What is the symbology of science?

by guy keulemans on February 11, 2009

At this stage in my research I am looking for a way to express the atheist world view in objects. One method I have considered is to apply, either directly or indirectly, some of the aesthetics used in graphic depictions of science. This is not to say that atheism is the same as science, it’s not at all, however, one thing held in common by many atheists is a high regards for science, and according to intellectuals like Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennet, a good understanding of science will encourage and strengthen a belief in atheism.

The image above is a large collage of the “evolutionary tree” system of graphics. Its begins on the far left with Darwin’s first diagrammatic sketch of his theory of evolution, taken from his personal notebook. Next to it is the first printed version, a rather dry diagram from the “Origin of Species”. The rest of the collage is filled with the many subsequent and diverse forms the evolutionary tree system can be, although it is interesting to note that many follow Darwin’s original sketch very closely in aesthetics. Other forms attempt to make it clearer with the use of color, overlay of historical bands, or depictions of the animals involved. It culminates with the common contemporary use of circular trees, radiating outwards, which allow maximum space for the animals on the periphery, our contemporary lifeforms. Many of these forms, and especially the tree motif, can be compared to other scientific depictions, such as those for neural nets, rivers, data structures etc. The final images on the bottom right are illustrations of evolutionary trees interpreted very literally as real trees; the big one by Ernst Haeckel is particularly beautiful.

The depictions of structures such as atoms and molecules scream “science” out loud; the incredible sub-microscopic discoveries of the latter 20th century are responsible for that. Spectography is likewise full of scientific “aesthetic”. Interestingly, for all the depictions of molecules and the like on Wikipedia, the articles on Quantum Theory are curiously devoid of explanatory graphics. Is it to complex for even scientific illustrators to understand?

Fossils, and the illustrations of fossils, really put one’s mind into the atmosphere of the 19th century, when the first major discoveries where made about evolution and our animal ancestry.

Finally I made this collection of photos and portraits of famous scientists and naturalists. Nothing critical can be analysed from this, but I find them interesting, especially the ID tag of Richard Feynman from when he was working on the atomic bomb and Los Alamos (middle row, second from the right).

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