August 27, 2010

Sit. Think. Discover.

Filed under: Ann the Columnist:Essays — Ann @ 11:00 am

I’m worried for us. This morning I was thinking about the many distractions which surround us on a moment-to-moment basis — no longer does television alone vie for our time and attention, we have available to us a variety of screens and gadgets. You know them; I need not name them.

And I began to wonder how many inventions and discoveries have been made across the ages by people who were…merely sitting. Thinking, pondering, reflecting. Have you heard of the German chemist Friedrich von Stradonitz? Apparently he was daydreaming about a snake forming a circle, and that led to “his solution of the closed chemical structure of cyclic compounds, such as benzene.” This story, by the way, hails from a Wikipedia entry on the concept of serendipity.

Another well-known story is that of Archimedes getting into his bathtub and noticing that the water level rose; by contemplating this he suddenly understood that “the volume of water displaced must be equal to the volume of the part of his body he had submerged. This meant that the volume of irregular objects could be calculated with precision, a previously intractable problem” [Wikipedia]. I don’t know how many of these stories are apocryphal but the question is still valid: Are we not doing enough sitting, thinking, staring, daydreaming? What do we know today because someone was perched on a hillside, looking up at the stars, noticing?

I’m no technophobe; I’m not suggesting a bonfire of iPhones — I just think it would behoove us to set aside a bit more porch-sitting, navel-contemplating time. Otherwise, I worry that our attention spans will narrow so perilously that we will become a culture without great thinkers, inventors, composers. And perhaps I’m worried for nothing; it could be that because these communications devices are relatively new and novel, we are like a child on Christmas Day, wild-eyed and grabbing for our toys and unwilling to put them down even to eat Aunt Edna’s turkey frittata brunch. Perhaps eventually we’ll get bored, discard our devices, and wander outside again, looking up and around us. There’s so much yet to discover — if only about ourselves. The inspiring poet Mary Oliver understood the importance of connecting to soul through the universe, and I’ll close with her perfect commentary, entitled “Sleeping in the Forest.” It makes me think that, when we are ready to put down our gadgets and walk outside, we will be welcomed back. At least, that is my great hope.

“I thought the earth remembered me,
she took me back so tenderly,
arranging her dark skirts, her pockets
full of lichens and seeds.
I slept as never before, a stone on the river bed,
nothing between me and the white fire of the stars
but my thoughts, and they floated light as moths
among the branches of the perfect trees.
All night I heard the small kingdoms
breathing around me, the insects,
and the birds who do their work in the darkness.
All night I rose and fell, as if in water,
grappling with a luminous doom. By morning
I had vanished at least a dozen times
into something better.”


  1. Thank you, Laura, for being my faithful reader. xxxooo

    Comment by Patricia Ann Clark — August 27, 2010 @ 3:23 pm

  2. I always enjoy reading what you are thinking about! I was thinking on this myself recently, after reading (just part of – in my multi-tasking mode) an article on how multi-tasking between electronic gadgets harms us. I drove to Occidental for a long lunch today to pick up some plants from OAEC’s 2nd chance plant sale, and enjoyed having the radio OFF and the sights, sounds and smells. It was amazing how much more aware I was without my brain being distracted by talk radio. :-)

    Comment by Laura Bohler — August 27, 2010 @ 6:19 pm

  3. Isn’t that a lovely experience? Late last night I went outside to do a forgotten patio task and all I could hear in the soft darkness was the chirping of crickets. Such a contrast to the day’s clicking, clattering, chattering, and all the other intrusive noises we live with and — worse — become used to. We don’t even realize what the world really sounds like until we turn it all off, just like when you turned off your radio. Thanks again for your time and your thoughts, Laura.

    Comment by Patricia Ann Clark — August 27, 2010 @ 7:51 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment

Powered by WordPress Hosted by