Departments

Curiosities

Not all curiosities are of scientific use or value; but the habit of collecting curiosities, their gothic fascination, grows from the same ground as the scientific temperament. The philosopher may reject the aberrant as the spoiled ideal; but to the scientist, as to the poet, all things out of the ordinary – everything curious, bizarre, monstrous, abstruse, singular, marvelous – whatever it proves to be on examination, in the first instance and encounter it seems the token and promise of a new world.

It was not in their first reaction, but only in their later scrutiny, that scientist and magus diverged: the scientist applied Occam’s razor, to find the place of the thing in the known world; the magus tried to find new worlds in the thing. Of course sometimes the scientist is wrong. It was difficult for scientists to accept the notion of meteors; now they journey to cold white wastes to find the iron traces of the occult commerce, not just of earth with sky, but of planet with planet.

What is vast inspires our wonder. The mountain! The sky! But there is equal inspiration in the glamour of the small and strange: in the jests of nature, in the freakish, inexplicable, puzzling, or inscrutable, even in the foreign banal exoticized by lack of context. (We are all foreigners to someone.) If explanation cannot dim the wonder of the vast, it should not dim the glamour of the curious.