Our creation story starts with a big bang. Complexity arises, patterns emerge, things accrete and evolve. Myriad little events lead to emergence of big changes. It’s a long story. How do we tell it?
The poetry of the older stories seems easier to grasp: In the beginning there was light… or there were Rangi and Papa, Heaven and Earth. Or the Sky People… or Olurun, orishas and the baobab tree. When we describe the accretion of life’s early molecules, or the evolution of living things, we are competing with these old stories. Science is self-correcting, so our stories keep becoming more nuanced and complex. It’s hard to find the poetry in them.
But I believe science must find the poetry in its stories. And now that our stories are taking a dark turn — we are changing the planet in ways that will make it hard for us to live here — it’s a matter of life and death to tell our stories well. Science is beautiful and strange, with plenty of material for sending a chill of awe up the spine, or coaxing a laugh at its absurdities. Art, more than anything else, can make these stories resonate, explain difficult concepts, use the senses to create memorable experiences of science.
The work on these pages are my little attempts to find the humanity in our science stories. They are artifacts of my attention — to individual organisms, their idiosyncratic structures, and their interactions with the environment. They are records of my astonishment at the complexity and strangeness of nature. Sometimes, especially lately, they are elegies. They are celebrations of the human endeavor that is science — our digging for evidence to try to get it right. I hope you enjoy them.