I often think about the stone I stole from the beach in Greece as a child that glowed bright orange in the sand. When I arrived back home, excitedly pulling it from the suitcase, it had lost its colour. It now sits in a box, a grey and sullen shadow of its former self. My mother told me it was because it grew sad, longing for its home. Years later, sitting in the sun on the coast of Buzios with fellow heavy-ion physicists, I relayed this story in the hope of a better answer and was asked, “Why would you want to know the truth, with a story like that? Don’t you want to keep the magic?”
If made to think of a magical story in my life, this is one of the few that hasn’t yet had its illusion broken. In truth, I haven’t tried very hard. My boyfriend is a chemist, I know he has access to equipment that would allow him to analyze the stone, tell me what’s in it. One day I will ask him to.
Most of the mysteries I came up against as a child instantly became challenges – understanding them was the primary goal. Just like magic tricks, once you have seen how they are done, you see them differently, but often the truth makes the phenomena in question all the more beautiful. I noticed last night during an advertisement for “Genius of Britain” on Channel 4 (starting this Sunday), Sir David Attenborough echoed this idea:
“The world is full of wonders, but they become more wonderful (not less) when science looks at them.” (See the full clip here)
Of the genuinely wondrous elements of nature this is surely true. However, we have all been disenchanted by the truth. I was very proud to have fathomed that my parents were responsible for the festive man in red, but that didn’t stop it hurting. That magic is gone forever.
I want to know your views. I know many of you don’t comment on here but please make an exception and let me know what you think:
Are answers snuffers or blowers of wonder?