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I’ve just returned from a thoroughly engaging evening discussing skeptical and rational thought (it started with an examination of Osteopathy). I had injected my mature-age-graduate self into the more undergraduate-leaning student club beautifully entitled “The ANU League of Godlessness” (clearly I could not resist gravitating to such a club). The discussion that followed, over drinks, with one or two members wound its way to a discussion about logical thought more generally and how arguments can be constructed (and abused). Wonderful stuff!
What I loved was just how fascinating the world of philosophy and the brain can be. The intersections of logic and psychology and how we live as humans is intriguing, and we did get on to things like gambling and how that works not just in principle, but in operation.
After such discussions, I always come away enlivened, but also just a little concerned. Why are these things so fascinating to me, why do I like not just talking and thinking about them, but also reading about them and delving deeper.
Why, in other words, am I engaged in geological research, a quite different field? Why do I not seek out popular science in geology (not that there is much) and tend to go for other realms of science and philosophy? Why aren’t I in philosophy, or biology, or physics (leaving aside my questionable skill in mathematics)?
So I have questions for the scientists of you: Have you ever questioned your motivations and desires in your own field? Have you ever been depressed about your research and sought greener pastures over the fence? How many of you have done something about that and actually changed?
Perhaps its just this goddamned paper I’m trying to write.
Time to rekindle this blog. I’ve returned to science, somewhat officially, now being involved in geological research at a major university. And I’m living on campus. So I get to pretend to be a pimply student again. This also gives me time to think about science in general and I suspect that this will result in me writing here again… so, it’s been a long time, but please do come back!
See you soon!
“I am going to outlive myself. Eat, sleep, sleep, eat. Exist slowly, softly, like these trees, like a puddle of water, like the red bench in the streetcar.”
― Jean-Paul Sartre, Nausea
What does it mean to live an ‘authentic life’? If the world has no meaning, then all we can do is exist; live. This should not really surprise us, yet it is a fundamental source of anxiety in human beings. Our developed brain and its wild imagination is both a blessing and a curse. We live, and then we die. With a whole lot of thinking time in between.
So it is that an outlet of my existential angst is to photograph things that might go unnoticed, or things that are ‘challenging’. These are the found objects of a mindful wander through the world. Sometimes these are quite macabre, such as road kill. But what is ‘macabre’ anyway? There’s a beauty in the decay of a carcass, as it breaks down and its molecules return to the Earth to continue their aeons-long cycle. The black space of the mind intrudes, but this is not a fearful thing. This is life, and death, and the world turning.
At other times, it is the mundane, or even the moderately beautiful things. I say ‘moderately’ because they have little hope in competing for attention against the truly beautiful. They just exist, like us. Forming part of our sphere of attention, these objects are part of this same cycle, beautiful in their own, small way.
At other times still, it is the very contrast between the majestic and the pedestrian that is what makes mindful observation the very spice of life. If we’re to live on this planet for all these years, and if we are to realise how very unlikely it was that we would be conscious of the world through our own eyes at this point in history, we might smile more often at the absurd nature of it all. Truly much is going on all around you. All the time. Enjoy it, interact with it. Allow your thoughts to roam and your actions to follow.
The journey is long, time consuming, and may very well have no point at all other than to procreate. But you are conscious, you can think, you can do. Play with it. Enjoy it, because you can. Take the road less travelled, and keep your eyes, ears and mind open.
[Images taken from “The Terror of Existence”, an exhibition I held as part of the 2012 FotoFreo Open Exhibitions Program, in Perth, Australia.]
Written for the Letters to Sir David project: http://dearsirdavid.wordpress.com/
Dear Sir David,
Nearly eleven years ago, my Grandmother, Beryl Ayton Hall, turned 80. In a grand lunch in my parent’s gorgeous drawing room, I was asked to say a few words in her honour. I came prepared with a single prop for the occasion, hidden under a cushion adjacent to where I spoke. It was a geologist’s hammer, and I was in the first year of my geology degree.
At about the point that I described how my Grandmother used to encourage a deep interest in the natural world, I described how, as a young boy, I was bewitched by your television shows. In particular, a scene where you broke open a wedge of shale to reveal the fossil remains of a creature that had last roamed the planet hundreds of million years ago. I wanted to do that. And I wanted that hammer!
So there I was, a student geologist, holding up the hammer in a room full of people, exclaiming the influence that my Grandmother had on me, and telling it through memories the very fodder of which was your work.
Like so many countless millions, I grew up and into adulthood with your work. To this day, I cannot think of a better exponent of natural wonder, and natural science. Your work has in part shaped my visceral reaction to the natural world over the years, and I am eternally grateful.
I finished my geology degree, and have worked as a geologist for nearly eight years since. I could not have sustained a scientific career without a constant little voice in my head that simply enjoys the natural world and the stories contained within. Science is the only tool we have to unlock this treasure, and it is the great communicators of science, such as you, that bring it a human dimension. For conveying the scientific joy of the natural world into my living room, I thank you.
My Grandmother was not a scientist, rather a teacher. She always admired your shows, both at a basic level of entertainment, and also at the higher level of her very sharp (and quite scientifically capable) mind. She’s no longer with us, but I am confident that she would share my applause at your life’s work.
Truly you have shown people parts of the world that many might never have known existed. Most on Earth are unable to travel the world and see its natural wonders. Many of those people would also lack a basic scientific education. You are one of the few who have transcended these borders of space and socioeconomic status.
A significant portion of the population of Earth understands its planet better through you. Society owes you a debt. I just want to thank you for everything you’ve done.
The work of a geologist is a mystery for many people. We know about rocks and that is probably the extent of the average person’s knowledge of the field. It’s true, too. We do know about rocks (that is supposedly what 3 or 4 years of uni taught us).
But the life of a working geologist involves a fair bit of time watching drill holes be drilled. Whether you’re in minerals exploration or water drilling, a fair bit of time is spent simply watching a hole be drilled and monitoring its progress. For water bores, you are hoping for water (funny that!) When it does come, both you and the driller keep a close eye on the process, to ensure that the bore is drilled properly and that a bore is constructed that can be pumped for water in the future.
So, here below is a picture of a driller contemplating a successful bore. This post is really just a photo post. He’s referred to as “Waggie”, a reference to his actual name. I get on well with him and so I took this pic midway through the slower development process – we’re not actually drilling here, rather preparing the bore for future production, a process that requires observation and a little bit of contemplation. A reminder to any geos out there that a good drilling relationship is key to all good drilling campaigns.
And then, for me, as a geo, an example of why I want to come home (apart from leaving the flies, heat and dust). I have loved ones; my Wife; and my cat, seen here having a torrid day…
Followers of my blog (I think they exist) would have observed that I try to capture what it is about science that’s worth your learning. I’ve tried to find some good words, but really, I can’t do much better than Hannah Waters at Culturing Science. This is my favourite blog post on the topic so far. I urge you to read it, it captures the feelings and issues so well:
Please read and tell me or Hannah what you think in the comments.