Is it Possible to Use the Scientific Method to Determine if Something is Art?
Defining Art Using Science
The scientific method would seem to be a poor choice for determining whether or not a given thing is art. After all, art is subjective, whereas science concerns itself with the objective. The question of what is art has plagued philosophers since ancient times and has not been answered satisfactorily to this day. I know it pains artists to hear this, but after thousands of years the best answer still seems to be, art is what anyone person says is art, or crudely, if it is displayed in an art museum, it is art. I would never attempt to propose to answer the question what is art, and it likely has no answer. That said I do think it is possible to ask if there might be a way to determine if a thing is art or not without necessarily having to "know" what art actually is. Strangely, it seems there is at least one (highly improbable though not unimaginable) way the scientific method could be used to do this.
Before getting to the heart of my solution, there is one big challenge we face that must be addressed. It would seem to be impossible to use the scientific method to determine if a thing is art or not art, if we do not have a way of categorizing things as either art or not art "in advance" of our use of the scientific method to discover the answer. Therefore in order to accept my solution we need to accept my weak definition of art described above. If any one person calls a thing art, it is art. Presumably this solution would apply with any stronger definition of art anyone might want to suggest and no weaker answer is available, therefore my solution would cover all definitions of art that are possible. Note that this in no way implies that we have to "know" what art actually is, in order to categorize or 'define' something as art or not does not require any knowledge of the actual definition of art (if there is one) only what any one person believes is art. With that (weakest) definition in hand we can proceed to my proposed solution. First we would need to gather everything in the universe that any one person calls art (which by my definition, makes it art) into one room, everything that remains is put in a separate room. Our intrepid scientist has access to either room at any time. Once he encounters something and wants to determine if it is art or not he hypothesizes an answer. "This is art" he says or "this is not art". He tests that hypothesis by comparing the thing against the contents of both rooms. He observes which room contains that thing, and then concludes that it is art or is not art by noting which room the thing was found within. Voila, we have just used the scientific method to determine if something is art or not. What if the thing is not found in either room? you might be asking yourself. That option is not available as between the two rooms they contain everything in the universe. Simply put, their is nothing else. therefore anything the scientist might want to determine if it is art or not has to be found in one of the two rooms.
If you find it strange to believe that the scientific method could be used to answer a question like this, than congratulations you are a normal human being. It is quite strange and likely says something profound about both art and science. What exactly profound it says is a question for which I do not have an answer. At the very least it once again shows that art and science are not as diametrically opposed as most people are led to believe. Oddly many people that say things like "Einstein's theory of relativity is beautiful" will tell you that science is not art and art can't be science. There own words betray them however because to say a thing is beautiful is to say that it is art. Beauty is not a concept of science because, like art, it is ultimately subjective. However, the question of what is beautiful could be answered using the scientific method in an identical fashion to the way the question of what is art was answered above. Instead of putting what any one person says is art in one room just substitute in what any one person says is beautiful and the process is identical from there. Interesting.