Sunday, September 21, 2014

Understanding Nothing Less Than Everything

I watched her having breakfast, methodically moving from blossom to blossom

Shed hubris like a chrysaline husk. Say the words so seldom heard: "I don't know." I paused beside the road on a Sunday morning TCT to observe this sulphur butterfly taking her morning nectar from these lovely purple blossoms. She moved from flower to flower, and in certain moments I thought the morning was so still and quiet that I could almost hear the flutter of her wings. Was there a pattern to her motion? She appeared to cover the entire bush rather efficiently with her seemingly random motion. That is, she didn't move from one flower to the adjacent, but instead lifted up slightly, appeared to survey the bush between sups, then selected another flower to probe, sometimes on the opposite side. Sometimes in sun, others in shade. Her time in each flower was neither short or long, perhaps five seconds only.


The ride was seeded this morning by an article on Boing Boing about scientists who have spent 20 years 1km underground in a mine looking for verification of an explanation, provisionally called "dark matter," for why our galaxy doesn't spin itself apart. They are having to invent a science from scratch down there, basically, starting with trying different methods for detecting dark matter based on different theories of what it might be, and discarding those methods one by one, saying over and over for 20 years, no, that didn't work, who has another idea? I'm happy, and proud of our species in moments like that, where in humility and curiosity we stick with a quest to understand something very elusive and difficult, driven from the start by the need to know, yet fully aware that it could decades of false starts, of mistakes, of errors, to make any progress whatsoever.

There is so much left for us to learn, to figure out, to know. Pretty much everything, relatively speaking. I believe it is a sign of strength and wisdom to be able to say, "I don't know." It's the weaklings, the shysters, the con-men and the politicians who want to try to make you think they know something about everything. The honest person, though, the truly curious and wise man or woman, will look you in the eye, and say, "I don't know." But that's not the end of it. It's just the beginning. The good news is, until we learn more than the pitiful passel of understanding we fledgling seekers currently posses, we still have broader and deeper rivers to dip into: poetry, art, music, love, religion, meditation, nature, these are the better impulses of a soul which yearns to know but admits it is still groping clumsily through the darkness of ignorance. 

You can't actually hear a butterfly's wings even in the quietest of sunny morning moments. But you can still listen, and think about ways that you could hear them, as well as experiments for learning more about the secret patterns of its flight, and in this pure wonderful obsessive momentary dalliance you can also glimpse glimmers of a mind eager to continue forward on the path of understanding nothing less than everything.


  1. While I realize your post is much deeper than what I am glomming onto...I took a photo of the same type of butterfly today in my yard and was thinking it was a Southern Dogface but after you said "sulphur," I researched it further and now I don't know if it's that or a Cloudless Sulphur, both in the sulphur family, though, and hard to distinguish...haha, sorry, trivial observation.

    1. That's a perfect comment, since it looks like you are probably right that it's a Southern Dogface (who names these anyway??) so I have a chance to say that I was wrong, and now I know! Or perhaps some lepidopterist will stop by and let us know!

    2. Now I think it's a Cloudless Sulphur for sure because a Southern Dogface just flew into my yard and looks different. I posted it on FB...soon to be on my blog (tomorrow).


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