Are We Alone?

Beekman Foundation : Fermi’s Paradox

Fermi’s Paradox is the apparent contradiction between the high probability of the existence of extraterrestrial civilizations and the lack of contact with such civilizations.

The nuclear physicist Enrico Fermi was famous for posing thought provoking questions. In 1950, at Los Alamos National Laboratory after discussing UFOs over lunch, Fermi asked, "Where is everybody?" He estimated there were about 300 billion stars in the galaxy, many of them billions of years older than the sun, with a large percentage of them likely to host habitable planets. Even if intelligent life developed on a very small percentage of these planets, then there should be a number of intelligent civilizations in the galaxy. Depending on the assumptions, one should expect anywhere from tens to tens of thousands of civilizations.


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Art, Science and Philosophy

What is Contemporary Art? Beekman Foundation


Jan Beekman Blog iconWhat is Contemporary Art?

An indispensable feature of art is its ability to convey information in an evaluative aspect. Art is a combination of man's cognitive and evaluative attitudes to reality recorded in words, colours, plastic forms or melodically arranged sounds. Like philosophy, art also has a profoundly communicative function. Through it, people communicate to one another their emotions. A common feature of art and philosophy is the wealth they both contain of cognitive, moral and social substance.

Science is responsible to society for a true reflection of the world and no more. Its function is to predict events. On the basis of scientific discoveries one can build various technical devices, control production and social processes, cure the sick and educate the ignorant. The main responsibility of art to society is the formation of a view of the world, a true and large-scale assessment of events, a rational, reasoning orientation of man in the world around him, a true assessment of his own self.

But why does art have this function? Because in its great productions it is not only consummately artistic but also profoundly philosophical. How deeply philosophical, for instance, are the verses of Shakespeare, Goethe, Lermontov, Verhaeren! And indeed all the great writers, poets, composers, sculptors, architects, painters, in short, all the most outstanding and brilliant exponents of art were imbued with a sense of the exceptional importance of progressive philosophy and not only kept abreast of but were often responsible for its achievements. How profound were Tolstoy's artistically expressed meditations on the role of the individual and the people in the historical process, on freedom and necessity, on the conscious and the unconscious in human behaviour. Consider the psychological and philosophical depth and the artistic power with which Balzac revealed the social types in the society of his day in all their diversity.

How philosophical are the artistic and publicistic works of Voltaire, Rousseau, Diderot, Thomas Mann, Heine, Herzen, Chernyshevsky and many others. If we turn to science fiction, we find that it is full of scientific and philosophical reflections, of varying visions of the future of science, technology and human existence in general. Quite often its plot is a series of mental experiments. However, neither the scientific nor the philosophical content, no matter how fully expressed in a work of art, constitutes its specific element. We never speak of any work of art, no matter how powerful, as a study, whereas creative work in philosophy is a study, an inquiry, and it is characterised above all not by its artistic but by its scientific qualities, although its artistic aspect is highly valued and has more than purely aesthetic significance.

The crown of philosophical inquiry is truth and prediction, whereas in art it is artistic truth, not accuracy of reproduction, in the sense of a copy of what exists, but a lifelike portrayal of typically possible phenomena in either their developed or potential form. If art produced only truths similar to scientific truths, there would be no masterpieces of world art. The immortality of great masterpieces lies in the power of their artistic generalisation, generalisation of the most complex phenomenon in the world—man and his relations with his fellow men.


Jan Beekman Foundation art

Science can also benefit from the reactions of artists. Novelists can simulate the latest theory of consciousness in their fiction. If a theory can’t inspire characters that feel true, then it probably isn’t true itself. (Woolf, for example, was an early critic of Freudian theory, dismissing the way it turned all of her “characters into cases.”) Painters can explore new theories about the visual cortex. Dancers can help untangle the mysterious connection between the body and emotion.

By heeding the wisdom of the arts, science extends to art the invitation to participate in its conversation and the opportunity to add science to its repertoire. And by, in turn, interpreting scientific ideas and theories, the arts offers science a new lens through which to see itself.

The fundamental point is that modern science has made little progress toward any unified understanding of everything. Our unknowns have not dramatically receded. In many instances, the opposite has happened, so that our most fundamental sciences are bracketed by utter mystery. It’s not that we don’t have all the answers. It’s that we don’t even know the question.

But before we can unravel these mysteries, our sciences must get past their present limitations. How can we make this happen? My answer is simple: Science needs the arts. We need to find a place for the artist within the experimental process, to rediscover what Bohr observed when he looked at those cubist paintings. The current constraints of science make it clear that the breach between our two cultures is not merely an academic problem that stifles conversation at cocktail parties. Rather, it is a practical problem, and it holds back science theories. If we want answers to our most essential questions, then we will need to bridge our cultural divide. By heeding the wisdom of the arts, science can gain the kinds of new insights and perspectives that are the seeds of scientific progress.


Jan Beekman Foundation artThe biographies of many scientists and philosophers indicate that they, despite their total dedication to research, were deeply interested in art and themselves wrote poetry and novels, painted pictures, played musical instruments and moulded sculpture. How did Einstein live, for example? He thought, wrote, and also played the violin, no matter where he went or whom he visited.

Norbert Wiener, the founder of cybernetics, wrote novels, Darwin was deeply interested in Shakespeare, Milton and Shelley. Niels Bohr venerated Goethe and Shakespeare; Hegel made an exhaustive study of world art and the science of his day.

In short, the great men of theory were by no means dry rationalists. They were gifted with an aesthetic appreciation of the world. And no wonder, for art is a powerful catalyst for such abilities as power of imagination, keen intuition and the knack of association, abilities needed by both scientists and philosophers.

If we are to develop effective thinking, we must not exclude any specifically human feature from participation in creative activity. The gift of perception, penetrating observation of reality, mathematical and physical precision, depth of analysis, a free, forward-looking imagination, a joyful love of life—these are all necessary to be able to grasp, comprehend and express phenomena, and this is the only way a true work of art can appear, no matter what its subject may be.