Recipes for the Bouillabaisse of Transdisciplinary Arts and Sciences

Book Review by Roger F. Malina

Exploring Transdisciplinarity in Art and Sciences

Editors: Kapoula, Z., Volle, E., Renoult, J., Andreatta, M. (Eds.) Springer.

Softcover ISBN: 978-3-030-09391-4 © 2018. https://www.springer.com/gp/book/9783319760537

I recommend this book for all those in the Leonardo and other art, science and technology villages. It is a recent (2018) overview of a number of important topics; the authors focus on current discussions about how to enable transdisciplinarity for problems that refuse strictly disciplinary approaches. In particular, it takes advantage of the most recent thinking in neural sciences, neurophysiology and of course music, mathematics and the brain. I was pleased to find true things that are new, new things that are true, and of course new claims that aren’t true, in my current framework.

The book editors are from a broad range of professions: cognitive scientists, neurologists, evolutionary biology and a specialist in the relationship of mathematics and music (specifically topological transformations of sound) The authors are a delightful zoo of professionals, including behavioral engineering, economics and Oumupo.

In a sense it picks up on the excitement 30 years ago when Semir Zeki and the Minerva Foundation started  Neuro-Aesthetic conferences in Berkeley, California.  Neuro-aesthetics built on decade of research such as Margaret Livingstone.  Other lines of research,  build in some senses, on the work of Leonardo Editors Rudolph Arnheim, J.J.Gibson, Ernst Gombrich, C.P.Snow, Jonas Salk and others. It builds on the assertion that the well developed arts are cognitive processes which seek to make sense, and meaning, out of all the data from all sources that human bodies receive. And that the artistic methods are as valid and illuminating as the scientific ones in many situations.

Yes, as physicist Stavros Katsanevas likes to say provocatively, both artists and scientists are “professional noticers’. Arts scholars like Bonnie Pitman now teach medical students to observe; the late Pauline Oliveros zoomed in on the varieties of listening modes we can use if trained. In Dialogue and Culture,  (David Bohm and F. David Peat, Science, Order, and Creativity. New York: Bantam, 1987), two quantum physicists argued, in a sense, for promoting the interaction of the arts, sciences and new technologies which has been the rallying cry of the Leonardo Village of Villages.

I have been using the term ‘villages’ for the emerging practices of STEM to STEAM, ArtScience, Bio-Art and so on. One of the problems in using terms such as ‘disciplines’ in the term ‘trans-disciplinary’ is the implicit bias on recent ways of sub-dividing ‘ways of knowing’. The San Francisco Exploratorium , founded by the late Leonardo Editor Frank Oppenheimer had a series of generative conferences called Ways of Knowing: https://www.exploratorium.edu/visit/calendar/ways-of-knowing .

One implicit bias of the “tree of knowledge” way of thinking is, for example, that in a tree branches never reunite, as physics and astronomy did in the emergence of astrophysics 150 years ago. Recently in a discussion with artist Caspar Noyons, we stumbled onto the term ‘bushes” of knowledge for his art projects which seek to cross-connect ancient and contemporary cosmologies in ways understandable to contemporary audiences.

A few years back my colleague Yvan Tina ran into a fundamental problem. He directs the art-science pod-cast platform “ Creative Disturbance’ https://creativedisturbance.org/ . The team has now published podcasts in 15 different human languages; they have had to confront the cultural and linguistic divergences in how ways of knowing, such as art and science, are described and combined. The apotheosis was when Oscar Daniel Taramuel Mimalchi https://creativedisturbance.org/host/oscar-daniel-taramuel-mimalchi/ recently started a podcast channel in the indigeneous culture in Colombia that he is belongs to. The guest, Jhonatan Filisberto Palomares Biguidima, was an indigenous Múrui from the Amazon; Jhonatan speaks her own language fluently and in her dialogue expresses her territorial roots and concern about the crisis of conventional (university) education in Colombia, which she considers a complement to her training as an Indigenous.”

There is a total topological mismatch between the topological framing or structure used to interconnect different ways of knowing. Yes to understand something, one relies on structure or frames, or even ‘boxes’. And yes what she calls ‘conventional’ university education she asserts must be complemented by very different ways of knowing. Yet we give lip service to the ideas in creativity and innovation theories that emphasise the need to ‘reframe”, or shifts in thinking modes as also emphasized by Edward de Bono and others.

This book review has diverged from the content of the book by Zoi Kapoula and her colleagues, but emphasizes my rent reading practice. Somethings may be true in one framework,  but maybe not in another. Tina Qin is currently applying metaphor theory to new forms of data visualization; and, yes, some things become “invisible” depending on the big data tool used and the metaphor it embodies. There are also many ways to read a book where claims are judged to be true or not, as a consequence of the reading method.

In one essay, Serena Mastria and colleagues  emphasize what they call the ‘multi-variate’ approach and insist that ‘conation’ be taken into account; related words are volition and ambition but also emotional idiosyncrasy. Yoed Kennett applies the science or complex networks. Claus-Christian Carbon discusses moving from ‘static frameworks’ to ‘dynamic frameworks’; he discusses a number of techniques including studying ‘emotional footprint’, or ‘Implicitly Measuring Body Sway’ and uses ‘posturography’ as a research method. Yes minute movements of very different parts of your body are ‘frameworks’ for understanding your own body and mind, and its aesthetic experience, not just foot tapping. Alain Londero and colleagues unpack the classical “maluma/takete” experiments where cognitive analogs learned in childhood are proven to be consistent and reliable through adulthood. Part of this way of understanding cross modal linking derives from the work of Kohler reported in 1929.

So, for now, I propose to continue touse the term ‘trandisciplinary’ as Zoi Kapoula and colleagues do in this book, and the name ArtSciLab for our research laboratory at the University of Texas, Dallas. Readers of this book I think will be stimulated to re-frame their thinking and the languages they use, as semioticians emphasise.

And perhaps it would be a  good time to work with contemporary mathematicians who have very different approaches to what we have relied on for millennia in our particular cultures. As pointed out by Kristen Duepree and colleagues in our ArtSciLab, there are new opportunities to rethink sound and music arts themselves in the context of brain and behavioural sciences, and rethink how we learn and teach music itself, in ways that escape the trap of ‘computer music’ and current online music training . And yes string theory could be useful, or the artscience of ‘entanglement’ as developed by Ayen Den and Colleagues in the nanoscience of carbon nano-tubes at UTDallas Physics Department.

Leonardo Books will be publishing Linda Henderson’s new book that goes beyond her thesis elaborated in The Fourth Dimension and Non-Euclidean Geometry in Modern Art ( Leonardo Books, MIT Press, 1983). The failure of modern scientific cosmology, based on the best mathematics available today, to understand the nature and form of 95% of the content the universe is a stark reminder. Stavros Katsanevas director of VIRGO, the international gravitational observatory in Pisa, of all places, argues that artists and scientists need to get to work together, starting perhaps with gravitational wave astronomy which presents us with phenomena, in an ether, or aether, that are incomprehensible today using the best astrophysics and contemporary state of the art mathematics.


Roger Malina is an artscientist and editor. He currently works in the ATEC School at UTDallas and  the Leonardo Observatory of the Arts and Technosciences. He is also co-founder of a small Texas start up company which offers artscience consulting services; I need to declare of interest as the company, Strange Data LLC, is carrying out data sonification for Zoi Kapoula, the lead author of this book that is reviewed here. Artscience consultant Scot Gresham Lancaster has sonified her sophisticated eye tracking data, which she hopes to prove will help some people with dyslexia, due to erratic movements of their eye muscles. We hope that the data sonification will help people correst their dyslexia if they wish. Kapoula likes to notice that dyslexics can make excellent artists, and also experience art in different modes that non-dyslexics in ways that can be original. Eg listen to https://soundcloud.com/ocean-drive-distribution/percutive-by-p-ben

https://www.springer.com/gp/book/9783319760537

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