I was sixteen when my journey to the Arctic changed the way I see this world.
As we entered the Arctic Circle, I used the pendulum to measure the acceleration of gravity. Though I have tried every way to reduce interference, such as doing the experiment at 4am before the ship set sail, my plan was still spoiled by the constantly caress of the sea, so-called ocean swell. I could not smooth the non-linear waves with my equations so I was forced to give up the experiment with 6% error margin.
Serendipity was absent in my experiment. Upset and agitated, I took a stroll on board and looked far away. Under the golden radiance of the rising sun, snow mountains became a holy city which has no hunger or distress. Beside the ship a few whales surfaced to take breaths. The vapor they exhaled formed clouds in the sky. I saw those distant mountain range with an infinite sea, which have been there since the ancient past and will last in the distant future.
I was overwhelmed by the magnificent presence of nature, and my little tinkering was not unlike a proud kid showing off his arithmetic skills to a savant—so naïve, so ignorant. I used to think that there was nothing in the world that could not be parsed and fathomed by human intelligence, and I had been proud that I could solve physical and metaphysical problems with dazzling mind experiments and logic deductions. However, when I faced the phenomena of mother nature, I could neither draw a Venn diagram nor think of any man-made formula that matches such myriad of changes in the twinkling of an eye, as nature is so intricate and unpredictable. A beat of an arctic tern’s wings may create a blizzard that forces a mother polar bear and her sons into their hiding. As my old common sense crumbled into dust, I could only try to perceive nature through my heart.
When I did this, it felt as easy as raising my hand—I did not know the details but could easily accomplish the task. Nature, experienced by my heart, is simple and pure. I guess this had something to do with that we are instinctively connected to it in some special ways. Somehow, this reminded me of a common idea shared by Zen and Taoism: We can only use our hearts to access truth but not words to describe it. When one tries to interpret the greatness and depth of principles with explicit descriptions, he or she has already misrepresented them.
Sometimes I would envy the longevity of the sea and pity the transient lives of mortals, but though we appear to be tiny, we are always hopeful and curious. Our lives may be limited, the ultimate law may be concealed, but our imagination knows no bounds, and the long path to the truth is always open.
I may fail to measure the outcome, but the measurement itself already hints consummation. I will never lose faith on our thoughts and ideas, from Immanuel Kant who acclaimed the value of freedom will to John Nash who prevailed illusions with reasons. We are strange creatures indeed: Though ephemeral and minute in front of the time and space, we are always tied to nature through an invisible, unbreakable bond. I believe just like a drop of water embodies features such as salinity and constituents of the ocean, we and other creatures and the whole nature are but fractals from microscopic to macroscopic scale: "I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space."