The romantic genius of Einstein and the science essay film
Radcliff, Matthew Robert.
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The image of Einstein as a scientific genius, a talent so elevated it can spill over the boundaries between science and art, requires the assumption that art and science are not simply different fields of knowledge, but are polar opposites. Despite two centuries of effort, the debate on the relationship of art and science is far from resolved; the notion that they are exclusive of each other is even less established. However, there remains a tendency to treat art and science as the two extremes of a linear scale of talent. Only an exceptional person, therefore, can straddle the line between them. The traditional science documentary aggravates this separation. Condensing the time and effort involved, through re-enactments of selected experiments, neglects the artisanal, hands-on nature of science. By spotlighting one (or at most a handful) of scientists as special, and condensing a large body of work into a small number of significant events, the documentaries give the impression that creativity in science is a rare occurrence. A new model of science film, based on the personal essay that is prominent in popular science writing (e.g., the essays of Alan Lightman), is proposed to ease the tension between art and science. The essay film, combining elements of the documentary and the personal art film, provides the opportunity to illustrate science as an inherently creative act relevant to all people.