Wednesday, March 2, 2011


The Temptation of St. Anthony
Herman Saftleven
 Wikipedia Gallery of Art

Science was said to be beyond dispute, 
They taught us so in school; it was the truth.
Yet latest tides of Babel since our youth
Now flush us in a flood of ripe repute.

Our talent, skill, desire to compute 
True answers to all questions that we sleuth
Has left a bitter taste, as of vermouth;
All information found seems to be moot.

The garment of our world is mystery
Twined tempt’ly round her mantle with a sash.
Our cleverest attempts to work it free
Meet only with coy smile or whipping lash.
Though craves she chorus of our voices’ plea
To show her secret graces unabashed.

Note: The poem above was inspired by the following excerpt from the book review, How We Know, by Freeman Dyson, in the March 10, 2010 New York Review of Books. Follow title link to the marvelous article.

The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood
by James Gleick
Pantheon, 526 pp., $29.95

The information flood has also brought enormous benefits to science. The public has a distorted view of science, because children are taught in school that science is a collection of firmly established truths. In fact, science is not a collection of truths. It is a continuing exploration of mysteries. Wherever we go exploring in the world around us, we find mysteries. Our planet is covered by continents and oceans whose origin we cannot explain. Our atmosphere is constantly stirred by poorly understood disturbances that we call weather and climate. The visible matter in the universe is outweighed by a much larger quantity of dark invisible matter that we do not understand at all. The origin of life is a total mystery, and so is the existence of human consciousness. We have no clear idea how the electrical discharges occurring in nerve cells in our brains are connected with our feelings and desires and actions.

Even physics, the most exact and most firmly established branch of science, is still full of mysteries. We do not know how much of Shannon’s theory of information will remain valid when quantum devices replace classical electric circuits as the carriers of information. Quantum devices may be made of single atoms or microscopic magnetic circuits. All that we know for sure is that they can theoretically do certain jobs that are beyond the reach of classical devices. Quantum computing is still an unexplored mystery on the frontier of information theory. Science is the sum total of a great multitude of mysteries. It is an unending argument between a great multitude of voices. It resembles Wikipedia much more than it resembles the Encyclopaedia Britannica.


  1. Science has ever been on the hunt with Actaeon, trying to get a better peek at Artemis in her glade ... Yet the further science peers, the greater the mysteries. (Anyone who's gone in for tests at the doctor knows this most agonizingly.) David Swimme asserted that the universe evolved humans so it would have a way of seeing itself. Nothing like a little nipple tape to catch the starry physicist's eye.

    ... craves she chorus of our voices’ plea
    To show her secret graces unabashed.

    Amen and Amen! -- Great work as always, Ann. (p.s. I'm printing the article to read.) - Brendan

  2. Thanks, and I'm off to look up David Swimme.