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gartshteynjigsawd03 - The Jigsaw Puzzle JENNY GARTSHTEYN...

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The Jigsaw Puzzle JENNY GARTSHTEYN L ying before me is a scrambled jigsaw puzzle; resting in my hand is a puzzle piece; racing through my mind are a medley of thoughts. Science is a jigsaw puzzle that analyzes the world in terms of its many pieces. Solving a jigsaw puzzle is an art that synthesizes the pixel-like pieces into a comprehen- sive whole. What then is the relationship between science and art, and the jig- saw-like framework of the everyday universe? I have recently read “The Bird of Paradise: The Hunter and the Poet” by E.O. Wilson. 1 In the essay, Wilson identifies himself with both a hunter and a poet. He is a hunter of science—analyzing the world around him. Yet he is also a poet, for he possesses the artistry and imagery to produce a new world by synthesizing the most elementary pieces of it. Wilson relates his experi- ence in the “enchanted world” of nature in New Guinea where the poet in him marvels at the beauty of the Emperor of Germany Bird of Paradise. Yet, as Wilson looks on, the hunter in him begins to analyze the bird as “an object of biological research,” with enzymes, microfilaments, and electrical impuls- es. But all this is just the setup; the real interest lies in the questions that Wilson poses. Is the hunter insensitive to art? Has his analytic approach reduced nature to mere chemicals? Are scientists “conquistadors who melt down the Inca gold?” “The Bird of Paradise: The Hunter and the Poet” brought back to me a personal experience of a few years ago. I had received an email from a friend describing a “trick” where I was to pick a number, from one to nine, apply a series of mathematical operations to it, and then somehow arrive at a three- digit number where the first digit was my original number, and the last two digits were my age. I remember having shared my friend’s enthusiasm at what at first appeared a rather unexpected solution. However, I also remember feeling that with more knowledge and experimentation, the driving mecha- nism of the ‘trick’ could be unveiled. I can still see the torn piece of notebook paper and the two-inch tall relic of a No. 2 pencil that I had chosen for the next task. Holding the pencil stub almost vertically I began to retrace the MERCER STREET - 89
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steps of the “trick,” replacing with the variable x the number I had originally chosen. Unknown to me at the time, a cerebral neuron fired: an electrical impulse triggered by the mathematical interpretation passed along the axon terminal, was translated and transported by a neurotransmitter over the synaptic cleft, and passed along the dendritic spines to activate the next brain cell. With these electrical impulses rushing through my cerebral cells, I made a mathe- matical connection that explained both how and why the ‘trick’ had worked. Having fully developed an enthusiasm—and what’s more—an understanding
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gartshteynjigsawd03 - The Jigsaw Puzzle JENNY GARTSHTEYN...

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