Monday, 18 July 2011

Arts vs Science

A couple of years ago a debate took place in Oxford, the title of which was "Poetry is beautiful, but science is what matters". An evocative title I'm sure you'll agree. However, what I personally liked about the debate was how it was advertised, as shown in the above picture.

Upon a background of equations you have a smooth, regal, Einstein with an angelic glow to show support for science. On the left, in support of the "beauty" of poetry, is an elderly, wrinkled gentleman, smoking a cigarette with unkempt hair.

Now, this may have been done completely by accident, but I just love how biased this picture comes across in its advertising of the event.

[Edit based on the excellent suggestion of Christian Perfect.] Interestingly it was an internet debate so you can read the whole set of arguments here:

In summary, the motion was defeated 62% to 38%. As you might expect, the debate never really got around to stating which field matters more. Instead, the battle was over semantics. What does "matter" mean? What does science mean? Etc.

Personally, I don't subscribe to the whole arts vs science utility debate. As Richard Feynman once said,
"Physics is like sex. Sure, it may give some practical results, but that's not why we do it."

P.S. If you know who the poet is in the figure please say so in a comment below. I would love to know who it is.

P.P.S. I've just been informed that it is W. H. Auden. Isn't the internet wonderful?


  1. Looks like WH Auden -

    It's the wrinkles that give it away. He was famous for them.

  2. Ah, indeed. Many thanks. Auden may have been known for his wrinkles but was Einstein known for his halo?

  3. So what was the result of the debate?

  4. Ah good point Christian. I'll add the details into the main article.

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