Art in research

Does it help to apply some form of creativity in scientific research? Stated differently, does creativity have any role to play in scientific research? I would like to think so.

At first one may think that creativity is only associated with the act of conjuring up things that don’t really exist. A painter paints a land scape scene and applies creativity to render the trees and the clouds in interesting ways. As such, they are different from the trees and cloud in the real scene. In as far as the artist employs creativity, the result become different from reality.

If this is what creativity produces, then it would have no place in scientific research, because in this context, we are not interested in anything that would deviate from reality. But creativity does not only representing that which doesn’t exists. It can also be associated with a much more abstract activity.

When a theoretical researcher tries to come up with a model that describes an aspect for physical reality, he or she needs to create something that has not existed before. It is not initially known whether this model gives the correct description of reality. In that sense, one does not known whether it represents anything that is real. One would know that only after the model has been tested. But before that step can be taken, one needs to create the model. For this first step, the researcher is required to employ creativity.

The act of creating such a model is an act of bring into existence something that has not existed before. The inspiration for this model may be obtained from other similar models or from other models in unrelated fields of study. In the same way, artists get inspiration from the works of other artists. despite the source of inspiration, the resulting model is novel in one way or another. That is where the creativity lies.

So, art and science are not that different after all. Both require the same mental faculties. Perhaps they just call it by different names.

Mandalas

Art and religion has many regions of overlap. It is an organic interaction that leads to much richness in cultures. One can just think of all the Byzantine art as an example.

Among the forms of art associated with Eastern religions, one finds the mandala. It is an abstract pattern, usually circular in design and often has some symmetries. Its meaning is some way associated with the universe, however, there’s more to it. Part of the whole significance is the actual creation process of a mandala. A person would tend to start from the centre and work his way outward. In this way, it represents how the individual is being connected with the universe. At least, that is what I understood from what I read about it.

These days one often encounter mandalas in various non-religious contexts. It may even be regarded as a theme in abstract design. One can for instance notice them in adult colouring books.

It is fun to makes one’s own design for a mandala and to let the creative juices flow. The one above I made using POV-Ray. One can play with the colours. Here I decided to make it look like a metal wire construction. The reflection at the bottom did not come out so nicely.

Favourite painting

What is it about a particular picture that attracts you? I’m talking about pictures of people you know. Just think of that picture of a landscape or a still life. It could be a portrait of a person.

What would be the reason why why that picture carry such a special meaning? It could be the style of painting, the artistic nature, or the mood of the painting.

Often it is because one associates something beyond the picture with it. Perhaps there was an event that is captured by the scene depicted in it. Perhaps you met somebody on those very steps depicted in the cityscape. Maybe the pot in that still life looks just like the one your grandmother use to have.

Whatever the reason, usually it has some to do with an emotion. The picture captures that emotion and when you look at it you remember that emotion. It may be a sad emotion, but it is unlikely that this would be your favourite picture if the memory of that emotion causes pain. So, chances are that the emotion captured by the picture is a positive one. It make you feel good or happy to look at that picture.

I have such a favourite picture sitting just above my work desk, but I’m not going to show it too you. It may just reveal a bit too much about myself.

Flow

It is a sunny day. A group of boys are playing soccer outside. In a house next to the field where the boys are playing soccer, another boy is practicing piano. Through the window, this boy can see the other boys playing soccer. He can hear them shouting and having fun. It he wants to, he can go out and join the group of boys, but he doesn’t do that. Why not?

Perhaps he is shy and doesn’t get along with the other boys. However, there is another more obvious reason. As much fun as it may be to play soccer, this boy is having more fun playing the piano. He reaps greater enjoyment from this activity than he would with the other boys out on the field.

It is said that one can only achieve greatness in a particular field after one spent at least ten thousand hours practicing it. So the best ballet dancers, tennis players, pianists, etc. could only have achieved that level by spending exorbitant amounts of time improving their skills.

Why would anybody want to do that, like this boy playing piano instead of joining the other boys outside? There is a state of mind that one can enter that produces significant happiness. It is when one confronts a considerable challenge and at the same time have the skill to overcome it. This state of mind is called flow. The idea was introduced by a psychologist, Mihály Csíkszentmihályi in 1975.

Flow provides a heightened level of concentration. It allows one to exclude external disturbances. Although the boy practicing piano can hear the shouts of the boys playing soccer, it did not bother him. He was barely aware of it. One also tends to lose track of time. Long after the boys stopped playing soccer, this boy is still practicing piano and he’s happy doing so.

Anybody could experience flow. In fact, most people probably often do. Whenever you are doing something that you are good at and what you do is challenging enough that it occupies your full attention, then chances are that you are entering a state of flow. If you are good at your work and it does not bore you, then you probably experience flow on a daily basis. Then it is also quite possible that you enjoy your work. It is quite common with artists or people involved in activities associated with being creative.

Playing with pictures

Perhaps it is the journey I followed through life. Perhaps it is just an innate yearning to be creative. Don’t really know why, but I like to create pictures.

So, I just uploaded a new picture for the banner on my blog. For this one, I used POV-Ray. It is a ray-tracing program. One produces a text files (a *.pov file) that contains the descriptions of the objects in the scene that one wants to render. Then the program would produce the image from this file. It is a bit like writing a program.

There are other programs that provide front-ends or graphic user interfaces with which on can create the images for ray tracing. But I like the text-file based approach. It is somehow cleaner.

Although some things are rather challenging to create in this medium, one can in principle create anything this way. Some of the images that people produce are jaw-dropping amazing. I’m just playing.