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Art & Physics: Parallel Visions in Space, Time, and Light Paperback – Feb 27 2007
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"Bold and persuasive...solidly researched and gracefully presented...Never before has such material been explored deeply and lucidly enough for non-specialists."--"San Francisco Chronicle""Provacative...passionate...[Shlain] is an engaging storyteller, skilled in the use of metaphor, analogy, and even imaginary journeys that at times are poetic."--"The New York Times Book Review""In eighteen years as an art critic I have not encountered more provacative insightful writing about art."--"Seattle Times""Leonard Shlain's "Art & Physics "is exquisite food for thought."--Fritjof Capra, author of "The Tao of Physics""A tour de force...A brilliant, accessible, and visionary look at the most revolutionary artists and scientists from the Golden Age of Greece to the present."--"Los Angeles Times Book Review"
About the Author
Leonard Shlain is Chairman of Laparoscopic Surgery at the California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco and is Associate Professor of Surgery at the University of California, San Francisco. He is the author of The Alphabet Versus the Goddess: The Conflict Between Word and Image and Sex, Time, and Power: How Women's Sexuality Shaped Human Evolution. Dr. Shlain lectures internationally and has been featured on The Newshour with Jim Lehrer and NPR. He lives in Mill Valley, California.
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This is all very sad, because the book is actually worth reading even with its faults. The thesis Dr. Shlain should have examined, and the one that is interesting to reflect upon as you progress, is the influence that concepts that are available in a society have on what a scientist or an artist can think of. It is well-known today that the language you speak influences how you think, because you get good at what you practice. Do the ideas that people encounter in their daily life play an important role in creative invention? Are advances delayed because the requisite pictures are not available for the researcher or artist to exploit?
And many of the artworks reproduced (sadly in grayscale) in the book have their own charm irrespective of the interpretations foisted upon them. So don't be afraid to buy or borrow the book -- just have realistic expectations and a bit of skepticism.
Academic disciplines have become segregated in our individual disciplines, so this kind of synthesis is unique.
I bought this book because it was recommended by one of my graduate students. The book was a gift for an engineer who enjoys art and design.
The main problem is that this book abuses of the juxtaposition of unrelated facts, and presents them with such virtuosity that a magical causality seem to appear. Shlain presents ancient thoughts with the enlightenment of modern frameworks, subtly rewriting them, emphasizing concept and translating them such that they seem to fit with forthcoming theories.
This kind of pitfall has been described by Kuhn (the structure of scientific revolution). For example, if Newtonian mechanics can be expressed in the framework of relativity, relativity is NOT and extension of Newtonian physics, there is a fundamental revolution between them. It is only because Newtonian physics has been rewritten that it becomes more compatible with Einstein's new insights.
Moreover, Shlain's understanding of relativity is weak at best. For example, he often makes the confusion between the effect of the finite speed of light (which can be expressed in a Newtonian context) and relativity.
I was all the more disappointed that some of the issues are actually relevant and fascinating: relativity, non Euclidean, surrealism and cubism for example do share a common revolution of the notion of space (and thus of the place of humans in the world). Unfortunately, Shlain's caricatural statements are irrelevant: Manet had absolutely no idea of the concepts involved in relativity, and Einstein himself pointed out that cubism had nothing to deal with relativity (as opposed to Picasso's claims).
If you want a good introduction to art history, read Gombrich, if you want to learn about physics in a broad context, read Zajong (Catching the light).