Ceci N’est Pas Une Quark

The Cowboy is fascinated by the cross-disciplinary collaborations that have dotted history – those all-too-short periods of time when talented men and women have inspired and been inspired by each other, generating bursts of creative output.

As a sort of follow-up on a couple of recent posts, I would like to point out one of these cross-disciplinary collaborations of which you may not be aware.

In his book of last year, Surrealism, Art, and Modern Science: Relativity, Quantum Mechanics, Epistemology, Gavin Parkinson addresses an odd, but understandable confluence of ideas that hit the worlds of physics and art between the 1920s and 1940s. Parkinson is an art historian at the Courtauld Institute in London.  The book was reviewed in Nature under the title “Quantum Weirdness and Surrealism” (long abstract, but you have to pay for the whole review).

As Parkinson admits, the collaboration was probably more in the direction of artists being inspired by physicists than the other way around (itself a rather surrealist statement!).  Still, it is an example of ideas capturing the imaginations of contemporaneous thinkers and being extended into unforeseen media.

It is a cross-fertilization that Diaghilev himself surely would have loved.

By the way, the Cowboy took some liberties with the title of this post.  Quarks were not postulated until 1964, well after the period discussed in Parkinson’s book.  In another example of ideas bubbling up into the collective conscious, the existence of quarks was independently theorized by the physicists Murray Gell-Mann and George Zweig in the same year.

Published in: on March 22, 2009 at 09:51  Comments Off on Ceci N’est Pas Une Quark  
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