Friday, October 24, 2014

[Yasmin_discussions] Instrumentalist Art-Science?

Dear Stephen and Joe,

Your comment on atheism ([1], [2], copied below) contain many assumptions. These assumptions may be right but they may not. Even so, the assumptions on which the arguments rest have not been made explicit. The arguments you present against religion and favouring atheism are statements of personal belief.

Natural phenomena require natural explanation. The supernatural cannot explain natural phenomena.

This is a fundamental principle of natural science.

This principle is neither an argument for religion nor against religion. Neither do religions make the same kinds of arguments about God, and the fundamental principles of science offer no argument for atheism or against it.

As with lively dinner conversations and faculty lounge conversations, the conversation on art-science and the supernatural seems to have moved off in several directions. One of these is the call for art-science to advance the cause of atheism! To me, this sounds like … well, like a crusade, or at least a revival meeting.

Why should art-science serve as the instrument of any belief or cause?

Science is not instrumental. We instrumentalise science in technology. By this, I mean technology in its largest sense — ways of doing things (techne) with what we know. Science itself involves expanding the range, depth, and quality of what we know.

Several fields clustered around science do not themselves contribute scientific findings, but help us to understand the scientific enterprise better, and — possibly — to do better science. These include philosophy of science, philosophy of knowledge, history of science, sociology of knowledge, and perhaps some areas of philosophy. Other fields clustered around science interpret science to the larger society or the general public, such as science journalism, science communication, and science education (but not education in the specific scientific disciplines). Still other fields help societies and nation to use science in some way, such as science policy.

In developing this response, I find myself wondering what kind of field art-science is. It is likely that some areas of art-science such as data visualisation serve science and — in some cases — help scientists to do better science. Other forms of art-science comment on science or help the public to better understand science. I am finding it difficult to understand what sort of role an instrumentalist art-science would fill — what would it instrumentalise? What would it do? And what, especially, would it do if its role were to be that of serving the cause of atheism?

Would it celebrate the work of great atheists? Could we expect to see an art-science sonata dedicated to Richard Dawkins in the way that a 17th-century kappelmeister might dedicate an oratorio to the Prince Archbishop of Mainz? Of course, a kappelmeister had a job. The patronage of the church instrumentalised some music but not all music.

The same is true of visual art. Much of Michelangelo's work was instrumentalist, but not much of Picasso's was. Much of Le Corbusier's best work was instrumentalised for religion — but the fact remains that most of the instrumentalist work of great artists, composers, and architects had to do with the fact that the church had power and money to spend memorialising its power. It had little to do with the beliefs of the creators whom the patrons hired. If a bishop were to contact me with a major commission, I'd think about it. I would not agree to be baptised.

These two posts raised many questions. I'm not offering a counterargument or even disagreeing. Rather, I am responding with some of the counter-questions that occur to me after a quick reading.

One genuinely major argument stands out. Whatever art-science is, it is a secondary or supplementary field that depends in some way on science, as philosophy of science does. Nearly all works of art-science draw on science, and these works build on scientific work. Few works of art-science contribute to science in a way that scientists can build on those works in the same way that we build on scientific work. There are some possible examples, but these are few indeed.

Among those scientists on whose work we build, many believe in God, and many more are agnostics or skeptics rather than atheists. Isaac Newton was deeply religious, though he rejected Anglican doctrine and held privately to a kind of deism most comparable to the beliefs of some modern Unitarians. Einstein had a complex and subtle view of religion, referring frequently to "the Lord" and "Der Alte." (For more, read the 1999 book from Princeton University Press by physicist Max Jammer titled: Einstein and Religion — Physics and Theology.)

My own views? I am one of those dyslexic, agnostic insomniacs who stays awake at night wondering if there is a dog.



Ken Friedman, PhD, DSc (hc), FDRS | Editor-in-Chief | 设计 She Ji. The Journal of Design, Economics, and Innovation | Published by Elsevier in Cooperation with Tongji University Press | Launching in 2015

Chair Professor of Design Innovation Studies | College of Design and Innovation | Tongji University | Shanghai, China ||| University Distinguished Professor | Centre for Design Innovation | Swinburne University of Technology

Email | Academia | D&I


Joseph Klein wrote:


This idea of an atheist aesthetic is of particular interest to me right now, in that my most recent musical composition, An Unaware Cosmos, is an homage of sorts to various writers, philosophers, scientists, and political figures throughout history who have questioned or rejected the supernatural---and as a result, often suffering dire consequences at the hands of the religious authorities of their respective eras. My approach has been largely a reaction to the pervasive influence of religion on many contemporary composers---e.g., Olivier Messiaen, Krzysztof Penderecki, John Tavener, Arvo Pärt, to name just a few of the more prominent composers of religious music from the past half century---and a search for sources of inspiration based in objective reality rather than in mythology masquerading as reality. Like Stephen, I find the inherent beauty of nature all the more awe-inspiring in that it is completely unintentional---how much more interesting to realize that our very existence is the result of a series of coincidences and "happy accidents" over billions of years; and how banal the whole experience becomes when we attribute everything we know to some magical being who created it all just for us. That might have been a comforting thought for less advanced cultures from earlier in our species' history, but it seems quite unsatisfying---and more than a little ridiculous---in the present day. For this reason, I am exploring ways to address these concerns through my own creative work, and find the idea of a community of like-minded artists— inspired by the science side of the art-science paradigm—to be an encouraging and invigorating prospect.



Stephen Nowlin wrote:


I want it to say that every human in history who thought or thinks that sensation was an act of God or a work of magic superseding the natural world, has been wrong. I want it to say that if we could rid ourselves of that pernicious magic meme, we'd be much better off and the errant directions in which it has sent human logic careening for millennia might be rectified. I guess maybe that IS an agenda!

I'd be ok with the notion that art-science is being instrumentalized in the service of an atheist agenda. It would certainly give the enterprise some needed controversy! Not as a phony marketing gimmick, though — the fact is, that in art-science, art has paired with a domain that rejects the concept of the supernatural, at the same time that most of the world's population still embraces it. This tension is a legitimate body of content to be identified with art-science. The concept of a non-supernatural cosmos is much broader than atheism, and fertile for an expanded discourse. I think we, who play on the art-science playground, should recognize and encourage it.


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