” all our knowledge has its origin in our perceptions.” Leonardo da Vinci.
Creative people, be they focused in arts, science or both, are grounded in synesthesia or a synergy of seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, tasting and sensing things. To create is to extend knowledge, rough up the edges of a form, send practices in new and divergent directions. Creativity, creating minds and creative people remind us to focus on how we relate to each other, carry out our work and contribute as citizens. It’s about the process. Like scientists who conduct many experiments around a single problem, artists often work in series, completing variations around a theme until the artists feels she has exhausted the idea for a while. Revisiting, revising and rethinking are part of an authentic creative experience, as is generating many ideas then choosing among competing priorities.
These processes of revisiting, revising and rethinking are community processes. Like artists who form studios and collectives such as those involved with CoCOA, scientists form research teams and laboratories. The creation of scientific knowledge as laid out by Thoman Kuhn, is dependent on the culture and historical circumstances of groups of scientists rather than on their adherence to a specific, definable method. In describing scientific knowledge this way, Kuhn argued for a blurring of the boundaries between what was considered science and what was not, arguing that there was no such thing as the idealized scientific method. His position was contentious and ignited the scientific community in fierce debates over the nature of their collective enterprise, but also hinted at what a lot of modern and postmodern philosophers now argue, that our creative products like our creative selves, are deeply infused with the contexts and the communities in which we exist.
Over the last few months we have discussed the importance of art in public life, from its ability to communicate place, to its ability to transcend our individual differences and touch the divine human spirit in all of us. Yet it is rare for us to talk about science in the same way. In many ways, ‘art’ and ‘science’ have become separated in our imagination, set against each other as opposite competing poles in ourselves, our minds, our schools, our occupations and our communities. Our capacity to institutionally encapsulate both of them however, (with different intents — one to preserve access and the other to reserve access), lies in common. We create art museums and natural science museums in the interests of educating and serving the public but what if we were to take an ‘art in public places’ approach to science? What would that begin to look like? Moreover, what if we were to recognize the science that lies behind the artist’s ability in terms of technique and the artistry that lies in the scientific life, in terms of creative possibilities? How might our ways of understanding these immensely consequential realms of human activity change?
Here in Colorado, we are lucky enough to have monthly gatherings where we can explore these issues of science, creativity and community process. Science cafés or ‘Cafés Scientifiques’ meet regularly in Colorado Springs, Denver, Boulder and right here in Fort Collins. The first Cafés were held in Leeds, England in 1998. From there, the idea spread to other parts of Europe, North Africa, North and South America, South Asia, Australia, and the Pacific (http://www.cafescientifique.org/world-links.htm). In all these places across the globe, diverse audiences regularly gather to join scientists and writers in discussions that are designed as forums for debating science issues, promoting public engagement with science and making science accountable. Participants meet in cafes, bars, restaurants and other public locations to make scientific discussions accessible and lively. If you’re thinking that a science discussion requires an academic science background, that’s not the point. Many questions and ideas are entertained at the Café Scientifique and people who are not specialists often provide thoughtful perspectives and insight. Gatherings take place to foster an atmosphere where “no question is considered stupid” and science is brought out of the lab and into the public arena for deliberation.
It’s about the creative process!