“…the surreal nature of physics is precisely why it needs the help of artists. Science has progressed beyond our ability to understand it, at least in any literal sense…It’s a brute fact of psychology that the human mind cannot comprehend the double-digit dimensions of string theory or the possibility of parallel universes. Our mind evolved in a simplified world, where matter is certain, time flows forward, and there are only three dimensions. When we venture beyond these innate intuitions, we are forced to resort to metaphor. This is the irony of modern physics: It seeks reality in its most fundamental form, and yet we are utterly incapable of comprehending these fundaments beyond the math we use to represent them. The only way to know the universe is through analogy.”
Jonah, Lehrer, “Why Science Needs Art“, Shift magazine, no. 20, Sept-Nov 2008
Lehrer quotes the physicist Richard Feynman who has this to say about the need for imagination in science:
“Our imagination is stretched to the utmost, not, as in fiction, to imagine things which are not really there, but just to comprehend those things that are there.”
Freud once said that for every interesting idea he ever had, a poet had already been there before him. It seems to me that this has always been the case. Art in some way has always preceded our breakthroughs in science. Our imaginations lead the way before our ability to physically measure something. But what Lehrer discusses in the article above is even more subtle than that–science has become so complex that scientists now need art not just for new breakthroughs, but to help them make sense of what they’re currently trying to understand.