Give them an inch
New Scientist – 3 December, 2011
PRECISION and fastidiousness – at first blush the quest for a precise system of measurement might seem a plodding pursuit. But as philosopher Robert P. Crease makes clear in World in the Balance, it was anything but.
From prehistory to the present, Crease ties humanity’s search for precision to the history of nations and of ideas. Any measurement must be based on a “standard” that embodies a unit, such as a foot, a finger or a hand. Eventually standards came to be inscribed in stone or metal and stored in protected areas such as the Acropolis for the Greeks, and in later centuries in Paris and Washington DC. Ownership of the standard symbolised political and social power.
Eureka! Genius Unravelled
New Scientist – 11 September, 2010
WE HAVE all heard of the great “Aha!” moments that typify legends of sudden genius. But such moments, argues Andrew Robinson, are merely anecdotal. In reality, he says, the emergence of a creative solution to a difficult problem takes a great deal of conscious work. To make his case, Robinson offers vignettes of four scientists, a linguist, an architect, a musician, a writer, a film-maker and a photographer in this lively book.
So how does the moment of creativity occur? One explanation was proposed a century ago by the great French polymath Henri Poincaré, based on his own profound mathematical discovery in 1881. Some 30 years later, Poincaré published an analysis of his own thought process. It goes like this: After a great deal of conscious work he became stuck and put the problem aside. But his desire to solve it kept it alive in his unconscious. Illumination occurred beneath…
Looking Back: The Odd Couple
Arthur I. Miller on a meeting of minds between Carl Jung and the physicist Wolfgang Pauli
The Psychologist magazine – July 2010
More than 20 years ago I was intrigued to discover that the renowned physicist Wolfgang Pauli and the great psychologist Carl Jung had co-authored a book entitled The Interpretation of Nature and the Psyche (published by Bollingen, 1955). I tracked it down and read it with growing fascination. It is actually made up of two articles. Jung’s is on synchronicity and was about what I expected. But Pauli’s was an eye-opener. Its title stopped me in my tracks: ‘The influence of archetypal ideas on the scientific theories of Kepler’. Johannes Kepler was a German mathematician, astronomer and astrologer, and key figure in the 17th-century scientific revolution. Pauli’s is an authoritative and yet passionate exploration of his discoveries, emphasising the roots of his ideas in alchemy, mysticism and religion. It is written with great authority and bears the stamp of Jung’s analytic psychology.
The Worlds of Ai Weiwei
Phillips Art Expert Forum – 17 February, 2009
To me, personally, there is a lot of Pablo Picasso in Ai Weiwei. True to his enigmatic persona he claims otherwise, citing instead Marcel Duchamp and Andy Warhol – Duchamp for his iconoclasm and Warhol because the measure of the man is the totality of his diverse output.
The Times Higher Education Supplement – 21 August, 2008
Visual images provide a touchstone. Without them scientists feel lost, adrift in an infinite cosmos.
An Affair to Remember
New Scientist – 2 August, 2008
In 1919, 23-year-old artist André Breton, enamoured with the latest developments in science, decided it was time to leave the world of Dada behind. The Dada art movement, born amid the turmoil of the first world war, sought to expose the absurdities of society and existence. Breton wanted to continue challenging society’s prevailing social and political values, but hoped to trade in Dada’s “anything goes” message for a reconciliation of the rational and the irrational, which he believed would lead to truth. Thus surrealism was born.
Les Demoiselles d’Avignon
New Scientist – 29 September, 2007
As the 20th century dawned, Paris was seething with new ideas. They were batted about in cafés, discussed in newspapers and analysed in literary magazines. As in the rest of Europe the city’s culture was dominated by the avant-garde: an intellectual movement that questioned all forms of knowledge, in particular classical intuitive notions of space and time. At the same time, Pablo Picasso began work on a painting that would change art forever. It is well known that Les Demoiselles d’Avignon marked the birth of cubism exactly one century ago, but it is less known that much of Picasso’s inspiration came from science, technology and mathematics.
A Genius Finds Inspiration in the Music of Another
The New York Times – January 31, 2006
Last year, the 100th anniversary of E=mc2 inspired an outburst of symposiums, concerts, essays and merchandise featuring Albert Einstein. This year, the same treatment is being given to another genius, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, born on Jan. 27, 250 years ago.
There is more to the dovetailing of these anniversaries than one might think.
Einstein once said that while Beethoven created his music, Mozart’s “was so pure that it seemed to have been ever-present in the universe, waiting to be discovered by the master.” Einstein believed much the same of physics, that beyond observations and theory lay the music of the spheres — which, he wrote, revealed a “pre-established harmony” exhibiting stunning symmetries. The laws of nature, such as those of relativity theory, were waiting to be plucked out of the cosmos by someone with a sympathetic ear.
A thing of beauty
New Scientist – 4 February, 2006
Even when the evidence was going against them, Nobel prize-winners Murray Gell-Mann and Richard Feynman clung on to cherished theories just because they thought they were “beautiful”. Arthur I. Miller wonders what drove them.
Battle for the Black Hole
The Guardian – March 31, 2005
In the 1930s the rarefied world of science was ripped apart by a controversy that was to have devastating consequences for the development of astrophysics. It began when an Indian student called Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar (Chandra) decided to work out what would happen if Einstein’s special theory of relativity was applied to the processes that went on inside stars. This step was important because particles inside stars travel at speeds close to that of light, a situation where Einstein’s theory must be used.
Interview by Amanda Gefter, in the special issue “Creativity” of New Scientist – 29 October, 2005
What is scientific creativity?
It involves the same kind of elements as artistic creativity. Both the scientist and the artist are trying to represent the reality beyond appearances. I believe that at the moment of creative insight, boundaries dissolve between disciplines and both artists and scientists search for new modes of aesthetics. That was certainly the case with Albert Einstein and Pablo Picasso. They were both trying to understand the true properties of space, and to reconcile them with how space is seen by different observers. Einstein discovered relativity and Picasso discovered cubism almost simultaneously.
Einstein and Picasso
Physics Education – November 2004
How the 20th century’s most important scientist—Albert Einstein—and its most important artist—Pablo Picasso—made their greatest discoveries at almost the same time is a remarkable story: Einstein’s relativity theory in 1905 and Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon two years later. A scientist and an artist confronted the same problem—the nature of time and simultaneity—and resolved it after realizing a new aesthetic. At the nascent moment of creativity boundaries dissolve between disciplines. This article explores the similarities in the early work of two of the greatest icons of Art and Science of the last century.
Did Picasso know about Einstein?
Interview by Cara Muldoon, Physics World – November 1, 2002
Was it a coincidence that Picasso developed Cubism at about the same time that Einstein published his theory of relativity? Arthur I Miller thinks not, as he explains to Ciara Muldoon