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Tim Minchin on science versus arts

November 2, 2013

Tim Minchin has written the foreword to The Best Australian Science Writing 2013. It’s reproduced in today’s Sydney Morning Herald: Science inspires, so don’t let your art rule your head.

Tim makes the point that there’s no foundation to the view of some artists that science has little to offer them. Here’s an excerpt;

At the heart of some artists’ anti-scientific world view is the suspicion science is unromantic. The beauty of the human form is best revealed with charcoal, not with a scalpel. Love should be expressed in a sonnet, not measured with an MRI. A sunset may be photographed or painted or reflected in song, but getting excited by its rate of fusion or the fact it represents pretty much all the mass in the solar system is seen as somehow unpoetic.

And further into it: the fruit of the tree of knowledge will rob you of paradise. Facts are the opposite of inspiration. Scientists are cold, boring, and amoral. If you reject the spiritual you will never access the sublime.

Of course, I’m building a straw man only to burn him. Science is not a bunch of facts. Scientists are not people trying to be prescriptive or authoritative. Science is simply the word we use to describe a method of organising our curiosity. It’s easier, at a dinner party, to say ”science” than to say ”the incremental acquisition of understanding through observation, humbled by an acute awareness of our tendency towards bias”. Douglas Adams said: ”I’d take the awe of understanding over the awe of ignorance any day.”

Science is not the opposite of art, nor the opposite of spirituality – whatever that is – and you don’t have to deny scientific knowledge in order to make beautiful things. On the contrary, great science writing is the art of communicating that ”awe of understanding”, so that we readers can revel in the beauty of a deeper knowledge of our world.

Related article: Where does creativity fit into in science?

The Tim Minchin quote graphic is from You’re Damned To Hell?


  1. He is so spot on. Thanks for the post.

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