As I walked through the doors to the Enlightenment section at the British Museum, I was immediately overtaken by a sense of what it would have been to be part of that time, of that era of discovery, exploration and wonderment. I then immediately realised that we do still live in a world where new discoveries are being made, where we’re still on a quest to explore the unknown and where our sense of wonder and curiosity has somewhat been diminished. Nothing has changed, thus, since the Enlightenment period except for the fact that we have, somehow, lost this sense of wonder.
What amazes us now is no longer the achievements and exploits of science and art but the ever ephemeral and fleeting experiences prompted by the even less intellectual world of consumerism. Science and art, the pillars of aesthetics, have taken a back seat and the ugly world of consumerism has taken over.
I might be painting a highly biased or exaggerated view of society but I believe I must do so to get my point across. The world has been anaesthetised for the most part. A few, who still seek beauty, for beauty’s sake, in science and art are still in synchrony with those who pursued the advancement of society during the enlightenment period.
What titillates our sense of wonder? What stimulates our sense of beauty? What excites our sense of curiosity? What inspires us?
Can we still appreciate the wonderful world that lies in the simplest of organism? Can we appreciate the beautiful, yet alien, world that lies among stars and galaxies? Or are we too saturated by the fast changing bytes of information that need to be quickly ingested and discarded so as to make room for an even more short-lived and passive experiences?
Do we take the time to sit back and engage, both intellectually and aesthetically, with the wonders of the world? I feel that we no longer take the time to understand what this means. I hope I’m wrong, though.
Let me quote this sentence from a caption in the Enlightenment section at the British Museum: “When the British Museum was founded, it was a place not only of learning but also of wonder.” I wish schools would become such places one day. I hope we can all fully appreciate the different wonders of the world and have the curiosity to learn more about it.
For me, Physics is what connects us to the wonders of the world. But what is Physics? Physics is about natural phenomena. It’s about the natural world. By natural we mean anything and everything that can be experienced and measured by our senses or extensions of our senses. Essentially, things we can see, hear, smell, touch and taste and which we can measure or quantify are what constitute our natural world.
It is important that what we are trying to understand about the natural world can be measured. If a phenomenon is not measurable or quantifiable then we cannot be exact about it in our description. Measurement is key in Physics. With measurement come units, accuracy, precision and scale. Any phenomenon or object that we are trying to measure must have some physical attribute that is quantifiable. We must also have a means to measure that attribute or, in other words, we need an instrument.
So in this respect, we should approach the world, the natural world, with a mind to dissect, analyse, measure and understand it and only then would we be able to appreciate the beauty therein.