If you have a love of science, particularly physics, you owe it to yourself to hunt down a book or a lecture by Richard Feynman. A brilliant theoretical physicist whose career included work on the original atomic bomb, Feynman eschewed the nerdy scientist stereotype, and nowhere is that more apparent than his musings on a simple flower.
Fraser Davidson has created a beautiful animation to accompany this clip from a 1981 BBC documentary on Feynman, where he explains that a scientist can actually see far more beauty in a simple flower knowing its intricate inner workings.
I have a friend who’s an artist and has sometimes 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. Then he says “I as an artist can see how beautiful this is but you as a scientist take this all apart and it becomes a dull thing,” and I think that he’s kind of nutty. First of all, the beauty that he sees is available to other people and to me too, I believe…
I can appreciate the beauty of a flower. At the same time, I see much more about the flower than he sees. I could imagine the cells in there, the complicated actions inside, which also have a beauty. I mean it’s not just beauty at this dimension, at one centimeter; there’s also beauty at smaller dimensions, the inner structure, also the processes. The fact that the colours in the flower evolved in order to attract insects to pollinate it is interesting; it means that insects can see the colour. It adds a question: does this aesthetic sense also exist in the lower forms? Why is it aesthetic? All kinds of interesting questions which the science knowledge only adds to the excitement, the mystery and the awe of a flower. It only adds. I don’t understand how it subtracts.