You may have never thought about it before, but . . . why do you see the world as you do? From whence came your notions about the universe and how it works? Aren’t there things that you assume EVERYONE knows about the cosmos and the interrelationship between its many parts?
My brother and sister-in-law were kind enough to share a book with me recently. The book’s preface is one of those that draws you in, engages, intrigues you, and makes you wonder why you’ve not learned its content before. It is called The Invention of Nature, by Andrea Wulf, and it chronicles the life of Alexander von Humboldt, born in 1769 in Prussia.
I must admit, I had never heard of him! But in 1869, the world celebrated the centennial of his birth. In Europe, Africa, Australia, and America, etc. parties were held and speeches given in his honor. Dinners and concerts commemorated his birth, and the streets of New York City were lined with flags; posters of Humboldt’s face draped buildings, and a crowd of 25,000 turned out to see a bronze bust of him unveiled in Central Park.
Humboldt was a friend to many of the world’s most famous folks including Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Simón Bolívar, and he was revered by the likes of Thomas Jefferson, Charles Darwin, and Henry David Thoreau. His influence has been felt in so many disciplines that his point of view has become the norm for the way we approach our world and how it works.
And to think I’d never even heard of him!
Humboldt brought the notion of integration between all the various parts of nature to the forefront. He was at odds with many of his predecessors, but his point of view finally grew in prominence. He did not just desegregate the sciences; he also sought to integrate economics, poetry, and the feelings of man; what I venture to call a gestalt approach to life and the world.
What is interesting to me, however, is that it seems we have regressed from this point of view. Not intellectually, of course. I think most would agree that the various aspects of our world are interrelated: geology, oceanography, astronomy, biology, etc. But specialization has caused us to begin to fragment again.
My good friend, Tony, just moved into a new house. And he had to go through the arduous process of getting TV, internet, phones, etc. connected. Many hours on the telephone, with frustrating results, partial connectivity, and technicians that did not seem competent to resolve his problems. Then . . . Daniel appeared.
Daniel was a representative from a well known phone company; he came to the front door and announced to Tony that he was to be his phone line concierge. And indeed, he was. With confidence and the competence to match it he made a call and things began to happen. He quickly demonstrated his ability to bring together various parts of the industry; when he spoke to the home office or the technician on the scene, it was clear that he was the “Go To” guy. Soon everything was up and running as it should. Daniel was priceless!
The ability to integrate the parts, unify the strands, bring together the various factions, comprehend the whole . . . is priceless. But with all our modern technology it seems the disciplines may be less connected than they should be. Our doctors specialize, and that is a good thing, a necessary thing. But without a General Practitioner competent enough to bring together the neurology, cardiology, gastroenterology, and hematology, etc. a patient can be in a very unpredictable and dangerous spot.
The forest. The trees. We need to see them both, don’t we?
Humans are multifaceted. Humboldt knew that. And his efforts in a variety of fields, measuring barometric pressure at mountain tops, examining exotic plants, looking into volcanoes, and paying attention to his own emotions and intuitions put him in a position to understand the parts and the whole much better.
May we benefit from such an integrated approach to our world, and an integrated approach to our dealings with one another. There is order and design to our universe, and to all its inhabitants.