George Washington Carver
Scientist and Mystic

by Mitchell B. Liester, M.D.


The rise from anonymity to fame is frequently arduous, and few have traveled this path more gracefully than the mystic George Washington Carver. Born into the humblest of circumstances amidst the turbulence of the Civil War, Carver was the son of a slave mother and a father he never knew.

His native Missouri was less than hospitable to Carver, who was destined to become one of our most cherished scientists. Carver and his mother were kidnapped by a band of roving thugs, who carried them off to the South. {1} Although he was later found and returned to his birthplace, Carver's mother was never located and he was forever separated from the only parent he ever knew. Despite these inauspicious beginnings, the tragedy in Carver's life is largely overshadowed by one of the most captivating rises to prominence ever accorded an American hero.

CARVER THE SCIENTIST

Most highly celebrated for his discovery of the varied uses of the peanut plant, of which he listed over 300. Carver was more than a botanist or chemist. For nearly fifty years he was a professor of agriculture at Tuskegee Institute.

 
But in addition he served as nutritional adviser to Mahatma Gandhi, agricultural consultant to the Russian govemment, and massage therapist for the Iowa State football team. Remarkable souls are not always awarded the recognition they deserve, yet Carver received numerous accolades. His paintings received honorable mention at Chicago's 1893 World's Fair, and the Royal Society for the Encouragement of the Arts in London elected him a Fellow. He was awarded the Spingarn Medal for Distinguished Service to Science and the Theodore Roosevelt Medal for outstanding contributions to agriculture. Two honorary doctor of science degrees also were bestowed upon him and he was awarded honorary membership in the American Inventors Society. Popular Mechanics magazine selected him one of fifty outstanding Americans, and he was elected to the Hall of Fame for Great Americans.{2} Variously referred to as the Peanut Man, the plant doctor, or the sage of Tuskegee, Carver counted Henry Ford among his closest friends.

How did this remarkable scientist leave such an indelible mark upon our world? Certainly his scientific achievements contributed, but another consideration, largely ignored, is the fact that he was also a mystic.

CARVER THE MYSTIC

Carver's mysticism sprang from his conviction that nature held the answers to all of life's questions, and that the only requirement for obtaining these answers was a receptive ear. Carver said, "I love to think of nature as unlimited broadcasting stations, through which God speaks to us every day, every hour, and every moment of our Carver's scientific discoveries originated from a rich inner life built upon a strong faith in divine powers. His spirituality came not from participation in a particular church, but from a deeply personal relationship to his God. "All my life," he said, "I have risen regularly at four o'clock and have gone into the woods and talked with God. There he gives me my orders for the day. Alone there with things I love most, I gather specimens and study the great lessons Nature is so eager to teach us all. When people are still asleep, I hear God best and learn my plan." Carver also spoke with the subjects of his scientific inquiry. He was always seen to have a flower in his buttonhole, and he explained that he talked with the flowers and they revealed their secrets to him. "How do I talk to a little flower? Through it I talk to the Infinite. And what is the Infinite? It is the silent, small force. It isn't the outer physical contact. No, it isn't that. The infinite is not confined in the visible world. It is not in the earthquake, the wind or the fire. It is that still small voice that calls up the fairies." A fellow professor and close friend, Glenn Clark, said that Carver's gift of speaking to flowers sprang from love, humility, and acceptance. His humility was maintained by avoiding what he called "the 'I' disease." Carver experienced awe in his encounter with the natural world.

CARVER THE OUTCAST

How is it that such a remarkable man escaped even wider notice? His willingness to publicly discuss his inspired methods of research left him at odds with the scientific community's dedication to a rational, deductive methodology. Intuition and divine revelation were not held in high esteem as methods of scientific inquiry in Carver's day any more than they are today. Yet these were the very methods he employed-and he was not prone to denying them. Carver articulated his philosophy regarding the inextricable link between scientific discovery and the mystical in a letter written in 1927: "We can only understand the infinite as we loose the finite and take on the infinite."{7} Carver did not deny the importance of rational thought, but regarded it as a means of confirming and illustrating truths obtained first mystically. Such openness regarding his methodology did not endear him to critics, and indeed a 1924 New York Times editorial claimed that he showed "a complete lack of the scientific spirit." The Times went on to say that "real chemists" do not attribute their successes to inspiration, and warned that Carver would bring discredit to his race and to Tuskegee Institute.{9} Strong words directed at a man whose achievements were so conspicuous.

CARVER AS SYMBOL

The portrait of Carver that emerges from his writings and the accounts of those who knew him is that of a man who was precocious, not just for his time, but perhaps for our time as well. He transcended barriers of race, socioeconomic status, geographical and political squabbles, belief systems and ego boundaries, and he capitalized on a mystical relationship with his God. He integrated intuition and science to a degree few others achieved.


Notes

1. Linda O. McMurray, George Washington Carver: Scientist and Symbol (New York: Oxford University Press, 1981), 1 1.

2. Gary R. Kremer, George Washington Carver In His Own Words (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1987), xiii-xv.

3. Quoted in Kremer, 143.

4. Glenn Clark, The Man Who Talks with the Flowers (St. Paul, Minn.: Macalester Park Publishing Co., 1939), 2 1.

5. Clark, 44.

6. Clark, 46.

7. Quoted in Kremer, 135.

8. Kremer, 127,

9. New York Times, 20 November 1924, editorial.

Mitchell B. Liester, M.D., is a psychiatrist in private practice in Colorado Springs, and author of the forthcoming book, Inner Voices: Converscations from Within.

Source - THE QUEST, Winter 1995


The Soy Bean - New Uses for peanut skins - Site Link List

The Tortoise Shell Life Science Puzzle Box Front Page