Art interprets the visible world, physics charts its unseen workings–making the two realms seem completely opposed. But in Art & Physics, Leonard Shlain tracks. “Art and physics, like wave and particle, are an integrated duality: They are simply two different but complementary facets of a single description. A California surgeon explores the striking parallels in the evolution of Western art and science in this enlightening exploration of where ideas.

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Art interprets the visible world, physics charts its unseen workings–making the two realms seem completely opposed. From teh classical Greek sculptors to Andy Warhol and Jasper Johns, and from Aristotle to Einstein, aritsts ha Art interprets the visible world, physics charts its unseen workings–making the two realms seem completely opposed. From teh classical Greek sculptors to Andy Warhol and Jasper Johns, and from Aristotle to Einstein, aritsts have foreshadowed the discoveries of scientists, such as when Money and Cezanne intuited the coming upheaval in physics that Einstein would initiate.

In this lively and colorful narrative, Leonard Shlain explores how artistic breakthroughs could have prefigured the visionary insights of physicists on so many occasions throughtout history.

Paperbackpages. To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign srt. To ask other readers questions about Art and Physicsplease sign up. Lists with This Book. Dec 11, WarpDrive rated it liked it Shelves: This is probably one of the most infuriatingly frustrating books I have read in quite a long time. It could have been physicw much better. And this is the second time, within a short time span, that I feel duty-bound to post a not-so-positive review of a book that has been rated so highly by the overwhelming majority of readers.

ART AND PHYSICS by Leonard Shlain | Kirkus Reviews

It is a book that does contain some very interesting and original insights, and it is well written in a beautiful, pysics and fluent prose; the author is also qui Oh, dear. It is a book that does contain some very interesting and original insights, and it is well written in a beautiful, engaging and fluent prose; the author is also quite brilliant as an art critic, and proficient and knowledgeable as an art historian.

But this is also a book that is deeply flawed, riddled with scientific and historical inaccuracies, defined by a questionable methodological approach, and snlain at leonarf an outlandish and utterly unconvincing thesis. The overall thesis of this book is, condensed in a few words, that art manages, in some mysterious way, to physice anticipate science.

The author, rather than sharing the commonly accepted view that such new artistic forms of expression were an articulation of the social and cultural upheavals resulting from an accelerating pace of deeply transformative technological developments and its consequent disorienting effects in conjunction with the devastating effects on the social fabric originated from the two World Wars attributes such new art forms to a mystically prescient character of art in general.

Is modern art about foreseeing the future of scientific development as the author statesor is it in reality about the deeply introspective psychological rendering of the existential angst and insecurity of modern Man, his new aesthetic sense resulting from a more sophisticated, complex, multifaceted and disorienting cultural and social environment? Personally, I think that slain is no question that the latter is the more fitting answer.

Art and Physics: Parallel Visions in Space, Time, and Light by Leonard Shlain

And the author does not limit this thesis to modern times: Or the equally interesting two-way relationship between the cultural environment in general including the arts and science relationship which is one of the many themes that philosophy of science tries to address. Sadly, there is none of such themes in this book. The anc does make some interesting points about the existence of intellectual paradigms and their importance as enablers of progress, but the overall approach and themes are unfortunately driven by the unsuccessful pursuit of the author’s outlandish main hypothesis.

In order to support his self-proclaimed revolutionary thesis, the author indulges into an exercise of very selective and disingenuous sampling, peppering the book with confusing if not misleading statements when describing physical theories such as relativity and quantum mechanics. Moreover, he has the infuriating tendency to select the most speculative theories or interpretations, rather than the current scientific consensus, and this is aggravated by the fact that the author does not disclose his peculiar approach.


There are also such big logical jumps, and such an overall highly selective interpretation of available facts, that at times this book reads almost like a book of Nostradamus prophesies, or a treatise on Biblical Numerology. Clearly, the author is no historian. This is a deeply flawed statement: If two events are causally connected if one lies within the light cone of the other the causal order is preserved in all frames of reference.

The author confuses this with relativity of simultaneitywhich is the concept that distant simultaneity — whether two spatially separated events occur at the same time— is not absolute, but depends on the observer’s reference frame. Moreover, special relativity does NOT mean arbitrary subjectivity, as each frame of reference can be mathematically translated into another frame phsics the appropriate Lorentz transformation. And in any case, of course any agent carrying out any sort of activity “creates reality” – the action of the agent certainly influences it – and so what?

It is not possible to be in a rest frame of a photon. Also, I would question how sensical it actually is to consider a case where the Lorentz conversion factor “gamma” goes to infinity — when you get infinity values you have to be very careful before making any assumptions and taking any conclusions.

You can say, in a metaphorical sense, that the photon “experiences no time”, but even assuming that this is a meaningful statement we also need to take into account that, within the same considerations, that the photon travels zero distance; so the whole example is very dangerous and prone to misconception.

Yes, you can always say that you can assume that you are traveling at speed asymptotically close to “c”, but the whole example in any case seems preposterous and very forced. By the way, such examples of “simultaneity” can be seen in the cave paintings of the Lascaux Cave – does it mean that shlaln artistically gifted human ancestors had some form of special relativity pre-cognition more than 20, years ago?

What does this actually mean? Does really a Cubist painting represent in a more informative way, or has more explanatory power, than language, when it comes to the tenets of relativity, such as Lorentz invariance?

In my opinion this statement, in its generality, is virtually meaningless. Has the physifs ever heard of Stalingrad? Does he not know who was the actual major contributor to the defeat of Germany? Well, this is definitely a highly speculative hypothesis which has never been corroborated by even the flimsiest shred of evidence, and something against the current consensus – page This statement demands some serious clarification. It depends on the curvature and topology: There is also the chance of a universe of very slight negative curvature in which case it would non-Euclidean, non-“closed” or a very slight positive curvature in which case it would be non-Euclidean, “closed”.

Here the author is referring to general relativity. While the author overall presentation of general relativity is not too bad even if a bit confusedthis particular statement should be rephrased to something like: I guess the author is here referring to the tidal forces oeonard when approaching a black hole. This is just a minor clarification, but in reality the point at which tidal forces become noticeable depends on the black hole’s size.

Contrary to popular belief, the strength of such tidal forces is inversely proportional to the size of the black hole. For a super massive black hole, such as those found at a galaxy’s center, this point lies well within the event horizon, so an astronaut may cross the event horizon without noticing any tidal effect.

On the contrary, for small black holes the tidal forces would kill even well before the astronaut reaches the event horizon. Again, the author picks the most outlandish and speculative theories, rather than accepting the current overwhelming consensus that phsyics are super-massive black holes at the center of galaxies. The best statement is in pagethough: What a load of New Age bullshit, I find myself forced to say here.

It does look like it has been generated automatically by this kind of software: As in many other examples, the author just comes up with these obfuscatory statements without getting into any detail. I imagine he might be referring to the phenomenon of quantum entanglement. Well, this phenomenon can’t be used to transmit any information at leonagd faster than light.


In reality, such principle simply holds that “particles” have complementary properties which cannot be observed or measured at the slhain time for example, it is impossible to measure both the full “wave-like” and “particle-like” properties at a single moment – also, non-commuting observable can’t be simultaneously measured with arbitrary precision, but this is a different story.

That’s all — such principle does not necessarily make any ontological claims in relation to objective reality. To conclude, I must highlight that this book is still an interesting and pleasurable read, containing ldonard original and interesting insights, and some very intriguing connections; the author’s knowledge and passion for the arts is evident in some of shlian beautiful commentaries his description of Surrealist art, which by the way is my favourite current of modern art, is top-notch.

Art and Physics: Parallel Visions in Space, Time, and Light

Just do not take him too seriously when it comes to science or history. His main thesis is utterly unconvincing and the author thoroughly fails to prove it in any meaningful sense, but the book is still worth reading even if just for its “artistic” sidealbeit with some caution. View all 15 comments. Sep 16, Sara rated it really liked it Shelves: The full title of this book is Art and Physics: Parallel Visions in Space, Time and Light and it was written by a surgeon.

I point out this last detail because I think non-professional works of high intellectual ambition are pretty rare. And well-executed ones are even rarer. I believe outsiders to an established discipline can often see patterns, make connections or hazard hypotheses that a trained professional either could not or would not do. Professional academics, scientists, artists and so The full title of this book is Art and Physics: Professional academics, scientists, artists and so forth who have spent years and years studying, practicing and executing their crafts can, and maybe should, possess a snob factor about this kind of book.

I suppose I understand this stance, although I have a lot of musings about institutionalized disciplines and power structures of learning that I do not really want to get into right here.

I offer, however, that I found Leonard Shlain’s book about art and physics fascinating, well written and, insofar as I am equipped to say, well researched. Shlain examines correspondences in the visual arts and physics, from the classical period through the present. I found this a wonderful project, especially as Shlain’s ultimate hypothesis is not that the arts were influenced by developments in the sciences, but that the arts in strange and obscure ways seem to, over time, prefigure scientific discoveries.

That is, Shlain does not propose causality, but correspondence. I find this especially interesting because it seems so unexplainable. It is precisely the kind of hypothesis I would never expect to find in an institutionally-derived work. Additionally, an institutionally-derived work would likely never purport to marry art and physics in the first place – the arts and sciences are so often viewed in opposition to each other and not as complementary visions of the same reality.

Shlain’s final argument concerns an ultimate connectivity of cognitive states and all time and matter that occurs in a dimension we cannot perceive with our measly three-dimensional senses.

Metaphorically, our individual-seeming, three-dimensional selves function like our cells, independently but nonetheless creating a unity of form and function, even of consciousness. In the case of cells the unity is us or a cat, or a plant, etc.

In the case of us as cells We simply cannot perceive this unity because we are locked in our three dimensionality. Some artists, as shlajn nodes, Shlain’s argument runs, get a glimmer of this unity, translate it into their art and, thereby, provide effective visual metaphors for scientific discoveries that have not yet occured and that are exceedingly difficult to imagine as they precisely pertain to reality exterior to our three dimensions he uses primarily Einstein’s theories concerning gravity and how bizarrely matter behaves at the speed of light.

This may sound far out, but I would suggest you give this book a fighting chance. Shlain’s basic argument, his evaluation of various artworks as demonstrating adn scientific findings – it leonaard hinges on metaphor. And metaphor is an exceedingly powerful, non-causal means of connectivity.