Tag Archives: awe

Patterns in flowing mud, and the roots of life (Walden 189)

Remember when Thoreau groused about the railroad in Chapter 2? “We do not ride on the railroad; it rides upon us.” Guess where he discovered a mind-blowing natural wonder?

Naturally… in a railroad cut.

Anyone else might have walked on by without noticing. It’s just mud, Henry! Everything’s melting — it’s that ugly, sloppy time of year, the days of dirty snow and soggy brown grass. But when Henry noticed a mixture of thawing sand and clay flowing down the sides of a railroad cut like lava, he observed that “Innumerable little streams overlap and interlace one with another, exhibiting a sort of hybrid product, which obeys half way the law of currents, and half way that of vegetation. As it flows it takes the forms of sappy leaves or vines, making heaps of pulpy sprays a foot or more in depth, and resembling, as you look down on them, the laciniated, lobed, and imbricated thalluses of some lichens; or you are reminded of coral, of leopard’s paws or birds’ feet, of brains or lungs or bowels, and excrements of all kinds. It is a truly grotesque vegetation, whose forms and color we see imitated in bronze, a sort of architectural foliage more ancient and typical than acanthus, chiccory, ivy, vine, or any vegetable leaves….” Continue reading


Walden Pond is temporary (Walden 130)

Walden Pond in autumn. Wikimedia Commons

Walden Pond in autumn. Wikimedia Commons

Just one more thought about the origin of Walden Pond. After discussing local legends, Thoreau writes, “It is very certain, at any rate, that once there was no pond here, and now there is one…” Continue reading

A bean patch in the cosmos (Walden 9)

640px-Night_sky“We might try our lives by a thousand simple tests; as, for instance, that the same sun which ripens my beans illumines at once a system of earths like ours. If I had remembered this it would have prevented some mistakes. This was not the light in which I hoed them. The stars are the apexes of what wonderful triangles! What distant and different beings in the various mansions of the universe are contemplating the same one at the same moment!”  — Henry David Thoreau, “Economy,” Walden Continue reading

Math geek as artist: Robert Lang’s origami


Robert Lang at work on an American flag. Via Wikimedia Commons

Here’s a fascinating little video, plus some additional thoughts about art, science, and creativity below. This is so much more than folding little paper cranes. Robert Lang talks about the intersection of art and mathematics, and shows how “problems that you solve for aesthetic value only, turn out to have an application in the real world.” Not to mention some mind-blowing designs.

Lang’s eighteen-minute TED talk is fast paced, lively, and funny. Here are some highlights: Continue reading

Having fun with the mind-blowing scale of the universe

Want to feel microscopic, absolutely mind-bogglingly small? Or maybe you’d like to be bigger than gigantic, a universe in yourself? The Scale of the Universe 2 by Cary Huang is one of the coolest websites out there, fun for both kids and grownups. It’s been around for a while, but having only recently learned of it myself, I thought maybe you haven’t experienced it either.

scale of the universe

Just a screenshot – click the link above to go there.

This screenshot gives you only a rough idea of the site. The beauty of it is that you can zoom in and out. Way, way in and way, way out, from the smallest theorized object (strings from string theory) to the circumference of the known universe. You start at human size and can zoom larger or smaller, comparing the sizes of objects along the way. Continue reading