Friday, May 11, 2007

Beautiful, Beautiful, Beautiful - Beautiful Science

Evenings continue to be tough on me these days. Perhaps it's because I'm not preoccupied with solving some IT-related puzzle for a user and can slip more fully into the body's nagging sensations. Perhaps it's because my bowels are finally ready to get rid of wastes that have built up during a daytime of eating. Whatever reason or reasons, when I get home I can usually expect the "new normal" of life after rectal cancer treatment to involve pain and numerous trips to the washroom.

Sometimes, as I try to get some respite by resting on my recliner, I will try to vary the routine by switching resting positions to the bed and listen to CBC radio. Tonight, I had the good fortune of hearing an interview with the Pulitzer-prize winning author Natalie Angier talking about improving scientific literacy among the general populace. It is her view that far too often science is portrayed as boring, when it is anything but boring. In fact, in her recent book, The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science, she invites those who have never studied science since their high-school physics, biology, or chemistry classes to "attend to the universe" and rediscover the beauty that surrounds us.

Coincidentally, another person interviewed spoke about a lifetime collecting soundscapes. We heard samples of everything from a growling jaguar in the Amazonian rainforest to the sound of shrimp in the ocean. His message to the audience was simple: "Be quiet and listen to the world around you." The two interviews reminded me of why life, despite aggravations like rectal cancer, is incredibly glorious.

On another beautiful spring day in Kitchener, Ontario, these simple messages were exactly what I needed to hear. True, my working life is about information technology and is punctuated continually by the sound of presses punching out plastic caps, interspersed with phone calls from users asking for help, modulated by human voices making their views known on a variety of topics in different meeting spaces. Nothing wrong there, but how wonderful to go outside at lunchtime, let the sun beat down on my skin for a few minutes, and enjoy the sound of sparrows chirping. Or to come home from work, open the patio doors and listen to the sounds of both nature and neighbours. I can then pick up a book or turn to research on the Internet and find photographs or stories about scientific discovery and the awe inspired by simply attending to the universe.

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