One can say that our perception and cognition of our inner and outer worlds has two forms: emotional and logical. In this context, art is based on our emotional perceptions and science is the manifestation of our logical understanding. As such, our values and relationship to art and science is central to our emotional and logical development and highly affects our internal state of being as well as our relationship to the world around us. Therefore, I believe at the core of our journey to align ourselves with sustainable values and practices lies our relationship to art and science.
Let me start by quoting the renowned Persian poet, writer, and literary critique, Mohammad-Reza Shafiei-Kadkani from his article titled, “Perceiving art without knowhow”:
“God is subtle and so is art and love, and all three we perceive without knowhow, and if there is knowhow, it is no God and no art and no love.”
He explains that we perceive art through our feelings and emotions, without logical and analytical understanding. As such, mystery and ambiguity is a core requirement for art, as once art is fully understood, it ceases to be art. He draws parallels with faith and love, as they too belong to the domain of our emotions and are perceived without knowhow. He notes that we seem to be affected more by prayers and mantras in a language that we do not understand, as it facilitates perception without the interference of our analytical mind. He explains that there seems to be a paradox at the core of any faith and mystic tradition, such as creation of evil in Islamic theology and the Trinity in Christian doctrine, which makes the faith not fully comprehensible, and thus being a faith. Similarly, loved ones seem perfect to us, as we step out of our analytical mind when in a loving space.
The flip side of the coin is much more easy to comprehend, i.e., we need to use our logic for analytical and scientific understanding, without the interference of our emotions. In fact, if our emotions affect our logic, then our reasoning would be flawed. Therefore, one can say that art and science are mutually exclusive from a perception point of view, where the former is felt through emotions and the latter is comprehended by logic. As simple and obvious as this might sound, I believe it has far outreaching implication in our lives…
Our cultural values have evolved such that science and logic gets priority over art and emotions. This is very understandable, as our logical mind has provided us with much utility in terms of comfort, safety, and health. Science has done “magic” and has enabled us to achieve heights that seemed impossible. The most glorious achievement of all is perhaps the improvement in our life expectancy, which has more than doubled since the early 20th century. Given all these wonders and benefits, it is not a surprise that science and logic sit in the core of our culture and holds the crown.
Unfortunately, everything has a tradeoff. In the art and science context, I believe the glory of our logical mind and scientific exploration has pushed our emotional development and artistic expressions to the side. However, emotions are the true fulfilling part of our lives, especially when our survival needs are satisfied. So it defeats the purpose to build our lives with science and logic at the core, beyond satisfying our basic needs, as there would be little space left for art and emotions. Science and technology are supposed to serve us and make our lives better. However, once they become the objective, then the roles will change and we will be in service to technology, instead of technology serving us. We pay for it with our lives and resources, while feeling “comfortably numb”. What is life if swallow our food and not able to fully taste and enjoy it, as we are thinking or reading? How often do we get to play music and dance around a fire, or do we even know what that is anymore? These are Life 101s that we are missing at the expense of the latest version gadgets…
I believe shifting our relationship to art and science is key for evolving to a culture that could facilitate our transition to sustainable future. Such culture needs to be deeply rooted in artistic expressions and emotional development, and build its core on our relationship to ourselves, people, and nature, i.e., a Community Culture. In such culture, science and logic would shift from the core to the perimeter, and take more of a supporting role to empower and flourish our artistic expressions and emotional development. Such culture would be more joyful and fulfilling, due to the enhanced emotional experiences. It would also be lighter on the planet, as it seeks to provide fulfillment and pleasure primarily through artistic and emotional development, as oppose to accumulations in the material world.