Advent calendar Dec 17th

Humphry Davy with Paul Tyreman.

During Advent, on the 17th December, we find Humphry Davy’s birthday. This most famous son of Penzance was led by his innate curiosity to make some great discoveries using the latest tools of the day.

There is a point of view, though, which suggests that finding out more about how the Universe works subtracts from its beauty and wonder. I’m firmly with the physicist Richard Feynman on this. He famously said in response to his artist friend “I see much more about the flower than he does … All kinds of interesting questions (to) which the science knowledge only adds to the excitement, the mystery and the awe of a flower. It only adds. I don't understand how it subtracts.”

In the years since Feynman spoke to his artist friend, we have found even more awe and wonder in the Universe, from the largest scales via tools like the Hubble Space Telescope to the tiniest particles in the Large Hadron Collider. Projects like these can also inspire us by showing the power of collaboration between people from all over the world.

If you prefer to retain an air of mystery about the universe we inhabit, think of chaotic pendulums. In the full knowledge of the physical laws underlying their motion, we have no way to predict their behaviour beyond the next few seconds. There is a fine example of a chaotic pendulum in St. Mary Redcliffe Church in Bristol.

Dec 17th from Chris Osborne on Vimeo.