Monday, December 19, 2005

Ralph Waldo Emerson on the Nature of Natural Inquiry

I have found resonances of the current disputes in Emerson's Introduction to Nature, published in 1836. Particularly:

Let us interrogate the great apparition, that shines so peacefully around us. Let us inquire, to what end is nature? All science has one aim, namely, to find a theory of nature. We have theories of races and of functions, but scarcely yet a remote approach to an idea of creation. We are now so far from the road to truth, that religious teachers dispute and hate each other, and speculative men are esteemed unsound and frivolous. But to a sound judgment, the most abstract truth is the most practical. Whenever a true theory appears, it will be its own evidence. Its test is, that it will explain all phenomena.

We certainly have a lot more data to work with than Emerson did, and more tools with which to do that work. But the humble watchfulness he calls for in the study of nature is still spot-on.

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