Einstein, it should be remembered, didn’t spend every conscious hour noodling numbers. He enjoyed playing the violin and sailing; activities which allowed that massive intellect of his the opportunity to play and percolate.
The connection between science and creativity is not singular to Einstein. Astronomer Carl Sagan found poetry in the mechanics of the universe and was thus able to make the mysteries of the cosmos understandable and entrancing to the masses. The same can be said for physics and our modern-day version of Einstein, Stephen Hawking. Or go back five centuries to da Vinci, whose art fueled his scientific inquiries which, in turn, informed his art.
Or, to find a less heady example, Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry was always fond of telling interviewers of the letters he received in his later years from people who credited watching his show as kids with sparking them toward careers in the sciences and space exploration-related technologies.
It is worth remembering, through these examples, the connection between the creative and the practical during these times when the arts and humanities find themselves, on a number of campuses, struggling to justify their existence. There are those from the business world as well as academics in the professional fields who advocate a “teaching to the task” model for higher education, streamlining – or stripping out – humanities requirements to provide a faster, cheaper path to graduation, and produce graduates focused on practical application of their newly-learned skills.
But the arts and humanities do have a practical application; a supremely vital application. Consider this excerpt from a 2013 op-ed piece (“Don’t Forget Humanities”) by one-time Clinton White House spokesman Robert Weiner and policy analyst Jaime Ravenet:
One need only look at companies such as Apple and Facebook to understand the importance of having a strong humanities education. Both are tech companies. However, what distinguished them from the start was an emphasis on creative applications of science and technology…Steve Jobs’ amazing and persuasive speeches…were not math formulas; they were verbal masterpieces. China’s educational and economic climate, as rich as it is in science and math education, has never produced a company as innovative as Apple or Facebook.
One can find an emphatic confirmation of the Weiner/Ravenet thesis in an 11/18/13 Time article by Michael Schuman entitled, “Why China Can’t Create Anything,” which also takes the view that unless China can learn to innovate instead of simply produce, its long-term economic prospects are less than rosy. And innovation – those quantum leaps of imagination wherein a visionary looks into empty space and sees the devices and systems and methodologies of the future – is fueled not by a mastery of equations and formulae, but by those things which stretch, twist, bend and stoke the intellect.
It is in the interest of the sciences and the science-based industries to support the arts and humanities, to nurture an interest in them not out of some abstract moral purpose, but as a real and concrete investment in cultivating the next generation of innovators and inventors, of scientific explorers and experimenters, the imagination-fueled visionaries who will keep the science and technology industries competitive through their creativity.