Friday, May 28, 2021

Universe as a Whole

"It would be indeed unusual if it turned out that the set of orders that our mind is able to construct and accept, having as it does a deep sense of 'understanding the essence of things,' matches precisely the set of all possible orders to be detected in the Universe as a whole. We should admit that this is not impossible, yet it does seem highly improbable. This way of thinking, so modest in its assessment of our abilities, is probably the only way recommended, given our lack of knowledge, because we are not aware of our limitations.
As long as Nature’s actions in the animate and inanimate world fill us with wonder and offer an unmatched example for us, a realm of solutions that exceeds in its perfection and complexity everything we can achieve ourselves, the number of unknowns will be bigger than our knowledge. It is only when we are eventually able to compete with Nature on the level of creation, when we have learned to copy it so that we can discover all of its limitations as a Designer, that we shall enter the realm of freedom, of being able to work out a creative strategy subordinated to our goals."

- Stanislaw Lem (1921 - 2006)
Summa technologiae

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Withered But Still Strong

 "All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king."

- J.R.R. Tolkien (1892 - 1973)
The Fellowship of the Ring

Monday, May 17, 2021

And He Built a Crooked House

"I don't think of a house as an upholstered cave; I think of it as a machine for living, a vital process, a live dynamic thing, changing with the mood of the dweller—not a dead, static, oversized coffin. Why should we be held down by the frozen concepts of our ancestors? Any fool with a little smattering of descriptive geometry can design a house in the ordinary way. Is the static geometry of Euclid the only mathematics? Are we to completely disregard the Picard-Vessiot theory? How about modular system?—to say nothing of the rich suggestions of stereochemistry. Isn't there a place in architecture for transformation, for homomorphology, for actional structures?"
"'Blessed if I know," answered Bailey. 'You might must as well be talking about the fourth dimension for all it means to me.'"
"...the house was no longer there. There was not even the ground floor room. It had vanished. The Baileys, interested in spite of themselves, poked around the foundations with Teal. 'Got any answers for this one, Teal?' asked Bailey. 'It must be that on that last shock it simply fell through into another section of space. I can see now that I should have anchored it at the foundations.' 'That's not all you should have done.' 'Well, I don't see that there is anything to get down-hearted about. The house was insured, and we've learned an amazing lot. There are possibilities, man, possibilities! Why, right now I've got a great new revolutionary idea for a house—'Teal ducked in time. He was always a man of action.'"

- Robert A. Heinlein (1907 - 1988)
And He Built a Crooked House

Sunday, May 16, 2021

A Borgesian Window

"As afternoon progresses and I look up from my work to gaze out this window, I may be invaded by springtime, or if it’s summer, by the perfume of jasmine or the scent of orange blossom, mingled with the aroma of leather and book paper, which brought Borges such pleasure.

The window has one more surprise. From it, I can see the garden of the house where Borges once lived, and where he wrote one of his best-known short stories, “The Circular Ruins.’’ Here, I can move back and forth between two worlds. Sometimes, following Borges, I wonder which one is real: the world I see from the window, bathed in afternoon splendor or sunset’s soft glow, with the house that once belonged to Borges in the distance, or the world of the Library of Babel, with its shelves full of books once touched by his hands?"

- Maria Kodama (1937 - )
Mr. Borges’s Garden

Saturday, May 15, 2021

A Mere Door

"How concrete everything
becomes in the world of
the spirit when an object,
a mere door, can give
images of hesitation, temptation,
desire, security, welcome
and respect. If one
were to give an account
of all the doors one has
closed and opened,
of all the doors one
would like to re-open,
one would have to tell the
story of one's entire life."

- Gaston Bachelard (1884 - 1962)
The Poetics of Space

Friday, May 14, 2021

Entropic Melodies

"The law that entropy always increases holds, I think, the supreme position among the laws of Nature. If someone points out to you that your pet theory of the universe is in disagreement with Maxwell's equations - then so much the worse for Maxwell's equations. If it is found to be contradicted by observation - well, these experimentalists do bungle things sometimes. But if your theory is found to be against the Second Law of Thermodynamics I can give you no hope; there is nothing for it to collapse in deepest humiliation."

Arthur Stanley Eddington (1882 - 1944)

Postscript. One of the first major publications that some of my work was featured in was Black & White magazine, way back in issue #41 (Feb 2006). The images were from what I called my "entropic melody" series. But the "melody" part applies equally to the images (as in "living melodies of otherwise visibly decaying parts") as it does to the - still ongoing - process of creating them (on a vastly different space and time scale). Though I like to think of my "synesthetic landscape" series as my longest "in progress" portfolio, the truth is that - having started "only" in 2009 - it takes a back seat to something I believe I'll never tire of: finding "life" in lifelessness. And so, on a recent "long weekend" vacation with my wife and youngest son (also a photographer), and armed with this spur-of-the-moment self-reflection, I found my eye and lens trained not (entirely) on the natural beauty in the West Jefferson area of North Carolina (of which there is plenty to be had, to be sure!), but rather on the regions' splendors of human-created and now neglected decaying beauty. Looking over the 30 or so "keeper shots" I returned home with, no less than 25 of them are of nothing but "withered but beautifully decrepit" sentinels - and occasional palimpsests - of  times past. And, for the photographer, a glimpse of a longer-term "melody" playing out in an always evolving aesthetic landscape. I will be featuring a few of my favorites from this short-much-too-short trip in the coming days.

Thursday, April 29, 2021


"To live on a day-to-day basis is insufficient for human beings; we need to transcend, transport, escape; we need meaning, understanding, and explanation; we need to see over-all patterns in our lives. We need hope, the sense of a future. And we need freedom (or, at least, the illusion of freedom) to get beyond ourselves, whether with telescopes and microscopes and our ever-burgeoning technology, or in states of mind that allow us to travel to other worlds, to rise above our immediate surroundings.

We may seek, too, a relaxing of inhibitions that makes it easier to bond with each other, or transports that make our consciousness of time and mortality easier to bear. We seek a holiday from our inner and outer restrictions, a more intense sense of the here and now, the beauty and value of the world we live in."

- Oliver Sacks (1933 - 2015)

Postscript #1. The triptych consists of images I captured one day last summer after my wife parked her car in a garage near a local farmer's market. I was mesmerized by the "organized cacophony" of shimmering reflections off other car's hoods and hubcaps that arranged - and revealed - themselves to anyone interested in looking. Though I lamented not having my "real" camera, I was happy to have my iPhone to capture this lovely visual feast! Yet another gentle reminder that we must always be on alert to the universe's ceaseless wonders. And, though I rarely talk about the "nuts-and-bolts of photography on my blog (and much prefer posting images and musings than highlighting what f-stop I used), here's a small - hopefully useful - foray into the "nuts-and-bolts" department: to better prepare for unpredictable contingencies (i.e., for when I'm out and about without my usual shoulder and/or back-breaking warehouse-in-a-bag assortment of cameras, lenses, and filters), I recently purchased a tiny - almost babyish-looking - camera; albeit one that is fully functioning! Since it is designed to fit in even a child's pocket (!), I've resolved to always have it on my person when leaving the house for any reason. For those of you curious, it's Canon's G1X Mark III, which is best described as an ultra-miniaturized mirrorless version of their (older) 80D DSLR. While it's fixed-lens is neither particularly bright nor sharp, the sensor is effectively the same one used on the 80D; yep, an APS-C sensor in a body that fits inside a shirt pocket! You can check out a review here. So far, I'm loving it, though have yet to post any pictures captured by it. But I suspect that'll soon change :)

Postscript #2. For those of you saddened by not having Oliver Sacks' sage wisdom around anymore (though his books forever enshrine his genius), there is a wonderful new biography available, called Oliver Sacks: His Own Life. Highly recommended!