Richard Feynman on the Beauty of Being Complicated.

 

{Richard Feynman / Via Tumblr}

{Richard Feynman / Via Tumblr}

“I, a universe of atoms, an atom in the universe.”

~ Richard Feynman

 

Is a flower the same thing to an artist, as to a scientist? How about to a dog, or a bee? Is a flower still a flower when smelled by a cat? What if the cat can only define it with a meow? Is a flower then, “meow”? Does beauty only have one face? One eye? One definition? If so, which will it be?

Dear Art, there’s Science written all over your back. We brought a scientist to “prove” it.   

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.

 

Richard Feynman – Ode To A Flower from Fraser Davidson.

“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.”

 

The original recording:

 

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, asphyxiating respect instead of a mutual dynamic admiration, like the kind 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.

 

the-first-principle

Enters Ricardo from another angle:

“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?”

Ouch…

Since when have Art and Science gotten divorced? Since when has Complicated started being synonymous with hard-to-grasp, boring, misunderstood, unnecessary?

Isn’t being alive itself the most complicated phenomenon in existence? Heck — it’s existence itself!

Do you realize all that needs to happen for you to even be reading this paragraph? Your eye alone has over 130 million light-sensitive rods-shaped cells that convert light into chemical impulses, which in turn signal it to the brain at a rate of a billion per second, which finally interprets the information, and delivers the “image” you actually (think) you see.

There’s an incredibly complex orchestration taking place in just a tiny part of your body — perfectly aligned and synchronized with countless others simultaneous operations, forming an entire ecosystem that needs to function optimally for you to be able to perform the simplest tasks. If your heart stopped beating, just once in 30, 40, 60, 80 years of life…just once…you’d be in serious trouble.

The question is not, why so complicated? The question is…what do you mean by “simple”? 

If you look at the mess we’ve made of things for the past century (and I’d extend that to the entire millennium), you’ll notice that this fundamental separation between everything that we are, know and do — extends far beyond Art and Science. It’s probably been raining on us since the Middle Ages, when mind, body and soul became official enemies. The first Renaissance did its thing to reunite us with our wholeness, but it was seduced by Unlimited Progress, the Don Juan of death and mass (self) destruction.

And voila, here we are, exhausted after so much arguing with ourselves — finally realizing that, as Hippocrates (The Grandfather of Medicine), so beautifully put it, 2,000 years ago — before any of us were dreamed into existence, “There is one common flow, one common breathing, all things are in sympathy.” 

As Mr. Feynman, once again, raised his glass:

“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!”

So the more you know the more you realize the little that you know? Is this where both — our Art and Science should humbly meet and kiss?

William Blake seems to echo it in one of his most quoted stanzas:

“To see the world in a grain of sand,
and to see heaven in a wild flower,
hold infinity in the palm of your hands,
and eternity in an hour.”

Time for a whole, more infinite and complicated Neo-Renaissance? 

 

*****

 

{Complicated = More of Everything}

 

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Andrea Balt
Co-Founder/Editor-in-Chief of Rebelle Society, Wellness Alchemist at Rebelle Wellness & Professional Dream Chaser at Creative Rehab. Unfinished book with a love for greens, bikes and poetry; raised by wolves & adopted by people; not trying to make art but to Be Art. Holds a BA in Journalism & Mass Communication, an MFA in Creative Writing & a Holistic Health Coach degree from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition®. In her work she tries to reflect the wholeness of the human experience by combining Art & Health + Mind & Body + Darkness & Brilliance into a more alive, unabridged and unlimited edition of ourselves. She is also on a quest to reinstate Creativity as one of our essential Human Rights to (hopefully and soon) be included in the UN Declaration. Connect with her in the Social Media Jungle via Facebook, Twitter & Instagram and sign up for her FREE MuseLetter.

14 Comments

  • Mamaste
    Mamaste commented on September 2, 2013 Reply
    Another winner, A. Once more “the more you realize, the little you know.” Happy Monday! xoxo ~Mamaste
  • Bob Weisenberg commented on September 2, 2013 Reply
    Wonderful article, Andrea. I love how you blended the great quotes with your own insights. Reminds me of how, in a effort to show that literally everything is infinitely wondrous, I once wrote the following: “What about a paper clip? In many ways a paper clip is as wondrous as a galaxy. To begin with, like the galaxy, a paper clip consists of millions and millions of things (molecules, atoms, and the even smaller quarks) interacting with each other in complex ways. Then consider what happens to all these tiny elements and how they have to interact with each other. They’re not spinning around an axis like the stars in a galaxy, but, then again, a galaxy can’t bend and spring back into shape like a paper clip can. If you were small enough to stand on the nucleus of an atom within a paper clip, it would be a lot like standing on earth surrounded by stars. Now, consider what it took to design and make that paper clip–the metallurgy and engineering that led to the precise formulation of just the right flex, the mines that had to be dug to extract the raw materials, the processing plants that transformed the raw materials into the right metal, the machines that had to be designed and built to manufacture thousands of paper clips a minute. Somewhere in the world, there is a person who is an expert in paper clips, for whom the whole world revolves around the design and manufacture of paper clips. He or she can tell you the entire history of the development of the paper clip, and what people did before there were paper clips, and who invented it, and what are the advantages and disadvantages of all the different possible designs and materials for paper clips, and the future of the paper clip, and where we go from here, etc. etc. Convinced yet? In reality, everything within our perception is utterly fantastical and pretty much unfathomable. If a paper clip is wondrous, is not everything wondrous? What’s surprising is that we are not in a continual state of gaga just perceiving whatever is in front of us at any given moment. Really, living is like walking though an incredible kaleidoscope. Consciousness would be like a perpetual hallucination if we didn’t have automatic mechanisms for just getting used to the pure wonder of what we see, hear, and feel. But instead, most of the time we are simply oblivious to it.” (from “Yoga Demystified” http://bit.ly/10sd3eR ) –Bob W.
  • Bob Weisenberg commented on September 2, 2013 Reply
    (It would be great if you could allow paragraphing in the comments here, so comments like the one above would be more readable. –Bob)
  • Bob Weisenberg commented on September 2, 2013 Reply
    Posting this great article to Best of Yoga Philosophy. Bob W. Editor
  • Victoria Erickson commented on September 3, 2013 Reply
    Oooh I love this!!!!
  • Jason Kirin commented on September 9, 2013 Reply
    Well put. Firstly – have you encountered the graphic novel based on Feynman’s life? It’s quite an experience (http://www.amazon.com/Feynman-Jim-Ottaviani/dp/1596438274). Secondly – this concept you’re writing about has great familiarity in our home; I am a writer and, professionally, I am an interpreter for the Deaf. My professional life and private life are, essentially, exercises in constantly turning one language into a another. My partner is a scientist; specifically she is a chemist. At her company she is currently either working on some form of paint to prevent corrosion on the scale of large boats or fighting the nature of entropy by working on a paint that converts heat into electricity. Her and I do the best that we can to understand and connect with each other’s, so to speak, crafts; she learns some ASL and some poetic concepts and I study molecules and chemical reactions etc. Recently we’ve been working on her finding the most accessible route from science to poetry and back again; her poems reflect grand potential as she crafts these strange cathedral concepts from one field of study and back again… It’s brilliant; without realizing these two arts are somehow separated she has immersed herself in the building of bridges between them. The esemplastic nature of poetry has science grafted into its roots – I’m grateful that you’ve seen it too.
  • Aminda R Courtwright commented on September 9, 2013 Reply
    ahhh I do agree on some level. But I must say I once dated a man who “took everything apart” and it wasn’t that he did it, it was when he did it. Sometimes when hiking he would go on about the strata of the rocks or the types of trees or well anything and it’s not that I don’t think those things are important or even fascinating but sometimes, sometimes I just want for things to BE.. it’s not that I see more or less beauty or that anyone does, but for ME sometimes the experience of just being with something and not asking more of it is a much needed break for my analytical mind. Certainly there is immense beauty in all the inner workings of everything…but sometimes I just want it to just be what it is in that moment without thinking any further. :D
    • Bob Weisenberg commented on September 9, 2013 Reply
      Good point, Aminda. Definitely a time for right brain and a time for left brain, although the best is when they seem to meld into one another. I have that experience in improvising flamenco. I’ll spend a lot of time breaking down all the possibilities one-by-one, but the goal is to forget about all that and just let it fly. Bob W.
  • Cameron Shayne commented on September 10, 2013 Reply
    Oh how lovely and complicated you are A :)
  • piers ede commented on September 10, 2013 Reply
    This is great writing. Seems to celebrate the deconstructionist tendencies of the human mind: the constant measuring and calibrating of things, by which we seek to know the source of all. Then I think of Buddha and the flower sermon, in which he held up a single stem in a silent yet explosive teaching of the nature of reality. Ultimately, the source of all beauty is here, now and inherent in all things. As soon as we dive into meaning we are simply moving further away…..
  • Richard Wall commented on September 12, 2013 Reply
    Yoga, at least for me, is a ancient science of the human condition. In that frame it works well, produces results, predicts outcomes, and provides comforts and even hope. It has picked up some baggage in 5000 years, but endlessly protean, evolves and continues. It speaks nothing substantive about the quantum reality below us, nothing substantive of the big bang before us, for those “micro/macro-cosms” are written best in the language of mathematics. It may point us towards those cosmic realities, but tells us very little in fact, indeed almost nothing. Natural human language often fails to clearly describe what the math and experiments tell us is true. Language is a “formal” system itself, and can thus lead naturally to paradox according to the theorems of mathematician Kurt Goedel. The zen koan is the height of such expression. Paradoxical. Mind bending. Truth. Yoga too should be a bit of a paradox, a formal system which leads our minds and bodies to moments of confusion, out of which come some of the most brilliant insights of the human condition.
  • Richard Wall commented on September 12, 2013 Reply
    Science and Art are not divorced, they just agreed to live in separate houses.

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