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‘The Invention of Nature,’ Alexander von Humboldt, and the Merging of the Arts and the Sciences

The book The Invention of Nature tells the story of Alexander von Humboldt (1769–1859), the great thinker and intrepid explorer who has more things named after him than anyone else – from the Humboldt Current to towns, rivers, mountain ranges, and a penguin. Though almost forgotten today, Humboldt was the most famous scientist of his time.

His restless life was packed with adventure and discovery, whether exploring deep into the rainforest or climbing the world's highest volcanoes. He saw nature as a web of life and amazingly predicted harmful, human–induced climate change in 1800. He turned scientific observation into poetic narrative, and his writings inspired naturalists and poets, including Darwin and Goethe, as well as politicians, such as Jefferson.

This talk by historian and author Andrea Wulf focuses on Humboldt's insight that there is a bond between the arts and the sciences, between imagination, poetry, and meticulous observation. He insisted we should use our feelings as well as scientific data to understand the world around us. The Invention of Nature brings this lost hero to science and forgotten father of environmentalism back to life.

Location: Baxter Lecture Hall Caltech

Format: Lecture


Earlier Event: October 14
National Fossil Day
Later Event: October 17
(En)Lightning Talks LA