‘Beyond the Two Cultures:’ A lecture on data and unity

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Tucked away in one of the many lecture rooms inside Heroy Hall, full of professors but lacking in students, was a lecture presented by acclaimed scientist Roger Malina. The lecture was hosted by the Dedman College Interdisciplinary Institute on Nov. 18 at 4:30 p.m. and centered on the connection between art and science.

Malina, a physicist, astronomer and executive editor of the Leonardo publications at MIT Press, focuses on finding connections between the natural sciences and the arts, design, and humanities. He also has dual appointments as a professor of arts and technology and as a professor of physics at UT Dallas.

The lecture began with this question: Why are human beings so badly designed to understand nature and the universe? In other words, how can we work together to understand each other and the world we live in?

Such questions set the tone for the rest of the presentation, which focused on merging the world of the arts with the world of science.

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Roger Melina lecturing @ SMU. Photo credit: Jessika Roude

“I thought it was a wonderful consideration of the need to bring various areas together to forward research and knowledge. I really appreciated how he talked about how the arts can help push advances in science,” said SMU theater Professor Rhonda Blair.

Malina then connected the way humans solve problems with what he calls a “crisis” in data by posing the following question: Why does common science no longer make common sense? Or, simply put, why the abundance of data in today’s world isn’t making us any happier or helping us understand our universe.

“We don’t study the world anymore; we study data about the world,” said Malina.

This sort of thinking is what Malina’s theories are all about: coming together to make sense of whatever is in front of us.

“I think that this is really the new frontier of human knowledge and an intersection that the contemporary university needs to pay attention to,” said SMU Assistant Professor of music history and one of the lecture organizers Zachary Wallmark.

This intersection involves encouraging students to branch out and explore other areas outside of their chosen majors.

“There are so many students that are studying the sciences, but are also being pushed away from the arts by the administration of their universities so that they can focus on their research. This leads to a disconnect between cultures and a closing of the minds,” said Malina.

Malina opened a lab in 2013 to focus solely on problems that require scientists and artists to work together.

To view the upcoming Dedman College events and lectures, visit their page here. For more information about Roger Malina, follow this link to his website.

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