"We have confused knowing more with knowing better. The exponential growth of scientific knowledge made possible by trading breadth for depth is accompanied by the exponential growth of ignorance of how all scientific findings fit together into one known reality."

— Our War on Ourselves: Rethinking Science, Technology, and Economic Growth (p. 58) by Willem H. Vanderburg

“Social media isn’t a set of tools to allow humans to communicate with humans. It is a set of embedding mechanisms to allow technologies to use humans to communicate with each other, in an orgy of self-organizing… The Matrix had it wrong. You’re not the battery power in a global, human-enslaving AI, you are slightly more valuable. You are part of the switching circuitry.”
– Venkatesh Rao, “The Greasy, Fix-It ‘Web of Intent’ Vision”, http://www.ribbonfarm.com/2010/08/17/the-greasy-fix-it-web-of-intent-vision/

“Social media isn’t a set of tools to allow humans to communicate with humans. It is a set of embedding mechanisms to allow technologies to use humans to communicate with each other, in an orgy of self-organizing… The Matrix had it wrong. You’re not the battery power in a global, human-enslaving AI, you are slightly more valuable. You are part of the switching circuitry.”
– Venkatesh Rao, “The Greasy, Fix-It ‘Web of Intent’ Vision”, http://www.ribbonfarm.com/2010/08/17/the-greasy-fix-it-web-of-intent-vision/

Art, science and wonder: My thoughts on Ottawa’s vibrant art+science scene

Originally posted on Local Tourist Ottawa.

“The glory of science is to imagine more than we can prove.” – Nadine Wiper-Bergeron at TEDxUOttawa quoting theoretical physicist Freeman Dyson

A little less than a year ago, I stepped into the Pilot Lab at University of Ottawa and was immediately mesmerized by Andie Haltrich’s installation “The Space-Time Fabric”:(1)

In that unusual exhibition setting, the connection and interdependence of each alloy pipe and pressure gauge was laid bare in front of my eyes. I couldn’t help but to appreciate the fact that in order to conduct any cutting-edge scientific experiment, everything had to click, all the way down to each nut and bolt!

The one-night event Catalyst: The Art and Science Experiment, which explored the dialogue between art and science, was a student collaborative effort between the Department of Visual Arts and the faculty of Biological and Chemical Engineering. It sought to create a more unified, multidisciplinary campus.

Fast-forward to the beautiful autumn morning at TEDxUOttawa a few weeks ago, I found myself sitting among a forward-thinking crowd.

Coffee in hand, half of my body wished that I was still in bed but when Assistant Professor Nadine Wiper-Bergeron from the Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine spoke, I was captivated.

In her talk, she recounts how she, as an artsy, goth high schooler, got turned on by stem cell research and convincingly argues that the path of scientific discovery is not that much different than any artistic creative process. She urges scientists to learn from the arts and humanities as to make science more accessible through community outreach.

Finally, she conjures up the idea of “science vernissage” where the public can see, feel, interact with and celebrate what a dynamic creative force that science truly is. By the end of the talk, my mind was beaming with excitement and resonance and I thought it would be a tough act to follow.

Then came the Editor of Art & Science Journal, Lee Jones, bringing the union of art and science to come full circle. The student-run blog and biannual publication showcase artworks that are inspired by science, nature and technology.

Focusing on “the wonder that occurs when fields collide”, Lee passionately illustrates that art has a physical presence where our knowledge can be expanded upon and where concepts become reality.

Through artistic exaggeration, art often confronts us in a way that raw data and factual graphs may seem too sterile and neutral. With science-themed artworks serving as the catalyst for eureka moments, Lee hopes to instill a sense of awe, to make us contemplate and rethink our world.

Having slept on all those thought-provoking inspirations, I headed out to the second edition of the Ottawa-Gatineau Mini Maker Faire for some hands-on biohacking with Assistant Professor Andrew Pelling, who also presented at TEDxUOttawa the day before. He was accompanied by two of his students.

Andrew’s research focuses on reengineering and repurposing cells and organs through genetic and physical manipulations. In an extreme example, his team managed to grow mouse muscle cells inside a decellularized apple scaffold!

The big question Andrew ponders is how structural elements affect the biology of living cells. Of course the science is mind-blowing enough, but what stuck me was the venue.

The Mini Maker Faire took place at the Shopify Lounge which is used to be the Capital Music Hall in the heart of the Byward Market. Unlike conventional science conference, it was free and open to the general public.

Why does it matter? As Andrew points out in his TEDx talk, citizens are embracing the DIY, open science movement and he would like to participate as much as possible through this type of social engagement.

At the event, the Pelling Lab displayed several homemade equipment relevant to DIY biology, such as a cell culture incubator made from garbage, along with instructions and parts lists.

Like Nadine’s remark on art opening shows, it was wonderful to meet and speak to the students who did most of the hard work behind the scene.

By pure coincidence, I recently came across a book by David Edwards titled Artscience: Creativity in the Post-Google Generation where art and science no longer exist in a dichotomy but fuse as one.

With the motto “two speakers, two topics, one conversation”, an upcoming Double Major event featuring a dialogue on synthetic DNA and hip hop’s roots at Carleton University Art Gallery is just one of the latest examples of how local artists and scientists are eager to join force to create and innovate.

What do I make of all these? It is highly unlikely that my boss is going to let me put together a mixed media art piece in my fume hood anytime soon. However, looking at the crystals that I just grew in the lab via a technique I learned way back in first-year chemistry, I rediscover that the beauty in science often lies beyond the facts and figures but is usually found at the interface between substances.

(1) Image source:http://catalyst2011.tumblr.com/post/13879976178/here-are-a-few-images-of-the-artworks-that-were-in

"[…] life mix is the mash-up of what you have on- and offline. Now, we ask not of our satisfactions in life but in our life mix. We have moved from multitasking to multi-lifing."

Ch 8 Always On (p. 160)

Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other by Sherry Turkle