The poem and the theorem

There is a store for used books on California Avenue, quaintly called Know Knew Books. Here, I picked up a fine little book called Science and Human Values, a collection of essays by Jacob Bronowski – poet, writer, and mathematician. In the first essay, The Creative Mind, he asserts that the creative process of the artist is much the same as that of the scientist. In science, creativity amounts to the discovery of a pattern; a generalization; a theme that two or more phenomena have in common. In art, writing or poetry it amounts to the discovery of a connection between two ideas that previously seemed disconnected; a metaphor. This definition of creativity in relation to art might seem too broad and sweeping an assertion, but, on some thought, it seems to be correct. When we like a painting, a poem, a book, it is because something resonates between our thoughts and that piece of art; somehow a connection is made. The genius of the artist lies in the fact that he made the synthesis first, just like the mathematician who proved the theorem first. But it is almost as wonderful for the person who comes along at a later stage, observes the work and discovers the pattern anew. Expressing this rather more beautifully, Bronowski writes:

And the great poem and the deep theorem are new to every reader, and yet [they] are his own experiences because he himself recreates them. They are the marks of unity in variety; and in the instant when the mind seizes this for itself, in art or in science, the heart misses a beat.


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