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Skip to 0 minutes and 6 seconds What’s the place of science in culture? If you think of science as the systematic approach to the world, understanding the world, knowledge. Then, it’s the glue that holds our cultures together. It’s the thing that we know. You know that something is called the moon. And you know it goes round the earth. That’s science. And so, in that sense, it’s the kind of scaffolding that the whole of culture is based around. In Davy’s time, the place of science in culture was contested. In fact, many of those who governed the society had very little place or time for science. They were quite keen on technology, but they left technology in private hands, to entrepreneurs and businessmen to develop as they needed.

Skip to 0 minutes and 46 seconds They didn’t necessarily see science and technology as being particularly related. Chemistry was assimilated into fashionable culture. Davy’s chemistry appealed to his audience right from the beginning as it promised utility. But the patriotic culture of Davy’s audience also helped to influence Davy’s chemistry. And Davy actually adapted his chemistry to that patriotic culture in his audience. For me, it’s clear that science is very influenced by current culture. For instance, in chemistry, which is my research area, there’s a lot of work at moment around sustainability. And a very resource-heavy subject looking at how we can be more sustainable. And that’s something that has been driven by current culture and society. What is the relationship between the arts and the sciences?

Skip to 1 minute and 38 seconds Arts and sciences are both ways of understanding the world. Science does it by trying to elucidate things that are kind of facts, that we know are true or we think, we’re pretty sure are true. And connecting them together. And then, a foundation of knowledge is built that way. The arts, their knowledge about the world is no less authentic, but it’s not approached with the same method. It’s about expression. It’s emotional. It’s just as true. And it’s just as creative as science. But they’re complementary. Particularly when thinking about chemistry, which is my subject, lots of people would say that it has nothing to do with art and creativity.

Skip to 2 minutes and 24 seconds But in terms of having the imagination to think about the boundaries that we’re pushing at and the new things that we need to discover, I think there’s a lot of creativity in scientists in order to imagine these things, so as they can be discovered. Well that depends on which science and which art. So if you look at Cubism in the beginning of 20th century, the very term Cubism invokes mathematical concepts. And clearly the early Cubists were you heavily influenced by the development of mathematics that was going on there. So there’s no one, single answer to that question. I think in Davy’s time there wasn’t a single or a general relationship between the arts and culture.

Skip to 3 minutes and 8 seconds People didn’t think of poetry, science, experiment as the arts. They thought of them as different enterprises that different people separately did. What’s interesting in Davy’s career is that, because he didn’t grow up in a university and work in a organised establishment from an early period, he was in association with people who were inquiring into nature through experiments. But also people who were inquiring into nature through poetry, and through observation, and through travel writing. In other words, science and poetry were not separate, organised institutions. Sciences and arts are not separate. There is no two cultures. That idea belongs to 1959. It’s totally out of date. We need the three things together. Culture, art, sciences, think of them as a handshake.

Skip to 4 minutes and 5 seconds They should be so in all our education systems and further studies. And if there’s one way you need to bring them together, I would suggest reading biography. The biographies of writers, artists, scientists, experimenters that brings them together, and makes us realise this is all part of the great human endeavor.

What's the Relationship between Science, Culture, and the Arts?

Presenters from the course give their answers to two questions:

  • What’s the place of science in culture?

  • What’s the relationship between the arts and the sciences?

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This video is from the free online course:

Humphry Davy: Laughing Gas, Literature, and the Lamp

Lancaster University