Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Making of a Sciencey Person

I have a friend who is an artist, and he sometimes takes a view which I don't agree with. He'll hold up a flower and say, "Look how beatiful it is," and I'll agree. But then he'll say, "I, as an artist, can see how beautiful a flower is. But you, as a scientist, takes it all apart and it becomes dull." I think he's kind of nutty.

First of all, the beauty that he sees is available to other people-and to me, too, I believe. Although I might not be quite as refined aesthetically as he is, I can appreciate the beauty of a flower. But at the same time, I see much more in the flower than he sees. I can imagine the cells inside, which also have a beauty. There's beauty not just at the dimension of one centimeter; there's also beauty at a smaller dimension.

There are the complicated actions of the cells, and other processes. The fact that the colours in the flowers have evolved in order to attract insects to pollinate it is interesting; that means insects can see all the colours. That adds a question: does this aesthetic sense we have also esxist in lower forms of life? There are all sorts of interesting questions that come from a knowledge of science, which only adds to the excitement and mystery and awe of a flower.

It only adds. I don't understand how it subtracts.

 -Excerpt from 'What do YOU care what people think?' by Richard P. Feynman

The short excerpt was taken from the a book compiled from the memoirs and interviews with Richard Feynman. He is sort of a hero to me, representing everything I've wanted and still hope to be.

The main reason I felt like sharing the extract was because a lot of people, I'm sure have a certain preset notion about the 'Sciencey' breed of people in the world. We're supposed to be boring, dull people who spend the rest of their days cooped up in some lab somewhere. We take everything apart, so there's really nothing left to appreciate. So it really struck a chord with me when he says, "It only adds (beauty). I don't understand how it subtracts".

A good friend of mine once told me that as a kid, he would gawk in awe at the rainbows in the sky. They has an ethereal, magical property to them. Then progressing up the ranks of study, science broke down the beautiful rainbows into nothing more than the refraction of light through water particles acting as lenses. In that sense, it removed the mystery, the wonder of something you didn't understand.

But then again, after the rain has fallen, I still look up to the sky, hoping to catch a glimpse of the multi-hued arches in the sky. I understand how a rainbow is formed. I understand it on a deeper level than the average passerby. It's almost like an exclusive secret I can keep to myself. It is still magical, it is still beautiful.

It only adds. I don't understand how it subtracts.

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