Richard Feynman's "Ode to the Flower"

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In 1981, physicist Richard Feynman was interviewed by the BBC. He told the story of his disagreement with an artist about who can better appreciate the beauty of a flower: artists or scientists. To hear Feynman tell it, the artist believed that a deep scientific understanding actually removed some appreciation of the flower as simply a beautiful thing. In other words, knowing the processes that created a thing could detract from appreciation of that thing.

In this one-minute video by Fraser Davidson, Feynman's interview snippet is set to animation. Give it a quick look, and share what you think -- does a scientist have any lesser appreciation of a flower? Similarly, does an artist have a greater appreciation of a flower? I'd like to see an artist's rebuttal to this statement.

And here's the BBC transcript of what Feynman said:

I have a friend who’s an artist and has sometimes taken a view which I don’t agree with very well. He’ll hold up a flower and say "look how beautiful it is," and I’ll agree. Then he says "I as an artist can see how beautiful this is but you as a scientist take this all apart and it becomes a dull thing," and I think that he’s kind of nutty. First of all, the beauty that he sees is available to other people and to me too, I believe, although I might not be quite as refined aesthetically as he is, I can appreciate the beauty of a flower.

At the same time, I see much more about the flower than he sees. I could imagine the cells in there, the complicated actions inside, which also have a beauty. I mean it’s not just beauty at this dimension, at one centimeter; there’s also beauty at smaller dimensions, the inner structure, also the processes. The fact that the colors in the flower evolved in order to attract insects to pollinate it is interesting; it means that insects can see the color. It adds a question: does this aesthetic sense also exist in the lower forms? Why is it aesthetic? All kinds of interesting questions which the science knowledge only adds to the excitement, the mystery and the awe of a flower. It only adds. I don’t understand how it subtracts.

(Via The Verge.)

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January 7, 2013 - 6:46am
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