Chickens, William Blake, and Why The Limits of Science Don’t Matter


I’ve been slowly reading Roy Bedichek’s splendid and horrifically overlooked Adventures With A Texas Naturalist —  a 50-year-old book  fresh as any new bloom,  packed with smart talk about science  slipped into fine-grained observations about swallows, frogs, or, in this case, chickens.

His family kept chickens when he was a boy growing up in Texas.

How, I asked myself, could the hen know that the eggs needed turning? More remarkable still, how could the pullet on her first setting know that the eggs must be turned and how often they should be turned? I didn’t know then; I don’t know now. But my wonder was excited.

Too often we forget that such wonder is not just enough reason to inquire; it’s the best reason. 

But I interrupt.

Wonders never cease, but the capacity of the average person for wondering declines.… The sense of wonder in certain individuals becomes, on the other hand, more and more sensitive and excitable, as their eyes continue to dwell upon the works of nature, and they persist throughout life in asking questions which some people choose to term childish. Outstanding among such wonderers and questioners is William Blake. His “Tiger, Tiger, Burning Bright” is a series of questions which any intelligent child might ask and which, like intelligent children’s questions, have a deceptive superficiality. These queries are as valid today as the were in Blake’s time which antedated “the wonderful century” of science. Science explains little, or comparatively little. It concerns itself merely with a  few steps in a process, backward or forward or both, in no case joining up more than a few links in the infinite chain of causation. 

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