Allow me a season of wild ramblings, a rag-bag collection of random thoughts that have momentarily coalesced in my mind.
Goethe once wrote “Science arose from poetry – when times change, the two can meet again on a higher level as friends.”
I spend much of my lab time telling stories to my students. Fiction is powerful since it can clothe fact in a pretty dress or at least, passable make-up. On the other hand, the anecdotal story can be crashingly dull. “You drop a mass from a tower, but ignore air resistance. Who the hell do you think you are, Galileo? You shoot an arrow from a cliff 200 metres above ground, at an angle of 37.5 degrees to the horizontal, and want to know the horizontal distance travelled before the projectile hits the water. Or ground. Or swampy marshland. A fiction. No one in recorded history has ever cared how long it takes the arrow to reach the ground or how far it goes. I’ve been doing professional physics for over 30 years, man and boy, and I have never ever found a use for this. In fact, far from having shot an arrow in anger, as my robust ancestor might have done at Agincourt, I’ve never even shot one in a fit of pique, and can’t ever imagine in my right mind wanting to shoot an innocent fisherman on a boat who, like Harold at Hastings, happened to look up at just the wrong moment.
Not all stories are quite as awful. Richard Feynman – allegedly a ladies’ man – wrote a superb illustration about refraction using the idea of a lifeguard on a beach having to first run then swim to reach a drowning maiden in the shortest possible time. I’ve written a kiddie version here if you’re interested.
Some would argue that the culinary art is the most refined form of scientific poetry. Those who suggest that cooking is nothing more than applied chemistry plus good timing have some way to go to qualify as human beings; most of us equipped with a soul can become lyrical about food. The image is of a mushroom. Not just any mushroom, but the king of Umbrian fungi, Boletus Edulis, described by Antonio Carluccio as the wild mushroom par excellence, one that gnomes would be proud to sit on, so easy to tell stories about.
Can’t you almost feel its antioxidant properties doing you good, were you able to afford to either buy some or truffle them out in woodland, wearing green wellies?
Thanks to BB for the train of thought.