feynman on beauty: in the eye of all beholders

WHAT DO YOU SEE WHEN YOU LOOK AT A FLOWER? Is the image altered by your particular point of view–whether that of an artist, scientist, or honeybee? I think it helps to be one part of each (which to me is what it means to be a gardener–to witness nature from all those perspectives at once, no?). The latest video by Canadian filmmaker Reid Gower overlays the words of the late Nobel physicist Richard Feynman with images of immeasurable beauty, and touches on those questions and more.

Reid Gower’s YouTube channel includes the other films in his series on Feynman; his “Sagan Series” (honoring Carl Sagan), and more. You can also find him on Twitter. My favorite passage from the video:

‘Science Knowledge Only Adds to the Excitement’

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. Although I may not be quite as refined aesthetically as he is … that 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 colors in the flower 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? 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.” –Richard Feynman

Here’s to cultivating curiosity, with a measure of awe, disbelief, delight–and science.

(Thanks to Maria Popova of the brilliant Brain Pickings [dot] org for alerting me to this latest video of Gower’s.)

Categorieswoo woo
  1. itchbay says:

    Oh, thank you for bringing this to my attention! How lovely, and how true! My appreciation of the beauty of my garden includes all the facets, not just physical beauty, but the functionality, and the miracle of life in every square inch — even the parts I don’t necessarily like.

  2. Kelly Ash says:

    When gardening I often forget about all that the flower goes through to make such a lovely show, and the intricate processes that go on behind the scenes. I am focused so much more on the physical aspects (planting, watering, etc) that I forget how miraculous plants really are.

    Watching this video made me remember all the work that the plant does to create its blooms, and that just makes it more beautiful.

    Thank you for this reminder! :)

  3. Scot says:

    Very cool video, Margarat! Feynman is one of my favorites. It’s cool to look at his words from a gardener’s perspective. I shared this with my twitter peeps, too (@lochnessponds).

    You may have already read it, but it sounds like you would enjoy the book
    “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! (Adventures of a Curious Character).”


  4. sally says:

    Dr. Feynman was a natural wonder himself: smart, funny and very charming.
    I had the pleasure of meeting him through a friend that teaches at Caltech.
    And I agree on that book recommendation!

  5. Lorie Johansen says:

    Thank you for continually enlightening all of us with your wisdom through all those who admire you. Mr. Feyman so understands us garden geeks who admire honey bees feasting on our Surinam cherries and not minding sharing — at all.

    I first met you while getting a pedicure in a Vista, CA salon and reading the MORE magazine. I was so inspired that I had to visit you website….and have been a fan ever since.

    Thank you for sharing your woo-woo whenever you feel like it.


    (someone who also left the frenetic world and found happiness in being grounded in gardening)

    1. Margaret says:

      How kind you are, Lori, to stop and tell me how we “met” (tee hee) and your story. Thank you so much.

      And Sally — what a treat you had to meet him! I promise to order the book RIGHT NOW. Thank you, and please both come say hello again soon.

  6. Daisy Marshall says:

    And thank you again for continuing to enrich my world. How very beautiful and enlightening! I walked in the store today to be greated by the most beautiful bouquets of tulips, such magnificent colors you haven’t seen (well, you probably have) but they took me back a bit. Of course this is no garden scene but it sure lifts the spirits in our closed environment. I loved the peony show I just got last week, since that is my favorite of all and they don’t grow here. I can’t get enough of them when I visit my sister in Boston, such heavy blooms they kiss the ground. Thank you, thank you Margaret.

  7. Pat says:

    I can understand Dr. Feynman’s position and I respect the incredibly important knowledge he shares with us. He is a blessing and should view the beauty in his own way. He lives in the world of science, searching for facts. Vital to us all. However, there is the otherside. I don’t think Wordsworth was analyzing the daffodils when he wrote that magnificent poem. The sight of that field of daffodils struck his soul and his creativity was sparked. It’s like when most of us see a painting or drawing that touches us, we don’t stop to think about what the artist went through in creating that artwork. When we hear a piece of music that moves our soul to happiness or beauty, we don’t analyze what the composer went through to make it come to life. It’s very important to understand and nurture the plants and know what they need to survive, but if I see a field or even a single flower, I need peace, and to rest my eyes on it, and breathe in it’s beauty in my own simple way, for I also don’t know the meaning or the origins of life. I’m just so thankful the flowers and plants are here.
    Thank you for sharing the video.

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