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Beauty and Proportion: Science and Art


If you look at the artistic event and the scientific event in the beginning, they're the same. They start with a hunch, and you begin to refine.

Alan Alda: Here you have this whole other life, not only have you had these apparently varied careers, varied areas of research, you play the violin...

Gerry Edelman: Used to...

Alan Alda: At an expert level, you're also an artist, therefore. Or used to be, can be. Does that come into your work, do you think in terms of art when you're thinking about the brain?

Gerry Edelman: No, of course not. I don't think consciously about it, but if you think about the process of art, look, my eldest son is an artist, a painter and sculptor. My daughter is a composer and she's a rising star of bluegrass, believe it or not. But if you look at the artistic event and the scientific event in the beginning, they're the same. They start with a hunch and a feeling and a pattern, and you begin to refine. In violin playing you better play in tune, that's the minimum, unless the deliberate instruction of the composer is otherwise. In science you have to run controls, you want to be quite careful about thinking out everything. But in the long run, I think that the difference is that in the scientific pursuit, you are not inventing most of the time, you are uncovering, and you don't have quite the freedom that you have, I think, in an artistic sense, since it has to correspond.


Andy Warhol said, 'Tell me, why does science take so long?'

 

Let me tell you about Andy Warhol. He came to see me once, and he said, in his very wispy voice, he said, 'Tell me, why does science take so long?' And I said, 'Mr. Warhol, when you do Marilyn Monroe, does it have to be exactly the way she is...?' He said, 'Oh, I don't do it. We have something called the Factory, they do silkscreen.' And I said, 'Well, in science, it has to be the way she is.' He said, 'That is powerful.' And he went away. So the point is, when you discover something in science or uncover a relationship, others will come in and transform it again, and your signature, the thing that you needed to do it and that they need to do it will naturally go to one side. So style, which is important in telling the story, say, is not really at the center of science. But the sense of beauty and the sense of structure and proportion, they are shared.

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