Werner Sun/ First of all: Elaine, many thanks for bringing a fresh perspective to this conversation! I very much enjoyed your talk on Saturday. I wanted to react to the comments in your post and also synthesize a few threads from elsewhere in Session I.
I wholeheartedly agree that the scientific method in practice is much messier than the way it is taught in schools. I made a similar point in one of my earlier comments. When I said that science is a way of thinking, I was referring to scientists’ underlying attitudes and worldviews, not any specific procedure for doing science.
Similarly, returning to a previous thread, the “core concerns” that I suggested we should unpack also reside on this fundamental level. Dan Weiskopf nicely characterized the practices of science. And Taney cited a definition of art from Sian Ede. But I’d also like to hear some answers to these questions: what are the deeply held beliefs implicit in our work as artists and scientists, and what makes us believe these things?
For example, physicists might say they believe that the universe can be modeled mathematically (even if we don’t have a complete description yet), and the reason for this belief is the spectacular track record that physics has enjoyed so far. This does not preclude the possibility that there might be an ultimate limit to our knowledge, but we seem to be far from hitting that limit (if it exists), so why throw in the towel now?
How would others here — artists, scientists — answer these questions? I am genuinely curious about this!
I think your (Elaine’s) broader point is wonderfully provocative (and perhaps makes the question of core concerns a moot one): that artists may have already intuited (through trial and error) how the brain processes stimuli, and that scientists might look to this technical know-how to address certain “hard questions” (including consciousness). It implies that artists, in the very act of grappling with ambiguity, have produced a kind of knowledge that can be leveraged concretely. This idea echoes the notion that many others here (Anker, Elkins, Nowlin, Weiskopf) have advanced about the value of the drunken conversation, that the conversants need not understand each other fully, or that sci-art need not know where it’s going, for there to be some benefit.
Going one step further (though still within sci-art’s co-production regime) is Daniel Kohn’s suggestion that sci-art could explore the tension between different types of knowledge, which I find intriguing because this tension can take place even within a single person. Strictly speaking, scientific knowledge can be encapsulated in information-theoretic terms as the reduction of a large dataset with many degrees of freedom to a more compact model with fewer degrees of freedom (or free parameters). But then, these models are necessarily beheld by humans, for whom the knowledge itself (as it might be written on a chalkboard) is complemented by the experience of knowing (the jolt of finally understanding what’s on that chalkboard). This unique personal component is not easily quantified but appears to be universal. In the fullness of time, as neuroscience progresses, this personal knowledge might eventually become amenable to measurement/description. But until then, one only has to look within oneself for a sci-art subject.