Archive of Week Four Forum on Beauty--
"Molecular Aesthetics," or: What Does Chemistry Have to Contribute to Our Appreciation and Understanding of Beauty?

Current Forum and Forum Archives

does "understanding" contribute to or take away from your perception of beauty?
Name: Anne Dalke (
Date: 02/04/2005 16:03
Link to this Comment: 12521

So, I was wondering after class on Thursday whether what Sharon told you and showed you (that colors are best understood not as "objects," but as "events") made them more or less beautiful to you?

Chemistry and Beauty
Name: Meera Jain (
Date: 02/05/2005 12:36
Link to this Comment: 12527

After class on Thursday and Sharon's discussion about color mixing, I was excited to find out HOW my mind perceives blue and yellow to make green, but on the screen it turned white! After all the scientific discussion about light and rods and cones, I started to grasp and it. But I did not doubt my vision. If I see white, then it is white. I leave it at that. My mind likes simplicity. Reading Ronald Hoffman's article, he states that we make up a story when there is a lack of simplicity. This is true, after Sharon's discussion I was slightly confused and found it hard to grasp HOW my EYES see certain color and not others, so I substituted her explanations with my own rendition of how this is possible- i.e. a story!
I found one point in Hoffmans article poignant- to make curious things like science interesting we have to make up a story about it. Chemists and other scientist NEED imagination and stories to keep their brains alive to search for answers.
In the earlier Hoffman article, he describes what drawing and writing chemistry is, and the descriptions were BEAUTIFUL= "the soultion of indigo...dull earths smelted into crust forming on mercury.." Even though I did not quite understand the chemical part of this, I found this description beautiful because of the words and colors being used. Relating this back to Anne's comment about colors being an "event" rather than object, I see Hoffmans descriptions as an event and I found it more beautiful than being objects. I relate objects to boring things like pencil, clock, phone but events are "the sharpening of a pencil, the tick tock of a clock, the reverberation of a phone". These sound more physically appeasing.

Name: Amy Martin (
Date: 02/05/2005 16:12
Link to this Comment: 12531

What I found to be beautiful about both Sharon's presentation and the hoffman articles was the complexity and simplicity of science. In particular, during Sharon's presentation I was just wowed by the idea of all these complexities exisiting within ourselves that I am so unaware of, that i take for granted yet rely on so. I was really impressed by Hoffman's ideas about the power of stories and how " a world without stories is fundamentally inhuman." What struck me about this was a- this is a scientist writing that and b- the fact that he said elsewhere in his article, that as humans we need to make sense of the world, and find the beautiful in the world. He writes " Beauty is created out of the labor of human hands and minds" At first this rubbed me the wrong way, since I see so much beauty in the things of nature that which humans have no impact on. But, I came to understand him to mean that we create our idea of beauty within our minds. So no matter that magenta isn't "real". What matters is that we do see it, and many of us do find it beautiful. The whole reality is what you make it to be philosphy.

Name: Liz Paterek (
Date: 02/05/2005 17:26
Link to this Comment: 12535

I knew most of the biology behind how we see color and that color works differenly with light than wityh pigment mixing and what is commonly learned is pigment mixing. I did however find it exceptionally interesting to see that idea of the color of light mixing in the eye at a distance. I think I appreciated the effort that went into each work more after that. I mean did the artist have to step back after every stroke and ask how it looked or could he/she just see it for what it would be at a distance. I don't know if that really makes it more beautiful to me, but I do know that some part of me respects the artist more. It is a very different style from that which came before and I begin to wonder who the first person who thought to try that style was. He was an artistic genius to see the relationship and the power it has to make the colors pop. I have always appreciated the fact that Monets are just splotches of paint up close but at a distance they are almost real. I just never knew why that was. Now I do and am happy for it. II think that it is also wonderful to see scientific concepts applied in another field and in such an abstract manner. When we see science in literature, poetry or art it is so often used as blatant science (such as science fiction literature, that chemistry poem we read in class, etc.). Her science is used and most people wouldn't even realize, to me that's magical.

Beauty and science
Name: Rachel Usala (
Date: 02/05/2005 17:49
Link to this Comment: 12536

I think the assignment of this article following Dr. B's presentation was well-timed. It explained why her presentation was so effective: it told a story. Even the humanitarians in the classroom enjoyed it, I think.
Hoffmann's primary argument, that story-telling beautifies science, suprised me, especially since this idea comes from a scientist's mouth. I am not completely convinced this is true. Hoffmann makes the conclusion that "beauty...gains in strength when it is shared with others." My personal experience has been sometimes contrary to this. Some things are beautiful because they are your secret. Some experiences of beauty are shattered by company, as I experienced at the Barnes. Also, as a chemistry major I have found pleasure in science without knowing the background to everything. I've found an aesthetic quality to the complexity of reaction mechanisms and to the application of math to science. I don't know who developed these math equations or these mechanisms, but they are beautiful without the story.
It was interesting to hear the reverberations of Dewey in Hoffmann. Both say beauty is the result of the resolution of tension or chaos.

What class am I reading for again?
Name: Brittany (bpladek@bmc)
Date: 02/05/2005 19:00
Link to this Comment: 12538

This is the Beauty/Chemistry forum and not the Stories/Evolution forum, right? :)

Anyway, fascinating readings, especially the second Hoffman. What interested me the most was this quote:
"Simplicity, symmetry, and order ride a straight ray into our souls... perhaps we have evolved a psychobiological predilection for the qualities of the world that rationalize our existence as locally contraentropic creatures that build molecules and poems."

First, I'm not so sure I agree with the assertion that for humans, beauty often equals simplicity, but I'll leave that alone for now. What interests me more is this idea that humans consider order/simplicity beautiful because we, as creatures, refute the second law of thermodynamics. It's *fascinating.* In my other CSEM (Stories/Evolution), we just finished a discussion about the second law of thermodynamics---the idea that everything in the universe inherently moves towards disorder... except life! Life is an unlikely process of order out of disorder. So when we find "order/simplicity" inherently beautiful, we're basically finding the entire process of life itself beautiful. We admire in miniature which we (maybe) lack the capacity to fully appreciate on a cosmic scale. Cool... if it's true. :)

Which leads me to another question: can beauty be "random"? Or must it be ordered, purposeful in some sense? I'm thinking specifically of poetry/literature here. Are words themselves, alone, beautiful, or do they require structure to be so? And does this structure necessarily have to make sense in human terms? Does it even have to be created by humans?

I ask this because last semester I took a course where one of the other students introduced us all to a site that generates random poetry via "evolution." You vote on a "poem" (random collection of words), and the poems that get the most votes survive and breed, randomly, with other survivors, to create new poetry. Which then gets voted on. It's pretty cool, and it's fascinating how some of the poems that come out of it *are* beautiful. Here's the link:

...I might post that link for the Evo/Stories course too...

Presentation of Color
Name: Marissa Patterson (
Date: 02/06/2005 12:51
Link to this Comment: 12551

I was really impressed by the presentation on Thursday. I do feel like it made the colors more beautiful, but not perhaps in the way that the question was posed at the beginning of the postings. I did not see it as an explaination or understanding of the color itself, but rather a description of how the brain and the eyes work to percieve color. As I wrote in my paper, it is the processes of our internal organs, especially the brain, that I find especially beautiful, so to understand how my eye takes blue and yellow and can make both white and green, depending, was incredibly interesting.
I also really liked learning about how different colors in a painting can be obvious up close, but then from far away, the blue, purple, orange, and green can combine to form a luminous skin color.
I was slightly perplexed at times by the reading. I understood how the author was saying that science could be beautiful when it was a story, but I did not fully grasp his examples and how they related to stories. Perhaps it is something I need to look into further or that was explained somewhere else.
I enjoyed his descriptions of what a story contains- temporality, causation, and human interest. I didnt think of stories especially in a scientific way, but this really made me understand that scientific processes can be stories and be beautiful in the same way that a fiction story can be.

Name: eebs (
Date: 02/06/2005 15:02
Link to this Comment: 12561

ive never associated chemistry with beauty- like Hoffmann, i firmly believed that "beauty is built out of individual pleasure around an object or idea. it may be personal, but it gains in strength when it is shared with others". i suppose chemistry could be "shared" in the same manner by explaining to someone else how the structure of hemoglobin comes to be... but this kind of sharing usually isnt very personal, not like story telling or an artwork would be. but like john polanyi states, "the eye searches for a beginning, a middle and an end" which makes science similar to story telling. but it occured to me that stories/art(diagrams) are easier to remember; which is probably why we tend to use mnemonics "LEO says GER" to remember the inner workings of a redox reaction. after thinking about this, i got the impression that humans are bound to use their imaginations to create stories/art, some more practical than beautiful. like amy said above, there is a power to stories that people need to depend on to 'make sense of the world'.

once again, we come back to the idea of understanding something to make it (more) beautiful. the "deeper story" is more "delightful" according to hoffmann. i couldnt agree with him more; after dr. b's presentation on colors, i understood (sort of) how the stage lights worked with minimal use of colored lights :)

Our Perception of Color...Revealed!!
Name: Alanna Albano (
Date: 02/06/2005 15:37
Link to this Comment: 12562

I enjoyed Dr. B's color presentation very much on Thursday...and even though I have watched another color presentation given by Dr. B for my inorganic chemistry class previously, it made me no less interested or excited about this one. The presentation refreshed my memory on some of the mysteries that I had already learned about color; however, it also taught me some new pieces of information (such as the fact that many insects can see UV light).

Having the mysteries of color revealed to me, learning what it is that we really "see" (or don't), has only made me appreciate color even more. Knowing more about color has made the colors that I see in my daily life even more beautiful to me. It intrigues me to think that the colors I see are my brain's interpretation of the world around me. For example, I look at a magenta colored sweater hanging in my closet. With one quick glance at the sweater's surface, I say to myself that the color of the sweater is magenta -- it is as simple as that...or so it deceptively seems...and then with a more scrutinizing look at the threads of the sweater, and armed with my color science knowledge, I say to myself that I am in reality looking at an intricate combination of red and blue -- the magenta is only in my brain. Not so simple now, is it?

The reality of color is actually quite complicated, not nearly as simple as they made it in grammar school. Back then, we were taught our reds and greens and yellows, and how to make an orange tiger, and that red, blue and yellow were the primary colors. Now, we learn that many of the colors that we "see" aren't really what we "see", and red, blue, and GREEN are the primary colors. This all relates to what Hoffmann was discussing in his essays about the failure of simplicity. Simplicity has failed us in terms of explaining color; however, this should make an object no less beautiful...Hoffmann mentions that beauty is found when simplicity contends with complexity, and vice-versa. I believe his statement to be true.

Another thing I liked about the color presentation: it made the complicated science of color a more easily digested and approachable topic to its diverse audience. Although there is a lot of chemistry, physics, and biology going on within the science of color, as well as psychology, not everyone in the audience studies those disciplines. The creative format of the presentation allowed everyone, no matter what their major, to enjoy the beauty and "reality" surrounding color.

Theory versus Emotion
Name: Nancy (
Date: 02/06/2005 21:16
Link to this Comment: 12581

I had a difficult time in class last Tuesday. I was surprised by the content of the presentations by both Anne and Professor Burgmayer. The 'lectures' were very emotion-laden and surprisingly personal. My immediate reaction was to withdraw myself from the discussion and to question if/why what we were doing was useful. I realized I didn't want personal experience, I didn't want a recount of who thought what was beautiful. I wanted something substantial, something of academic credence that I could absorb and attempt to apply once I left the room. I want theory. But why?

I think academia insists upon the theoretical. A big part of why I college seminars work for first semester freshmen is because they quash the tendency to be anecdotal. It's as if we learn a new way of thinking where the impersonal is valorized. I know I've bought into it. I know I am desensitized to some things because I mentally screen everything I hear in class through the catalogue of what I've read trying to make connections that can be backed up by some author whose voice is more academically valid than my own.

My theory of beauty
Name: nancy (
Date: 02/06/2005 21:28
Link to this Comment: 12582

At the Barnes, I was trying to find some rhyme or reason to what I found myself most drawn to. Why was it that I breezed through rooms upon rooms of Renoir, but lingered at one of the small and few Picasso's? Why was I not more open to looking at pieces by less familiar artists?

Recently, I learned something about information theory. The basic premise relies on the use of a spectrum. At one end, there is randomness at the other end redundency and in the middle where the two balance out there is information. In more concrete terms, if you hear "cat ball red standing olympics" (lots of randomness) it is meaningless. Concurrently, if you hear "red red red red red red" (repetition ad infinitum) it is also meaningless. But if you take a semi-random mix of words that are familiar, like "the cat with the red ball went to the olympics" it might not make sense logistically, but the pattern is recognizable and information is being passed along.

Long story short, at the Barnes I became tired of the Renoirs (redundent and not beautiful) irritated with that woman with the long nose who kept popping up everywhere (she went from unfamiliar to too familiar), I blocked out the completely foreign pieces and decided the works that were the most beautiful were those I had some prior knowledge of but were not being shoved at my face every time I turned around. So there's a bit of me theorizing my museum-going experience.

No more Renoir please
Name: Malorie (
Date: 02/07/2005 00:30
Link to this Comment: 12588

What Nancy posted really rang true with me. I was sick last weekend and was unable to go to the Barnes with you all. I went on Friday with Jaya. One thing we were worried about was that having herd Prof Dalke and Dr B. talking we would be influenced by what they thought was beautiful. I did not find that I was forced to find the same things beautiful because of them- but we did take special note of them. I'd say to Jaya, "hey thatÕs the Renoir that Dr. B liked. I do see how the colors mix". I felt hearing their opinions did not "ruin" my experience. If anything it caused me to pay more attention to things I'd normally not look at to long.

But the strongest emotion I took from the Barnes is hate for Renoir. I neither loved nor hated him going in. And even now, I do like and think some of his pictures are beautiful, I was just so tired of seeing the same type of picture over and over and over and over again. I agree with Nancy- I was much more interested in the scattered Picasso, Van Gogh and painters I'd never herd of or seen than the endless stream of Renoir. To much repetition is mind numbing. As beautiful as the colors of skin are, I was so tired of seeing naked women bathing. It is interesting to me that the amount of Renoir for me is sickening and spectacular for Dr. B.

Name: ()
Date: 02/07/2005 11:41
Link to this Comment: 12594

My dad used to tell me that there was a difference between mixing colors as pigments rather than as lights, but I never really believed him until class on Thursday. It's amazing that all the lights together make white whereas (theoretically) if you were to mix all the paints in a box you would come up with black. It is also interesting that people say that white is not really a color, but the "abscence of color" when we just learned that the exact opposite is true.

I think that Sharon's description of color as an "event" is a lovely way of describing the true nature of their existence. Her demonstration proved to me that the perception of color is more of an optical illusion than anything else. This knowledge creates an interesting addendum to a question that I have always had about how people see color. How do we know that we are all seeing the same thing? What if the color that I see as blue is what someone else sees as orange? How can we know that our perceptions are in agreement without getting inside someone else's head? What if no one sees colors the same way as anyone else? What if we could see through someone else's eyes exactly as they see and realized that the view the world in the negative or in color opposites and the only reason colors look normal to us is because we have been seeing the world the same way our whole lives?

These questions, along with questions about the perception/creation/existence of time and other scientific mysteries of the universe are the kind of thing that drive me crazy and keep me up at night. I think that's a good thing (to some degree,) but that's also why I can never be a scientist. If I were studying these things all day, every day, I might never sleep again.

Name: Lauren Sweeney (
Date: 02/07/2005 11:43
Link to this Comment: 12595

That last comment was mine, (Lauren) I just got a little excited and posted before identifying myself.

Simplicity in Beauty
Name: Muska (
Date: 02/07/2005 12:35
Link to this Comment: 12598

"Beauty is created out of the labor of human hands and minds."

When I read that quote by Roald Hoffmann I immediately thought of the difference between the beauty which we perceive as a product of labor, and the beauty we perceive without the implication of labor. A few weeks ago when we were discussing our responses to the online survey I expressed my inability to find the statue of David beautiful. My reason for not finding beauty in the statue was because I recognized that although it was visually pleasing, it was only pleasing because the artist had spent so much time meticulously sculpting and defining each tiny detail. Although I appreciate the amount of intellect, talent and effort which must have gone into the creation of the David, I tend to find things more beautiful if they appear spontaneously in nature, without being strenuously worked on or cotemplated. Michelangelo once said, "If people knew how hard I have had to work to gain my mastery, it wouldn't seem so wonderful."

In fact, I think that things appear more beautiful if there is no evidence of effort in the creation of the art at all. For example, if you are watching a movie and you are constantly reminded, either by the low-quality special effects or horrendous acting, that the movie is in fact a fiction, then the film is no longer interesting. It is only when we escape into the movie and forget that there are props, directors, screenwriters, actors, etc that we are left stunned by the beauty of the film. I think there is a certain kind of fascination associated with beauty which appears effortless. The word "appears" is important because it doesn't imply that beauty requires no effort, it's just that the effort must not be recognizable.

This implies that there is a certain level of dishonesty in beauty, since it must constantly display an aura of simplicity and ease. The obsession with the effortless appeal of beauty becomes dangerous, especially in terms of modern ideals of physical beauty. The models in magazines appear smiling and content, therefore the young girls who flip through the pages are unaware of the possible pain, starvation and even multiple amounts of plastic surgery that went into the creation of the happy, smiling image on the page.

This past summer I read a book by Colette Dowling that expresses the appeal of effortless beauty the best. The author is describing her experience watching a ballet dancer on stage. Dowling states the following:

"There my eyes would widen as I beheld a young dancer pursuing excellence, pushing her body up against the fierce, triumphant music of Stravinsky. Somehow I preferred to think of the dancer as magical. I could not reconcile the glory of her performance with the sweat dripping from her body or the contortions of her face when, during a pause in the dance, her back to the audience, I saw her gasp for air as recklessly and as hideously as some old flatfish cast up on the sand. Grounded, she seemed; vulnerable, exhausted by the effort of having fully extended herself. I did not want to see the connection between the magnificence of her art and the torturously hard work she had to do in order to accomplish it."

Name: ()
Date: 02/07/2005 13:52
Link to this Comment: 12604

Ōno one can ever give the exact measure of his needs, nor of his conceptions, nor of his sorrows; and since human speech is like a cracked tin kettle on which we hammer out tunes to make bears dance when we long to move the stars. Ō
-Flaubert, Madame Bovary
Reading over the articles for this week and during presentation, I could not stop thinking about this line. When I read this quote, I was in a creative arts high school, in my second year in the creative writing program. I was so incredibly struck by the truth of this line. That was how I felt when I was trying to compose a strophe or fine tune a short story. I felt I had something in my head, but couldn't express it the way I wanted to. Once at Bryn Mawr and majoring in Physics, I felt the same way. Even if sometimes I thought I understood a theory, I would have difficulty applying it, or in lab, have more trouble expressing what I thought I learned. Both of the articles this week followed similar themes. What surprises me is how universal the struggle to express oneself is across all disciplines.

I thoroughly enjoyed Dr. B's presentation. But knowing more about light and color doesn't really alter my perception or thoughts on beauty. Appreciating a beautiful painting and appreciating the process that makes it beautiful are two wholly different experiences for me. And although I find it interesting to relate the two, they don't get in the way of each other.

Flaubert and Chemistry
Name: Flora (
Date: 02/07/2005 13:53
Link to this Comment: 12605

that was me. sorry about that.

Understanding Beauty
Name: Kara Rosania (
Date: 02/07/2005 14:28
Link to this Comment: 12606

I definitely am someone who is always looking for answers. I am always asking "why" and "how" things are, so for me, understanding is something that always enhances my appreciation of things. I enjoyed the class on Thursday because now when I look at something, I don't just say to myself, "That object is yellow;" I say to myself "While that looks yellow, there's a lot mre to what I'm seeing than that." The added complexity makes the object more interesting to me, and thus makes the experience a fresher one.
I strongly agreed with the opinions offered by Hoffman about aesthetics. He says that, "Beauty is built out of individual pleasure around an object or idea." In order for a person to experience the beauty of something, she must have some sort of connection with it. There must be something about the object that intrigues her and engages her. For that reason, when I looked at a simple color before Thursday's lecture, I could not appreciate its beauty. However, when I had some sort of connection with the color, having learned more about why I saw it the way I did and what it actually consisted of, I was then able to find it beautiful. For this reason, I think that understanding definitely promotes experiences of beauty because they give us reason to look closer at things, and to feel attached to them because we know something about them.
I think that was Hoffman's whole idea about science. It would be harder to find a non-scientist who found molecular structures beautiful than a scientist. The scientist has a stronger understanding of what the structure represents and how difficult it was to determine the structure, and so they have a preater appreciation for it. Similarly, I think a work of art seems more beautiful to an artist than a non-artist, because the knowledge of what went into creating the work enhances the experience of looking at it. When we understand things, we feel connected to them and appreciate them, making them seem more beautiful to us.

Post on Hoffman's Reading
Name: Rebecca Donatelli (
Date: 02/07/2005 14:34
Link to this Comment: 12607

I am kinda bummed that I was sick on Thursday and missed Dr. B's presentation on color.
However, I found the articles by Hoffman very interesting especially the narrative one. I am a science person and I have always found that the easiest way to learn and remember something is to put it into context which is essentially what stories do. They take a fact and tell the before and after and the why. For whatever reason this additional information if all put into context is actually simpler then just a straight fact.
Having read the posts and having some prior knowledge about light and colors I feel as though Dr. B's presentation is a wonderful way of illustrating Hoffman's article.

Science is More Beautiful
Name: Tanya Corder (
Date: 02/07/2005 14:43
Link to this Comment: 12608

I do not find much beauty in the physical concepts (mathematical equations, models, etc) of science, but rather in the purpose of it. Science is beautiful because drawing connections and enlightenment is beautiful. ItÕs an awaking, and the more I understand the physical world around me, the closer I can connect with it and the more beautiful it is. Dr. BÕs presentation on Thursday helped to re-experience this idea. Understanding how people see colors and the reasons that certain colors existed was truly fascinating to me. I honestly began to notice and appreciate the colors that made up things around me.

Hoffmann stated that Ōbeauty is created out of the labor of human hands and minds.Ķ However, I think itÕd be more appropriate to say that beauty initially exists (created by God, Allah, or some other divine being), but human labor and hands are used to interpret and explain the beauty in all of those things in an attempt to recreate it.

In HoffmanÕs narrative, he argues that we use narratives or stories, with broken down reasons and facts, in order to explain complicated matters simply. These stories appease the human Ōcraving for simple answers.Ķ I agree that we find pleasure in simplicity because we instinctively simplify matters. It helps us to comprehend ideas and make use of them. Answers lie in the foundation most of the time anyways. Also, I find stories a more interesting and presentable way to explain these complex ideas. It is more likely to prompt reactions in the audience because Ōcontinuing the story is the motive force for experimentation and the weaving of theories.Ķ

I find a lot of overlap between studying art as beautiful and studying science as beautiful. Both stimulate the senses towards curiosity and a desire for analysis. However, science explains behaviors and causes, and can be used to predict future situations, while art analysis does not seem practical aside from interpreting the meaning of the specified piece. (I guess artists can learn how to improve their own paintings through analysis, but it still does not render as meaningful as science.) ThatÕs why these articles seemed a lot more stimulating then the previous ones we had read.

Readings and in-class Presentation
Name: Krystal Madkins (
Date: 02/07/2005 14:48
Link to this Comment: 12609

I wasn't as impressed with the readings this week as I was with prior weeks' readings. I understood and related to some of the things that Hoffman (?) said about the chemistry being beautiful because of its complexity and simplicity and how scientific discoveries are beautiful in retrospect after long periods of dedicated work. I think this applies to many things outside the scientific sphere as well.

I really enjoyed Sharon's presentation on color. I learned about the way that we 'see' and interpret color last year in my biology class but it did not strike me as much as when I heard the info again during this class. The presentation made me question the way see and interact with our environments. I was also, once again, awed by the magnificent nature of the human body.

One last thing that struck me as interesting was the idea that the narrative of scientific discoveries lend to the beauty of the discovery. That just bare facts lack the beauty and/or intrigue that could hold people's attention.

Name: alice (
Date: 02/07/2005 15:38
Link to this Comment: 12613

I found Dr. B's light presentation fascinating. I really enjoyed learning about why we see colors the way we do; I never knew the scientific explanation before. After seeing the presentation, it has really made me think about how I see color. I have been telling everyone I can that magenta is not a real color. That still baffles me. I think knowing how my eyes and brain "see" color enhances my experience, or at least makes me think about it more.

As for Hoffman's article, I do think that science is beautiful and part of the reason I think that is because I find it mysterious. I think discovery in science is beautiful because it helps us understand the way things work better. I think his comment that "we glean molecule beauty by taking it apart" is an interesting image. It seems to be the exact opposite of what Dewey and some of the other authore we have read would say. Hoffmann seems to say that having knowledge and breaking it apart makes something more beautiful, while some of the other authors we read would say that knowledge takes away from our capability of having a raw experience. Maybe these two ideas should not be compared because one is about art and one about science, but I think it is an interesting difference in their philosophies.

Color in a New Light
Name: Kat McCormick (
Date: 02/07/2005 15:54
Link to this Comment: 12617

Applying our discussion of color to the larger context of beauty: many people in the forum were saying that that knowing more about the nature of light and color did not change the way they viewed it: information in this case does not change perception.

I foungd this a nice contrast to our earlier class thoughts on the nature of beauty being so intricately related to interpretation. Perhaps we don't want to be changed by new information, and so we pretend that we aren't. But can we truly not view color in a different light after a presentation that changes our perception of its very nature?

Alan Watts says this better than me
Name: Alice Kaufman (
Date: 02/07/2005 16:19
Link to this Comment: 12619

I had already known about the separation between what exists and what I sense; hooray to spacey philosophy teachers in high school. ItÕs just a quirky but mundane fact for me. But I enjoyed the technical explanation of why this is so. I think this makes things like color more beautiful for me, because while I still feel just as happy sensing a beautiful color, whether I know that the color exists outside of me or not, and knowing gives the experience an added level of delight in knowing that I am creating it. It makes me more sympathetic to the sentiment that the universe is in me, and I am the world. (This is incredibly narcissistic, unless one qualifies that by saying all people and things are really one, as well.) I'm creating my universe! IÕm afraid this is a rather spacey comment, but itÕs what the discussion about color makes me think about. Of course science is beautiful; even learning about what we don't know, but the progress we may have made, and all that we can construct is inspiring to me.

By convention there is color

By convention sweetness

By convention bitterness

But in reality there are atoms and space.

---Democritus, about 400 BCE

week four comments
Name: Mo Rhim ()
Date: 02/07/2005 16:26
Link to this Comment: 12621

I liked this week's readings. Hoffman's discussion of the drive to create a narrative was very interesting to me. By creating a narrative, there is something to build from--somewhere left to go. By taking the facts and the fragments of events and turning them into a more cohesive molecule of information actually in the end simplifies it. It is easier to follow the narrative than the fragments scattered around and the narrative also creates passages and openings for continuing the story. Hoffman says that a narrative is constructed to make up for the lack of simplicity. I was struck by the idea of a narrative in the context of science and how the human mind perceives and retreives information.

I also liked, as Cat mentioned, how people were saying that they still "trusted" their eyes even after learning how the eye actually "sees" color. I think that fundementally, even after learning the facts and learning what actually happens, human beings will trust themselves and their own judgement. If we actually remembered the scientific knowledge of how we see color, then we could never actually focus on what else is behind that fact. We would be too distracted. Maybe the mind has some natural mechanisms to forget in order to proceed.

Beauty and Color
Name: Catherine E. Davidson (
Date: 02/07/2005 16:27
Link to this Comment: 12622

The brilliance color brings to the world has always enhanced my perception of the beauty of everything around me. I consciously realized that I have been taking color for granted. After thinking a bit about Dr B.'s presentation and I found myself torn. I enjoyed learning about how color is formed and found it interesting that color is really based on interaction between electromagnetic radiation and how it is dependant on a being's ability to perceive it.
I found myself searching for Maxwell's Triangle online and staring at it and thinking about it and retracing Dr. B's lecture, why yellow and blue make white... a fact I could not get passed even after looking at the triangle a few times. How? Why? I wanted more information. At the same time, I felt betrayed. Color is something that is there, that should always be there...strong...ever present. Color is, however, simple, and fragile. For some reason, and this may sound bizarre, learning about this color process made me feel like a little kid walking into an adult world. It was like learning that santa claus and the easter bunny dont really exist. This new knowledge did bother me, but I also appreciate more and find scientific processes more beautiful. In our discussion group a couple weeks ago, someone said one of the things they found beautiful was the ability of the human body to perform perfectly most of the time when the systems that function to keep us alive are so detailed and complex.
Dr. B started by showing us colors, she then picked them apart, starting with pictures as metapors and told us the story, (an idea Hoffman likes) of color. She taught along the lines of Hoffmann, "by thinking in almost circular ways, transgressing categories and logical definitions" about the creation of color... as it begins, waves of different energies, how they interact with receptors of light in our eyes to form color, and how we can sometimes see what doesnt really exist in the real world of color, and how there are colors of light human beings cannot see. I prefer the story, all the details of the perfect processes of the chemistry and physics of color to not knowing everything about it and being left with the depressing thought that color doesnt REALLY exist. I have proven Dewey and Barnes correct once again, that beauty is found through experience, and experience often times, requires change, a struggle, perception of something new.

Hoffman, Color Presentation, and The Barnes
Name: Jaya (
Date: 02/07/2005 16:30
Link to this Comment: 12623

Hoffman's article, although very abstruse (a lot of the scientific jargon went RIGHT past my head) definitely made me see scientists in a whole new light; after reading the article i came to the realization that scientists themselves are storytellers, explaining the phenomena of the world through experimentation. Generally one would think of painters or writers as the 'creative minds' of society, but when it comes down to it scientists are at par with them- as Hoffman says, they "tell the story of scientific discovery," and in order to that it does take a great deal of creativity and imagination, not to mention a load of intelligence... in all honesty, it gives you a new kind of respect to Chemists out there.

As for the color presentation last week- although I was very familiar with the material that Dr. B presented about color (comes with being a science major), I still loved it nonetheless. The eye is truly an extremely powerful instrument.

I also was able to head over to the Barnes foundation last Friday with Malorie- I must agree with her that there was far too much Renoir for my liking (which is not to say that I don't like him as an artist). It's just that everywhere you turned there was a Renoir- and considering that each of the paintings were just varations of one another, his works got old fast. The Monet's, Cezanne's, and Greco's (ESPECIALLY the Grecos- I was floored by those paintings, absolutely amazing) were among my favorites.

I really went in thinking that the class discussion about the Barnes and Dr. B and Prof Dalke's explanations of their experiences would taint my experience (because I knew what to expect from the foundation) but this definitely very far from the case. Although at first Barne's format can be frustrating, towards the end of my trip I found myself agreeing with his methods, because I found myself appreciating the artist's amazing talent in conveying forms and ideas, rather than trying to figure out the historical significance of the piece (which is something I'd usually do at an art museum.) I even found myself shaking my head at the people who were taking the audio tour- the $7.00 they paid for the voice boxes definitely made them miss a great experience.

If anything, hearing everyone share their experience with the Barnes was beneficial in a way- Malorie and I definitely made sure to keep a very safe distance from the black tape.

A Muddle of Thoughts
Name: Elizabeth Newbury (enewbury at
Date: 02/07/2005 16:53
Link to this Comment: 12624

I don't know precisely which direction to take this post, so I'll just respond in as near an organized fashion as I can muster.

In reaction to the class, I think I'm still in disbelief. A part of my mind is still rebelling against the concept that your eye is lying to you, that blue and yellow don't equal green, and so forth. The tiny chemist stuck deep within me is even now berating me for making this confession, but it's there, and I can't deny it. I just think that the sciencia, the facts, are not nearly romantic enough for my tastes.

I'm afraid I'm going to have to kindly disagree with my classmates who posted previously and say that I could have sat there for a few hours more as we picked apart the different pictures and tried to determine exactly how certain effects were achieved. The most fascinating aspect of the lecture, for me at least, was the Renoir and the way the impressionists created. I never knew quite why the skin was so illuminated in his pictures, why everyone seemed to glow.

As for the reading...the concept of science as a beauty didn't strike me as anything particularly dramatic or novel. Hoffman was simply reiterating what I've pretty much come to accept, although he buried the statements under a floor of molecule names. Perhaps it's because I have trouble holding up the barrier between science and art, having grown up with a scientist for a father and having been a science addict in high school.
I agree with what he's saying, though, or at least I think I do. Narrative, the way you convey your message, is what makes it beautiful. Science is beautiful. Molecules can be beautiful. Human ingeniuty is beautiful. Creativity is beautiful. Discovery is beyond beautiful.
It's just the significance of a quantity, your conditioning into what is culturally accepted as being 'beautiful', that makes it beautiful to you.

don't tell me what's beautiful!
Name: gwen budinsky (
Date: 02/07/2005 17:07
Link to this Comment: 12627

I would say that Sharon's presentation made the experience of color neither more or less beautiful per se, however I did like that it drew my attention to the complexities and subtleties of the natural world that are so easily taken for granted. The experience of color is truly an enigmatic and... cool thing. Thank God for color!

On Sharon's powerpoint from the Beauty Symposium, I thought it was really interesting that our emeralds and rubies and sapphires are really just the result of a subtle impurity especially in light of what [someone, sorry I forget your name] said about purity - that the purity of a thing is what makes it beautiful to her. Are precious gems not beautiful to her I wonder, or do we need to redefine purity in this sense?

Also, Roald Hoffman in "Thoughts on the Aesthetics and Visualization in Chemistry" drew my attention to something important about my experience of beauty. He proclaimed his buckministerfullerene molecule "beautiful." And I found myself immediately resisting this assessment of it, not because I don't think a molecule can't be beautiful, but I think it may be in my nature to resist admiring something that is introduced with praise. For me, perhaps in order to have a beautiful experience I have to discover the beauty in the thing myself because I'm just rebellious like that.

Science in Beauty
Name: Megan Monahan (
Date: 02/07/2005 17:17
Link to this Comment: 12628

Unfortunately I wasn't feeling well last week and it seems I missed an interesting lecture, but it certainly gives me somthing to think about. It is hard for me to allow that science plays any part in what I find beautiful because I find science extremely structured and somewhat cold, whereas beauty is more viseral in my mind. Science pins thinsg down and defines them in ways that I don't care for when I think of beauty. I liked when Hoffmann stated, "Beauty does not reside in simplicity. Nor in complexity, per se." I like to think that my notion of beauty is ever changing and evolving and there is no way to predict of explain what I find beautiful and why. I think the mystery only enhances the beauty.

I Just Don't Know!
Name: Amanda G. (
Date: 02/07/2005 17:23
Link to this Comment: 12629

Sharon's presentation on Thursday confused me. Maybe it was all my years of being told that blue and yellow make green, not white! I was absolutely fascinated by what was taught and would love to learn more about it. If blue and yellow overlapping make white, but blue and yellow closely next to each other make green, why are we not taught this initially in school? While paint mixing is important to some, the distinction between mixing and placing colors text to each other are a knowledge that all should have.
I did a lot of art in high school until I was told I was too slow to continue with the classes at school. During one of the projects, we had to create a color wheel, artisticly. Each color had to be evenly mixed and there had to be twelve colors in order. The center of my wheel was a grey teapot which the outskirts of the wheel being cups and saucers in the wheel's colors. I also did spoons in the colors which were opposite from the matching cups. While it sounds like a simple project, it is one of my favorites I did. It was quite large and my mother has it framed in the kitchen. I think it was the colors that made it interesting. The relationship and the shades have always fascinated me. I love looking at colors in clothing, nature, even books. I was surprised about what I learned on Thursday.

Beautiful Light
Name: Annabella (
Date: 02/07/2005 17:26
Link to this Comment: 12630

I love light, and the way it works itself into color. I wish I had the eyes to see auras and angels and all the stuff we don't see. I have no problem believing it is there, whether I can see it or not.

I loved the demonstration of light in class the other day, and picking apart the art so that we learned what made some paintings glow. I find that kind of stuff fascinating. I would never have guessed that way back then they would have known how to do that. I must have a mental picture of people of those days just not having a whole lot of information about that kind of thing. But then, my picture seems to be askew.

But through the complexity of how Renoir painted, his paintings took on an extraordinary beauty. It was a path of complexity that led to a seemingly simple and beautiful type of art. As deceiving as light itself.

I do find that in science, the simpler something is, the more it is considered beautiful. That is true in my own life as well, but then I gain great joy in the complexity of things too, as long as I can surf on it and don't get overwhelmed. The joy of being overwhelmed by something's simplicity is wonderful. It is a different kind of overwhelm. Not as scary as being overwhelmed by complexity.

All of this is to say that I din't find the molecule in the reading all that beautiful. It was too simple to be complex, and too complex to be simple. It was just there, and not seeming beautiful to me. Maybe I didn't understand it well enough.

Colors and lights
Name: Kathryn McGinness (
Date: 02/07/2005 20:09
Link to this Comment: 12637

I learned the truth about light and colors in my 11th grade physics class. I was very frustrated at the time to learn that the primary colors that I had known all my life weren't as primary as I had been led to assume. It didn't make sense to me that green could be one of the "real" primary colors; it was completely over my head and this was made clear when I was tested over this material. That little rant aside, I don't think scientifically dissecting light and colors necessarily makes them less beautiful, although it is a tad too technical for my tastes. These phenomena are another aspect of the physical world, which is both beautiful and technical. The underlying technical and physical processes are unconscious, but the beauty of what we see, hear, but experience is a conscious activity that never ceases to delight and amaze. Without one there cannot be the other.

Whys and Narratives
Name: Alix Dermer (
Date: 02/07/2005 20:09
Link to this Comment: 12638

Unfortunately, i too was not in class on thursday for sharon's lecture, and i am sad about that after reading others' reactions to the color lecture. I first would like to comment on a discussion i believe we had in class last tuesday on the question of why someone finds something beautiful. For some reason at the time, i found that discussion to be somewhat frustrating for me because i frankly do not think that i have ever stopped to ask myself why i find something beautiful. I have always been satisfied and content with just acknowledging that i personally find one thing beautful or another thing ugly, without needing to understand why or the reason for my likes or dislikes. I believe that is a question that can never be truly answered and even if it can be, i do not think i would like to know why. I feel that having complete understanding of the psychology, science, or asthetics for my taste in beauty might actually cloud my perception of things and take away from the simple experience of beauty by being overanalytical.

I would also like to comment on the hoffman readings. I found them to be somewhat interesting but not life-changing. Hoffman did make me think about finding the beauty in the process of doing something as opposed to just the final product. I would agree that there are instances where my appreciation of the beauty can be enhanced by understanding the labor and human element that went into a finished product. While i did not directly connect to the readings in terms of seeing the beauty in the science that he talked about, i do think hoffman caused me to reflect on whether i can conceptually find something beautiful by understanding the process, or as he calls it, narrative of something - be it the discovery of a molecule or the painting of a work of art.

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