As always – it happened around a campfire. In Columbia. At a finca somewhere in the mountains in the middle of nowhere. We were only a small group of people. Maybe 6 or 7. Scientists and artists. We exchanged stories about our work, education and our relation to nature. I was sitting next to an old biology professor from the United States. It was an inspiring night and at some point – overwhelmed by the knowledge and wisdom of that professor – I asked about the more recent books he read and would recommend. He immediately responded: “The Invention of Nature“.
Now, 2 years later, I am holding the book in my hands and I am sucked into a truly immersive experience. Reading this Alexander von Humboldt biography by Alexandra Wulf is like eavesdropping into the minds and times of some of the greatest artists and scientists of the Age of Enlightenment (Goethe, Schiller, Kant, Newton, Darwin). Being only 60 Pages into the book, I am already stunned by how advanced and timeless their thinking was. I am stumbling over the very questions we are still and ever so urgently asking ourselves: Who are we on this planet? How do we learn? What must true education consist of? How do our views of the world and its relational systems shape the way we perceive us and our surroundings?
Above all “The invention of Nature” is an ode to curiosity and learning. Reading about Humboldt and his contemporaries from a biographical, thus personal perspective, creates an immersive reading experience that helps me to understand more deeply the driving forces behind their works and words. Their hunger to explore life itself, is just as inspiring as it is intimidating. Compared to them my interest in the world and my Self seems laboured and feeble at best.
Being concerned with education so much, it is so very interesting to read about how the scientific explorations of Humboldt are inextricably linked to the arts. For me it is absolutely revolutionary to see how he regards poetry, philosophy and other (artistic) approaches to nature as being fully equivalent to those taken by the natural sciences like maths, biology, chemistry in physics. This is where the life of Humboldt becomes a relevant example and answer to the multitude of problems we are facing nowadays: If we want to see true change happening in this heavily flawed world we have created… we need a new understanding and form of education: One that, instead of fostering dualistic thinking, brings nature, science and imagination close together. “Nature must experience nature through emotions”, Humboldt wrote to Goethe.
Having binged through even the darkest places of Netflix… “The Invention of Nature” is a book that literally is lifting my spirits and encourages me to explore… whatever there is to explore.
And wouldn’t it be nice to meet around a campfire sometime, somewhere and be able to share inspiring stories about inspiring lifes and thoughts – that have become our own?