Monday, March 12, 2012

"Beautifuller" Things

My mom sent me a TED talk about gratitude, and in it a young girl says that she prefers to explore and make discoveries rather than watch TV. She says that the thing about exploring is that it can lead to "beautifuller things" than what you thought was there (worth seeing the 10-minute video:

That's exactly the thing about exploring -- about science -- that I love. Feeling clever and insightful for having figured out a little corner of how the universe works, that's exciting and gratifying. BUT, getting invested in the outcome of an experiment because I *think* I've figured out a little corner of the universe...THEN seeing that the results of the experiment have something more "beautifuller" to show me...that's THE BEST.

That is why doing science is addictive. It's not the knowing stuff. It's the not-knowing stuff. It's the dance with the Universe that we enter into, one partner completely foolish and bashful but also full of ideas and confidence...the other partner strong, solid, silent, and slowly (SLOWLY) revealing herself when and if she wants to, and not at all in the way we had anticipated.

I sometimes imagine traveling back in time to have conversations with alchemists, the founders of modern-day chemistry. I imagine they are frustrated and upset by trying to turn non-precious metals into gold and silver. I appear on the scene and they say, "You're from the future...tell us...can one metal be made to turn into another?"

I say, "Yes! But it doesn't work the way you think...." I go into an attempted explanation of nuclear fission and even as I see their disappointment, I also see their eyes light up.

"It can be done!" one of them says. "At least there's that." We share the secret smile of knowing that Nature will open up, eventually, to anyone who is willing not to know and to see with open eyes.

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