Tuesday, August 01, 2006

In the still of the night

How many times in my life have I had these lines of Walt Whitman quoted to me?
When I heard the learn'd astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander'd off by myself,
In the mystical moist night air, and from time to time,
Look'd up in perfect silence at the stars.
The intention is always to put down science, to drag out the old romantic complaint "to dissect is to murder."

As if the astronomer and those in his attentive audience might not equally appreciate the "mystical moist night air."

But imagine not knowing what is there behind the dome of twinkling lights. The galaxies. The exploding stars. The myriad of mysterious worlds. The quasars, pulsars and black holes. The yawning, teeming infinities.

When Whitman wrote these lines he was just in a cranky, intellectually lazy mood. Unfortunately, many intellectually lazy people take him at his word.