Saturday, 11 July 2009

Richard Feynman

Feynman was arguably the greatest mind since Einstein, and a teacher of supreme ability. I first heard of Richard Feynman way back, Feynman diagrams are often used in physics class, but I never understood his character until I took up serious study in the early '80s. Then his name kept cropping up. Along with the rumours of his womanising, and his skill playing bongo drums; and archive movies of his lectures, which were amazing (maybe I'll post some in the future).

And then there was this; a BBC Horizon broadcast from 1981. I've blogged this before but the thought police at YouTube saw fit to delete the video. Thankfully that error has been put right by nethius.

The Pleasure Of Finding Things Out (1, 2 ,3 4, 5,)

Now, just for delicate flower I will talk about flowers...

When I first worked in biochemistry we studied an obscure blue pigment in a single celled algae (a simple plant). It's the blue-green stuff on the pond walls in this photo. Over the years we were able to show how the algae makes this pigment and, by a bit of jiggery pokery, infer how higher plants make phytochrome. That's the plant hormone which controls germination, leaf breaks and flowering time. Without phytochrome, flowering plants may not have evolved and humankind would never have witnessed that aspect of beauty.

Like Feynman when I look at a flower, I see the flower but I also see a dance of biochemicals interacting with their environment. But more than that, I'm conscious of the evolution of that species and sometimes its relationship to other plants. Even more I see an individual history. The vagaries of the weather, competition with other plants for sunlight or minerals in the soil, caterpillars or worse, the countless chances and improbabilities of that flower being here and now. That to me is the miracle, if there is one, the unlikely path which lead to that particular blossom. And it is after all, no more than the plant’s attempt at sexual reproduction. Nothing mystical or supernatural about it, it's just awesome.

Other aesthetic apes, may wish to draw or paint or photograph the flower. Or write poetry in its honour, attempting to capture that essence of beauty which can be all too fleeting. That is good and I have great admiration, for I have none of those skills. But is my own perception of a flower diminished by lack of artistic ability? I think not, and I can still chill out and enjoy the garden the same as everyone else.


delicate flower said...

Well, after opening the link to discover that I'm having a challenging discussion with aoubt flowers with a scientific expert on the topic-well,I am a wee bit sheepish. Not really, I'm more steel magnolia than delicate flower.
You've made your point so eloquently with such artistry that I find myself (and this is rare) a tad speechless, metaphorically. I've never really stopped to think about all the contributing factors, the factors which to me, detract from the beauty of what I behold. My approach to the wonders of nature, is most often very simplistic. Though I have paused to contemplate snowflakes with a more 'scientific' eye. My educational training is in the field of psychology..... I'm one of those 'touchy feely' types. In more ways than one..teehee
Daffodils are my favorites, by the way. As a child I saw a whole field of daffodils- a sight I've yet to forget. On an earlier post I have a photo of daffodils cut from my yard.

Andy Holroyd said...

No, not steel --- sugar magnolia.

"Sweet blossom come on, under the willow, we can have high times if youll abide
We can discover the wonders of nature, rolling in the rushes down by the riverside."

delicate flower said...

Be still my beating heart... you woo me!
Interesting mix you are: scientist and musician.. total practicality and a bit of a romantic...

Andy Holroyd said...


That's the noise that ghosts make.

Or it's half the sound of the ambulance as they take you off to intensive care :)