23 February 2011

'Surrounded by ghostly objects'

In Nature Writing, a contribution to Archipelago 5, Tim Dee quotes Vladimir Nabokov (1962):
Reality is a very subjective affair. I can only define it as a kind of gradual accumulation of information: and as specialization. If we take a lily, for instance, or any other kind of natural object, a lily is more real to a naturalist than it is to an ordinary person. But it is still more real to a botanist. And yet another stage of reality is reached with the botanist who is a specialist in lilies. You can get nearer and nearer, so to speak, to reality but you never get near enough because reality is an infinite succession of steps, levels of perception, false bottoms, and hence unquenchable, unattainable. You can know and more about one thing but you can ever know everything about one thing: it's hopeless. So we live surrounded by more or less ghostly objects.
Dee also quotes Aldo Leopold:
Whereas I write a poem by dint of mighty celebration, the yellowleg walks a better one just by lifting his foot.

P.S. Freeman Dyson gets a lot of things wrong (some of the flaws in his approach are well covered here); but he recently wrote something sensible:
Science is not a collection of truths. It is a continuing exploration of mysteries.

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