From Poe’s lament that science had tarnished everything from the Moon to his dreams to the ominous tales of scientific experiment in the works of HG Wells and Mary Shelley, art and science have often lived uneasily beside one another.
Some scientists, when they are not dismissing art as a mere tool for communication or entertainment, view artistic interpretations of the world as either self-absorbed or fanciful. On the other hand, some in the arts accuse science of robbing the world of wonder, leaving behind a universe whose beauty has simply been explained away.
The truth is that the distinction between the two is not between emotion and logic, or illusion and reality. The distinction is between an attempt to make personal the understanding of the universal in science, and to make universal the understanding of the personal in art.
To reduce science to inhuman rationality is to mistake the product of science with the idealised process of science. This is no different to reducing a painting to the technicalities of brushstrokes and pigments: the same mistaken call to utilitarianism made by scientists who perceive art as merely a tool. Science cannot be severed from human experience: it is driven by the deeply human desire to understand everything in the universe and to find our place within it.
Art, then, allows us to understand that which science cannot. Science cannot tell us what van Gogh experienced as he gazed at the night sky, only his paintings can do that. Science cannot give us insight into HP Lovecraft’s crushing existential dread, only his writing can do that. This holds just as true for the experiences of scientists. Science cannot explain the way that scientists see the world to others: only art can do that.
As a showcase for creative writing in, around, and about science, scientists, and the interaction between science and society, we hope to foster an understanding of science as an emotional and artistic endeavour.