“The Learn’d Astronomer” by Walt Whitman (ca. 1900)
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 the 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.
Science and awe go hand in hand. The more we learn; the more we know, the more in awe we grow. To learn is to discover, and to discover is to be reborn; for the fact of stumbling upon something new refreshes our capacity of being surprised and amazed like when we were little kids. This year is the International Year of Chemistry, so it is a perfect time for telling people who are not scientists to regard science as the human activity of the “awe”. Nowadays, and in some regards, it requires to be a “learn’d scientist” in order to be awed by a new discovery, but every single living scientist on the planet today was once awed, whether by nature or by a passionate teacher in a classroom. So let us remember what it was like to be awed and lets all look at nature with youthful eyes willing to unravel its secrets instead of taking them for granted.
In order to be a learned astronomer one must first gaze at the stars in awe and wonder…
2011, International Year of Chemistry