Breakfast With a Friend
Richard Feynman discusses his thoughts about what makes something beautiful in one of his essays.* Knowing more about something only adds to its beauty. It doesn’t take something away.
I thought about this while in Brown County, Indiana this weekend. As we neared the park we drove through a deep road cut in the hillside showing layers of rock going back millions of years. Brown County’s hills were formed as glacial melt cut through layers of sandstone, siltstone and shale that an ancient river delta had deposited.
Artisans in Nashville use the local sandstone and concretions in their art. Knowing something of geology and the geological history of the area only helped me better enjoy their beauty.
To the casual observer it would seem these valleys were forested forever as they are now, but as you examine the varieties of trees you begin to recognize this isn’t a virgin forest. Mostly missing are oaks and walnut. The forests were cut nearly bare over 100 years ago. Wood was used for the railroad, for homes and for furniture shipped out east. Around the turn of the century conservations began to buy the land and reforest it. The current forest is beautiful at over 100 years old. There are still furniture makers in Nashville who use the local timber, but burl oak of the old forest is many times more expensive than similar pieces made from the common trees there today.
My thanks to Bob Vaiden and Scott Wiesbroo for teaching me about geology and soils. I found the information interestingly presented and already useful this past weekend.
*“I have a friend who's an artist and has sometimes 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. Then he says "I as an artist can see how beautiful this is but you as a scientist take this all apart and it becomes a dull thing," and I think that 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 may not be quite as refined aesthetically as he is ... I can appreciate the beauty of a flower. At the same time, I see much more about the flower than 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, at one centimeter; there's also beauty at smaller dimensions, the inner structure, also the processes. The fact that the colors in the flower 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? Why is it aesthetic? All kinds of interesting questions which the science knowledge only adds to the excitement, the mystery and the awe of a flower. It only adds. I don't understand how it subtracts.” Richard Feynman