“Science is more Creative than Arts”
This was the proposition of the debate that I took part in today as part of CPIT’s Research Month. As you might have guessed I was a member of the affirmative team.
It was an interesting experience and very popular – the room we used was filled to capacity. The opposing team won at the end of the day due to both the skill of the team, and the fact that the audience seemed to be made up of a large number of Arts students.*
I’ve recreated most of my 5 minutes of the debate below, but first I want to discuss some of the (sometimes frustrating) arguments our opponents used. First, because I used some notes, this was pointed out as demonstrating a lack of creativity, ignoring the fact I had indeed taken the time to create what I thought was a reasonable and creative argument. After all, I stated during my rebuttal – would Shakespeare and Keats have been better if they had ad libbed their work?
For one of our opponents creativity is synonymous with spontaneity, which I believe is incorrect. Our other opponents pointed to the scientific method and processes such as double blind experiments as lacking creativity. I tried to point out that these are only parts of science, and that the creativity comes in both the initials stages and the practice of science, however this argument didn’t seem to register. One example I gave, was of a NZ chemist who shocked her rather proper English supervisor by using condoms as gas containment vessels when the balloons normally used in the lab became unavailable.
It was also suggested that science only looked at things for which we already know or have predetermined the answer. This I found really frustrating. Indeed later in the debate our opposition started using creativity and the Arts also interchangeably, indicating I think the underlying problem – many of those in the Arts only see what they do as creative and science is about rules and the scientific method and confirming what we already know.
As I said, it was a very interesting experience and informative, in that I did not realise how restrictive an interpretation some people hold of science.
* It is interesting that this sort of event attracted far more Arts students than Science students. Are Arts students more interested in ideas, and perhaps science students just like to “get on with it”?
Anyway my 5 minutes introduction to the debate is as follows.
Science is more Creative than Arts
Today we are debating the statement that “Science is more creative than Art”. In doing so I’d like to make it clear that we are not debating that Science is better than Art, for both enrich our lives in many meaningful ways. Nor are we arguing that Art is not creative for it would surely be a great folly to do so. What we will be arguing today is that overall Science is more creative than Art.
In order to make this argument, we first need to understand what creativity is. In this debate I refer to the definition
“the use of imagination or original ideas to create something; inventiveness” Oxford dictionary
“the ability to make new things or think of new ideas” Merriam Webster dictionary
With these definitions in mind, how do we decide whether science or art is the more creative?
I would put it to you that there are three questions that can help us decide.
1) Which area has produced the most imaginative ideas?
2) Which area has created the most new things?
3) Which area produces new ideas and things under the more challenging conditions? Because surely creativity is greater when it is being used to solve problems and when it has to work within certain limiting parameters?
I believe the answer to all three of these questions is science.
I’m going to begin by addressing the last question first. I believe science has to be more creative because its very nature means it works within more restrictive parameters.
To demonstrate this I will draw on my experiences as an organic chemist, an area which has allowed the creation of literally millions of new substances. Part of my research involved creating this previously non-existent molecule here.
In some ways the creation of new molecules resembles the construction of a sculpture by an artist, however, it comes with complications – making a new molecule does not simply involve joining one atom to another, in the way an artist might assemble a sculpture piece by piece. Rather it involves taking molecules which already exist and modifying them, breaking them apart and joining bits back together under specific conditions to assemble the molecule I wanted. To create this molecule it took 2 years of solid lab work and required creating brand new techniques in chemistry.
I would argue that because of the challenges and time involved my molecular sculpting, it requires more creativity to achieve, than an artistic sculpture.
Now let us consider my second point – which area has created the most new things? Consider the room around us and objects it contains – science has helped create all of these things. From the production of the various metals, plastics, glass and even the wood products to the ideas that have allowed us to understand and harness the conversion of electricity to light and sound, the nature of gravity, and even the psychology of giving presentations – science has made the their creation possible.
Given the different natures of art and science, what would be a fair comparison of their relative creativity? Perhaps by giving each the same materials and seeing who came up with the most impressive idea or thing.
Take for example aluminium, plastics, gold and ceramics. What might art construct with these materials?
What about science?
Science has created and used these materials in arguably humankind’s greatest imaginative effort – to free us from Earth’s gravity, and propel an adventurous few across space, to stand on another world.
This great scientific achievement relied on the creation of hundreds of new materials, as well as the creation of ideas and concepts in astronomy, biology, physics, materials chemistry, psychology and medicine.
Creativity at the heart of the science which in a short few centuries has extended and enhanced our lifespans, enabled us to communicate and travel over great distances, all while, through creative insight, allowing us to understand, utilise and even challenge the laws of the natural world around us.
In conclusion, while I believe science and art greatly enrich our lives, when it comes creativity science is the more creative because it
1) Has created more ideas and objects
2) Has created more imaginative ideas
3) Demonstrates more creativity while under more challenging and restrictive conditions
Featured image: Mandelbrot set . Wolfgang Beyer / Wikimedia