On the Nature of Scientific and Artistic Inquiry

por: Ralph Vazquez

In science, and in many ways also in art, do we find that methodology is paramount to the development of knowledge on any given matter.  This methodology responds to logical steps geared towards advancement of understanding on a specific topic. The scientific method is a process through which scientists, and even artists, can go about proving their educated guesses about natural and social processes and possible correlations among them. The steps to the scientific method are simple enough, but within each step countless variables can come into interplay. All science parts from the premise that the natural world behaves in a consistent and predictable manner that can be best understood through a careful and systematic study.

The scientific method begins when you inquire about an observable phenomenon; and this inquiry responds to the questions of how, what, when, who which, why or where. These questions are the product of basic musings, product of the analysis and contemplation of life, the Earth and the cosmos. In spite of all of this the scientific method has a specific goal, the method must not only produce an answer to the inquiry but also produce measurable results.

The scientific method sets about by performing some preliminary research, which in turn helps us form a viable hypothesis. Whether this hypothesis is applicable to science or to art it can be best described as an educated estimate in which you establish your determination to reveal either causation or correlation between two or more measurable and accountable phenomena. This hypothesis posits a question or query and is a statement that is the product of prima facie observation; the idea is not necessarily based on evidence but on a “hunch” which expresses probable relationships.

After a hypothesis is constructed and presented an experiment is then organized and executed to test out the hypothesis. All data is organized and the experiment configured to convey logic, fairness and most importantly of all, transparence. After the experiment is carried out data analysis ensues and the scrutiny of the hypothesis against the background of the gathered experimental data is published. This last step is expected and serves to summarize the findings. In art this process is equivalent to the organization of an art exhibit, where publication of the ideas is performed via an art exhibition for the public to examine, evaluate and assess.

The scientific method is aimed towards establishing logical and credible parameters for the development of scientific and artistic reasoning. The latter are defined by the need to imagine, understand and continue to form viable verdicts via a process of rationalization. This reasoning can occur in one of two ways, deductive or inductive argumentation. Deductive can best be summarized as going from the general to the particular, as in a funnel, where data is concentrated and dismantled from the top down. Inductive reasoning works the opposite way, going from particular instances to the creation of general arguments. The overarching goal of scientific inquiry is of course to be able to discover obscured patterns in nature to be able to use the knowledge to make predictions about what should or should not be expected, given a specific circumstance.

An example of a hypothesis that is relevant today is the nebular hypothesis for the formation of planetary systems around a star. The nebular hypothesis helps clear out the why’s of some of the basic features of our solar system, but it has yet to account for many unknown variables that help clarify the how’s. Since it is still garnering supporting evidence the nebular hypothesis is still pending to become a theory, the next echelon of collective scientific wisdom. Hypothesis are the most abundant of all arguments in art, and each help create the patchwork of observations that characterize contemporary art circles of criticism. Artists such as Mark Dion, Merlin Carpenter and Louise Lawler work basing their art on historical, aesthetic or social critique, and their exhibits are virtually presentations of their hypotheses on how history, the art market and how consumer society operate on a large scale.

A theory holds more convincing power than a hypothesis, and this is because it has been tested and data has been gathered on the ramifications of the original hypothesis. A theory is still malleable and still in development, and it is subject to modification as new data is produced. An example of a theory is Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, which in turn is a radical revision of Newton’s principles on gravitation. This theory continues to develop as we gaze deeper and farther into space and we learn about how gravity works here in the solar system and beyond. In art a variety of theories exist concerning the development of historical movements and the deployment of technology in the process of artistic production. Economy, psychology and history all posses within them a variety of theories, all which serve to create arguments that help fuel and shape the art world and its attitudes.

Finally a law is the highest place for any product of scientific or artistic speculation. In art there are barely any laws, and theories continue to expand and be reconfigured as technology progresses. In science on the other hand we have few but powerful examples, as is the case of the Laws of Thermodynamics.  These laws dictate the requirements for the dissipation of heat and the role of work, and they were developed way in the early stages of the Industrial Revolution in the hopes of creating a perpetual motion machine. The ambition for such a machine was frustrated but the understanding of how heat is transferred and how work can be made more efficient have made our way of life a possibility.

The scientific method is a remarkable knowledge method, and it continues to evolve as more and better techniques for observation give way to more educated and precise guesses.  In art the method helps give structure to conceptual notions on how the world and society operate, and it binds all scientific knowledge in an organized and systematic fashion. The contribution of such a system has paved the way for a more credible execution of scientific and artistic inquiry, and thus is an invaluable tool through which one can gain a deeper understanding of the natural and social world.

*The author is curator and journalist for Conboca

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