Wednesday, July 19, 2017


Many years ago I began to notice parallels in the vocabulary of different engineering disciplines. For example, both electronics and hydrology use the word current. In one case it is a measure of the flow of molecules of water and in the other, refers to the flow of electrons.

The problem with using seemingly common words to explain things is that it can lead to confusion, or disagreements, as illustrated by this example from Kaiser Aluminum's booklet, Communications;

Another opportunity for confusion comes when we don't see the whole situation, as told in the fable of the Blind Men and the Elephant;

It was six men of Indostan to learning much inclined,
Who went to see the elephant (Though all of them were blind),
that each by observation might satisfy his mind.

The First approached the elephant, And happening to fall
against his broad and sturdy side, at once began to bawl:
"God bless me! but the elephant is very like a WALL!"

The Second, feeling of the tusk, cried, "Ho, what have we here,
so very round and smooth and sharp? To me 'tis mighty clear
this wonder of an Elephant Is very like a SPEAR!"

The Third approached the animal and happening to take
the squirming trunk within his hands, thus boldly up and spake:
"I see," quoth he, "the elephant Is very like a SNAKE!"

The Fourth reached out an eager hand, and felt about the knee
"What most this wondrous beast is like is mighty plain," quoth he:
"'Tis clear enough the Elephant is very like a TREE!"

The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear said: "E'en the blindest man
can tell what this resembles most; deny the fact who can,
this marvel of an elephant is very like a FAN!"

The Sixth no sooner had begun about the beast to grope,
than seizing on the swinging tail that fell within his scope,
"I see," quoth he, "the Elephant is very like a ROPE!"

And so these men of Indostan disputed loud and long,
each in his own opinion exceeding stiff and strong,
though each was partly in the right and all were in the wrong!

There is another way, which I think of as the Walks Like a Duck principle, illustrated by a story about ideas which come in the night;

Kowloon at Night

On June 24, 1995, the Chief Executive Officer of a worldwide organization spoke at a meeting for regional leaders and their wives, giving them directions to guide their next few years of service in the company. He advised them;

Listen for the ideas which wake you up at night, and respond to them. I don’t know why they happen. I only know that they do. They can come in the day as well, of course. But listen to those night-time ideas. In the middle of the night, ideas have come to me which have been very creative. 

For example, in July 1992 I was responsible for finding space for a new facility in a large and crowded city where land was very expensive. The company had been searching for a new place to build there for a long time. I went to bed one night, feeling unsettled about the decision I had to make. I woke up very early the next morning.

Something very interesting came to my mind; I thought; We already own a piece of property; a district office with small conference room. It is in the heart of the city, in a prime location with the best transportation. Why don’t we build up rather than out or on another parcel? We can remodel the first two floors of existing offices and build more on the top, adding two or three additional floors. Having had that inspiration I relaxed and went back to sleep.

Today in Kowloon, a densely populated section of Hong Kong, a taller building stands where the small office once stood, providing a temporary residence, offices, a library and conference rooms. It is a testament to the power of ideas which wake us up in the middle of the night.

This type of experience is well enough known to have a name; The Eureka Effect. It refers to the moment of insight when a puzzling problem is suddenly solved. It is named after a story about the Greek polymath Archimedes.

The Eureka Effect has another name; Insight, a psychological (scientific) term to describe the event in problem solving when a previously unsolvable puzzle becomes suddenly clear and obvious. Often this transition is accompanied by an exclamation of joy or satisfaction, an Aha! moment. MRI scans showed more connections in the brain —a key element to the creative process.

These two stories are describing the same type of event - call it inspiration or an Ah Ha! moment. What is particularly interesting is that one comes from a scientific perspective, the other deeply religious.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The Art and Science of Religion

Universal Genius - from

The Art Institute of Chicago has an article entitled The Enduring Relationship of Science and Art on it's website which is adapted from a lecture by Robert Eskridge titled “Exploration and the Cosmos: The Consilience of Science and Art.”

I'm going to quote from it heavily in this posting, in support of the idea that art, science and religion are nowhere near as incompatible as many would have you believe today and that science, art and engineering naturally overlap. They involve ideas, theories, and hypotheses which are prototyped and tested in places where thought and action come together; model shops, laboratories and studios.

Artists, scientists and engineers are investigators. They study people and things and then transform what they learn into something else. In ancient Greece, the word for art was techne, from which our modern words technique and technology are derived—terms that are equally well applied to artistic, engineering, scientific and even religious practices.

Leonardo da Vinci is known as an artist whose works were informed by scientific investigation. He observed the world closely, studied physiology and anatomy in order to create convincing images of the human form. He believed that the moral and ethical meanings of his paintings would emerge through the accurate representation of human gestures and expressions. For Leonardo, science and art were different paths that led to the same destination—a higher spiritual truth. His extraordinary drawings are revered as examples of the Renaissance concept of the integration of all disciplines.

Leonardo wrote; "We, by our arts may be called the grandsons of God."

The Astronomer and the Geographer - Vermeer

The Astronomer and The Geographer, paintings by Johannes Vermeer, are other examples of the connection between science and art. Equally interested in this world and the larger universe, the 17th century Dutch were intent on both looking and investigating. It was here the microscope and telescope were first developed. Vermeer’s paintings celebrate science, the work of artists and the materials of the world.  These paintings represents the link between science and art by demonstrating the combined interest in finely crafted objects and scientific systems, such as cartography and astronomy.

On the Bank of the Seine, Bennecourt - Monet

The effects of color, light and time were key elements of the works of Degas, van Gogh, Renoir, Gauguin, and Monet. 

Monet suggested that our sense of our physical environment changes continuously with our shifting perceptions of light and color. On the Bank of the Seine, Bennecourt, captures a fleeting “impression” of the landscape through loose brushwork and composition. It expresses feelings, even before the mind labels, identifies, and converts images into memory.  Monet’s captures the oscillation between impression and perception in an instant; the shifting of light and color across the landscape with the passage of time.

A Sunday on La Grande Jatte
As an art student at the Academy of Fine Arts in Paris, Georges Seurat studied the physics of color, with help from French chemists who had recently developed premixed paints, conveniently packaged in tubes, and synthetic pigments such as ultramarine blue, which previously were very expensive.  As poor artists, neither Seurat nor Monet could have created their blue-filled, experimental works without the availability of scientifically and commercially produced and packaged paint.

Pointillism was in a way the forerunner of the full color digital display. Up close, the surface of Seurat's paintings contain thousands of painted dots and dashes, discrete areas of color. He placed dots of complementary colors next to each other. At a distance, they interact to create vibrant blended colors and larger, whole forms, representing the range of the visible spectrum.

Picasso's Portraits of Kahnweiler and Vollars

Picasso combines took Monet’s ideas about the contingency of time and Seurat’s theory about the perception of discrete elements and pushed them into distortion of space, breaking up the figures and objects, even varying the points of view within the same image. Painted just a few years after Albert Einstein published his theory of relativity, understanding Picasso’s Cubist style, like understanding Einstein, requires multi-disciplinary perspectives to be fully comprehended.

The Tetons and the Snake River, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

The invention of photography in the middle of the 19th century was a technological breakthrough, both artistically and scientifically. Photography - Light Writing - captures and presents the physical world accurately and quickly, but also the emotional - even spiritual worlds. Ansel Adams' majestic vistas of mountains and rivers embraced the bond between man and nature while recording with astonishing technical accuracy the effects of light and atmosphere.

The ancient Egyptian sky goddess, Nut, arching over the earth.

This connection between art, science and religion is evidenced as far back as Egypt, preserved in the pyramids and hieroglyphics, illustrating again how art, science and religion co-exist in an enduring, evolving, relationship.

Next up; The bridges between feeling, thinking and doing.