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Science, Art and the Sacred

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Notes for a panel discussion at the second meeting "Art meets Science and Spirituality in a changing Economy", Copenhagen 1996

A text only version of this essay is available to download.

Within both art and science there is a certain disposition to question, to seek the truth. One thinks of Cezanne's endless quest. Spirituality also seeks truth, yet always in the presence of deep mystery and numinous power. Science asks for closure, ultimate theories, ultimate levels of nature. Spirituality accepts the infinite inscape of the world, it seeks spirit in matter. Art maybe is more concerned with certain ways of being and with the continuation of a historical dialogue through a certain cognitive and Visual Code.

Art is also concerned, I believe, with the transformation of matter - with a certain alchemical containment in which creative pressures are maintained. Music shares in the alchemical process which also has a spiritual parallel. Does an alchemical transformation occur in science, one wonders? - the historical movement from matter into energy and final into subtle realms connected with quantum theory, information, etc.

There is also a concern in art and science with Order. Science deals in the rational, the explicable. Its power is to return the imagination back to matter, experience and experiment. It can even do this at the expense of subverting its own program - the desire for closure and certainty at the end of the 19th century led to relativity and quantum theory which open us to new ways of relating to the universe. In addition non-linear studies, self-organization, and chaos theory open us to the flux of the world and the possibility that there are no underlying fixed laws or forms; rather regularity emerges out of infinite process. So we move from absolute objectivity and fixed order into a new realm, a science of process and becoming.

In terms of Order one also thinks of Piero della Francesca, Seurat and Vermeer and their almost scientific obsession with order. One also thinks of the deep relationship between visual perspective in art and the Cartesian Order (coordinate system) in science. Both seek to stretch nature into a certain order. Yet order can also be present, as in Fra Angelico, but contained within deep compassion and love. Such compassion and empathy seems to be missing in science today which retains its desire for control, accumulated knowledge. Indeed there is a deep sense of separation from the "beloved" in nature inherent in science's objectivity. Compare the desire of our Western society for control, dominance, progress, resolution and closure with that of, for example, the Blackfoot of North America whose whole society is pervaded with a sense of balance, harmony. It is a society that lives with flux and openness - even the sacred circle contains a gap to allow the new to enter. If one thinks of economics, as an expression of contemporary society, then one must also think of sacred economics. Of the assumptions of causality, time, objectivity, etc., inherent in social structure.

Time has its role to play in art, science and the sacred - timefullness and timelessness. Art often appears to lie outside time, as a conversation, within a variety of visual codes, that returns to the same human, and divine themes. Time also appears to be a stumbling block for the New Physics. Can we understand the time of generation, emergence, creativity, rather than time as a parameter in an equation, a mere unitary transformation. How will time come alive? And, one asks, does the future exist in science and art? Or do we create a future that we seek to animate and made manifest? Is such a future drawn towards us, given birth within our present? Does, for the artist, spirit enter into matter and draw inward, towards, the living present, its physical manifestation? Does this extend into the realm of science so that we become the participators of the universe? But where in this grand scheme is there room for the forces of compassion and, as Dante puts it, the Love that moves the sun and the other stars"? And does science even, and does art always, perceive the meaning that suffuses the inscape of all being?

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