(1) Both scientists and philosophers have noticed the interesting use by
scientists of criteria that sound like judgements of "aesthetic value."
Theories are praised for "simplicity." Mathematical proofs are praised
for "elegance." Asking what scientists mean by these things and how they
compare/contrast with the use by philosophers of art and critics is a
(2) A chemist a Cornell University, Roald Hoffmann published a wonderful
article, "Molecular Beauty" in the Journal of Aesthetics and Art
Criticism (48:3, Summer 1990, pp. 191-204). It's rough-sledding for high
school seniors, but might help in your conversations with colleagues
about the academic respectability of this interdisciplinary area.
(3) with my undergraduates, we've looked at how "standards" of
"representation" vary among disciplines. How do the drawings and
photographs in their science textbooks compare/contrast with visual art?
what counts as "good" representation in various disciplines? so-called
photographic likeness? "insight" into reality? explanatory power? As we
can't really "see" an atom, how do we know those drawings in the
textbooks "represent" atoms? what is it that we are looking at? This type
of questioning gets them to think about "reality," "representation," the
nature of "theories," etc. -- and they see the complexity of these
questions in ways they would never grasp if we didn't approach it through
the comparisons with visual arts.
Julie Van Camp
Associate Professor of Philosophy
California State University, Long Beach