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Cathy
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Cathy joined the University this year and works in an administrative department. As a young professional, she is eager to immerse herself in all the opportunities that the University offers. With a newcomer’s lack of preconceived notions, she offers a fresh look at the various facets of HKBU life.


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The art of science and vice versa

The art of science and vice versa
2011-04-07 17:35:18.0 網誌分類: 校園生活
 


There is no science without fantasy, and no art without facts
-Vladimir Nabokov

If you are one of those people who thinks that science and art are polar opposites and never the twain shall met, you should have been at the lecture by Prof. Dudley Herschbach (Nobel Laureate in Chemistry 1986) on 1 April. Prof. Herschbach made a convincing case for “Science as an Artistic Adventure” through a lively presentation that had the audience tapping their feet to a Cole Porter song at the end.

Not what you’d expect of a scientist?

Well, Prof. Herschbach shatters the stereotypical notion of a scientist, even if he is most well known for his contributions to chemistry. For one, he organised poetry competitions for his undergraduate students, because he thought that exams tended to focus too much on right and wrong answers. And some of the poems which Prof. Herschbach shared in his presentation were pretty good too. 

Which only serves to illustrate Prof. Herschbach’s point that the sciences and arts are not as far removed as we tend to think. Both scientists and artists, he said, work at the frontiers trying to find fresh insights on basic questions. Science involves as much exploration, playfulness and guesswork as creating a work of art. “We try reckless things that may or may be well received,” he chuckled.

Like art, much of science is done using the right side of the brain, he said, adding: “Most scientists and most artists are kids at heart.”

Quoting the phrase “rekindling the kindergartner” from Stanford University’s Design School magazine, he said we need to recapture the joy and fascination of pursuing things without worrying about the right answer. In fundamental science as in the arts, he pointed out, nobody knows the correct answer. Both art and science work within constraints, which only spur on creativity.

Still not convinced? Prof. Herschbach told us that inscription for the Nobel medal for the Science and Literature was the same - Inventas vitam juvat excoluisse per artes (loosely translated "And they who bettered life on earth by their newly found mastery.")


Here is a poem by the Czech poet Jan Skacel from Prof. Herschbach’s presentation that I really loved:

Poets don’t invent poems
The poem is somewhere behind
It’s been there a long long time
The poet merely discovers it.

This, said Prof. Herschbach, is exactly what scientists do too. “Science and other domains are an attempt to uncover what Nature is trying to tell us… sorting through the vocabulary and grammar of Nature’s messages.” Unlike in fields like business and politics, Nature’s messages for scientists change little over time, they await the scientist.

And while science may come across as a solitary endeavour, Prof. Herschbach stresses its social character. Scientists build on the discoveries made before them.

If you’re looking for a reading list on the subject, here are two recommendations from Prof. Herschbach’s presentation – Science and Human Values by J. Bronowski and Drawing on the Right Side by Betty Edwards. Happy reading!


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