Scientists against Purists

Scientists against Purists

Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727) examining the nature of light with the aid of a prism

In 1667 the formidable and restless Isaac Newton put his two prisms in different positions.

The room for the experiment was in almost total darkness, it had only a small hole through which sunlight would enter.

The sunbeam did its work, passed through one of the two crystalline objects.

The Astro King had revealed the magic of the rainbow by breaking up the light in the spectrum of colors.

With the second prism he proved that when the white light breaks down the colors were generated, the iconic celestial symbol lost some of its mythical charm.

Incidentally, Newton only promoted 7 colors out of the total. It is curious, sometimes I think that since he was a scientist that had a degree of mysticism and the mind of an alchemist, he chose that number because it’s “special.”

So far so good but … Almost a century later the extraordinary romantic poet John Keats cursed as often as he could this scientific experiment.

His poem Lamia of 1820 reads as follows:

“There was an awful rainbow once in heaven:
We know her woof, her texture; she is given
In the dull catalogue of common things.
Philosophy will clip an Angel’s wings,
Conquer all mysteries by rule and line,
Empty the haunted air, and gnomed mine –
Unweave a rainbow, as it erewhile made…”

Here we have two great thinkers and two postures.

I will try to relate this two points of views through what I consider to be a good example.

First we have Johannes Vermeer van Delft.

One of the greatest painters of all time.

His mastery of light was unparalleled, almost magical.

Each of his magnificent works consisted of a beautiful and exquisite composition and his painting technique allowed him to create a photographic representation on each canvas never achieved before.

However it is speculated that to achieve these tonalities and the perfection of each painting, he used as working tool optic lenses to make each painting.

In the documentary of “Tim’s Vermeer” (very interesting and inspiring regardless of topic), the billionaire and genius Tim Jenison addresses the issue of how Vermeer’s paintings were supposed to be created.

It took him four years of his life to perfectly recreate Vermeer’s painting “The Music Lesson”.

With this experiment he was able to prove that Vermeer was not only a wonderful artist but also a sensational scientist and that he possibly combined both concepts.

Richard Feynman won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1965.

It is said that he had a poet friend (not as great as Keats of course,) and during a talk with him the controversy around science and its philosophy to unravel the mysteries of life arose .

The writer reproached the physicist that, “while artists admire beauty in a flower, scientists dissect it into a lifeless object.”

Feynman closed the conversation with an excellent reflection:

“The knowledge of science only enlarges the interest, the mystery, the wonder and the beauty that produces a flower”,

In short, knowing a flower in the background of its totality does not prevent the appreciation of its beauty, just as learning acoustics does not diminish the appreciation of my beloved “The Four Seasons” by Vivaldi.

Many experiments or scientific positions are like works of art and in many of them the wonder of the expression and fineness of human thought can be valued.

It is like talking about Einstein’s Time and Space concept or seeing the incredible images that Hubble sends us, both works take our breath away one way or another.

What is relevant is something that Einstein himself recognized in other terms but I will use my own word to express it: what makes the difference between science and the purism of life is that it is not absolutely necessary the existence of someone like Bohr, Mendel, or Newton to decipher life or the universe, eventually someone would accomplish it, but nothing ever will compare to a of Tchaikovsky´s composition for example, or appreciating Rembrandt’s “The Night Watch” or be speechless when contemplating Roman or Venetian art.

Long live life, purism and science!

Scientists against Purists