Saturday, January 17, 2009

Turfs and thickets

Reducing to specialists all men of science,
Society commits grave blunders.
While every expert his own tiny turf mines...
Unstudied lie the world's wonders!

Well-trodden paths they repeatedly retrace,
Shunning all unexplored thickets.
Blind to the Unknown that stares them in the face,
Smug they sit in their straitjackets!

A trained eye is not just an eye for detail...
But one that seeks the big picture.
The true Scientist's mind the instinct must entail,
Of hidden truth to conjecture!

Darwin, beginning with the crawling beetle,
To weave Life's story was able!
Experts now must heed his lessons a little,
And look outside their own bubble!

Seeing with new eyes a far-flung island's finches,
He showed how creatures earned their shapes.
Travelling in thought where no man dared few inches...
He revealed Man's descent from apes!

In times when priestly authority was rife,
Sparking debate that still stokes fires;
He brought to light the thread that unites all Life;
A leap of Thought that still inspires!

January 17, 2009
(Times Mirror Conference Room,
Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County)

***2009 is the bicentennial of the birth of Charles Darwin and the sesquicentennial of the publication of 'On the Origin of Species'. This year is being commemorated worldwide as 'Darwin Year' in the honour of one of the greatest (as well as one of the most misunderstood, maligned and misinterpreted) scientists of all time whose adolescent studies of beetle populations and pioneering studies of the Galapagos finches, which led eventually to the theory of Natural Selection, are immortalized in the annals as well as the folklore of Science, and need to be revisited and retold urgently to stem the retrogression into unenlightened fundamentalism.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Stargazers and Seafarers

Should pursuit of truth be our only aim,
If some intellectual promise we show?
Or on some business must we stake our claim,
And tend the tree on which money may grow?

Shunning this tree for the Tree of Knowledge,
Thinkers might mock other treasure-hunters.
Complacent in their learning-born privilege...
Budged by nothing are these high-horse mounters!

From stories of how treasure-hunters fared...
It is plain that fortune favours the brave!
Taller than the thinkers who at skies stared...
Stand those who with their hands help new paths pave!

But this means not that all who at stars gaze,
Squander their energies and live in vain!
Their sightings of the Sky helped map Earth's maze,
Their pictures helped sailors reach home again!

Of map and compass bereft, ships are doomed;
Thinker's Mind these journeys possible made.
Sailor's instincts saved the day when storms loomed,
But could they, without maps, set sail unafraid?

The Thinker and Explorer both have their place;
Neither one can solely be called greater.
Together they guide the whole human race...
Harnessing the Mind to conquer Matter!

13th January 2009
(Seaver Science Libary,
University of Southern California)