Science and beauty
Deep science coexists with art; it has its own beauty; it adds beauty to the world. My most memorable teacher, Richard Feynman, expressed it so well. Though I can’t find the long quote I wished to find, which was from a friendly argument with an artist who claimed that science diminished the wonder of nature. A related passage is in the absorbing book, Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman. On page 161 are the sentences:
“I wanted to convey an emotion I have about the beauty of the world. It’s difficult to describe because it’s an emotion. It’s analogous to the feeling one has in religion that has to do with a god who controls everything in the whole universe.: there’s a generality aspect that you feel when you think about how things that appear so different and behave so differently are all run ‘behind the scenes’ by the same organization, the same physical laws. It’s an appreciation of the mathematical beauty of nature, of how she works inside; a realization that the phenomena we see result from the complexity of the inner workings between atoms; a feeling of how dramatic and wonderful it is.”
Much lesser scientist that I am, I have had similar conversations on science affecting the appreciation of nature. When someone says that I should see the beauty of an autumnal forest for what it is, rather than calling up all the things I’ve learned about the scientific phenomena going on in that forest, I retort that this adds to my appreciation, and it might to his or hers, also. I imagine the intricate and beautiful workings of photosynthesis, evolved over billions of years, tying so many organisms together, tying into the history of the very rocks whose chemical natures are tied to the oxygen liberated over those billions of year…and even a deep, dark side, more spine-tingling than ancient legends or modern fabulous stories – how uncountable cyanobacteria nearly ended life on Earth by causing Snowball Earth and how they and their oxygen, waste as it was to them, makes iron such a rare and prized element for living cells. Those leaves are not pixels in my vision. They lie in many dimensions.
I’ve added here my personal account of Feynman, presented to a civic club; it’s threaded into my own life from early childhood to now. It’s a 5 MB pptx.
A smaller chunk: an appreciation of chlorophyll
On the site Research Gate, a topic that pops up now and then is, Why are plants green? There are so many levels of answers. I focused on the singular nature of the molecule that could do it all: absorb solar radiation in the region with most power, be stable chemically, have electronic (well, rovibronic/electronic) states that internally merge the energy absorbed in the blue and in the red, retain a high-energy state stable against rapid decay to heat or to useless triplets, pass energy to other chlorophyll neighbors….and, of course, be able to be made by biochemical pathways. If there are other molecules with such a stunning array of properties, I don’t know about them. I’ve linked here a short and dense note that I put on Research Gate around 2011, as I recall.