Pollen “revelation” and the beauty of science

I remember that one of the first very striking realizations about the aesthetics in science I had when I worked on my bachelor thesis. The realization about the whole new levels of beauty the knowing person can see in any usual or otherwise unnoticed thing.

That was the time I spent many hours in laboratory staring through a microscope and counting neverending series of pollen samples. And you know, that was fantastic, I loved it – to come to the lab early in the morning, to make a tea, put on my mp3 and spend a day looking at amazingly beautiful creations of nature, everyone of which was a unique artwork. However the beauty I saw did not stopped just at their shapes. It was also the story they told. Each pollen grain is surrounded by a very resistant membrane that gives them ability to survive for millions of years. And every species has a unique, distinct shapes for pollens. So, take a peat sample from 5000 years old bog, identify all the different pollen species you see, calculate a percentage and that’s it! You have a picture of the landscape 5000 years ago. It is like an opening of the window to the vanished worlds from ancient times. The worlds that were alive and flourishing once… thousand, million, ten million years ago… at the dawn of human species and even before that.

Photo: L. Spruzeniece 

Recently I watched an interview with a physicist Richard Feynman on youtube. He told:

“I have a friend who’s an artist and he’s some times taken a view which I don’t agree with very well. He’ll hold up a flower and say, “look how beautiful it is,” and I’ll agree, I think. And he says, “you see, I as an artist can see how beautiful this is, but you as a scientist, oh, take this all apart and it becomes a dull thing.” And I think he’s kind of nutty.

First of all, the beauty that he sees is available to other people and to me, too, I believe, although I might not be quite as refined aesthetically as he is. But I can appreciate the beauty of a flower.

At the same time, I see much more about the flower that he sees. I could imagine the cells in there, the complicated actions inside which also have a beauty. I mean, it’s not just beauty at this dimension of one centimeter: there is also beauty at a smaller dimension, the inner structure…also the processes.

The fact that the colors in the flower are evolved in order to attract insects to pollinate it is interesting — it means that insects can see the color.

It adds a question — does this aesthetic sense also exist in the lower forms that are…why is it aesthetic, all kinds of interesting questions which a science knowledge only adds to the excitement and mystery and the awe of a flower.

It only adds. I don’t understand how it subtracts.”

Indeed that is true. Very often science is considered as something opposite to art without any connection to aesthetics or beauty, consisting of dry facts, long lines of numbers, incomprehensible formulas and boring routines at the lab. Of course, everything mentioned above is a necessary component of science as the tiring work at barre is a part of ballet. But when you look at the broader picture, science is about curiosity, understanding and day-dreaming. The discoveries made in science can be the ones that inspire human soul, captivate imagination and light the mind with myriads of ideas as well as the finest kind of arts can.

4 Responses to Pollen “revelation” and the beauty of science

  1. Vita says:

    Amazing! :) Science is really beautiful!
    When you were talking about pollens it reminded me of a speach by J. Drori. Watch it here! :)

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