Three threads of thought lead through a labyrinth that is scientific knowledge; these themes are:
      1. Cosmos - the order perceived by the ancient Greeks in the world,
      2. Life - the breath, fleetingly present, in all animals before they perish,
      3. Light - a peculiar property emitted and absorbed by atomic matter.



The maze, or labyrinth, is an enduring metaphor, used by many writers to evoke a sense of discovery based on careful attention to details. Like all puzzles the world can confuse us because the means used to understand its plurality of forms may lead in conflicting directions. The accumulated means (scientific method) used to decipher our existence can be thought of as the path of discoveries, lined with significant milestones, that have directed scientific understanding of matter, living things, and elementary parts of our surrounding conditions. Jacob Bronowski explains these passages from one turn to another as a "journey to the high points in man's achievement." (Ascent, p. 22)

The three ideas we follow thematically in this course are: One) the perception of order in the universe, Two) the role of life in this order, and Three) The discovery of how light is a fundamental characteristic of material conditions of existence.



Cosmos or an orderly universe.

"The atoms of matter are in some ways endowed or associated with electrical powers, to which they owe . . . their mutual chemical affinity."

Faraday quoted by Feynman on p. 14.

"The universality of the deep chemistry of living things is indeed a fantastic and beautiful thing."

Feynman, p. 12.

"That is the principle of science. If there is an exception to any rule, and if it can be proved by observation, that rule is wrong."

Feynman, p. 16.

The division of the perceived universe into parts and wholes?

Bateson, Mind and Nature, p. 42.

There are powerful elements, forces, and factors unseen and understood as universal in our experience of nature's orderly arrangements, functions, and reactivity.

Los Alamos National Laboratory


Life arose despite powerful elemental forces that would otherwise extinguish living beings in the course of three billion years.

"The theory or evolution by natural selection was certainly the most important single scientific innovation in the nineteenth century. . . . the living world was different because it was seen to be a world in movement."

"Unlike physics, every generalization about biology is a slice in time; and it is evolution which is the real creator of originality and novelty in the universe."

Jacob Bronowski, The Ascent of Man, p. 234



Quantum mechanics or the study of how light behaves reveals many ways that have tested earlier assumptions about the reality of material existence.

"The physics community reacted with intense skepticism to Planck's idea and its logical conclusion that light was not continuous but granular. The idea that light could be chopped into 'quanta' that act like a particle was considered preposterous."

Michio Kaku, Beyond Einstein, p. 38.

"At first, traditional physicists were skeptical of this new worldview. Indeed the founders of quantum mechanics expressed their concern, because it forced them to abandon the classical world of Newtonian physics."

Michio Kaku, Beyond Einstein, p. 47

"When the atom is disturbed, the motion of electrons around the nucleus becomes irregular, and the electrons emit light and other forms of radiation."

" . . . the most familiar form of the electromagnetic force is light."

Kaku, p. 7.






Questions to consider answering from multiple texts.

These three verities above can be congealed into a unifying story of science. *

How it all started?

pen on book

Contemporary scientific concepts



* congeal meaning • figurative • take shape or coalesce, especially to form a satisfying whole.

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