The Poetry of Science

A while back I picked a book up for my daughter. Although she’s still way too young for it, I thought it would be a good book for her to have when she got old enough, and curious enough. The book is The Magic of Reality by Stephen Richard Dawkins (beautifully illustrated by Dave McKean). I got her this book for the same reason that Santa brought us a telescope for Christmas, I want her to grow up with a sense of the magic and beauty of the world around her, and in awe and wonder of the skies above her. I also want her to grow up with a definite appreciation of how thinking and reason can reveal things that are even more awesome, magical, beautiful, and wonderful.

For a small child, maintaining that sense of wonder is pretty easy; there’s still a sense of novelty to everything they experience. For us, on the other hand, its much more difficult. We fall into the rut of our own lives and seldom seek out experiences that remind us of what a fascinating universe we live in. This past year, thankfully, its been harder than usual to ignore, with news of super-luminal neutrinos that defy the laws of modern physics and the discovery (maybe) of the “God” particle. But in case you need a little more reminding, here’s a video of a conversation between two great minds, Richard Dawkins, evolutionary biologist and skeptic, and Neil deGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist, talking about the “Poetry of Science.”

I know this video is a bit on the long side, but I highly recommend giving, at least a bit of it, a watch. It is a true pleasure to see these two incredibly intelligent men speak of science and the understanding of our universe, our world, and ourselves, so beautifully.

Like standing in front of an impressively designed building, or reading the words of a great writer, listening to Dawkins and Tyson should serve as a reminder of what we, as human beings can be capable of. Although it may sometimes seem that we are wasting away in front of reality television, listening in on this conversation should remind us that all is nowhere near lost. There are still some of us out here thinking our way through life.

Not to mention that, as one of the video commenters stated, this really is “comfort food for the brain.”



20 thoughts on “The Poetry of Science

  1. Wonderful perspective. And when your daughter is old enought to understand, she will certainly appreciate your having done this for her. Thanks for sharing your perspective and the video. It is vitally important that we open our minds not only to things that are, but also to all that could be. Happy New Year to you and yours!


  2. I’ve been a Dawkins fan since I read The Selfish Gene 30 years ago. He’s an amazingly lucid thinker and I never get tired of reading his insights. I wish my parents had been able to give me a Dawkins book when I was a kid, but I don’t think Dawkins had written any quite yet.

    • Thanks for the comment and you’re right… I’ve loved Dawkins for a very long time, as well. There’s just something about the way that he expresses himself that communicates not only incredible intelligence and ability to argue soundly, but a real delight in the process of coming to understand the world.

  3. Kristen thanks for the tip…I’ll check out that book for my daughter (as well as myself). I too want her to learn about the world and universe around her. She already has numerous children’s books on the subject, a leapfrog tag reader universe book, and even glow-in-the-dark star and planet sticker son her ceiling. Also the reason I named her Celeste.

    Glad to hear your thoughts are similar!!!

      • I have a profound respect for science and scientists. And Dawkins is great scientist. But his militant atheism is, well, a real turn off. It just seems like a personal crusade as side show. Scientist should stick with science. Hearing Dawkins talk about religion gives me the same “he’s got an agenda” feeling I get when I hear a priest talk about politics. Spare me.

        • I gotta say that I don’t mind the atheism at all. It seems that every system of Belief has its multitude of spokesmen, why not non-belief? The idea that “scientists should stick with science,” or “priests should stick to religion” for that matter, seems somehow contrary to human nature. We are complex beings with the ability to hold a multitude of ideas and interests.

          And although yes, I get irritated when priests/pastors/etc. involve themselves in religion, I quickly realize that why shouldn’t they? I mean, even the US Catholic Conference of Bishops puts out an annual political report (which I found surprising and even at times unexpected when I read it).

          Atheism, specially in today’s anti-intellectual, anti-rational culture that we’ve cultivated here, needs its spokesmen, and who better than a well-educated, respected scientist who is firm in his belief (or non-belief, as it were)?

  4. I think dogma of any flavor may be harmful to wonder. It’s the difference between ‘militant’ ways of thinking and opening up to ‘myriad’ ways of thinking. Science and mysticism do not have to be mutually exclusive. Technology allows us to go beyond our senses and maybe mysticism allows us to go beyond our technology.

    • I think anyone that becomes too entrenched in any belief system closes themselves off to all that becomes possible through questioning. That’s the problem with dogmatism. The difference between science and religion is that science is grounded in the belief in the necessity of questions. No questions, no science. Science allows for change. Religion, in general, does not.

      That being said, I think religion can also provide wonder. Ecstatic saints like Theresa of Avila, Hildegard of Bingen, Mary Magdalene de Pazzi, etc. epitomize the potential that deep spiritually has in allowing us to transcend the ordinary. Same can be seen in the hagiographies of certain Buddhist monks, Sufis, etc.

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