The San Francisco Chronicle’s online SFGate recently (Friday, July 20, 2007) carried an article titled: “Please Never Find A Giant Squid,” by Mark Morford (http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/g/a/2007/07/20/notes072007.DTL)
His thesis: “We haven’t really captured a live one yet… [He means healthy, but let him go on] Can we right now put out a… meek and humble supplication to the gods of nature and time and science and human endeavor? Can we make it a juicy and spiritually-charged appeal that runs in direct opposition to the mad and never-ending human need to find and grab and trap and kill every gorgeous messy squishy mystery we ever encounter so as to study it and quantify it and force-fit it into our rather narrow worldview, a very specific offering that says please, oh please, let us never, ever capture and understand and fully comprehend a live 50-foot, 2-ton colossal deep-sea squid? Please?”
He does go on, but you get his drift: mystery equals appreciation, and mystery dies when we learn something, and when mystery dies, our human spirits are diminished. I’m paraphrasing but that’s what I got out of it. I’ve heard this argument many times. I feel the opposite. For me, learning deepens and broadens the experience of being alive, and it deepens the mysteries. The worldview, narrow only in ignorance, expands.
By the way, the Giant Squid and Colossal Squid are two different species, so if he wants to stay ignorantly mystery-struck, he’s off to a good start.
And that’s basically my point. The more you know, the richer the world is. I mean, right here, we either have one huge type of squid or two. I’d rather know there are two. That’s twice as amazing. How do we know? Because scientists study them. That’s why I love science.
People hostile to facts about nature seem to think the more you know the more you will fail to see beauty. How tragically wrong. The more we learn the more we can appreciate. And still the surface beauty remains—more so in fact because we can see the differences, and thus increase the topography and surface texture of the world. Flat versus varied. Vive le difference!
The people I know who most love and delight in natural beauty are all scientifically inclined. They see much more than people who don’t really know—and don’t want to know—what they’re looking at. Their understanding takes them deep. If we have an open mind, and are not averse to facts, we learn details and richness that goes beneath the surface.
The more we hold the world at arm’s length and beat the curiosity out of ourselves, the more we lose the romantic view that motivates scientists and artists and explorers. And then, ironically, those who profess to love mystery seem to turn their backs on the mystery.
What’s left if we leave the squids and every other mystery “alone” and savor our ignorance? While scientists are out in boats sucking the marrow out of life, everyone else is in their cubicles or going to the supermarket or paying bills. The forces of destruction go to work anyway; they don’t stop overfishing or cutting down forests because a few people who fear learning want to leave the “mystery” in place.
Intellectual understanding enhances romance rather than masks it. One squid or two? I’ll take two. (Actually there are nearly 800 species of squids and their close relatives; if you want to be blown away by the mystery and richness of a world so populated with living diversity of just this one group of astonishing animals—cephalopod mollusks—see cephbase.org).
People who love the thought of mystery for its own sake, who aren’t interested in learning, who don’t burn with curiosity and the insatiable hunger to just inhale life—strike me as sad, and usually rather dull. That laziness that wants to preserve the mystery is just the other side of the same coin that makes people merely blasé.
The article says “the human soul craves mystery.” Certainly. But let’s not confuse craving mystery with craving ignorance. If you crave mystery, learn everything you possibly can, and the mystery of existence will so rapidly expand it will be like a supernova in your brain. It will leave you gasping for breath.
There’s nothing to be afraid of, except fear itself.
— Carl Safina