“HEED!”

by ritualofoak

Hanson, Thor.  2015.  The Triumph of Seeds.  pg. xix-80.  Basic Books, New York, United States of America.

I got a little carried away reading The Triumph of Seeds. xix turned into 67 before it occurred to me that pages had likely been assigned and I had almost certainly gone beyond that point. I had been wrapped up and whisked away on an extended lesson about the intricacies of seeds, and the people who have devoted their lives to their study. I am, like many of my contemporaries, at best passingly knowledgeable about seeds. A year ago I would have had to have been convinced that a bean is a seed. A little embarrassing perhaps, but that is the emphasis put on seeds in our modern western culture. Considering the importance of the little bundles of life it would seem that the common knowledge is disproportionately small.

I sat down to read The Triumph of Seeds with a coffee. Black, brewed confusingly through an espresso machine as a little middle finger to connoisseurs everywhere. Not even a thought to the magnitude of preparing one of the most popular seeds in the world before I sat down to consume Hanson’s exuberant love letter to the little lunch boxes. By the end of the introduction I realized that I’d played unwittingly into his hands. There I sat, already forced to marvel at the ubiquity of seeds in my life. It only got better from there.

In chapter four, Hanson goes on a field expedition to New Mexico to investigate a coal bed with a conference of paleontologists. The impression Hanson gives of the group is electric. A flurry of activity and discovery. “Around me, the paleontologists worked and talked excitedly. Where my eyes saw only dust and confusion, I knew theirs were reconstructing an ancient world.” (pg. 58) Hanson remarks on what I would guess is a scene only all too familiar to him. The passionate goings on of professionals in the field. This scene resonated with me because at the end of April 2015 I experienced that feeling for the first time, and was dragged into the world of botany by the excitement of my enthusiastic peers. I felt the same way, lost and confused, but so intrigued by what could elicit such response. A new world had opened up to me that had been hidden from view only by my unwillingness to look.

On page 56, Bill DiMichele, a Smithsonian paleontologist quips something to Hanson in reference to new evidence showing that seed plants might have begun their triumph of Earth long before the previous evidence had shown. He says, “I used to go to the field expecting certain things… now I go to the field looking.” which might be the most scientifically important sentence in the entire book. It is the embodiment of the most important part of the scientific method. The indisputable fact that facts are only as strong as the evidence that supports them, and that the evidence is always subject to change. New evidence is always waiting to be discovered, and that’s the best part! Heck, the most exciting part of being a scientist should be finding evidence that we were wrong. Everyone, not just scientists, should spend more of their time looking rather than expecting.

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