For today’s critique, we actually have a fun non-fiction piece from Kikyo! Kikyo is hoping to get this piece published in a magazine soon, so she would love for us to be picky and look at details. Though she is mostly looking for a stylistic critique, she is willing to hear any feedback you might have.
Thank you for taking time out of your busy day to comment on this piece! Even short, simple comments can be very helpful. So please do not feel obliged to give a long, comprehensive critique.
Open Pen is a critique opportunity on this blog. It is specifically meant for teenage writers who want feedback from their peers, but anyone is welcome to submit. If you are interested in submitting or learning more about Open Pen, you can on the Open Pen page.
Science as Art by Kikyo
It was the last class before Christmas, and the atmosphere was strangely relaxed: the contrast with last week’s exam frenzy was astounding. We had our results now, and those who had passed were triumphant, while those who had failed were resigned to a resit. The teacher handed round a box of chocolates, and one girl had brought home-made cookies.
This was not what physics class usually looked like.
As he went over the answers to the exam, explaining where we had lost marks, our teacher came to the topic of surface tension. He suddenly paused and then scurried across the room to open a cupboard.
“I’d meant to show you this.”
He took out two test tubes, and at once we sat up and turned to see. People often think science is all about test tubes and chemicals. In fact, it is usually about textbooks and lectures and health and safety forms. When the test tubes come out, something interesting is going to happen.
What he showed us was a tube of water and a tube of mercury. Holding them up, he explained that the meniscus – or curved surface – of the water pointed down, and of the mercury pointed up. He then went along the rows so that everyone could have a look, and I watched the people beside me look intently, give quiet exclamations, and ask questions. It occurred to me then that, a few years ago, I would have thought we were crazy. I would not have understood how examining a tiny glass of water and a tiny thermometer could be exciting, because I did not know why this apparent phenomenon happened or what it meant. It was sitting through lectures and writing notes from textbooks that taught me to find it interesting.
This, I realised, is what the real scientists work for. The life of a science student is not full of these moments. Mostly it is full of getting to lectures on time and typing out lab reports for a deadline and trying to fit a presentation into a specified number of PowerPoint slides. Every so often, though, we get this glimpse of something: we “see” the molecular bonds we have studied, we watch a chemical reaction take place, or hear the waves we drew diagrams of.
Doing this gives us another ability: to look at the world around us and see more. To hear the noise the train is making and hear, not a sound that interrupts our conversation, but a real-life example of wave interference; to look at the night sky and see light travelling towards us at the fastest speed we know of; to see a baby learning to walk and gaining control of motor neurons. This does not replace the normal pleasure of an experience, but adds to it.
I think scientists are often stereotyped and misunderstood. A love of patterns and explanations is seen as an obsession with data. The need to know becomes something to separate us from other people. Delight in logic is depicted as something cold that is incompatible with emotions.
On the other end of the spectrum are artists, who are shown as over-emotional or sentimental, with that “artistic temperament” which makes treating people badly natural.
Maybe, though, scientists and artists are not so different.
I recently read a book by a physicist, and it was the first time I read someone describe science beautifully. Why not, though? Why must we communicate what we find only through bland reports? Is the human mind capable only of analysis or creativity?
Perhaps science can be treated as a form of art. We are on a quest, not to explain everything with an equation, but to understand what surrounds us. Some part of a scientist never grows up, and a child inside continues to ask: “Why?”.
But is there not a child inside the artist as well? The child whose face lights up at seeing colours and patterns and laughs with delight at something beautiful?
The difference I see is that, while the artist creates something beautiful, seeking to bring what is in their mind outside for all to see, the scientist finds something beautiful, and seeks to bring it into their minds to understand it.
Why does that seem strange to those who do not share the passion? Because they do not understand.
I remember a friend telling me: “I never liked classical music until I learned to understand it”. I think this is the key.
I admit that I do not understand art. I have read passionately-written explanations, and it means nothing to me, but an art expert can be carried away by what only they can see.
For scientists, it is the same. We can’t make you feel the wonder of the mini thermometer and tiny glass of water, because you haven’t learned to understand it. Maybe some people can’t learn it, and that is okay.
What would happen if we could understand that we lack understanding? Could the artist see science as the scientist’s art, and the scientist see art as the artist’s science? We could delight in the beauty that we see, and know that others look through different facets of the crystal. After all, we all use human minds, and it is the same world we look at.
It is these moments that we seek, that make the hours of lectures and the ton-weight books worth it. To have them, we must gain the knowledge that past generations worked for, then we can build on their work and discover beauty for ourselves.
So, the image is imprinted on my mind: an old man holding up two test tubes, and a girl with bright eyes leaning forward to see them. They look at each other through the glass as he explains what they are seeing, handing on the information he has so that she can use it to discover more, and the quest for beautiful knowledge continues.