From SEED Magazine:
To answer our most fundamental questions, Science needs to find a place for the Arts.
By Jonah Lehrer
Human eyes are horizontally offset from each other, and the visual system uses that offset to calculate depth. When an object is fixated upon, images are cast on the same place on each retina.
A view with many identical (or similar) objects casts multiple images on the eyes, which can either be correctly matched, giving a flat impression, or mismatched, so one image corresponds to the other, but at a different depth.
I think that the artists from the impressionist and post-impressionist periods figured this out. They said they could paint air and managed to do so by creating false stereopsis cues, which manipulate depth perception. So Angrand’s painting actually looks more three-dimensional when you view the painting with both eyes instead of with a single eye.
—Margaret Livingstone, Neuroscientist, Harvard University
In the early 1920s, Niels Bohr was struggling to reimagine the structure of matter. Previous generations of physicists had thought the inner space of an atom looked like a miniature solar system with the atomic nucleus as the sun and the whirring electrons as planets in orbit. This was the classical model.
But Bohr had spent time analyzing the radiation emitted by electrons, and he realized that science needed a new metaphor. The behavior of electrons seemed to defy every conventional explanation. As Bohr said, “When it comes to atoms, language can be used only as in poetry.” Ordinary words couldn’t capture the data.
Bohr had long been fascinated by cubist paintings. As the intellectual historian Arthur Miller notes, he later filled his study with abstract still lifes and enjoyed explaining his interpretation of the art to visitors. For Bohr, the allure of cubism was that it shattered the certainty of the object. The art revealed the fissures in everything, turning the solidity of matter into a surreal blur.
Bohr’s discerning conviction was that the invisible world of the electron was essentially a cubist world. By 1923, de Broglie had already determined that electrons could exist as either particles or waves. What Bohr maintained was that the form they took depended on how you looked at them. Their very nature was a consequence of our observation. This meant that electrons weren’t like little planets at all. Instead, they were like one of Picasso’s deconstructed guitars, a blur of brushstrokes that only made sense once you stared at it. The art that looked so strange was actually telling the truth.
An excellent article on the role of Art in Science.