In his drum major’s coat, mustard pants, and glittering Elton John-esque glasses, Sean Montgomery doesn’t look like what you’d imagine a doctor of neuroscience, or a founder of an R&D tech consulting firm.
That’s kind of the point though. Montgomery’s visual flair, paired with his scientific expertise, is a miniature example of how art and science can combine to make something more impactful than either is capable of on their own.
It’s a challenging point to make – how two fields that are perceived as almost polar opposites can, and should, come together. Art comes from free-flowing thought. It is subjective. Engaging. Personal. Science is the opposite. It is proof established within a well-formed system and confirmed through consensus, with no thought to ensuring people outside the industry can understand the complex procedures involved.
Montgomery compares them to colours. If one is yellow, and another red, then alone, they are simply two colours.
“But if you mix them, suddenly you have the beautiful palette of a rising sun.”
His goal, and the goal of his collaborators, is to find means to connect broad audiences to science through the storytelling ability of art. An example of one such project is Livestream, which sought to create an installation that used the flowing of groundwater in the region of Bluegrass, Kentucky, to create a symphony of sound.
As Montgomery demonstrates in his TEDx Talk above, the ability to make science fun and interactive in a simple way provides opportunity to educate audiences about specific issues. Livestream isn’t a lecture. It’s not a research paper. It’s a game. Yet the benefits that an introduction to the science brings – environmental awareness, improved scientific literacy, fostered curiosity – are even greater than if they were presented in a traditional fashion.
The scientific community in particular will find that difficult to accept, but the fact is this: if science seeks to promote positive change in the world, it must strive to encourage grassroots movement. Governments move slow, and they’re as likely to move backward as forward. And so it is up to the people to create the change themselves, but that will only happen when they understand why such change is necessary.
Potential to fuel this understanding is great. There are an estimated seven million science researchers in the world, and two million artists in the US alone. If even a fraction of these factions were to synergise, the impact would surely be outstanding.
It’s time to make the change.