Small Wonders:

“Although nature commences with reason and ends in experience it is necessary for us to do the opposite, that is to commence with experience and from this to proceed to investigate the reason.”

— Leonardo da Vinci


Faith comes in many forms, I believe. And in my search to find it in places unexpected, I’m learning a lot.

I sat down with Steve Hines at Shaker’s for breakfast one recent morning to further my exploration. Steve’s an inventor, and I asked him what he had faith in. He handed me a photocopied page from Webster’s Dictionary. Of the various definitions listed for the word faith, Steve had underlined the following: “Belief in something for which there is no proof.”

“[Faith is] not a word that I use very much at all,” he told me. “It’s hardly in my vocabulary because it’s not a part of my objective activity in quantifying things. I just don’t think that way.”

Faith and science are strange bedfellows to be sure. And that definition of faith is something that I would agree with.

“I come from a science and engineering background and deal with facts and measurable, quantifiable data,” Steve told me.

But if we’re open to another definition — that faith is a will we exercise rather than a concept we possess; something that points to a thing in which we put our trust and hope — I wondered what I might find.

Born and raised in North Carolina, Steve came west 30 years ago by way of New York and London, bringing with him a vast knowledge of engineering and physics. After stints with Kodak and Disney, he created his own company, HinesLab (, where he creates prototypes for image displays and develops optical and mechanical devices for photographic equipment and flight simulators. He’s currently working on a way to view 3-D TV without wearing glasses, the Holy Grail of 3-D technology today.

“Optical engineering is so appealing because light is beautiful to work with. You can break it up into so many colors and prisms?.?.?.?I love working with it.”

In short, he’s a man who helps us see the world in new and vibrant ways.

When we talk about who inspires him, Steve’s response is quick and obvious: da Vinci. He admires the Renaissance man’s free thinking, his strength and vision in the worlds of science and of art. It’s hard for me to reconcile that one person can be so accomplished in what to my mind would be divergent disciplines, art and science.

But Steve sees no conflict in the two.

“Engineering can be very creative. There’s plenty of creative engineering in a digital camera, a suspension bridge or the space station.”

Like da Vinci, Steve is a lover of music and art, and finds beauty everywhere in the physical world. He draws and is a photographer in his own right.

Is there a way to measure beauty, whether in art or the eye of the beholder?

“Objectivity takes a holiday when you are trying to critique a painting or something.”

At the heart of any inventor, whether artist or scientist, is the desire to discover; to pull from some combination of the known and experiential, and the ether of what is not yet known, something never before seen. There is a craving for that moment when a new way to look at the world has been brought forth in words, sound or light.

“At the moment of invention, the thrill is exhilarating, almost ecstatic.”

Perhaps that’s what I’m looking for. Call it the “moment of invention,” or the “creative spark,” or the “a-ha” moment. It may hit you when you’re in the shower, when you’re writing or reading or jogging; when your mind is free and wanders in imagination. Or when you’re in your laboratory focused on the way a beam of light hits a lens.

It’s the birth of the idea, or that idea’s fulfillment. Words fit together to elicit an emotion in a new way; colors on a canvas stir something in our souls; beams of light do what you wanted and prove your hypothesis.

Maybe that’s where I see faith in anyone whose life is devoted to invention and creativity in any form — a combination of trust and hope that the immeasurable moment of discovery will come again. And that’s what keeps them going.

Does he think there’s anything beyond the physical, measurable world?


But he adds, “There is one thing that I wish I had an answer for: infinity. Physical infinity, in space. I would love to know what that’s all about. How could it possibly go forever? Surely there’s got to be a wall there somewhere. I can’t deal with it. It fries my circuits. So I quit thinking about it. There’s an unknown right there.”

He points his hope and his knowledge in the direction of creation, invention and discovery. In a world of facts and raw data he sees beauty that can’t be quantified and a place that can’t be touched. Is faith somewhere in there? I’m not sure. But passion certainly is.

And we could all learn a thing or two from such passion.


This column is the second in an occasional series titled “Explorations in Faith.”

Get in touch PATRICK CANEDAY wishes Billie Barron a very happy birthday today. He may be reached on Facebook, at and