Integrating New Knowledge into Our World View

Thank you to guest blogger Dr. Mark Seeley: climatologist, meteorologist, University of Minnesota professor, and MPR commentator. He's supported the work of COMPAS for a number of years now. He was introduced to COMPAS when his daughter Emma joined the staff (our fabulous Arts Program & Marketing Associate) and parallels her passion for increasing access to the arts. We're so pleased he said yes when we asked him to write about how he sees creativity helping us to thrive...

Creativity as expressed across the arts community has served our broader society so well and for so long, yet I think it is still undervalued as a means for us to understand and integrate new knowledge into our world view. 

We are a species designed to live in community. A critical element for living successfully in community is the application of new knowledge, or science, which is my vocation.  I have been a climate scientist for nearly 40 years and served as a Minnesota Public Radio commentator for 24 years.  In these roles I have come to the conclusion that we scientists have something to learn from the arts community about the appreciation and use of creativity. 

For centuries creativity has fueled the arts with innovations for visual media, performance, design, narrative, and even mixed media.  Many of the most creative people in history were artists, and some very noteworthy ones, da Vinci and Galileo for example, combined art with science to more accurately convey their ideas and perspectives.  In this realm, the communication of ideas and new knowledge, scientists benefit from using creativity in much the same manner that artists have used creativity to amplify expression of emotion, passion, beauty, and mystery.

One specific case that illustrates this point involves understanding our evolving knowledge about climate change and its serious implications for the habitability of our planet.  In conveying this knowledge to the wider community we have run into a number of bottlenecks. Equations, data analysis, testifying before government officials, and publishing papers in respected science journals have met with limited success.  Conversely, knowledge and messages about climate change have been addressed very successfully through the arts. 

Many musical compositions including Andrew Revkin’s song “Liberated Carbon” and the University of Minnesota School of Music composition for string quartets “Planetary Bands, Warming World” have been publicly performed in the Twin Cities and elsewhere.  Poems about the topic have been curated and published by Carol Ann Duffey, the UK poet laureate.   Even while the COP21 World Climate Conference(200 nations) was convening outside Paris recently a wonderful artistic tribute to a climate science pioneer, Dr. Syukuro Manabe, was on display in the Gare du Nord railway station of Paris, one of the busiest stations in all of Europe.  The installation of 42 panels by British artist Liam Gillick illustrated our “Logical Basis” for understanding climate behavior.  The COP21 Conference proved to be less contentious and more productive than any previous such conference.

I cannot help but acknowledge that the successful messaging about the serious threat of climate change conveyed by these creative artists and their works has resonated most effectively with our common values and perceptions about this wonderful planet we live on.  For this we should all be grateful!