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Pearls from artists* # 277

Lake Titicaca above Cocabana, Bolivia

Lake Titicaca above Cocacabana, Bolivia

* an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.

 Einstein wrote, “The most beautiful experience  we can have is the mysterious.  It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science.”  What did Einstein mean by “the mysterious?”  I don’t think he meant that science is full of unpredictable or unknowable supernatural forces.  I believe that he meant a sense of awe, a sense that there are things larger than us, that we do not have all the answers at this moment.  A sense that we can stand right at the edge between known and unknown and gaze into that cavern and be exhilarated rather than frightened.  Just as Einstein suggested, I have experienced that beautiful mystery both as a physicist and as a novelist.  As a physicist, in the infinite mystery of physical nature.  As a novelist, in the  infinite mystery of human nature and the power of words to portray some of that mystery.     

Alan Lightman in A Sense of the Mysterious:  Science and the Human Spirit

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Pearls from artists* # 276

The West Village

The West Village

* an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.

 A long time later, after I  became a novelist, I realized that the ambiguities of the human mind are what give fiction and perhaps all art its power.  A good novel gets under our skin, provokes us and haunts us long after the first reading, because we never fully understand the characters.  We sweep through the narrative over and over again, searching for meaning.  Good characters must retain a certain mystery and unfathomable depth, even for the author.  Once we see to the bottom of their hearts, the novel is dead for us.

Eventually, I learned to appreciate both certainty and uncertainty.  Both are necessary in the world.  Both are part of being human.  

Alan Lightman in A Sense of the Mysterious:  Science and the Human Spirit

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 272

Barbara's studio

Barbara’s studio

* an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.

One important distinction that can be made between physicists and novelists, and between the scientific and artistic communities in general, is what I shall call “naming.”  Roughly speaking, the scientist tries to name things and the artist tries to avoid naming things.

To name a thing, one needs to have gathered it, distilled and purified it, attempted to identify it with clarity and precision.  One puts a box around the thing and says what’s in the box is the thing and what’s not is not…

… The objects and concepts of the novelist cannot be named.  The novelist might use the words love and fear, but these names do not summarize or convey much to the reader.  For one thing, there are a thousand different kinds of love…

… Every electron is identical, but every love is different.

The novelist doesn’t want to eliminate these differences, doesn’t want to clarify and distill the meaning of love so that there is only a single meaning… because no such distillation exists.  And any attempt at such a distillation would undermine the authenticity of readers’ reactions, destroying the delicate, participatory creative experience of a good reader reading a good book.  In  sense, a novel is not complete until it is read.  And each reader completes the novel in a different way.     

Alan Lightman in A Sense of the Mysterious:  Science and the Human Spirit

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 271

Barbara's studio

Barbara’s studio

* an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.

The following quote is so true for artists also!

Without a powerful emotional commitment, scientists could not summon up the enormous energy needed for pursuing an idea for years, working day and night in the lab or at their desks doing calculations, often sacrificing the rest of their lives.  It is little wonder that such a personal commitment sometimes causes the scientist to defend his or her beliefs regardless of facts.     

Alan Lightman in A Sense of the Mysterious:  Science and the Human Spirit

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 264

Barbara at work, Photo: Marianne Barcellona

Barbara at work, Photo: Marianne Barcellona

* an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.

Science brims with colorful personalities, but the most important thing about a scientific result is not the scientist who found it, but the result itself.  Because that result is universal.  In a sense, that result already exists.  It is only found by the scientist.  For me, this impersonal, disembodied character of science is both its great strength and its great weakness.

I couldn’t help comparing the situation to my other passion, the arts.  In the arts, the individual is the essence.  Individual expression is everything.  You can separate Einstein from the equations of relativity, but you cannot separate Beethoven from the Moonlight Sonata.  No one will ever write The Tempest except Shakespeare or The Trial except Kafka.      

Alan Lightman in A Sense of the Mysterious:  Science and the Human Spirit

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 261

Suffolk County

Suffolk County

* an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.

I think that the sensation and process are almost identical in all creative activities. The pattern seems universal.  The study and hard work,  The prepared mind.  The being stuck. The sudden shift.  The letting go of control.  The letting go of self.

Alan Lightman in A Sense of the Mysterious:  Science and the Human Spirit

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 260

Suffolk County

Suffolk County

* an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.

The best analogy I’ve been able to find for that intense feeling of the creative moment is sailing a round-bottomed boat in strong wind.  Normally, the hull stays down in the water, with the frictional drag greatly limiting the speed of the boat.  But in high wind, every once in a while the hull lifts out of the water, and the drag goes down to zero.  It feels like a great hand has suddenly grabbed hold and flung you across the surface like a skimming stone.  It’s called planing. 

Alan Lightman in A Sense of the Mysterious:  Science and the Human Spirit

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 259

In Bolivia on Lake Titicaca

In Bolivia on Lake Titicaca

* an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.

In college, I made two important decisions about my career.

First, I would put my writing on the back burner until I became well established in science.  I know of a few scientists who later became writers, like C.P. Snow, Rachel Carson, but no writers who later became scientists.  For some  reason, science – at least the creative, research side of science – is a young person’s game.  In my own field, physics, I found that the average age at which Nobel Prize winners did their prize-winning work was only thirty-six.  Perhaps it has something to do with the focus on and isolation of the subject.  A handiness for visualizing in six dimensions or for abstracting the motion of a pendulum favors an agility of mind but apparently requires little knowledge of the human world.  By contrast, the arts and humanities require experience with life and the awkward contradictions of people, experience that accumulates and deepens with age.       

Alan Lightman in A Sense of the Mysterious:  Science and the Human Spirit

Comments are welcome!