About Natural History

Are all scientists romantics?

I was talking about orogenesis the other day with a fellow geologist, and we both came to the conclusion that it would be quite awesome (and I mean this litterally) to stand on the Appalaches or the Urals ( and realize that during the Primary era these were the highest mountains on Earth. They belong to the first orogenesis event in the history of the Phanerozoic, a time when they weren’t covered in vegetation, but they were culminating higher than this level. We were thinking abou the feeling we’d get by walking on these eroded rocks, that may have been around for more than 250 Ma, but still, they are rather high mountains.
This sort of feeling is something that is always accompanying scientific thought, although not all scientists realize it or understand how deeply romantic it is. Indeed, when one thinks about any problem concerning Nature, the Universe or even about a theoretical problem (i.e. Mathematics), one performs a romantic act since he usually faces a problem with respect to Nature and does not consider his human nature as a factor in his reflection (non anthropocentric vision).
Of course, the Romantic movement of the beggining of the 19th century did influence strongly the scientific tought, and generated the big Naturphilosophie movement in Germany. It represented a scientific view of the world that was at the limits of metaphysics (sometimes well past the limit as well). Despite that, some major discoveries were made by using this kind of philosophy, such as electromagnetism in the field of physics, statistics in the field of mathematics, or the creation of the field of Biology (by Lamarck).
One of the most renouned naturphilosophers is Johann Goethe. His scientific observations are largely poorly known, but he is actually the one who made quite a crutial observation when it comes to angiosperm development. He noticed that the flower of the angiosperms is in fact transfomed leaves. With this simple idea, a very simple yet important observation, he made it possible for other scientists to understand the origin and the development of flowers. The movement came to an end with the rise of Positivism at approximately the middle of the 19th century, which promoted the collection of data and the methodologies used today.

Although the romantic movement has faded away from science (as it has for litterature to tell the truth), there lies in all scientists a deep sense of romanticism in their perception of natural phenomena, in the way they concieve a scientific problem and in their love of nature in general.


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One thought on “Are all scientists romantics?

  1. Angélique on said:

    You’ve changed my point of view of the Appalaches, ’cause for skiing it’s not the best. I totally forgot that Appalaches were higher in another time. That reminds me something Félix said after his jump: “sometimes we have to get really high to see how small we are”. And sometimes, small mountains (in Québec) can remind us as well, with the help of a paleontologist and a geologist of course 🙂

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