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Complicated = More of Everything.
“I, a universe of atoms, an atom in the universe.”
One of the most brilliant theoretical physicists of all time, Subatomic Underworld Master and Nanotechnology Early Father, Richard Feynman, often defended his multi-dimensional understanding of life with an uncommon scientific charisma.
In a wonderful 1981 BBC interview, he explains how a scientist’s perception of even the most beautiful and romanticized elements in nature may be, in fact, more complete and, as such, more demanding on the creative muscles than the artist’s dreamy(er) understanding of it.
Motion graphic designer Fraser Davidson, takes Feynman’s words to a new level of fantastic in this animated interface to his legendary Ode to a Flower.
“I have a friend who’s an artist and he’s some times taken a view which I don’t agree with very well. He’ll hold up a flower and say, “look how beautiful it is,” and I’ll agree, I think. And he says, “you see, I as an artist can see how beautiful this is, but you as a scientist, oh, take this all apart and it becomes a dull thing.” And 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. But I can appreciate the beauty of a flower.
At the same time, I see much more about the flower that he sees. I could imagine the cells in there, the complicated actions inside which they also have a beauty. I mean, it’s not just beauty at this dimension of one centimeter: there is also beauty at a smaller dimension, the inner structure…also the processes.
The fact that the colors in the flower are evolved in order to attract insects to pollinate it is interesting — it means that insects can see the color.
It adds a question — does this aesthetic sense also exist in the lower forms that are…why is it aesthetic, all kinds of interesting questions which a science knowledge only adds to the excitement and mystery and the awe of a flower.
It only adds. I don’t understand how it subtracts.”
Here is the original, flesh version:
I must be Richard Feynman’s artist friend—or someone like him, because I can clearly remember my self-proclaimed bohemian nature regarding scientists, not so long ago, with a rather boxed-up, lab-coat respect instead of a mutual dynamic admiration, like the one I have for artists of different disciplines.
But all the various living and dead scientists stepping in and out of my mind for the past decade haven’t just successfully activated the left side of my brain, but they’ve also managed to convince me that beyond its established form, Art is essentially the Art of Being Alive. As such, it extends to any creative version of this force we call Life, in which we are all caught up, for the time being.
Enters Ricardo from another angle, hitting my nose with his ghost finger, like I do with my cat when she climbs up to the kitchen table. (You have to be gentle with cats.)
“Poets say science takes away from the beauty of the stars—mere globs of gas atoms. I too can see the stars on a desert night, and feel them. But do I see less or more? The vastness of the heavens stretches my imagination – stuck on this carousel my little eye can catch one-million-year-old light. A vast pattern—of which I am a part…
What is the pattern, or the meaning, or the why? It does not do harm to the mystery to know a little about it. For far more marvelous is the truth than any artists of the past imagined it. Why do the poets of the present not speak of it? What men are poets who can speak of Jupiter if he were a man, but if he is an immense spinning sphere of methane and ammonia must be silent?”
And once again, he sprays my thoughts with subatomic star dust that I dare call “wine” and accompany with things I call “books” in front of a thing called “fireplace” with a strange object stuck in my chest, called “heart,” that sounds like a clock and hasn’t taken one single vacation in 29 years—none of which I could possibly explain without getting drunk on metaphor.
“A poet once said, ‘The whole universe is in a glass of wine.’ We will probably never know in what sense he meant it, for poets do not write to be understood. But it is true that if we look at a glass of wine closely enough we see the entire universe. There are the things of physics: the twisting liquid which evaporates depending on the wind and weather, the reflection in the glass; and our imagination adds atoms.
The glass is a distillation of the earth’s rocks, and in its composition we see the secrets of the universe’s age, and the evolution of stars. What strange array of chemicals are in the wine? How did they come to be? There are the ferments, the enzymes, the substrates, and the products. There in wine is found the great generalization; all life is fermentation. Nobody can discover the chemistry of wine without discovering, as did Louis Pasteur, the cause of much disease.
How vivid is the claret, pressing its existence into the consciousness that watches it! If our small minds, for some convenience, divide this glass of wine, this universe, into parts—physics, biology, geology, astronomy, psychology, and so on—remember that nature does not know it! So let us put it all back together, not forgetting ultimately what it is for. Let it give us one more final pleasure; drink it and forget it all!”
He almost makes me convert to Scientism and, at a loss for any equivalent poetry, conform myself with uttering a speechless “Amen.”