The Poetry of Science

Poetry and science, two words that often don’t go hand in hand, the former deals with imagination, aesthetics, and beauty, while the latter is highly logical and analytical. Science is often thought of as facts and concepts usually leaving creativity out of the picture. But is this truly the case or is there creativity to be found in science?

The greatest scientists are artists as well

by Albert Einstein

Artistic abilities such as poetry, art, and literature stem from exploring the unknown. It is an activity that is handled by a region in the brain known as the default network (posterior cingulate). This network is responsible for the spontaneous generation of ideas, daydreaming, and imagination. Another region called the executive network (dorsolateral prefrontal cortex) is responsible for the activity that involves controlled or focused thinking.

A study illustrating how these regions of the brain work and function were shown using freestyle rappers. The artists were asked to perform freestyle and a memorized version, and while doing so they were examined using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) for mapping the brain activity. The study showed higher activity in the default network and reduced activity in the executive network when the artist was allowed to freestyle. The opposite was found to be true when the rappers performed a memorized version.

The generation of ideas on the fly is highly dependent on the default network, whereas the narrowing down of ideas is controlled by the executive network. In the above case, when the rappers were allowed to freestyle, they had to string words that rhymed together spontaneously, translating to higher activity in the default network. But the memorized version required the artist to focus and recall the lyrics thereby activating the executive network.

Studies show that artistic or creative individuals showed greater activity in the default region and were able to easily switch between the default and the executive network. This helps them generate highly controlled and useful ideas when compared to a control group. Neuroscientists surmise that scientists could also show a similar neurological pattern, but a study is yet to substantiate that, but there are other places where this is demonstrated.

Traditional science relies heavily on facts and concepts leading to linear growth. Whereas breakthrough technologies, which go on to change the world, such as the discovery of the first antibiotic, the double-helical structure of DNA, or a much more recent one CRISPR Cas9, has creativity at their core. These discoveries can only be brought forth by the constant switching between the default and the executive network, a key creative step. Breakthrough technologies are always chaotic, non-linear, and unstructured. It is therefore imperious for the scientific community to acknowledge the element of creativity in science and how crucial of a role it plays.

The question then becomes, why is everyone not creative?

Our present education system focuses on “memory-based” learning and a “reward-punishment” system. Where any endeavor a student takes outside the school curriculum is viewed as misbehavior and is often penalized. This constant and consistent practice degrades the natural curiosity a child possesses and that is often seen not to return. A key trait to revive this ability is to actively question everything. The simple process of questioning can help you bring about the innate creative potential thereby leading to potential discoveries. And it is only through these creative achievements that poetry of science is fulfilled.

Science includes people that are dramatists disguised as doctorates; painters and poets as post-graduates. It is these artists who truly lead the way forward to the unknown, the question is, are you just a spectator, or will you lead the way forward?

Author: Daniel Gaius

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