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Art & Physics: Parallel Visions in Space, Time, and Light Paperback – February 27, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Leonard Shlain is Chairman of Laparoscopic Surgery at the California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco and is Associate Professor of Surgery at the University of California, San Francisco. He is the author of The Alphabet Versus the Goddess: The Conflict Between Word and Image and Sex, Time, and Power: How Women's Sexuality Shaped Human Evolution. Dr. Shlain lectures internationally and has been featured on The Newshour with Jim Lehrer and NPR. He lives in Mill Valley, California.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 496 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (February 27, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061227978
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061227974
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.2 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #65,090 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Hazel on January 9, 2012
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A different and thought provoking book relating artists insights to discoveries in physics.Fascinating reading.I definitely recommend this book. I find I have to read it first thing in the morning when I am able to concentrate. It is not for a relaxed read!
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Joan E. Aitken on May 6, 2008
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This book seeks to provide connections about art and science. I would have liked more visual illustrations, but anyone who seeks to understand the patterns of this world will find the ideas interesting.

Academic disciplines have become segregated in our individual disciplines, so this kind of synthesis is unique.

I bought this book because it was recommended by one of my graduate students. The book was a gift for an engineer who enjoys art and design.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By D. Dobkin on January 7, 2014
Format: Paperback
I am in close agreement with Mr. Durand's review and will not bother to rehash its points. Dr. Shlain's understanding of post-Newtonian physics is superficial at best. His arguments about the connections between art and physics are often incoherent and always unconvincing. He ignores profoundly obvious issues, such as the fact that the invention of photography in the 19th century meant that the revenue stream of representative artists was threatened by cheap accurate images. They had to invent new things to paint and sculpt in order to make a living -- a much more plausible explanation for the changes in art in that period than assertions of mysterious precognition. He makes a great deal of the abandonment of shadows in modern art as a prelude to relativistic physics -- as a physician, one would have thought that he would realize that people don't store images of objects but representations of objects: you don't remember how something is illuminated, you remember how it is shaped. It is natural to draw or paint a shape and not its illuminated representation, and he correctly points out that many traditional arts do exactly that. Did cave painters at Lascaux or Cosquer -- who were often wonderfully skilled -- anticipate relativity thirty thousand years ago? The argument becomes absurd. And let's not even get started on the chapter on the Universal Mind, a phenomenon for which no evidence whatsoever is presented.

This is all very sad, because the book is actually worth reading even with its faults. The thesis Dr. Shlain should have examined, and the one that is interesting to reflect upon as you progress, is the influence that concepts that are available in a society have on what a scientist or an artist can think of.
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62 of 85 people found the following review helpful By Fredo Durand on December 30, 2007
Format: Paperback
Leonard Shlain is a surgeon, not an art historian neither a physicist. His culture is impressively broad, but unfortunately shallow. His main thesis in this book is that basically all scientific discoveries were anticipated by artists. I find the interwoven relationship between art and science absolutely fascinating, but this book is not a reference that I would recommand on the topic.

The main problem is that this book abuses of the juxtaposition of unrelated facts, and presents them with such virtuosity that a magical causality seem to appear. Shlain presents ancient thoughts with the enlightenment of modern frameworks, subtly rewriting them, emphasizing concept and translating them such that they seem to fit with forthcoming theories.

This kind of pitfall has been described by Kuhn (the structure of scientific revolution). For example, if Newtonian mechanics can be expressed in the framework of relativity, relativity is NOT and extension of Newtonian physics, there is a fundamental revolution between them. It is only because Newtonian physics has been rewritten that it becomes more compatible with Einstein's new insights.

Moreover, Shlain's understanding of relativity is weak at best. For example, he often makes the confusion between the effect of the finite speed of light (which can be expressed in a Newtonian context) and relativity.

I was all the more disappointed that some of the issues are actually relevant and fascinating: relativity, non Euclidean, surrealism and cubism for example do share a common revolution of the notion of space (and thus of the place of humans in the world).
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14 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Karen Reisdorf on June 14, 2007
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I thought this was a wonderful book. Tying the evolution of art to the evolution of thinking and science gave me a more holistic way to look at art. From the ancient Greeks through the Dark and Middle Ages, the Impressionists, and into modern times the parallels of physics to art are simply amazing. Perfect for us "left-brained" types.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By David Knapp on November 7, 2009
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As a musician and life long educator in a school of the arts here in Pittsburgh, I am inspired by Mr. Schlain's vast insight into the relationship of creativity, science, and the human spirit. I believe this work should be a fundamental guide for educators who believe in the power of art as it historically has influenced culture and science. BRAVO Mr. Schlain!
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An absolute juggernaut of information that is enlightening, exciting and mind-expanding. Useful in any discipline, subject or simply as an enjoyable read!
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