Spring and the Magician

A personal tale and perspective

By Paul James.

Spring arrives once again yet we never cease to be intrigued by the unique individuality of each, as subtle weather patterns vary from year to year. The sun, the prime energy source of life on earth is most welcome too after the long winter spell. This annual event is so complex, affirming the incredible diversity of the earth's population of life forms, appearing as a grand theatrical display of nature's unique mechanisms at work.

For me it is always a time in which to contemplate, and appropriately I feel it necessary to make comment....

My tale starts around the end of the 16th century when something seemingly of little importance occurred which led to the escalation of scientific knowledge. It was of course the early experiments of the Dutchman Antoni van Leeuwenhoek, who is thought to be one of the first individuals to make the 'water drop' glass lens into a superior inspection device.....the magnifying glass. This opened a door which led to the revelations of the unseen world and a naturally increasing depth of microbial knowledge by an ever increasing number of the early practitioners eager to sate their unwearied curiosity. At around this time also, Galileo turned the then newly devised 'optik' tube to the other end of the spectrum which aroused similar interests as did the magnifying glass and initiated a similar reaction in astronomy. Both of these singular inventions opened doors into what was to become almost limitless fields of study: Microscopy and Astronomy. As they matured it became apparent that the scale of reality seemed much greater than could have ever been realised before, which I believe would have had an irresistibly stimulating effect on enquiring minds of the time over other issues and emerging sciences too. And so began the long haul of scientific investigation through the centuries.

Modern Science was in one sense being born with an almost daily input of new information gleaned from around the world as the new found technology of glass lens scrutiny spread further afield. Somewhat later, and well after Isaac Newton's ingenious revelations, the sailing ship 'Beagle' which carried amongst others the young but perceptive and diligent Charles Darwin, embarked on a voyage of discovery which was to have profound ramifications about the natural world and led to even more diversification of scientific study. This was roughly at a time when Victorian microscopists became very keenly interested in the diversity of microscopic life forms which the abundance of prepared slides, many of which still exist today, clearly demonstrates. Later on in the 19th century other 'sciences' were maturing and being enriched with newly discovered information and artefacts that have swelled libraries, museum collections and spawned a sprinkling of new universities around the world to cope and make sense of this newly discovered bounty.

The 20th century has witnessed a phenomenal expansion of scientific investigation of truly astounding proportions, as science developed a great inertia fueled not only by innate curiosity but by the demands of social change, medicine, business interests, and the military. The physical sciences have shown that the material world is somewhat different to what we had intuitively perceived it to be, especially from the imaginative revelations of Albert Einstein and many others who developed and extended postulations thereafter. Today, the grand scale of the real world seem to be confined to our conceptual limitations of the universe and the miniscule, yet mathematically orientated reality of sub atomic particles, where it is supposed that the conventional properties of normal earthbound physics do not exist.

Now allow me to digress just a little, sufficient to put some, if not all of this into some perspective. I think it true that most of us at some time in our emerging years have seen the skills of the magician. His magic, that of affecting the physical nature of an event: the trick: appears so plausible to younger eyes, and older generations too when seeing the very best examples of the art. However we all know that even the most sophisticated tricks could not escape close inspection or even scientific analysis, though some conjecture will always remain. It is the implementation of the ingenuity through skills behind the facade that pleases.

So how does the Magician's craft fit in to all this ? Well very simply, if by using a small leap of imagination we construe that Nature is the grand magician of all, and of course not without reason. Yet having been subjected to millions of prying eyes and some of the greatest minds over the past few hundred years, and as many experiments as human ingenuity could muster, her fundamental secrets remain intact: A degree of prolonged analysis that no magician's secrets could remain unknown.

The simple fact remains that our existence and beyond in the grand scale has been explored in great depth. No sooner it seems than we have catalogued the bulk of the contents of nature's littering array of lifeforms, embraced within the vast scaling of her physically embellished stage, than we seem to be arriving rapidly at a point where we are splitting hairs at the extremities or frontiers of science. The law of diminishing returns must by now be in force? Of course we do know a great deal now about the physical, biological and chemical makeup of the world and many of its mechanisms, thanks to the work of these scientific pioneers throughout the last few hundred years. Yet despite the overwhelming quantity of data and resulting literature assembled, in what might be considered to be all embracing, and on all of nature's flanks, we are only cataloging the 'nuts and bolts', and still know nothing of the fundamental life force: Nature's greatest secret which has remained beyond our scope. This does not however diminish the value of scientific findings to date one iota.

For me these simple revelations come at a time when it is becoming incontravertibly clear to the human race that our presence and accumulative activities are causing so many adverse effects on the climate of the planet, alongside durable long term pollution, which speaks volumes about our presence here and does not augur well for the future. There are some contentious issues within this subject which are of course debatable, but the fundamental fact is that what we are doing as nations, particularly in the developed world, does not make for long term stability of the biosphere. Nature has been humbly enduring our industrial revolutions and wasteful endeavours and has been modifying her tactics through contemporary evolutionary means, subtle though they have been. The notion of conservation it seems is one that society must eventually embrace in the long term: we have absolutely no choice, for to abuse our planet in the way we have done is inviting a war with nature, and the word retribution comes to mind.

But there is a modicum of hope, in that we are reminded every single year without fail by an event which is so grand and yet almost passes without sound: an event which is still magical for all its complexity and harmony and deep mystery: a grand scale tour de force which mankind could never emulate. It is of course Spring, without which at least in the temperate climes, we might forget our humble position on this earth and responsibilities.

I conclude with the first four lines from William Shakespeare's sonnet 15, which concerns itself with aging and personal loss. The abstract concepts these few words hint at were conceived at somewhat before the time of Antoni van Leeuwenhoek's revelations and well before modern science came to be.

When I consider everything that grows

Holds in perfection but a little moment.

That this huge stage presenteth nought but shows

Whereas the stars in secret influence comment.......

 

All comments welcome by the author Paul James

 

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Published in the May 2006 edition of Micscape.

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