Labyrinth of Nature

Albert Einstein famously told a story about how, when he was a child, his father showed him a compass. Looking at the strange instrument, the boy trembled and grew cold. At that moment, Einstein realized something that would propel him in all of his scientific endeavors: it was the realization that nature held secrets. In the wavering needle that somehow seemed “know” which way was north no matter where the compass was placed, Einstein found a metaphor of the scientist’s quest to understand and to penetrate nature’s mysteries.

The recognition that nature has secrets fascinated Einstein, as it has fascinated other scientists and will, no doubt, continue to fascinate budding scientists. The discovery of nature’s secrets may be the singular motive that drives science. Yet inquiry into the strange and mysterious has, historically, been problematic. Does nature have secrets? Why are the laws of nature hidden? Does nature play a game with us, as many Renaissance philosophers believed? Are those secrets divine, or dangerous? Can we legitimately know them?

The ancient philosopher Heraclitus wrote, “Nature loves to hide.” That sentiment led me to the title for this blog. In Labyrinth of Nature, I want to go deeper into that metaphor and to explore the motivations and the dreams that led Renaissance scientists to their original, and sometimes fanciful notions about the world. I hope you’ll join me in that exploration.

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