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Art interprets the visible world, physics charts its unseen workings--making the two realms seem completely opposed. But in Art & Physics, Leonard Shlain tracks their breakthroughs side by side throughout history to reveal an astonishing correlation of visions.From teh classical Greek sculptors to Andy Warhol and Jasper Johns, and from Aristotle to Einstein, aritsts have f Art interprets the visible world, physics charts its unseen workings--making the two realms seem completely opposed. But in Art & Physics, Leonard Shlain tracks their breakthroughs side by side throughout history to reveal an astonishing correlation of visions.From teh classical Greek sculptors to Andy Warhol and Jasper Johns, and from Aristotle to Einstein, aritsts have foreshadowed the discoveries of scientists, such as when Money and Cezanne intuited the coming upheaval in physics that Einstein would initiate. In this lively and colorful narrative, Leonard Shlain explores how artistic breakthroughs could have prefigured the visionary insights of physicists on so many occasions throughtout history.Provacative and original, Art & Physics is a seamless integration of the romance of art and the drama of science...and exhilarating history of ideas.


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Art interprets the visible world, physics charts its unseen workings--making the two realms seem completely opposed. But in Art & Physics, Leonard Shlain tracks their breakthroughs side by side throughout history to reveal an astonishing correlation of visions.From teh classical Greek sculptors to Andy Warhol and Jasper Johns, and from Aristotle to Einstein, aritsts have f Art interprets the visible world, physics charts its unseen workings--making the two realms seem completely opposed. But in Art & Physics, Leonard Shlain tracks their breakthroughs side by side throughout history to reveal an astonishing correlation of visions.From teh classical Greek sculptors to Andy Warhol and Jasper Johns, and from Aristotle to Einstein, aritsts have foreshadowed the discoveries of scientists, such as when Money and Cezanne intuited the coming upheaval in physics that Einstein would initiate. In this lively and colorful narrative, Leonard Shlain explores how artistic breakthroughs could have prefigured the visionary insights of physicists on so many occasions throughtout history.Provacative and original, Art & Physics is a seamless integration of the romance of art and the drama of science...and exhilarating history of ideas.

30 review for Art and Physics: Parallel Visions in Space, Time, and Light

  1. 5 out of 5

    WarpDrive

    Oh, dear. This is probably one of the most infuriatingly frustrating books I have read in quite a long time. It could have been so much better. And this is the second time, within a short time span, that I feel duty-bound to post a not-so-positive review of a book that has been rated so highly by the overwhelming majority of readers. It is a book that does contain some very interesting and original insights, and it is well written in a beautiful, engaging and fluent prose; the author is also qui Oh, dear. This is probably one of the most infuriatingly frustrating books I have read in quite a long time. It could have been so much better. And this is the second time, within a short time span, that I feel duty-bound to post a not-so-positive review of a book that has been rated so highly by the overwhelming majority of readers. It is a book that does contain some very interesting and original insights, and it is well written in a beautiful, engaging and fluent prose; the author is also quite brilliant as an art critic, and proficient and knowledgeable as an art historian. But this is also a book that is deeply flawed, riddled with scientific (and historical) inaccuracies, defined by a questionable methodological approach, and directed at proving an outlandish and utterly unconvincing thesis. The overall thesis of this book is, condensed in a few words, that art manages, in some mysterious way, to pre-cognitively anticipate science. Some of the examples listed by the author are Cubism, Surrealism and Futurism anticipating, with “sibylline accuracy”, the tenets of much modern physics such as special relativity. The author, rather than sharing the commonly accepted view that such new artistic forms of expression were an articulation of the social and cultural upheavals resulting from an accelerating pace of deeply transformative technological developments and its consequent disorienting effects ( in conjunction with the devastating effects on the social fabric originated from the two World Wars) attributes such new art forms to a mystically prescient character of art in general. Is modern art about foreseeing the future of scientific development (as the author states), or is it in reality about the deeply introspective psychological rendering of the existential angst and insecurity of modern Man, his new aesthetic sense resulting from a more sophisticated, complex, multifaceted and disorienting cultural and social environment? Personally, I think that there is no question that the latter is the more fitting answer. And the author does not limit this thesis to modern times: he also claims that “the precognition of the intuitive artist in the Renaissance foreshadowed the discoveries of the analytical scientist” What a big, missed opportunity to explore the real and interesting relationship affecting both art and science: the relationship between the conceptual and linguistic substrate available to a given society during a particular historical stage, and their influence to the the way science and art (and all forms of inquiries and representation) operate as a result. Or the equally interesting two-way relationship between the cultural environment in general (including the arts) and science (relationship which is one of the many themes that philosophy of science tries to address). Or even the fascinating role that a particular type of aesthetic sensibility can play in the development of mathematics and science (in some cases, even to the point of creating expectation of “beauty” as a criteria to scientific truth, like in the case of Dirac). Sadly, there is none of such themes in this book. The author does make some interesting points about the existence of intellectual paradigms and their importance as enablers of progress, but the overall approach and themes are unfortunately driven by the unsuccessful pursuit of the author's outlandish main hypothesis. In order to support his self-proclaimed revolutionary thesis, the author indulges into an exercise of very selective and disingenuous sampling, peppering the book with confusing if not misleading statements when describing physical theories such as relativity and quantum mechanics. Moreover, he has the infuriating tendency to select the most speculative theories or interpretations, rather than the current scientific consensus, and this is aggravated by the fact that the author does not disclose his peculiar approach. There are also such big logical jumps, and such an overall highly selective interpretation of available facts, that at times this book reads almost like a book of Nostradamus prophesies, or a treatise on Biblical Numerology. Let me list an extract of some of the inaccuracies, or questionable/confusing statements, that I found in this book: - the author virtually discounts, out of hand, much of the period of the Middle Ages, considering it almost as a sterile intermission between Classical Antiquity and the Renaissance (he calls it “the long night of the Dark Ages”): this view is so hopelessly outdated (it seems like something out of the 19th century) that it does not even deserve a detailed rebuttal. Clearly, the author is no historian. Moreover, the author's statement that the Christian Church did “set out to obliterate every work of art that remained from Classical Antiquity” is factually incorrect and it totally ignores the deep relationship between Christianity and the Classical World, as for example clearly visible in the deep interconnection with Platonism (Plotinus being a remarkably evident case). - page 133: special relativity “upsets the fundamental philosophical belief in the law of causality”. This is a deeply flawed statement: special relativity is fully consistent with the causality principle. If two events are causally connected (if one lies within the light cone of the other) the causal order is preserved in all frames of reference. To break causality and have event A “causing” event B in one frame of reference, but event B “causing” event A in another frame of reference, you would need FTL (faster than light) travel. The author confuses this with relativity of simultaneity, which is the concept that distant simultaneity – whether two spatially separated events occur at the same time– is not absolute, but depends on the observer's reference frame. Moreover, special relativity does NOT mean arbitrary subjectivity, as each frame of reference can be mathematically translated into another frame with the appropriate Lorentz transformation. The author, like similar authors with an incomplete understanding of special relativity, has been misled by the term “relativity” - in reality special relativity is more about “invariance”, based as it is on the constancy of the speed “c” and on the invariance of spacetime intervals under Lorentz coordinate transformations. - page 148: the author states, in relation to quantum mechanics, that “the observations and thoughts of the observer enter into the measurements of the real world – children at play, artists at work, and scientists measuring quantum effects are all creating reality”. This seems to me a quite disingenuous playing, by the author, with speculative views in relation to the “measurement issue” in quantum mechanics. This seems just like one of the so many examples of “quantum woo” that sadly infest quite a few popularizations (“quantum woo”: justification of irrational beliefs by obfuscatory references to quantum physics). And in any case, of course any agent carrying out any sort of activity "creates reality" - the action of the agent certainly influences it - and so what ? - the author relies heavily, and repeatedly, on the limiting, very special case of special relativity defined by the photon, being massless, traveling at speed “c”. He is imagining an observer “riding a light beam”, and using such case to “prove” that any form of modern art painting that flattens the picture, eliminating the traditionally perspectivist approach and thus removing the dimension of “depth”, is the precursor of the relativistic length contraction that, at light-speed, reduces such dimension to zero. And that all paintings where the time is “transfixed” (like in Surrealistic paintings), or where many events are represented simultaneously in the canvas, are precursor to the relativistic effect of time dilation in special relativity (up to the point where, in the case of the photon, time itself stops and the photon has access to the totality of time). Well, apart from the preposterous and artificial character of such association, there are so many things wrong or at least misleading with the “physics” side of such example as used by the author, that I do not know even where to start! First of all, we simply can't get in a photon's frame of reference by definition, because the core tenet of special relativity is that lights travel at speed “c” in ALL frames to reference!: so you just can't get in a frame of reference where the photon would be at rest with respect to you - this would contradict the very nature of special relativity. This is actually what Einstein said in his "gedankenexperiment" – that you can't “catch up” with a photon. It is not possible to be in a rest frame of a photon. Also, I would question how sensical it actually is to consider a case where the Lorentz conversion factor "gamma" goes to infinity – when you get infinity values you have to be very careful before making any assumptions and taking any conclusions. You can say, in a metaphorical sense, that the photon "experiences no time", but even assuming that this is a meaningful statement we also need to take into account that, within the same considerations, that the photon travels zero distance; so the whole example is very dangerous and prone to misconception. Yes, you can always say that you can assume that you are traveling at speed asymptotically close to "c", but the whole example in any case seems preposterous and very forced. By the way, such examples of "simultaneity" can be seen in the cave paintings of the Lascaux Cave - does it mean that our artistically gifted human ancestors had some form of special relativity pre-cognition more than 20,000 years ago ? Come on... - page 221: the author states that “if Einstein lamented the absence of a vocabulary with which to communicate his remarkable theories, he had only to look to art to find the appropriate images”. What does this actually mean ? Does really a Cubist painting represent in a more informative way, or has more explanatory power, than language, when it comes to the tenets of relativity, such as Lorentz invariance ? In my opinion this statement, in its generality, is virtually meaningless. - page 244: the author states that “in 1945, America alone stood triumphant among nations”. Has the author ever heard of Stalingrad? Does he not know who was the actual major contributor to the defeat of Germany? - page 300: the author refers to “tachions” (particles supposed to travel faster than light and backwards in time) to confirm that time travel to the past is a possibility. Well, this is definitely a highly speculative hypothesis which has never been corroborated by even the flimsiest shred of evidence, and something against the current consensus - page 303: the author talks about “recursiveness of the geometry of non-Euclidean spacetime”. This statement demands some serious clarification. Not all possible non-Euclidean spacetime geometries are “recursive”. It depends on the curvature and topology: the best experimental data available so far points to a flat universe (not in a definite way, though). Within a flat universe, the main two topological options are the Euclidean space (which is not “recursive”, using the author terminology) and the torus (which is “recursive”). There is also the chance of a universe of very slight negative curvature (in which case it would non-Euclidean, non-"closed") or a very slight positive curvature (in which case it would be non-Euclidean, "closed"). - page 345: the author states that “space was in fact a geometry and force is due to this feature of space”. Here the author is referring to general relativity. While the author overall presentation of general relativity is not too bad (even if a bit confused), this particular statement should be rephrased to something like: “the curvature of spacetime is related to the present energy/momentum of matter/radiation, and any “object” follows a geodesic path along this (curved) spacetime, unless acted upon by a force”. - page 359: “nothing of substance could exist on the other side of the event horizon because the gravity would crush the entity's atoms like so many grapes at harvest time”. I guess the author is here referring to the tidal forces experienced when approaching a black hole. This is just a minor clarification, but in reality the point at which tidal forces become noticeable depends on the black hole's size. Contrary to popular belief, the strength of such tidal forces is inversely proportional to the size of the black hole. For a super massive black hole, such as those found at a galaxy's center, this point lies well within the event horizon, so an astronaut may cross the event horizon without noticing any tidal effect. On the contrary, for small black holes the tidal forces would kill even well before the astronaut reaches the event horizon. - page 362: the author talks about "wormholes" and "white holes" when dealing with the celestial objects named "quasars". Again, the author picks the most outlandish and speculative theories, rather than accepting the current overwhelming consensus that quasars are super-massive black holes at the center of galaxies. - the whole chapter 25 is garbage, and firmly in crackpot territory: the author here talks about weird concepts such as “human superconsciousness”, “continuum of cosmic consciousness”, and “ectoplasmic pool of awareness that exist in a higher dimension and subsumes individual minds”. He talks about how “universal mind could exist in the four dimensions of the spacetime continuum and be missed or misperceived by three-dimensional humans”. The author uses these nebulous and ill-formed concepts to support his hypothesis, and to explain why arts have demonstrated such “prescience”. The best statement is in page 430, though: “universal mind most likely manifests itself in our coordinate systems as clairvoyance”. What a load of New Age bullshit, I find myself forced to say here. It does look like it has been generated automatically by this kind of software: http://sebpearce.com/bullshit/ - page 427: the author states that “relativity and quantum mechanics both propose hypothetical circumstances where precognition would be possible ?” Really??? In what cases ? As in many other examples, the author just comes up with these obfuscatory statements without getting into any detail. I imagine he might be referring to the phenomenon of quantum entanglement. Well, this phenomenon can't be used to transmit any information at speed faster than light. - page 430: the author states that Bohr's complementarity principle “proposes that there can be no such thing as objective reality”. In reality, such principle simply holds that "particles" have complementary properties which cannot be observed or measured at the same time (for example, it is impossible to measure both the full "wave-like" and "particle-like" properties at a single moment - also, non-commuting observable can't be simultaneously measured with arbitrary precision, but this is a different story). That's all – such principle does not necessarily make any ontological claims in relation to objective reality. To conclude, I must highlight that this book is still an interesting and pleasurable read, containing some original and interesting insights, and some very intriguing connections; the author's knowledge and passion for the arts is evident in some of his beautiful commentaries (his description of Surrealist art, which by the way is my favourite current of modern art, is top-notch). Just do not take him too seriously when it comes to science or history. His main thesis is utterly unconvincing and the author thoroughly fails to prove it in any meaningful sense, but the book is still worth reading (even if just for its "artistic" side), albeit with some caution. 2.5 stars, rounded up to 3 (after all, the copyright date of this book is 1991 - when the New Age esoteric, pseudo-scientific bullshit was still all the rage in a few countries - therefore I feel that some leniency is warranted)

  2. 5 out of 5

    Sara

    The full title of this book is Art and Physics: Parallel Visions in Space, Time and Light and it was written by a surgeon. I point out this last detail because I think non-professional works of high intellectual ambition are pretty rare. And well-executed ones are even rarer. I believe outsiders to an established discipline can often see patterns, make connections or hazard hypotheses that a trained professional either could not or would not do. Professional academics, scientists, artists and so The full title of this book is Art and Physics: Parallel Visions in Space, Time and Light and it was written by a surgeon. I point out this last detail because I think non-professional works of high intellectual ambition are pretty rare. And well-executed ones are even rarer. I believe outsiders to an established discipline can often see patterns, make connections or hazard hypotheses that a trained professional either could not or would not do. Professional academics, scientists, artists and so forth who have spent years and years studying, practicing and executing their crafts can, and maybe should, possess a snob factor about this kind of book. I suppose I understand this stance, although I have a lot of musings about institutionalized disciplines and power structures of learning that I do not really want to get into right here. I offer, however, that I found Leonard Shlain's book about art and physics fascinating, well written and, insofar as I am equipped to say, well researched. Shlain examines correspondences in the visual arts and physics, from the classical period through the present. I found this a wonderful project, especially as Shlain's ultimate hypothesis is not that the arts were influenced by developments in the sciences, but that the arts in strange and obscure ways seem to, over time, prefigure scientific discoveries. That is, Shlain does not propose causality, but correspondence. I find this especially interesting because it seems so unexplainable. It is precisely the kind of hypothesis I would never expect to find in an institutionally-derived work. Additionally, an institutionally-derived work would likely never purport to marry art and physics in the first place - the arts and sciences are so often viewed in opposition to each other and not as complementary visions of the same reality. Shlain's final argument concerns an ultimate connectivity of cognitive states (and all time and matter) that occurs in a dimension we cannot perceive with our measly three-dimensional senses. Metaphorically, our individual-seeming, three-dimensional selves function like our cells, independently but nonetheless creating a unity of form and function, even of consciousness. In the case of cells the unity is us (or a cat, or a plant, etc.). In the case of us as cells...what is the unity we create? We simply cannot perceive this unity because we are locked in our three dimensionality. Some artists, as sensitive nodes, Shlain's argument runs, get a glimmer of this unity, translate it into their art and, thereby, provide effective visual metaphors for scientific discoveries that have not yet occured and that are exceedingly difficult to imagine as they precisely pertain to reality exterior to our three dimensions (he uses primarily Einstein's theories concerning gravity and how bizarrely matter behaves at the speed of light). This may sound far out, but I would suggest you give this book a fighting chance. Shlain's basic argument, his evaluation of various artworks as demonstrating specific scientific findings - it all hinges on metaphor. And metaphor is an exceedingly powerful, non-causal means of connectivity. The roots of metaphor grow out of language, which in turn is likely the root out of which grows our very cognition. Julian Jaynes has argued that consciousness itself is a metaphorical space we have created linguistically. Additionally, many of the scientific findings of the 20th century that pertain to light, physics and the nature of reality are only comprehensible to our three-dimensional minds via metaphor. There seems to be something more accurate about the correspondences in metaphorical relationships than about the causal relationships between events that we purport to live by. As Hayden White has observed, causality is a construction imposed on events through our human need to narrativize - causality and narrative do not inhere in events themselves, and only seem to do so when we are bounded by the third dimension and cannot perceive time as a unity. The short of the long is that Shlain probably made a few mistakes here and there that an artist writing about art, a physicist writing about physics, and a historian writing about the history of either, would not have made. But neither would the artist, the physicist or the historian likely have blended these seemingly disjointed disciplines into one comprehensive vision of the reality in which we find ourselves.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Tam Nguyen

    I bought this book in 2008 when it was first published in Vietnam. At that time I made a claim that I would know more about the world and I picked this book. Truthfully speaking I couldn't finish even a chapter, mainly because I had no idea about many terms, which were not familiar to me, and I was ignorant of basic knowledge about art and even physics. I abandoned it until 2013, I decided to read it again. I have been amazed of Shlain's knowledge about art and physics, which are not his special I bought this book in 2008 when it was first published in Vietnam. At that time I made a claim that I would know more about the world and I picked this book. Truthfully speaking I couldn't finish even a chapter, mainly because I had no idea about many terms, which were not familiar to me, and I was ignorant of basic knowledge about art and even physics. I abandoned it until 2013, I decided to read it again. I have been amazed of Shlain's knowledge about art and physics, which are not his specializations. But acquiring knowledge from his self-study turns out to be his advantage because it makes his opinion more accessing to the larger audience. This book ranges from a numerous fields, including literature, psychology, philosophy, and of course, art and physics. I recommend it for everyone who wants to experience the joy of having knowledge about art and many more subjects. Or you could just read him to entertain his thought. It is fascinating.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Rachel

    "Revolutionary art and visionary physics attempt to speak about matters that do not yet have words. That is why their languages are so poorly understood by people outside their fields. Because both speak of what is certainly to come, however, it is incumbent upon us to learn to understand them." (p.20) "Magical thinking is the antithesis of reason....Van Gogh once wrote, "A child in the cradle has the infinite in its eye"....Every child is born with a desire to re-create the world in his or her o "Revolutionary art and visionary physics attempt to speak about matters that do not yet have words. That is why their languages are so poorly understood by people outside their fields. Because both speak of what is certainly to come, however, it is incumbent upon us to learn to understand them." (p.20) "Magical thinking is the antithesis of reason....Van Gogh once wrote, "A child in the cradle has the infinite in its eye"....Every child is born with a desire to re-create the world in his or her own terms. This powerful motivation for producing art has always been a means of imposing order on the disjointed pieces of a child's emerging worldview. For the child, with few exceptions, magic and art are fun. Art translates curiosity and wonder into mastery over environment." (p.140/141) "Children at play, artists at work, and scientists measuring quantumeffects share this in common: They are all creating reality." (p.148)

  5. 4 out of 5

    Anna

    A book that looks at my two favorite things. When I started reading about physics, all I could think about was its relation to the arts. This book takes the history of science and the history of art and shows the similarities in the various art and science movements. I love it.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Julie

    I have lent this book out many times and I never seem to get it back. I purchased another copy not too long ago as I intend to give it another read since it's been so long since I've read it (maybe 20 years or so). I was naturally attracted to the title as I love reading about both art and physics. So, seeing them together in one book sounded like too much fun. I have read another one of this author's books titled THE ALPHABET VERSUS THE GODDESS that was also thought-provoking. I bought it witho I have lent this book out many times and I never seem to get it back. I purchased another copy not too long ago as I intend to give it another read since it's been so long since I've read it (maybe 20 years or so). I was naturally attracted to the title as I love reading about both art and physics. So, seeing them together in one book sounded like too much fun. I have read another one of this author's books titled THE ALPHABET VERSUS THE GODDESS that was also thought-provoking. I bought it without realizing it was the same author. I also have one more on my shelf that I haven't read of his titled SEX TIME & POWER. I like this author because he asks "what if" and just sets about diving deep into what he wonders about. In a nutshell, this book is about SEEING THE WORLD IN A NEW WAY and how artists see it first and then science follows. The author uses primarily paintings as his artistic examples juxtaposed against revolutionary physicist discoveries. He shows example after example throughout history: Da Vinci + Newton and Matisse + Heisenberg and Picasso + Einstein to name a few. How we see the world in a new way is right up there with the meaning of life for me as far as things to muse. It fascinates me for several reasons ~ one being that most of what we believe to be the TRUTH won't hold water in 1,000 years. Another is that which is within any one person that allows them to not only see beyond the illusion that we all accept as the truth but also to say it out loud knowing that it may cost them their head. And finally what are those eternal truths that will still be deemed true in 1,000 years (and does that make them truth or fiction in 10,000 years). Often I side with questions on this matter of truth or fiction. A REALLY GOOD QUESTION SEEMS MORE ETERNAL THAN MOST GREAT ANSWERS. And, more interesting to be honest. This book is also filled with great quotes and points of view from great writers, artists, scientists and other visionaries throughout history. The author shows how literature and music were also in the mix ~ there seems to be a sort of SYNCHRONICITY when it comes to seeing the world in a new way just as there seems to be some of this when it comes to scientific discoveries. Before news moved at lightning speed, it was interesting how people from different parts of the world were seeing the same things at around the same times. This leads one to wonder if everything we are to discover has already been discovered or perhaps is just waiting for us to have new eyes in which to see what has been there all along. It's also not that unusual to muse that people from different fields ~ that are curious and brave enough to see something new will express it in their own way (art, science, literature, etc). It could be as simple as an idea that's time has come suddenly reveals itself to all of us as plain as the full moon in a clear night sky and yet it is only a few that can see it. Maybe in the end, it only takes a willingness to ask "WHAT IF" and a spirit daring enough to say "WHY NOT." I may add to this review when I take this book for another spin. While the detail has eluded me, the impression this book made upon is with me still.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Amy

    Thesis Years ago I heard neurosurgeon Leonard Shlain read from Art & Physics: Parallel Visions in Space, Time & Light at the Aspen Institute in a symposium called, “Unified Field Summit: Art, Science, and Spirituality.” My poetry professor had recently won a big prize for her book, “The Dream of the Unified Field.” I didn’t yet know about the unified field theory in physics. We spontaneously drove the four hours to Aspen to see comic book writer Grant Morrison. Ralph Abraham, mathematician and ch Thesis Years ago I heard neurosurgeon Leonard Shlain read from Art & Physics: Parallel Visions in Space, Time & Light at the Aspen Institute in a symposium called, “Unified Field Summit: Art, Science, and Spirituality.” My poetry professor had recently won a big prize for her book, “The Dream of the Unified Field.” I didn’t yet know about the unified field theory in physics. We spontaneously drove the four hours to Aspen to see comic book writer Grant Morrison. Ralph Abraham, mathematician and chaos theoretician, was a bonus. Little did I realize we would also be among media theorist Douglas Rushkoff, cultural critic Erik Davis, and DJ Spooky. However, I was completely unprepared for Leonard Shlain, who outlined how breakthroughs in science happen concurrently with breakthroughs in the visual arts. Picasso/Einstein. Perspective/scientific method. Not everyone was impressed with Shlain. Someone indicated that Shlain’s thesis was ordinary, obvious even. I allowed myself to be changed. People always know more than you. You know more than others. Why let relativity undermine anyone’s experience? A poem I had written based on Grant Morrison’s comic book, The Invisibles, had just been published in Conjunctions, and so I brought a copy of it with me to give to Morrison. Even though we saw him throughout the conference—in a workshop on magic, on the sidewalk lined with impossible trees—I never had the literary journal to give to him. I finally did have it when we were sitting next to a featured panelist in the audience for DJ Spooky’s presentation. Since I knew this featured panelist was acquainted with Morrison, I gave him a copy of the issue to pass along. He looked through the issue and said, Oh, you’re next to John Ashbery. Yes, in the journal. In present fourth-dimensional spacetime I am next to you. It was only then that I began to understand the larger politics of association. Association is expressed not just politically but also aesthetically. Shlain’s Art & Physics provided the foundation for my ideas on quantum poetics, which apply principles in theoretical physics to poetry and prose. Extending Shlain’s thesis and the work of others I was considering how breakthroughs in literature coincide with breakthroughs in science. Picasso/Einstein/Stein. Around this time I became aware of Allen Ginsberg’s suggestion to “notice what you notice.” I was noticing Terence McKenna talk about the concrescence of novelty. Isn’t a poem a novel form?

  8. 4 out of 5

    Rachel

    Leonard Shlain, a surgeon from California, began this project after visiting an art museum with his young daughter. He realized that in the cases of some modern works, he could not explain to her why they qualified as "art" at all! What, he wondered, was modern art trying to communicate, and why was so much of modern art difficult to comprehend? Shlain concluded after extensive research that "the radical innovations of art embody the preverbal stages of new concepts" concerning the nature of real Leonard Shlain, a surgeon from California, began this project after visiting an art museum with his young daughter. He realized that in the cases of some modern works, he could not explain to her why they qualified as "art" at all! What, he wondered, was modern art trying to communicate, and why was so much of modern art difficult to comprehend? Shlain concluded after extensive research that "the radical innovations of art embody the preverbal stages of new concepts" concerning the nature of reality. Art and Physics explores how different styles of art (from ancient times to the modern era) have treated space, time, and light; then compares the artistic vision to the work of scientists trying to grasp those same concepts. He believes that artists have often portrayed ideas about, for example, the nature of light or the relativity of space before physicists arrived at those same ideas. If artists really are unknowingly creating works that anticipate cutting-edge physics, what could explain such prescience? (Pardon the pun.) That question pulls Shlain into metaphysical territory. He suggests that the existence of a universal mind -"an overarching, disembodied universal consciousness that binds and organizes the power generated by every person's thoughts" - could explain "how an artist can incorporate ideas into his or her work that have not as yet been discovered by physicists and that are certainly unknown to the general public." The strengths of this book are that it is very readable and that it assembles incredibly wide-ranging material into a coherent narrative. However, I doubt that an expert in physics or in art would be entirely satisfied with Shlain's exposition. The book's subject is simply too broad for its thesis to be rigorously supported.

  9. 5 out of 5

    kyle

    Both fascinating and infuriating. Shlain, probably because of his "outsider" status to both of the fields he is considering, manages to make remarkably thought provoking comparisons between the world of art and physics. Some struck while reading as brilliant. For example, the stable inertial frame so important for classical mechanics is compared to the transition to a dominant mode in classical music. And this in turn is compared to the development of perspective in art. Great stuff. His writing Both fascinating and infuriating. Shlain, probably because of his "outsider" status to both of the fields he is considering, manages to make remarkably thought provoking comparisons between the world of art and physics. Some struck while reading as brilliant. For example, the stable inertial frame so important for classical mechanics is compared to the transition to a dominant mode in classical music. And this in turn is compared to the development of perspective in art. Great stuff. His writing on Einstein is fantastic and I learned that I have a lot to learn about the development of modern art (great but I assume widely written about discussions on Manet and Cezanne especially interested me). But Shlain's enthusiasm and breadth leads to a sacrifice of depth which grows tiresome as the book plows on. Worth perusing certainly.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Pravin Subramanian

    This is a revolutionary book by all means. I can safely say that it introduced me to concepts in art and explained their connections with real world science. An example to cite would be Edouard Manet's paintings with their field of vision techniques or Cubism having parallels in how we understand space and time, non-linearly. It is difficult to pen down each experience in detail but in summary, i'd recommend this book if you truly want to understand art and physics as a layperson in isolation as w This is a revolutionary book by all means. I can safely say that it introduced me to concepts in art and explained their connections with real world science. An example to cite would be Edouard Manet's paintings with their field of vision techniques or Cubism having parallels in how we understand space and time, non-linearly. It is difficult to pen down each experience in detail but in summary, i'd recommend this book if you truly want to understand art and physics as a layperson in isolation as well as two fields complementing each other

  11. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

    One of the author's reasons for undertaking this project was to come to appreciate modern art. I was in the same boat as him - what the hell is that two-tone painting anyway? you call that art? etc. etc. I loved this book! I love to read books on physics, and I also love art so I was thrilled to see this book sitting in the "new books" section at work. With or without being aware of it, artists have been depicting concepts in physics long before they were made public. Read it and see for yoursel One of the author's reasons for undertaking this project was to come to appreciate modern art. I was in the same boat as him - what the hell is that two-tone painting anyway? you call that art? etc. etc. I loved this book! I love to read books on physics, and I also love art so I was thrilled to see this book sitting in the "new books" section at work. With or without being aware of it, artists have been depicting concepts in physics long before they were made public. Read it and see for yourself. The only criticism I have is that I wish that all artwork he mentions in the text could be included in the book. I was lead to look up a lot of images online. Also, I wish the author would update this book to include recent developments such as string theory and such.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Maxine

    Brilliant thesis, clearly and engagingly told. Leonard Shlain had an extraordinary mind. Loved the Alphabet vs the Goddess and have been quoting him for years, and just came across this, his first book. I read it for the insights about art, but along the way I managed to fleetingly grasp the concepts of relativity, the space/time continuum and quantum physics. His premise is that artists describe the universe via the scientific understanding of the universe of their time, and sometimes ahead of Brilliant thesis, clearly and engagingly told. Leonard Shlain had an extraordinary mind. Loved the Alphabet vs the Goddess and have been quoting him for years, and just came across this, his first book. I read it for the insights about art, but along the way I managed to fleetingly grasp the concepts of relativity, the space/time continuum and quantum physics. His premise is that artists describe the universe via the scientific understanding of the universe of their time, and sometimes ahead of science, unconsciously tuning into the zeitgeist.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Kristin

    That the Greeks invented vowels and Museums were schools dedicated to the muses! Very cool tidbits of info.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Carla Remy

    A really cool book. I didn't feel like I focused on it enough. But great info.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Carlos

    This is the second book that I’ve read by Schlain, the other one being “The Alphabet Versus the Goddess”, and in both cases I have found more merit in Schlain’s historical summaries than in his innovative theories. Schlain himself recognizes the heavy lifting required by his theory, explicitly stating that his argument is “nonlogical”. This seems to me the most honest acknowledgement given that he seeks to argue that artists intuitively knew the coming revolutions in the physics of the early 20t This is the second book that I’ve read by Schlain, the other one being “The Alphabet Versus the Goddess”, and in both cases I have found more merit in Schlain’s historical summaries than in his innovative theories. Schlain himself recognizes the heavy lifting required by his theory, explicitly stating that his argument is “nonlogical”. This seems to me the most honest acknowledgement given that he seeks to argue that artists intuitively knew the coming revolutions in the physics of the early 20th century and prepared the way with equally radical ideas in art. Schalin goes on to narrate the development in art and physics in parallel. This was my favorite part of the book since my minimal knowledge of art history always welcomes more information. Yet, the scientist in me started to get annoyed at the liberties that Schalin took to make his theory plausible, as when he tries to link the Fauvist movement with the burgeoning field of spectroscopy. His argument, that the artists’ revolutionary devotion to color preceded the physicists switch from a number’s based reasoning to one based on the qualitative aspect of color, is highly misleading in neglecting to inform how physicists studied color, not through visual and qualitative diagrams but through the drier and more quantitative equivalents of wavelength numbers. These types of misdirection by omission peppers the entire work and led me to hold suspect his entire narrative since while I was able to fact-check his version of the physics with my previous knowledge I was not able to do the same with his art history. In the end I would highly caution any reader to take his version of events with more than a grain of salt, but I would acknowledge it as a passable resource to learn in broad strokes of the historical development of art and physics.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Marcie Lacerte

    If you’re looking for like a good ass survey of western art history, go elsewhere. His thesis starts off strong, but he cherry picks examples after the Renaissance, missing a whole lot of potential comparisons. Also, he clearly HATES the middle/dark ages, which is an unfortunate though not uncommon bias. Art history hoes (such as myself) will find all this frustrating. For that aspect, I give this book three stars. However, this book convinced me that there is, like, a higher power, probably a p If you’re looking for like a good ass survey of western art history, go elsewhere. His thesis starts off strong, but he cherry picks examples after the Renaissance, missing a whole lot of potential comparisons. Also, he clearly HATES the middle/dark ages, which is an unfortunate though not uncommon bias. Art history hoes (such as myself) will find all this frustrating. For that aspect, I give this book three stars. However, this book convinced me that there is, like, a higher power, probably a part of the fourth dimension of spacetime. So for making me believe in a “god,” this book gets five stars. His thesis is a wonderful one — a unification of art and physics under a broader universal mind, the unseen catalyst for what we retrospectively see as a cultural zeitgeist — and his writing is clear and rich with illustrative metaphors. His last few chapters I especially enjoyed. I ❤️ this book

  17. 4 out of 5

    Larry

    Although I am not sure, after reading this book, that I subscribe to the fundamental premise that the author suggests in this work, I highly recommend a read. A surgeon by trade, Shlain takes a fairly deep dive (for a non-practitioner in either field) into the basics of both the art world and that of western physics. This book is beautifully written, engaging and thought provoking. Clearly possessing a well-educated and inquisitive mind he unapologetically seeks to describe art history and the h Although I am not sure, after reading this book, that I subscribe to the fundamental premise that the author suggests in this work, I highly recommend a read. A surgeon by trade, Shlain takes a fairly deep dive (for a non-practitioner in either field) into the basics of both the art world and that of western physics. This book is beautifully written, engaging and thought provoking. Clearly possessing a well-educated and inquisitive mind he unapologetically seeks to describe art history and the history of physics and tie the two tightly together. Imaginative, charming, fun and educational, it is one of my favorite books this year, Try it!

  18. 4 out of 5

    Nicolas Kirsch

    I’ll start with what I didn’t like. This book reads like a thesis paper, which is to say it can be slow at times. The bigger issue, is that Shlain makes a number of specious claims and treats them like fact. His arguments get built upon shaky foundations and often left me dubious. That being said, if you’re interested in the two major subjects of this book it functions well as a parallel history of each of them. Some of his speculations did resonate with me. While his arguments were often less th I’ll start with what I didn’t like. This book reads like a thesis paper, which is to say it can be slow at times. The bigger issue, is that Shlain makes a number of specious claims and treats them like fact. His arguments get built upon shaky foundations and often left me dubious. That being said, if you’re interested in the two major subjects of this book it functions well as a parallel history of each of them. Some of his speculations did resonate with me. While his arguments were often less than convincing, Shlain raises interesting, and sometimes profound questions in to the roles artists and physicists have played in western culture.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Kathy Duffy

    Mind bending book whose premise is that art and how it evolved, it's techniques and symbolism are preceded in art across the centuries -- so that every development such as perspective, shadowing, etc. were followed by a breakthrough in physics. I found it fascinating, exciting and kept re-reading chapters to make sure I had grasped it all.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Michael J. Flynn

    This book establishes a relationship between art and physics that is now becoming more readily understood in the digital age. I read it just before reading Microsound by Curtis Roads which expands on the topic in sound and brings more math to the observations offered in Art and Physics.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Trisha

    His discussion on art, just the art, was excellent and worth the read. His argument re art as the precursor to physics is forced and not convincing. It would have been 5* if it were just art history

  22. 4 out of 5

    Joshua Mingo

    How this book makes things like art and physics boring I have no idea. The writing isn't good, and the analysis is pretty one dimensional.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Facundo

    Chain of cognitive orgasms.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Sam Pranger

    An intriguing look at the overlap between art, physics and society. Overall, a very compelling read, although some of the biology in the last couple of chapters is quite out of date.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Munira

    very original and thorough perspective of history

  26. 4 out of 5

    Bill

    He gets most of the science right, but goes off the edge a bit at the end. Still a stimulating read.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Charlotte Falkner

    Read and reread. So much to comprehend and reminds me how little I know about anything.

  28. 5 out of 5

    James

    Informative, interesting, and well written. Worth reading. I'd give it five stars if I could accept its premise.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Stella Wang

    Accidentally discovered this book from the bookshelf of my professor. Borrowed it and finished it in four days. If you're interested in science (focusing on space, time and quantum physics), literature, philosophy, art and how they relate to each other, this is YOUR BOOK! Personally, I love the Renaissance period and the art movements I love the most are surrealism and fauvism. Shlain discusses all of these in the book! He offers such a fresh perspective on how the artists using the laws of phys Accidentally discovered this book from the bookshelf of my professor. Borrowed it and finished it in four days. If you're interested in science (focusing on space, time and quantum physics), literature, philosophy, art and how they relate to each other, this is YOUR BOOK! Personally, I love the Renaissance period and the art movements I love the most are surrealism and fauvism. Shlain discusses all of these in the book! He offers such a fresh perspective on how the artists using the laws of physics to produce their works. Same concepts are also applied to literature and philosophy. From chapter 20 (literary forms/physics formulas): "The vocabulary of our language is in fact conceived according to the given facts of three-dimensional space. Words do not exist which are capable of defining exactly the strange, new sensations that are experienced when one raises himself forever above the vulgar world. [...] When one reaches the country of the fourth dimension, when one is freed forever from the notions of space and time, it is with this intelligence that one thinks and one reflects. Thanks to it, one finds himself blended with the entire universe, with so-called future events, as with so-called past events". From chapter 29 (art/physics): "The ability to see that which cannot be seen, present in the individual, can be extrapolated to the society at large. Revolutionary artists are endowed with blindsight. Time and again they have glimpsed a reality not visible to the rest of us. Artists, when asked, are unable to articulate their prescience. That blindsight exists has been well documented; perhaps it is not too much to believe that some seers, like the mythical blind Greek prophet, Tiresias, can see that which is not visible. Artists are nonverbal prophets who translate their visions into symbols before there are words: Artistic precognition is civilization's blindsight".

  30. 4 out of 5

    Rachel

    This book is quite a lengthy read, but well worth it for the layperson in art and/or physics. I'm a musician with an interest in both subjects, so it really expanded my understanding and elucidated some concepts that had heretofore eluded me. The chapter on music seemed perfunctory and a bit off the mark, but I don't know if it's because that's my area of expertise, or because Shlain felt obligated to add a bit about music even though he didn't really understand it. I'm curious to know what visu This book is quite a lengthy read, but well worth it for the layperson in art and/or physics. I'm a musician with an interest in both subjects, so it really expanded my understanding and elucidated some concepts that had heretofore eluded me. The chapter on music seemed perfunctory and a bit off the mark, but I don't know if it's because that's my area of expertise, or because Shlain felt obligated to add a bit about music even though he didn't really understand it. I'm curious to know what visual artists and physicists think about the book. The best aspects of this book are the historical/biographical approach to advances in art and physics, the parallels Shlain finds between the work of artists and scientists, and the references to individual works of art (though I wish the reproductions had been in color). Though the narrative sags at times, and the whole book could have become a tighter and more readable tome by losing about 100 pages, I highly recommend pushing through to the last few chapters. Shlain has not shied away from exploring the "why" of the connection between art and science, and I was fascinated by the suggestion that the zeitgeist could be explained by a universal consciousness acting in another dimension. Pretty mystical stuff for a surgeon-turned-popular science writer. Really, the scope of the book is pretty incredible, and those last few chapters belie Shlain's statement in the introduction that his goal is to help himself and others understand modern art and advances in physics. In reality, the book is no less than an attempt to philosophically unify the realms of human understanding and creativity in the context of the universe. A life-changing read for me.

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