How Scientists See the World

By Sean Carroll | June 11, 2010 8:04 am

I linked to this on Twitter, where people enjoyed it. Don’t want folks who are still stuck in 2008 and only reading the blog to miss out. Abstruse Goose, click for legible original:

"poor bastards"

Tom Whyntie points out that the rabbit should really be more spherical.

  • Simplicio

    Alright, I got most of it, but what’s the matrix pointing towards the plant. Quantum superposition of something?

  • Sili

    Don’t be silly. If it were, it’d be a cow.

  • Rhys

    I think the alt-text is too negative! Those educated in science are lucky enough to be able to appreciate both pictures…

  • Oded

    Simplicio, fractal I think

  • BenJ

    Looks like a matrix version of f=ma (the added terms would simply be additional forces)

  • http://uhhhhidk Not A Scientest


  • Tom

    I am also confused about the matrix by the fern.

  • Marcus

    It’s funny because there’s more than a little truth to it. Personally, I find the world all the more beautiful for it.

  • Stefan

    The matrix could be some 2D map which produces a self-similar orbit similar to a fern?

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  • Jonathan

    Nice, but I can’t help but feel the biologists and geologists are being left out here…

  • rillian

    The matrices by the fern are an iterated function system, a type of fractal famous for modelling fern-like geometry, among other things. One can find the same coefficients quoted in the wikipedia article.

    I thought spectral synthesis of the hills was funnier. Leaving out the geologists indeed!

  • erik

    I got where most of the stuff is related to, but I’m not quite sure where the schroedinger equation is applied.

  • Oded

    erik – everywhere of course! :)

  • iayork

    I’m not quite sure where the schroedinger equation is applied.

    If you did, the cat would have to kill you.

  • lylebot

    Scientists see the world as a bunch of simplified (to varying degrees) models of independent components with little to no interactions between them? Hmmmm….

  • Karthik

    It looks like the matrix by the fern is a recipe for self-similarity.

  • Mr. Owl

    It’s funny ’cause it’s true!

  • onymous
  • Tevong

    is the mistake in schrodinger’s equation deliberately designed to bait people that can’t help pointing those kind of things out 😛

  • spyder

    Reiterating Jonathan at #10: would it have been too much to include some protein synthesis from DNA/RNA sequencing??

  • dan

    @15: Well, you could have “the way string theorists view the world” and just erase all that stuff and put a loop 😛

  • gregorylent

    this is a serious topic … seeing parts, and feeling apart from, hugely damaging in the long run

  • Daniel

    Abstruse Goose is God.

  • Nick Tacik

    False. I only see Maxwell’s equations in covariant form.

  • FractalMan

    Ferns have fractal pattern leaves..

  • Dr. Goulu

    I didn’t knew some people could see the world without the formulas….

  • Low Math, Meekly Interacting

    I agree, but it’s awfully nice to be able to turn it off sometimes and just let the top picture wash over you.

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  • OMG

    Oh My God!!!
    Guyz this is only a mere depiction of how scientists(geeky one’s) miss the REAL BEAUTY of nature thinking about “why is it the way it is”…sometimes just “let it be” the way it is and just enjoy the “beauty”(i’m sure beauty cannot be formulated)!!!
    This is not about how accurate the formulae are…so don’t fight over it guyz…I’m sure every one of you can find out the governing equations of everything in the picture, but that isn’t the point here…it’s exactly the opposite!!!

  • Alex

    Woah! Scientists can see neutrinos?! I was about to change my major to engineering but forget that…

  • chai

    become complicated like that… maybe scientist need some refreshing…

  • Nardhelain

    Understanding the second picture is what makes the first one so beautiful.

  • John

    The alt text is so wrong…

    Understanding the nature of nature only makes it more beautiful. The first picture just illustrates the delusion of simplicity.


    The carrot would be purple in the natural world.
    Only cultivated by the Dutch to an orange.


    made me smile though.

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  • Oran

    Come on. The second picture has all the beauty of the first, it just has more beauty piled on top of that. There is plenty we don’t know, but those unmentioned gaps don’t make the second view uglier — they only add to it’s _potential_ beauty … except where the second view explicitly quotes something I don’t recognize. What is the equation under the flock of birds saying? Is it classical mechanics?

  • Ellipsis
  • http://SeriousScience SueJones

    Both pictures are valid accounts of the world, but I’m inclined to agree that simplicity is an illusion, and would personally prefer a world of rich depth and added meaning made possible through human endeavours to understand, constanly question and laboriously search for answers…What’s the point in being here if we dont learn?

    Besides, ignorance really hasn’t been bliss, has it?

  • Fermi-Walker Public Transport

    This isn’t quite right, scenes of nature require natural units.

  • srhie

    @Oran, the equation under the flock of birds is Bernoulli equation.

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  • Haeriz

    i don’t think so !! scientist won’t look like this … still they are more creative ….


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Cosmic Variance

Random samplings from a universe of ideas.

About Sean Carroll

Sean Carroll is a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. His research interests include theoretical aspects of cosmology, field theory, and gravitation. His most recent book is The Particle at the End of the Universe, about the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the Higgs boson. Here are some of his favorite blog posts, home page, and email: carroll [at] .


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