Starry Starry Night

When I heard the learn'd astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide and measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander'd off by myself,
In the mystical moist night air, and from time to time,
Look'd up in perfect silence at the stars.

-- Walt Whitman

W hen I see that quotation used to justify ignorance, to justify pride in ignorance, I get angry. Angry because knowledge, including scientific knowledge, does not diminish beauty.

I enjoy music. I listen with great pleasure to a Bach concerto, to a Tchaikovsky symphony. I recognise that they are beautiful. But I am untrained in music, and I know that I am missing something, not appreciating the full beauty. I know this because my more knowledgeable friends have told me so. They have told me that their appreciation of music is enhanced by their deeper knowledge of it; that music is more beautiful to those who know and understand its internal structure, its history, how it builds on and extends previous works. I believe them when they tell me this. They do not hear the music the way I do; they have a richer experience.

S o why do many artists feel hostile to scientific beauty? So hostile that they deny its very existence? Why do they insist, untrained in science as many of them are, that their appreciation of the beauty of a starry night, or of a clear blue sky, is better than mine, more real than mine, simply because I know the physics, too? How can ignorance enhance beauty? I would be wrong to claim to appreciate music more than a trained musician. And these people are wrong to pretend they find a starry night more beautiful than I do. Ignorance is not bliss, it is emptiness. I do not see the stars the way they do; I have a richer experience.