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The Science and Art of Design

Oct 26, 2020 07:29PM ● By DR. RANDALL NIEHOFF

To see a way and a way of seeing

Talent hits a target no one else can hit. Genius hits a target no one else can see. — Arthur Schopenhauer (German philosopher)

Schopenhauer’s definitions came to mind when I was reading a scientific article about transportation. The author stated that a person mounted on the correctly sized bicycle exemplifies the most efficient use of energy per weight in movement, expending less energy than a salmon, seagull, horse, car, or jet plane. Such a calculation represents engineering talent. 

But then, consider this musing by aviation pioneer Igor Sikorsky: “According to recognized aero technical tests, the bumblebee cannot fly because of the shape and weight of his body in relation to the total wing area. Of course, the bumblebee doesn’t know this, so he goes ahead and flies anyway.”

Looking carefully for the hidden genius of nature’s artistic designs is a way of life on the sanctuary islands of our Gulf Coast. We pay attention to the scientists who help us see the way our environment works, and we consult with conservationists who give us a way to see how we fit in the big picture. In truth these methods have driven the progress of both science and art throughout civilization: to find surprise in the world around us by looking at it from an unexpected point of view. Often catching sight of what no one else had envisioned, Albert Einstein reminded us: “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science.”

A wise and beloved naturalist who taught among us for more than four decades, Kristie Anders would often lead a brief exercise in awareness as preparation for an immersion into nature: (1) Close one eye; then take in the whole picture; (2) put your opposite index finger on your nose—now what do you see? [the finger]; (3) remove finger—NOW what do you see? [nose].

To practice a way of seeing that allows us to perceive all that can be observed is a mark of genius. As computer scientist Alan Kay put it: “A change of perspective is worth 80 IQ points.”

Scanning for the beautiful in her poem, “The Invitation,” Oriah (Mountain Dreamer) wrote:

"It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for, and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing…. I want to know if you can see Beauty even when it’s not pretty every day, and if you can source your own life from its presence."

Ran Niehoff has been trying to keep his eyes open in and around Sanibel since 1991.