5 August 2014

Crazier and more of it than we think

In De rerum varietate (On the variety of things) of 1557, Girolamo Cardano provides a taxonomy of wonders: 'wonder of the earth', 'wonders of water.'   As Philip Ball notes in Curiosity (2012):
He argues that while some things are truly wonderful (and perhaps beyond rational explanation), others are 'worthy of wonder, but not great wonder', and some are simply not marvelous at all. In the first of these classes he places the 'blue clouds' said to be sighted in the Straights of Magellan off the tip of the South America, and in the second, the foot jugglers of Mexico.'
A contemporary catalogue of wonders might contain different examples from the ones chosen by Cardono yet be much the same in spirit. 

Still, what we find wonderful is also historically contingent. Our maps are vastly more extensive and detailed than those of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. According to the physicist George Ellis our view at the largest and smallest scales "is approaching what will ever be possible."  But, he says, "complexity is almost unbounded." So it's likely that many of the greatest future wonders will be 'inward' ones relating to the complexities of life and mind.  See Snow by Louis MacNeice.

Image:  A Line Made by Walking, Richard Long

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