One of my favorite science bloggers is Phil Plait, the Bad Astronomer. He had a great post the other day about the feelings of wonder and awe upon visiting Crater Lake in Oregon, site of an enormous volcanic explosion thousands of years ago. Here's a brief excerpt from that post that really hit home:
Remember earlier, when I said that even after viewing the lake, incredibly, things got better? It was when I went into the room in the overlook, the one that had the small museum about the volcano. Inside was a large screen television that cycled through the geology of the region over and over again, reliving the millions of years of history, the massive and apocalyptic eruption that must have killed every living thing for hundreds of square kilometers, all those millennia ago. I watched it too, but then stood back and watched the watchers, seeing their eyes light up, their jaws drop, their stunned silence.
They got it. They saw it. They knew. Knowing is always better. You can be overwhelmed by nature, frightened of it. There are forces of appalling devastation, capable of smashing everything humanity has ever made into dust.
The lake in the crater is beauty on a scale that is difficult to convey. But staring out over the lake, seeing the history literally carved into the walls… it brought a lump to my throat. I am continually and perpetually struck by nature’s hand, which uses unimaginable violence and forces almost beyond reckoning to sculpt delicate and subtle beauty.
Knowing that made the lake more profound, more beautiful, and gave it more depth than merely seeing it could possibly have done. Knowing is always better.
That sums up so many of the feelings I've had over the years when studying science, even as recently as three nights ago when I stood, stunned, at our gate staring agape at the Milky Way spreading its ghostly clouds across the sky again. That's something I've only seen a handful of times in my life, and I was humbled to get to see it again right in my own back yard.
When I looked at Phil's post again, though, the thing that caught my eye was one of the photos he posted. Here it is in its smaller format:
all rights reserved to Phil Plait
First of all, it's a great photo, it really captures the beauty of this place. I couldn't help but notice, however, the figures in the foreground. Sure enough, there's the wife, the daughter, and the dog, all staring with Phil's same rapt wonder at ... hang on. The dog is apparently swept away not by the amazing vista, or the awesome weight of history, or the glow of scientific discovery.
No, the dog is fascinated by the sandwich:
That's what I love about animals. When we're most in our heads, they help remind us that sometimes, you just can't beat ham on rye.