The Artist of Science

An apology

Every morning, I look in the mirror and all that I see is the contrast that my wrinkles provide against the fresh morning sun. Sure, I had my fair share of battles back then: I stood my ground on the debate against the masters, and I won. Today I find myself unable to relate to the war: I cannot understand the goals, neither can I comprehend the currency of the debate. I’m an old man, yes.

The intelligence revolution

Revolutions always make for nice bedtime stories: they engage two or more parties with a difference of opinion, and the so called ‘weaker’ side wins by a huge margin, in a paradigm shifting turn of events. Classic.

Today, there is a trend that urges one to realise intelligence as a quantifiable entity rather than a quality of the being- and we can see this happening in a lot of places: Artificial Intelligence, Claytronics or Intelligent composite materials, to name a few. The era of industrialisation and scientific discovery has hit diminishing returns, and it is now the ‘Era of Intelligence’, as I would like to call it.  Nobody talks about the future or futuristic technology anymore, because the future is already here.

The costs of knowledge

Knowledge unsettles you: it takes the familiar and turns it strange simply by showing you its inner mechanisms. It is extremely hard to un-know anything, because the act of knowing clashes with our assumptions of the world—and you can dream no more, for you now know that there is, in fact, a right answer. Today we stand on tons and tons of literature in extremely specialised branches, and we have, using an axiomatic approach to the scientific method suspending all debate by saying “You are right, and so is everyone else. You just have to have the same assumptions to get to the same conclusion”.

So now we fight a different war, we don’t want to know who or what is right, instead we bet on what guess is accurate enough. We have successfully rid ourselves from art and proudly call ourselves men of science. And as an old man that is just unacceptable to me, or to use the slang, ‘not cool’. I am an artist, and I shall not have someone play me a song in a language that claims there is no music.

The woes of a forgotten beauty

        “In nought hides the void, in unity reigns the supreme,

         and all else acquires an identity in being between.”

The sciences are meditative; they always have been that way, thanks to their ancestry founded in natural philosophy and meta-mathematical logic. Men, who by use of cold logic deciphered the mysteries of the universe—both within and without—were artists in their own right. They chose their canvas, they chose their media and with pinpoint accuracy delivered their goods.

Knowledge is ‘universal’ in nature, so to speak. It is an entity that exists independent of life, and therefore independent of realisation. What is universality? To me, it is the state of being all. It is the invariant in a changing world, rendered constancy simply by it omnipresence. This sort of universality trickles down to perception of the scientific principle as well. Here are some such instances:

(i) Linearity and Symmetry

Linearity is the doctrine that allows us to decompose a big system into small independent units, and symmetry is the one that tell us how these add up. Here is how Galileo’s Eiffel tower-ball drop experiment would look with that perspective:

Imagine three blocks of equal dimension placed side-by-side, and drop them simultaneously. Symmetry tells you that they will fall equally. Now imagine a boundary that contains two of these and consider that as one single body. There you go, one body twice as ‘heavy’ as the other, and they both fall equally.

What does linearity do? It tells you how to add this up. Take any body and decompose it into tiny spheres, thus eliminating any debate on orientation. Now all of them fall equally, and therefore the body’s fall in total is linearised over the fall of each of the small balls, appropriate to their scale. This means that the fall is not governed by the characteristics of the body but by the characteristics of the field, and indeed we know that ‘g’ is a constant at small distances.

Now, I agree with the pedants who will then talk to me about central forces and how philosophy doesn’t solve all problems, but none would deny that appreciating universality with the tools of a caveman brings you just a little closer to the ultimate purpose: an understanding.

(ii) Duality and the least energy principle

Duality, in some sense is literally the ‘other side of the coin’.  If you took an object and turned it ‘inside out’, you would expect some other object with properties that complement the workings of the original object. What if you had a way to turn ‘inside out’ the object along with its properties and its governing laws (I mean, its Physics)? Objects that remain the same under this sort of ‘involution’, as is the technical term are said to possess ‘duals’ that mirror their properties. A lot of things in nature have duals: electrical circuits (as derived from duality in Graph theory), theorems in Boolean algebra, theorems in projective geometry, etc. One of the best examples of duality is the Fourier transform, and this Quora article by Mark Eichenlaub explains it in an elegant manner.

The least energy principle is the tenet that claims stability at a configuration that minimises internal energy. I shall leave it to the reader to think about its connection to duals in other forms of energy and the principle of least action.

The dirge

I find myself unable to write anymore, because here is where I get emotional about all of this, and that brings me back to my opening: I’m an old man. I cannot but cling on to the things that serve as my eyes to the world and refuse to wear spectacles. I cannot apologise for who I am, but I apologise for knowing the difference between one and zero. I apologise for being an artist, and I sincerely plead forgiveness for refusing to imprison my mind. I cannot stop dreaming, so here is all I can say about it: I am, well and truly, sorry.

Adithya Murali


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