Feynman on the beauty of a flower

April 12, 2006  in  Art as a profession       Related posts:  

This video clip shows Richard Feynman, the famous physicist, recalling a conversation he had with an artist about appreciating the beauty of a flower. His friend had a typically narrow view of science, claiming that Richard’s scientifically-trained mind could not truly appreciate the beauty in front of him. Richard, kindly, set him straight. Those who choose to look at the world with only their eyes, and not their minds, are missing much of its beauty.

I have a friend who’s an artist and he’s 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, I think. And he says, “you see, I as an artist can see how beautiful this is, but you as a scientist, oh, take this all apart and it becomes a dull thing.” And I think 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. But I can appreciate the beauty of a flower. At the same time, I see much more about the flower that 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 of one centimeter: there is also beauty at a smaller dimension, the inner structure, also the processes. The fact that the colors in the flower are 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.

(Richard Feynman, as quoted from the “Best Mind Since Einstein” NOVA Video)