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Is there room for two: Science or Art vs Science and Art?

“Are you left-brained or right brained?” Or does this question somewhat baffle you? You only have to refer to the beautiful imagery of the ‘Left Brain Right Brain’ advertisement campaign by Mercedes Benz to get the gist of it: “I am the left brain. I am a scientist…I am logic; I am the right brain. I am creativity…I am boundless imagination.”

This idea of ‘brain lateralisation’ originated from the ‘split-brain’ studies of the Nobel laureate Roger Sperry. In the 1960s, patients suffering from epilepsy underwent surgery to cut the corpus callosum that connects the left and right brain hemispheres to localize the spread of their seizures; in Sperry’s follow up of these patients he demonstrated that the left and right brain hemispheres specialize in different tasks.

Does this mean your/my lack of scientific or imaginative mind can be explained by whether you/I am left or right brained? Can one person not dabble in both the ‘science’ and ‘art’ worlds? Research now shows that the brain is not nearly as dichotomous as once thought, and that certain abilities are strongest when the two halves work together. So perhaps there is room for the ‘science’ and ‘art’ worlds to collide? ASCUS, Art Science Collaborative, is an Edinburgh based organization supporting such ventures. In 2008, James Howie and Dr Paul Parrish from the University of Edinburgh GeoSciences department founded ASCUS as a platform to incorporate art into their research as a mean of communicating it to the general public. The recent merger between Edinburgh College of Art (ECA) and the University of Edinburgh presents ample opportunities for such collaborations, one being the ECA-Edinburgh Neuroscience workshop at the start of 2012. The ECA Director, Chris Breward, summarises the workshop as “an inspiring start to what we hope will be a continuing collaboration. The presentations from scientists, designers and artists revealed much common ground and some challenging ideas on the nature of creativity.” Peter Sandercock, the Director of Edinburgh Neuroscience says, “scientific progress often arises from chance and unexpected observations, serendipity or the sudden 'light bulb moment' that can occur when the scientist sees the problem from a different perspective.  The genesis of an innovative artistic concept can often follow a similar, and apparently haphazard route.” 

Our focus for EUSci issue 11 explores the processes of ‘science’ and ‘art’ and their influences on each other as well as what happens when the two worlds collide. We hope, it will challenge your view of ‘science’ and ‘art’ and your abilities

Lasani Wijetunge is a postdoc at the Centre for Integrative Physiology

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