Friday, March 30, 2012

Awe, Curiosity, and Care

In the last couple of days I've come across several things that caught my attention (in spite of the fact that I don't actually have time to "waste" on such things!) and led me to ponder Big Questions. What are Big Questions? Here's one example: How should we think about the world around us? Yeah, that's a Big Question--too big for a quick & dirty answer. But here are a couple of notes in that direction anyway.
source: New York Times
The New York Times ran an online review of an unusual new exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History. (By the way, that museum is one of the best reasons to get away from the farm for a while and visit New York City!) The exhibit looks at bioluminescence, and it looks incredibly cool! In my neck of the woods, about the only living things that give off light are fireflies, of which there were an abundance last summer. Turns out, there are beautiful, amazing creatures all over the place that are built to emit light.
My reaction to that: "Awesome!" Literally. Encountering such "Creatures of Light" (the title of the museum exhibit) triggers a spontaneous response of awe and wonder and amazement. We encounter things all around us in the world that make us drop our jaws in wide-eyed wonder.
And it doesn't stop there. The next step for a human being after sheer awe is curiosity. How does that work? How do jellyfish do that? What makes it tick? The natural move from awe to curiosity is the root of all science, all practical knowledge. And the one doesn't replace the other. We do not cease to be amazed by things, just because our curiosity leads us to understand them better, and even begin to use them.
source: New York Times
And the mind doesn't stop there. When awe leads to curiosity, and curiosity helps us begin to understand, the human being has another responsibility. We need to care for the amazing things we are just beginning to understand. Another NY Times piece reported recent studies that suggest that even small, non-lethal levels of certain pesticides can disorient bees, and contribute to colony collapse disorder. This is something we should care about, and not just if we're beekeepers. Honey bees are enormously important pollinators, and their disappearance would be catastrophic for food production generally. They are awesome, wonderful creatures (even though they don't--or shouldn't!--glow), and our curiosity has made it possible for us to work with them, and to understand what we are (unintentionally) doing to them. Now it's time to make our choices carefully.
Awe, curiosity, and care. That's how we think about the world.