When people ask what I do, I tell them I write about arts and sciences. Yeah, my title only names the first but the picture isn’t that simple.
Museums are part of my beat, and in Mobile, four of those places – the Mobile Medical Museum, the University of South Alabama Archaeology Museum, the Gulf Coast Exploreum Science Center and GulfQuest National Maritime Museum of the Gulf of Mexico – are neck-deep in science.
Then there’s the History Museum of Mobile representing a colossal discipline straddling both artistic subjectivism and scientific empiricism. That’s not even mentioning historic buildings like Oakleigh House Museum or the Richards DAR House.
It’s a natural marriage to me. My collegiate art major shifted to history and I easily envisioned a further trail through archaeology, anthropology, biology, earth sciences and astrophysics. It’s just one long arc.
So I’ve been insufferably geeked out the last month with the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing. NASA everything, all the time. I suspect my wife has devised a plan to bind me in a sack and stage her own “splashdown” from the Bayway.
My excitement had various sources. There’s the historic aspect, the commemoration of humanity’s most awe-inspiring technological achievement. Several times gooseflesh crawled across my body in full appreciation of what I was lucky enough to witness, like knowing you were seeing the birth of terrestrial life or humanity’s discovery of fire.
As one astronaut said of the occasion, “In 500 years, all they’ll remember about the 20th century is that’s when we first went to the moon.”
Though too young for grade school then, I still recall that July night in 1969. My mother drilled into me the moment’s significance and took us to the apartment next door where there was a color television. At one point, I walked to the screen door and sought the moon to spy the astronauts with my own eyes.
The era’s zeitgeist was more hopeful than now, buoyed by the evidence of human capability and a new era of exploration. A space shuttle was rolled out not long after and we took it for granted humankind was stepping out of the cosmic cradle.
And in the way I saw a line of relation leading from history to physics, I see connections between these scientific thresholds and art. The most primary is in the creativity needed for problem-solving or hypotheses.
The fields’ relationship shows in their historic melding, where arts and sciences were considered equitable pursuits for the complete person. That’s why classic university scholarship was dedicated to “arts and sciences.” It’s no accident the Renaissance was noted for the advancement of arts and sciences. Humans are explorers, so stable societies push into uncharted intellectual territory.
I’ve opined here before that both art and science are related to our role as the universe’s conduit for knowing itself. Science is how we understand the mechanism of existence while art is how we impart the experience of existence. Here’s how we stay alive and here’s how it feels. Together, they present a more entire picture.
Most pronounced among NASA testimonies were the life-altering experiences of astronauts who viewed spaceship Earth from afar. The overview effect – fully grasping the planet’s special status and fragile status – was profound and deep.
“We came to explore the moon and what we discovered was the Earth,” Apollo 8 astronaut William Anders said. Others repeatedly turned to poetry or great writers to express the experience.
Voyager 1 space probe’s parting shot of the Earth as it left the solar system 20 years later inspired the same. “The aggregate of our joy and suffering, … every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, … every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, … every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam,” Carl Sagan wrote.
The overwhelming marvel and reflection at its heart reminds me of being moved by artistic achievement. Your senses crackle, your soul inflates.
The world is filled with wonder but we look past it most of the time and so much of what fills our lives feels petty in the end. That’s what embracing the sciences is about, finding pieces to solve the grandest puzzle there is.
And if that doesn’t show its connection to the arts, then I don’t know what does.
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