When Trails Of Science and Art Cross

What causes burn out? Is it the path to competency?

It seems the world is full of paths to follow, many of which leave us isolated from different modes of thought. Different points of view.

When your right brain and left brain argue interesting things develop.

Was reading October’s copy of Smithsonian while baking in the Community Center sauna, one of the few places I’m still tethered to paper, when I read of a meeting between Margaret Geller, David DeVorkinAtesh Sonneborn, and Mickey Hart.

“So what?” you might ask.

Better said, this was a meeting between an astrophysicist, a science historian, an ethnomusicologist, and, wait for it…. a drummer for the Grateful Dead.

Ideas from strange places. Ya gotta love them. Ya gotta be open to them. All members of the meeting are at the top of their game, simply different games.

Hart, of the Dead, called the meeting. He was looking for ways to perceive and record the ‘music’ of the universe. They’re going to work together.

“Good, Good, Good, Good Vibrations…” played in the background. (Sure Truckin’ would have been a better coincidence, but I’m not sure the Community Center will play the Dead no matter how long baby boomers rule the world.)

Continuing our random walk, Gil Alterovitz of Harvard is developing sounds of gene expression as they differ between a normal cell and a cancer cell. Gene Expression is a way to see what is genetically going on in a particular bit of tissue or blood. Results provide lots of difficult to analyze numbers driving scatter-plots and Excel tables. A company I work for, GenUs BioSystems, specializes in pulling accurate, reliable gene expression data from just a few cells, they talk in terms of picograms. A few factors smaller than the cosmos – but music connects.


Music moves mankind in mysterious ways that have been studied forever. The ancient Greeks were among the first to connect the mathematics of sound to good music and some would say Mozart perfected it – but then along comes Muddy Waters or The Black Eyed Peas and it turns out we know nothing.

When the world of mathematics and music collide, normal cells and cancer cells sound different. Is that true of black holes, binaries, big bangs? Does that mean anything?

A while back Paul C commented: “When students from different subject areas see that there are common threads to learning and collaboration it becomes energizing and empowering.” And in a recent Quoteflections post on lessons from 10 students he asks: “Did I provide enough encouragement to all my students and provide them with meaningful connections to every day life?

Connections between real life and real study. Broaden the focus and gain deeper understanding?

Or as Dr. Robyn McCallister, of the MITA Brain Based Center, said “While innovation taps into logic and scientific facts of the left brain, it’s supercharged by our right brain’s ability to synthesize ideas, see the big picture, create and design.”

When right and left brains argue. Ideas follow.

I’ll admit, it’s hard to think that music will help us understand the cosmos or the intricacies of genetics, but maybe the cosmos and genetics can lead us to new forms of music. (Neutron Star Rap?) The path goes in both directions when you’re open to it.

Or at the very least. Imagine being a fly on the wall of a meeting between Geller, DeVorkin, Sonneborn and Hart discussing cutting edge astronomy and music.

Hart’s reaction: “Exciting…As Soupy Sales would say, ‘My brains are falling out.'”

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16 Responses to When Trails Of Science and Art Cross

  1. LaVonn says:

    Wow! Here in Higher Ed we are always trying to get students to think beyond what they know into the what could be….this is an amazing example of someone (a drummer no less) saying I know music but what could I know…..Great post!

    • Hi LaVonn, coordinating and accepting ideas from other fields is very powerful. The trick I see is the need to accept that great thinking happens everywhere. Whether you are the wisest at accounting, teaching, jazz or construction. The farther you are from your field of specialty the easier it is to dismiss other’s thinking because it is alien or simply not as important to you. We all have something to teach. We all have something to ask. We all are capable of wonder.

  2. Mickey Hart is no ordinary “drummer” but a scholar of percussion. He once papered the walls of the Dead’s barn with a timeline, a history of percussion, which became a book. The guy is a percussion junkie.

    It does not surprise me at all to see him in the venture you described, looking for synergy among seemingly disparate fields. I’m heading out right now to find the article and retrieve Mickey’s book from wherever it is. Thanks for the reminder. I haven’t thought about all this in years!
    .-= Dick Richards´s last blog ..Parrots And Pirates And Synchronous Events =-.

    • Hi Dick, The meeting is described in a single paragraph in the Around the Mall/From the Castle Column by G. Wayne Clough (who was also in the meeting). It is unfortunately brief and leaves much to the imagination. Thank you for the background on Hart – I hope my attempt at contrast didn’t make it appear that I thought he was ordinary in any way. Genius is genius no matter what field it is in.

  3. Wow, if students approached genetics with the challenge to create Neutron Star Rap, as a means to share facts and information that give the basics to others, I think they would enjoy the study and learn more.

    Trick is that each person’s brain differs and some would want the challenge of a whole different tune. 😉
    .-= Robyn McMaster´s last blog ..Blogging Live from World Business Forum =-.

    • Stranger things have happened. My son’s English class created ‘Beowulf The Musical’ with orchestration, singers and sets last year in leu of a book report. When the right chords are tapped into work becomes play. Thanks for stopping by Robyn, I appreciate it.

  4. Paul C says:

    Hi Fred,
    I was totally engrossed by the theme of this post and then I read a reference to one of my posts on the subject. (total surprise) Thanks for the link.

    I really like how you put it: ‘When right and left brains argue. Ideas follow.’

    Increasingly business and educational leaders are seeing the value of combining the two sides for dynamic cerebral fireworks.
    .-= Paul C´s last blog ..New Immigrants and ESL Intersect for Me =-.

    • Hi Paul, Glad when I can surprise! I agree that leaders are seeing the value, however organizationally it’s a difficult task to tackle. That’s one reason why I like the perspectives on education I’ve glimpsed at your blog – If individuals are naturally drawn to the interaction themselves the organization gets the benefit without having to jump through hoops.

  5. Andrew says:

    Fred,

    I would certainly agree with the general idea that people of different disciplines can add fresh perspectives with regard to a particular problem, and at an organizational level, this is probably one of the driving forces behind an increasing tendency to form cross-functional teams for specific projects.

    I love the depiction created by the music – although those cancer cells don’t sound too happy!
    .-= Andrew´s last blog ..Back home/back online! =-.

    • Hi Andrew, It is funny how the cancer cells sound a bit discordant isn’t it. Doubt that will turn out to mean anything significant, but certainly is interesting.

  6. Diana says:

    I may be tired and spacing out (or stating the obvious), but reading this reminds me that, as an artist, I have always thought there are universally recognizable elements in art. Art attracts because we recognize a “truth” that we inherently know. Like something on the tip of your tongue, a deja vu feeling, or a seemingly familiar face in a crowd, we yearn for what we know. I imagine that music stimulates this same “knowing,” this recognition of something true and inalienable in this existence.

    Imagine that this is applicable at every level of matter and it would be logical that everything that exists sings a kind of song, and comprises a work of art that we are capable of hearing, seeing, recognizing, being. So it doesn’t surprise me that we can listen to gene expression or that the cancer cells sound discordant to us.
    .-= Diana´s last blog ..By: mosaicmoods =-.

    • Hi Diana, What I like is just getting the different take on the world that is provided by alternate viewpoints. While it can be easy for two mathematicians to argue the various views of a formula with relative ease, it starts to get more and more difficult the farther afield the viewpoints are. Being open to new ways of seeing can cause ideas to fall into place that are unexpected and refreshing.

  7. Brad Shorr says:

    Fred, It’s not hard at all to imagine music helping us understand the cosmos. People often think differently and more creatively when they are listening to music. The right mind and the right combination of notes – who knows what could happen?
    .-= Brad Shorr´s last blog ..9 Common Corporate Blog Writing Errors =-.

    • True Brad, I like the different pathways that open up with some good tunes in the background. It’s interesting how the effect is different for everybody. My son (who is a musician) gets so absorbed by music that it gets in the way of him accomplishing other tasks.

  8. jan geronimo says:

    Makes me smile that these cancer cells make discordant notes. Mean little trollops… Music as a handle to bridge disparate ideas, disciplines and the cosmos – well, that’s a marvelous thought. When language stutters to a stop, music bridges the gaps and brings synthesis. Remarkable.
    .-= jan geronimo´s last blog ..10 Blog Lessons I Did Not Learn From Darren Rowse =-.