In my MFA thesis, I discuss the origins of inspiration, and argue that ideas in physics and art emerge from a common wellspring and only later diverge in representation. I also detail my efforts to reconcile these studies through my personal practice.
For a condensed discussion of the project, check out this interview.

Edmund Husserl offers the following logical argument to motivate phenomenology: If facts, concepts, and ideas are products of the subjective human psychology, then they are all equally subjective. If, however, we want to maintain that knowledge occupies a place outside our subjectivity — that truth exists in some ideal sense — then it must exist a priori. This truth is the providence of phenomena.
Phenomena are objects as they appear to our first-person perspective mentally or physically. When we look at an apple or imagine one, we are considering two different but related phenomena. Consciousness is the act of intentionally considering a phenomenon, a process Husserl calls noesis. Objects are imbued with an ideal meaning he calls noema, but as subjects of noesis, this meaning can be obscured by the subjective human psychology that produces facts, concepts, and ideas. Put another way, noema cannot be described — they exist only in some ideal state — but we can describe the ideas they engender through conscious intentionality.

I argue that inspiration is a special case of noesis — that it is an act of intentionality that bridges a subjective perspective and the right phenomenon at the right moment in time. An idea is born as a conscious thought, and it comes from the relationship between an individual and a phenomenon’s noema. Objects bear many noema, not all of which are necessarily accessed through noesis. This component of inspiration as I understand it is critical. The individual’s knowledge, experience, and memories define the set of conscious relationships that he or she can have with a phenomenon, and therefore, the space of potential ideas or thoughts he or she might have as well. Consequently, no two individuals will consider the same phenomenon identically.
Of all the potential ideas an individual might unveil through noesis, only those that are new to the individual may be considered inspired. And of this subset of ideas, assuming it isn’t already null, only those ideas that are also new to others will be considered inspirations in the sense of the word as we understand it colloquially.
And now we introduce epistemologies to the equation. An epistemology is a fenced-in stockpile of knowledge and values delineated by the guidelines that identify its borders. An inspired idea within an epistemology is not simply a new idea. It must also satisfy the rules that define the epistemology in the first place. Bigger ideas tend to test the limits of an epistemology and often end up editing the guidelines delineating its borders.
An example will help illustrate some of the ideas covered so far. Consider a water drop falling into a pond. Imagine its sound (kerplunk!) and picture the circular waves it generates. Three different scholars I’ve studied considered this phenomenon and generated three different ideas. Matsuo Basho wrote a famous haiku titled The Old Pond, while a mathematician named Tadashi Tokieda published a mathematics paper investigating the geometric information encoded in circular ripple patterns. A physicist at MIT named John Bush used water droplets bouncing in a bath of oil to revisit a competing idea in quantum physics known as pilot-wave theory. Ideas inspired by water droplets surface in surprising and diverse ways across epistemologies, and they’re all connected by the simplest of observations.
Art and science are two distinct epistemologies, but their practitioners are inspired similarly. Scientists and artists access the same phenomena — objects of the natural world and built environment, cultural productions, and social relationships — but the demands of their epistemologies and their distinctive backgrounds and knowledge preferentially engender inspired ideas designated for their respective epistemologies. However, the fact that these ideas can come from common noema, and the fact that scientists and artists are often of a common time, place, and culture, implies that they can be connected somehow, and this is why we have terms like ‘zeitgeist,’ or spirit of the times.

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