Thursday, August 24, 2006

Personal Essay on Art and Science

Everything is purposeful

My friends know that I spend my days these days studying math, so that I do well in my upcoming graduate economics studies. These days too are a new foray into the study of social science. This has giving opportunity to think about what is science and what is art.

Science begins with philosophy and philosophy with art. Marx had classes of people, and said that the lower classes would eventually overthrow the upper classes. This of course is not true. Veblen a few years after Marx said that the poor want to emulate the rich thus conspicuous consumption.

Still, there are different "types" of people. And needless to say we are all different (so social programs that try to make us the same are very harmful, but this, of course, is a different essay). Some people just want to struggle, to get by, to have children, to join clubs, organized religion, have children, drive big cars, etc. Other are seekers, and non-materialists, or bohemians or artists, or known as 'creative' ( :-) ). Some want to work hard, some do not. Of course most of us probably have combinations of all of these characteristics to lesser or greater degrees. And every culture (as a Chinese friend of mine once told me) has a saying that "the grass is always greener on the other side of the street".

Some of us have a greater sensitive or emotion toward human-kind writ large. I guess through the ages these were/are known as the artists and philosophers (again am sure that all of us have these characteristics too). This is where science comes in.

Science is supposed to be an objective study of phenomena which looks at cause and effect. In the physical sciences, science is conducted in controlled experiments. In the social sciences, it is mostly through observation in 'non-controlled' environments (otherwise, really, what good is it. Though some experimental economics is very cool and can capture centuries of societal-evolutionary behaviour in short periods, but this, too, is another essay).

The point is is that, I think, science cannot really be completely objective. Science, just like philosophy and art, is human behaviour. Behaviour has a reason (even meditation has a reason, to remove reason !). Everytime we call somebody or cross the street to say hello, or study or work, we do so for a purpose. Same thing with science, even the hard sciences. We engage in research or the generation of ideas or problem-solve because we are interested in something. This is subjective, not objective. Pareto had this right when he said that science is subjective abstracts of the objective.

It is when this (subjective) science gets turned into social policy is where otherwise reasonable minds differ.