Salvador Dalí and Science
Dalí Study Centre
Newspaper El Punt, October 18, 2000
He gave an address called “Gala, Velásquez and the Fleece of Gold”, in which he spoke of DNA, Heisenberg, Descartes and René Thom. When asked by a journalist from “Le Figaro” newspaper, “Why such a great interest in science?”, Dalí replied: “Because artists scarcely interest me at all. I believe that artists should have some notions of science in order to tread a different terrain, which is that of unity”.
Thinkers and literati can’t give me anything. Scientists give me everything, even the immortality of the soul. Salvador Dalí in The Dalí Dimension (DVD), directed by Susi Marquès, Media 3.14, Barcelona, 2004
Since we now live in the atomic age … it is up to artists to work out a way of putting across an up-to-date message. Clete Wiley, ‘Dalí, showman of art, tells of his nuclear mysticism’, Waterloo Daily Courier, Iowa, 6 February 1952, p. 3, quoted in Elliott H. King, ‘Nuclear mysticism’, Salvador Dalí: Liquid Desire, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 2009, p. 247.
The word, “palimpsest” refers to a surface on which text or drawing has been applied more than once, with earlier writing incompletely erased and often legible through overlying text. Nature itself is a palimpsest. From the most remotely detectable minutiae to the limits of the observable universe, the fabric of nature is overwritten, imprinted and re-imprinted with all the successive events and episodes of history. Almost every object in the natural world can be found to hold signatures that reach across huge distances and deep into time.
In the early 1990s, chemist Dr. B.J. Davis related a story to the author about the shadows of passing clouds. Davis suggested that the shadow of a cloud will leave its unique signature on any stone it happens to pass over. He pointed out that photons have their indelible effect on everything and that sooner or later, science and engineering would devise an instrument with sufficient sensitivity to detect the fact that the shadow of a particular cloud has passed over a particular stone. Davis assumed that like the shadows of passing clouds, human beings also leave their indelible signature on everything animate and inanimate they encounter. He called it the “thermodynamic soul.”
Humans are still hunters and trackers after all, but as limits of the human sensorium, technology and intellect are overtaken, we will never learn to recognize or understand many of the messages imprinted on the universe around us. It is not entirely impossible that human beings may prevail against almost inconceivable odds and one day win the galactic lottery to somehow eventually find a communicable alien species. It is also altogether possible that Fermi’s paradox may turn out to be a much larger problem and hold much deeper secrets than will ever come to be grasped within the scope of human imagination.
Joe Davis, Cambridge MA. March 2010
The Belgian-born American historian of science George Sarton (1884-1956) founded the history of science in America.
George Sarton was born in Ghent on Aug. 31, 1884, the son of one of the directors and chief engineers of the Belgian national railroad system. Sarton studied philosophy at the University of Ghent and then turned to science, winning his doctorate in mathematics in 1911. He had, however, already become known as an author and scientist for his published novels and poems and his award-winning essay on chemistry (1908). Sarton emerged from his training with admiration for the insights of Auguste Comte and Henri Poincaré and a conviction that the basis of scientific philosophy was the history of science.