Aug 13, 2007
Oliver Sacks in Mexico
"I remembered now--I failed to make the connection earlier--that Mickel and Beitel's book, the fern bible, was dedicated to Boone, for it was Boone who originally suggested to John that he catalog the ferns of Oaxaca. Oaxaca, he said, was probably richer in ferns than any other state in Mexico, and also among the least studied. Incited by Boone's suggestion, John had made a series of trips during the sixties and seventies, collecting nearly five thousand specimens from all over the state. Boone himself contributed another five hundred in the early seventies, many of them rarities. By 1988, when the Flora was published, John and his colleagues had discovered no fewer than sixty-five new species of fern, and a grand total of 690 species, in Oaxaca alone. Boone had been behind all this, providing room and board, guide service, logistical support and transportation.
Here in Mexico, Boone is saying, you have to use your brains to know what's going on. In the States everything is published, organized, known. Here it is under the surface, the mind is challenged all the while."
-- Oliver Sacks in Oaxaca Journal. Of the above quote, the important part is the second paragraph. Unfortunately, I couldn't really share the second paragraph without also asking you read the first.
I like Oaxaca Journal for its glimpse into the world of very smart people, some who are at the creating edge of science, together in place where they simultaneously live in the airy space of thought and the earthy space of "I ate too much for lunch and now I'm feeling sick and have to sit down." Richard Feynman had potential for some of the same in Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman but he didn't choose to take the same route. For more insights into the reflective parts of Feynman's world, you'll have to read Genius, James Gleck's Feynman biography.