A cool scientist is now becoming the norm

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Article Date: 
Nov 25 2012, 2124

You are at a party; you meet a cool scientist. This person is fun-loving, loves music and films, can play guitar and sing beside many other things that are normally not associated with science. You are disappointed because you were expecting a scientist to be a lonely scholar capable of working only in the monk-like mode in a corner of the room. To your utter surprise, this man is not a stuffed shirt. He can wear a tie. You wonder how can a fun-loving and animated person be a scientist. How cool people can do really interesting stuff in their labs? Siddharth Ramakrishnan rightly says that there is a huge divide between how people perceive of what happens in the sciences and what actually happens. It brings us to another issue — the interaction of science and art.
One of the purposes of interaction is to break the barriers. When science and art meet, do they break the accessibility barrier between them? Some think it is tough, but more and more scientists now are trying to break this barrier. More and more scientists are excited about collaborating with artists. Ramakrishnan, engaged with creating hybrid neural-electronic devices, shall soon be moving to a place “where the liberal arts and sciences truly seem to be together”. This place, he thinks, will give him an opportunity to get acquainted with inquiry-based learning, besides the usual advantage of curiosity and enthusiasm-filled students.
The world of the academics is changing very fast and with the changes we are observing new attitudes of the players. The monotony of a quiet life may stimulate the creative mind, but there is also a realisation that collaboration helps. As a result, academics is becoming more interactive. Collaboration among diverse disciplines is becoming the norm. As someone put it, teams trump soloists when it comes to scientific output and impact. More and more people are realising the importance of relatedness among unrelated things; “the more unrelated the elements, the more radical the synthesis.” David Galenson and Clayne Pope believe that collaboration in visual art will become increasingly common in the near future. The success of collaboration, however, will depend upon the existence of a shared body of knowledge and techniques. This knowledge sharing is possible when basic values among the collaborators match. Collaborations work when the role of each contribution is seen and assessed in proper light. A conceptualist can collaborate with an experimentalist, but it should be understood that their roles and their approach to problem solving are different. When two diverse thinkers collaborate on a project, collaboration should work, as the purpose of collaboration is to accommodate diverse thinking. This is not to say that one’s view should be accepted without further examination, particularly when the views are coming from entirely diverse sources. Debate is necessary in a collaboration. Vivekananda never accepted anything without properly examining it.
To hold the collaboration for long is also not easy. Collaborations in science are usually short-lived than collaborations in visual arts and humanities. In the sciences, collaborators share conceptual or experimental approaches. In arts, it also includes personal tastes, values and the style of expression. The need for these deeper shared characteristics explains why there are fewer collaborations in arts, that the collaborations that do exist are longer lasting and often combined with a personal partnership, write Galenson and Pope. If artistic identities are rather completely shared, then joint artistic output is much easier.

(The writer is a biotechnologist and ED, Birla Institute of Scientific Research, Jaipur)

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