This eloquent passage brings forward several points that I have found very helpful to consider not only in scientific work but also existential ponderings. First, it serves as a reminder of the great antiquity of our planet, a humbling reminder of the fact that Earth (and life for that matter) had existed for billions of years prior to our emergence. Secondly, “…to impose our interpretations upon her [the earth]..” reminds me of when the great physicist Richard Feynman remarked on the fact that although we divide the universe into parts—physics, geology, astronomy, and so on—nature doesn’t know it. We have come onto the stage of existence with an innate desire to answer complicated questions, and the individual scientist must narrow his or her focus to a specific field of inquiry. Obtaining a deep enough understanding of Einstein’s general relativity to theorize and detect gravitational waves cannot be done by geologists.
Similarly, theoretical physicists do not have an adequate understanding of Earth processes to unravel the complex mechanisms of mountain building. The take-home point is that our division of the universe is unknown to the universe itself. The universe functions as one organism with all parts connected, and we must not forget that. Lastly, and arguably most importantly, Gould reminds us that nature is sublimely indifferent to our passions and desires and does not exist to “accommodate our yearnings.” This is not to say that nature is immoral, and although it can seem sometimes that nature goes out of its way to harm our fellow Homo sapiens, it is not the case. Nature is amoral and simply exists according to the physical laws of the universe as it has for the past 13+ billion years. Nature is not on our side, but it is not against us either. It is up to us to work with nature as well as we can to fix our mistakes and progress into the future.