“无知”是科学的翅膀 Study the Birds and the Bees

http://file.joyen.net/article/soft0902/noe/2011/xdfyy1105/04_Study_the_Birds_and_the_Bees.mp3

提到“科学”两个字,你会想到什么?精密的仪器?准确的数据?不苟言笑的科学家?抑或是冷冰冰的实验室?不知道从什么时候开始,当人们谈论科学时,不再提及兴趣、热情、想象与好奇,仿佛自然科学不再与自然中引人遐想的江河、草原、森林、鸟虫相关,而只是学术论文、专业术语、科学论证与精确实验的代言。社会分工的细化在使科学研究更加专业化的同时,也扼杀了促使人们探索自然的原动力——对世界的好奇。可是以前,事情不是这样的。现在,让我们试着回到过去,重温一下那曾经质朴的无知、浓烈的兴趣、不可遏制的好奇心与无所羁绊的想象力……

We live in an age of science, therefore of accuracy and an opposition to amateurishness. While commendable in many ways, this attitude has an unfortunate tendency to kill enthusiasm—for if success in an area is connected to the precise mastery of an unholy1) amount of detail, we may be frightened away without having our curiosity properly engaged.
我们生活在一个科学的时代,因此,对于准确性的追求受到推崇,而非专业的探索则遭到反对。这种态度在许多方面值得提倡,但令人遗憾的是,它具有抹杀人类激情的倾向——原因在于,如果在某一领域取得成功就意味着要准确掌握数不胜数的细节的话,我们很可能在好奇心被充分点燃之前就已经被吓跑了。

Take attitudes to natural science. I was a keen amateur scientist until I was 12, when I gave up for fear that2) too much had already been catalogued and known. It seemed as if it would be 20 years before I would encounter a real mystery again. Like thousands of others, I saw my spontaneous3) interest in science and the natural world killed by a secondary education that unwittingly suggested that everything was already known and categorised.
1  就拿对待自然科学的态度来说吧。在12岁以前,我一直是一个非常热爱科学的业余科学家,可到了12岁时我放弃了研究科学的想法,因为太多的科学知识已经被分门别类并为世人所知,这让我感到恐惧:似乎我要等上20年才会再遇到一个真正的难解之谜。与芸芸众生一样,我对科学和自然界自发产生的兴趣惨遭中学教育的扼杀,它无意间向我们暗示了一个信息:一切都是已知的,一切都是归好类的。

To remember what popular science could and should be, it’s instructive to consider the case of England’s greatest amateur scientist, Gilbert White4). White published his extraordinary (but too little read) book, The Natural History of Selborne, in 1789, setting out his observations of the animals, birds and insects of his native Hampshire village: squirrels rustling5) in bushes, spiders levering6) themselves across cobwebs, slugs pulling themselves across dew-coated lawns and insects dancing above ponds.
要想重新记起大众科学可以而且应该是什么样子,可以参考一下英国最伟大的业余科学家吉尔伯特·怀特的事例,你会深受启发。怀特在1789年发表了非凡的著作《赛耳彭自然史》(但很少有人读过),讲述了他在家乡汉普郡小镇观察到的动物、鸟类和昆虫:松鼠穿梭在灌木丛中,窸窸窣窣;蜘蛛盘踞在蜘蛛网上,翘首张望;鼻涕虫拖着身子爬过挂满露珠的草地;昆虫在池塘上方翩翩起舞。

Like many of his contemporaries, White believed that God had, on the fifth day of creation, quite literally brought into life all the animals on earth; he had put the stripes7) on the tiger and the antlers8) on the deer. The animal kingdom bore testimony to the benevolence9), greatness and, at times, the sense of humour of God. The belief may have been nonsense, but the attitude that it inspired in White was perhaps less so, for it led him to express sentiments of uninhibited10) wonder about animals which we have in subsequent ages grown shy of expressing. White had another advantage over secular11) modern people. Much about animals was still unknown. Science had not yet defined or answered all the questions—leaving those interested in animals with the freedom to follow up their own curiosity, to ask “What interests me?” rather than “What must one know?”. Reading White evokes the excitement that all subjects take on when we feel ourselves moving from the rank of pupils to that of explorers. White was struck by a host of questions. Why do cats like eating fish so much? When do the sparrows’ eggs hatch? Can bees hear anything?
和同时代的许多人一样,怀特相信上帝在创世的第五天确确实实为地球创造了所有的飞禽走兽;他给老虎画上了斑纹,给鹿安上了鹿角。动物王国见证了上帝的仁慈、伟大和偶尔流露的幽默。这种信仰可能是荒谬的,但怀特受之激发而产生的态度或许就不那么荒谬了,因为正是它引导怀特表达出了自己对动物世界毫无拘束的惊叹与向往及由此而来的所感所想,而在后来的年代里,我们却渐渐羞于表达这种感想。与当代的普通人相比,怀特还有一个优势。那时,人们对动物界知之甚少,科学还没有定义与回答所有的问题,这就给那些对动物感兴趣的人留下了自由的空间,他们可以听从自己的好奇心,去问自己“什么东西能引发我的兴趣”,而不是“什么东西我必须知道”。走近怀特,我们感到自己从学生的行列跨入了探索家的行列,所有事物所具有的惊人之处都被唤起,呈现在我们的眼前。怀特总能想到一大堆的问题:为什么猫那么喜欢吃鱼?麻雀什么时候孵蛋?蜂蜜可以听到声音吗?

Because no one knew, White was free to carry out some touchingly homespun12) investigations: “It does not appear from experiment that bees are in any way capable of being affected by sounds: for I have often tried my own with a large speaking trumpet held close to their hives, and with such an exertion13) of voice as would have hailed14) a ship at the distance of a mile, and still these insects pursued their various employments undisturbed, and without showing the least sensibility or resentment.” White was similarly curious about the key that owls sing in and found that it was B flat15). It may be a good thing for science that many facts are now known, but it’s a sadder thing for the curiosity of most mortals16).
因为没有人知道答案,怀特可以自由地开展一些手段简陋却扣人心扉的调查。“从实验中看,蜜蜂似乎怎么也不会受到声音的影响。我常常在挨近蜂巢的地方拿着大扩音器尽力大声呼喊,这声音在一英里外的船上都能听见,但是这些昆虫却没受到任何影响,照旧各司其职地干活,丝毫没有表现出有所察觉或流露出怨恨之情。”怀特对猫头鹰唱歌的音调也抱有同样的好奇,并发现它最终唱的是降B调。对于科学来说,许多事实为世人所知可能是件好事,但对于大多数普通人的好奇心来说,这就是一件比较悲哀的事情了。

White constantly encourages his readers to focus on the number of animals that live alongside us but that we typically ignore, seeing them only out of the corner of our eye, having no appreciation of what they are up to and want. White prompted his readers to abandon their usual perspective to consider for a time how the world might look through other eyes. One autumn, he reported: “Swallows and martins17) have forsaken us sooner this year than usual; for on September 22nd, they rendezvoused18) in a neighbour’s walnut19) tree, where it seemed probable they had taken up their lodging for the night. At the dawn of the day, which was foggy, they arose all together in infinite numbers, occasioning20) such a rushing from the strokes21) of their wings against the hazy22) air, as might be heard to a considerable distance: since then no flock has appeared, only a few stragglers.”
怀特一直鼓励读者们去关注自己身边的动物,通常我们都会忽略这些动物,仅会用余光瞥一瞥它们,并不关心它们干些什么以及想要什么。怀特鼓励读者们暂时放下惯有的观点,暂且用另外的视角去看这个世界的样子。一个秋天,他这样写道:“今年,雨燕和紫崖燕离开我们的时间比往常要早些。9月22日,它们聚集在邻居家的胡桃树上。那天,它们似乎就是在那里过的夜。破晓时分,雾霭茫茫,多得数不清的燕子齐刷刷地振翅飞翔,直冲朦胧的天空,振翅的声音似乎在很远的地方都能听到。从那之后,除了几只掉队的,再也没有出现成群的燕子。”

It would have been easy to overlook that they had ever been in Selborne. Just the odd sound and sight, invisible to the unfocused villager more concerned with news from London or with the harvest or church gossip. And yet the swallows had been in Selborne since the end of February, the martins since the early weeks of April. They had spent the spring building their nests in chimneys, in forked boughs23) of trees or beneath eaves24)—gathering mud in their bills and applying it with trembling movements of their chins. They had searched for insects for their young, swooping25) low over hedges26) and ponds (while humans were baking bread and having arguments and darning27) socks). The swallows had sung in a soft low-twittering song—feet-feet feet-a-feetit—and the martins in a slightly lower chrrp chrrp, with the occasional treep at a moment of alarm. And now they were leaving Selborne on their immense journey back to the equatorial28) regions of Africa in which they wintered. White’s discussion of the birds guided us to view the world through a different lens: no longer just the human lens, in which Selborne was a village 50 miles southwest of England’s capital city, with a baker and a lawyer and a church, but through a swallows-and-martins lens, in which it was a set of nameless eaves and trees in which to build nests and hatch29) children and one stop in a year that had perhaps begun and would end again in a quiet lagoon30) in Madagascar.
人们很容易忽略掉这些燕子,不曾留意它们在赛耳彭生活过。村民更加关心的是伦敦来的消息、粮食的收成或教堂的闲聊,而对燕子奇特的叫声和身影却听而不闻、视若无睹。但是,雨燕从2月末开始就入住赛耳彭,紫崖燕也在4月的最初几周开始生活于此。整个春天,它们都忙着到处筑巢:或在烟囱里,或在分叉的树枝上,或在屋檐下。它们用喙衔泥,然后靠着下巴的颤动把泥黏结。燕子们时而俯冲向下,低飞于树篱与池塘之上,为仔燕们寻觅食物(而此时,人们正忙着烘烤面包、互相争论和织补袜子)。雨燕的声音是温柔的,似呢喃细语,“唧唧—唧唧”地低唱着;而紫崖燕的声音要稍微低沉点,总是“啾啾—啾啾”地唱着,只是在偶尔受到惊吓时,才会“嘶嘶”地高鸣一声。现在,它们要离开赛耳彭,开始长途跋涉,回归非洲赤道附近的区域过冬。怀特关于鸟儿的讨论指引我们用一个全新的视角来看待世界:不再是从人的视角来看待,而是从雨燕和紫崖燕的视角看待。如果只从人的视角出发,赛耳彭只是一个距英国首都50英里的西南方村庄,那里有一个面包师、一个律师和一个教堂。而如果从雨燕和紫崖燕的视角来看,赛耳彭是一排排无名的屋檐和树木,燕子们在那儿筑巢、孵蛋,它也是燕子一年生活中的一个逗留站,燕子们一年生活的开始是在马达加斯加静谧的潟湖旁,而这一年生活的结束也在那里。

The martins and swallows were but one example of the many life-forms co-existing so unobtrusively31) alongside humans, and for which familiar objects and places had entirely different meanings. White’s book, which rooted the observation of animals in a specific human context (the village of Selborne) encourages us to shuttle between the human and animal perspective; to consider for a moment how everything might seem to a swallow, to look at Selborne through the eyes of an ant—and hence to appreciate the narrowness of our previous view of reality.
人类的身边有着众多朝夕共处但并不显眼的生物,雨燕和紫崖燕只是其中一例。正是因为它们的存在,人类所熟知的事物和地方才拥有了全新的意义。怀特书里对动物的观察是以一个特定的人类居住环境(赛耳彭村庄)为基础的。他的书鼓励我们用人和动物两种不同的视角轮番观察事物,鼓励我们抽出片刻时间来思考雨燕看到的是怎样一个世界,蚂蚁眼中的赛耳彭面貌又如何——如此,我们便能认识到自己以前看待现实世界的视角是多么狭窄。

When we are feeling out of sync with our era or society, there may be relief in coming upon reminders of the diversity of life on the planet, in holding in mind that alongside the main business of our species there are also swallows that build nests and quietly set off over the English Channel for Madagascar.
当我们感到自己与时代或社会步调不一致时,如果能在偶然遇到某些动物时,想起这个星球上生命的丰富多彩,能谨记这个世界除了我们人类的那套俗事之外,还有燕子在筑巢,而后悄然动身离开,穿越英吉利海峡,飞向马达加斯加,或许,我们就能感到释然。

It’s often remarked that learning anything at school tends to kill the subject, be it literature or biology. Less explored is the reason for this. It may have to do with curiosity’s relationship to authority. In order to remain personally engaged with a subject, we have to feel, however naively and narcissistically, that we could at some level make a contribution to it. The best teachers give their pupils a sense that they too could, after mastering the basics, become pioneers. But because this hasn’t generally been true for the teachers themselves, they often imply the contrary message and so quash32) ambition.
人们常说,在学校学任何东西都会扼杀相应的学科,文学和生物皆不例外。但人们却很少探寻这背后的原因。其实,这可能和好奇心与权威之间的关系脱不了干系。为了保持自己能投入于某一学科,天真也罢,自恋也罢,我们必须认定自己在某种程度上能为这一学科作出点贡献。最优秀的老师能让他的学生意识到,在掌握了基本的知识后,他们也可以成为科学的先锋者。但是,因为很多老师自身基本上没有认识到这一点,因而他们常常向学生暗示相反的信息,进而摧毁了学生的壮志雄心。

If a love of science and the natural world is to take firm and wide roots, we should remember the underlying lesson of Gilbert White: that ignorance and certain clumsiness are the necessary building blocks on which mature research and insights develop.
如果想让自己对科学和自然的热爱在广泛的范围内扎下牢固的根基,我们就应该铭记蕴含在吉尔伯特·怀特身上的启示:些许的无知和适度的笨拙是成熟的考察研究和洞察能力得以发展的必要基石

1. unholy [ʌnˈhəʊli] adj. 不合理的,荒谬的
2. for fear that:害怕,生怕,唯恐
3. spontaneous [spɒnˈteɪniəs] adj. 自发的,自然产生的
4. Gilbert White:吉尔伯特·怀特(1720~1793),英国博物学家,鸟类学家,著有《赛耳彭自然历史》(The Natural History of Selborne)一书。
5. rustle [ˈrʌs(ə)l] vi. 觅食
6. lever [ˈliːvə(r)] vt. (借助支点)用力移动
7. stripe [straɪp] n. 斑纹
8. antler [ˈæntlə(r)] n. 鹿角
9. benevolence [bəˈnev(ə)ləns] n. 仁爱心,善行
10. uninhibited [ˌʌnɪnˈhɪbɪtɪd] adj. 不受抑制的,放荡不羁的
11. secular [ˈsekjʊlə(r)] adj. 世俗的
12. homespun [ˈhəʊmˌspʌn] adj. 简朴的,简陋的
13. exertion [ɪɡˈzɜː(r)ʃ(ə)n] n. 发挥,运用
14. hail [heɪl] vt. 招呼
15. B flat:降B调。flat [flæt] n. 降半音
16. mortal [ˈmɔː(r)t(ə)l] n. 凡人,人类
17. martin [ˈmɑː(r)tɪn] n. 紫崖燕:如家燕、紫燕等几种燕子
18. rendezvous [ˈrɒndɪvuː] vi. 在指定地点集合  19. walnut [ˈwɔːlnʌt] n. 胡桃,胡桃木
20. occasion [əˈkeɪʒ(ə)n] vt. 引起
21. stroke [strəʊk] n. (鸟翼的)扑打
22. hazy [ˈheɪzi] adj. 朦胧的,烟雾弥漫的
23. bough [baʊ] n. 大树枝,主枝
24. eaves [iːvz] n. 屋檐
25. swoop [swuːp] vi. 突然下降
26. hedge [hedʒ] n. 树篱
27. darn [dɑː(r)n] vt. 织补
28. equatorial [ˌekwəˈtɔːriəl] adj. 赤道的
29. hatch [hætʃ] vt. 孵出
30. lagoon [ləˈɡuːn] n. 环礁湖,潟湖(一片浅水湖,尤指在海中由河口的沙洲或珊瑚礁围成的)
31. unobtrusively [ˌʌnəbˈtruːsɪvli] adv. 不突出地
32. quash [kwɒʃ] vt. 取消,平息