"Science provides an understanding of a universal experience. Arts provide a universal understanding of a personal experience." Mae Jemison

Here is what Mae Jemison's says about her claim (source):

The sciences, to me, are manifestations of our attempt to express or share our understanding, our experience, to influence the universe external to ourselves. It doesn't rely on us as individuals. It's the universe, as experienced by everyone, and the arts manifest our desire, our attempt to share or influence others through experiences that are peculiar to us as individuals.

On a post on this website, artm gave this explanation of the meaning of this quotation:

science explores and makes available facts about the universe - "universal experience" in a sense that we're all subject to experiencing them, while arts attempt to exposing to everyone ("make universal") those special facts that normally are only available to a particular person.

On the same post, ChristopherE said the following :

[..] I am not sure why we shouldn't think of science as also aspiring to providing understanding for everyone, and I am not sure what to make of art that tries to capture ideal types of things as they're experienced by everyone. (That is, I am not so sure art necessarily starts with the personal.)

My first question is the following: Does Jemison's claim seem plausible to you? Does it make sense?

What differences (and similarities) between arts and science do you think is worth to point out?

I think that for the purpose of this question, when using the word "science" we actually use a word that encompass both science and philosophy. Should we split these two notions appart in order to make sense of Jemison's quotation?

  • science is sensitive to justify through experiment, but art is not like that.
    – user10617
    Nov 1, 2014 at 6:46
  • What would you say if I told you that Musical Theorist discover facts about the universe regarding the sounds we find pleasant?
    – Neil Meyer
    Dec 17, 2015 at 15:58
  • I used to think there was a difference, but now I am not so sure... Jun 30, 2017 at 6:38
  • If art is the creation of artifacts, then science is an art where artifacts are judged by scientific criteria. Mar 21, 2019 at 22:23

2 Answers 2


First of all Mae Jemison talks about human creativity and how science and arts are its two manifestations. Not the only ones, but very important ones nevertheless. Her goal, as I understand it, is not to highlight the differences between the two, but to remind the audience of their commonalities: their being the tools of getting to know the world through - among other things - creativity.

Does science "[provide] an understanding of a universal experience"?

Science ... is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe.


Do testable explanations and predictions about the universe constitute understanding of a universal experience? I don't see why not. Universe is our universal experience and to explain / predict it is to understand it.

Do arts provide "a universal understanding of a personal experience"?

This is more problematic as there is no agreement as to purpose of the arts, and even the very definition of arts is controversial. On the other hand this lack of agreement on meaning and purpose of the arts gives Mae free rein to endow the arts with a purpose of her own choosing.

Compare to Dewey's views on aesthetics:

Aesthetic experience is distinguished from other imaginative experience by the fact that the meanings embodied are especially wide and deep. Although scientific inventions are also products of imagination, works of art do not operate in the realm of physical existence. A work of art concentrates and enlarges immediate experience, directly expressing imaginatively-evoked meaning. It also encourages its audience to carry out a similar imaginative act.

(Notice, how the arts and sciences are again mentioned together, being a two manifestations of imaginative experience).

That immediate experience is what Mae calls personal experience. And the encouragement of the audience to carry out a similar ... act is the arts' way to make this experience universal.

So no, I don't disagree with the talk in general or the quotation in particular.


I found this thread on a Google search for this thread title. Luckily I found you all having a very tight and nice conversation.

I think it might be worth pointing out how both of the words "arts" and "sciences" are used. They are both used as nouns and verbs. Both as processes, and products. As well as being thought of as two distinct philosophies, and as such- imagining groups of adherers to these philosophies.

I think that the process of science attempts to come up with some objective truth that can be tested and relied upon absolutely.

I rely upon the CD player to play the CD, and that the CD will retain the encoded music that I expect it to, and not some other. It will not play someone else's music, because of some scientific laws that have been established.

But, I cannot rely upon the music coming out of the speaker to make me feel the same way I first heard it. Nor can i rely on those musicians, or any others, to play that music exactly the same way again. I say that is "art".

Theoretically, a "robot musician" that uses scientifically tested hardware and software, could play it exactly the same way every time. Further, any deliberate change to that hardware or software, would produce a predictable and reliable result. I say that is "science".

I hope this adds to the conversation, and does not derail it!

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .