Poetry and Science

Here we are, I think it’s time to tell you something that I have been keeping back. I don’t write these and post them immediately. There’s often editing and stuff to do. And that takes me a ridiculous amount of time. There is also the fact that I want to keep posting at regular intervals. So these posts don’t always come out at the time I wrote them. For instance, by the time my first set of posts went up I’d already bought my first set of Magic: The Gathering cards.

And boy was I wrong about them being a children’s game. It is one of those things like the Rubik’s cube. It looks like a children’s toy but it really isn’t. Speaking of which I bought a Rubik’s tetrahedron recently. It’s a fun puzzle. I’d highly recommend it if you are into that type of thing. The cubes’ algorithm starts repeating after 4x4x4 cubes. And then it is no fun.

A lot of people like to get Rubik’s cube solutions online. I have never understood the point of that. Isn’t that a little buying a trophy from a gift shop. I mean, what is the point of that?

Anyway, I like to look at familiar things in an unfamiliar way. It is really fun. For instance, I have a plant, he’s a peace lily, I call him Steve. I was thinking about Steve the other day. As humans, we have certain facts about our biologies that we tend extrapolate over to other organisms.

Like, I used to think unconsciously that plants come from the earth. In that their material bulk is made up of things they get from their roots. I mean humans eat solid food to build their bodies so it is tempting to assume that plants build themselves out of solids. But it was recently pointed out to me that that is not true. Plants, it seems, are made from air.

Yup, I am sure you see it now. Plants take in carbon through carbon dioxide in the air. They use it to make sugar and cellulose and all that good stuff. They get water from earth but they get their carbon content comes from the air around us!

So in a sense, plants are made from air. That is quite cool to me.

There are many people who say that understanding something scientifically can take away a thing’s beauty. For instance, the poet Keats often lamented about how Newton took away the beauty of the rainbow with his theories of light.

But my beliefs in this matter are more akin to Feynman, who said that scientific knowledge only adds to beauty by allowing a person access to it at different scales.

It seems pretty obvious to me. I mean clearly, I can still access the aesthetic appeal of the peace lilies. And additionally, I can also admire at the poetry of the fact that something as beautiful as a flower can come out of thin air, so to speak.

‘Poetry in science’, are words that not many think fit together. There is a popular misconception about the fact that science has to do with disciplined method while art has more to do with creativity.

Why do we think that? I don’t know. But it doesn’t surprise me given that what learn in the name of science in school is a bunch of things that have already been discovered.

That is, of course, necessary. Kids should be able to appreciate and understand the world around them that generations of wisdom have discovered and invented. But is that really doing science?

It is rare indeed to meet a scientist who would just accept a fact just because someone told it to them, even a book! Science is about asking questions. And yes following up on those questions with discipline and rigor. You need a lot of creativity in trying to come up with a good hypothesis to explain a bizarre set of experiments that seem to make no sense. Just like it takes a lot of creativity to write that piece of music you love.

We do a disservice by saying that art and science are different. Does it not takes years of training and discipline to play sarod or learning to paint? Of course, it does. Good art makes a person question things. The same is true of good science.

I suppose it is easier at times to stereotype and we are all guilty of that from time to time, myself included. But is it really fair to say that an artist doesn’t have the discipline or that science doesn’t involve creativity? Probably not.

But as always, this about asking your opinion. Do you think science and art are different or do you think they are the same? Let me know!
“To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.”
-A Fragment from the Auguries of Innocence By William Blake




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