Darwin’s Regret

My mind seems to have become a kind of machine for grinding general laws out of large collections of facts; but why this should have caused the atrophy of that part of the brain alone, on which the higher tastes depend, I cannot conceive. […] If I had to live my life again, I would have made a rule to read some poetry and listen to some music at least once every week; for perhaps the parts of my brain now atrophied would thus have been kept alive through use. The loss of these tastes is a loss of happiness, and may possibly be injurious to the intellect, and more probably to the moral character, by enfeebling the emotional part of our nature.” The Autobiography of Charles Darwin: 1809-1882.

Portrait of Charles Darwin (detail) by Ellen Sharples (1816)

Portrait of Charles Darwin (detail) by Ellen Sharples (1816)

Darwin’s concern that he had damaged his own intellect by excluding arts from his life is one that we might also share. Many of us, as STEM educators, have also left the arts behind in our own work and lives, and in our teaching of science we typically do so as well. Could we be causing damage to our intellects and the intellects of our students? How might we re-intergrate the arts and design into our lives, research, and teaching?  Is there evidence that the arts can make better scientists of us all?

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