Art and Science

Lockdown reading Yorkshire photography stories

Recently we have seen a lot of lichen on our walks. Once beautiful green hedges are suddenly covered with a sort of green fungus. What are lichens, I asked myself?

Dawkins has an answer in his book, The Selfish Gene.

Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene, Chapter 10: You Scratch My Back, I'll Ride on Yours

A lichen 'is a symbiotic union between a fungus and a green alga.' United we stand, divided we fall. Opposites attract.

Arts and sciences are now thought of as the proverbial opposite forces. Over the years, art and science have been split apart into different faculties and even universities. A funny article in the Mail talks about the recent rise in popularity of science. I also want Dora to study science. Yet, we resign the arts to people who teach us what to think at our peril. What is taught is less important than being how to think for ourselves. If we can think for ourselves, we can study and read and write anything we choose. Freethinking writers have an impressive record of predicting the future.

From War of the Worlds (Story Telling and Sciences of the Mind, p.8) to Contagion (where Matt Hancock learned about the necessity of vaccines https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-55917374), fictional accounts are (accurate) harbingers of doom. Contagion is not made up; it was consciously based on science (https://www.thedailybeast.com/how-contagion-pushed-hollywood-to-get-science-right).

Science is everywhere, but so are stories. The most memorable part of Story Telling and Sciences of the Mind (a book on narrative) was the story about the author’s grandfather (p.9). The most memorable parts of The Secret Life of the Natural History Museum were stories about the people—especially the ones about spies and women.

I was so inspired by the stories, I bought a book on Dorothea Bate (Discovering Dorothea, Karolyn Shindler and Evelyn Cheesman's Landfall Unknown. (My New Year's resolution to limit myself to £30 a month on books has been a disaster—I've already spent my annual budget.)

Richard Fortey, Dry Store Room No. 1, The Secret Life of the Natural History Museum, Chapter 5: Theatre of Plants

Richard Fortey, Dry Store Room No. 1, The Secret Life of the Natural History Museum, Chapter 5: Theatre of Plants

Lichens, according to Fortey, tell their own narrative (Chapter 5: Theatre of Plants). Lichens are diaries recording their environment, like Samuel Pepys. I've walked past lichen-covered gravestones and never considered that the lichens might have a story to tell. I watched Bones; I didn't think that Dr Jack Hodges might be based on a real person. Fortey cites Maggots, Murder, and Men: Memories and Reflections of a Forensic Entomologist by Dr. Zakaria Erzinçlioglu, who I was sad to discover, doesn't work at the Natural History Museum, but who does look at the narratives told by insects.

Richard Fortey, Dry Store Room No. 1, The Secret Life of the Natural History Museum, Chapter 5: Theatre of Plants

While attempts to limit the English curriculum are certainly misguided (especially but not limited to cancelling Chaucer), perhaps any expansion should include science writers such as Richard Dawkins. He has lots of stories within his stories, and reading Dawkins helps us better understand the world around us. I doubt appreciation of lichens' scientific beauty will make me think it artistically so; it does help bridge the gap between art and science.

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