As a student of both the arts and sciences, I am often asked how I can stop and appreciate the beauty of the world when I am constantly looking for patterns, models, and scientific evidence to explain the phenomena of the universe. It’s this common thought, that artists appreciate beauty while scientists deconstruct it, that renowned physicist Richard Feynman famously deconstructed in a 1981 BBC interview.
This speech, known as the “Ode to the Flower” has been set to beautiful animations and graphics by Fraser Davidson. The video uses Feynman’s famous words to explain how knowledge of the world enriches life and in no way subtracts from the wonder of the universe.
The full text of Feynman’s “Ode to the Flower” is copied below.
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…
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.