If Scientists Knew Science Well, They Would Be Artists

MANILA: A rainbow of colors: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet. Look at the image above: "Here's the science behind bursting water balloons," the headline says (Saba Haider, 22 March 2016, Gizmodo India). This is the use of art to explain science, to come up with the science of it. What you're looking at is a metaphor, not the reality of it, but it helps you understand the phenomenon.

Bursting water balloons happen in India (and Nepal) during the Holi spring festival, also known as the "festival of colors" or "festival of sharing love" (Wikipedia). Haider tells us Holi is a time when colors fill up the day with careful insanity, when people smear colors on faces and hair, and "a lot of youngsters love hurling water-filled balloons at each and every person who passes by." The image above is actually simply a metaphor of Holi, and should be helpful to arrive at the science of bursting water balloons. Without metaphors, where would art be? Or science?

"Science education is woefully uncreative. This has to change" – Rhett Allain, 30 March 2016, Wired, wired.com).

Some scientists could not have been brilliant if they were not creative in the first place. Thus, Allain gives the following examples:

"Einstein used curved space-time to explain gravity." Curved space-time is the art, invented; gravity is the science.

"Euler and Lagrange created the calculus of variations in order to solve the brachistochrone problem (path between two points with the shortest time)." They had to imagine the calculus of variations because there was no such thing at that; they had to invent it.

"Schrodinger developed an equation with wave-like properties to use in quantum mechanics." Imagination is a handmaiden of science.

"Bohr created a model of the atom to explain the spectrum of light produced by hydrogen gas."

All metaphors!

Science is not what you think it is. "Science is all about making models," Allain says. Art first before science. Or, you cannot explore or explain science without art. Science is experimenting. "If there is an experiment that disagrees with a model, then we have to change that model."

So I would revise what Rhett Allain says above and say, "Scientists are woefully uncreative. They have to change."

Like Purdue University's woefully uncreative scientists who have, ANN reports, developed a technology that enables plants "to survive extreme periods of drought while significantly decreasing agricultural water consumption" (author not named, undated, The Water Network, thewaternetwork.com). The scientists are Ray Bressan, Yang Zhao, Jian-Kang Zhu, and Zhulong Chan. Bressan says drought is "the most significant environmental stress on world agricultural production (because) agriculture has become the largest consumer of fresh water," using up to 80% of available fresh water, and this is true all over the world. He also says, "In places like California, where drought is especially prevalent, the first thing they're going to have to do to make a real difference in water conservation is limit the amount of water that farmers need to successfully grow crops." I myself have already written about that (an early essay is "California Burning. Wildfires & watershed as lessons in power," 04 March 2013, A Magazine Called Love, blogspot.com).

Meanwhile, Purdue's new and improved crop technology, GMO to be sure, is that which enables the plant to close its leaf pores rapidly in case of drought, and which thereby reduces water loss due to evaporation – and thereby solves only part of the problem, that of the plant surviving. But plant survival in a drought is only part of the story, and this you cannot see if you don't use your imagination, if you are not creative, if you don't think holistically first of all, no matter how beautiful your GMO technology is.

So your crop survives, but cannot continue to grow and yield what you expect of it, because there is no water – you did not solve the problem of lack of water. The soil is dry to the bones because you have not solved the problem of the soil holding enough moisture to moisten itself so that the roots can absorb the nutrients in it and feed the crops so that they can grow. In other words, you have merely found the proper place of a piece of the jigsaw puzzle, but you have not solved the whole jigsaw puzzle itself! Your science is woefully inadequate because it is woefully uncreative. There is no art to it.

Science first. There are at least 3 elements to consider if you want to completely solve the problem of drought in your location: your drought-resistant crop, your source of water, and the source of nutrients for your crop. In a drought, the more you need water. So you have enough seeds of your drought-resistant crop ready to sow anytime. But the soil is too dry to sow seeds on or in and you cannot expect them to germinate. And if you don't have moisture in the soil, your crop cannot absorb nutrients in the soil. Even if you fertilize, it's a waste of time and fertilizer.

Art now. You need creativity now. So? You create the water!

Of course you can. Siphon off water from the river or stream, or dig a shallow tube well (STW). But you have a problem or two there. It's not sustainable. Or, there is no river, and the STW will run dry.

Thinking better, there are at least 2 ways to create or recreate the water, and store it for wet and dry days, and inexpensively. You have to do this at the start of the planting season. One is to apply a layer of decayed or decaying organic matter (OM) all over the field. You call it mulch. The OM is known for its high water-holding capacity; as the dead matter decomposes, the water that is released is caught and held by the humus that is formed. It will also catch the drops of water when the rain comes. Another is to create the layer of organic matter on top of your soil by rotavating in your crop leftover and weeds, to mix with the soil as a continuous compost pile laid all over the field. This is what I call an organic soil (see my essay, "Frank H's Landscape Agriculture: Can you see the water?" 25 March 2016, A Magazine Called Love, blogspot.com).

Not only that. The humus holds not only water but also nutrients, released by the same process of decomposition – when you solve the problem of source of water for your crops; simultaneously you solve the problem of source of nutrients for those plants. That is to say, with organic matter, you are shooting 2 birds with 1 stone. And this will naturally limit the amount of irrigation water that farmers need to successfully grow crops.

If you think creatively and are not limited to your science, you will find you can solve many other problems than the one you have been intensely and intently thinking of.

When scientists boast of a new or improved technology, they mean they have solved one problem of the world – never mind the associated problems! This is especially a dramatic one when it comes to genetically modified crops.

I will go back to a naturally modified orbit (NMO), which I have described above, anytime, all the time. Under NMO, GMO is welcome, but I know that GMO solves only one-third of the complicated problem of crop production. Even half a solution is not a solution.



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