Monday, April 7, 2008

The center of the pie

One of my favorite authors is Madeleine L’Engle. I was about 10 when I first read A Wrinkle in Time and Meet the Austins. Finding L’Engle’s work was like finding a piece of myself that I didn’t know was missing, a coming home to self. I love the way that she deftly wove art with science, science with Christianity, in her stories. Her characters seem so real to me that, at times, I have had difficulty putting down her books.

Why the fascination? L’Engle’s world is populated with poet/scientists and artist/researchers. I love that her characters stretch across genres. Her work reminds me that I don’t have to give up writing poetry to be a science writer, or forgo my love of art in favor of research. It’s okay to do it all, to be interested in more than one thing at a time.

But school doesn’t tend support this idea, especially in higher education. What’s the first big choice you make in college? Declaring a major. There’s an undercurrent of thought that once you’ve chosen your major, you have to give up on everything else to focus on your goal. How unfortunate is that?

Far too often, I think, we tend to separate ourselves from science as if it were an abstract set of concepts unrelated to our daily lives. Popular culture tends to foster this misperception. How often do we appreciate the work of, say, Leonardo DiVinci* for both his scientific AND artistic contributions? Usually, he is lumped into one group or the other, depending upon the interests of the reviewer. (* Kudos to the Museum of Science for recognizing that DiVinci was all that and more!)

The popular 80’s board game, Trivial Pursuit, always bothered me for the same reason. You would get a slice of “pie” for your game piece if you correctly answered questions in one of six different categories, which included Arts & Literature and Science & Nature. It occurred to me that it would make more sense if we all try to live in the center of the pie, where all of the pieces interconnect.

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