Seneca on Science, Nature, and the Key to Fulfilled Human Destiny - The Marginalian

Till the phrase scientist was coined for polymath mathematician Mary Somerville, the time period for many who devoted their lives to the contemplation and investigation of the marvel of actuality was pure thinker — the examine of nature fell inside the area of philosophy and was inseparable from the humanistic issues of morality.

Two millennia in the past, when the universe revolved round an Earth that many nonetheless thought of flat, earlier than something was recognized about galaxies or genomes, atoms or antibodies, the good thinker stoic Seneca positioned what we now name science—that shimmering systematic curiosity about how nature works—on the coronary heart of a satisfying life. In a choice of recommendation to his pupil Lucilius, grouped underneath the title Pure Issues and included in Seneca’s Fairly Indispensable Dialogues and letters (public library), he considers how the eagerness to know actuality by itself phrases – the eagerness we name science – focuses a life:

If I had not been admitted to those research, it might not have been price being born.

I see my soul mirrored in Nature by Margaret C. Cook dinner from a uncommon 1913 English version by Walt Whitman Blades of grass. (Accessible in print form.)

For Seneca, the examine of nature is the closest factor to actual theology – a approach of reclaiming God:

I personally am grateful to nature, each once I contemplate it underneath the side open to all, and when I’ve entered into its mysteries: once I be taught what’s the materials substance of the universe; who’s the writer or guardian; what god is; whether it is fully withdrawn into itself or whether it is generally additionally near our hearts; if he creates one thing every day or if he created it solely as soon as; whether it is a part of the world or if it’s the world; whether or not he can decide right this moment and alter the regulation of destiny the least bit, or whether or not to have accomplished issues which should be modified is a diminution of his greatness and an admission of his error.

Basically, pursuing questions on how the world works invitations us to distance ourselves from ourselves, thereby saving us from the best character flaw – our compulsive self-reference, which locks out our capacities for altruism, compassion, generosity, of affection and of all of the ethical virtues.

Plate of An unique concept or new speculation of the universe by Thomas Wright, 1750. (Accessible in a print and like stationery cards.)

Addressing his pupil, Seneca means that it isn’t sufficient to eradicate the evil in us, we should additionally generate good, and the best good is the surpassing of oneself, which the examine of nature offers us. gives extra simply than every other means:

You’ve got averted soul defects. You do not look misleading; your speech isn’t suited to another person’s needs; your coronary heart isn’t veiled; you don’t endure from greed, which deprives itself of what it has taken from everybody, nor from extravagance, which shamefully wastes cash solely to get it again much more shamefully, nor from ambition, which doesn’t will elevate to worthy standing solely by unworthy means. Up to now, you have not gotten something; and although you will have escaped many evils, you haven’t but escaped your self.


The spirit enjoys the complete and ideal good thing about its human future solely when it has repelled all evil, sought the heights, and penetrated into the key coronary heart of nature.

Pair it with a ravishing Victorian perspective on the spirituality of nature and our duty to marvel, then revisit Seneca on creativity, gratitude, the antidote to nervousness, and the important thing to resilience within the face of loss.

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By moh

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