Tuesday, March 09, 2004

Why Do Birds Sing?

Why Do Birds Sing?

Johannes Kepler wrote:
"We do not ask for what useful purpose the birds do sing, for song is their pleasure since they were created for singing. Similarily, we ought not to ask why the human mind troubles to fathom the secrets of the heavens...The diversity of the phenomena of Nature is so great, and the treasures hidden in the heavens so rich, precisely in order that the human mind shall never be lacking in fresh nourishment"
I remember fragments of that quote from the last episode of the science documentary series, Cosmos, hosted by the late astronomer Carl Sagan, entitled "Who Speaks for Earth?" Thanks to Google, I found the exact quote again, at an unlikely site about birds.

The Cosmos series was shown on RTM eons ago, when I was still studying in Form 4. That series inspired me a lot as a kid and stirred my interest in science, which lasted until today. Carl Sagan was a charismatic narrator and a lucid writer. To this day, I still consider his Pullitzer Prize winning work, The Dragons of Eden, one of the best popular science books I've ever read.

All my life I've envied scientists and see the job they do as being one the noblest undertaking one could perform. What could be grander than the study of Nature itself? The laws of Nature are the laws of God: to understand Nature is to fathom the mind of God Himself.

At its core, the pursuit of science is a spiritual quest for meaning and understanding. Who are we? Why are we here? Where are we going?

As human beings, we delight in understanding. When Nature reveals glimpses of its glory to us, we burst into raptures of intellectual ecstasy. Nature baffles and teases us with its myriad mysteries. It challenges us and forces us to abandon our fondest beliefs.

For a long time we believed electrons were particles. And suddenly we found that it exhibits wave properties too. Now, is the electron a wave or a particle? Nature tells us it is both. Why should an electron be a particle OR a wave? Why can't it be both? In accepting this truth, we ascend one more step up the spiritual ladder--we understand God a little bit more.

Any attempt to describe or explain Nature will always fall short. We have to invent concepts like waves or particles. These are merely models--stepping stones--for the human mind to comprehend Nature in a very limited way. Nature is just what it is.

Why do we want to understand Nature? The same reason why birds sing:

For the sheer pleasure of it.

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