Friday, 20 June 2014

8 Reasons Why Being A Scientist Is Just Like Being An Artist

Art and Science are obviously at completely opposite ends of the academic spectrum, so you would be forgiven for thinking that being a scientist is nothing like being an artist. While there are some differences, there are actually a great number of similarities between the two fields, far more than you might suspect if you do not work in either field. There are also many great scientists who are also great artists (Da Vinci anyone?) or at least art enthusiasts ( eg Einstein). There are obvious things, such as design (which is both artistic and scientific) and using science to create art, but what I'm trying to get at is that being a scientist or an artist requires many of the same attributes and will often result in a fairly similar experience.

1- They Are Free Thinking

Both Artists and Scientists are often free thinkers, not content with following the masses and often uninterested in mass media. both will often come to their own ideas about the world, often discussing their world views with their peers and also open to changing those ideas.

2- They Can Think About Abstract Ideas

As a neuroscientist, I am often thinking about events happening at a cellular and even a molecular level, which I cannot see or touch. In a similar way to how an artist may think about what a piece may look like in the future in order to anticipate any problems, I have to picture what is really happening at a molecular level in my head during an experiment so that I can identify what is going on and what went wrong if it didn't work (which occurs more often than not). 

3- They Are Creative

While it may be obvious that an artist would be creative, creativity is rarely attributed to a scientist. However, it takes a tremendous amount of creativity to come up with the complex experiments needed to provide evidence for a certain hypothesis, let alone actually coming up with the theory itself. Oddly enough, some of the most creative minds in the world dedicate their work to theoretical physics of mathematics, which requires tremendous creativity and phenomenal abstract thoughts (string theory anyone?).

4- They Become Obsessed With Their Projects

Just as you might expect an artist to lock themselves in their studio, scientists often end up working extreme hours in pursuit of their work, often working at weekends and long into the night. They rarely party, but when they do they party hard!

5- They Are Brave In The Face of Failure

Failure is common in the artistic world, with people often starting again from scratch because something went wrong. The same goes in science, where it can take dozens of attempts just to get an experiment to work, let alone actually give any useful evidence! However, like the artists, scientists are not too disheartened by this because the feeling of achievement is so great when it actually works!

6- They Are Often Asked When They'll Get A "Real Job"

While the money for being an academic isn't bad, it's nothing to boast about and I have already been asked a number of times whether I wouldn't rather try and get a "proper job" (read office job). While there's nothing wrong with office work, scientists (like artists) are not made for that kind of work; they need to have freedom to explore ideas, flexibility to work whenever inspiration hits and a well defined goal. 

7- Funding Is A Big Issue

If you don't have the proper funding in either field, then you will not be able to do good work. There is a constant fight in the scientific world to get funding from the various research councils that hold the purse strings, much like how artists are constantly looking for funding for their new projects. For both this means that they are often doing what the funding parties want to see, rather than being able to fully explore their ideas.

8- They Both Make A Huge Contribution To Society

It's hard to imagine where society would be without either of these fields, no art, no music, no medicine, no electricity, no internet or computers, no idea of how the universe works, no performances that can emote truly strong emotions no sculptures, statues or monuments. Things would be pretty bleak without art and science. 


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