One day, a narrator who looks a lot like physicist Tony Poe (El Masnou, 1977) saw a video in which Italo Calvino claims that the best prose writer in Italian history is… Galileo! From here while you are reading If the finger points to the moon (Anagrama), becoming obsessed with the Italian scientist’s look, goes to Florence to see one of his first telescopes and decides to go to the Atacama Desert, where there is one of the main telescopes on the planet, to search by purpose a replica, and find out what Galileo would have seen before questioning all science today. In the middle, he builds a story that parallels science with artistic creativity.
It is a novel that does not seem.
You’ve used resources, style, and method to do things that look more like a report or facts. Literary methods are often used to do journalism. If the reader were to be more calm, I could say that I was in Florence, in the Atacama … and I try to show it, because there are things so well documented, so real, so accurate, and this patina of truth gives them credibility. There are things that are true and others that are not, because it is a novel.
So you’re not so clumsy that you’re about to kill two copies of Galileo’s telescopes?
Not in principle, ha ha! Narrator I’m not much.
Was it difficult for you to distinguish the narrator from yourself then?
Yes, it cost me. It’s easier to use a character that looks like you, because you don’t have to think too much, you don’t have to build a psyche or anything, and you might think I took the easy way, and I accept that, but that’s how I look to write more natural, to put myself in a point of view closer to me Even though I distort the character and make him do and say things I wouldn’t. It’s also one of the reasons why there are people who believe that everything happened point by point as I tell.
At the end of the day, it’s all about finding your subject: When you find it and feel a click inside you, everything flows.”
But Galileo did not make up a fantasy, he explains the scientific fact.
Yes, but he also wrote poetry and plays, some seemingly very poor literary attempts, with curiosity. Later, when he wrote about the things that mattered to him, he did so well, and finding a style so natural to him, he searched for the truth. He was trying to figure out how the world works, and he was interested in how natural phenomena work. This seems to have excited him so much that when he wrote it came out much better than any other source of inspiration. At the end of the day, it’s all about finding your theme: When you find it and feel a click inside of you, everything flows.
As in science the important thing is the result, in the arts the process has more value.
The artist goes through a process of exploration, and in the end there is an outcome that depends a lot on the process. In science the result is what remains, but perhaps we have focused too much on the value of the results, which is also always temporary. During the pandemic itself, it may not have been well understood how science, its process, so enriching and so creative, which responds to the same feelings or human characteristics as art, such as inspiration, stubbornness, the importance of the ego, and the very human dynamics of science are also on the agenda.
There are no lone geniuses, but the work of great teams and cooperation from different countries.”
But with teamwork.
Of course, it did not happen in Galileo’s time, it was the most romantic age of science, which arrived at the beginning of the twentieth century at the latest, with great geniuses quite alone although they also communicated with each other. Galileo, Newton, and Einstein … Today there are no longer isolated geniuses, they work in large teams, cooperation from several countries, experiments are increasingly complex, requiring larger structures …
This can often be seen in the description of the Atacama telescope, the “perfect machine”.
It’s amazing. When you think of a telescope, you think of a tube through which you can look up and see something a little larger, but today’s telescopes are a remarkable engineering feat…
There is not even a picture…
There is a picture, but it is not seen by your eyes, but by computers. Additionally, in what computers capture, there are also colors from the spectrum not seen by the human eye, which is a big advance, and there are often more graphs than just a picture.
The pictures we see everywhere are kind of artistic recreation, right?
Yes, I think the only real image in recent years, which has also been processed, is that of a black hole. It is quite real, although there is a combination of different lights that are not visible to the eyes. The ones we see are images made with scientific data, but they are not like the photo.
It is an art that tries to teach what we cannot see very well.
Clear. This reminds me of what Galileo did: he saw the moon in a somewhat flawed form and since he had a pictorial background, he determined that it was mountains, craters, and valleys…and he painted it well. It’s simple yet very clear graphics. Use artistic expression to show something no one else could see at the time. It’s actually the same thing that’s happening now, although today they are huge machines collecting millions of gigabytes of data and millions of hours of monitoring and there are some artists who are entire studios that paint. But it is basically the same thing, looking at something that you find imperfect and not clear and interpreting it according to the scientific and technical knowledge you have.
Galileo used an artistic expression to show something that no one could see at the time”
However, he does not explain in the book what he sees through the replica he built for the Galileo telescope in the Atacama…
Because it is precisely a book that emphasizes the process of scientific research. And the book, deep down, is also an investigation of the process, because so much has changed in preparation, in the course of writing. The scientific process must be evaluated in order to understand that science, the humanities, and artistic creativity are very similar things. In the end, what the narrator, and thus the reader, might see, is not of interest to me.
But how was the experience, captivating or perhaps no big deal?
In the book I aim for a little: in the end everything is a range of gray. We want to embellish everything, but in the end, things are neither extreme nor are they. When the narrator has doubts, he comes to say: if you see an image that is too clear it will have no advantage, and if you see an image that is not quite clear, it will be a stratospheric catastrophe … the complexity and richness of these investigations.
Where does the money come from to be able to travel a lot? It doesn’t have to be cheap…
I made these trips out of my own pocket. At a specific time, not after six months, as in the book. I paid for it in Atacama myself, and they helped me not from an economic point of view but from a logistical one. In acknowledging that something really matters, not only can a person go to it, but they have to find you a place to sleep, and they have to bring water, even if it seems like an Asian luxury then. But it is all self-financing.
He cites plenty of artists and scholars, but are the reflections behind that ones he learns along the way or has he already done it before or after?
I’ve had a series of experiences during my travels, and I’ve had some readings, but by the time the book was put together, everything was put into place and I continued to explore all these issues during the writing process, which was like artistic exploration: you start with an idea that interests you but you don’t know exactly how it’s going to end . And in the process, I’ve been correlating the pieces I’ve been reading and putting them into a narrative thread that makes sense to build a discourse about what I want to say.
And what did he mean?
This idea is expressed in a very simple way: sciences, humanities or artistic creativity are more similar activities than we think.
When constructing hypotheses, the aesthetic criterion was very important “
For some time, there has been a lot of talk about the aesthetics of science, about how scientific formulas should be aesthetic, because if they are not, they may not be so good…
It actually comes from the Greeks, the relationship between truth, beauty and simplicity, like a triangle. This vision now has many critics, but until the middle of the twentieth century it was used. Those we consider to be the great scholars of history, especially people who have devoted themselves to physics, have often used beauty as an argument for choosing one proposition or another. Then, experiments should also be carried out, but when building hypotheses, the aesthetic criterion was very important. It has a basis, which is that often the beauty of a scientific theory lies in its simplicity, in the ability to explain very different and diverse things with very few resources, and in its depth is the goal of science. The Pythagorean theorem, for example, explains all of the triangles that exist and can exist. Science wants to make this synthesis. There is now some criticism of this very aesthetic view, because there are scholars who say that nature does not necessarily have to be beautiful, nor does it have to meet our aesthetic standards, in nature’s most intimate functions, and therefore it is not. valid standard. I think it has a certain degree of validity if I understand it as an expression of simplicity.
The Catalan version, here