I am continuing to read E. O. Wilson’s The Diversity of Life and recently I quoted from it. Today I continue to quote some more.
The best of science doesn’t consist of mathematical models and experiments, as textbooks make it seem. Those come later. It springs fresh from a more primitive mode of though, wherein the hunter’s mind weaves ideas from old facts and fresh metaphors and the scrambled crazy images of things recently seen. To move forward is to concoct new patters of thought, which in turn dictate the design of the models and experiments. Easy to say, difficult to achieve.
I couldn’t agree with him more. I have seen too many economists who are too enchanted with the mathematics and models that they have lost sight of what is of the essence. Not enough consideration given to the bigger picture. Here is another quote:
… We have problems to solve, we have clear answers–too many clear answers. The difficult part is picking out the right answer. The isolated mind moves in slow circles and breakouts are rare. Solitude is better for weeding out ideas than for creating them. Genius is the summed production of the many with the names of the few attached for easy recall, unfairly so to other scientists…
The above is from the first chapter of the book and is called Storm over the Amazon in which he is introspecting and contemplating ideas while a storm approaches. Some fragments of his evocative writing:
The storm grew until sheet lightning spread across the western sky. The thunderhead reared up like a top-heavy monster in slow motion, tilted forward, blotting out the stars. The forest erupted in a simulation of violent life. Lightning bolts broke to the front and then closer, to the right and left, 10,000 volts dropping along an ionizing path at 800 kilometers an hour, kicking a counter-surge skyward ten times faster, back and forth in a split second, the whole perceived as a single flash and crack of sound. The wind freshened, and rain came stalking through the forest.
The unsolved mysteries of the rain forest are formless and seductive. They are like unnamed islands hidden in blank spaces of old maps, like dark shapes glimpsed descending the far wall of a reef into the abyss. They draw us forward and stir strange apprehensions. The unknown and prodigious are drugs to the scientific imagination, stirring insatiable hunger with a single taste. In our hearts we hope we will never discover everything. We pray there will be a world like this one at whose edge I sat in darkness. The rain forest in its richness is one of the last repositories of that timeless dream.
His writing is the sort that needs to be savored, not hurriedly read. Reading the above, I could see in my mind’s eye the approaching storm, the ‘rain stalking through the forest’.