The scientist/artist divide

One of the other sites I read is called overthinkingit.com whose modus operandi is that of subjecting popular culture to a level of scrutiny it probably doesn’t deserve, which as you might guess by now, appeals to me very much. One of their blogs that caught my interest is one about scientists as heroes. It used the main protagonists of the films Tangled and How to Train your Dragon are both keen followers of the scientific method. The full post is here and is well worth a read.

Hiccup, I can see as being a valid example of the model. He is a character who clearly has logical questions to ask of the world and does so in a reasoned and methodical manner. I agree that he is a very good example of the scientist and shows a very clear story of how science can alter the world for good.

With Rapunzel however, I have my doubts. The article argues that she observes her environment and upon seeing anomalies in the norm and then spots patterns in these deviations, so seeks to investigate further. I never got that reading and from the introduction, assumed her to be more of an artist than a reasoned scientist. Her love of creative activities such as cooking, music, dress-making and painting convinced me she was left brained through and through but upon further thought, I’ve come up with another theory.

There is no reason why she cannot have inklings of both. The right brain is often associated with creative processes such as intuition and synthesising ideas whereas the left brain is more logical and looks at each part in a sequential and organised way. The scientist is typically someone who has a preference for left brain functionality, whereas the artist is the reverse. Could Rapunzel therefore be one of the people who are well balanced and have an equal preference for either side? She cannot be satisfied by any one single thing for long and wants to explore new things. She has creative tendencies, but as you can see from the little details, she is not messy but organised in her approach. As with all people, she doesn’t have half a brain but can access both parts equally.

I find it interesting to note people’s perception of artists and of scientists. I work with a lot of the latter during the day and know several who are married to artists. They tend to find their disorganisation a major annoyance and something they have to work around. Whereas when it comes to artists, I see a lot of them who are frustrated by the limited creativity of the left brainers. As with many things in life, we tend to focus on the negative and not see what empowerment comes from our own type and how relieved we should be that someone else can overcome our own weaknesses.

This stereotyping of artists opposing scientists and vice versa is one I really dislike. I don’t believe it’s true, as many engineers need creativity to build bridges and writers need to follow the laws of logic to create a captivating thriller. The preference is useful to know, as you can then see your own strengths and weaknesses. I think it is more useful to see it as a preference as opposed to a classification, more like a sliding scale of how much we use the two hemispheres of our brain.

I’ve taken a few tests to determine the dominant side for myself and found that answers vary all through the range with a tendency to lie at being exactly split. I felt I shared a lot in common with Rapunzel in terms of personality and this feels like yet another thing to add to the list. Tangled is out now on DVD and I’m sorely tempted to go out and buy it and see it for a third time. If you’ve not seen it, please do try to. It really is rather good, and not at all because the main character is like yours truly, but for the reasons described here.

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