Reading Henry David Thoreau’s journals this summer confirmed our belief that science should be food for imagining. His entry of December 25, 1851, made at age 34, explains:
I witness a beauty in the form or coloring of the clouds which addresses itself to my imagination, for which you account scientifically to my understanding, but do not so account to my imagination. It is what it suggests and is the symbol of that I care for, and if, by any trick of science, you rob it of its symbolicalness, you do me no service and explain nothing. I, standing twenty miles off, see a crimson cloud in the horizon. You tell me it is a mass of vapor which absorbs all other rays and reflects the red, but that is nothing to the purpose, for this red vision excites me, stirs my blood, makes my thoughts flow, and I have new and indescribable fancies, and you leave not touched the secret of that influence. If there is not something mystical in your explanation, something unexplainable to the understanding, some elements of mystery, it is quite insufficient. If there is nothing in it which speaks to my imagination, what boots it? What sort of science is that which enriches the understanding, but robs the imagination? …That is simply the way in which it speaks to the understanding, and that is the account which the understanding gives of it; but that is not the way it speaks to the imagination, and that is not the account which the imagination gives of it . Just as inadequate to a pure mechanic would be a poet’s account of a steam-engine.
If we knew all things thus mechanically merely, should we know anything really?
Quoted from page 101 of The Journal: 1837-1861, by Henry David Thoreau, Damion Searls editor, New York Review Books, 2009.)
For a brief biography of Henry David Thoreau, click here. For images of or relating to Henry David Thoreau, click here.