Chapter 2

Art, Science and the Importance of Truth

The eternal bond that unites artists and scientists is their unrelenting passion in pursuit of the truth. In pursuing the truth, both must explore uncharted territory. 1 
Exploration    by Ron Clavier    Oil on Canvas, 36” x 48”   2

I. Curiosity

Humans are motivated by the same imperative that motivates all animals: Survival. This means avoiding death for as long as possible. And reproducing the species. When the human brain is working properly, its most urgent goal is to ensure survival by letting us know:
•  Where we are,
•  What is happening where we are, and
•  What options we have in responding to the first two.

What we believe to be true about these three things is crucial to our survival. The closer the match between what we believe to be true and what is actually true, the better our decision will be about whether to stay where we are or  leave. This has been described in many ways, including “Fight or Flight” and “Approach / Avoidance”. 

Since everything that we do to survive is based upon what we believe to be true, we want our beliefs to be accurate so that we can trust them. It’s not good enough just to guess about what is true – we need to know.

Curiosity (the subjective experience of our existential need to know) is humanity’s most potent motivator to access the truth. And it will surprise no one that humans have forever used one or both of the two most familiar approaches to getting there: the Arts and the Sciences.
Marie Curie
“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.”
–  Marie Curie
Pablo Picasso
“Art is the lie that enables us to realize the truth.”
–  Pablo Picasso
Picasso started as a realistic painter. He painted what was true to everybody. Later, when he went to abstraction, he showed us what “else” was true.

II. Truth

I wrote earlier that everything we do to survive is based upon what we believe to be true. These beliefs are the product of: what we experience going on around us at the moment; what we have learned from our past personal  experiences; and what we have been told to believe by others (parents, teachers, political and religious leaders) or read or seen in books or the media.

Most of our beliefs lie below our consciousness. In other words, we believe (and act upon) countless things that we don’t even realize we believe. To make matters worse, many of our beliefs turn out to be wrong when they are put to the test. 3 This can be disappointing or embarrassing to many people. But it would be folly to continue believing something that is obviously untrue. It would be far better to accept this newly learned truth. You could then learn from your mistake, change your mind, and move on with a new, deeper understanding of the truth. This decision will make your future far safer. 
“The first duty of man is the seeking after and the investigation of truth.”
–  Marcus Tullius Cicero
In recent years particularly, we have witnessed a potent and pervasive assault upon the truth. Such inaccuracies are exacerbated by: a torrent of economically or politically driven misinformation; the hiding of our true identities; and social media platforms that permit deception and reward the dismissal of critical thinking. This has led to unawareness, indifference, and even contempt for the truth. We see it every day when we witness systemic racism, war, terrorism, and xenophobia, or the disbelief about vaccine efficacy or climate change.
“Unthinking respect for authority is the greatest enemy of truth.”
–  Albert Einstein
It is my opinion that the current waning importance of truth constitutes our species’ most potent existential threat. And it is my hope that humanity’s remedy for this is contained in the earnest pursuits of Art and Science These are two sides of the same coin, a coin that may be called “The portal to the truth”.

III. Philosophy

Humans are motivated by the same imperative that motivates all animals: Survival. This means avoiding death for as long as possible, and reproducing the species. When the human brain is working properly, its most urgent goal is to ensure survival by letting us know:

• Is the distance between the earth and the sun 147.39 km?
• Can a human breath under water without any artificial aid?
• Is the traffic light red?
But getting at the truth can also be impossibly complex. Here are some questions that have many answers; and those answers often generate considerable dispute:

• Does God exist?
• Is democracy the best form of government?
• Will I know when I’m in love?

We use words such as: spiritual; social; and emotional, etc. when we refer to these questions. Because they don’t lend themselves to empirical scrutiny, they depend on definitions, upon which almost nobody agrees; and the answers we give to such questions can never be proven to be true.

We refer to humans who suggest various possible answers to these questions as philosophers. Many philosophers are content to acknowledge that their belief is not necessarily a proven truth. They don’t routinely demand (indeed they often reject) empirical evidence. Call it “faith”. Call it “intuition”. It is just a belief, no matter how strongly it is held. 4
“A man's duty is to find out where the truth is, or if he cannot, at least to take the best possible human doctrine and the hardest to disprove, and to ride on this like a raft over the waters of life.”
– Plato
However, many philosophers are really curious: they need to know if what they believe is actually true. They challenge what others might call a belief, and call it a “theory” (or a “theorem” or a “thesis”). Sometimes a theory, such as Einstein’s theory of relativity, is continually being put to the test, and there is much evidence to support it. Alternatively, a theory may be so fresh that it either has not yet, or cannot yet be put to the test.

IV. Science and the Truth

The instant at which philosophers decide that they need to know, and they determine to put their theories to the test, they earn the additional title of scientist. The Latin word for knowledge is “Scientia”. The philosopher who chooses knowing over believing keeps the seminal description of the endeavour, by striving for the degree Doctor of Philosophy. This is the case even if the holder of that Ph.D. had never taken a single class in philosophy.
Ask anyone what science is, and they’ll probably say “chemistry, physics, biology, and math.” This a most uninformed and unfortunate belief. A far more accurate definition of science is: a systematic methodology that is used in getting as close as possible to the real truth. And whether you use that methodology in your scholarly exploration of the “traditional” sciences like those cited above, or in disciplines that have been labelled as “traditional” arts like history, fine art, theology, or poetry, you are still a scientist. And although you can be a scientist without having formally studied philosophy, you cannot be a scientist if you are not first a philosopher.

V. Art and the Truth

When art brings us close to a pleasant truth, the ensuing enlightenment delights us. But art can also bring us face to face with a very inconvenient truth; and our character is often defined by how we react to the pain that comes with such a truth. Some choose to run away from it by using drugs, including alcohol, or by avoiding or denying it. Others, who are more psychologically healthy, want to know the full extent of the truth. This coincides with a primordial law that governs all animal life:

The more we know, the safer we are.

For this reason, the experience of art, while it may at times be disquieting, is inherently advantageous to us. It allows us to experience things we have been experiencing through the single “eye” of our minds in new and completely different ways. In this way, art cannot fail but bring us closer to the truth – and, like science, keep us as safe as possible. 5


1. Art and Science are two sides of the same coin. What do artists and scientists have in common?

• They are both driven to get at what is true.
• They both start with observation, and an understanding of what we know to be true.
• Then they explore. They stretch beyond that knowledge to see what ELSE might be true.
• They both challenge the consumer to change his or her mind.

Several years ago, I was asked to address a gathering of academics at a major Canadian university. I began by asking if the audience included any professors from the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Several hands went up. I then asked them for an informal impression as to how many of the students in that Faculty were registered for (i.e., genuinely interested in) classes in both the Arts and the Sciences. The consensual answer among the academics was “Very few”. I suggested, respectfully, that perhaps they should call it the Faculty of Arts or Sciences. I wasn’t invited back.
2. My painting entitled "Exploration" is a kind of Rorschach image, in which I’ve presented the explorer with a series of choices: Is this outer space or deep under the ocean’s surface? Do we know if the physical states of the upper and lower halves of the scene are solid, liquid or gaseous? Can we see anything familiar that might give us context or meaning as to where we are?

The Rorschach, or “ink-blot” test (1921) is one of the oldest instruments in the Psychologist’s tool kit. Random patterns are presented to a person, who is asked to tell what he or she sees. There are no right or wrong answers. The Rorschach has fallen out of favour because of the inability to standardize its results. However, I have found it extremely valuable in generating new areas of discussion in my practice. 
3.  "It is one thing to show a man he is in error, and another to put him in possession of the truth."  John Locke

To many people, the setting sun appears to be bigger than it appears when it’s at the zenith. You can simply believe that it IS bigger, and accept that as a truth. You might even hold that belief so strongly that you’d be willing to fight to defend it. Alternatively, you could put your belief to the empirical test by measuring the sun’s diameter when it is in both places. You will see that the sun’s diameter is the same in both places. So now you have indisputable proof that your long- held a belief is wrong. The question is: What are you going to do about it? The smartest thing, of course, is to accept this new learning and change your mind. Hopefully, that is the goal of institutes of learning. Instead, we are witnessing a bizarre ascendency of self-destructive false beliefs. This is why I have often stated that we have left “The Age of Enlightenment” far behind, and entered “The Age of Stupid”. Another way of saying this is that when people seem proud of their ignorance, “Stupid” has become “The New Smart”! The next time you have the unpleasant opportunity to confront a racist, or an “anti-vaxxer”, or a “flat-earther”, or a climate-change disputer, try asking them if they intend to send their kids to university. When they say “yes”, ask them “Why bother? They’ll only end up realizing how stupid you are.”
4. "Where there is evidence, no one speaks of 'faith'. We do not speak of faith that two and two are four or that the earth is round. We only speak of faith when we wish to substitute emotion for evidence."  ~ Bertrand Russell, Human Society in Ethics and Politics (1954)