Hope Is A Fantastic Catalyst


Most people would consider art and science to be fairly disparate subjects. Admittedly, this is an accurate assumption for some of the sciences at first glance: Physics does appear to be rather cold and clinical, reducing simple actions such as throwing a ball (a classic textbook staple) into a miscellany of almost uninterpretable hieroglyphs (unless you’re Greek, and even then it just looks like Google Translate has regurgitated a sad kebab after a night on the wreck).  Biology may appear just as distant, adding various complex solutions to a plate of cells and then staring through a microscope for days on end, as this autonomous micro-culture reacts to external stimuli introduced by some voyeuristic ‘higher power’.

Adjust the magnification on the lens however and immediately we can find similarities. A grand gamut of proteins within the cell performing a complex choreography, involving multiple partners of different sizes, brief interactions more subtle than a brush of the arm, sustained embraces engaging new dancers and relieving the tired ones, to continue this ceaseless chorus line more elegant than any ballet (and interminably more interesting than Strictly Come Dancing). Physics is not excluded from this artistic bent either. The ability to think about abstract concepts such as matter composed of tiny strings or an infinitely dense point in spacetime created by the death of a star are ideas that sound like imaginations born of Rene Magritte or Arthur C. Clarke, rather than fact.

One science where this connection may be more apparent to a non-scientist is chemistry. Aside from the vast number of chemical structures that are drawn on a daily basis, there is a more obvious element (sorry) of creativity and design inherent in it. Molecular machines within every living thing, designed over millions of years to perform chemical reactions at speeds and yields that chemists can only dream of recreating in the lab*. New medicines being designed to fit like a key into a specific protein lock to effect some beneficial change within a patient. New materials being designed with incredible properties that only a decade ago would have been considered witchcraft (seriously, have you seen the size of a 64GB microSD card?).

Ultimately both the sciences and the arts, in my opinion, have a similar task: to make sense of and discover the truth of the world around us. This perhaps is one of the major reasons I’ve identified with National Collective specifically, and engaged with the Yes campaign. However, there is another, simpler reason.


Fear is unfortunately inextricably linked to science. The trope of the mad scientist, in some laboratory hell bent on ruling or ending the world. The switching on of CERN’s Large Hadron Collider, accompanied by outcry that it may form a black hole. The level of distrust for science is incredible, even more so considering that you, dear reader, are probably reading this on some electronic device. Science can be abused, but most scientists act from a position of positivity. We can solve this problem. We can help these people. We can understand this.

Alternatively, imagine if there was an announcement that science just stopped. That’s it. The world’s governments have agreed that humanity as a whole have learnt everything we need, in the face of all the things we still don’t know. So stop your nuclear fusion research. Ignore your new rice strain that could feed the worlds starving. Cancer cure? Forget about it.

This is why the Better Together/No campaign is so abhorrent to me. To stand from a position of knowledge and power and tell people that they cannot do something, that they should not do something, contrary to the evidence which is mounting against them and their inadequate, vapid dogma. This to me is the antithesis of how anything should be run. Change is inevitable, but it is welcomed in science if the proof is there. The unknown can be scary, yes, but it’s a much more exciting prospect to strive for and discover the fantastic possibilities that Scotland could become, and they’re just on the horizon.

*(We’re trying, but nature has a slight head start.)

Alex Saunders
National Collective

Photograph of ATLAS by Dunnock_D

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About Alex Saunders

Alex Saunders is a PhD researcher at The University of Edinburgh looking at novel treatments for cancer. In his spare time he performs stand-up comedy and DJ's under the pseudonym H.R. Mendel.

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