Posts Tagged ‘Science and Art’

An off-hand comment of Neil Gaiman’s has shattered of my notions about the difference between science and literature. But first, a short pontification:

Science is, as any active researcher will tell you at great length, a very creative endeavor. There is a constant stream of problems — ranging from “Why do particles have mass?” to “How do I wire these three instruments together without blowing up the lab?” to “Can I word this paper to maximally piss of my rivals without having the referee make me change it?”. The solutions generally require agile and unconventional thinking. Far from the image of mindless button-pushing and number-crunching, a sizable part of even the day-to-day life is about constructing thoughts that no one has had before.

However, this creativity is also highly constrained. The question, “What is the universe made of?” has a huge range of possible answers. On the other hand, almost all of those are wrong. I could advance the theory that at the fundamental level everything is made of unicorn tears. While that may be an interesting (or possibly horrific) world, it’s not the one we live in. Scientific creativity is much more akin to that of a haiku writer than, say, a novelist.


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Today I ran across two incredible sets of images. The first is a set of “solargraphs” from a New Scientist story (via The Bad Astronomer). The photographer, Justin Quinnell, exposed a pinhole camera for 6 months. The resulting image tracks the sun as it moves across the sky. Each track is the motion of the sun over the course of a day, and the different tracks show how it moves through the seasons. The trick, of course, is finding a place where a camera can sit undisturbed for 6 months. If you have that, then the article tells you how to take your own. I smell science project.

The second, which I found linked at Swans on Tea, is a set of pictures of Fire Rainbows, a phenomena I’d never even heard about before. These are incredibly rare, requiring cirrus clouds with ice crystals aligned just so while the sun is at a particular angle, but the result is beyond spectacular. If you painted this for a class you’d be flunked for making something so unrealistic.

Take a look at the full sets; both are breathtaking.

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