The Cultural Coldwars
Episode 1

Witchpiles Introduction by Leonard Schlain

Elizabeth Puckett published on

Shlain, a California surgeon, has bravely ventured into two disparate areas beyond the reach of his certified expertise in the medical sciences. He presents herein a number of periods in the history of art and the history of physics, comparing and contrasting the prevailing theories in each of these fields in different eras. Although they are commonly seen as being very different--or even opposite--the author argues that there are striking parallels in the histories of the two fields. He further states that "revolutionary art anticipates visionary physics," thus asserting an actual connection between the two. The book is provocative and, of course, likely to be controversial; physicists are especially likely to be skeptical of his thesis. Recommended for academic and large public libraries.

Leonardo da Vinci's complex sequential drawings, of pigeon wings fluttering in flight and of patterns made by fast-flowing water, anticipated time-lapse photography by 300 years. Surrealist painters' space-time distortions seemingly foreshadowed Einstein's theory of relativity. Franz Kline and Kazimir Malevich attempted to make abstract paintings devoid of image, color and light years before physicists fully accepted the notion that black holes could exist. Using these and other examples, Shlain, a Northern California surgeon, advances his thesis that art is precognitive: artists conjure up revolutionary images and metaphors comprising preverbal expressions of the novel concepts later formulated by physicists. He roots his theory in brain research and in a Jungian archetypal unconscious said to be stored in DNA strands. His provocative discussion is rigorous enough to appeal to the skeptical scientist yet wholly accessible and engaging to the art lover or general reader. Many potential connections between art and science are brought into full focus, aided by scores of art reproductions, photographs and diagrams. 


eonard Shlain proposes that the visionary artist is the first member of a culture to see the world in a new way. Then, nearly simultaneously, a revolutionary physicist discovers a new way to think about the world. Escorting the reader through the classical, medieval, Renaissance and modern eras, Shlain shows how the artists' images when superimposed on the physicists' concepts create a compelling fit.

Throughout, Shlain juxtaposes the specific art works of famous artists alongside the world-changing ideas of great thinkers. Giotto and Galileo, da Vinci and Newton, Picasso and Einstein, Duchamp and Bohr, Matisse and Heisenberg, and Monet and Minkowski are just a few of the provocative pairings. 

Shlain also explores the differing world views of reality in non-literate, Eastern, and children's cultures and shows how their themes entered Western art in the late 19th century just prior to Einstein's complete revision of the Western notions of space, time and light. He turns next to Einstein's second great 20th century discovery concerning gravity and uses numerous examples from art to show how the sculptor anticipated and expressed the great physicist's revolution. Shlain demonstrates how changes in music and literature synchronized with those occurring in art and physics. 

The final chapters explore possible reasons why these connections occur. The split brain phenomenon and Greek mythology are used to explain our culture's division of the two seemingly disparate fields of art and physics.


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