Our hero: the amazing Alexander von Humboldt

Taking a break with the story of the famous, yet mostly forgotten, scientist Alexander van Humboldt. I travelled with the new biography by Andrea Wulf to Slovenia this summer. 

This man had a regular job as a mining inspector, right at the beginning of the industrialization in Europe the end of the 18th century. He lived in today's Germany, at the time Prussia. He became interested in nature and wanted above all to discover the world and try to understand how nature works. What he did was without a doubt impressive. He not only travelled Europe, America and Russia to study nature, he also compared what he saw with observations in other regions. 

Man can only act upon nature and appropriate her forces to his use by comprehending her laws

This man made his way to South-America to elaborate his thougths and vision. It became clear for him that everything in human and natural life is connected. A 'web of organic life' as he called it. He warned the Spanish colonists for the devastating (climate) effects of deforestation and monocultures of crops, exactly what still is on the table today, 200 years later. 

Humboldt came to believe that the earth had been formed through catastrophic events such as volcano eruptions and earthquakes. Everything was connected below the surface. The volcanoes were all linked subterranously like a single volcanic furnace. Clusters and chains of volcanoes across great distances bore testimony to the fact they were not individual local occurences but part of a global force

What made him so special is that he collected data with his network of botanists to geologists, astronomers, historians, philosophers and so on. He was a pioneer in networking. And more then for example the great humanist and philosopher Denis Diderot with his Encyclopédie or Carl Linnaeus with his famous classification system, Humboldt wrote passionately about all subjects and succeeded in relating all things of life. A web of organic life as he called it, and imagination should have a place in it. 

The brilliant stars delight the senses and inspire the mind, yet at the same time they move along a path of mathematical precision

This man opened the door for many great minds. Some of them got the chance to meet Humboldt, some of them had his publications to elaborate new thoughts. The list is very long. 

When he was ageing, he managed to publish his master work, Cosmos. The book connected science with culture, language, the universe. It was probably the first global bestseller. Though that is not the most important thing to know, it means that this man got appreciated beyond politics and religion. He teached at the University of Berlin with all his passion. It is said that students arrived an hour before to be sure to see and hear the man. At the end he was not poor but didn't have much but his house, filled with books. Yet he still funded young scientists and researchers (there is still a Humboldt Foundation for that purpose).

This man tried to convince Thomas Jefferson, farmer and president of the American Federation, to abolish slavery. He met Simon Bolivar in Paris to discuss the the future of a free South-America. He met the young Charles Darwin in England and overwhelmed him with his passion for nature. 

Read about Humboldt, start with the excellent biography Andrea Wulf has written.

Adya is all about Mother Nature, what we still have we should nurture and appreciate. We are part of nature, we can learn from it and we should not merely subdue it. We need the nature around us.

Through our collaboration with the Indian partners we hope to bring our love for the local biodiversity to the public in Europe. What is grown for our food should be done with respect to nature. We can learn from and about India and other countries, go out and visit the people there, get to know more about their lives and connection with nature. 

For his views on life on earth and his groundbreaking insights in nature, Alexander von Humboldt is an everlasting inspiration. 

 

 

Ref. for this post and for the biography:

'The invention of Nature', the adventures of Alexander von Humboldt, the lost hero of Science, Andrea Wulf, John Murray Publishers, 2015.

#humboldt #biodiversity