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Imagining the world March 19, 2008

Posted by eyegillian in art, communication, creativity, diversity, explore, language, learn, life, science, technology.
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Twisted Conditions, ©2007 by Cesar Hidalgo

New discoveries are always the top of my news reading. Every explorer, scientist, and researcher is out to discover something, whether it’s an archeological “find”, a new biological species, or a technological advance.

Discovery is what makes science interesting for me, because I can continue to “discover” so many new things for myself. I’m particularly fascinated how innovation and imagination work together in the realm of science, not only in generating a hypothesis but also in providing the means to prove or disprove it. My own theory is that little would be discovered at all without imagination and its cousin curiosity.

I have no doubt that factors such as knowledge, discipline, training, persistence and painstaking tracking of detail — and heaps of previous failed experiments — make up 99% of the work of science. But it’s the accidents, the leaps of imagination, the long-hoped-for but unexpected breakthroughs that will be remembered.

Please Listen To Me, ©2006 by Zach Vitale

As a trained musician who has given piano lessons to students from age 5 to age 75, I am intrigued by the human ability to make a leap from the known to the unknown.

The inter-related skills of playing a musical instrument — note-reading, coordination of eye and hands, strengthening fingers and learning fine motor control, developing tactile memory, practicing patterns of movement, using hearing to provide corrective feedback, learning the mechanical abilities and limitations of the instrument, reproducing written notation in terms of time and volume — these skills can be learned by almost anybody.

But the difficult point for many students, especially the older ones, is learning how to trust these skills, to step back, as it were, from the complex task and just play. When all these skills come together under their creative control, when the person playing the piano can listen to the whole sound and “feel” the notes forming under their fingers, then music is the result.

When I taught piano lessons, I tried to describe this leap of trust in terms of driving a car. I remember my early lessons, my nervousness, and how I was paralyzed in the middle of a road once because I couldn’t figure out how to flick on my turning signal, apply the brake, check the mirror and turn the steering wheel all at the same time. Yet now I can do all these (and many more complex) tasks at once without thinking about more than the single act of “turning the car”.

Circuit Board Butterfly #16, ©2006 by Laura Hewitt

Imagination is important for me in almost every area of learning. When someone at work asks for help with a computer problem I have never seen before, I can often use my imagination to “intuit” the solution. When I have a difficult task or conversation ahead of me, I depend on my imagination to “visualize” a successful outcome. And when I plan my holidays (or daydream about being on holiday), I use my imagination to “picture” being in a wonderful environment. And I’m trying to use my imagination to leap that gap between my French lessons and the ability to think and speak in French, but I haven’t succeeded… yet!

Innovative thinking and imagination — the ability to see beyond a complex problem to an exciting solution — this is where science and the arts meet.

All images from the Digital ’07 Art Exhibition “Pattern Finding” organized by Art and Science Collaborations, Inc (ASCI).

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Related Links:
The Seed: “The future of science… is it art?”
NewScientist: “The art of science”
Art and Imagination
Art and science



1. Richard - March 19, 2008

This post is just brilliant Gillian – if only other people would step back and think like you’ve done in this post.

The more we discover, the more we progress. And the more we imagine, the more we discover.

And by the way, I play piano too!

2. eyegillian - March 19, 2008

Thanks, Richard! And to think there’s a pianist hiding under your “worldly” exterior…:)

3. lavenderbay - March 19, 2008

Machine-made music, from player pianos to synthesizers, has never been able to replace the human touch. Creativity, discovery, imagination, intuition, and “happy accidents” — you’re saying, if I’ve got it right, that these are all aspects of any art, from watercolour painting to music to cooking to surgery to masonry to sailing to statesmanship to breeding puppies to exploring space to… Piano playing without the human element is just so many mathematical principles, while geometry with the human element is a thing of beauty (eg. the Book of Kells); is that it?

4. eyegillian - March 20, 2008

Yes, Lavenderbay, I think all of these imaginative energies are aspects of art, and in that sense you could say that science, too, is art. But it’s not just the human element I was celebrating here, because all of these areas — from plodding scales to dry mathematical formulas — are, after all, human pursuits. I’m celebrating the way our creative imaginations can help us leap across the unknown, because these leaps, these rare and precious eureka moments, are essential to all human fields of endeavour.

5. Richard - March 20, 2008

I play violin too! Though I prefer piano – it’s one of my favorite ways to relax. I’d probably say Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata is my favorite piece.

Sorry, that was a bit off-topic! 🙂

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