“A good many times I have been presented at gatherings of people who, by the standards of the traditional culture, are thought highly educated and who have with considerable gusto been expressing their incredulity at the illiteracy of scientists. Once or twice I have been provoked and have asked the company how many of them could describe the Second Law of Thermodynamics. The response was cold: it was also negative. Yet I was asking something which is about the scientific equivalent of: ‘Have you ever read a work of Shakespeare’s?’”
The other day I happened to read Wislawa Szymborska‘s Nobel Lecture. I don’t know much about her, just that she won the Nobel Prize in Literatures in 1996, and that she died in February this year. I’ll look up some of her poems, for now I’ll leave you with this quote from her lecture.
This is why I value that little phrase “I don’t know” so highly. It’s small, but it flies on mighty wings. It expands our lives to include the spaces within us as well as those outer expanses in which our tiny Earth hangs suspended. If Isaac Newton had never said to himself “I don’t know,” the apples in his little orchard might have dropped to the ground like hailstones and at best he would have stooped to pick them up and gobble them with gusto. Had my compatriot Marie Sklodowska-Curie never said to herself “I don’t know”, she probably would have wound up teaching chemistry at some private high school for young ladies from good families, and would have ended her days performing this otherwise perfectly respectable job. But she kept on saying “I don’t know,” and these words led her, not just once but twice, to Stockholm, where restless, questing spirits are occasionally rewarded with the Nobel Prize.
“I don’t know” is a little phrase I think and say quite often. So I guess I’ll do great things! 😉
I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.
from Dune by Frank Herbert
When April comes, I always think about the opening lines of T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land. And today I read another poem that also mentions this month.
by Edna St. Vincent Millay
To what purpose, April, do you return again?
Beauty is not enough.
You can no longer quiet me with the redness
Of little leaves opening stickily.
I know what I know.
The sun is hot on my neck as I observe
The spikes of crocus.
The smell of the earth is good.
It is apparent that there is no death.
But what does that signify?
Not only under ground are the brains of men
Eaten by maggots.
Life in itself
An empty cup, a flight of uncarpeted stairs.
It is not enough that yearly, down this hill,
Comes like an idiot, babbling and strewing flowers.
I wonder why this month has inspired such dark images, “life is nothing”, “an empty cup”. Poor April! Are you going to be the cruellest month?
Our tree was invaded by scientists, but a couple of “tiny” poets managed to find a way through the branches.
Shakespeare and Poe look quite nice between Darwin and Einstein.
It’s not a cruel battle of science VS literature, but a peaceful and scientifically poetic coexistence!