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Bring it in. My. Way. LOWELL Institute cooperative broadcasting Council presents Harlow Shapley. The theoretical scientist as creative as a number four in the National Association of educational broadcasters series The creative mind produced by WGBH in Boston under a grant from the Educational Television Radio Center. These conversations explore the creative process as it pertains to the American artist and scientist in the 20th century. And here is our host and commentator for the creative mind. Lyman Bryson. It's often said nowadays that the arts in our country suffer because so many of the first great imaginations the first great creative minds are drawn off from consideration of art and the values and ideals into science into the discovery of that one value of the truth. I think it's very
difficult to discuss the comparative usefulness of science and art in our civilisation because well for one thing the scientists have two strikes in their favor to begin with. We credit our great material wealth our massive technological development to the scientist and his partner the engineer of course and also now we are very conscious of the fact that the scientist may be our reliance for national survival. But it isn't so important to tell which one is the most important the humanist would always insist that there's no use surviving in a world that isn't fit to live in and that unless we have the arts as well as the scientists and use our creative powers in art as well as in scientists the world can't possibly be a world in which we would want to survive. The one thing of course in common between the scientist and the artist is that they are both men who use their intellect their logical powers and their
imaginations to create something. In our time we've been vastly stirred by the creation of ways of knowing that have taken us far out into the galactic spaces and given us almost a sense that some day we can follow the satellites into those far spaces. Men lie awake nights nowadays wondering about traffic problems in interstellar space. Orbit has become half serious common verb. It's not necessary under these circumstances to ask whether or not a scientist is a man with a creative mind. But it becomes more than ever necessary to ask what does he create. To put this in perspective consider that it takes about 20 million dollars to run a good university in the United States for a year and that this little trip to the moon which would give us a few radio records and perhaps some camera shots of that distant place would cost us about as much as
to run a good university for 100 years. This is the sort of thing which public opinion sooner or later will have to face and decide this isn't a new problem. It's a very old problem. The philosophers in ancient Greece who started all of our traditions and philosophy and thought the western world up to the time of Socrates were very much like our physicists and chemists today they were trying to determine what tools they had the nature of the universe. They did pretty well as a matter of fact. They hit upon the idea of evolutionary change. They hit upon the idea of atoms as the central building blocks of the universe. They laid the foundations for mathematical thought. But Socrates and after him Plato Of course his most influential pupil decided that it was not so important to understand nature it was far more important to understand man this real problem is not Do scientists have imaginations you see it's whether or not scientists use their imaginations on the right things. Now in
our recorded conversation with Harlow Shapley Whisht astronomer. It's important to note that he's the author of a recent book speculation on the meaning of modern science. He can talk about his work as a philosopher as well as as an astronomer. He touches on this question in his book of stars and men and I'm now reading a sentence from it. The task of the proper scientist is to bring forth and explain as best he can the raw materials from which other analyzers can fabricate philosophies and suggest if they will programs and goals. Now how does a creative mind work in fulfilling that mission to provide the raw material for our philosophies of value. One way to distinguish the scientist Creator from the artist's creator would be to say that the artist creates new ways of feeling. The scientist creates new ways of knowing. I was much too crude Of course it doesn't really state all of the difference. But it's true to this extent that we test the validity of what the scientist tells us
by what we can what we can verify. We test the validity of what the artist says to us by what we feel. And in both these there are lucky discoveries and Mr Shapley is charming story about how he discovered something not in his. Studies in galactic space. But in his studies in college his studies about the ants always has given me a kind of ironic amusement to think that the man who's taken his further steps into the last reaches of the known world the known special universe is also a man who's given what is left over half his energy and his intellectual power to the study of the smallest creatures on earth that can be called citizens the smallest creatures on earth that seem to act in a kind of travesty of human beings. Now we notice in Professor Sharpless conversation of Mr cavernous that however he uses his creative mind in the strict confines
of science he still believes in his human right to speculate and to wonder about the most ultimate questions of value and destiny which men are faced with today as always and this I think is extremely important. Because if the scientists if science as an occupation as a human human ideal occupation has drawn off so many men and women of great power and great imaginations we surely want them to take their share of the burden in determining what these value shall be. They can prepare the raw materials as Mr. Shepley says. But what about having them also help us with their powers in determining what we can make out of those raw materials into ideals. Mr. Shepley is nevertheless as an astronomer he's a scientist using a scientist tools such for example as experimentation. Well if you mean by experimentation observation I
would say it's at least as important in any of the other fields. Sixth in physiology and in chemistry. But if by experimentation you mean handling the material and pushing things around and repeating then astronomers at a big disadvantage because you can't get hold of the stars very well and you I know have done a lot of work and make millions of measuring the size of the universe by the way the variable stars they serve in stars. Is this kind of observation a sort of experiment it is both in my experience. That is. I've done big deal observation either photographically or visually on of stars a very and light. That's what we mean by a variable star. So here separate variables are just one of several kinds of variable stars I've worked actually more observationally in a variable star called eclipsing binary RHO doctoral thesis on it and help develop a
theory of it. But in general on this particular question we mix theory. And observation. We mix measurement and interpretation. And I've never been very good as a practical astronomer in accumulating observations just to store them away and say they will be very valuable 100 years from now because they give the light of a star as of now that have been very interesting to me. It does a little more routine than even I as an astronomer can take happily. The seven variable star I worked on in two different ways that might answer your point a little better. In the measuring of them finding that their light goes up in general rapidly then slowly down up and down up and down perhaps in every 12 hours perhaps every 12 days. That was an observational operation. But also I had a happy hunch.
One time you might call it. Inspiration if you want to but we ought to be able to get a better interpretation of what makes those stars very blue star like a north star Polaris is a separate variable star and every few days is brighter than fainter brighter fainter and subtle pulsation. So of the pulsation In fact that's the word we use and I come to the so called put station hypothesis of separate variation. I did that when I was not very far along in national call work. And curiously enough that has persisted and the current interpretation of cepheids vary. Should that is the variability of the North Star and stars like that is known as the shot with pulsation hypothesis. Not quite correctly because mine was an interpretation. With out serious investigation of the meeting four of those positions in the interior of a star. So Arthur Eddington. Developed a mathematical theory and I often say I believed in my theory until he proved it mathematically then I was still skeptical.
But can we say then that in a sense in a larger sense it was. This began. As a kind of experimentation or as you put it observation in that your observations lead to the forming of the hypothesis and the part of the hypothesis in turn has led to the practical result of measurement. That's it exactly. Miss Henrietta Leavitt to Harvard observatory working on some variable stars in a distant galaxy is a really really small part of Magellan in the southern sky first noted that the longer the period the brighter the star the longer the period of my break the greater the candle power the star and she did up to twenty five stars. Well it over the next 10 years I perfected that by examining many stars in many different places and we built up what we call the Imperial monastic relation. Well again it was applying the observation and to find out the observations we would have done anything nobody ever thought of opposing stars. What one man did a German word once and he said if you had a big mass of gas you gave it a whack that it
would vibrate for a while and when he called the second harmonic would persist that means one type of his libration would die out soon and it got wrong but he was talking about masses of gas something about the sun and I don't think he knew one end of a star from the other hood. If America loses. Well now in this case the the theory of a hypothesis. Followed came after they observation period is not always true in your field or in the other time practically always true but it goes on from there. After the theory team or the position hypothesis. And some other type of theory it incites many more observations and subtly separate variable stars have been observed and analyzed observationally ten times as much before we now just a theory. Then we examine them. Things really had time to go it goes to get a. Deduction and induction leading to more data I think that's right well done. Activity in one field of science. So your own field astronomy for example.
Automatically leads you to interesting other scientists and other sciences in general. It does mean and I think it does for most people in a limited way. If you get interested in the stars and need to solve some particular problem you get interested in the mathematics that has the back of that. And now the whole science of astrophysics has been built up from bringing in atomic theory namely physics nuclear physics to understand the stars. And so in that way it brings you to work as a becomes a part of the two really just the physical sciences. You don't need to know much geology to study the stars but you do need to know some languages to read what other people are doing and you do need to know physics. So when a person asked me if you had asked me how should I start studying become an astronomer I'd say don't bother about reading up on astronomy but study your physics especially your nuclear physics your spectroscopy your chemistry a bit of
geology. It's a German and some Russian. Then you come to me some afternoon and I'll tell you what struck me you need to know to go be an astronomer because it's based greasy as yours are. Again Of all the other related times I don't have to go now in terms of our sciences and I'm so directly related. Your own interest for example in etymology. My interest and animosity I think came partly because I've always been what I would frankly admit is I've got a brain. I'm interested in many things that are white things. I nearly started out as a classicist and I'm afraid I retain some of the joy say the armor of classics. But the thing that always appealed to me was the words and that's why here we are talking with surrounded by a hundred acres of woods at the Mount Wilson Observatory as a young observer. I could work on the stars at night but when the time comes what would you have to do so I wandered around the mountainside quite a bit and developed what we call an ecology.
A listing of the plants and animals that are at different altitudes in the canyons and their surroundings and that led me to. The little hobby that got too serious because I published papers and one thing you shouldn't do the hobby seems to me is to take it so seriously that you become sort of an expert. Well I never came very much of an expert but I was sitting one day after a long nights observing on Mount Wilson waiting for another night to come so I could go after the seven variables of the gladder star clusters and I noticed that one particular kind of I happened I hadn't seen before was running along a concrete wall. The sun was shining on it but the man's Anita Bush's were throwing shadows against the wall and I noticed. That the ants slowed up when they were in the shadows as though they want to take it in a cooler and hurried through the hotter parts. But of course that was a
little anthropocentric that idea and I observed it for then I saw a chance to make me experiment. Just why do they go faster when it's hot. And I commenced sitting up operators thermometer barometer hygrometer and all of those things near the trail and I set up a speed trap we would call it now. I set off 30 centimeters. Oh the wall mart. That was in the shadow and 30 in the sunshine and with a stopwatch. I timed the speed of the ants going back and forth in that. Well it was a lovely sort of a going song because I came to a rather significant result which we should have foreseen because it turned out that the speed was controlled by the air temperature near the surface where they were running and had nothing to do with the intensity of the light for example with and not with the intensity of the light. If the temperature nor with the humidity. They would run on the edge of snow very slowly and they'd run in the heat of the sun a hundred degrees
Fahrenheit very rapidly. I set up the curve and got to a place where we could tell the temperature on Mt. Wilson by observing the speed of events within one degree. Another amusing little hobby but it's lead to in other places to quite a lot of research along the line of relating temperature to activity of these kinds of animals. Well you were talking a moment ago about it. I have a hunch or inspiration during the course of your observations suddenly conceive of an idea that that is perhaps on a different tangent but promises to be a good one. Yes I say that frequently you come to a. Sudden burst of imagination and you say is this perhaps the answer and it's something like intuition. You jump all over the valleys in going from hill to hill. Some people have that are much more pronounced than others and some of us take it in a very routine sort of way.
I've had a few jumps I would say I don't see why I suddenly commenced saying that but that's because I don't follow all of my thoughts all the way through press or wrestle Christian my teacher in astronomy or years ago was one of those people that you could call a genius and he didn't bother to plow through the details in the valley of knowledge with just the one peak to the other two. Rather interesting to see how he could come to it we see he's inspired here he's a hunch man. But later you'll find that he knew all that in between but he had localized it. Maybe had a mental ised it in a number of creative activities section in the arts in particular. There's a very clear and definite aspect of of the Creator revealing himself to say that a painter paints a picture of himself what in his mind the writer writes the story of what's in his mind is there any of this so revealing in science.
I see there's very little except there's some self-revealing in making a choice of a project to be studied or of the method of studying. For instance a person is very good in mathematics is going to tackle a problem about the interior of a star different from spectroscopy us with a machine indicating something of the structure of his own mind there by just indicating I think as much as training and maybe his inborn facility and doing certain things rather than revealing himself the way a point might reveal himself. What Whitman for instance. You're always studying that personality when you're reading his poetry can read it can we then say that research avid self is a really creative activity. Yes if you define creative widely enough. To me there's a continuous stream of method from a straight single observation and observation such as the sun is now shining from that all the way to.
An inspired mathematical theory. As some mathematicians have produced them. To me Scientific research is all inspiration. But then that's my definition of inspiration. Why we in science I'm trying to think do we do things such as musician will when composing a symphony. He's very methodical in many ways. He does a whole lot of laborious work. To us that are not composing. We'd say that's not so very routine at all it's inspiration. But to him of course it's a lot of it is routine. Oh yes there's no denying that talk will give a little theme and then work it over and worked over and worked on from all different standpoint. And that's pretty routine I'd say and beautiful. I think we can probably draw pretty close parallel. I believe we can and I think we've hit on something at that moment of comparing the
routine work that a court must do. I mean she already has the right word the right rhythms the right picture he wants and love every routine to the routine work of observing certain chemical combinations and how they behave under certain conditions. I remember this someone is said to have complimented. Alfred Lord Tennyson on some particular line in some port light certain inspired line. And he replied that took too long black cigars to get that one out. Well this leads me then to a somewhat larger question and that is can we say that once we've gotten through this this process of research or reasoning and so forth and reached very inspired ideas can we describe this as a moment of discovery this is a phrase I know you've used in some of your writings. Yes. A moment of discovery. The word moment can be defined a little bit.
A moment may be that month of those years. Now it might be that second it's a relative business about a moment of discovery. It does mean in general a change of direction in which you're operating and following along some line that you had been polling before and then this does require original thinking creative thinking. Yes almost all of this work takes what I call original thinking. You have a pattern set up by somebody else who's done the same thing but in just routine observation like making a botany as I have done over this place in the country. It took thinking all the time to know how you're correlating it would have gone the right places you know where you've got the right seasons and all. So thinking is all the way through I don't see how we get away from. We often talk about people not thinking. I don't see how they can stop us. When I enlist our line of talk about the thinking that goes into reaching there at the moment of discovery we've mentioned you're
out building up discovering Lee hypothesis regarding the seven stars are there other illustrations within your own particular field of specialization. Well we can bring in those that if I am expected to talk about myself that I should see that probably the thing that I have contributed that been most significant is the discovery of what we call the eccentric universe discovery of the position of Sun Earth. More on planets in our galaxy of stars about five six thousand years ago we didn't even have a geocentric theory of the universe idea was egocentric the individual or his village local centric we might call it. And then with the Greeks and the others of two to three thousand years ago gradually came the idea that the earth was the center and we talked about the geocentric hypothesis. Well there is some questioning of that but it took Copernicus
buff one hundred and twenty years ago to come through with the hypothesis that we now call the heliocentric theory the sun is the center the earth goes around the sun rather than the other way. Now there's a video centric but applied not only to the planetary system the sun and his group of planets but applied to the stars too because at that time up to 19 0 0 20 we believed that the stars fell off in all directions that seem to indicate we are the center. And so the books were publishing that text books up to about twenty five years ago that of the Sun and Earth were the center of the whole system of stars and we knew there were millions of stars. And then my contribution in there which came with. Tremendous speed when I got started and therefore you might see a moment of discovery was that we are not anywhere near the center but at the center of our galaxy of stars is some 25 million light years away in
the southern Milky Way. That is 25 million times six million million miles. We were off center or as I call it the eccentric hypothesis of the universe. That was one of the developments that you might call creative. But if I hadn't done it somebody else wouldn't buy for this I'm sure because it was just there for the picking and for the labor took a lot of work. I must have published two hundred papers on that general subject of our location and the consequences of it and still it stayed right where we put it. In that time by 1917 the distance we've worried about there may not be as far away as we thought or further away. We're still working on it. This is a different kind of knowledge from that that we acquire in an artistic sort of creativity. Painting a picture or writing a book or composing family. Yes a big deal we do in science is uncovering you might say. Rather than discovering in the way of getting something that didn't exist before but is
makes a little bit. In general I'd say that we when we build a theory of the orbital motion of Jupiter is affected by Saturn or something of that kind. We're doing creative job same as a artist. Not so much in expressing ourselves at all but making something that didn't exist before. Now we're making it for man we haven't affected the Saturn or Jupiter but for man's theory we have done a creative job. And this does definite. They tie in with artistic creativity and I think they're a good deal of the mathematical theory and a good deal interpretation of things and the ingenuity and instruments you see as regular work history there. And that leads me to one more question and that is in regard to the responsibility of the scientist to his society is there a difference in his responsibility as a scientist from that to his responsibility to employees and individual citizen scientists responsibility as a
scientist is high and is limited to a science. Yes but his responsibility as a citizen should not be appreciated just because he's a specialist somewhere else. Frequently when you're talking about scientist I mean the people at large are talking about scientists they're thinking of the inventors the gadgets Here's the engineers the scientists are different from that including the fact that they at some time aren't engineers. But they very often need the techniques of the engineer but they need more than that. Yes technology is a child of science and of course that has led many people to have considerable respect for science because their respect for technology has made living much more happy much more effective. Scientists are making more contributions along that line than they used to. At the end of the war people have a little too much of technology perhaps for a while and they worried a good deal about the scientists saying Saenz. But as you say there were the philosophers and they still are the
philosophers I'll quote. Question of WHITEHEAD I remember his saying one time to a group of us that there have been no great advances in philosophy as such since the times of the Greeks at the present time the real advances in philosophy have come from the scientists and thank heaven they don't know Harlow Shapley the theoretical scientist as Creator our conversation number four in a series exploring the creative process as it pertains to the American artist and scientist in the 20th century. Host for the creative mind Lyman Bryson. Producer for the series Jackie Summerfield with William cavernous and now you're Eisenberg a production associates. Next week Aaron Copeland the composer as creator of the creative mind is produced and recorded by WGBH Af-Am in Boston for the National Association of educational broadcasters under a grant from the Educational Television and
Radio Center. This program was distributed by the National Education all radio network.
Creative mind
The theoretical scientist
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WGBH Educational Foundation
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University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Episode Description
This program features Harlow Shapley speaking on science and creativity.
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This series, hosted by Lyman Bryson, presents radio essays about the creative process for the American artist and scientist in the 20th century.
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Guest: Shapley, Harlow, 1885-1972
Host: Bryson, Lyman, 1888-1959
Producer: Summerfield, Jack D.
Producing Organization: WGBH Educational Foundation
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 58-44-4 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:29:32
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Chicago: “Creative mind; The theoretical scientist,” 1964-04-06, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed February 29, 2024,
MLA: “Creative mind; The theoretical scientist.” 1964-04-06. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. February 29, 2024. <>.
APA: Creative mind; The theoretical scientist. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from