I stand on the shoulders of Giants

A quote for the moment, from my biggest inspiration (full article at the link):

His boundless curiosity is instinctive. “That’s what being alive is about,” Attenborough says. “I mean, it’s the fun of it all, making sense of it, understanding it. There’s a great pleasure in knowing why trees shed their leaves in winter. Everybody knows they do, but why? If you lose that, then you’ve lost pleasure.”

He seems uncharacteristically sombre for a moment. Then he says: “I feel regret that there are some people who’ve never even savoured it. It never occurs to people to wonder why a hummingbird and a hummingbird hawkmoth do the same things. It’s a delight. So I suppose there are some people who don’t do these things and are very happy and have perfectly happy lives. Who’s to patronise them? But all I can say is that the pleasure of it all is not virtue, or high morality. It’s just fun.”

Understanding is fun. While I’ve never heard Attenborough say that explicitly before, it is a message that has resonated in my mind since I was a child.

I’m a little worried, though. An environmental science degree has given me the fundamentals required to grasp many of the natural systems I find myself surrounded by. That’s all well and good; my delight at seeing an orographic cloud formation is matched by my wonder at the senescence of autumn leaves.

The clouds were forming over the hill on the left and blowing past the town… like I learned in Geography!

The worry creeps in while I sit in my Science Communication classes. I’m getting the mental tools, now, to analyse a whole new dimension: humanity. Crash courses in philosophy of science, the media, our interactions with sound, physical objects, images and each other mean I now see theories, explanations and critical analysis everywhere I look! So why’s that a problem?

Every explanation seems to pose another question. If photosynthetic plants have evolved two distinct chemical pathways, could there be more out there? If museums are a product of social control and biased narrative, can I learn from them? If Robert Aller’s model of sediment heterogeneity doesn’t incorporate a temporal element, how damn complicated ARE sediments? When the TV producer makes a cut away from an interviewee, or closes in to a tight shot, what do they want me to think?

The questions, they never stop! It’s like I’m getting fitted out with a few sets of conceptual floaties and thrown into a raging river of knowledge.

A deluge of knowledge rushing past on all sides, begging for interpretation!

I shouldn’t complain. In my lifetime, I’ll learn and experience things that were unimaginably complex or difficult a few short generations ago. What a time to be alive and learning!

Categories: Problems, Science, Thoughts | Tags: , , | 5 Comments

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5 thoughts on “I stand on the shoulders of Giants

  1. Will Robertson

    Yes, I’ve found it a very sombering realisation that of everything you can possibly fit into your life (learning, studying, reading, watching, travelling) is only a tiny fraction of what is out there. How do you choose?

    I honestly don’t know how the giants are going to learn to stand on each other’s shoulders well enough that we don’t get bogged down with all the amazing things in the world.

    (Well, I have inklings, but I don’t know whether they are on the right track.)

  2. I think that knowledge gives you liberties to ponder deeper into the unknown, but doesn’t gives you a reprieve of it’s burden.

  3. but you always bear in mind that “fun” is a key word … so you can go on learning new things with an open mind and enthusiasm

  4. @ Will: Yes, I’ve gotten to that point since moving to London and realising just how much goes on in the world! The Glass Bead Game’s idea of academic shrines isolated from the outside world, where learning can just follow its course, suddenly seems attractive – but that, in turn, excludes all the other experiences on offer in the real, grimy world.

    @ Amryl and wherewander: Both good points. It’s a comic book line, but knowledge comes with responsibility and it can also be intoxicating. I think keeping it in perspective and maintaining the sense of wonder and enjoyment is of paramount importance!

  5. Sometimes I get overwhelmed thinking about all the things I don’t know. Then it occurs to me that I’ll definitely never get bored!


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