Field of Science

How do you explain a lotus?

A flower lover does not like the Phactor's "analytical" approach to fabulous flowers. How sad.
A lotus flowers in my garden pond, and no lovelier flower exists on Earth. No wonder the lotus has figured so prominently in Eastern art and religions. In addition to its beauty a great many things are known about this flower.
The lotus is very distinct from and not even closely related to the water lilies that bloomed in the same pond earlier in the summer. The lotus flower functions to interact with pollinators producing a most unusual fruit containing its seeds. The 135 million year history of flowers and their evolution into a myriad of forms is a marvelous story, and waterlilies, not lotuses, are a remnant of that very ancient stock from which today’s diversity of flowers sprang forth.
This flower lover wants to know why botanists such as the Phactor cannot just appreciate flowers like the lotus for what it is without dissecting it and taking it apart. Can’t we just look at it and say it’s beautiful and leave well enough alone? Well, no. That just isn’t good enough. For one thing, curiosity demands looking deeper. Although the lotus and waterlily look much alike in a very general way, they have many obvious differences, and botanists want to know why both similarities and differences exist. While both lotus and waterlily flowers are very pretty that information doesn’t answer any questions, and even that leaves the Phactor wondering why the aesthetic senses of humans are tuned to interpret some flowers as pretty when they are adapted by natural selection to attract certain insect or bird pollinators. The failure to appreciate the aesthetics of flowers is a symptom of clinical depression, so certainly looking beyond the shallow it’s-a-pretty-flower-and-you-don’t-need-to-know-anything-else perspective is warranted on both sides of the human-flower equation.
This brings the Phactor to a last point, a very important point, detailed knowledge of and an in depth understanding of a flower, of a lotus, in no way diminishes my aesthetic appreciation of the flower. And why would it? Do Civil War historians have a diminished appreciation of the valor of the soldiers because they know of the impact of many mistakes, miscommunications, and chance events had on the outcome of events? Does a painting have any less impact on art historians because they know about the palette, brushes, and personal woes of the painter? Ah, but historians are students of the subject they love and admire, and the unidimensional flower lover is not.
In return the Phactor wants to know what kind of mind, what kind of intellect is it that doesn’t want to know any more or isn’t curious about natural things? What is such a mind afraid of? What kind of intellect settles for the simplest and most banal of explanations (it was created that way)? In most cases in my experience they are worried that a quest for knowledge will gore a very sacred cow, their religion. How truly sad. Especially in biology where literally each and every time biologists have pursued a detailed course of study, the results, the understanding acquired, are quite at odds with religion. But a lotus, which isn’t even mentioned in the Bible, by any other name, would still grow from the navel of Narayana, and its leaf would still carry Kamadwa down the Ganges. And the saddest thing of all is a wasted intellect.


Unknown said...

I wonder what provoked this post. The "it just is" appreciation of the world seems to effect all subjects equally from my experience and seems to stem more from intellectual laziness than any religious predispositions. Also, almost any art major will tell you that understanding the intricacies of the pieces parts of a tremendous work of art only serves to deepen the appreciation. The more you know, the more you can appreciate what is truly happening.

mr_subjunctive said...

Sometimes beauty is more than skin deep, yo. There's nothing about trying to understand a plant that rules out appreciating it for its surface beauty: you can do both at the same time.

I shudder to think of what this person's kids must be like.

AshleyZ said...

The lotus in the photo is a funny-looking flower, alright.

- For one thing, the light being reflected from it is completely diffuse. There's no specular reflections (no part of the plant is shiny), and there's no translucent parts, even though it's made up of thin structures. That weird feature may be related to the water-repellant properties of the plant, but it's unusual enough to be eye-catching.

- The edges of the plant are perfectly smooth and even. In a lot of plants, they would be wavy, or a little asymmetric, or serrated. That's not too strange, and maybe the fact that humans like simple lines is a co-incidence.

- The plant in the photo is also disease free. There are no little insect holes or discolored fungal spots. That is weird. Maybe the photographer searched long and hard to find a perfect lotus, maybe even gave it a little help in Photoshop, but if they all look like that, it's an unusual evolutionary tradeoff. All organisms protect themselves against parasites and attackers, but most settle on defending themselves about 90% of the time, because a 100% defense would be too expensive. Maybe we're seeing the plant in some lucky part of its evolutionary history, when a mutant happened upon a great new defense, and would-be parasites haven't adapted yet.

The Phytophactor said...

Cultivated far from its native range provides an escape from its herbivores and diseases. This photo was taken a year before Japanese beetles arrived in the area, now unchewed leaves are rare.