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essay #2
Name: Brittany P
Date: 2005-02-20 21:53:13
Link to this Comment: 13049

They found the boy with the black eyes innocent

Brittany Pladek

CSEM: Beauty and Chemistry

Essay #2

See you in court

*

They found the boy with the black eyes innocent.

That's the end of the story. Here's the beginning.

The kingdom had been at war for almost ever. It was an island nation, small and relatively poor, a pebble stranded on the shore of an endless ocean. But a priceless pebble: its inhabitants named it "The Beautiful Country" in their own tongue, and its neighbors to the east, "The Gem Isle"---because when the sun rose over the small sea separating the two countries, its silhouette burned like emerald flame, bare green hills drawing a peridot halo in the sky. The land was lush and amazingly fertile. As soon as its neighbors could build sturdy ships, the wars had begun.

They persisted because of the tenacity of the islanders. Though few in number, the island's people were as fiery as their kingdom at sunrise. Their polytheistic religion exalted courage, sacrifice, and above all, loyalty. But despite their resilience, the war had been going poorly for some years now. The island's eastern neighbors had already sacked two of its most valuable ports. Now they were slowly trampling their way inland, gouging out their own deep facet on the face of the Gem.

The most devastating loss had been the big port of Blackpool. A small team of spies had slipped past the city's young guard, broken the gates, and burned the houses. Terrified, the guard fled inland to warn the neighboring farming towns. The first town's headmen heard him out calmly. When he was finished they caught, trussed, gagged, and placed him before a tribunal, charged with abetting the assault on Blackpool.

Treason was the kingdom's only capital offense. It evoked the same gut-deep revulsion the natives felt for cannibalism. And in a way, the two were related: betraying your country was devouring it. The connection echoed throughout many of the nation's most ancient religious parables. These tales also dictated the process for handling such crimes. In cases like the sentry's, where no witnesses existed on either side, guilt was determined via an ancient and venerated method: Trial By Tear.

As the prosecutor stood and, following tradition, began to recount the parable which described this test, the sentry's betrothed suddenly burst into the courtroom. She was barely eighteen, a coppersmith's apprentice, ferocious and beautiful as a falcon. She had heard about the Trial By Tear not an hour before. She received the news calmly: instead of immediately dropping her anvil and running, she first finished shaving the spear-point she was constructing. Only then did she sprint to the courthouse, her hands still bright and slick with metal-dust. She exploded through the doors just as the prosecutor was rising to begin his remarks. Before the court could stop her, she vaulted the witness stand and belted her lover, twice, squarely in each eye. He reeled backwards, his face trickling blood and dust. "Traitor!" she shrieked.

Her beloved slumped against the stand, too shocked to respond. She said nothing more; only studied his blackened face with cold serious eyes. Meanwhile a few strong men from the audience grabbed her and escorted her to a bench. She allowed herself to be led away. The court settled, and the prosecutor shakily resumed his tale:

"As you know, long long ago, when the gods first raised the land out of the sea, ours was the first island to breach the waves. Rising, it caught the very first rays of the new sun. The land was so fertile that it soaked up all the light and held it like shining rainwater. Then the gods raised the other islands, but by then the sun was not so strong, nor the soil so rich. Only our island still glows with the early world's illumination, like a clear lamp of green flame. That is why it shines at dawn; that is why we call it the Beautiful Country. That is why we its people must defend it: we were there when it rose, and our souls too are green flame, burning with the selfsame beauty which fills and blesses our land.

"Now in the early days of the world, the gods still reigned directly, as do our kings today. But because they were not human, they did not require their subjects to pay them stipends of grain and cattle. Instead, these gentle kings sought to improve the humans' productivity by making their farmlands richer. What hard, unfarmable rock there was, the gods took as their food. They devoured so much in those early days that now our island is soft and fertile from shore to shore.

"However, one god, the king of the northernmost kingdom, began to look on his subjects' productivity with increasingly jealous eyes. Unsatisfied with his diet of rock, he desired their thick breads and juicy meats. So he imposed a strict stipend: half of the kingdom's fields and pastures would be reserved to feed him. The god's subjects were first stunned---then angry. Their anger turned to fury, fury to rebellion. A leader arose from their ranks: a young farmer whose spirit burned as fiercely as his beloved isle on the first day of creation. He organized the people into an army which marched on the god's castle.

"The night before the army was to attack, the jealous god---furious at being disobeyed---swept stealthily through the camp and carried off the young leader. He took him to his castle. There he boiled and ate him. 'This will teach you,' he said between mouthfuls, 'to have me feed on rocks!'

"The next morning, when the army discovered its leader gone, it raised a cry of sorrow so loud that the very island shook. The other gods, disturbed by this massive mourning, flocked to the northern kingdom. They asked the people what was wrong. The young farmer's second-in-command (coincidentally, also his betrothed) stepped shakily forward and related the story: the stipend, the rebellion, and the loss of their leader. As she had been in a neighboring tent when her love was taken, and had been blessed with an unusual sense of intuition, the second suspected part of what had happened. She accused the evil god of murder, and begged the other gods to punish him. The other gods agreed, but only on the condition that the god's guilt be proven.

"But how would they test this? They debated long and hard but could not discover a method. At last, the second-in-command again stepped meekly forward and said: 'My lords, I know I am but a simple human woman, but I may have your answer. I believe my beloved has been devoured by this wicked god. But though his body is gone, his soul remains: the flame of his spirit is trapped inside the belly of this beast. It burns brighter than the evil that surrounds it! I propose a test. Let our sovereign god cry a single tear. We shall place it on a spear-point and hold it up to a clear fire. If the god's sorrow is genuine, and he has not eaten our leader, the flame will remain clear. But if he is guilty, and has devoured our leader, my love's trapped spirit will blaze out through his tears, and the flame will burn green as our island at dawn---for, my lords, the spirits of all true patriots are as one with the beautiful spirit of our country.'

"The gods agreed. When they called out the evil god to perform the test, he assented, on one condition. 'How do I know the flame will not turn green anyway?' he asked. 'If I am to be tested, so must you all. Prove to me that this trial is a fair one.' The god, knowing that the test had been proposed by the leader's betrothed, suspected foul play. But to his surprise the other gods agreed. They stood in line while the sorrowful but brave second collected their tears, one by one, on a spear point over a small clear fire.

"The god of the southernmost province went first. 'My food is the sky blue crystal of our cliffs, which, when it dies, recalls the sunset. The flame will turn red.' And it did.

"The god of the easternmost province went second. 'My food is the brown saltpeter found deep in the earth. My people use it to fertilize their flowers: it is a flower-rock, and its flame blossoms violet.' And it did.

"The god of the westernmost province went third. 'My food is the dry scrim which collects on our empty bay-beds. It comes from the bay-water and yearns to return to it. The flame will turn teal.' And it did.

"The god of the central province went fourth. 'My food is the hard salt of the earth. It tastes as dry and hot as the sun's burn. Because they are kin, the flame will turn orange.' And it did.

"Finally it was the evil god's turn. He said nothing, but bent his head so his tears dropped on the second's spear-point. At once the fire roared, and an emerald radiance blazed from the tip of the spear. The flame was as beautiful as the sunrise, and shone with the same morning halo which surrounded the island at dawn. The second, recognizing her beloved's spirit, cried out and nearly dropped the spear. As for the god, he scowled and stammered, but could scarcely deny his own guilt.

"The other gods, appalled at this brute god's treacherous behavior, promptly stripped him of his kingdom, and handed power to the second. She accepted with a sad grace. Thus did the northernmost kingdom become the first to gain self rule---a practice which, through the ages, eventually spread throughout the island.

"But those are other stories for other times. For now we end with the successful conviction of the guilty god. And even today, when we wish to test an islander's loyalty, we perform the Trial By Tear. For---as with the young leader---a true patriot's spirit blazes with the same dawn beauty as his island. It fills his body and soul, radiating from every gesture, every word, every tear. So all true patriots' tears will burn green: the fire without reveals the flame from within."

The prosecutor ended. Reaching into his coat, he withdrew a spoon, two flints, and a stick of kindling. "Now that tradition has been fulfilled, we will make short work of this. Are you ready?" he asked the sentry. The young man nodded miserably. Drops of dusty blood smattered the witness stand. He lifted a hand to wipe his eyes, but a sudden jerk from his love stopped him. He glanced over at her. She was shaking her head, nearly imperceptibly, but forcefully. Puzzled but obedient, he lay the hand back down.

No one else in the court had noticed the exchange. The prosecutor, knocking his flints, managed to set the tip of the kindling-stick alight. Spoon in one hand and fire in the other, he approached the stand and waggled the spoon at the sentry's face. Obligingly, the sentry leant forward and shook a few dirty tears onto the spoon's handle. With a smug look, the prosecutor held the dripping metal before the flame---

---and hurled it across the courtroom as an emerald explosion---pure, bright, and beautiful as the Gem Isle at dawn---engulfed the kindling stick.

The sentry gaped. He shook his head incredulously, raised his hand to clear away the grime from his eyes, then gaped again.

Across the court, his love was smiling.

Clutching a bench for support, eyes bulging, the prosecutor stammered: "I---rest my case."

The decision was unanimous. The bewildered sentry was released that very day, his beloved at his side. Apparently he had forgiven her for the punches as readily as she had forgiven his "treachery." Together they washed out his eyes, then left the courtroom smugly, hand snug in sooty hand. The sentry did not, however, return to guard duty. Instead, he permanently joined his love in the copper smithy, forging spears, arrows, and swords for the war against the eastern island.

He kept the black eyes for two weeks, as souvenirs.

That's the end of the story. But here's the epilogue:

Despite the spectacular outcome of the Blackpool case, Trial By Tear continued to be used as a method of gauging loyalty. Unfortunately for all of its subsequent victims, the spectacle of the boy with two black eyes was never repeated. The Beautiful Isle seemed to have only one patriot left---and he, unlike the dashing hero of the legend, was just a coppersmith.

****************************

Chemical footnotes:

Gods and Minerals

The god of the southernmost province refers to celestite, a sky-blue crystal whose chemical name is strontium sulfate. It is commonly found in bluff country---for example, in Brown County, Texas.

The god of the easternmost province refers to saltpeter, otherwise known as potassium nitrate or niter. Found on cave and mine walls, it is rough and brown in appearance, and often used in fertilizers.

The god of the westernmost province refers to barite, or barium sulfate, a white powdery substance which occasionally precipitates from seawater, especially in areas with high biologic activity.

The god of the central province refers to rock salt, or sodium chloride. It is sometimes found in bedded deposits in sedimentary layers of rock.

The reaction to the evil god's tears has no real basis in chemistry. There is not enough copper in the human body to cause a green-flame reaction were someone to actually eat a person and then cry. However, getting punched in the eye with a fistful of copper shavings is a different story…

Speaking of which: ancient coppersmiths worked their metal cold on the anvil. So the copper "soot" on the sentry's lover's hands is actually more of a powder or collection of flakes and scrapings than real ash.

 

 

Resources used

http://www.tmm.utexas.edu/exhibits/glen_evans/geology/celestite.htm

http://www.galleries.com/minerals/carbonat/niter/niter.htm

http://www.mbari.org/seminars/1998/jun05_paytan.html

http://www.saltinstitute.org/15.html

http://www.slovakheritage.org/Oldcrafts/coppersmiths.htm


Bharatnatyam
Name: Meera Jain
Date: 2005-02-21 22:57:09
Link to this Comment: 13094

Meera Jain
February 24, 2005
CSEM II/English 249
Beauty: Conversation between Chemistry and Culture

Bharatnatyam


Thak, Thik, Thak, Thik, Thak, Thik. Her feet struck the wood floor as she began to throw her body in diverse positions. Eyes lined with kajol, darted from side to side following the direction of her arms. The harmonious rapture of vocals and instruments hit me as I began to drift away into another domain. In all the music I had listened to, I had never heard such a line nor listened to anything delivered in such an eloquent and fervent manner. Song after song, I began my descent into an abyss of admiration for the euphonic bliss that poured out of the boom box. It was a Saturday evening in New York City and I was attending a classical Indian dance concert given by my aunt, Pranita Jain. She was the founder of Kalapriya dance studio and is internationally recognized especially in the Indian-American community.

Bharatanatyam originated in Tamil Nadu, India. The dances are performed on the basis of theories of the various books. The difficult facial expressions and hand gestures communicate the story to the audience. The performance starts with the prayers to the God, Ganapathi and worship of Nataraja Moorthi. Her repertoire that evening included "Krishna Leela" which described various episodes from the Hindu deity Krishna's life based on Hindu mythology and "Bharatotsvam: A Festival of India" which portrayed the diverse regions and culture of India. Her performance including the repertoire lasted two and half-hours, the audience was brought alive through the music and beauty of her dance. Her costume included a skirt with many pleats and jacket of Kanchipuram and Banaras silk. She wore lots of glittery stones on her neck, ears, hands and head to attract attention. Her hands and feet were adorned with mehendi, an intricate design drawn with henna.

Pranita's live group of musicians began to beat their tabla; she entered the arena in which I would be transformed to find her dance simply beautiful. As I reflect on what happened in my experience, I find one individual who defines it precisely, "One of the most beautiful, subtle, sophisticated and graceful dance forms in the world, Bharatanatyam is performed according to the most delicate nuances of a musical piece, or a poem, through the vehicle of a body. Reflecting the principles laid down in the Natyashastra treatises, it has survived in India in all its variegated forms and moods which it has gathered unto itself throughout the centuries." Dr. Kothari gathers my experience and makes me comprehend the complexity of her dance, however I see it as the simplicity and symmetry of her body expressing feeling and inspiration.

Her muscular arms juxtaposed to her two strong legs brought about the more philosophical question, does the symmetry of her body and simplicity of movement make the dance beautiful or does it prevent me experiencing stupefaction? However, what I experienced that magical night was beauty in simplicity and symmetry. By glancing at any human body, one enjoys a fine balance between the torso and trunk. Not necessarily, an equal number of limbs but the arrangement and behavior of them. The human physique arouses passion, wonder, and devotion because of its simplicity in design. The workings of the body never fail to astonish me; it is a fascinating science of how a leg can strike a floor, creating a sound that in turn can elicit an emotion from one watching. "In everyday experience our perception of beauty is tied to the culture...a beauty with it's emphasis on geometry and symmetry." As a scientist it is important to distinguish between the two, symmetry and simplicity. I think one describes the concept and the other describes the physical shape. Yet, each complements each other especially in creating a world of art forms and wonder.

I usually have seldom trouble understanding what it is about certain performances that enrapture and amaze me, but one remains a true enigma to me. Pranita kaki's (aunt in Hindi) immaculate figure and endearing smile, the uninterrupted and apt use of poignant love ballads, and the dance's overall aphrodisiacal nature, I see it as tale of the true devotee; It was directed with extreme precision as the relationship between the body and nature. She reaches out for a connection to a world above and does it all with closed eyes and no certainty of a positive outcome. It is this relationship that strikes a cord deep with me and further espouses my adherence to the ideals of symmetry.

Musing like a scientist I grasp a fundamental thought. Either way I turn and look at Pranita dance; I will never fail to find it beautiful. Rotating it will grant me an additional viewpoint and her body will always have an "underlying design of beautiful symmetry." Nature designed our body to be symmetrical and simple, Zee and other scientists including myself see that "nature, whose complexity emerges from simplicity, is cleverer. The rules of the universe can be stated simply and yet give rise to complex patterns." Pranita can perform her dance ensemble with ease but as a spectator, the story behind her dance is turned into a web of lust and seduction, I find it complex because I don't know how to perform it.

Zee helps me to understand that reality is arranged in layers, and that experiences occur at different periods, each one building upon the one before. He challenges me to extend his ideas on to my experience. "We can understand the atom without understanding the atomic nucleus. Physical reality does not have to be understood all at once." I can understand the dance without understanding what really occurs, and that is simplicity. Pranita's body defined rotational symmetry, her arms propelled her to move in certain direction and it occurs because of gravity. Through the common knowledge of physics laws I am able to enjoy her performance and see her symmetrical body gracefully dance.

My experience of watching Pranita kaki's (aunt in Hindi) symmetrical body takes a new level of understanding. I agree with Zee, that as a scientist one must question why and how it occurs, but to reduce her majestic motions to the "electrons interacting with fundamental particle of light" is to rip the grandeur away. One should instead infer how the biological makeup of her body affects her statuesque poses, are the particles in her body colliding together as she twists her neck from side to side depicting a dance of love? Or as we descend into the workings of biological basis of behavior do we find simple facts to explain such a complex phenomenon?

Either way, I see that complexity begets simplicity, thinking like a scientist we want a definite and clear theory of how a beautiful symmetrical body can produce such difficult physical dances and artistic arousal. Pondering such ideas leads the scientific theorist to reduce the complex notions to simple analogies. A biologist by the name of David Mendes seeks to explain what takes place in daily life and how over evolutionary time, humanness arose and simplicity is perceived. As a scientist, I examine the complex question and boil them down to "it must have existed in their biology." Leaving the knowledge at that point lets me enjoy the beautiful dance without tainting the adventure. A scientist studies such things to gather knowledge from the experience, rather than create the experience with knowledge.


To See as a Scientist: The Discovery of Crepuscula
Name: Amy Martin
Date: 2005-02-22 21:43:46
Link to this Comment: 13141

<mytitle>
Beauty,Spring 2005
Second Web Papers
On Serendip



"Wonder is a horizon-effect of the known, the unknown, and the unknowable" writes Philip Fisher in his book "Wonder, the Rainbow, and the Aesthetics of Rare Experiences". As a self-described humanist embodying a scientist's search for beauty, I must acknowledge what Fisher defines as the sliding scale of wonder. What is wondrous and thus beautiful in a scientific way to me as a quasi scientist is quite possibly insipidly dull for the scientist at large. Yet, it contains elements of the beauty of science, of the equation- the putting together of two elements to create a transformation into a new experience. Such reveling in the aesthetic beauty of my experience leads me to find the deeper scientific beauty- the beauty of the explanation. And so I have become a scientist seeking beauty, in that the explanation of my experience only enhanced the wonder of viewing it.




Wonder is the extraordinary emerging out of the ordinary. Sitting on a wall on top of Masada, I shivered in the dark night searching the sky for any sign of sun. Slowly, the sun began to rise, and though it was a beautiful sunrise full of lush Mediterranean orange, it is not the sunrise that captured my attention that morning, that continues to captivate me. After the sunrise, divine rays streamed down – that morning they evoked a spiritual wonder, they were a curtain of light and energy that seemed to be stretching out and beckoning towards me. After that breathtaking experience of beauty, I became hyperaware of this phenomenon.


And so I have seen this glory of sun and clouds time and time again since that day. Driving through New Mexico the mesas, ubiquitous red rock, encompassing achingly blue sky all were mere players that set the stage for the divine rays of the sun to kiss the earth. Again driving this time in the New England mountains, the sun's shooting rays again stopped me- urging me to notice the world around me, paused and framed that moment in my life.


Despite all this aesthetic beauty, a scientist stops and asks – Why and How? These isolated experiences, and experience of the sun that I'm sure almost all humans have seen, pushed me on to the next step of wonder- the step that all good scientists must take, the search for explanation. Why did I only get to see such flagrant beauty sometimes, when I least expected it? Why on most days do I see the sun as only a backlight that shines through the clouds, or as that comforting round ball sitting alone in a blue sky? Most often, the sky remains a flattened blue; a backdrop to life as I know it- why was the drama of the sun most often absent.


The streaming rays of sun, personified fingers aching to touch the earth, are known as crepuscular rays. The rays come from the essentially parallel columns of the sun's light. These sun rays are parallel to darkened cloud areas in the absence of sunlight. To be formed the rays need a shadow, in the instants in which they appeared so divine to me, the shadow was probably formed by a cloud. With a shadow, the sunlight breaks between the shadowed, darkened areas and the lightened areas outside of the shadow. This divides the sky into areas of shaded or sunlight air columns. Like chiaroscuro effects in art, the brightness of the sunlight column appears to our naked eye because of its contrast next to the shaded, dark air column. As in art, the difference in light and dark creates an illusion of shape that makes the light appear three dimensional instead of our normal flattened view of the sky.


Yet, we would not be able to see the rays of sunlight without aid. The light needs to be scattered, or reflected off of particles in the air. These particles can be dust or water. Whatever the particle, their basic effect is my "finger" notion- the particles make the beams appear to be originating at the sun, and then separating and spreading out over the horizon. Besides scattering, the other reason we see crepuscular rays, in reality parallel, as slanted, is because of perspective. The shadowed areas reach the ground between the sun and our eye. The shadow closest to the ground appears wider. Essentially "we know all rays are virtually parallel and they extend from the sun to your eyes, they must be descending in altitude the closer they become to you". Perspective and scattering make them appear as though they ascend and create the sentiment of divineness that so many feel experiencing crepuscular rays.


This is a simplistic example of the simplifying process. Three experiences that are "normal" to us on such a basic level – the sun, the clouds, and the existence of dust and water particles- become aesthetically extraordinary, if not scientifically extraordinary, when they are combined together. Although the sight of crepuscular rays is far more common than the sight of a rainbow, the aesthetic pleasure that is captured by viewing crepuscular rays can be and often is one of beauty and wonder. This wonder is completely relative. Since surely I am not the first or last person to see the beauty of crepuscular rays, I do not have the wonder of discovering a universal scientific "truth" from viewing the appearance of the rays multiple times. Nor was I the scientist who discovered what makes such rays appear to be radiating out over a wide area of space. Like the chemist in the lab who mixes two clear elements and emerges with Prussian blue, and not only sees the blue but knows why and how blue forms from clear, I can own the knowledge of the crepuscular ray. Not only have I seen beauty on a fundamental human, visual level, by questioning the experience of this beauty and looking beyond the experience to the explanation I see as a chemist or a physicist sees beauty. In the form of what has occurred, the aesthetic beauty is deepened. Now the sun rays are not merely sun rays, perhaps divinely inspired, I have moved from the realm of mere speculation to knowledge. Fisher writes: "At the heart of this short instance of learning is a moment of wonder composed of intellectual surprise, the unexpected and the pleasurable." In the mixture of sun and cloud and angle in which we see crepuscular rays, it is the design of nature that is so beautifully simplistic.


Or is it? Do we see crepuscular rays because of nature's design of the sunlight? Is it really the rays in contrast to the shadowed areas void of sunlight that create this visual affect? Roald Hoffman tells us that as humans we must find this beauty. "Beauty is created out of the labor of human hands and minds. It is to be found, precarious, at some tense edge where symmetry and asymmetry, simplicity and complexity, order and chaos, contend." Crepuscular rays are only as beautiful as they are to us because of our inability to see what they truly are, virtually parallel rays of sunlight and shadowed columns. In our human misgivings, our sense of perspective and our eyes interpretation of the sun reflecting off the particles in air, we create the notion of this divine image. The "story" I found on the internet explains this interaction between human fallibility and nature's design.


Still, as a newfangled scientist, I couldn't help but wonder if such a story was empirically right. The creation of why and how to simplify things as stunningly complex as the sun, the energy of light, the interaction of vision and light – this like all science to Hoffman, was just a narrative of the real world- a condensation to create simplicity where perhaps everything is complicated. As Peter Beckmann told us, the story only sticks
until the next person comes along with explanation, with the new findings, with data that is more reliable and consistent. As a scientist, this idea is where the beauty is at. All these disparate stories – from the Roman idea of the sun being pulled by a chariot across the sky to our modern notion of the sun and gravitational pull – they link back to Hoffman and Fisher. The continuation of the narrative, the possibility to expand our wonder, to build wonder upon things that once seemed ordinary and normal - the space for discovery is where the beauty in science lies.


References


1Philip Fisher, Wonder, the Rainbow, and the Aesthetics of Rare Experiences. (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1998) 80


2 Ibid 40-41.


3Tony Demark, Crepuscular Rays. http://www.ems.psu.edu/~demark/471/CrepuscularRays.html#scatter (Last Accessed February 19, 2005)


4 Les Cowley, Atmospheric Optics: Rays and Shadows: Formation and Perspective. 12 Feb. 2005 http://www.sundog.clara.co.uk/atoptics/rayform.htm (Last Accessed February 19,2005)
5 Fisher, 68.


6Roald Hoffman, "Thoughts on Aesthetics and Visualization in Chemistry." Preface. Issue on Aesthetics and Visualization. Hyle. 4


Summer Beauty
Name: Marissa Pa
Date: 2005-02-22 21:49:00
Link to this Comment: 13142

<mytitle>
Beauty,Spring 2005
Second Web Papers
On Serendip


"Baruch Ata Adonai Eloheinu Melech ha'olam, shehechiyanu vikimanu v'higianu lazman hazeh. Amen" The awkward voices of the 500 campers, counselors, and other staff members around me blend into a beautiful soaring canticle that swirls around me. This is the prayer I sang each Shabbat at the overnight summer camp I attended for seven years, a prayer that is said at any time you wish to thank G-d for a beautiful experience. This prayer that thanks G-d for creating us, sustaining us, and enabling us to reach this night brings to a close the busy week of camp, hectic Shabbat dinner and boisterous jumping and clapping of an after dinner song session and begins our day of rest and reflection, of quiet and meditation.

Looking around the room I see the entire camp linked together almost literally. Arms curve around friends and cabin mates, hands clasp between tables, heads bend almost imperceptibly towards each other and the center of the table where the Shabbat candlesticks glow in camper-made holders. For this one night a week the campers intermingle, freed from the usual assigned tables to join with friends and siblings of all ages to form tables of their own, unique for this one meal. Counselors and staff blend together as well, joining with close friends from another cabin to "cover" a table instead of watching their own campers with the counselors from their own bunk. Everywhere you look friends are joined together in this one moment, joined together in a song that has not lost its meaning or its beauty from frequent repetitions.

Roald Hoffmann says that "[beauty] is to be found, precarious, at some tense edge where symmetry and asymmetry, simplicity and complexity, order and chaos, contend." 1 Huffman does not find beauty in the commonplace, the usual, the normal. He instead looks for moments on the brink, barely contained in their state and hardly definable.

This prayer, one of the first learned that is not in the weekly service fits precisely into Huffman's definition. The song comes together an inharmonious mix of the practiced altos tuned from high school choirs and the off-key straining of a second grade camper. Two or three song leaders with guitars strum a simple 3 chord accompaniment or sometimes break it down even more, calling for us to sing now with "just our voices." It may appeared to be ordered, campers seated on wooden benches around long white plastic tables, grasping pinkies or palms or with their arms fully wrapped around each other. Not as apparent are the counselors holding on with tooth and nail in an attempt to keep the calm, preventing campers from playing in the wax of the candles or talking incessantly with their neighbor. Somehow this mix of 500 mostly untrained voices can swell together, filling the room with these ancient words and making them beautiful.

Hoffman also says that "beauty is created out of the labor of human hands and minds." 2 Is the beauty then a "labor of minds" to shut out the joy and excitement from the past weeks experiences to calm down and focus on the peaceful day ahead? No, that is not it exactly. The beauty comes more from an integration of the enthusiasm from the past week with the serenity of the prayer. That melding, that bringing together of noise and silence is the true "labor of minds" that somehow comes easily to campers, channeling their own inner elation into the joyful thanksgiving of the Shehechiyanu.

It is the "labor of hands," however, that made another camp experience beautiful. During the summer after my junior year of high school I participated in a work/study program called Avodah (the Hebrew word for both work and study). Forty boys and girls lived together with unit heads and used our hands to make camp work.

Our chores were menial—cleaning the bathrooms, working in the kitchens, pulling leaves out of the pool. Not exactly the sort of experience most seventeen-year-olds would pay to take part in. And yet it was beautiful. Many of us came from home lives where we were not expected to do any of these things for others, much less for ourselves, and our first experiences helping to do laundry for 500 people were interesting, to say the least. The beauty of this opportunity was that we were able to use "the labor of human hands" to really have a visible effect on the camp community. If we did not clean the dishes, the campers would not be able to eat. If we did not help build the ramp to a structure previously accessible only by stairs, the paraplegic camper in a wheelchair would not be able to take part in the full camp experience. And if we did not clean the staff lounge, where would the counselors sleep during their off hours?

During the course of the summer our sore backs and aching muscles created a beautiful adventure made even more wonderful by its joining with Hoffmann's other requirement—a "tense edge".

Avodahnikim were linked together in a precarious position. Not quite campers, for we were allowed to go into the staff lounge and associate with the counselors, yet not quite staff, for we were paying for the experience and were not able to leave camp alone. Most of the time we felt like staff members, our daily work making the camp run, yet on Sunday nights when we sat in the lounge alone while the rest of the "real" staff sat in their weekly meeting, we were once again put in our places as campers.

The vast majority of participants in the Avodah program proclaim it the best summer of their life. Far beyond their first, when then were introduced to the ways of camp society, excelling the year their team won Yom Sport (the annual color war), greater than the summer they got the lead in project (a musical put on every year by the oldest campers). Avodah was spent on the threshold. It was the last true year as a "camper" and many friends would not return the next year to become staff. We would be returning home to another sort of threshold, the last year of high school before we traveled away from every object and person that was familiar to make new friends and take part in new activities. Each of us knew this was the last summer we would have a sort of communal life, when we were all doing the same thing together and would return to the same world of applications, exams, AP testing, graduation.

Roald Hoffmann states that "beauty is built out of individual pleasure around an object or idea". 3 Each of us had our own unique ideas of what the summer would mean to us and the effects the next summer separated would have. We also had our own plans for the future, our own colleges and life goals. The individuality of each of us coming together in a labor of "human hands" but finding extreme happiness in the progression of the summer epitomizes Hoffmann's quote. We each brought our own ideas and feelings together and participated in making something new and enjoyable, and it was this experience that was ultimately beautiful.

All of the summers I spent at my camp, both as a camper and a counselor I found incredibly beautiful and I am filled with a sense of loss knowing that I will not return this coming summer. My closest friends were counselors with me last summer and this is my first time moving on by myself, spending a summer without them. I would think that the 10 months we spend apart each year would prepare me to leave, but I feel as if I am losing a large part of the beauty I find in my life and my religion.

I will never again be able to experience the beauty of my friends and fellow campers or staff members together, enjoying the beauty of Shabbat, the sound of 500 disharmonious voices blending together, "precarious, at some tense edge," creating a magnificent prayer that one of the most beautiful experiences I have ever known. And so I offer this prayer now, for the beauty that can be found in the loss of beauty, in the memory of a past beauty that can never be reclaimed.

Baruch Ata Adonai Eloheinu Melech ha'olam, shehechiyanu vikimau v'higyanu lazman hazeh. Amen.

Blessed are You, Lord our G-d, Ruler of the universe, who has created us, sistained us, and allowed us to reach this season. Amen.


1. Hoffmann, Roald. "Thoughts on Aesthetics and Visualization in Chemistry." Hyle- International Journal for Philosophy of Chemistry 9.1(March 2003): 4pp. 20 February 2005 p.4. http://www.hyle.org/journal/issues/9-1/hoffmann.htm.
2. Ibid. p. 4
3. Ibid p. 1.


The Elegance of NMR and Superconductivity
Name: Rachel Usa
Date: 2005-02-22 23:54:37
Link to this Comment: 13149

<mytitle>
Beauty,Spring 2005
Second Web Papers
On Serendip


Professor Burgmayer tilted a cup that held clear, misty liquid nitrogen. The nitrogen shrouded the black metal magnet that was displayed on the white table, danced across the surface, and rolled off to the floor. She then dropped a metal filament onto the magnet that had been cooled by the liquid nitrogen, and the filament floated and spun. Having seen such demonstrations before, I felt no particular surprise or wonderment, even though I did not know what caused the exhibited phenomenon. Perhaps I have been overexposed to science and suffer like the art historian that cannot feel overwhelmed or cry in the face of a masterpiece. I listened with only mild interest as Dr. Burgmayer talked, but then she turned to me and said, "It's a superconductor, like in NMR." I came fully alert. Nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) is a tool used in chemistry to study the structures of molecules based on the nuclear spin of atoms, and I have studied this in my organic chemistry class. NMR's power as a chemist's tool fascinates me. The demonstration, in this context, interested me exceedingly, and I listened eagerly to the end. Afterwards, I researched superconductors.

When cooled below a critical temperature in an applied magnetic field, certain metals called superconductors experience zero internal magnetic field. This is known as the Meissner effect. The magnetic field becomes zero because currents induced by the superconductor cancel out the applied magnetic field. The magnetic levitation that was demonstrated results from the repulsion between the permanent magnetic field of the magnet and the magnetic field produced by currents induced by the superconductor(1).

By itself, neither this demonstration nor the explanations for superconductivity hold any beauty for me. My interest in the demonstration resulted from my background knowledge of the utility of superconductors. I mentioned NMR. NMR utilizes two principles of electricity and magnetic fields. First, "electric currents have associated magnetic fields." Second, "magnetic fields can generate electric currents (2)." NMR magnets are superconductors that apply a strong magnetic field to a sample of molecules that a chemist wishes to identify. Under the strong magnetic field, electrons circulate, creating a current. The current likewise produces a magnetic field that points in the opposite direction of the originally applied electric field. The opposing magnetic field "cancels out" some of the larger, external magnetic field. This cancellation of magnetic field, described here in simplified terms, is measured and used to identify the structure of molecules with marvelous insight.

To me, the story of NMR as a scientist's tool is beautiful. It is of the caliber that Roald Hoffmann describes: it has "the hallmarks that literary theorists have seen in narratives, small and grand (3)." There is temporality. A scientist synthesizes something. He or she uses NMR to describe the molecule, but the picture produced is often complex, a puzzle that must be solved; it can take hours to unravel a complex NMR spectrum. The scientist concludes from the NMR spectrum that the synthesis of the desired molecule was successful or unsuccessful. There is causation. The chemist uses NMR to identify a molecule or to confirm that a particular synthesis protocol has been successful. In the more global perspective, an organic chemist synthesizes in order to make medicines, to produce molecules with conducting properties, or to construct polymers for long underwear and car paint adhesive. There is human interest. The labor of human hands and minds, the collaboration of many scientists, and the successes and failures of the project are all recorded by the succession of NMR spectrums that a scientist uses to tell his or her story.

To look at a NMR spectrum, one has to agree with Hoffmann's theory that "beauty...is to be found, precarious, at some tense edge where symmetry and asymmetry, simplicity and complexity, order and chaos, contend (3)."
1HNMR
This is a 1H NMR spectrum of 1-bromopropane that has the structure of a bromine atom attached to a CH2 molecule which is attached to a CH2 molecule which is in turn attached to another CH2 molecule. (The shorthand for 1-bromopropane is Br-CH2-CH2-CH2.) How the above spectrum tells the scientist that the studied molecule is indeed 1-bromopropane is not important for this discussion, but I would like the reader to take notice of the exquisite symmetry of the picture. There are three peaks: one at approximately 1ppm, one starting at approximately 1.7ppm and a final peak at 3.4ppm. Within the first peak at 1ppm are three, symmetrical spikes. The middle spike is the largest and the two on the right and left sides are slightly smaller. A similar construction occurs at 3.4ppm. There is a more interesting peak that ranges from 1.7ppm to 2.2ppm, and it is more striking for its symmetry. It is has multiple spikes. The largest spike is again the center spike, and the sizes of the other spikes gently fall off at each side. The symmetry is clear, but there is a component of asymmetry as well. The right spike is larger than the left spike at the 3.4ppm peak, and the left spike is larger than the right spike at the 1ppm peak. (This is a phenomenon called "leaning.") The picture has some resemblance to canyon peaks: both images are symmetric but not perfectly so.
Canyon
Yet, for scientists this is not the beauty. The beauty is the utter complexity and amount of information that can be obtained from the simple picture of a NMR spectrum. The NMR spectrum provides information about how many atoms of hydrogen are in a molecule, how many neighbors a hydrogen has, what types of molecules a hydrogen is close to, and what types of bonding occur in the molecule. Within a sample submitted for NMR, there are millions of molecules crashing together, interacting, vibrating, stretching, and rotating. Nevertheless, the NMR spectrum is able to bring order to the chaos and produce an image that compactly describes the structure of a single molecule. The NMR spectrum is as powerful a tool to a chemist as a mathematical formula is to a mathematician or physicist. NMR explains the interaction of molecules like the mathematical formula F=ma explains the interaction of force to mass and acceleration.

Nevertheless, to say that NMR is conclusively reliable because it is beautiful to an organic chemist, as Zee and McAllister suggest, is an oversimplification. I imagine many chemists don't find NMR at all beautiful: beauty and utility are not always hand in hand. Thousands of experiments and the collaboration of data from other scientific instrumentation have tested the reliability of NMR and insured its acceptance into the realm of academia. I think Dr. Peter Beckman's theory about the relation between beauty and truth comes closest to explaining why chemists find NMR elegant. NMR is useful.

NMR is the unification of many things. It harmonizes the theories of magnetism and electricity, which are seemingly unconnected phenomenon. It integrates the efforts of many types of scientists and mathematicians. Engineers construct the large and elaborate NMR magnet. Computer scientists design the software to process the enormous amount of information. NMR theory draws upon vector mathematics, calculus, and probability to explain the appearance of several spikes within a peak and their relative sizes. It uses physics to harness the usefulness of the phenomenon of nuclear spin and energy absorption. Chemists primarily utilize it for product identification. The lines of categorization between physics, mathematics, engineering, computer science, and chemistry that academia has created blur, dissolve, and disappear in order to collaborate on a project that has value as a tool and as a model for the world. I think this is what scientists find most beautiful about NMR and superconductivity. To utilize NMR and superconductivity one must be everything at once: mathematician, chemist, computer scientist, engineer, and physicist. There is only one goal: to model the laws of nature that command and direct nuclear spin and to harness their power as a conclusive description of molecular structure.

Reference:
1. Tipler, Paul and Mosca, Gene. Physics for Scientists and Engineers. Volume 2B. New York: W.H. Freeman and Company, p. 922.
2. Nerz-Stormes, Maryellen. Organic Chemistry Laboratory Manual. Bryn Mawr College: Fall 2004.
3. Hoffmann, Roald. Narrative. American Scientist On-line, July-August 2000.

Online Picture Sources:
http://www.shelales.com/the%20west.htm
http://www.aist.go.jp/RIODB/SDBS/cgi-bin/cre_index.cgi


A New Kind of Beauty
Name: Katy McGin
Date: 2005-02-23 01:28:42
Link to this Comment: 13153

<mytitle> Beauty,Spring 2005 Second Web Papers On Serendip

"Real beauty has nothing to do with colorful pictures." What? I have long thought that colorful pictures, along with beautiful songs, sights, colors, etc., were part of the very definition of beauty. To me beauty was something that stirs the soul and the spirit; it can take various and often infinite forms, spawning feelings from all across the emotional spectrum, but at its core it is an emotional experience. I felt that nothing could be less emotional in the world than math or science (even biology, in some ways); these were the fields that stuffy, humor-impaired individuals pursued, right? Those fields were predominantly associated with the left hemisphere of the brain—the "rational," logical realm—whereas appreciation of beauty was largely a characteristic of the right hemisphere (or so my pop psychology magazines implied). For much of my childhood, I held onto this schismatic view of beauty and science until tenth grade, when I took high school chemistry. Simply put, I greatly enjoyed the class. I loved doing the experiments and creating organic things. I even enjoyed balancing chemical equations, although I never did get really good at it. When I was successful (at experiments or the mathematical equations), I experienced a satisfaction that could only be described as emotionally aesthetic. I would still hesitate to call this feeling beauty, however, simply because I cannot see myself experiencing the same intensity of emotions creating things in the laboratory that I experience listening to beautiful songs or going for a walk on a sunny summer evening (however, I must add that chemical reactions very often were very beautiful to me due to their colors, textures, etc.). I can understand how some scientists may experience emotions of such intensity (or more so, maybe) in the laboratory; beauty, to me, is subjectivity in motion. Wherever one's individual passions lie is where she will find beauty, I believe. I am not a math-and-science kind of person, so obviously I find it hard to get that choked up over scientific phenomena. But others do. What goes on in their heads? What makes chemistry, physics, or mathematics beautiful?

Sometimes, it seems obvious. Chemical reactions can be very colorful and bright; fireworks are chemical reactions, after all. The in-class chemistry experiment at Table 1 is an example that I can wholeheartedly deem beautiful. The colors of the flames upon sticking wires wet with various solutions into the Bunsen burner were truly magnificent (my favorites were the pinkish-lavender and the lime-green colors), but it was not just that; it was also for the fact that the wires had previously been this drab, industrial gray color, all bunched together like snakes, suddenly transformed into something indescribably beautiful. It reminded me of the episode of "The Simpsons" where the kids are forced to wear dreary black-and-white uniforms at school, but when the outfits get wet in the rain, colors start appearing—bright, multicolored pastel psychedelic designs (also a chemical reaction). This sweet liberation from authoritarianism is intensely emotional and beautiful. For me, the ugly wires were also being liberated (if only for a few seconds) from their natural state. Also there was the observation of the stunning cased butterfly (Table 2) with emerald green specks, golden specks, and baby-blue wing tips. Who could not find that dazzling array of colors gorgeous?

At other times it is more complicated. Many scientists have theories on what makes science and scientific theories beautiful. Physicist A. Zee contends in his book Fearful Symmetry that the most objective, agreed-upon criterion for judging something beautiful is its degree of symmetry of design. The more symmetrical an object is, the more beautiful (supposedly; for my own reasons, I would not always agree, although Zee's broader point makes perfect sense). Zee offers the example of the ancient Greeks finding the circle a more beautiful shape than the square or the rectangle due to its perfect—invariant—symmetry (Zee, 9-10). Zee holds that Nature is fundamentally simple; Professor Peter Beckman noted the exact same thing when he stated that the guiding principle of physics is "it must be simple." In fact, it is Nature's very simplicity that breeds the illusion of complexity at times, but this seeming complexity is only a well-organized part of Nature's whole design (Zee, 16-17). Back to the butterfly experiment, the harsh yellow, chalky residue from the butterfly's wings seemed pretty unremarkable (indeed, aesthetically unpleasing, as it had an unappealing sticky texture and it stained my fingers, leaving them a jaundiced color), but the fact that, before being scraped off the wings and mashed together, this dusty substance had previously been a gorgeous colorful butterfly wing was a fascinating and beautiful realization.

It is also Zee's related strong belief that the simplicity of Nature is what makes it beautiful—that what is simpler is more beautiful (Zee, 8-9). While I don't completely agree with this idea, one of the chemistry experiments illustrates it somewhat. Table 4's experiment required us to mix two identical-looking pale yellow solutions together by pouring both into an empty beaker simultaneously. The result was a very dark, navy blue liquid. The liquid itself was not especially pleasing to my eyes, but a sandy precipitate (also blue, but more striking) forming on the edges of the beaker was very pretty. The experiment itself was somewhat anticlimactic for me (it was the first experiment that my group did, so maybe I was expecting an explosion or something), but what I found so amazing was how fast it had happened. It seemed so simple, mixing two twin solutions only to be shocked by a new substance that resembled neither of the original solutions in the least. It brought back memories of the tenth grade, and the very act of remembering periods in my life is an extremely moving, powerful, and hence aesthetic experience of me. The simplicity of this experiment was the very basic act of pouring and then watching how fast the change occurred—it was truly automatic: blink, and you miss it. While the actual chemical reactions occurring were doubtless complex, their automatic qualities and their subsequent reliability (repeating the experiment would have garnered us the exact same results) were simple, neat, and aesthetic.

According to James W. McAllister, truth begets beauty in science. Believe it or not, aesthetics is often what guides scientists in making their revolutionary discoveries. In his article "Is Beauty a Sign of Truth in Scientific Theories," McAllister describes how scientists across the ages have attached more aesthetic value to theories that have been found to be empirically correct (McAllister, 1-4). In fact, when theories are discredited as scientifically inaccurate, scientists will often cease to find them aesthetic and instead search for other signs of empirical truth upon which to attach aesthetic value. When this occurs, McAllister calls it a scientific revolution, and he cites the rise of quantum theory in the 1920s as an example (McAllister, 7-8). This idea makes intuitive sense to me, if only because it is psychologically comforting. We would like to think that we are being rewarded for making accurate scientific discoveries.

I have learned a great deal—beginning in the tenth grade but increasing in this particular section of this class—about how to at least try to not view the "hardness" of math and science as something inherently threatening. It is hard for me, because these were always the subjects that I struggled with the most in school. Beauty is comfort, and to think that such hard sciences can also be considered beautiful makes them feel less foreign to me.


Perceptions and Conceptions
Name: Lauren Swe
Date: 2005-02-23 02:52:18
Link to this Comment: 13155

Lauren Sweeney February 23, 2005
Beauty/Professors Dalke and Burgmayer
Paper #2: Seeing Beauty as a Scientist
Perceptions and Conceptions
Upon hearing the topic for this paper, I immediately felt a chill run up my spine and down the outsides of my arms. How could I possibly write about how a scientist sees beauty? I am a devout and undeniable humanist with little to no real knowledge of science and a deep-rooted fear of mathematics. To write about this particular topic would be to go outside of my own mind and not to necessarily include any of my own views on beauty but only to write down what it is that I have been told by scientists that I have questioned and know personally.
Last Thursday, when observing the science experiments that were performed for the class, Professor Dalke and I discussed the idea that there are different ways of seeing beauty, particularly when speaking of science. Both staunch humanists, we agreed that a distinction must be made when speaking of “physical beauty” and what I called “mental beauty.” We had just watched the molecules of air in a balloon condense when placed in liquid nitrogen and agreed that watching the balloon shrink was “creepy-”looking. The sight of that balloon shrivelling in on itself, the latex sagging and collapsing, was like watching “something decay,” as Professor Dalke said. I definately could not call that experience in any way visually pleasurable, except perhaps when the balloon was refilled with air and it was allowed to “come back to life” at room temperature. Watching the balloon return to its original size was like watching a flower bloom in time-lapse photography. It was somehow reassuring and I literally remember feeling relieved more than anything else. I (who had performed the experiment) had not killed the balloon. Whew.
Strictly based on the physical aspects of this performance, I was ready to say that not only was this experiment not beautiful, it was downright ugly. However, when Alanna explained to us what was going on at the molecular level, I was more inclined to find beauty in the experience. It was beautiful to know that through the little display we could observe molecules, though indirectly. What we saw was the result of something that was going on at the molecular level and predictably, the molecules behaved in the way that science tells us that they will, though molecules are invisible to the unaided eye It intrigued me to realize that knowledge made this experience beautiful to me.
I have since come to realize that this may be the single most significant difference between scientists and humanists. The scientists whom we have heard from in class seem to be in agreement that the concepts behind certain principals are what make them beautiful. It seems that we humanists are more “shallow” in a sense, taking things only at their face value and judging them as beautiful or ugly based upon our first impression of them. I know that I, personally, have a tendency to react immediately to how something looks or sounds when I am considering its aesthetic value. I thought that the shrivelling balloon was ugly, and I maintain that it was ugly because the sight of it brought me no visual pleasure, and in fact, I would go so far as to say that I was visually repulsed. However, I do admit that the thought of this as an example of molecules condensing and expanding was, and is, beautiful.
Upon my very limited research on this particular subject, this is what scientists seem to value as beautiful in their work, and this appreciation of the concept strikes me as being somewhat more pertinent and insightful. I have always thought that scientists were boring people with absolutely no eye for beauty at all. I mean, they must be if they choose to study such tedious subjects, right? Studying facts and numbers and running the same test over and over only to find more facts and numbers has had no aesthetic value in my experience, and there’s no way that you could convince me that observing how grass grows is in any way beautiful. However, when you look at the bigger picture, when you think about grass growing as life developing, the process is undeniably an act of beauty.
To me, the most beautiful experiment that we observed in class wsa clearly the the demonstration with the magnet and liquid nitrogen that Dr. Burgmayer performed. I thought that every part of that was visually pleasurable. Even before the experiement began and Dr. Burgmayer was explaining what liquid nitrogen was, she poured it out of the slim, silver canister in which it was contained and onto the rug of the lecture hall. I was astonished. It just disappeared! It looked like water, but didn’t leave a mark. And she didn’t seem to think anything of it, which only added to the mystery of the substance. It was so clear and lovely, and later, it allowed the tiny magnet to appear to float. The spinning magnet moved with the lightness and fluidity of motion that dancers dream of when performing their turns. It was so amazing to me, that I literally gasped aloud when I realized what was happening..
To Dr. Burgmayer however, the hovering magnet was more “cool” than beautiful. From how she explained this reaction, I took it to mean that her ability to appreciate its aesthetic value was lessened because it takes so much human intervention to make it possible. To her, the balancing of the forks on the edge of the coffee cup was the “closest thing” to being beautiful, but is that because of its simplicity? Maybe because she was the “magician” herself in the magnet experiment, and knew exactly what chemical reactions were making it possible that it felt contrived or forced. But what’s to say that something that requires a lot of work is less beautiful?
In addition to taking into account the reports and opinions given by scientists in class and in the online forum, I conducted an informal interview while driving in the car with my boyfriend, a physicist and engineer. His immediate answer when I asked what a scientist finds beautiful was “concepts and symmetry.” I couldn’t believe how quickly he was able to answer and also so exactly in agreement with the other scientists and mathematicians in class. I know that when this question was posed to me, I needed to think about it for quite awhile before I could articulate what it was that I personally find beautiful, as a humanist. He was also able to create (what I consider to be) a very beautiful metaphor between music and science by saying that mathmaticians are like composers in that they create the formulas and equations. They are the ones who “come up with new stuff,” whereas physicists (and other scientists) are like musicians because they are the ones who employ the equations and put them to practical use. His point was to illustrate that essentially, there is no difference between finding a new formula and writing a concerto. There are undeniable similarities between simplifying information down to a few symbols in a balanced, symmetrical equation and filling measures with notes of the appropriate tone, length and volume. Even the words which we use to describe the two processes are similar. The same amount of time, effort and talent goes into each process so they are inherently beautiful in the same way because of the manner in which each is created. I couldn’t disagree.
I was also suprised by how well this theory also fit in with the teachings both of Professor Breckman and the writings of A. Zee in his work Fearful Symmetry. He writes:
“The beauty that Nature has revealed to physicists in
Her laws is a beauty of design, a beauty that recalls, to
some extent, the beauty of classical architecture, with
its emphasis on geometry and symmetry. The system
of aesthetics used by physicists in judging Nature also
draws its inspiration from the austere finality of
geometry” (Zee, 9.)
This leads me to the conclusion that all physicists have a particular sensitivity to and high regard for symmetry, in all forms, (though I am not sure that this is true for all scientists.)
Zee also goes on to make the point that simplicity and symmetry are intrinsically connected. Through his essay he illustrates the relationship between the aesthetic concerns of physicists and specifically the relationship between symmetry and simplicity. He concludes his essay by writing:
“We can now see how Nature’s underlying design can be simple
and comprehensible in spite of the apparent complexity of the
physical world” (Zee, 21.)
Zee argues that though Nature is ultimately complex, its complexities are actually the result of very simple principals. It is within these principals that beauty is revealed.
All of this talk of simplicity had brough to mind a song by the popular recording artist Jewel entitled “What’s Simple is True.” After writing this essay, I have come to agree with this statement. Oftentimes, the truth is simple. I am also reminded of the advice of Charles Baxter to my creative writing class last week. He told us always to write the truth because “what’s true will be beautiful.” In the spirit of “thinking like a scientist/mathematician,” I have concluded, that according to the transitive property of equality, (if a=b and b=c therefore a=c,) if what’s simple is true, and what’s true is beautiful, therefore what’s simple is beautiful. I have found the exercise of writing this paper to be a particularly beneficial learning experience in bridging the gap between my conceptions of my own perceptions of beauty and those of the scientists whom I had heretofore regarded as a separate species, intellectually.
My favorite quote from the Zee article was one from the writings of H. Bondi on working with Albert Einstein. I am constantly bringing up the fact that I don’t believe in doing anything that I don’t find somewhat beautiful and I was therefore very interested to learn that:
“As soon as an equation seemed to him to be ugly, he really
rather lost interest in it and could not understand why
somebody else would be willing to spend so much time on it.
He was quite convinced that beauty was a guiding principle
in the search for important results in theoretical physics”(Zee, 3.)
I find it extemely comforting to know that someone else shares my viewpoint and am downright flattered to know that the person is Einstein.


Beauty to an Appreciator of Science
Name: Alice Kauf
Date: 2005-02-23 12:35:11
Link to this Comment: 13161

<mytitle> Beauty,Spring 2005 Second Web Papers On Serendip

I take exception to the implied segregation of 'science' and 'art.' To label myself as a scientist is limiting, as all labels must be, and I don't think my appreciation of beauty is in any way unique to science. Even worse are the categories of 'scientist' and 'humanist.' It is true that science is not bounded by human-created phenomena, but what is math, our interpretation of these outside phenomena, but a creation of man? These are seemingly arbitrary rules of conduct that yield certain results, which stand alone as 'true,' but are completely manufactured. It is gymnastics of the mind. I cannot think of any work of literature that is more humane than x= vt+.5at^2. The equation itself describes a motion independent of people, but people have formulated it, giving symbols meaning and rules and creating it to help explain the world people are experiencing. In this sense, math based science is hugely humanistic. There is also a sense that an equation would be true whether it has been created or not—like great art before an artist has created it, they exist on a different plane, waiting to be experienced.

When I finish a math problem, I feel like I'm staring at slightly iced-over snow, shining in a night sky with a great deal of moonlight, but no obvious moon. There are no trees or buildings. There aren't distractions in this part of my mind, nothing jutting out of the ground to disturb the smooth, slightly undulating landscape I feel when an equation works. If I feel this way, the answer makes sense; the steps I take are nimble but assured, and the ground won't fall out under me. This total understanding doesn't happen often, but when it does, when my brain clicks and suddenly it's in harmony with the person who wrote the problem, it is beautiful. The harmony is like a transverse wave; I imagine my little brain patterns working to combine with whatever my professor or math book author was thinking. I understand.

In other fields of science, I can feel the same sort of connection—I feel that I can understand what someone is trying to convey; what someone wants me to see. But this is most clear with math and physics. Physics is just math describing things happening, or math is just the method of understanding physics, depending on which department one asks. Both depend on symbols and numbers to work out relationships. It's true that these symbols aren't real in the physical sense, but they take away the warped way people see the world. Our life and experiences affect the way we interpret the world; if they did not, we would be inhuman. But math, which by some miracle comes from our minds, can be interpreted in only one way. It is what it is. We can say a statement is 'true' or it is not, but we cannot say that a mathematical statement means well, has a crush on another statement, and is worried about what will happen to it once a person has stopped formulating it. It is a perfect moment of existence; an equation just is. I have not reached enlightenment. I cannot just be. The equation may have no reflection on its Buddha-like existence, but that is all the more reason I admire it. There is a process of mathematics that brings this equation, or set of equations, into being, but it does not cease being. There is no end, or real beginning. I can begin, saying that 1+1=2=1+1=2 ad infinitum, but before I began typing it, 2 already equaled my first 1+1. To consider the world of math and physics as a purely human creation is therefore all the more mind blowing.

Scientists are typecast as highly literal, practical people. Some are. But I am classified as a scientist, and the concept of an equation that I understand connects me to the universe in a way I cannot explain, to something transcendental and eternal. It is a path to God.

My God is perhaps just a form of personal truth, elevated out of personhood. But physics in general challenges me to continue seeking truth, because as perfect as equations can seem, there are so many that are unsolved, or undiscovered. It is my job to try to understand this strange world; if I have to make temporary conclusions on the nature of things, I will have to reconcile my thoughts to them. Most of the world's physicists believe that at a very fundamental level, some processes are random. They believe that even if we had better equations, infinitely better equipment, and an infinite capacity to process data, we simply cannot predict what will happen next, because the universe at its very core is unpredictable. There are some physicists who are 'hidden variablists,' people who believe that there is some force, some phenomenon that we don't yet know about that would explain this randomness. It is possible that we will never see or be able to see this new variable, but they strongly believe that it exists. I admire both camps. Accepting the idea that existence is at its core chaotic seem so peaceful. Yes, the world is crazy, but by accepting that, one can begin to cultivate peace within oneself. But it's a little inspiring to think of a troop of scientists march off in search of something that very possibly doesn't exist. That's faith that I don't think I can ever attain, and I envy them. There's something beautiful about a doomed quest. Of course, if the quest isn't doomed, if they are right, and there is an order to the world, satisfied zealotry is wonderful to see and experience. This is what makes science beautiful, the chance that things may appear differently tomorrow. Our knowledge can grow, but will always be incomplete.

On a more earthly tangent, I did not find the physics demonstrations particularly beautiful, except for the superconductor causing the magnet to float. When asked by Hannah if the wine glass demonstration would be more beautiful if it used real glass and water, I said yes, because there would be more at stake, requiring greater trust in the theory. She then went into a dreamy explanation of why it wouldn't enhance the beauty at all, because the true beauty was in the success of the demonstration because of the forces, and it shows that the theory is correct. It was wonderful to hear, and her explanation had beauty. I see her point, but disagree. The conveyance of the idea in this way is not important to me; I found it inadequate as an explanation. The beauty of a demonstration lies in the faith people have in the theory; the leap from paper to more corporeal reality. And the beauty is the most extreme when we need the theory to work the most, and it does. Hannah was right in that the theory of motion is beautiful, but I don't think that that can be conveyed through a literal demonstration. A free body diagram of a yo-yo doing an 'around the world,' now that shows the essence of kinematics. Arrows are drawn to represent forces, and one can see immediately what is happening and why. It is a much more efficient and direct way of showing Hannah's point about the beauty of forces. It just isn't dramatic or visually pretty.

The superconductor was beautiful, because it was visually pretty, and proved theories about magnetic field lines. When a student is told about fields, her is told to 'imagine invisible lines flowing all around charges, magnets, and even masses, that don't do anything unless another charge, a magnetic material, or mass is in it.' It is hugely manufactured concept. But when one sprinkles metal filings over a piece of paper, which in turn is over a magnet, one can see real lines formed by the filings. They are following the field lines—the picture arrows drawn in textbooks, which seem so much more abstract and unreal than forces, actually exist! The superconductor causes the tiny magnet's field lines to squeeze out; with such strength that gravity is overpowered in the half a centimeter above the superconductor. It works because, for mysterious reasons, special materials seem to refuse to let magnetic fields in once below a certain temperature. It is awe-inspiring for me.

Sciences like chemistry make me see the interconnectedness of more physical things, instead of the ethereal. Atoms vibrating and fitting together just so, and the world is created. That's amazing and beautiful. Our world is mind-bogglingly complex, and yet we've made a dent in understanding it, enough to begin comprehending just how inconceivable it really is. A nice paradox in there, but it's still amazing to me that we've made any dent at all. How incredible that we have a good working understanding of the insides of structures that no human can ever directly experience! Even more astounding is our knowledge of structures that even our best machines cannot directly experience. Things can be discovered and understood based on their affect of other, larger things. I find comfort and beauty in the regulated and highly organized study of plants and animals, even if the organization is completely created by the scientists studying them. In the physical sciences, there is a distinct promise of order and meaning. Some over arching patterns must begin to appear, and life appears highly well-regulated, and all the more incredible, because of its preciseness.

There is real whimsy in much of science, perhaps heightened by the austere, strict rules of research. "Truth" and "Beauty" were the first names given to newly discovered fundamental particles. Scientists have in-jokes and private instances of glee, unfortunately closed to the experiences of the general public, because of the cultural bias that advanced science to be some hallowed, terrifying ground that just isn't open to others, and the continuing problem of the ivory tower. Scientists need to reach out more, to other academic fields and the public, to build an understanding of scientific principles. The world would appear much more amazing.

Some faith is required to accept what we experience as real, in believing that what we see is not an anomaly of our brain but exists dependably outside of ourselves. But once that is assumed, our world expands exponentially; so much can be experienced and known. Science encourages me to explore more of the world, and to continue to search for more apparent truths. But a great painting with burning colors, poetry and balance inspires the exact same thing in me. Science has more mundane rewards in the search for new, life expanding knowledge, like CDs and hybrid cars. But that doesn't mean it is a more or less valid method of finding beauty.


Stinky Cheese
Name: Catherine
Date: 2005-02-23 14:16:14
Link to this Comment: 13164




9:00 a.m. : Sunday morning breakfast. A hard wood chair somehow finds its way underneath me while I begin to emerge from a groggy, half asleep state. As I open and shut my eyes repeatedly, a cup filled with coffee begins to appear in front of me, emerging from a blurry haze. As I reach for my daily dose of caffeine that never fails to get me going, my mom and dad sit down next to me. As I begin to indulge in my chocolate granola cereal, my father nonchalantly unwraps a lump, packaged in foil. Shortly after this un-packaging, my senses go into shock, overwhelmed by the suffocating stench emitting from the freshly unwrapped lump. The smell, rancid and sour, so thick, like a fog, penetrates my senses, especially scent, and chokes me. Naturally, my reflexes bring my hand to clasp over my nose and I run out of the room, leaving my parents hooting with laughter in the kitchen. After I stick my head outside and took in a few breaths of fresh air to clear my senses, I retreat to the kitchen, prepared for battle with a bandana covering my nose and mouth. I pop my head around the corner of the kitchen where I see my parents slicing through the…..thing… and eating it. I open a window and approach the table. I cautiously examine “it” with my eyes and poke “it” with a knife. My eyes begin to water. My parents dare me to taste. Curiosity maneuvers my fingers to clasp the knife a little tighter, draw a thin, clean slice through the cheese. My hand moves the cheese to and from my mouth several times before sliding it in attacking my taste buds. The cheese tastes as strong as it smells but yet a bit different. It has an almost pleasant flavor, sour and rich. How? Why? I am hooked.

As many great scientific revelations began as an accident, cheese was discovered in a similar manner. The earliest cheese was a form of sour milk supposedly discovered by a man traveling in the Middle East thousands of years before Christ and is mentioned in the Old Testament. After several hours, he stopped for a drink of the milk he had stored in a saddle bag made of the stomach of an animal. The reactions that occurred between the milk, heat from the sunlight, and an enzyme formed curds of cheese. The evolution of cheese continued. Whether it was a single man in the Middle East, or a sporadic discovery in different locations at different times, Hoffmann’s idea that individual pleasure in an object or idea gains strength when shared with others is proven vital to the evolution of cheese. The sharing of the process led to the Roman experimentation with cheese. It was during this time the Romans learned how different treatments and conditions would affect the flavor of the cheese. Throughout the Middle Ages and Renaissance periods cheese rose and fell in popularity and eventually cheese production moved from farm based to factory production giving more variety in flavors and consistencies.
Cheese is one example of the type of every day things taken for granted. The form cheese is often presented in, a block, or a wheel, or a wedge, is the simple product of a complex series of chemical reactions. It is difficult to be satisfied with reducing “cheese” to a series of chemical equations that show what reactions are taking place, and the resulting final product. It is preferable, rather, to “adumbrate reasons and causes…by structuring a narrative to make up for the lack of simplicity”, as suggested by Hoffman, so as not to take away from the experience of the chemical reactions. This is where the history of cheese becomes important and the varied ingredients and sources of ingredients, and processes involved in making cheese become important. A better idea yet would be to perform the task of making cheese, as we performed different chemical and physics experiments to better understand some of the concepts we were introduced to through Dr. Beckman’s and Sharon’s lectures. Even if chemical equations were able to account for the difference in taste by explaining in a reaction how the final taste of the cheese will be affected by different enzymes present in milk from different sources, or how long the cheese has been ripened, it cannot account for the actual outcome. REAL cheese, not processed cheese, will never taste the same every time it is made, even if the instructions are followed word for word. Cheddar is not just a Cheddar. Nor is a Brie just a Brie. Smelling the strength or mildness in the cheese, seeing the different shapes and colors of the cheese, tasting the different sourness, bitterness, sweetness, or feeling the hard or soft, or sticky consistencies of different cheese can tell a lot about the chemical processes involved in making cheese.

One of my favorite topics of conversation lately has been the color lecture and following experiments by Sharon. It mildly upset the ignorant child in me for a few days but I’m over it. Science has this effect on people. Color has always greatly enhanced my aesthetic enjoyment of the world and I look at things differently now, in terms of how the color that is enhancing my aesthetic pleasure of the object of admiration has come about. In fact, it is not only color, but with science in general. The more science classes I take, the more often I look at the world in terms of scientific processes. It is amazing, and beautiful. Can cheese be enjoyed without knowing how it was formed? Yes, and it could be well argued that many do not want to know the full process and enjoy cheese more without the information on how cheese is made because the idea of consuming mold is not appealing to many people Cheese is true because it is beautiful. There are so many ways to arrive at some form of cheese, and the same flavor of a cheese cannot be repeated exactly, this unpredictability of the different reactions that will occur altering the product enhances its beauty. The man wandering through the Middle Eastern desert brought along milk in a container he believe would keep it preserved so when the time came, he would be able to enjoy it. He had no idea he would stumble across the creation of a food product that would some day become one of the pillars of some world cuisines.

Do we find the world beautiful because of the simple products that result out of such complicated processes? Is it beautiful because of the tension between the person experiencing the product, and the one who created it, as Hoffman would suggest? Or does it lie in the simplicity of the resulting product of the complex processes, as Zee might argue. Is it beautiful because it is aesthetically pleasing or is it beautiful because it we know it to be true? My cheese experience was similar to the way many felt during the experiments we performed together as a class. Many people had an idea of what was going on, but few actually understood the processes that were occurring to create the visible reactions we observed. Some of who did not understand the complete processes were bothered by the fact they did not have this knowledge, others were satisfied with observing the aesthetic beauty that was a result of the experiments. Some of the experiments dealt with processes familiar to us in every day life, as cheese is, that we never thought twice about (color/transition metal experiments), and others – the silver experiment, Prussian blue experiment, are not experiments we deal with often.

The Sunday morning cheese experiment woke me up faster than any cup of coffee ever could have. It opened my eyes to the chemistry around me in every day life. It stimulated my curiosity in the sciences and in the process of cheese-making (as my freshman year roommate can attest to). Who would have thought there could be so many ways to arrive at a single product with the possibility of arriving at a totally different product by adding or removing one of the ingredients? It is important to share knowledge and fear less mistakes, as they may be the answer to an unsolved question. It is important to experiment and experience, to interact with surroundings, to indulge in stinky cheese, if only one time (it’s delicious, I promise). It is amazing how reactions or equations can describe complicated concepts but they cannot experience or teach the lessons relayed through experiences. The most beautiful part of science, is the ability to start with a product, and learn how it became, and conversely, to learn to put things together to achieve a meaningful product.



Hoffman, Roald. "Thoughts on Aesthetics and Visualization in Chemistry" Preface. Issue on Aesthetics and Visualization. Hyle.

Wildcome, Richard. The Cheese Book, Seacauens, NJ, 1978.

Zee, A. Fearful Symmetry. Princeton, NJ, 1999.

www.efr.ac.uk/SDA/cheese2.html


Beauty in Mathematics
Name: eebs (Euge
Date: 2005-02-23 14:50:52
Link to this Comment: 13165

<mytitle> Beauty,Spring 2005 Second Web Papers On Serendip

Eugenia Chan (eebs) February 23, 2005 Paper #2 Dr. B Beauty in Mathematics Roald Hoffman stated in his essay, gThoughts on Aesthetics and Visualization in Chemistryh, that gbeauty is created [and found] c at some tense edge where symmetry and asymmetry, simplicity and complexity, order and chaos, contendh (Hoffman 4). An artist may be able to see the beauty of a portrait, or a landscape in terms of the symmetry, asymmetry, simplicity, complexity, order and chaos that Hoffman speaks of. However, from scientistsf, or perhaps a mathematiciansf point of view, beauty is more than just the first-glace aesthetical perception; it has to do with the ability to manipulate or create a concept and rules by which everyone can communicate with. Science lays in the foundation of mathematics; mathematics is in fact where chemistry, biology, and physics begin. It is then the simplicity of mathematics that makes the world in the eye of a scientist so beautiful. Hoffman suggested that humans have gsomehow evolved to favor simplicityh (Hoffman 3) suggesting that whatever we are able to understand and make sense of, we are able to think of as beautiful. Mathematics is probably the only elanguagef that can be simplified or condensed; it is taking a larger concept of an idea and using symbols to represent that idea in a simpler manner. The number e6f for example, refers to an idea of physically having six different objects. However, through time this symbol has become a universal sign representing the idea of physically having six somethings. The figure itself does not consist of six strokes, nor does it seem like it contains six of anything, but nevertheless it is representational of a larger idea. The mere fact that these seemingly meaningless symbols represent something on a universal scale is even more beautiful. Think about it. There are only a very limited number of languages that are universal and they are all linked to mathematics in one way or another, whether it is pure mathematics or music. Like an artist, the scientists and mathematicians expresses and communicates their gknowledge and emotionh (Hoffman 3) using symbols on paper in an gabstract artistic wayh (Hoffman 3). Communication is what makes us human; humans long to be able to relate, understand, and share with one another. Contrary to popular beliefs, art is not the only gateway for such human contact; science too can also be a humanistic study. Of course, the beauty of mathematics to most mathematicians and scientist is its nature of being purely objective and not subjective. Unlike of the other disciplines, there are no grey areas in mathematics; there are no confusions. Of course, this exactness of mathematics comes at a price of having to learn all of the principles and laws that must be strictly followed for one to experience this regularity and perhaps reliability of mathematics. But one this is certain, mathematics can and does make life simpler- furthermore, it is essential to everyonefs lives. No one really considers or counts the number of times we do esimple-mathf in our heads everyday: it can be in the form of time management, or splitting an order of cheese fries with a friend. Math is essential and important, and something important to us can always be viewed as beautiful. What strikes me as most fascinating is the idea of mathematics being symmetrical, asymmetrical, simple, complex, orderly and chaotic all at once. This improbable occurrence happens all the time in a simple mathematical (or chemical) equation. I am personally not a big fan of mathematics in the classroom; I believe that its function and usefulness is beautiful in a more universal scale, but in itself- I could do without. Math class every Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays is always a painful experience. However, the motivation and excitement I get from taking the math course is, obviously when I can get the correct answer but also, when I understand and see the steps where something slowly evolves into another thing, how çsin3(5x)cos10(5x)dx could transform itself in a matter of eight steps into (1/5)[(1/13)cos13(5x)-(1/11) cos11(5x)] +C. In a sense, this equation:
çsin3(5x)cos10(5x)dx = (1/5)[(1/13)cos13(5x)-(1/11) cos11(5x)] +C
could be seen as asymmetry since both sides do not physically look like one another. But in the different sense, they are equal, so technically, they are symmetrical, or at least balanced or equal. One of the most wonderful characteristics about mathematics is how one is able to use it, and solve it in so many different ways. Eventually, the answer will be the same (given that it was done correctly). This pseudo-variation (where it seems different but in actuality is not) intrigues me most about mathematics. In mathematics, simplicity can be associated with order. This is not to say in the real world that this holds true, but in the world of mathematics where everything is (essentially) perfect, simplicity = order, and likewise, complexity = chaos. In the beautiful world of mathematics, there IS a cure for chaos; algebraic manipulation, factoring, substitutionc just to name a few. But the real world doesnft have such an easy cure for chaos; there are more problems to deal with, more issues to consider, and most of all, more complications to control and fix. The world of mathematics IS simple in comparison to the real world, it is perfect, and it is flawless. Knowing that a perfect world exists somewhere is a rather satisfying feeling; for once, you do not have to think about not being able to solve a problem. Knowing this about mathematics, in a sense, makes it beautiful and perhaps comforting to me. Without mathematics, the world would not be an uglier place, but it would be an emptier one. Without mathematics and the sciences, the technological world as we know it would not be the same. Nature would be unaffected, but nature is not the only entity we think of as beautiful, as some people stated, they found their possessions (created by technology and ultimately mathematics) beautiful and meaningful to them. The possessions that we consider beautiful are the end products of the beautiful edoingsf of mathematicsc that is awe striking and enough to convince me that mathematics and science is a beautiful thing I could not live without. Walking into math class is still hard for me- I could never appreciate math in its purest form; not by doing hours and hours of problems listed in the oh-so-familiar James Stewartsfs 5th Edition. But after reading Hoffman (and after digesting his words for a few weeks), I was able to see mathematics from his viewpointc and it is actually beautiful.

References

Roald Hoffman, "Thoughts on Aesthetics and Visualization in Chemistry." Preface to an issue on Aesthetics and Visualization. Hyle.


Science is Beautiful!
Name: Krystal Ma
Date: 2005-02-23 15:27:39
Link to this Comment: 13167

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Beauty,Spring 2005
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*This paper is quite bizarre. I've actually written it as if I were an old, acerbic scientist frustrated by the way that many people view beauty.*

"Renoir's 'Bathers'!"

"Tarentino's movies...the latest ones...the Kill Bill series!"

"A vase of red roses!"

These are some of the things that I hear people exclaim when asked what they find beautiful. I have to contain my laughter when I hear such nonsense. Ancient paintings? Tasteless and gory films? This is what people find beautiful? Is this the best that they can find in the majestic world in which we live? How have bona fide works of beauty such as Boltzmann's equation, laws of thermodynamics...the very formation of the universe been overlooked? I can appreciate things such as Ravel's compositions and the majesty of the Iguaçu Falls but I would not go so far as to call them beautiful. Such a descriptor would be reserved for that which makes one gape and cry out in amazement. The human body and the way it functions so efficiently and harmoniously is an example of something worthy of being called beautiful.

The human body is constantly working. Rain, sleet, or snow your body can be counted on to be home to mind boggling amounts of reactions. Glycolysis and the Krebs Cycle in creating ATP for your body to use as energy, meiosis and mitosis in reproducing cells, and the replication of DNA in cells are just a handful of the many reactions occurring as you read these words thanks to the cones and rods in your eyes and the central nervous system. With all of the reactions that occur, there are relatively few problems with the processes. For example, consider that during DNA synthesis, DNA polymerase makes one mistake for every 10,000 nucleotides formed. This is an amazing feat that many man made machines cannot lay claim to.

Such accuracy is possible because of the simplicity of most reactions that take place in the human body. For example, mitosis is a relatively simple process that is necessary in replicating DNA which is the building blocks of life. First, the homologous chromosomes in a cell condense and spindle begins to form. Next, the nuclear envelope surrounding the cell begins to break down. Sister chromotids (smaller sections of chromosomes) begin to separate and are pulled towards opposite poles. The sides of the cell then pinch at the middle of the cell so that the opposite sides eventual touch before the cell separates in half. In place of the original singular cell, there are now two new cells with material from the parent (original) cell.

The essentiality of cells would suggest that a more complex process would be necessary but this is not true. Even the other method of cell reproduction, meiosis, which has more genetic material to partition into four cells, is not very complex. I find the fact that these amazing processes, which are integral, can be explained in relatively simple terms that even the 'layman' can visualize and understand to be beautiful. The symmetry of this process...one cell splitting evenly to become two cells with matching material is also awe-inspiring and quite beautiful. The fact that this process occurs, much like other reactions within our bodies, with relatively few errors and without humans consciously thinking about it, strikes me as beautiful. I doubt that there is any 'machine' or 'work of art' as beautiful as the living body and the numerous reactions.

Evolution, however, is another phenomenon related to science that comes close to matching the beauty of the living body. Like mitosis, it illustrates the simplicity to be found in the realm of science. In evolution, the characteristics and traits of animals that are most useful to their success with reproduction and the enlargement of their species' population are maintained and passed to their offspring to continue the process. The traits that are not helpful in procreation are simply lost over time to save the energy and commitment for the necessary traits. New and necessary traits are usually the result of random mutations that happen to help living things which are passed down to next generations.

One example of evolution at work could be occurring on the very surface of your skin now. When soaps are used that proclaim to 'kill 99.9% of germs' they obviously kill most of the bacteria but the bacteria with a difference in gene make-up which allows it to live go unaffected. Soon these bacteria replicate and their offspring, carrying their anti-bacterial mutation, populate your hands. There is also the example of male birds that have brightly colored feathers to attract females. While bright and extravagant displays attract the opposite sex (witness the male peacock) if the display is too much of a burden for the bird and affects its health, the display is no longer effective nor is it likely to be spread due to the weakened health of the bird. This example reinforces the idea that greater simplicity offers greater chance for success rates and less errors in various reactions and processes. The simplicity and organized methodology that can be found in the complex world around us and within our complex selves never ceases to amaze me. There is great beauty in these simple, structured processes that I just cannot deign to compare to the cinematography of a movie or technique utilized to create a 'masterpiece' painting.

To avoid appearing to be an elitist or a grand intellectual I would like to actually defend and explain the appeal of certain things, such as particular songs, paintings, or movies, to which people seem to equate beauty. As ridiculous as it may sound to some, these 'arts' are beautiful because of the science behind it or the science that is involved. Show me something that you find to be beautiful and I will show you how science is the key to enjoying these things. Just take a second to consider a song that you may enjoy or think of as beautiful. The song is beautiful because of the vibrations that it sends through the air and to your ear. The different wave vibrations and pitches reach your inner ear (where it is intercepted and reflected among other things) and are interpreted by your brain. Keep in mind that this all happens at extremely rapid speeds and that various mechanisms are involved which let us concentrate on certain sounds or makes it possible for us to hear low volumes of sound even with the presence of louder sounds (think of trying to hear an friend's voice over the crescendo of a song). Without the magnificent and beautiful way that your ear 'hears' sounds, there would be no way for you to appreciate your favorite songs or the sound of birds chirping and leaves rustling in the wind on a summer's day.

Science, and all the theories and equations that are associated with it, is the truly beautiful aspect of our world. No 'pretty' colors or drawings are needed for it to be so either. Science's beauty lies in the symmetry, simplicity, and logic that are often involved in explaining the ways of the world. If one finds it absolutely necessary, however, science can be viewed as beautiful in terms of the physical or tangible. Just look outside your windows and witness the splendid scene or look at a mosaic by your favorite artist; science is involved and the reason for the appeal of these things. I only wish that more of the people I come in contact with on a daily basis realized the great beauty and awesome nature of science. Oh the joy I would experience if instead of the snippets of conversation listed at the beginning I heard things like:

"Wow! The way that cells communicate is beautiful! Simply outstanding!"

or

"I have never seen something so beautiful as the reduction-oxidation in or outside of the lab!"

Honestly...there would be no greater joy.


The Equation of Beauty
Name: Liz Patere
Date: 2005-02-23 15:47:22
Link to this Comment: 13171

<mytitle>
Beauty,Spring 2005
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Beauty is a social and genetic construct that exists only in the mind. It is like a mathematical formula, because it has predictable patterns. These arise not from the simplicity in beauty or the newness or any one stagnant concept but rather the combination of an individual's genetics, nurture and nature. There is a framework created by genetics, which is built on by socialization and personality. However, saying that each person should experience beauty a correct way or that one quality always makes something beautiful is a false concept because it fails to recognize that beauty is not a tangible thing. It is not intrinsic to an object or concept.

Like color, beauty is the seen through human eyes and is not intrinsic to an object. With color, the tangible component consists of the wavelength of light the object most readily absorbs. In beauty the only tangible component is what we are genetically predisposed to see as beautiful. Beauty is not easily definable because it means something different to everyone. Therefore we must not talk about beauty as a blanket concept but rather an individual reaction to a stimulus. In both cases, there is predictability as to what each individual will see when shown a certain stimulus; however, what is seen is not the same to everyone and therefore does not exist in the object itself.

The individuality of beauty is often ignored for a blanket concept of what is beautiful and how this beauty should be seen. Dewey does this when he says that we can only experience beauty when we are ignorant. Barnes does this when he talks about viewing art without any outside information. They feel that their opinions on how to see beauty are the most correct or will teach people the most. However, people require different experiences to find things beautiful. There are those who will be happy with the approach of random discovery and ignorance, others however, require knowledge in order to find beauty in something. Knowledge cannot exist without ignorance and ignorance cannot exist without knowledge. Sometimes we are simply so grateful to understand something that we find it beautiful. Other times we are grateful for finally having the new experience. However, saying that both cannot be beautiful is a narrow blanket perspective, which is incorrect.

There is a genetic component to beauty that in some way is similar to a blanket concept. This idea can be recognized in two ways. The ideals of beauty do not change over time and there is an equivalent concept in non-human animals. This indicates the response is most likely subconscious. These traits commonly exist to aid in survival of the organism or their offspring. Appearance attracts mates in both the human and animal world. In humans, individuals will find symmetric faces attractive. This trait has held up throughout time. In animals, the equivalent is varies by species but could be size, coloration or any trait that shows reproductive fitness. However, this should not be taken out of context and stated that humans find everything symmetrical beautiful. This response directly relates to mate selection and therefore can only be applied to other humans. Humans also have a tendency to view love or companionship as beautiful. Humans will have difficulty surviving without companionship. Even humans, who refer to themselves as loners tend to have a group affiliation or some attempted group interaction. This is likely an evolutionary response to aid in survival. Humans are not extremely adept at using their bodies in self defense. In groups, humans can use their minds to create weapons and strategies. Once again this response has remained the same throughout human history and has a sister component in the animal kingdom. Fish remain in schools to be protected from predators. Wolves remain in packs, because doing so allows them to hunt better. It is not a conscious choice for these animals to do this; they respond this way naturally.

There is a component of socialization to beauty that often involves status. This type of beauty varies by generation; however, is accepted by a large portion of the population as being beautiful. In times when there were many manual laborers, paleness was seen as beautiful because it was a sign that you were above the working class. Today thin women are viewed as beautiful, yet at other times in history curvy women or overweight women were viewed as the most desirable. Obesity was seen as beautiful because it was rare and was a status symbol. Today, food is abundant; therefore, beauty is seen as beauty thinness in females. This may be because it is rare and difficult to maintain in this society. While this is all the natural desire to select the best mate, idea of what is best is socialized, instead of present inherently, making it different from the genetic component. Because it creates a more conscious understanding of mate selection, the human mind can place status above the natural reaction to beauty. Therefore detrimental traits, such as extreme thinness can be placed above the health of the potential mate.

The idea of socialization of beauty can also be seen in objects and art. Art reflects its time period. In a time of disillusionment, art may question the world. In times of opulence, art is often baroque. This art is often what is viewed as the beauty of the time. Once again the variable nature of the beauty and the mass acceptance defines it as a socialized piece of the beauty formula.

Looking at the personality in conjunction with the socialization of the observer also influences what is seen as beautiful. People who enjoy new things are more likely to be bored by art that they have seen a large number of times. People who have a fond appreciation of the past may appreciate classical ideals over the modern ideal. Curious people will require knowledge before they can find something beautiful. Individuals who find themselves rejected from society will view the general ideals of society as ugly and will create their own standard for beauty. This is seen in the large numbers of subcultures, such as punk or goth. These groups create a standard that shocks the society and that will most likely be found to be ugly. This defiant appearance, however, is what these individuals find beautiful. There is rarely a large amount of defiance of the genetic component. For example, there is still beauty in a symmetrical face, there is still a desire for group interaction and group affiliation; however, it must be separate from the main group of society. All of these ideas take what was created by socialization and modify them to the individual.

The equation that defines beauty is built on genetics, socialization and a person's nature. The genetic component forms the general outline of the formula. It is almost never defied. Socialization takes the genetic component and adds other components that alter what is seen as beautiful. It creates more parameters based on the basic idea of selecting the best mate or belonging to a group. It can override the natural genetic ideal in certain cases, because it is based on conscious choice. Personality components build on, modify or defy socialization. They do not, however, oppose what is created by the genetic framework. Therefore beauty cannot be defines in any blanket terms or generalizations. There is no right way to see beauty because it is about how the world interacts with an individual.


Scientific Beauty
Name: Beatrice l
Date: 2005-02-23 16:09:16
Link to this Comment: 13172

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Beauty,Spring 2005
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In order to really examine beauty from a scientific perspective, I must build on what I already know. Aside from what I have learned in the past few weeks about physics and chemistry, I have never been very familiar with the "hard sciences." I have always preferred the social scientific perspective; and I have learned to appreciate the way in which it utilizes the knowledge of the other sciences.

I have loved the field of psychology for as long as I can remember. I have always strived for a better understanding of the way the human mind works. I believe this field of study is beautiful because it allows us to have a deeper knowledge of each other, shedding light on the origins of emotions, motives behind actions, and personal preferences. I am aware that other forms of science like to explain the physical world around us. Psychology, however, seeks to explain the invisible. We have never seen one another's mind; it is not physically tangible. Of course, there are biological processes taking place in the physical brain, but I do not consider that to be the same thing as one's mind.

Psychology can be though of as a sort of bridge between philosophy and physical sciences. Historically, early psychology actually grew out of philosophy. However, these days, many experiments are conducted following the scientific method. Empirical data has come to hold great importance when presenting new findings and theories. Therefore, this field incorporates both scientific and humanistic ideas.

This combination of approaches seems to have created conflicting ideas within my own mind. For example, when our class conducted those brief chemistry experiments, I realized that I hated having them explained to me at the end. I did not want to know why two clear liquids turned blue when combined, or why the flame turned different colors when burning up certain chemicals that coated a piece of wire. Such knowledge seemed to taint the "magic." Perhaps this is because I am not familiar or comfortable with this particular type of science. I considered each experiment to be an experience. Learning all the details made me feel as though I had to retain the information I was given, or otherwise I would not be appreciating the experiment as I was supposed to. I had suddenly felt disappointed. The illusion was gone. The liquids, the metals, and the reactions had all been identified, and I was left wondering how to process all of the information.

On the other hand, when it comes to understanding the way people think and act, I want to know everything I possibly can. I feel that the human mind and the intricate thought processes that usually go unnoticed are remarkable. There are so many branches of psychology and so many theories that it feels as though I am constantly searching for the most accurate explanation. The magic never really dies because no single approach, be it behavior analytic or cognitive, holds all the answers.

Our class discussions have shown us that we each find different things to be beautiful. It seems that understanding beauty has become a goal. A recurring idea in our scientific readings is that of the beauty of symmetry. This immediately struck a chord with me, as I had remembered reading of psychological studies that had sought to verify what determines physical beauty in people. Many of these studies found that one's bilateral facial symmetry played a huge part in how attractive others considered him/her. The studies revealed that facial symmetry is attractive to individuals of varying cultures and ethnicities.

In addition to the symmetry factor, another trait that is most often appealing (although possibly not on a conscious level for most people) is the waist-to-hip ratio. It is most attractive when women have a ratio of 0.7, and 0.9 for men. Again, this has all been found through empirical studies. An explanation that has been offered for the attractiveness of these ratios is rooted in evolutionary theory. Other physical traits that people find striking were also appealing to our ancestors. Evolutionarily speaking, an individual would want to procreate with someone who has a good complexion, for example, because it is thought to be indicative of good health. Such beliefs have been passed down to us, though we may not even be aware of their presence in our lives.

These are just a few of the findings that have come about through experimentation and analysis. Such information gives us a different scientific insight into the understanding of beauty. Furthermore, chemistry can explain why we see colors the way we do, but some psychological studies would prefer to explain how viewing certain colors may affect a person. This example shows how psychology tends to build upon scientific fact.

A physicist's opinion about the beauty of symmetry is perfectly understandable. Personally, I think symmetry is beautiful because of its balance, its evenness. When symmetry is present, there seems to be a lack of chaos. It is difficult for me to fully understand and identify with a physicist's perception of beauty otherwise. In most sciences, people work toward a final result. Eventually, a hypothesis may become a theory; a theory may then become a scientific law. However, in my chosen field of study, such laws are not established. I can understand how certainty and truth can be beautiful, but I believe that a sense of uncertainty that will keep an individual striving for a greater insight and knowledge that has no definite end is also a beautiful thing. So yet again, I find myself thinking conflicting thoughts. In "hard sciences", I find it almost comforting to know that there are definite reasons why certain reactions happen – although I may not want to know the details. Yet, as I have just explained, I find it intriguing that there are never any absolute truths or answers.

My interest in understanding the workings of the human mind have grown out of a seemingly intrinsic need that I have had to better comprehend the emotions of those around me. Clearly, there are medical explanations for certain mental illnesses and such, but I have always cared more about how individuals with such illnesses feel and how they cope. People and their emotions and dysfunctions cannot all fit into a specific set of criteria for diagnoses. Much information needs to be gathered in order to give as accurate a diagnosis as possible. There are methods for such information gathering; and it is this systematic process of deduction that I find so amazing. One little difference between the similar symptoms of two people can result in a different diagnosis for each. None of this methodology in the diagnosing of patients would exist if it were not for other forms of science and their methods.

Social sciences question and attempt to explain, though it is clear that they will never reach a universally accepted answer. Alternatively, other sciences are able to say with confidence that x and y cause z. Although these two fields of study have their similarities and differences, I believe that they almost balance each other out. And that balance is beautiful.


The Beauty of Science
Name: Alice Stea
Date: 2005-02-23 16:17:24
Link to this Comment: 13174

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In Philip Fisher's essay, "The Rainbow and Cartesian Wonder," he poses the question, why do we see a rainbow and wonder; "that is, why [does it] elicit science rather than a stable self-contained delight" (Fisher 38) . Certain experiences cause us to ask questions, to explore further their origin. We cannot merely accept our experience as being aesthetically pleasing and leave satisfied. This, in effect, is the basis of science: curiosity. There is never an end to the questions we can ask when have a scientific experience. Fisher's example of the rainbow presents exactly this issue. We see this optical illusion and know there must be some explanation behind it. We feel an urge to understand why this happens, to understand how the exact combination of light, rain, and clouds produces such vibrant colors.

Descartes theorized that, "wonder is a sudden surprise of the soul that brings it about that the soul goes on to consider with attention the objects that seem rare and extraordinary to it" (Fisher 46). This theory applies to my experience with the flame test we did in class. When I dipped the piece of wire into one of the clear liquids, copper for example, I was surprised that an emerald green flame appeared when placed in the flame. The color was mesmerizing; I repeated the experience at least four or five times. It took several trials for my brain to be convinced that I was really seeing it. I became curious; at the time all I saw was a clear liquid, with no label. When I saw the green flame, I immediately wanted to know what caused the color. Once I discovered it was copper, I wanted to know in more detail why the copper produced green, and why the potassium produced purple. I was intrigued, so I asked more questions. Through talking to some chemistry students and reading about it, I learned that the position of the valence electrons in the copper and the other elements causes them to each produce a unique color when placed in a flame. Each element has a specific make-up and a specific number of valence electrons, thus allowing scientists to distinguish an element based on the color flame it produces. Another thing I learned was that one does not need to be a chemist to make a discovery; I asked questions and found answers. I do not need to be a scientist to do science; all one needs is curiosity and passion.

Giving order to something large and seemingly chaotic seems to be the essence of science. This gives science its beauty, but it is a different kind of beauty. There is some element of aesthetic beauty in science, the colors of the flame test, for example, but this notion of order in seeming chaos is an entirely different aspect of beauty. This can apply to everything from the flame test, to a simple equation. A. Zee finds beauty in symmetry and simplicity; he has "faith that Nature has an underlying design of simplicity" (8). However, it is difficult to see the symmetry and simplicity when looking at a piece of copper. But scientists have found a way of zooming in on what the atom looks like, and finding a molecular structure and formula for each element. Kenneth Chang explains that, "with a mere handful of symbols, those equations describe almost all phenomena in the universe" (12) . Chang is speaking about mathematical equations, but the principle is the same. Chemists have whittled down the complexity of the atom and found a way to describe it in a very precise and compact way. A. Zee believes that "certainly the Ultimate Designer would use only beautiful equations in designing the universe" (Zee 3) . It seems impossible to be able to say that as we look at a piece of copper we know what the atoms that make up that metal look like. However, once scientists found the means to understand the atoms, they could explain how each element, and compound is made. Each structure is very simple and symmetrical; it is breathtaking when we see the element itself and its molecular formula next to it. Roald Hoffmann argues to the contrary, that beauty does not lie in simplicity, but in something that lies somewhere in between simplicity and complexity; it is a sort of dichotomy in nature; "beauty does not reside in simplicity. Nor in complexity, per se. For a molecule or a song, for a ceramic vase or a play, beauty is created out of the labor of human hands and minds. It is to be found, precarious, at some tense edge where symmetry and asymmetry, simplicity and complexity, order and chaos, contend" (4) . It is impossible to say that this theory or Zee's theory is always correct. Beauty is something we cannot put into a formula or explain scientifically. Equations and molecular formulas may be beautiful in themselves, but there is no formula for beauty.

In many ways the experience of the flame test is comparable to Fisher's example of a rainbow. He uses the rainbow as an example of an experience that causes wonder and thought. Rainbows are fascinating because they occur under very specific conditions. The most fascinating aspect about them is that they would not occur without the human eye to observe them. Fisher argues that it is because they are rare, and yet common enough to know that they really exist that that we find them so beautiful. According to him, "beauty visits, never stays" (36). The flame test fits under this definition of beauty; the test produces intense colors that fade rather quickly. Is this why we find it so mesmerizing: because beauty has some kind of temporality? Contrary to a rainbow, the flame test can be reproduced at any time. While the color lasts only a short time, it can be reproduced as many times as one desires. Perhaps if the metals were always these bright colors we would not find them as beautiful. They would be mundane, everyday experiences.

In order for something to remain beautiful, it must stay "long enough to be noticed and enjoyed, never so long as to outstay its welcome" (Fisher 35). However, this theory cannot always hold true. It is a valid theory, but only to a certain extent. A waterfall for example appears mostly the same day to day, but we can continually find it beautiful. It never enters into the realm of mundane. However, there is probably more curiosity about rainbows, or lightning, for example, because of the aspect of time. Lightning and rainbows occur under special circumstances; phenomena such as these elicit much more curiosity than a waterfall. This is the reason Descartes and Fisher believe that the rainbow possesses so much beauty; "the sudden appearance of the rainbow, its rareness, its beauty are all part of this initial act of striking us, trapping and holding our attention by means of beauty and the unwilled response of wonder" (Fisher 40). During the flame test, intense colors are created, inciting wonder and questions; what causes that to happen? The response to both a rainbow and the colors produced from a flame test are very similar. We wonder how the combination of sunlight, rain, and clouds can produce this spectrum of color in the same way that we wonder how a colorless liquid can produce such magnificent colors each time it is placed in the flame. There is a feeling of awe at the initial revelation of color.

Experience is different for each individual; the experience of science can be very subjective. Is there a point when one is satisfied with the answers we have? This may be what distinguishes the scientists from the non-scientists. A non-scientist may be curious, but may eventually be satisfied with the answers they have. A scientist is probably never satisfied with her answers; she will continue to ask and pursue some other truth. This is what Fisher would call the "psychology of discovery" (Fisher 33). Every person can be a scientist, and make discoveries, even if they have already been made before. This is the beautiful thing about science; contrary to what one might think, science is not just for scientists. We perform scientific experiments every day, maybe without even knowing it, just by wondering and being curious.

1. Fisher, Philip. "The Rainbow and Cartesian Wonder." London: Harvard UP, 1998.

2. Chang, Kenneth. "What Makes an Equation Beautiful". New York Times. 24 October 2004

3.Zee, A. Fearful Symmetry. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1999.

4.Roald Hoffmann. "Thoughts on Aesthetics and Visualization in Chemistry" www.americanscientist.org.


Two Perspectives of Snow
Name: Kara Rosan
Date: 2005-02-23 16:17:25
Link to this Comment: 13175

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I was sitting in chemistry class anxiously one afternoon a few weeks ago. I had heard that there was a large snowstorm coming. Considering I hadn't seen snow fall in eight years, I was full of anticipation. At one point I looked outside to see tiny white fuzz-looking things floating around. Unaccustomed to the sight, I first thought maybe a tree was spreading its seeds by means of the wind. As the feather-like particles continued to float on the air, I began to realize that I was looking at snow flurries. Most of the crystals had stuck to the ground, and were beginning to blend together into a clean, white blanket on the ground.
I tried to keep my focus on the class, but couldn't help but stare open-mouthed out the window. It was just so beautiful. Little white specks that just appeared from the sky wafted gently towards the earth as I sat and watched. They moved slowly at first, and then faster and thicker. They started out small and then grew larger as the time passed, and then were small again. It all seemed so random and sudden, like a miracle.
It also struck me as strange how such tiny, fragile things were now building on top of one another at a rather rapid pace to completely coat the lawn with a substantial layer of white. It seemed impossible that there could have been so many of them, and yet I knew that many more had melted when they touched down upon the surface.
As I walked through the stuff later that afternoon, I considered how unusual a consistency it had. It both supported my weight and collapsed under it, and made a satisfying crunching noise under my feet. When the sun peaked through the clouds, the landscape sparkled with the light. A few flakes landed on my face, refreshingly cold as they melted slowly from the heat of my skin.
Falling snow is one of the most beautiful sights that one can behold. In addition, however, the snow has a more personal connection for me that goes beyond the aesthetic beauty.
When I was ten years old, I moved from New Jersey, where I had lived all of my life, to Northern California. The transition was a difficult one for many reasons, but the most noticeable change in my living situation was the new climate in which I found myself. It never snows where I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, and the temperature rarely drops below 40 degrees. As a child on the East Coast, I loved the snow. I had fond memories of sledding down the hill in my backyard, having snowball fights with the kids in my neighborhood, making snowmen and snow-angels... I can go on and on. So when I moved, a significant part of my childhood experience was lost. I longed for it for the remainder of my childhood, spent in sunny California.
My warm memories of chilly East Coast winters stayed with me until it came time to decide where I would go to college. As I struggled to choose between big schools and small schools, urban school and rural schools, one thing was clear in my mind: I was going to college on the East Coast, where I could reclaim the experience of snowy winters.
All of this largely affects my fondness for the experience of snowfall. However, the beauty of the self-contained experience alone was not enough to satisfy me, as it had been when I was a child. My age and personality having much changed since then, I find that I am now much more curious about how the world works and why things happen the way they do. I now see the world through the eyes of a scientist. From this perspective, I see beauty in things that intrigue and engage me, that cause me to ask questions about their existence.
This is true of the snowfall. In fact, I probably would not have found the experience nearly as beautiful if it was self-explanatory. It is because it is such an unexpected and mysterious occurrence that it is so beautiful. The role of the aesthetic and nostalgic beauty is to make me wonder and care enough about the experience to want to understand it more. It is only the understanding that can allow me to fully appreciate the experience.
According to www.weatherquestions.com, a snowstorm occurs when there is a low-pressure zone between a warm air mass and a cold air mass. The warm air mass flows over the low-pressure zone, and the water vapor in the warm air condenses. This is because the air of lower pressure also has a lower temperature, since temperature and pressure are proportional to each other. The cold air freezes the water vapor and causes it to undergo a phase change from a gas to a liquid, and then to a solid. The water freezes and forms ice particles, which collect as the upward flowing air holds them up. After a while, the ice particles become too heavy for the updrafts to support them, and so they fall. The likelihood of snow depends on the amount of water vapor in the air mass, and the strength of the updrafts that condense it into snow.
On the molecular level, water molecules freeze together into a rigid structure, which continues to grow as it collects more water vapor. Snowflakes can be of all different shapes and sizes, depending on the environment in which it is formed and falls. According to www.chemistry.about.com, the weight of these structures, as well as the stability, depends on whether dirt or dust particles are mixed together with the water. Dirt particles can make the flakes heavier, and also cause cracks in the crystal structure so that it breaks apart more easily. This is why some snow melts quickly when it reaches the ground.
Snowflakes typically have a hexagonal structure. This is a reflection of the molecular structure, which consists of many water molecules bonded together through hydrogen bonds. These molecules bond in such a way that six of them form a ring with a hexagonal shape, and then that ring connects to six other rings like it at each corner of the hexagon. The network that is created, the snowflake, thus has a hexagonal structure as well. The specific shape of a snowflake depends largely on the temperature at which it was formed. The colder the weather is, the sharper, more intricate the shape of the snowflake. The shapes correspond to temperatures as follows:
• 32-25° F - Thin hexagonal plates
• 25-21° F - Needles
• 21-14° F - Hollow columns
• 14-10° F - Sector plates (hexagons with indentations)
• 10-3° F - Dendrites (lacy hexagonal shapes)
(http://chemistry.about.com/library/weekly/aa121001a.htm)

One of the most interesting questions about snow, at least in my mind, is why it appears to be white when ice and water are clear. I discovered the answer to this question at the same site. The structure of the snowflake is so complex and intricate that it has many surfaces off of which to reflect light. These surfaces scatter the light into all of its colors, and so the eye perceives it as white. The structure of ice, on the other hand, has a much more rigid and orderly structure, which is why it appears to be transparent.
Another snowfall just occurred a few nights ago. This time I was able to look at it through educated eyes. Amazingly, knowing in detail what was happening made it an entirely different experience, and even a more beautiful one. There was now added complexity to what I was looking at. Instead of seeing little white specks in the sky, I now looked closely and imagined I could see the intricate crystal structure of a flake. I watched to see whether or not a given flake would melt when it reached the ground, and wondered whether that indicated its contamination.
Science adds beauty to the world by giving us a means to look closer at things and develop an enhanced understanding of what we observe. We notice more, and in noticing, are better able to connect with a given experience. We exchange our childlike awe of the mysterious for a deep appreciation of nature's known processes.


How a Scientist Sees Beauty
Name: Megan Mona
Date: 2005-02-23 16:23:12
Link to this Comment: 13176

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Megan Monahan
CSEM 2 The Chemistry of Beauty
Dalke/ Burgmayer
February 24, 2005

How a Scientist Sees Beauty and
My Experience of Viewing Beauty as a Scientist


Though beauty comes in many different forms and seems to be different for each person who sees it, I think I have found that this might not be the case. People's ideas of beauty are typically based on their personalities, interests, and largely on personal experiences; yet, everyone finds beauty in relationships. When everyone first wrote about their own ideas of beauty nearly all papers included some mention of a beautiful relationship. While mostly these were interpersonal relationships it is not that different from the relationships that make science beautiful. Connections are exciting and beautiful no matter what their context and by realizing this I have found that I have been opened up to so many more beautiful experiences than I was previously.
When Peter Beckmann spoke of how the true beauty of science could be shown with just a piece of chalk and a blackboard, I was skeptical. I have had a hard time seeing science as beautiful because my own idea of beauty is such an instant gut reaction that I don't find the explanations for science as beautiful. However, the lecture opened my eyes to the awareness that my visceral reactions are simply the result of relationships just as the scientist's notion of beauty is.
Scientists also find beauty in the simple. Equations and connects distilled down to their most straightforward form brings great joy and satisfaction. The beauty of that which is not muddled seems quite universal to me and I believe everyone, scientist or not, can appreciate the beauty of that which is pure and clear. The beauty of the knowledge is also the most easily attained once this non complex form is discovered. Since knowledge is beautiful, a method which makes this beauty more easily grasped is also intrinsically beautiful.
I would never have thought that I would find the force of gravity to be very fascinating, let alone beautiful; however, during the in class experiments on Thursday the demonstrations that I found the most beauty in related in some way to gravity. My initial reaction would be that gravity is a rather ugly force since it inhibits us and everything around us. It causes things to fall and break, the mudslides in California would not be happening right now without gravity, and gravity causes wrinkles and other unpleasant signs of aging that would not usually be thought of as the most beautiful. But despite the destruction that gravity can cause, or maybe because of it, the beauty of this overwhelming force caught my attention. As a result of it being such an invincible and all encompassing power the small ways in which we cheat it become all the more beautiful.
The experiment pertaining to how the center of mass works on an object was really simple yet also astoundingly beautiful. There were no formulas or chemicals to make this experiment work. It was merely common household items that we see on a daily basis but suddenly they had become a demonstration of the forces at work on our earth at all times. Mundane objects had attained a new beauty through science though I had never believed that this would be possible for me to see. The way the forks were intertwined created a fascinating pattern but the most amazing aspect was how they seemed to float for no apparent reason. They glided back and forth on the thin toothpick placed ever so precariously on the edge of the cup and yet they did not fall. The movement was so fluid and I couldn't believe that it was holding itself up in that strange manner. Though I was not thinking about the physics of this demonstration at first and was just marveling at its beauty, I see now that it is all because of gravity. The point on the end on that toothpick, where the mass of the forks was distributed completely evenly, created a way for gravity to act on the forks in an unexpected way. The force did not have any place on the forks to pull them down and they were perfectly balanced. The unexpected nature of this experiment for me resulted from the notion that gravity is inescapable and to see otherwise was somewhat shocking at first but also magical.
The other demonstration that deceived gravity was the one about centrifugal force and it too possessed at certain beauty in the unexpected. It does not seem logical that a glass could be held on a platter even while it was upside-down and yet that is exactly what occurred. Usually the force of gravity is directed down toward the earth but here the force was directed away from the axis of the spinning. This explanation made the demonstration beautiful because the clarity that resulted made me feel as if I was more connected with the experiment and understood it on more than a superficial level. This knowledge made the experiment more intimate and personal which is where I find the most beauty so I was able to find beauty the same way I always do my making connections and building relationships it was just here the relationship was between me and my understanding.
I was also completely mesmerized by the demonstration with the extremely long chain inside the beaker. Seeing it lying on the table it looked rather unremarkable and I wondered what could possible be done with nothing more than a chain. It then proved to be my favorite thing to watch. The way the chain jumped out of the beaker was so beautiful to watch. I loved how the ball links danced and moved around on their way out of the glass. It was amazing how they flew out so fast and yet so continuously, it seemed to go on forever and during this time it was as if I was hypnotized by the chain and its journey from the beaker onto the floor.
This was also as a result of gravitational force and how it affects objects. In this case gravity was not being beaten on any level but, in fact, what was beautiful was gravity doing just what it always does- pulling things down to earth. This whole demonstration showed how gravity works on objects with distinct segments. The experiment would not have looked quite the same if it had been done with rope or some other object of that type. It would not have pulled out in the same way so the science would not have worked, but even if it had I doubt it would have looked quite as beautiful since the discrete sections are what caused it to move in the way that I found so fascinating. Scientists see the beauty in the explanation for why the chain moved as it did. The pull of each little ball on the one next to it continued the motion and brought the chain crashing down to the floor but it could not have happened without gravity.
Even the experiment with the liquefied dry ice making the magnets spin on top of the other magnet had a beautiful side effect that related to gravity a little bit. When the fluid was poured over the magnet and it spilled out I loved what it looked like as it fell off the table. Gravity pulled it from the table and upon hitting the ground it made a wonderful sound and it evaporate into a cloud of what looked like steam. Though the movement of the liquid off the table was not the point of the experiment it was the part I liked best and lo and behold it too had to do with the all-powerful gravity. I also noticed that movement seemed to play a large role in what I found beautiful and gravity usually had a part in that motion. The influence of gravity pulled and pushed things in all different directions and made the most beautiful movements. It never dawned on me before that things like that were the result of a scientific entity.
All these experiments looked extremely different yet I was able to find beauty in each of them, but, perhaps, what is the most beautiful of all is the fact that they are all related to one another. Each dealt with gravity, though in different ways. By explaining the way in which these are all demonstrations of the same power the connection become clearer and it was astounding that one property could be behind so many seemingly disparate events. My concept of beauty was never really that different from that of a scientist, I just saw the connections and relationships in another way.


The Way I See It: Intellectual Abstractions of Exp
Name: Kat McCorm
Date: 2005-02-23 16:43:28
Link to this Comment: 13178

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There is nothing that I find as beautiful, as mysterious, or as awing as the occurrence of sentient life. How unlikely, in a planet that is one of billions, in a universe that tends toward chaos above order, that the available atoms would have arranged themselves into structures that, together, would eventually produce enough centuries of thought to have named the very atoms that composed them? Much less to have based entire fields of study on how precisely this was accomplished. This is perhaps the root of my interest in neurobiology: I find it so deliciously ironic to be immersed in a study where the primary tool of study is in fact what is being studied: using a brain to model a brain. Using my brain to study other brains. I find the brain, its perceptions of beauty and its capabilities, and the irony all to be equally entrancing.

The apparent mutual exclusivity of entropy as a universal law and the underlying ordering process implied in the origin of life is a fascinating arena of thought. It is this strange awareness of life (or self) as something that begs for an explanation that is thought to have spawned religion on a worldwide level: we need an explanation for how this came to be. Perhaps our first universal awareness is that sentience is a thing of great wonder. Realization and reflection on sentience and on the origin of life in general continue to be among the most captivating of all my experiences. It is my wonder at this phenomenon, a la Fisher (1), that causes me to go in search of an explanation. Fortunately for me, I am not the first search for this explanation, and so the field of biology was opened long before I came to be. I am able to pursue my wonder to more depth because of the work that was done before me. Because I am particularly concerned with sentience, I am particularly concerned with the brain.

In my research, there have been very specific views that I find to be very visually beautiful. I perform research on the leech, an animal which most (including me) would argue is less than beautiful. But I really find the magnification process beautiful, laying out the nervous system and examining its brain: the varied, ordered city of cells, replete with complexity and depth. Again, I am filled with wonder at the processes held within it: such a small thing, with so many small components, with such complex interactions, all for the purpose of performing the (relatively simple) tasks of keeping that little leech body alive. These cells tell it when to swim, when to crawl, when to be still, and when to feed. I am filled with wonder that this is not entirely different from the way my own brain operates, although the tasks my brain has to perform to keep me alive are more complex by orders of magnitude. At times I am astounded by the interplay between these two seemingly so different things- how could these cells, sitting in a dish, as I observe them through a microscope, possibly relate to what I am now thinking about them? Although my work is in relating these two things, this relation is not what I find beautiful about the process.

All this wonder is secondary to the wonder and beauty I see and feel at the instance of things being alive. What I find beautiful in my research is a derivative of what I find beautiful as a human. And while I think that this is true as a scientist, I suspect the same is also true for those involved in other disciplines: the painting is beautiful as an abstraction of what the eye perceives as beautiful in the human. The poem is beautiful as a description of what the human poet finds beautiful in life. The intellectual work of finding beauty is in distillation, derivation, abstraction, and description. This secondary beauty can be greater, even, than primary beauty- or it can be less. The magnitude is unimportant, but what remains is that disciplinary distinctions of beauty that are academically or intellectually created are not, in essence, different.

In the course forum, Flora Shepherd (2) recently stated her perception of physics as Òsort of a huge mental sculpture of the world. ItÕs not an accurate replica of our world, but it models the world as best it canÉ All the textbooks are just representing something bigger and infinitely beautiful.Ó This, for me, illustrates the point quite nicely: sculptures are highlights of parts of the world that the artist wants to convey to his audience, often abstracted into something recognizable, but not a replica. After reading FloraÕs ideas, I began to see a world superimposed with all the mental abstractions that physicists are concerned with overlayed. This juxtaposition between the human experiences of beauty in the world, primary experiences with our own five senses, and the abstractions of the world, intellectually created, which can also be very beautiful, is something which I find more beautiful, and stupefying, than either experience individually. In fact, it is more than additive: the sum of beauty of these two experiences in juxtaposition is greater than the sum of its parts. This is something which I claim is not particular to scientists, I find the abstractions of the world presented in literature equally beautiful. I see beauty no differently as a scientist than I see it as a human.

References

1) Fisher, Philip. "Wonder, the Rainbow, and the Aesthetics of Rare Experiences". Harvard University Press, 1998.

2)Beauty Course Forum, Flora Shepherd, comment 12881


Seeing Beauty as a Scientist
Name: Alanna Alb
Date: 2005-02-23 16:56:12
Link to this Comment: 13180

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How exactly does an undergraduate student scientist try to view her experiences of science and beauty through the eyes of a highly regarded professor of chemistry? If that student is also a chemistry major, how does she go about seeing such experiences from the perspective of a prominent theoretical physicist? These are the questions that I will attempt to answer as I, a student chemist, look at beauty and science through the lens of Dr. Roald Hoffmann, a chemist, and Dr. Anthony Zee, a physicist. Both men describe the search for beauty in their fields. Hoffmann equates beauty in chemistry with creative labor, and this labor includes drawing out a detailed structure of a molecule, as well as devising a narrative in order to tell how a certain chemical compound was discovered. Simplicity is by no means a basis for beauty in chemistry, and Hoffmann attests to this concept. Zee, on the other hand, equates the beauty in physics with the "symmetry" of physical laws (symmetry meaning that the laws remain consistent throughout their applications to various situations), as well as their simplicity.

Hoffmann tells stories about chemistry as a way of making the inherent complexity of science more palatable and more simple; in other words, he wishes to disguise the complexity. Zee instead uses his physics stories to bring out the simplicity that he believes is hidden beneath many layers of complexity. As I describe my accounts of various scientific experiments encountered in and out of the classroom, I will show how both scientists' ideas explain or do not explain my experiences of beauty as a student scientist.

My English 249 class met in the Park Science Building to conduct a series of general chemistry experiments. The first experiment involved observing and touching a yellow powder called "xanthopterin." This is the pigment that is found in butterfly wings; and, the most extraordinary thing about this pigment is that its molecular structure looks almost exactly like a real butterfly. In the second experiment, we poured two clear liquids together, and these produced a cloudy, gray-colored solution. After heating for a few minutes in a water bath, we observed that a shiny silver metal coated the bottom of the vial. This experiment is formally known as the "Tollins Test." The next experiment that we did required taking a metal wire, dipping it into an unlabeled solution, and then placing the wire into the tip of a Bunsen burner flame. Each solution produced a different colored flame, such as purple or green. In the fourth experiment, we mixed two clear, unmarked solutions together and created a dark blue liquid (which turned out to be a pigment called "prussian blue"). The last experiment that we conducted also involved color change. We overlaid different colored transparencies on a lighted desk in order to determine what new colors they would make, if any.

The experiments were presented to us in a very simple way. We were given unmarked substances, told to mix and to note any observable changes, and to not make any inquiries about the specifics of the experiments until everyone was done. This was extremely frustrating for me as the student chemist, because my scientific curiosity demands that I know why and how the chemical changes happened in the way that they did. I have to know the underlying chemical reactions and interactions that are responsible for making the color changes that I saw, because as a scientist I am trained to question and analyze my observations. I think Hoffmann would understand my frustration. Hoffmann admits that, although the human mind is naturally inclined to look for simple answers in an increasingly complex world, simplicity often fails us in this type of world. I believe the last part of his statement to be true, because in my experiences as a scientist I have found many instances where simplicity was largely disappointing. My experiences with the aforementioned chemistry experiments are one example. Another example is when I first found out that the majority of the colors that we see around us are not all pure. This was quite in opposition to what I had learned in grammar school, that the color I see is exactly the color that is there. So much for the simple color wheel!
Looking back at the first part of Hoffmann's statement, I am not too sure that I agree with his idea that the human mind instinctively craves simplicity. First of all, I question what he means by "human mind." Does he imply a science-oriented mind, a non-science one, or both? Since he does not specify, I will speak for one with a science-oriented mind. Yes, at times I do crave simplicity; for example, if there are two possible ways to walk to a store in town, I will most likely choose the simplest and most direct route. If I am given a choice of readings for a class, I will probably choose the ones that are simpler to read. On the other hand, when it comes to science I do not want the simple version; rather, I prefer the most complete explanation of a scientific phenomenon.

As a scientist himself, Hoffmann certainly cannot deny that he prefers to know the full details of a chemical discovery. Frankly, it is quite a challenge for anyone to avoid the complications that often arise in science. That is why Hoffman's response to the lack of simplicity in science is to formulate an aesthetically pleasing narrative to convey the science to others without getting bogged down with all of the numbers and analytical data. However, when it comes to science, I do not want the most simplistic explanation. I want to be told the full story of a scientific happening, not just a delightful little narrative of the scientific discovery. For example, if I am presented with the choice of learning about a scientific study done on the human speech gene through an article in the newspaper versus the article in a scientific journal, I will choose the scientific journal article. The journal article is a first-hand account of what happened during the study of the speech gene; those who conducted the research know best about the gene, and are most qualified to be writing about the specific details of the experiments. Therefore, I can rest assured that what I am reading is accurate information, as complicated as it may be. The newspaper article, as simple as it is to read, may not be as accurate because it was written by a second or third party; and, it is very likely that this party was not involved in the original research (and they may not even be actual scientists!). It is true that stories are pleasant and fun to read, but sooner or later I desire to know the full explanation.

Where do I see beauty in the chemistry experiments that I conducted? The beauty is found deep below the surface of what I see with my naked eye. When I see a solution changing color, I think about what molecules are in those solutions. I think about how those molecules might be interacting with each other, and what kind of a reaction or equation would describe those interactions. I even consider how the electrons might be behaving in the molecule, and how they are responsible for producing the different colors seen. I also ponder which scientists possessed the intelligence to create these different experiments and determine what was happening chemically in them. According to Hoffmann, beauty is created out of the labor to produce it. I think it is beautiful that molecules must perform work to yield some sort of chemical change. I also find it beautiful that scientists must use their hard-working hands and minds to bring about that change.

My English 249 class met in the English House to conduct some physics experiments. One table contained a "center of mass" experiment, in which two forks were delicately balanced on a toothpick that rested on the edge of a ceramic mug. Another experiment had two buckets filled with liquid nitrogen, and when students dipped inflated party balloons into the nitrogen, the balloons shriveled and shrank until they looked and sounded like crumpled-up balls of cellophane. Upon removing the balloons from the nitrogen, they slowly expanded until they reached their original size. This time, it was explained what was physically going on with the experiments if students asked.
For me in particular, the physics experimental set-up was quite different from the former chemistry experiments because I was actually supervising the liquid nitrogen and balloons experiment. Rather than being a passive observer of the physics experiments, I was actively presenting a scientific experience to others. Obviously, this is not a strange scenario for Hoffmann and Zee, who are both active teachers. Thus, I was provided with an even better opportunity to view science and beauty through their eyes, and understand how they might want to convey their ideas to their students. As a temporary "teacher", I had two options: I could provide detailed information about the science that was happening, or I could choose to remain silent. I chose to provide the scientific details, but only if the other students wanted to know what was going on. Science and non-science students alike were interested in knowing, but some non-science students were not. I asked if any of them thought that the balloon in liquid nitrogen experiment was beautiful. Some students declined to answer, and others said no. One remarked that perhaps her inability to see any beauty was due to the fact that the experiment was not really aesthetically pleasing to any of her senses. This was unlike the chemistry experiments, in which the color changes observed were beautiful and pleasing to her eyes. I asked if knowing the physical law of what was going on would add to their experience of beauty or diminish it. Most responded that knowledge of the law would diminish it.

It seems appropriate to now ask how I, a student chemist, see beauty in these physics experiments. Again, it is the same as the chemistry experiments. I see the beauty by considering the physical forces and interactions at work, as well as the molecular interactions that occur to bring about the changes observed in the experiment. I also find beauty when I think of the equations that summarize and connect these interactions. This is right in line with Zee's claim that we continue to see more beauty when we think about science and nature on deeper levels. When a physical law, like the ideal-gas equation of state, stands the test of time and yields consistently reasonable data throughout tried experiments, then I find great beauty in that law, as well as the physical phenomena that it describes. Thus, I am in agreement with Zee's view that a physical law that proves itself to be symmetrical or consistent is indeed beautiful.

However, Zee's belief that beauty in physics is directly equivalent to the simplicity of the physical law is not very appealing to me, nor do I accept his belief that beneath all the outward complexity of the physical world there is an underlying simplicity. From my perspective, the simplistic-looking appearance of a physical law does not automatically give it beauty status. If that physical law is applied to a number of experiments and gives consistent, reasonable data for those experiments, then that law has proved itself to be beautiful without a doubt. Much to Zee's disappointment, I can even go ahead and complicate matters further by stating that certain simple equations may only remain beautiful up to a certain limit. For example, consider the ideal-gas equation of state. This equation works wonderfully for all gases that behave ideally, with no types of changes in their pressure, temperature, or volume. Now, what happens if some of those physical parameters change? The ideal-gas equation no longer suffices, and a much more complex (and much uglier, in Zee's opinion) equation must be used to account for the new changes in the gas, as well as to produce consistent and reasonable data in experiments.

Zee's idea that simplicity is at the core of nature's complexity just does not seem possible to me. Can Zee really convince me, a student who studied quantum mechanics for a semester, that underneath all of the chemical reactions that happen, the interactions between individual electrons and electrons and photons exhibit simplistic behavior? It is hard enough trying to explain what an electron truly is and how it behaves, let alone understanding what it may do in an excited molecule! If nature were truly simple underneath, then many of the equations describing molecular interactions in my quantum chemistry textbook would cease to contain partial derivatives, triple integrals, and various mathematical operators. Do I still find these equations beautiful? Yes, because of the intricate physical phenomena that they describe, as well as the consistency of the data they provide in various experiments.

Roald Hoffmann and Anthony Zee have profoundly influenced the way I view beauty as a scientist. Although we do not always see eye to eye on the different connections between beauty and science, we all seem to agree on two things: beauty certainly lies in the eye of the beholder (the chemist view vs. the physicist view, science-oriented vs. non-science oriented) and great beauty can be discovered when we look beyond the outward appearance of a scientific law or experiment and try to search for the deeper meaning underneath. Beauty is guaranteed to be found in all areas of science, but no one person will ever perceive the exact same experience of it.

References

Hoffmann, Roald. "Thoughts on Aesthetics and Visualization in Chemistry."

Hoffmann, Roald. "Narrative." American Scientist Online. 2000.

Zee, Anthony. Fearful Symmetry: The Search for Beauty in Modern Physics. Princeton University Press: Princeton, 1999.


Storytelling and Science
Name: Muska Nass
Date: 2005-02-23 16:58:59
Link to this Comment: 13181

<mytitle> Beauty,Spring 2005 Second Web Papers On Serendip

I used to consider myself the smartest girl in kindergarten, not only because I knew the entire alphabet by heart, but also because I could answer any scientific question on earth. If I overheard some poor classmate of mine asking the teacher a question like "Why is the grass green?" I would chime in with "Because it's my favorite color." If someone else asked "Where does rain come from?" I would say "The sky, duh!" These sorts of egotistical, matter-of-fact answers satisfied me perfectly, and everyone else's confusion as to how the world worked irritated me. Didn't they realize that the sky was blue because it matched my lunchbox? Couldn't they understand that snow fell because I liked to go sledding? And thunder and lightening were byproducts of G-d punishing my mom for not buying me a new Barbie. These were the simple stories I told myself to explain the world around me, and no one could convince me that I didn't have a story to explain any scientific phenomenon on earth. I was the smartest girl in kindergarten, after all.

As my six-year-old wisdom demonstrated, storytelling is not dead in the science world. In fact, according to chemist Roald Hoffman, storytelling is the entire basis of scientific understanding and communication. "Everywhere one looks in science," Hoffman states, "there are stories." The beauty in telling a scientific story is precisely the way in which a story simplifies a chaotic abstraction into a neat and organized formula. Hoffman states that "narrative becomes the substitute for soaring simplicity in operative aesthetic structures." However, these stories are not actually simple, but rather give the appearance of simplicity. There is a deceiving quality among the scientific theories, formulas and facts that give the feeling of orderliness, where really there is only chaos translated into something more approachable to the human mind—such as narratives with a beginning, middle and an end.

Beauty, in science, is therefore much the same as beauty in any other area of life. There is an appeal to that which seems simple and natural, but which is actually a product of hard labor. Hoffman stated "Beauty is created out of the labor of human hands and minds" however the stories which are used to explain science do not show any evidence of this "hard labor." In fact, science is described in the most minimalist means of explanation because it would be too overwhelming to focus on how each individual scientific discovery led to the scientific discovery of something more complex. Therefore, certain scientific theories and facts must be assumed as a given prior to even starting a new scientific discovery. In other words, each story is so intricately intertwined with another story, that the simplicity of a scientific equation or formula is appealing in the deception that it is not a product of numerous other research and labor.

Therefore, there is a certain level of dishonesty in the beauty that results from storytelling—whether it is in science or in the humanities. The fiction in both of these fields is in the presumptions that the world can be simplified at all. For example, there is a great deal of storytelling involved in a theatre production of a play. If while you are watching the play you are constantly reminded that the story being presented is a fictional tale involving characters who never existed and events that never actually happened, then the beauty of the story is lost entirely. There are many things that could contribute to the audience's inability to dispel reality, such as the quality of the writing, the effectiveness of the production and the talent of the actor. However, the common theme throughout these realizations is that the play is not real and instead is a creation of many other peoples' efforts. On the other hand, when going to a spectacular theatre production of a play, the audience loses themselves in the storyline and forgets that the actors are not real characters. The audience forgets that there is a playwright, director, manager, etc and all that matters is the beauty of the story. Another example, which I once posted on the board, is from a book by Colette Dowling. In this excerpt Colette is describing her experience watching a ballet dancer on stage. Doling states the following:

"There my eyes would widen as I beheld a young dancer pursuing excellence, pushing her body up against the fierce, triumphant music of Stravinsky. Somehow I preferred to think of the dancer as magical. I could not reconcile the glory of her performance with the sweat dripping from her body or the contortions of her face when, during a pause in the dance, her back to the audience, I saw her gasp for air as recklessly and as hideously as some old flatfish cast up on the sand. Grounded, she seemed; vulnerable, exhausted by the effort of having fully extended herself. I did not want to see the connection between the magnificence of her art and the torturously hard work she had to do in order to accomplish it."

It is the simple appearance of the ballet dance that is perceived as beautiful, not the strenuous work involved in the bodily movements.

The same can be said about beauty in a scientific story. Last week Kara posted a statement in which she said the following:

"Equations for me sort of embody what beauty really is. You look at an equation, and its a summary of a very complicated idea compacted so that your mind can grasp it all at once....the other truly beautiful thing about equations [is] that they can summarize a relationship between two otherwise unconnected thing."

Within the equation is a scientific story that, in reality, is based on numerous research and trial-and-error. However, the moment one looks at the equation, the story appears simple and can easily summarize complex ideas. The labor is not evident, only the equation. Therefore, the medium of storytelling is necessary for both the know-it-all kindergarten student and the world-renowned chemist, because storytelling allows us to simplify the complexities of the world into a familiar narrative of conflict and resolution. The common theme between the humanist perspective on beauty and the scientific perspective on beauty is the deceptive quality of simplicity.


Space Mountain
Name: Mo Rhim
Date: 2005-02-23 17:32:35
Link to this Comment: 13183

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Orlando, Florida. Walt Disney World. Space Mountain. One hour down, one left to go. Slowly making it through the line of tourists all waiting for three absolutely thrilling minutes. Cameras around necks, glaring neon fanny packs around waists (or perhaps just my mother's), small children running around ankles and bars as they surprisingly manage to inch forward with a moderate amount of patience, toddlers with no energy perched high on shoulders and jealous just-too-old kids (namely myself) wondering why I could not climb up on my father's shoulders instead of sitting uncomfortably on a cold bar and an old piece of gum that was pointed out a second too late. All of us shuffling forward in the dim lighting of the space command center. Getting closer. The end in sight and your stomach starts to churn. People rocketing off, but not too quickly that you cannot see their shocked and delighted faces. The spaceships slowly cranked back in to docking position. The passengers slowly get out of the bucket seats, smoothing down their electrocuted hair and readjusting their fanny packs. Another inch forward. The tension in my stomach grows, I begin to tremble as I take one, two, three small knees tightly knocked together shuffles with my mother nudging me from behind. No exits in sight.


Between Philadelphia-and-Pittsburgh, PA. I-70. Sitting in the middle of a traffic jam. Sandwiched between two cars front and back and three lanes of cars on either side. Sweat dripping down your forehead, sticking your hair to your face. The seatbelt scratching and pawing at your neck as you squirm in your seat that has suddenly become too small and too confining. A minute passes. Two. Fifteen. The tires may have finally made a complete rotation. Shift again. Try to find some comfortable position to relieve the growing tension knotting your muscles. No exits in sight.


Muncie, IN. Wagner Hall Cafeteria, Ball State University. The SATs. The smell of sharpened number two pencils, fresh erasers, and fear—sometimes in the form of nervous sweating as was the case with the boy next to me—assault my nostrils. Tests being passed out—the answer booklet, the question booklet. Tedious instructions read by a woman with an astoundingly monotone voice, the clock set, pages flipping, and begin. Question 5: C. Question 6: C. Question 7: C. Question 8: It can't be C again. D. The second hand going much faster than it does in Mr. Baker's class. Time running out. Question 20: can't think. The all too familiar tension is coming back. But they never let anyone out. One-tone woman said so at the beginning. Three sections left. No exits in sight.
At Space Mountain while waiting for the most exciting ride in the park, in the middle of traffic stuck in a car after foolishly gulping 24 oz. of water, and here in the three most important hours of my parents' lives and I had to pee.


The sensation of urinating after a long, hard wait is I realize, as are most bodily functions, an unusual topic usually inappropriate for discussion in most situations. It begins with a sense of wonder. However, the sensation of having to pee and then the ultimate release makes me wonder. In the Fisher essay, he addresses these experiences or moments that takes a person out of a "stable self-contained delight" and elicits thought, "a search for explanations and causes; that is, [the experience] elicits science" (Fisher 38). Indeed, Fisher's description of the "Ah!" effect of wonder is true in these scenarios: "unreflective and immediate" (Fisher 40). He goes on to say, "In this, wonder [...] involves a discovery about the limits of the will within experience, a location where we can no longer identity ourselves completely with out powers of choice, action, self-direction, and yet these territories of experience out the will are intimately ourselves, uniquely determined, personal" (Fisher 40). But wonder does not stop there; it drives toward "curiosity, questioning, and the search for explanation, [...] a passage from wonder to thinking" (Fisher 40). These are all statements that could be applied to describe and dissect the experience of having to pee, as crass it may seem.


The moment of realization usually hits suddenly and though it may not be a crippling or punch in the gut effect, there is definitely a physical signal that is immediate. Though the sensation most likely does not lead to discussions and questions using Descartes or Socrates, there certainly are questions being asked. "Can I hold it?" "How am I ever going to hold it?" "Would it be that bad to not hold it?" "How fast can I get to place where it is appropriate not to hold it?" However, in a lonely car ride or in a room alone thinking about urinating in a more in-depth manner, there are certain questions and scientific tracks that are elicited from the experience. What tells me that I have to urinate? How does the signal work? What other factors, scientific or social, tell me when and where I can urinate?


According to the Encyclopedia Britannica Online, the hypothalamus is responsible for the impulses to urinate. There is electrical stimulation in and related to the "anterior part of the hypothalamus that can induce the behavior of expelling or retaining urine and feces." The anatomy, structure and machinery of the human body create stimulation and following responses to the stimulation, whether it be to release or to hold. Muscles, nerve endings, and electric stimuli work together to create a network through the body that results in the final question: "Where is the nearest bathroom?"
However, that question results from something else outside of the body. The experience, and dilemma at times, of having to hold back the natural bodily response and call for urination brings out the social and cultural aspects of the ritual. We are not as humans naturally drawn to the porcelain bowl of a toilet. We are trained to associate right behavior with the use of such a device and are thus induced into certain appropriate actions. Though there are certain signals that warn us and thus allow for control over the process of release, it is the social and cultural norms set that create the path of behavior.


Fisher extends Descartes and Plato to say that "philosophy begins in wonder, continues on at every moment by means of wonder, and ends with explanation that produces, when first heard, a new and equally powerful experience of wonder to that with which it began." Learning about the complex and masterfully built construct of the human body and what it capable of doing, whether it be a beating heart, an expanding lung or a signal that saves your from public ridicule, is a powerful experience when it is first learned. It is powerful, but the final goal of this rather unusual topic is not to simply reveal the wonder of the body, but it is to show the connection between every possible thing or thought. This exploration of the experience and questions around urination is not meant to be necessarily a serious one in the actual matter presented. Rather, this is to demonstrate the connectivity and applicability of these loftier theories, theorems and equations to everything we can possible question or wonder about. There is nothing that cannot be absorbed, understood or explored in the context or through the lens of something that may seem wholly different and disconnected.


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The World Magnified: Beauty in the Eyes of a Scien
Name: Jaya Vasud
Date: 2005-02-23 17:41:31
Link to this Comment: 13184

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I'm so sorry this is a bit late- midterms week has been KILLING me!

Jaya Vasudevan
Professor Anne Dalke/Sharon Burgemayer
English 249: Chemistry and Culture
Due: February 23, 2005 5pm
The World Magnified: Beauty in the Eyes of a Scientist
As a science major, I've always been under the notion that every scientist lives by the statement "complete objectivity in the search of truth;" however, after many discussions in class about what is beautiful and after much deliberation and brooding, I start to doubt this

statement I once believed in so strongly more and more. A human being can never do anything with complete objectivity: there must be an emotional aspect of science which makes it so beautiful in the eyes of the beholder, that drives them to do what they do everyday. Although the technological advancements and discoveries of this generation are incredibly complex and have come along way at an extremely rapid rate, one cannot forget that with their creations and discoveries also came an enormous amount of failures. Despite those failures, these scientists keep coming back for more every day of their lives. What exactly are they striving for in all of their efforts? The answer is somewhat simple: each of them must be reaching for beauty within their own field of science. What is this beauty that they are reaching for? It is the deep desire to understand how and why the world works around them, and once this desire is fulfilled and another piece of the world is understood, no matter how small or insignificant a discovery, the experience must be beautiful for the scientist. Hence, this sense of understanding that comes with the discovery of truth is just one part of what a scientist defines as being beautiful to them.
After reading such a long and heavy claim, one may think about past discussions in class concerning the beauty found in art and find that the beauty in math and science almost completely contradicts it. Many have come to an unanimous decision that one's experience with a piece of art is best when it is left completely untainted (i.e., not having any knowledge about the subject matter), because such an experience with a painting will evoke raw emotions, and according to Barnes, will make the viewer appreciate the artist's style and form better. Therefore, wouldn't understanding nature's phenomena make the phenomena being interpreted much less beautiful? To the science majors that the author asked, their answer to such a question has been in most cases a resounding "no," because the beauty that is seen in a piece of art and one seen in, say, a mathematical equation, are completely different things to them. Beauty in a work of art is extremely subjective and is in the eyes of the beholder, whether the artist or the viewer; on the other hand, beauty in science are the universal truths that transcend space and time, and cannot be disputed like one's opinions towards a piece of artwork can. Also, because science holds these universal truths, and beauty found in art has no concrete universals, it is much harder to change one's opinions towards the beauty within science in comparison to beauty within a work of art. Therefore, an important difference does exist between the beauty found in art and the beauty found in science, and one must consider it to understand why scientists find beauty in the things that they do.
When talking about beauty among science majors, the idea of simplicity and the use of equations are frequently used to describe what is beautiful to them. Equations to a physicist or a mathematician are their own form of language or useful poetry, as different arrays of symbols, numbers, letters, or equations can come together elegantly to provide perfect interpretations or explanations for different phenomena of the world. A scientist's use of a formula for velocity may be as beautiful of an experience as writing The Song of the Self was for Walt Whitman. But what makes the equation so beautiful is that countless complex discoveries of the world have been able to be simplified and quantified into small little code composed of just a few numbers and symbols: as said before in class, the thought of such a feat is an absolutely magnificent thing. What makes these equations even more beautiful is that to the scientist, he/she is able to understand what each of these symbols stand for, how these equations apply to the real world, and how they are able to be linked to other equations to explain many processes within the universe; to a person with no experience with math or science, an equation may be completely and absolutely meaningless, because they have no knowledge of what those symbols and numbers stand for or represent.
A person may be incredulous towards these ideas of equations: how does the scientist know that these equations aren't completely wrong? There is no denying that an equation can be wrong, as mistakes can be seen throughout the history in all fields of sciences. In mathematics, the existence of irrational numbers, E, the imaginary number i, or pi may be very unsettling for some (including the author,) because in these cases they're numbers that can be literally extended to the earth's moon but still not cease; in fact, who is to say that the one thousandth number after the decimal point in the number pi isn't absolutely wrong, hence potentially throwing off the mathematical equations containing the number? Extremely important equations like Einstein's theory of relativity, E=MC2, may be completely wrong as well (which Einstein said he'd be sorry for God if that were the case). Although one cannot dispute these areas of ambiguity within the field of science, the applications of these numbers and equations in the world have been extremely vital and therefore the beauty within the equation is barely lost. If it wasn't for the creation or discovery of these numbers, no matter how outrageous they may seem, the fields of math and science may have come to a standstill. Besides, the mysteriousness of these numbers in a way make them more beautiful- although pi is infinite and could be false, the fact that it has worked for scientists and mathematicians since the times of the great Ancient Greek empire is truly amazing.
Finally, considering myself an amateur scientist, what better way to describe my feelings and ideas of beauty toward science than within a paper such as this one? As pre-medicine and biology student, I'm constantly told many times over that my chosen field involves only the memorization and the regurgitation of facts. Although I can't deny that such has been the case during biology exams taken throughout my college career (or throughout my experiences with biology for that matter) these fellow peers cannot look past this memorization of facts and in consequence fail to see the passion that keeps me from voraciously reading anatomy textbooks, scientific articles, or even Webmd.com at the early hours of the morning; in other words, they fail to see the beauty that I see and try to understand every time I educate myself in the field of biology. I feel that many of the people accusing me of going into such an "empty" profession- one that does not involve much "analytical thinking" that the humanities and social sciences provide probably do not take a good look at themselves and realize how amazing a work of art the human body is. Billions of years ago, small simple celled organisms (otherwise known as prokaryotes) survived very extreme environments and several different eras to ultimately create a feeling, thinking, function human, the most complex and developed form of life known to exist on earth. Every fact that I have to memorize and every part of the human body that I am expected to memorize is so beautiful to me, and at times I just find myself overwhelmed after realizing that trillions upon trillions of tiny little but functioning cells come together so perfectly to form this self. The idea of DNA is quite remarkable too- such a simple ladder structure can cause billions of types of variation between human beings, and separates us from simpler creatures. These ideas of simplicity and understanding the processes of life is what I find so beautiful in my own field of science, and my hope is that one day everyone will look past the memorization and reciting of facts and see this beauty too.
Even if one may still be convinced that it is hard to find beauty within science, maybe there is some hope by looking at a picture of a rainbow. Fisher describes a rainbow as being a phenomenon that occurs only for a few minutes after a rainstorm when the sun is at a certain position in the sky, as the rain is gets reflected in a certain way to form a large band of color. In the most basic terms, many environmental factors have to be in sync with one another to show such spectacular colors of the rainbow. Most importantly (i.e., what's the most beautiful about them), rainbows are a product of the human eye; a dog may look into the sky and see clouds instead of a heavenly arc of color that most humans have the good fortune of seeing. If such an amazing thought doesn't convince you that science can make an experience more beautiful, quite frankly I don't know what will.


Beauty, as Seen in Science: A Fictional Work
Name: Nancy Evan
Date: 2005-02-23 18:06:41
Link to this Comment: 13185

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Narrator: You can't tell a scientist equations aren't beautiful. It's like telling a mother her newborn baby isn't beautiful. Sure, the baby is red and purple, covered in various and sundry bits of God-knows-what, and screaming (with or without the token bit of matted down hair), but the mother sees that baby as something more-- something perfect. A little bundle of potential and love and beauty that will unfurl one day and show its wonders to the rest of the world. But the mother sees first, and so does the scientist. This isn't to say that an equation can bring the same joy and pain or inspire the same kind of selflessness that a child can, but for some of us scientists it's pretty close.

I imagine you don't understand, and I don't expect you to. For some of you, equations are nothing more than numbers and letters arranged on the page for you by some old man who tried to make you learn about momentum with building blocks in high school. But that's not what I see. My mind jumps ahead, to the actualities of it all. The ways in which my numbers and letters affect your lives in ways we're still trying to explain. For scientists, it's more real than you would imagine. Let me show you how we see beauty ...

total energy = kinetic energy + potential energy + (other forms of energy)
Daniel Lyon, Chemist

I was sixteen and taking Mary out on our first date. She showed up at the door in a green polka-dotted sweater and my first thought was of me tearing it off of her in the back of my new car. I looked down so her mama wouldn't see me blushing and she called out after us as we walked down the drive, "Y'all be good and, bless your heart Mary, button that sweater."

So Mary did button that sweater but not enough to keep my eyes from wandering down there every other twenty seconds during the movie I had paid for but wasn't paying a bit of attention to. I was glad I had picked a scary movie because at points her breathing would start to speed up and that top button would strain with the intake and threaten to pop open. And I wished more than anything that something would pop up on the screen and scare Mary half out of her wits so that button would go flying off and give me a better view. I was getting a crick in neck and Mary's shirt seemed in no mood to cooperate, so I scooted over in my seat and started to reach my arm around her neck.

Her hair smelled like the vanilla extract my mama used to make sugar cookies and I wondered if she was like that vanilla extract, smelling so good but so bitter on your tongue you wish you'd never risked the taste. At any rate, my hand was moving around her shoulder and she leaned a little closer to me so I kept on going. My first two fingers found their way to that button, the only thing keeping that green polka dot sweater closed, and I couldn't reach all the way to get it open. By this point, I was sweating a little bit and didn't know if Mary knew what I was up to and didn't care or was too busy watching the movie to pay any attention.
I still couldn't quite reach that button and so, holding my breath the whole time, I raised up in my seat and made quick with my fingers at the top of Mary's sweater. She screamed and at first I thought she was going to slap me but then I realized everyone else in the theater was yelling too and that Mary's green polka dot sweater was undone and who knew if it was me or the fright that had done it but for a sixteen-year-old boy, it was the best day of my life.

Force = mass x acceleration
Catharine Clement, Physicist

I never knew my mother's story until I was twenty years old. All the bruises I thought came from bumping into tables—she was a waitress—and the streaks of makeup she explained away—we never saw her cry—and I never had any idea until I was twenty years old. I was home from college after my second year and anxious about how I was going to survive another summer at home. I had loved my hometown as a child, but now I felt trapped and stifled and I longed to be strolling across Boston Common with my university friends instead of wasting away as a research assistant in the middle of Iowa.

But there I was, for two months at least, a Harvard sophomore with dreams of becoming a physics professor making grilled cheese sandwiches for her little sister. Not that it mattered where I was if I couldn't keep any of my equations straight in my head. They were all just symbols and if I let myself think about the real world—a shopping trip downtown or lunch at Quincy market, for instance—those symbols all swirled together and became one big mass of meaninglessness. The professors who handed back my exams were liberal with their red pens and stern in conferences: "You show great promise, Catharine, as a scholar, but you are failing to connect with your work."

That was true and I spent long workdays thinking of these comments and mentally preparing myself to Get Serious! about my work. I remember one afternoon in particular I was entertaining thoughts of leaving college and traveling abroad for a few years. What was science, anyway, other than a lot of made up nonsense? The world would keep turning and everyone's lives would keep going on without scientific explanations for it all. That afternoon I left work early with a newfound sense of frustration with my chosen field. It meant nothing to me.

As I neared my childhood home I heard my father's voice, louder than usual. Then my mother's, sounding more panicked than I had heard before. I flung open the screen door to see my father's giant fist ball up and reach back, the knuckles white with transferred anger...mass... he swung, propelling his hand forward with deceptive ease. It quickened as it neared its target... acceleration... and struck my beautiful mother with such force... SUCH FORCE... that her body crumpled to the floor. I would never ask for the knowledge to explain in such precise and emotionless terms what happened to my mother that day, nor would I ever give them up.

Work = force x distance
Nancy Evans, undergraduate

When put this way: work = force x distance, I understand science. I understand that the pages that stretch out in front of me can become an insurmountable distance away from the letters I am typing right now. I know that the force behind these words—my thoughts, my understanding of the assignment, and my understanding of science itself— intermingles with the distance and I am working. Nancy Evans is working. But is this science?
I'm a humanist. I know there are scientific principles at work here, but what are they doing for me? The distance is also affected by my thought processes, the mistakes I am making while typing this up, the noises in this room that are distracting me. None of these things can be nailed down by exact scientific principle that is never wrong. And somehow, in this paper on equations, randomness comes into play. The random choice of one word over another, for example, that affects the force, the distance and the work. Perhaps it is the interplay of science and humanities that allows me to best see how these things can be seen as beautiful. Perhaps I have to temper the science with a bit of something familiar in order to see its beauty. I guess I am an untrained eye for seeing this type of beauty on its own.

Narrator: You see? I told you you probably didn't see it like we do. But that doesn't mean you can't. There is a difference in seeing things as a scientist that you might never imagine existed. It means seeing something so tiny, so minute—like a cell or an atom, and knowing that it means something bigger than itself. That it is part of something so much larger and each individual brings with them their own connotations of what the something larger should be. And that's just... it's just beautiful.


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The Path "Home"
Name: Annabella
Date: 2005-02-23 21:51:23
Link to this Comment: 13192

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Beauty & Chemistry
2/23/05


I have always pictured my path through life to be somewhat linear. Though I am quite aware that I wander off the path often, I also felt that the path is moving in one general direction, carrying me from my starting point to my ending point. I also liked to believe that the starting point was nearer total ignorance than the ending point. But in the reading on "The Rainbow and Cartesian Wonder" that perspective changed. I saw our paths to be of a circular shape. There is not start and no end, and no point is any nearer nor further from ignorance or from awareness. The entire path is made up of both in equal measure.

This change in perspective came suddenly as I was reading Philip Fisher's contrast between Pascal and DesCartes. I found this entire section fascinating because it supported my main idea about quality of life, and I love to find support for any of my ideas. I hold that the quality of life that we experience is a result of how we receive that which happens to us, not what happens to us. Though this may seem a small technicality, it goes a long way toward helping me enjoy my life.

When I see that how I receive an experience (past, present, or future) in my life determines my happiness or sorrow, my joy or pain, I know that I am self-instructing my brain to create the feelings I want to feel, and I will use any experience to create these feelings. Sometimes I have to go into the past to "feel" these feelings, sometimes the future, and sometimes I just get into whatever is taking place right now. But I am always the chooser of what it is I am feeling. This is total self-determination.

I don't always choose my feelings consciously. In fact I almost never did until I thought a great deal on my actions and the related thoughts and their related feelings. Most people I know have given nearly no thought to any of this, and therefore are completely run by unconscious decisions. And they often mention that they feel their lives are out of control. In a very real way, they are right.

But most of us know this on some level. If we want to relax, we put on soft music. When we want to be rowdy, we put on lively music and turn it up loud. We are aware on some level that our actions illicit feelings. What most of us are unaware of is to what extent this is true.

It is in this same way that we are at choice about how we receive events into our lives. Stuff happens in life. It happens to all of us. And we all respond in our own way to what happens. That's how it works. We are pretty much aware of that.

What may be new to some people is the idea that we can choose how we receive what happens in our life. We have total control over how we receive events, just as we have total control over how we feel. And similarly, it is done entirely subconsciously until and unless we bring the process of receiving events into the realm of conscious thought. And the way in which we receive events paints our experience of our past, present and futures.

All of this brings me to the contrast between Pascal and DesCartes. Here are two men, both brilliant mathematicians, of the same era in time, and deep thinkers. They have experienced very similar events as scientists. They both lived at a time of new visual input on a regular basis. Telescopes were just coming into their own, as were microscopes. Lenses were becoming better understood, and therefore allowing observations of the details of the miniscule as well as the grandeur of the heavens. New objects were being viewed on a regular basis during their lives. Some of what they saw was being seen by man for the very first time. Times like these would indeed inspire wonder frequently.

DesCartes' thoughts on wonder brought up feelings of joy, buoyancy, and the desire to explain. The entire experience of wonder was a very pleasurable experience for him. As a scientist he used these moments of wonder to inspire himself to explore the explanation of the object of his wonder. That was his next project. In this way he kept himself in the passion of wonder even after the wonder-filled moment was long gone. This is not to say that he felt the awe of wonder all the time, but he did always benefit from its existence and he used it to bring joy into his life.

Pascal, on the other hand, had very similar experiences, but received them in the opposite manner. He obsessed on the fear brought up by wonder inspiring events. Of the vastness of the heavens he said, "The eternal silence of these infinite spaces fills me with dread." Things that DesCartes would have deemed "wonderful" and therefore wanting of explanation, and accompanied with joy, Pascal found terrifying.

Pascal's method of receiving the events in his life determined his experience of life. Though he lived in a time of great scientific and mathematical revelation, he lived the life of a terrorized and fear-filled individual. He sought solace in religious realms, hoping he could ease the pain of his fear through religious fervor. Because his fear was so intense, he threw himself whole heartedly into the religious world seeking relief. His mind and it's imaginings of a frightening world so haunted him that he succumbed to severe depression and eventually sought relief by turning to "reliance purely on God."

Reportedly he wrote about a mystical experience leading up to his total renunciation of his own responsibility of his life, and his subsequent relinquishment of control of his life to Jesus Christ and his spiritual director. I find this fascinating, because he had to have control of his life in order to turn it over to someone else, anyone else. And he had to be in control of his life to let it remain in the control of anyone else. This is the problem with ever trying to relinquish control of your life. It is an impossibility.

This relinquishment of control of one's life is a goal of many who walk spiritual paths of many genres. Most who seek to turn the reins over to another entity want to achieve this act of humility through the portal of trust. I used to think that as one moved along their spiritual path toward enlightenment they moved from enmeshment in the physical world to freedom from emotional investment in the physical world. This process included movement from large amounts of anguish diminishing to nothing as joy grew to be everything. And I saw this movement as linear as if from left to right across a time line.

But Pascal reached this goal from the other side. He reached relinquishment of control of his life from the place of total anguish. In an effort to make my story accurately describe how this all takes place, I could see that I had to amend my story.

The only way he could reach the point of relinquishment from anguish is if the line I had pictured in my mind is actually a circle. And relinquishment can be reached from either side. And indeed I find this new story of the shape of my life's walk to be much more accurate. It has been my experience that more people reach nirvana through anguish than through joy. We have a few people walking the Earth right now who have done this. Yet I have heard of none walking the Earth right now who have achieved this state through joy. I am not saying it can not be done, just that it is less common.

I have heard it stated many times that "no one is any further along the spiritual path than any other one." Byron Katie says this as does A Course in Miracles. And I can see the verity of this now. I would have said that DesCartes was further along his spiritual path than Pascal. And yet Pascal "arrived" and DesCartes didn't. Not that Pascal remained there. Few do. And if the path is circular, then we have all been there and pass through it frequently and then move on, which I believe to be true in my experience. Maybe we visit this point of relinquishment as often as each time we go to sleep.

The path is also never ending, as is the circle. We never arrive at our destination, for there is no end, and no beginning as with a circle. Yes, my life's path is circular. "And so I walk on a timeless journey on a path with no end." A Course in Miracles.


The Beauty of Ice
Name: Tanya Cord
Date: 2005-02-24 08:09:44
Link to this Comment: 13202

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The soft rumbling of the bus began lulling me to sleep that comfortable Sunday afternoon driving back to Bryn Mawr from Poconos. My head found its nest on the glass window and then my eyes, too, began succumbing to gravity. In this ambiguous state between consciousness and sleep, my eyes stole one last glimpse of the rural mountainous landscape before fully surrendering. It was a meaningless stare, as I was not processing what I took in, however, the image before me refused to be neglected. I was unexpectedly awed- not into a sudden jolt of consciousness, but more of a relaxed appreciation that accommodated the mood. The image enhanced my comfortableness, and I let my thoughts flow as I fell asleep.

The image is still vivid in my mind – the reddish brown unevenness of the mountainside covered by a contrasting, smooth, transparency of ice. It looked like a waterfall conveniently frozen solid. It was as if nature decided to create an approachable still-frame of flowing water in order to capture its beauty for all to admire. Because it looked like the water should have been moving, I literally felt like time had stopped for a brief moment. I initially began to wonder how water could be frozen in this falling form when it takes forever to freeze in the freezer. It would almost have to be frozen instantaneously. Then, I began to draw back into my knowledge of the properties of water and began wondering how a simple little molecule could be so multifaceted.
Appling Fisher's reasoning in Wonder, the Rainbow, and the Aesthetics of Rare Experiences to the previously mentioned experience clearly demonstrates how an aesthetic experience incites wonder and search for explanation. Through this search, new instances of wonder are incited and more and more general conclusions can be drawn.

Many of the aesthetic qualities that Fisher ascribed to a rainbow were embodied by the icicles. Like rainbows, icicles are "rare experience[s]" that occur only in below freezing weather conditions under the right circumstances. Therefore, they form in winter months or in high altitudes where there is snow. Icicles form when snow melts and begins flowing down an incline. Despite the surface tension that contributes to keeping the water surface flat, gravity pulls the water down creating ripples that eventually freeze as the temperature drops again. The ripples are evident on the surfaces of all icicles. These ripples form the base of the icicle and the icicle grows as water continues to drip over the ripples and freeze in layers. The pointed tips of icicles are filled of mainly water within a frozen outer layer. At the very tip is the pendent drop appearing as if it is ready to fall. Icicles with smooth surfaces are the result of the water reaching temperature so cold that it dissipates into vapor (Heidorn 1-3).

I find this process in itself metaphorically beautiful. Although it is fascinating to believe that moving water could have frozen instantaneously, like the mythological explanation of a rainbow as God's covenant to Noah, the instantaneous freezing theory "tells us nothing about the sensory details" of the icicle – it's ridges, it's point, it's shape, or why some icicles are smooth. Interpreting the formation romantically, I see it as a struggle of perfection with the overbearing force of gravity. The ridges symbolize the battle scars from the fight, and the tip is where all of the layers conjoin to give a sense of unity. This reaction was partly fostered from a new sense of understanding and appreciation that furthered the connection between me and the scene.

Also, analogous to the "geometric regularity" of the rainbow's semicircle, is the elongated conical shape of the icicles. The physical shape of all icicles is uniform. All apex angles are roughly 15º despite how long the icicles grow (Calder). This fact insinuates that each new layer that forms must be evenly distribution over the surface. A cone is made up of circular cross-sections of different radii ranging from 0 (the point) to tan 7.5º * the length of the cone (I came up with this conclusion using geometry). I find the shape of the cone more "geometrically regular" than that of the semicircle because a semicircle is incomplete. The perfection of the icicle shape is evident in the regularity of its growth and the fact that it is a consummation of a vast range of circles, which are perfect themselves. The semicircular bow is a display of only half the perfection.

The aesthetic quality that initially drew my attention was the ice's brilliance. Like the rainbows colors that "make a claim for attention, a claim for love in its most elementary form as a combination of attraction and excitement" (Fisher 35). The ridges, which can almost be viewed as imperfections of the icicles, actually enhance the icicle's ability to reflect light. The more ridges, the more surfaces light can hit and the more directions it can be reflected into. The afternoon sun reflecting off of the ice to create a sparkling appearance is analogous to the dispersion of light from a water droplet to form a rainbow. Both are manipulation of light to create a pleasurable effect for the eyes.

"Icicles may be exquisitely beautiful but other than that, neither ice dams nor icicles have any redeeming social value... Icicles and ice dams are deadly when they fall and destructive to the roof when they tear away" (Mckinlay). This view of icicles displays another group of characteristics that I, personally find beautiful – danger and defiance. The fact that it is so beautiful yet can be such a molestation displays to me personality. Unlike rainbows that give off a more cheery aura, icicles are a little malicious- something most do not associate with beauty. Its defiance is in shown by how it defies the norms of beauty and how it defies gravity. It holds its position seemingly ready to fall, but does not until its ready. This defiance of rules is very characteristic of water in general.

Despite all of these truly aesthetic qualities, what I found most astonishing was that this breathtaking sight was simply frozen water. This is what really incited the wondering aspect of the experience. How could something so beautiful and seemingly complicated be the same thing that comes out of sinks, flushes down toilets, etc.? Water is unavoidably ubiquitous, which is the reason it does not incite a sense of wonder. However, when taking on the forms that occur conditionally like snow or rain, it makes the topic more questionable. These instances where water behaves unconventionally are what instigated this questioning of water.

The water molecule is shaped in the form of a wide 'V' with a 104.9º angle (note the shape similarity with that of the icicle). However, the nonbonding electron pairs on the central oxygen, which is located at the vertex of the 'V,' is what explains a majority of its physical properties. Water is more dense as a liquid then a solid, it is a universal solvent, it displays surface tension, it takes relatively high quantities of energy to change it's temperature as well as induce phase changes, and can act as both an acid and a base. All of these characteristics of water can be explained by the number of ways that water molecules interact with themselves or other molecules. Water can form London dispersion forces, ion-dipole, dipole-dipole, and hydrogen bonds. Therefore, water is a friendly molecule and likes to cling on to most charged molecules, whether it is negative or positive(Bell 1-60). These interactions are the means by which it displays its beauty to the world. For example, it the H-bonds among water molecules form snowflakes and icicles.

As the process came to a conclusion, I realized that like many others who experience this " 'Ah!' of wonder," I resorted to a database of information to satisfy my curiosity rather than contemplate full situation myself. I did not carryout any experimentation or even fully evaluate all of my observations; instead, I resorted to the work of others who have also been awed by the same situation, but came to their own conclusions through scientific means. After reading about the formation of icicles, I applied that process to my observations, but technically I missed out on the "chain of experiences built on ever repeated, small-scale repetitions of the experience of wonder." Discovering or coming to the answer of how they formed myself would have most likely magnified the experience. The same holds true for finding the reasoning behind the different properties of water. This is because it would have illuminated the conclusions that I had made after the fact during the process.

I also discovered that the beauty in the broader entity of water was far more reaching. For example, had a I began with an analysis of water's beauty, explaining the beauty of the icicle would have almost been effortless, and I probably could have used the basic properties of water to form my own conclusion of how icicles formed. However, I kept in mind that these properties of water were accumulated through observing more specific cases of water within nature, like icicles.

Lastly, if the qualities that most scientists believe make thought-provoking entities beautiful (symmetry, simplicity, regularity, rarity, and color) are universal, then icicles are far more beautiful in comparison to a rainbow. When bisected vertically, it is infinitely symmetrical unlike the circle. The water that makes up the icicle is a simple two-atomed molecule, while the light needed for a rainbow exists as a duality between particles and electromagnetic waves. There is far more regularity in the growth of an icicle in comparison with the formation of a rainbow. Lastly all of the colors of the rainbow are joined into the rays of white light that reflect back to you eyes from the icicle. How could anything be more beautiful?

Bell, Jerry, et. al. Chemistry: A Project of the ACS. W.H. Freeman and Company. New York. 2004.

Calder, Vince. Ask a Scientist: Environmental Earth Science Archive. Icicle Formation. http://www.newton.dep.anl.gov/askasci/env99/env184.htm

Heidorn, Keith C. Science of the Skies – Icicles. http://www.suite101.com/article.cfm/13646/97412

Fisher, Philip. Wonder, the Rainbow, and the Aesthetics of Rare Experiences. 1998. Havard University Press.

Mackinlay, Ian. Roof Design in Regions of Snow and Cold. http://www.ima-arch.com/services/article_roof/roofdesign_p6.html


Scientific Beauty
Name: Amanda Gle
Date: 2005-02-24 09:43:38
Link to this Comment: 13204

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A. Zee wrote in Fearful Symmetry: The Search for Beauty in Modern Physics that, "as glimpsed by physicists, Nature's rules are simple, but also intricate" (Zee 16). This is seen in many aspects of not only nature, but also most scientific properties and equations. Yet despite this, the scientists always seem to find a way in words to describe the beauty of what they see. Sometimes those words do not sound as beautiful to the audience but are still able to describe something gorgeous. In all of the cases of beauty, that is both scientific and the literary description, the beautiful object is simple and unique. Nature is simple and sticks to that rule even though it may appear intricate.

One of the most beautiful, and complexly simple things in nature are snowflakes. Every snowflake has hexagonal symmetry and yet no two snowflakes are alike. W.A. Bentley, a farmer from Vermont, proved the symmetry of snow crystals. Bentley wrote,
Under the microscope, I found that the snowflakes were miracles of beauty; and it seemed a shame that this beauty should not be seen and appreciated by others. Every crystal was a masterpiece of design and no one design was ever repeated. When a snowflake melted, that design was forever lost. Just that much beauty was gone, without leaving any record behind (http://www.riccomaresca.com/ Exhibitions/2001/Bentley2001.htm)

The words written by Bentley are personal and in so are attractive to others. He describes snowflakes as "masterpieces" without repetition. Part of the beauty is the uniqueness of every snowflake. It is impressive to think of billions of snowflakes that fall, where none are the same. Snow crystals have a rotational symmetry that attracts not only geologists who study the crystals but also physicists. This is why, if a physicist is "the beholder..., beauty means symmetry" (Zee 13). The physicists who look for symmetry and "beautiful" equations find snowflakes to be gorgeous.


Another crystallized beauty is a crystal chamber in the Earth. Found in either caves or "vugs," which are open cavities, beautiful crystals of all different types of minerals grow (Talk with Melissa Lindholm). These caverns are where most of the large, gorgeous, mineral specimens come from; for example, the gigantic amethyst "cathedrals." In Keats' "Endymion" he describes these chambers.
To dive into the deepest. Dark, nor light,/ The region; nor bright, not somber wholly,
But mingled up; a gleaming melancholy;/ A dusky empire and its diadems;
One faint eternal eventide of gems./ Aye, millions sparkled on a vein of gold,...
Out-shooting sometimes, like a meteor-star,/...Like Vulcan's rainbow,...Anon it leads
Through winding passages, where sameness breeds/ Vexing conceptions of some sudden change;/ Whether to silver grots, or giant range/ Of sapphire columns, or fantastic bridge
Athwart a flood of crystal (http://www.photoaspects.com/chesil/keats/keats7.html).

Keats describes scientific beauty poetically. First, he describes the light in a cavern. While it is not bright, the light only sparkles through the darkness from groups of gems to each other, as if the light was sparkling from crown jewels. In the cavern there were millions of gems, some sticking out, some in the wall, the different colors reverberating throughout the room. These rocks have never been exposed to daylight and yet they in essence produce their own light from the many crystals that are there. These crystals, which grow because of chemistry, and are studied by geologists, are simple beauty. There forms are usually symmetrical, even if, the outward appearance is not and each one is unique.


A specific crystal shape, the diamond, is symbolically one of the most beautiful things to men and women. The diamond, which is the hardest type of gem, is in many cultures, symbolic of love. A diamond is "forever" and "a girl's best friend." The rocks, which come in different colors, or just clear, demonstrate how nature can produce something which reflects light and in essence, strength. Henry David Thoreau wrote in "Journal" that "Perfect sincerity and transparency make a great part of beauty, as in dewdrops, lakes, and diamonds." These diamonds are like the snowflakes in symmetry. Each diamond has a carbon framework structure, which combine under high pressure. The extremely high pressure is what makes a diamond different from graphite, which has the same carbon structure. The pressure applied beautifies the diamond. Each diamond is unique, though the structure is similar.


Pearls are another natural beauty that is used by man for jewelry. A pearl is formed very differently than a diamond. Found inside of oysters, a pearl forms when a grain of sand gets caught and is covered by the shiny outside. While each pearl is beautiful, each one is also unique. They have the same body plan, but not necessarily the same identifying features. Pearls, like diamonds, are thought to be very valuable. They are hard to find, especially those which are real. A person would have to go through hundreds of oysters to find even one pearl. John Dryden wrote in "All for Love" about pearls as something desirable and fine. They are considered perfect. He said, "Errors, like straws, upon the surface flow;/ He who would search for pearls must dive below" (http://www.digiserve.co.uk/quotations/search.cgi). The rarity of beauty, symmetrical and simple, is in part what makes something so beautiful.


Items that are both simple and complex are usually considered some of the most beautiful. A simple equation e=mc2 is a simple explanation of what mass would be equal to if it turned into energy. Pi is a small number that never repeats itself and thus while easy to explain the concept of, is hard to remember the details of. Each beautiful thing is this world, can be traced back to something simple.


Somewhere Over the Rainbow: Finding Beauty as a Sc
Name: Malorie Ga
Date: 2005-02-26 16:21:03
Link to this Comment: 13238

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"Oh look! A rainbow!" the child sitting in front of me exclaimed to his parents. I looked out the bus widow to see half an arc of a rainbow. It gave the illusion that it was coming out of the ground to our left and disappearing into the sky. I was immediately fascinated by the rainbow as was my friend Sarah, with whom I was traveling. We were on a four hours bus ride from Exeter to London, and as it so often does in England, it had been raining for most of our trip. We stared at the rainbow out the window. It was beautiful. It also was the most exciting thing that had happened the whole bus trip. As I sat there watching it, I thought how pleasant it was to be able to watch a rainbow uninhibited by the pressures of daily life. There was nothing I needed to do and no where I needed to be. I could just watch the rainbow and enjoy myself. Most of my memories that involve rainbows happened at camp. They usually involved me and my friends running through the rain toward some promised shelter. But as we were watching out the bus window, something happened; something I had never seen before. As we moved along the road, the rainbow moved with us. It slowly began to disappear on the left hand side and appear on the right. Right before our eyes, we were witnessing the full arc of a rainbow, from where it touched the ground on one side to the other. I had seen many beautiful single and double rainbows before at camp, but none so beautiful as this one. I was awed by this rainbow in a way that I had never been before.

As I watched the rainbow morph and arc as we drove along, my mind wandered from the simple beauty of the colors to the science of a rainbow. I asked myself why we were able to see the full arc this time when we had never seen it before. To answer myself, I took what I knew of rainbows and angles to try and understand. I knew that rainbows were a phenomenon that occur when the sun is out while it is raining. The sunlight hits the rain drops at a certain angle which allows the light to be refracted, creating the visible spectrum of colors. What we were witnessing, I deduced from my limited knowledge, was the rain from different angles. The path of the light from the sun was not moving, the rain was not moving (at least not side to side), but we in the bus were. The bus was changing our angle of vision. The refracted light was coming at us from a different angle, causing the rainbow to look like it was arching to follow us. The simple science of understanding what was happened enhanced my experience. Since I knew mundanely what was happening to cause me to see the full arch of the rainbow, I was able to realize how truly beautiful it was. Not only that, but I felt pleased that I was able to understand it, at least a little. I get a similar satisfaction when I am able solve a complex math problem. While I may not know all about the angles and arcs and why we see it like that, I could still find the science of the experience beautiful.

I was moved to write about this experience when I read a chapter from Philip Fishers book Wonder, the Rainbow, and the Aesthetics of Rare Experiences. The way he described a rainbow spoke to me and enhanced my personal experience. He describes seeing a rainbow as a rare and unexpected experience. We see them enough to know what they are, but not enough to be bored with them (Fisher 34). They still hold a certain "awe" value. Although we are aware that they are the product of sun during the rain, they retain a certain magical quality about them. We associate them with leprechauns and pots of gold and Dorothy's dream, and maybe our dream too. But we find them beautiful and intriguing not only because of the myths and stories that we were brought up on, but also because of the simple wonder and the colors of the rainbow. Inevitably when someone sees one he or she shouts out "Wow! A rainbow! Look!". It is just like when it starts to snow. No matter how many times you've seen snow, the experience of seeing it fall is still awe-inspiring. We all feel the need to point it out to each other. It so strikingly beautiful that you want everyone else to experience the beauty as well.

The most amazing thing about my recent rainbow experience was not the "awe" value or the colors, but the actual arc of the rainbow and the science behind it. I was fascinated with the arc of a rainbow in a way I had never been before. As Fisher explains, it was the arc that helped scientists explain the rainbow. For the Greeks, geometry was the meeting point for science and ascetics. It was the beauty and wonder of the arc that made it accessible for geometry. It is the arc, Fisher explains, that led to our understanding of the rainbow. "Just as the rainbow drew and held attention, it seemed, in the geometrical regularity of the shape, to point out the path by which it could be understood" (Fisher 36). The beauty of the semicircle allowed the Greeks to figure out that it "was a phenomenon of light rather than matter. This made it unique among the objects of beauty, noble in a way that the material beauty of flowers or of a human face could never be" (Fisher 36). The arc is symmetrical and perfect, too perfect for nature. That is how they knew that they could explain it with geometry. This quote also helps explain why we find them so beautiful. The shape is so unique and perfect that it is impossible to not find it beautiful. We are drawn to its shape in a way that we could never be drawn to a flower.

Even though Fisher explains the importance of the arc, I still want to know more about it - like why it forms a nearly perfect semicircle. It was in 1637 that the mathematician and philosopher Rene Descartes fine tuned the ideas of how a rainbow works. He did this by simplifying the problem from many raindrops to one. He asks that we imagine light being refracted in one drop:
Imagine how light is refracted as it enters the raindrop, then how it is reflected by the internal, curved, mirror-like surface of the raindrop, and finally how it is refracted as it emerges from the drop. If we then apply the results for a single raindrop to a whole collection of raindrops in the sky, we can visualize the shape of the bow. (my.unidata.ucar.edu)
So the sun hits the curved surface of the drops and reflects the light back out to create the bow. To see the refraction, you must have your back to the sun which must be hitting the drops at a special angle, known as the Descartes or rainbow ray. If we are viewing the rainbow along this angle, then we can see the rainbow brightening. That is why as we moved in the bus, we were able to see the full arc. Our angle changed in respect to the rain and different parts of the rainbow got brighter while others parts faded. The shape is also deeply connected with where the viewer is in respect to the source of light. As we changed in position, the angle also changed. The angle is essential: it is the difference between seeing the rainbow and just seeing rain. Other factors in the shape of the arc is what time of day it is, since that changes the angle of the sun. It made sense to me to learn that the best time to see the full arc is at sunset, which is the exact time we saw the full rainbow arc.

The angle also effects how we see a rainbow and causes each individual to see a different rainbow. Where you are standing in relation to the sun and the rainbow ray determines how bright or how much of the rainbow you are going to see. It is because of this reflection that each person sees a different rainbow. Fisher says "Each person's rainbow, like his or her reflection in a pool of water, is uniquely determined by the point where he or she stands, by the angle between eye, raindrop, and sun" (Fisher 36-37). Each rainbow is unique to us, since it is not a tangible thing. It is the product of light, reflection, and our eyes. I would think that this would diminish my finding it beautiful, but it does not. Even though we know they do not exist, they are no more than reflections- a creation of ours eyes. That they "can have no reality but mere appearance" (Fisher 37), as Roger Bacon says. Without us, there would be no such thing as a rainbow. Other animals cannot see them, even though they have similar eyes. We are the creators of our own personal rainbow. Perhaps that why we are still so fascinated by them. When our eyes react to the refracted light, they create a rainbow that only we see. And what we create is beautiful, symmetrical, and unique. Or perhaps we will never really know exactly why each of us finds a rainbow so beautiful. All I can say is that for myself, understanding the workings of a rainbow has made them all the more beautiful.


References


REFERENCE NUMBER)NAME OF YOUR FIRST WEB REFERENCE SITE,

REFERENCE NUMBER) Fisher, Philip. Wonder, the Rainbow, and the Aesthetics of Rare Experiences. London: Harvard University Press. 1998.


Beauty in the Ashes
Name: Elizabeth
Date: 2005-03-01 01:45:49
Link to this Comment: 13324

<mytitle>
Beauty,Spring 2005
Second Web Papers
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Science is a hideous creature. It seethes with self importance. It reeks of arrogance, of knowing. It's filled with numbers and weird formulas that cause migraines. Society, today, bows down before science. It is the new cultural icon, the new standard to which we hold all things. It has already claimed truth, and now it has turned its head to other entities, seeking to conform and weigh all things according to its criteria.

Ironically, despite having sold my academic soul to a career in a scientific field, that's how I feel. The beauty of science itself is that it is universal(1)., that you can adhere to its rules and the knowledge and truths you fashion under its heading are 'universal'.

But you cannot tell me that numbers are beautiful. Or rather, you cannot make me believe that such is the case. The solution of those numbers could be beautiful, or the history behind how the equation came about is beautiful, but the fact that the equation is in and of itself not beautiful. F=ma is no more beautiful to me then a lump of coal. The equation is just a compilation of numbers, just like a painting is just oil on canvas. It's the composition, the result, the story that is beautiful.

Perhaps that's why I find the soft sciences so much more appealing to my sense of aesthetics. The 'softer' sciences, such as my major anthropology, are invariably made far more beautiful than 'hard' sciences, such as physics, because by their very nature they are not reliant on simply churning out numbers. I'm not trying to degrade physics in any way, but one has to concede that in order to get a degree in physics, chemistry, and so forth, you have to at least be able to find a little enjoyment in numbers. Anthropologists use numbers as the means to an end, to try to find human universals that apply to all peoples, universals that go beyond science to true understanding.

Let us take a very simple example, the Laetoli footprints. In Laetoli, Tanzania there exists a find that has shaken up our understanding of human evolution. Simplified, this is a find of fossils and fossilized footprints that was discovered in the late 1970's by Mary Leakey. Tracks of two different creatures with feet much like the ones we put socks on every day spread across a flat plain over a distance of twenty feet, forever preserved in volcanic rock. It is believed that these two individuals, walking side by side, made their impressions shortly after a volcanic eruption and a rainfall, and because these elements were right we can now find see the impressions their travels made today.

Now if I were to simply use a scientific approach to this example, I could tell you all sorts of conclusions one can draw just from the fossils themselves. For instance, a train anthropologist can get a lot of information simply by examining the footprints that were discovered. Judging from just the length of the stride and the placement of the foot, an anthropologist can tell you that one was taller than the other, and that they were moving across the landscape at a stroll, or at least, not a run, nor a very hurried pace. A brisk walk, perhaps.

That same anthropologist can also give you the date of the fossil's discovery, using radio potassium dating methods, and tell you that it was anywhere from 3.6 million years old to 3.8 million years old. Also, taking into consideration the age of the site, they can go on to tell you which early species of hominid most likely created the footprints. In this case, the A. afarensis is the favored species for this find. Judging from the depth and size of the footprints, the individuals were about four feet in height and four feet eight inches. They could even tell you that the smaller of the two individuals paused for a moment, turned slightly to the left, and then continued on.

But all of that would be pointless without knowing why this find is so significant. By the way that the footprint was made, and the lack of a diverging toe and the presence of a defined arch in the foot, an anthropologist can tell you that it was made by a hominid. The feet of apes, the only other animal with a foot similar to our own, are characterized by a toe that extends like a thumb from the rest of the foot. The reason for this is because the toe is necessary for climbing up into trees, or rather, climbing with any sort of ease, for long periods of time, and with any speed at all. The arch is an adaption that was used to support the weight of the body comfortably, for a creature walking upright.. The shape, the way the heel struck down first and the way the toes were then used to push off from the ground is a sort of locomotion that only a hominid would use. To take that a step further, we can tell that these creatures who made these prints were using bipedal locomotion as their primary, if not sole, way of getting around, and that they were adapted from an ape ancestor.

"This motion–the pause, the flance to the left–seems so intensely human, it transcends time. Three million six hundred thousand years ago, a remote ancestor – just as you or I–experienced a moment of doubt." (Mary Leakey, quoted in Lewin, 1988, p57)

Yes, well no surprise there, you may say. Or you may even think that's just footprints, and that it doesn't prove anything whatsoever.

But during the 1970's this was a tremendous step (if you'll forgive the pun) towards establishing who our early ancestors were. Combining this with other fossil evidence, such as those found at the site and also with Lucy, anthropologists now feel comfortable answering one of the most critical questions that had been plaguing their field: Which came first, the brain or the bi-pedalism?

Obviously, when taking into account the small brain capacity of Lucy, and establishing that the first hominoids did indeed practice bipedal walking for great distances, then we can firmly establish that bi-pedalism came first.

This discovery does go beyond that, however. Based on the size differential between the two footprints (one set had a much larger print), the commonly believed theory is that one of the individuals was male, the other female. Noting the differential strike of the smaller set of prints, it is also believed that female was carrying something on her hip, such as a child. Combining all of these elements together, and including the fact that the two sets of prints seemed to remain in step for the length of the twenty meters, and anthropologists can paint a picture that these two early hominoids were a family unit. From there, there are endless possibilities for hypothesis on our early social structures, even the way that our earliest societies could have been formed from this core family unit.

The other thrilling aspect of this discovery is that it was made by Mary Leakey, one of the most celebrated women in anthropology of the then and now. This monumental discovery, the combination of the footprints and the skeletons that went along with it, is made all the more beautiful because it was also a landmark for female anthropologists everywhere.

So why is this scientific element beautiful to me? It's certainly not because of the symmetry of the fossils. To me, bones are bones, footprints are footprints. It's the story that these little bits of evidence tell that makes them so interesting to me. It's the fact that I can consider the how these fossils made an impact on our communal understanding of how human society evolved. That these discoveries made an impact not only on what we know, but how we perceive the world. Prior to this discovery, we had only scraps of evidence to go by as we tried to figure out how and why exactly our ancestors evolved from apes and into the hominoids. It was at first believed, due partially to our big egos, that the way we developed was big brains first, then apes. We still don't know all of the answers, of course, and this fossil only created more questions: Why did we develop bipedal locomotion first? What exactly was the social structure of the A. afarensis? What was their environment really like, filled with active volcanoes? What exactly did they look like, these two footed, small brained creatures?

But this is part of the beauty of my science, my softer, more cushy anthropology. The discovery, the adventure is beautiful, because it's more than just facts and figures. It's how we live, how we came to be. We're learning our story, the reason for our being here, not just predicting the speed of an apple falling. The study of human evolution is an aspect of this hideous creature called 'science' that I can look straight in the eyes and dare to call beautiful.

References


1)By universal, it should be understand that I mean to those societies that accept science as a part of one of their theologies. Obviously if a society believes that all truths are as a result of divine intervention, that an apple falls because it is the will of a deity or because spirits keep it close to the earth, then this statement cannot possibly apply.

2)Article 1, Some information about Lucy

3)Article 2, Laetoli Footprints, pictures

4)Article 3, More on the Laetoli

5)Price, T. Douglas and Gary M. Feinman, "Images of the Past" Third Edition, Mountain View, California: Mayfield Publishing Company: 2001. pages 40-41. (about the Laetoli site; also where Mary Leaky reference is from)


The Narrative of Evolution
Name: Rebecca Do
Date: 2005-03-03 10:45:06
Link to this Comment: 13377

<mytitle>
Beauty,Spring 2005
Second Web Papers
On Serendip


"Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do to keep in the same place" (Carrol).

This line from Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There is now used to explain a certain evolutionary phenomena called coevolution. In the story Alice finds herself in a fantastical world and is following the Red Queen. The queen runs faster and faster and Alice runs faster and faster to catch up with her, however they both remain in the exact same place. Thus, the hypothesis that an organism must adapt as fast as it can just to keep from going extinct has come to be known as the Red Queen hypothesis. More specifically if one organism's survival is dependent on another organism it must adapt as quickly as that organism to stay alive and this is called coevolution.

There are over 250,000 species of angiosperms (flowering plants) which comprise about eighty percent of the plant population on earth. From experience one knows that many species of angiosperms are aesthetically beautiful due to their complex variations of form and color. In his essay Narrative Ronald Hoffman discusses how people generally find simple things the most pleasing. How is it then that the complexity and variation of angiosperms is still so beautiful? Hoffman's answer is that, "We construct with ease an aesthetic of the complicated, by adumbrating reasons and causes. We do so by structuring a narrative to make up for the lack of simplicity" (Hoffman 3-4). Narratives break down complexities into simpler parts or steps thus making the complexity more beautiful to the human mind. The complexity of the angiosperm group is beautiful because a narrative partly made up of the Red Queen hypothesis can be created that explains how these plants came to exist as we know them today.

Angiosperms like all animals evolved into their present form out of the need to pass their genes on to the next generation. An organism's evolutionary success depends on whether or not it is able to reproduce. This is so important that in some species parents actually die in mating or ensuring their offspring's survival. This fact is the foundation of evolutionary thought yet it is not at all beautiful because it is a gross oversimplification. This statement must be expanded to create a simple narrative that will in greater detail explain the evolution of angiosperms over time. In doing this the beauty of the complexity will be easier seen and understood.

To begin the narrative, the question of why organisms evolve at all should be addressed. Charles Darwin and Alfred Russell Wallace are credited for the theory of Natural Selection which explains this occurrence. The first tenet of this theory is that variations exist within a species and some of these variations are passed down from parent to offspring. For example in pea plants height is a characteristic that is determined by the genes of the parent plants. The second tenet is that more offspring are produced then survive to reproduce. Certain species of fish release thousands of eggs the majority of which are eaten by other organisms allowing only a very small percentage to reproduce and pass on their genes. Also, there may be more individuals in a population then there are resources to support and some individuals will die before getting to reproduce. Therefore there is a struggle for existence and reproduction. Certain individuals may have a variation that gives them an advantage over individuals who don't have that trait. They will survive to pass that trait on to their offspring and the others will die before they get a chance to. Therefore, it is possible for a population of individuals to evolve into an entirely new species over a long period of time (Dodson pp3-17).

There is a great deal of speculation as to what caused the earliest angiosperms to diverge from their predecessors which are the gymnosperms (conifers and ferns). However, it is known that both angiosperms and gymnosperms both share a common ancestor that was a single celled photosynthetic organism that lived in water. This ancestor had evolved the ability to create food by using energy from the sun in a process called photosynthesis. This adaptation gave the organism a competitive edge thus allowing it to reproduce passing the ability to photosynthesize to its offspring. The next major step for plants was terrestrialization or the movement of plants on to land. The individuals who had variations like roots that enabled them to live on land were able to tap into new resources that were unavailable to aquatic plants. This brings us to the evolution of gymnosperms which were the first plants to have seeds. These seeds had a soft covering that protected the egg which increased the chance of fertilization which is a great evolutionary advantage (Campbell).

That was a very brief narrative of an extremely complex series of events that took thousands of years but eventually lead to the evolution of angiosperms. Angiosperms diverge from gymnosperms in that they have a hard seed coat and the seed and other reproductive parts are found in a flower. The hard seed coat is an evolutionary advantage in that it protects the egg so that is why hard seed coats were selected for but the evolution of the many different forms of flowers has a much more complicated answer.

Ultimately flowers were evolved because like seeds they gave individuals a competitive advantage when reproducing. The intricate colors and structures of flowers expend a great deal of the plant's resources but the fact that angiosperms are the most diverse, successful plant group demonstrates that flowers are a wise investment. How do flowers create a reproductive advantage? Flowers have adapted mutualistic relationships with pollinators that are usually insects but can be small animals. In a mutualistic relationship both participants receive a benefit. Pollinators receive food in the form or nectar from the flowers and in turn put the pollen (a yellow powdery substance that is the male reproductive cell) in contact with an egg for fertilization. When the pollinator lands on the flower looking for food particles of pollen stick to it and when the pollinator moves on to feed at the next flower some of the pollen is deposited where it can then fertilize the egg. This makes it much more likely that fertilization would occur when compared to gymnosperms that just release their seeds and pollen into the air. This is evolutionary beneficial for the pollinators because they are provided with a source of food.

The relationship between angiosperms and their pollinators is a great example of coevolution. The relationships of these organisms have become so specific that they need each other for survival. This is where the Red Queen hypothesis comes into play. In these mutualistic relationships if one organism does not evolve as fast as the other it will go extinct because many of these relationships are so specific. Many times there is only one type of pollinator for one type of flower. This explains the diversity of color, form, and scent of flowers.

The shape and scent of a flower is used to attract pollinators. An example of a very specific relationship based on scent would be more commonly known as the corpse lily. This plant can be seven to twelve feet high and when in boom it releases a scent that smells like a rotting corpse. This attracts certain flies that come and spread the plant's pollen. The relationship between the hibiscus flower and the long beak of hummingbirds is a great example of co evolution. Hummingbirds have evolved long beaks because it has allowed them to reach deep into the hibiscus where other insects can't and eat the nectar. The form of the hibiscus has evolved such that its five stamens which have the pollen brush the head of the hummingbird as it eats the nectar (Koning). An example of an even more complex relationship would be common milkweed. The pollen in milkweed is not a powder but rather a waxy packet that is very sticky. The flower has horns and a slippery surface that makes it so that the insect can only land on the flower in a specific position where its legs go through these slits. In this position the packet gets stuck to the insect's legs almost like a saddle bag. When the insect goes to feed at the next flower it must again puts its legs through the slits and the packet of pollen breaks off and fertilizes the flower (Tikiela).
These are just three short stories in the narrative of how angiosperms have become one of the most diverse groups of organism on the earth. The narrative of evolution is what allows one to see the beauty of the variations of angiosperms despite the complexity.


Why fairy dust makes me think of equations
Name: Flora Shep
Date: 2005-03-15 10:13:17
Link to this Comment: 13505

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Beauty,Spring 2005
Second Web Papers
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Flora Shepherd
Beauty Paper #2
Why fairy dust makes me think of equations

You are walking down the path from the Campus Center to the PSB at noon, when most of the campus is getting out of class and going to check their mail or eat their lunch. In front of Radnor, there's a tour guide leading a large group of shy prospective students and their proud parents. And then, running up the path, naked is a middle-aged man you've never seen before. Maybe he's a visiting professor, but who knows? He's dripping wet and smiling and laughing as he shrieks over and over again, "Eureka, I've got it!" That is the behavior of a madman. Just as you think that, there's Public Safety running out of Merion Hall to intercept this lunatic. But this is also the fabled behavior of Archimedes, one of the greatest mathematicians of all time. When he figured out that the mass of the water he displaced from a full tub was the same as his own mass, he got so excited he ran around the streets of his city, screaming, without bothering to put on any clothes.
I love this story. What is it about an equation that causes so much emotion in a person? Nowadays, his idea is so basic that I don't think it could make anyone stay awake, much less scream. Granted, part of Archimedes' excitement was the thought of his reward from the king for this discovery, useful for ascertaining that smiths used all the gold given to them to make royal jewelry, but I do not believe that money alone is enough to inspire such antics (especially not for Archimedes since he died because he was so engrossed in his work he didn't realize his city was being attacked.)
Although scientific phenomena have never caused me to streak, I have definitely shared Archimedes' joy at discovering, for myself, the behavior of physical principles in everyday life. I consider myself a scientist, both because I spend a lot of time studying physics and because of the way I see the world. This designation does not mean that I can't write novels or perform stories or anything like that, it just means that I am obsessed with thinking about relations. Walking around, observing what goes on around me, I feel incredibly content when I see the world operating according to the equations I have learned in text books. I am always thinking things over in my head, finding relations between things. Playing badminton, I think about how the birdie is moving according to the laws of projectile motion. Listening to the coach, I realize that proper badminton technique is based on physics: what angle to hit the ball, how hard, etc. Even the strategy of badminton could probably be best summarized with mathematical algorithm, even though we don't yet have any algorithms as sophisticated as a good player's mind. I count things without meaning to, trying to find symmetries in the order in which people are sitting in a computer lab, in the cars waiting at a traffic light. My friend smashed her finger getting a bowling ball from the holder at the alley and I thought about whether it would have hurt more if one ball had hit her finger or if one ball hit several balls which then hit her finger and why (the latter would hurt less, the ball loses a great deal of kinetic energy in the collisions, since the system was far from perfect). When I puzzle out these observations into a relation, for a minute, my mind can stop and I feel incredibly happy, temporarily shielded from the confusion of the world. The relation does not have to be a complex equation for it to be beautiful to me. I can just realize that the way that bartender is smiling at me reminds me of my ex-boyfriend's smile. A sense of the beauty of the complexity of the universe washes over me and I am standing in a smoky bowling alley, smiling.
But what happens when I encounter something that is just incredibly pleasing and beautiful? One of the most beautiful phenomena I have ever witnessed was not a planned event. I was in seventh grade and my parents had pulled my brother and me out of school for a week and a half to represent America at a puppet festival in Puerto Rico. We spent our time touring the island in big vans with no seat belts that rode low from all the artists and all our equipment. Kyle and I couldn't speak Spanish back then, so we couldn't speak to most of our peers. But still, we made friends. Some men in an Argentinean troupe taught us some card games without using words. Kyle played soccer with everyone he saw. While our parents lounged in the outdoor bar talking a mixture of French, Spanish and English, we spent many hours on the beach near our hotel between gigs even though swimming was off limits because there was too much seaweed in the water (some sort of ecological phenomenon?). Aside from the fact that everyone kissed me on the cheek (even teenage boys!) the only distinct memory of the trip was something so breathtaking it still finds its way into my dreams.
As I have explained, Kyle and I didn't really know what was going on most of the time. We wandered around the hotel and performed where and whenever our parents told us. Some schools we performed in Spanish (the little we knew for the show) and at some schools, we performed in English. After the shows, students would sometimes crowd around us and ask for our autographs since we were these kids from America. But mostly, we just set up the show and hung out backstage until the vans came to take us to dinner or a performance or a dance or whatever else the festival had planned.
And then one night, we were on a bus with several other puppeteers. My Mom explained that we were going swimming in a lake at night. I half wondered if there were going to be sharks in the water, remembered how my grandfather told me that sharks fed at night, but my Mom assured me that sharks did not live in freshwater. And then we all got on this sort of pontoon boat and took off to the center of a lake. Everyone had to wear life preservers, even my ex-lifeguard Mom. What happened next is perfectly etched in my mind. People started to point out to me that the water around the motor of the boat was lighting up. There were swirls of green-yellow light eddying and flowing around us. We got to the middle of the lake, turned the motor off and then everyone jumped in. Like everywhere else in Puerto Rico, the water was warm. But the amazing part about this water was that whenever you moved your arms in the water, the water around your body would light up. It was terrifying and beautiful. The only light on the lake was from the moon and these lights in the water. Everyone was laughing and splashing, but I kept staring at the dark water, dumb-founded that all of this water contained light. It was such a powerful image, straight out of a fairy tale. I wouldn't have been surprised if, when I got out of the water, my skin was still glowing.
But just the beauty of the experience was not enough for me. I needed to know that what I saw was real. If this magic lake were a hoax, I wanted to know for myself. I wanted to know how it worked. Because this lake was so deeply beautiful to me, I couldn't stand the thought that somehow it wasn't true, that I had been tricked. I learned that there were organisms called Pyrodinium bahamense that lived in the "lake." They light up when stressed. This phenomena is called a bioluminescent bay and the one in Vieques is one of the brightest in the world. There are only a handful of these bays to begin with, so the fact that my family stumbled upon this is incredibly lucky. Tours like the one I went on are actually endangering the bay. But I am still grateful for that experience. In the context of this essay, it shows that physical beauty alone is not very impressive to me. I can see something once and think it's beautiful, but after that, I need to know something bigger, something more important, some relation. I need to know what I saw is true, and for me, finding relations between things validates their beauty. I can't help but think things through.
If I ever go back to Vieques, when I jump in, I know that I first I won't be thinking the organisms and how they work. The magic of what I see is the most important part of the lake for me. But I know I won't be able to keep myself from thinking about how the lights in the water look like fairy dust, like the night sky in the water, wondering what legends the natives invented for them, wondering what stories I could write about them and, especially, wondering if the pattern in the way the organisms light up can be described by a mathematical relation, if it corresponds with theory of art or physics. I won't be able to help myself.

Resources Used:
http://departments.weber.edu/physics/carroll/Archimedes/default.htm
http://www.golden-heron.com/biobay.html





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