concrete and abstract are not mortal enemies.

| Friday, July 16, 2010
Today's Tune: Glass

So today, I wanted to talk a little more about science.

HEY HEY HEY. YOU WITH THE ENGLISH DEGREE. YOU COME RIGHT BACK HERE.

Ahem. Now that I've roped you all to your chairs with my extremely clever witticism... I'll toss you a phrase you may have heard a lot if you happen to be an artsy-type.

"I hate math/science. I suck at it. Numbers and laws are boring. I'm too creative for that."

Which I always LOL at, because, come on. Science isn't creative? O RLY. How do we think scientists do anything? By coming up with a hypothesis and acting on it. By testing, poking, prodding, and otherwise breaking and rebuilding the world to see how it works. Not creative? PUHLEEZ.

I always wonder how many of us actually suck at math or science. I'm about as head-in-the-clouds arty-pants as they come, and I don't suck at math OR science. I don't like doing some of it, but I'm not bad at it. There was a point when I bought into the idea that these were all separate, foreign subjects that couldn't be shared or blended. You were either good at one, or good at the other. One was for concrete thinkers, one was for abstract.

No. You think music isn't based in logic? That building a functioning symphony doesn't take some level of concrete planning? Then take a music course. Shoo! Go on!

This is flawed thinking. When we limit ourselves to one area of study, we are actually restricting our creativity. The brain isn't some compartmentalized cubby, with math over here and writing over here and physics in this corner and painting on the top shelf. When we use one area, we are actually exercising multiple sections of our brain. Seriously, go bug Livia about it, she'll tell you.

I can't speak for everyone (obviously), but personally, I can't just read, eat, sleep and breathe fiction, and expect my creativity to keep up. The more I learn about the world, the more ideas work their way into my conscious mind. Taking a break from writing in order to work a puzzle or watch a science show gives me that much more to draw on.

The idea that art and science are at odds is a myth. It's often conditioned in us creative types that we're not supposed to be good at math or science because that's just not how our brain works. Therefore, many of us don't try. Don't get invested. Bullocks, I say. It's entirely possible we're just out of practice.

I'm not suggesting that we all go out and study topics that we loathe and find mind-numbingly boring. After all, I'm not a fan of pre-calculus or chemistry. Blech. But biology, astronomy, string theory? That stuff is FASCINATING. Sudoku? Good brain exercise.

All I mean to say is, give science and math a chance again. How much of your "ineptitude" for these subjects is real, and how much is conditioned? Sure, some people are genuinely bad at math. It happens. But I bet it's less likely than we think.

11 comments:

{ Matthew Rush } at: July 16, 2010 at 8:21 AM said...

Science is awesome. Math not so much. Actually it can be really cool, but the higher practices like Calc and Trig have always stumped me.

{ Emily White } at: July 16, 2010 at 8:42 AM said...

I love science! Math I'll do if I have to, but studying science has almost become a hobby of mine.

{ fairyhedgehog } at: July 16, 2010 at 8:47 AM said...

Now I'm not scared of Maths I'm much better at it.

I was put off at school by evil teachers and it's taken me decades to recover.

{ aspiring_x } at: July 16, 2010 at 11:38 AM said...

very right!
i am madly in love with science
(higher math is like the mysterious hunk who is just out of reach, but i keep pining after him anyway)

{ Shelley Sly } at: July 16, 2010 at 3:15 PM said...

Well said!
I am neither all "science"-brained or "art"-brained. I have a B.S. in Psychology, which means I had to take biology and statistics, etc. My grades were never great in math, but now that I occasionally teach/tutor math, I must say I enjoy algebra.
But I'm a writer, of course. You're right, these subjects aren't opposites.

{ Stewart Sternberg } at: July 16, 2010 at 7:49 PM said...

A few years ago I forced myself to sit down with an algebra book. It was tough going, but as I get older I keep reading about the importance of stimulating different parts of the mind.

{ maybe genius } at: July 17, 2010 at 12:11 AM said...

Yay! It pleases me greatly that we have so many science peeps 8)

{ Mohamed Mughal } at: July 17, 2010 at 5:06 AM said...

Some of our best writers have strong science backgrounds: Asimov, Clarke. Your theory is sound; empirical observations support it.

Anonymous at: July 17, 2010 at 6:15 AM said...

As someone with an English degree, your post spoke directly to me. ;-) I've worked in IT for decades and have always seen a close connection between programming and writing. Both require precision and clarity of expression.
I've also marveled at how scientists can come up with the right experiment to test a theory. That requires tremendous creativity sometimes.

{ Jen } at: July 17, 2010 at 5:49 PM said...

Man I think your name really fits you... maybe genius is so right... actually more like YOU ARE GENIUS!!!

I loved this, and you are on a good path. I love science and I am with you in the belief that it also requires and inspires creativity. Math on the other hand, well I think I'll leave that to the experts!

Happy Saturday!

{ Sarah N Fisk } at: July 19, 2010 at 6:54 AM said...

I'm a Mechanical Engineer, so I definitely don't have a problem with math or science. In fact, I chose ME because I loved math, but didn't want a Math degree I couldn't do much with.

In my circle of friends, I'm kind of notorious for the phrase "Science works!" because I use it for everything. For example, here's Science telling me I shouldn't make my bed: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/4181629.stm

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