|moon over Goodricke: taken at 07:53 BST, in York, UK|
As I was looking up at the moon, admiring its beauty in the clear blue, there were a load of resonances bouncing around in my brain: that there had been a total lunar eclipse a few nights ago (not visible from the UK, unfortunately); that although the moon looked full it couldn’t be because (a) the total lunar eclipse was a few days ago, and (b) the sun was also in the sky (see my shadow in the photo); that the moon looked blue because of the blue sky; the blue is from Rayleigh scattering; that people had been to the moon, but a long time ago now; that the moon is far away and actually rather big, but not as big as the solar system; and the solar system is in the galaxy, and we can see the galaxy at night; and...
And then I became consciously aware of the resonances, and revelled in the feeling. And realised that part of my admiration was due to those resonances.
And then I remembered a piece I had written a few years ago. Okay, 25 years ago. It was a rant brought on by some event I now can’t even remember, but the sentiment remains.
Starry Starry Night
When I heard the learn’d astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide and measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander'd off by myself,
In the mystical moist night air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.
— Walt Whitman
When I see that quotation used to justify ignorance, to justify pride in ignorance, I get angry. Angry because knowledge, including scientific knowledge, does not diminish beauty.
I enjoy music. I listen with great pleasure to a Bach concerto, to a Tchaikovsky symphony. I recognise that they are beautiful. But I am untrained in music, and I know that I am missing something, not appreciating the full beauty. I know this because my more knowledgeable friends have told me so. They have told me that their appreciation of music is enhanced by their deeper knowledge of it; that music is more beautiful to those who know and understand its internal structure, its history, how it builds on and extends previous works. I believe them when they tell me this. They do not hear the music the way I do; they have a richer experience.