There is not a deep divide between science and arts. Rather the opposite! I have long been interested in unveiling links between these two seemingly distinct spheres of knowledge. Scientists are typically seen as rational beings who pursue the truth and are not afraid of dissecting the most beautiful manifestations of nature into a set of basic analytical rules, often formalised as mathematical equations, even going as far as reducing the feelings of love to a series of biochemical reactions. Artists, on the other hand, are often perceived as creative characters who synthesise and embellish emotions by expressing them in languages which touch deeper chords in humanity, such as music or imagery.
Yet for those doing science with a passion, beautiful equations are perceived as equally if not more touching than a work of art, and creativity is a fundamental requirement for reaching beyond the state of the art on our understanding of how the universe works. Similarly, an increasing number of artists resort to analytical methods to explore novel ways to communicate inner expressions of self. And let’s not forget that a streak of polymaths, in which a combination of scientific and artistic skills has resulted in universally acclaimed masterpieces which made history, can be traced back many centuries: Leonardo da Vinci is perhaps the brightest example.
In contemporary times, despite a somehow worrisome cultural crisis, I like to think that the community of laypeople who do not actively engage in science or arts as their main profession, but who nevertheless display an interest and a capacity to appreciate advances in both domains — and at their interface — is in fact on the rise.
Quantum science, which is my specialty, seems to be one of the subjects which is especially likely to capture the public’s attention. I was once told that, when popular magazines such as New Scientist or Scientific American put the word “Quantum” on their cover, often accompanied by a catchy drawing, it is almost guaranteed that sales of that particular issue will be bigger than the average. While this has led to misuse and sometimes abuse of quantum concepts in such diverse areas ranging from ‘healing’ to household cleaning, it has also stimulated scientists and artists to find more creative ways to merge the best of both their worlds to engage in better dissemination.
In a previous post, I spoke about “Entanglement”, the painting which was gifted to me by artist Pam Ott and which has inspired my own research on quantum entanglement in the past decade or more.
More recently, we had another successful cross-fertilisation between maths and visual arts, with a drawing designed by local artist Joseph Hollis (see more of his science-related work here) to accompany our research on Quantum Darwinism, which was selected by the American Physical Society to be featured on the cover of the October 19 issue of the prestigious journal Physical Review Letters – a great honour for us! The University of Nottingham Press Office covered the news with a blog post entitled “Maths inspired art makes front cover”, available to read here. Curiously, when tweeting about it, the Press Office fell perhaps into a Freudian slip and wrote “Art inspired maths” instead… 🙂
While probably unintentional, this hints at how deeply science and arts can mutually influence each other and continue to progress to uncover new horizons.
Our group’s collaboration with Joseph Hollis took to a new level with the very recent production of an illustrated book on the foundations of quantum mechanics. Written by Paul Knott and funded by the Foundational Questions Institute, the book “Our quantum reality” is a gorgeous example of how efficiently (cat-themed) figurative arts can assist science and scientists in reaching out and delivering even complex and mindboggling messages. You can read more and flip through the entire book at the dedicated webpage: https://illustratedquantum.wordpress.com/
What’s next then?
Science and arts will meet in an even grander love story later this month. On Tuesday November 27th, at the Djanogly Theatre, Lakeside Arts Centre, set in our beautiful University Park Campus (University of Nottingham), we will have the pleasure to host a performance of “Entanglement: An entropic tale!”. A fully-fledged opera produced by Roxanne Korda (librettist) and Daniel Blanco Albert (composer) from Birmingham-based company Infinite Opera, inspired by concepts of modern (quantum) physics!
This is the first time I have ever heard of entanglement and entropy mentioned in a theatrical piece, and I am really excited about the upcoming show — described as the “Romeo and Juliet” of particle physics — and the emotional journey it will take its viewers on! Here is me chatting with Roxanne and Dani at Lakeside Theatre a few weeks ago, in preparation for the event…
I will be introducing the opera with a brief presentation, in which I hope to convey successful instances of breaking the (virtual) boundaries between science and arts, as I am arguing in this post. For those of you coming on the evening, there will also be the chance to ask more questions on this and related topics during a Q&A panel session after the performance. For this we will be joined by Professor Mark Fromhold from the School of Physics and Astronomy (University of Nottingham) who has done his fair bit of taking down the science vs arts apparent wall by collaborating with songwriters Lady Maisery on their song Order and Chaos (which mentions entanglement!), by engaging with public outreach at Pint of Science events and more recently at the Royal Society Exhibition on “Quantum sensing the brain”, as you can see here.
If you are in the area and have not booked your tickets yet, please do so! We look forward to welcoming you to an evening which science and arts lovers will hopefully both find intriguing and delighting.
P.S. You might also have the chance to buy a copy of “Our quantum reality” for a very small charge on the occasion of the opera night.
Tickets available here: https://www.lakesidearts.org.uk/music/event/3907/entanglement-an-entropic-tale.html