not worth knowing, life would not be worth living.”—Jules Henri Poincaré

“The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science. —Albert Einstein




[i]Neil B. Greenberg, Katherine H. Greenberg, Brian Sohn, Sandra Thomas, Brenda Murphy, Kristina Plaas. (2017) The Art and Science of Teaching: A DEEP Dialectic. Proc 9th Annual Conference on Higher Education Pedagogy, Virginia Tech., Blacksburg VA

[ii]The Two Cultures is the first part of an influential 1959 Rede Lecture by British scientist and novelist C. P. Snow.[1][2] Its thesis was that “the intellectual life of the whole of western society” was split into the titular two cultures — namely the sciences and the humanities — and that this was a major hindrance to solving the world’s problems.”

[iii] “Looking beneath” is the “DEEP” approach:

[iv] Greenberg, N., Deepa Deshpande, Kathy Greenberg, Karen Franklin, Brenda Murphy, Kristina Plaas, Howard Pollio, Brian Sohn, & Sandra Thomas. (2015)  Patterns in Transformative Pedagogy: Ethological Perspective.  Proc. 7th Annual Conference on Higher Education Pedagogy, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Virginia. Pp 67-68.

[v] Absolute “truth” may not be possible, nevertheless it is biologically adaptive to pursue it and gain more confidence by successive approximations—telling the best story we can with the best facts we have.  

[vi] ART DEFINED at least in part as GOING BEYOND the immediate practical meeting of a survival need, makes the extra effort — time or energy (or some other currency) — seem expendable or available in surplus.  BUT in fact, it may by its uniqueness recruit a larger meaning for the act or tool or other “artistic” expression –it communicates to deeper levels, penetrates to deeper layers of consciousness –thereby facilitating a larger meaning.  It may be better remembered, or remembered with more precision or accuracy by communicating an affective quality such as the feelings of the artist reflected in his enlarged commitment.   It’s one thing for a Paleolithic man to share a view of a woman or women with his cave-mates, another to invest precious time in shaping a Venus of Willendorf

[vii] “artists are the antennae of the race”—Ezra Pound.  Their sensations and perceptions selectively attend to important stimuli that many other people miss.

[viii] “All good art is abstract,” Susanne Langer (1957:69); “. . . every art purporting to represent involves a process of reduction. . .. This reduction is the beginning of art. . . . [it is] no less necessary when the painter is aiming at unlikeness than when he aims at life-likeness.” — Andre Malraux, The Voices of Silence 1953:275.

[x] Dissanayake, Ellen. (1992) Homo Aestheticus: Where Art Comes From and Why.   New York: Free Press.  Chap. 4.  

[xi] This is “redintegration” –the gathering (release from non-conscious resources) of ideas that participate in the concept—the drawing together of related ideas of which we were not previously (consciously) aware. 

[xii] “physics envy” term used by Joel E. Cohen (19721) Science Vol 172:674-675 in his review of Mathematics as Metaphor: Dynamical System Theory in Biology. Vol.1, Stability Theory and Its Applications. By Robert Rosen. Wiley-Interscience, New York, 1970.  (“Physics-envy is the curse of biology.  When somebody else has done the dirty, tedious work of showing that a mathematically formulated physical principle leads to predictions correct to a specified number of decimal places in the boring world of Euclidean 3-space with Cartesian coordinates, theoreticians and textbook writers can axiomatize, generalize, and dazzle your eyes with the most coordinate-free, cosmically invariant representations you please. The areas of learning Rosen has united by these formal analogies are provinces of Atlantis, and the deed and lot numbers of the foundations on which his analogies rest are recorded nowhere.”)

[xiii] The hypothetical “real” world is compared to a “real-enough” world story  that provides at least temporary satisfaction of the need for order.  Bertrand Russell wrote, “There is an important sense in which we are “prepared” to behave a certain way or believe a certain thing:  it coheres, a new belief is found to be so consilient or consonant with what we have already learned that it supports or strengthens or fully realizes that constellation of ideas. “What a man believes upon grossly insufficient evidence is an index into his desires—desires of which he himself is often unconscious. If a man is offered a fact which goes against his instincts, he will scrutinize it closely, and unless the evidence is overwhelming, he will refuse to believe it. If, on the other hand, he is offered something which affords a reason for acting in accordance to his instincts, he will accept it even on the slightest evidence. The origin of myths is explained in this way.”(from “Roads to Freedom”)

[xiv] “Emotions are not innately programmed into our brains, but, in fact, are cognitive states resulting from the gathering of information (Joseph LeDoux and Richard Brown, “A Higher-Order Theory of Emotional Consciousness”  PNAS 2017):  “We argue that conscious experiences, regardless of their content, arise from one system in the brain,” explains LeDoux, a professor in New York University’s Center for Neural Science. “Specifically, the differences between emotional and non-emotional states are the kinds of inputs that are processed by a general cortical network of cognition, a network essential for conscious experiences.”  As a result, LeDoux and Brown observe, “the brain mechanisms that give rise to conscious emotional feelings are not fundamentally different from those that give rise to perceptual conscious experiences.”

“Existing work posits that emotions are innately programmed in the brain’s subcortical circuits. As a result, emotions are often treated as different from cognitive states of consciousness, such as those related to the perception of external stimuli. In other words, emotions aren’t a response to what our brain takes in from our observations, but, rather, are intrinsic to our makeup.

However, after taking into account existing scholarship on both cognition and emotion, LeDoux and Brown see a quite different architecture for emotions — one more centered on process than on composition. They conclude that emotions are “higher-order states” embedded in cortical circuits. Therefore, unlike present theories, they see emotional states as similar to other states of consciousness.”

[xv] Embodied cognition: “By using the term embodied we mean to highlight two points: first that cognition depends upon the kinds of experience that come from having a body with various sensorimotor capacities, and second, that these individual sensorimotor capacities are themselves embedded in a more encompassing biological, psychological and cultural context.” — Eleanor Rosch, Evan Thompson, Francisco J. Varela: The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience pages 172–173.; situated cognition “…draws a variety of perspectives, from an anthropological study of human behavior within communities of practice to the ecological psychology of the perception-action cycle and intentional dynamics…”

[xvi] The “Transformative Learning Experience” resonates with Feuerstein’s idea of Structural Cognitive Modifiability: “changing cognitive structures [change also] the total universe of behaviors to which the part belongs…. The individual has been changed, and once modified as a result of the intervention, a process of “self-perpetuation” is generated, whereby the individual continues to modify him or herself, and thus projects into the future the acquired changes.” (Feuerstein 1997)

[xvii] Levins, Richard and Richard Lewontin (1985) The Dialectical Biologist. Harvard University Press (p.3): “Scientists act within a social context and from a philosophical perspective that is inherently political. Whether they realize it or not, scientists always choose sides. The Dialectical Biologist explores this political nature of scientific inquiry, advancing its argument within the framework of Marxist dialectic. These essays stress the concepts of continual change and co-determination between organism and environment, part and whole, structure and process, science and politics. Throughout, this book questions our accepted definitions and biases, showing the self-reflective nature of scientific activity within society.”

[xviii] This interplay of parts in this evolutionary view was foreshadowed by William James: “The intellectual life of man consists almost wholly in his substitution of a conceptual order for the perceptual order in which his experience originally comes.… Percepts and concepts interpenetrate and melt together, impregnate and fertilize each other. Neither, taken alone, knows reality in its completeness…. The world we practically live in is one in which it is impossible (except by theoretic retrospection) to disentangle the contributions of intellect from those of sense.  –William James, Some Problems of Philosophy(1911: 51,52).

[xix] Neil B. Greenberg, Katherine H. Greenberg, Brian Sohn, Sandra Thomas, Brenda Murphy, Kristina Plaas (2017)  The Art and Science of Teaching: The DEEP Dialectic[xix] Conference on Higher Education Pedagogy, Virginia Tech., 2017, February 16

[xx] The evolutionary process of ritualization enhances natural or sexual selection for signals enhanced by selective emphasis: the feather fluffing of stress becomes the peacock’s tail of courtship.   

[xxi] Andre Malraux, The Voices of Silence 1953:275.  ” one of the most important works of criticism of the twentieth century”—Accent // “… I have finally been brought to the conclusion that Malraux’s history of art is not simply one of his best productions but perhaps one of the really great books of our time.”—Edmund Wilson.   Voices on-line

[xxii] T.H. Huxley (1863)  “Our Knowledge of the Causes of the Phenomena of Organic Nature.”

[xxiii] Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge is a 1998 book by biologist E. O. Wilson, in which Wilson discusses methods that have been used to unite the sciences and might in the future unite them with the humanities. Wilson uses the term consilience to describe the synthesis of knowledge from different specialized fields of human endeavor.  p45.

[xxiv] Claude Bernard (d. 1878) was a French Physiologist, author of the highly influentialAn Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine (1865). Regarded by Harvard historian, Jerome Bernard Cohen. “one of the greatest of all men of science.”    “A modern poet has characterized Bernard’s view of the “personality of art” and the “impersonality of science” as follows: Art is I: Science is We.” Bulletin of New York Academy of Medicine, Vol. IV (1928)

[xxv] Vagle, Mark D. (2010) Reframing Schön’s (1987) call for a phenomenology of practice: a postintentional approach.  Reflective Practice, 11:3, 393-407.

[xxvi] David Hume, A Treatise upon Human Nature (1739) bk. 2, pt. 3

[xxvii] Aristotle, Metaphysics, Book I, 980a.21. 350 BC

[xxviii] Biederman, Irving & Vessel, Edward A. (2006) Perceptual Pleasure and the Brain. American Scientist. 94(3), 247-253. [PDF] “All of us have felt the pleasure of acquiring information—a view of a dramatic landscape, a conversation with a friend, or even a good magazine article, can all be profoundly gratifying. But why is this so? What makes these experiences so pleasurable? // We believe that the enjoyment of such experiences is deeply connected to an innate hunger for information: Human beings are designed to be “infovores.” It’s a craving that begins with a simple preference for certain types of stimuli, then proceeds to more sophisticated levels of perception and cognition that draw on associations the brain makes with previous experiences. When the hunger becomes even moderately starved, boredom sets in.”

 [BKS1]I need a transition here.