Physics and Art

Nuclear physicist: Robert August

a.k.a.

Writer: August von Orth

Why Physics and Art?

Why choose a name like Physics and Art for this site? Aren’t the two things opposites? Perhaps it’s presumptuous to strive for a degree of skill in both. With formal training in physics, and a successful career built around it, the polite thing would be to stay in that box. But who likes boxes?

It’s sad that such a thing is considered unusual. Many have been successful at both; an excellent example is Catherine Asaro who lives in my area. And there was a time when it was positively normal; think of Leonardo da Vinci. Artist: painter, sculptor, architect, musician, and writer. Scientist: mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, geologist, cartographer, and botanist. It would be wrong to think of him as a scientist who dabbled in art, or an artist who played around with science. He was definitively both. I’m willing to bet that if anyone ever asked him which he really was, that he’d have cocked his head to the side and wondered what the question even meant. Because in truth the two things are intimately related.

How?

Human faces that appear beautiful to most people have mathematical properties of symmetry and proportionality that are universal. Does the artist recognize this when choosing a model to paint or sculpt? Maybe not, but it is still the underlying property that drives the choice.

In physics, the holy grail is a unified theory that encompasses all the forces of nature. Physicists don’t expect this theory to be a clunky and convoluted series of formulas, they anticipate a single equation, elegant and simple, that describes everything. Why? Because such an equation is beautiful, in the same mathematical sense that defines the beauty of a human face. Just try and find a skilled physicist who thinks otherwise; you’ll fail.

Beauty drives both physics and art. If you find that hard to believe, then listen to Albert Einstein: “If I were not a physicist, I would probably be a musician. I often think in music. I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music.” In fact, it may be that a physicist without an artistic sensibility is doomed to mediocrity.

So why choose a name like Physics and Art for this site? Why choose anything else?

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