As he gazed out on Venezuela’s Lake…
As he gazed out on Venezuela’s Lake Valencia in 1800, Alexander von Humboldt – who was born on this day in 1769 – being the amazing polymath he was, connected the myriad dots of lake level decrease, deforestation, and human induced micro-climate change, and was able to see the natural environment in which he was immersed as a vast, interconnected web…an idea that defied scientific conventions at the time. As he noted, “Everything is interaction and reciprocal.” Humboldt was arguably the grandfather of much of modern science – Darwin likely would not have gone on the Beagle if not for Humboldt, and thus there would be no “Origin of Species” – and was a huge influence on the modern understanding of our world, environment, and need to protect it. He was a friend – and critic – of Thomas Jefferson, influenced the philosophy and writing of John Muir, and a remarkable adventurer as well, floating the Orinoco, traveling much of the Andes, and setting a world altitude record in 1802 when he reached 19,286 feet of Ecuador’s Chimborazo (thought to be the highest mountain in the world at the time). But, more than anything, Humboldt was a visionary thinker, a scientist of the whole rather than the part, and while much of his writing and legacy is lost in America these days (thanks to anti-German purges post WWI), his thoughts and concepts resonate more than ever:
“The most dangerous worldviews are the worldviews of those who have never viewed the world.”
“Before being free, it is necessary to be just.” “…but there are no races nobler than others. All are equally destined for freedom.”
“Our imagination is struck only by what is great; but the lover of natural philosophy should reflect equally on little things.”
“By felling the trees which cover the tops and sides of mountains, men in all climates seem to bring upon future generations two calamities at once; want of fuel and a scarcity of water.”
If you want to learn more about this amazing man, read “The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World” by Andrea Wulf. #liveyouradventure #alexandervonhumboldt | Here, Mitre Peak is reflected in tide pools at Milford Sound, New Zealand.