Are Science and Art Two Sides of The Same Coin?




I had thos professor, decades ago. He was a brilliant mathematician, and was so nerdy that he was able to actually explain complex mathematical concepts to the dumbest (me) of all his students. I don’t use the word genius very often, but this guy, in my opinion was exactly that. He was the guy that would tell you on day one: Everything I say in this class may be a test question. Of course, many just chuckled at that announcement, I probably did as well, but his words were prescient as his exams, all hand written and duplicated on a mimeograph machine, consisted of no more than 3 questions/problems.  He had to grade on a curve because no one ever received 100% , yes that’s how tough his classes were.

Receiving 40% on an exam may turn out to be an “A”. Why did I continue to sign up for his classes? Well, I learned more in one week from him than i did from others during an entire semester. He challenged us. He made us better and those that couldn’t take the enormous amount of work outside class usually dropped. I know that every class I had with him usually began with at least 20 and ended, by midterm with 11 or 12. You had to want it to stay in his classes. I was one of the few. Once or twice per semester, he would invite a selected few of his students to his home, on the weekend for a barbecue. It was actually an honor to be invited , and no, it had no affect on your grade. These were just the ones he considered the most promising. Yes, I was invited.

So, I asked around some other faculty I knew about what I should bring. I was raised that way. Bring something drink or food, depending on the circumstance. In this case a barbecue meant it was wide open. Another professor told me that it might not be a bad idea to bring a bottle of bourbon, his favorite adult beverage. So, I found the label I was told he preferred (expensive at the time) and brought it with me to the gathering. When I arrived, I presented it to him and thanked him for the invitation. Of course I received a skeptical look and immediately told him that this was not some sort of bribe, just a thank you, as I had been raised.  He took me at my word.

This event began around 4 pm and ended by sometime just before 8 pm. Everyone had a great time. The food, prepared by he and his wife ( a few others brought in some dishes as well) was fantastic and it was a total, non-school type of event. Music out in the yard, laughing and talking about nothing that had to do with school. As I began to leave, shaking hands with all there, the professor asked me to wait for a minute. Of course, I complied. I had no idea why, maybe he was going to berate me because he actually thought I was attempting to bribe him with his label. Hey, at the time (before mid-term) I had a respectable “C” in his class. Trust me, any other class? That would be an “A”.

So, as I sat with him on his porch, sipping great bourbon, we began a conversation that has stuck with me since. In his home, I had noticed several framed paintings, watercolors and they were signed by him. I had also noticed a few guitars around: steel and vinyl acoustics, aas well as at least 2 electrics. I asked him about both and he told me that yes he enjoyed painting and music. Interesting, I thought. I told him that I too played guitar and so we spent a little time doing that, all the while, yes, sipping on that bourbon.

The conversation continued. I eventually asked him if he thought that science and art were two sides of the same coin? Think about it: a genius mathematician and and artist (music, painting) as well. He disagreed with me and told me the analytical side of the brain had nothing to do with the creative. Really?  So how does it posit that there are so many people, in science, that also have a creative side? Not all, but many, like him? Did he agree that music itself is mathematical? Of course he did. Painting: colors, shading: doesn’t that involve the analytical side of the brain? He admitted it was a possibility. So I asked him to ask the class on Monday, the 12 or 13 of us, how many had a creative side whether it was playing an instrument or painting, sculpting, writing, whatever.

He actually did ask that question and everyone of us raised our hands. He looked at me and smiled. I can’t say for sure that he ever believed, but I know for a fact that many of his students, and I took several classes from him where he eventually asked the same question,  that yes, there  is a correlation, some way between the analytical and creative side of the brain.

Over the years, I’ve kept in contact with this one professor. His classes changed my life. Yes, That’s true. No other teacher had me questioning and delving into mathematical principles as then one did.

We never agreed on whether science and art were 2 sides of the same coin but he would always try and get in touch with me to invite me by the house. A few times, I actually made it and interacted with his current students.  I still believe that yes, science and art are complimentary. I’ve found others that believe the same but it was always important for me, with this one professor , to acknoledge the same. Nope,

To settle up here, I ended up with a “B” in that first class. No one, that I’m aware of received higher. and only 4 of us, as far as I recall, earned that grade. To me, justhaving the opportunity to get to know this professor was worth more to me than any grade. When I was uoing, teachers like him were already dew and far between. I can’t imagine the chasm that exists today. .



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