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!

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

The Awe of a Flower

"I have a friend who’s an artist and has sometimes taken a view which I don’t agree with very well. He’ll hold up a flower and say “look how beautiful it is,” and I’ll agree. Then he says “I as an artist can see how beautiful this is but you as a scientist take this all apart and it becomes a dull thing,” and I think that he’s kind of nutty. First of all, the beauty that he sees is available to other people and to me too, I believe. Although I may not be quite as refined aesthetically as he is … I can appreciate the beauty of a flower. At the same time, I see much more about the flower than he sees. I could imagine the cells in there, the complicated actions inside, which also have a beauty. I mean it’s not just beauty at this dimension, at one centimeter; there’s also beauty at smaller dimensions, the inner structure, also the processes. The fact that the colors in the flower evolved in order to attract insects to pollinate it is interesting; it means that insects can see the color. It adds a question: does this aesthetic sense also exist in the lower forms? Why is it aesthetic? All kinds of interesting questions which the science knowledge only adds to the excitement, the mystery and the awe of a flower. It only adds. I don’t understand how it subtracts."

- Richard Feynman (1918 - 1988)
The Beauty of the Flower

Tuesday, April 27, 2021


"Cognition and emotion cannot be separated. Cognitive thoughts lead to emotions: emotions drive cognitive thoughts. The brain is structured to act upon the world, and every action carries with it expectations, and these expectations drive emotions. That is why much of language is based on physical metaphors, why the body and its interaction with the environment are essential components of human thought. Emotion is highly underrated. In fact, the emotional system is a powerful information processing system that works in tandem with cognition. Cognition attempts to make sense of the world: emotion assigns value. It is the emotional system that determines whether a situation is safe or threatening, whether something that is happening is good or bad, desirable or not. Cognition provides understanding: emotion provides value judgments. A human without a working emotional system has difficulty making choices. A human without a cognitive system is dysfunctional."

- Donald A. Norman (1985 - )
The Design of Everyday Things

Postscript. The triptych consists of "iPhone snapshots" of staircases (OK, not quite head-on views of staircases) inside the office building I used to go before the pandemic hit. They were taken in 2017.

Monday, April 26, 2021

Focal Points

"...there seems to be at least two distinct forms of identity that consciousness can take on, both of which we recognize as the 'I.' The first, and the one usually experienced during ordinary states of consciousness, is the 'I' of the ego; the 'I' of the cognitive models constructed by the brain. The second is an 'I' that seems to be independent of the ego and of life in linear time; a transcendent 'I' that seems to exist entirely beyond time, space, and life itself, and whose identity is more profoundly recognized as the true 'I' than the relatively provincial and flattened notions of the ego. The implication of this is that a hypothetical, universal field of consciousness must somehow 'clot' into multiple, separate 'focal points' in a realm of reality beyond that of the physical brain. Each of these focal points must then correspond to a transcendent 'I' that is coupled, in awareness, to the electrochemical signals of an individual brain and its ego constructs."

- Bernardo Kastrup
Dreamed Up Reality

Postscript. As I alluded to a few blog posts ago, owing to this will-it-ever-end-pandemic, my photo-safari opportunities are - as for most of you - few-and-far-between. Thus, quality "photography time" nowadays amounts to either immersing myself in an unfathomably deep gorge of unprocessed raw files or looking to make this gorge even more unfathomably deep by saving an endless stream of impromptu "experiments" with light and form in my home studio (i.e.,  my day-job work desk after I clear it of my day-job notes and scribbles). The diptych above (as well as the one from yesterday) combines these two practices; i.e., they are "experiments in abstraction" captured a few years ago with my iPhone. Yesterday's images are of two ceilings, one in a local grocery store, the other at a local department of motor vehicles (where I sat, bored, one day in 2017, while waiting for one of my sons to test for his driver's permit). Today's images come courtesy of a local mall. There is appreciable comfort (from my otherwise omnipresent angst over few-and-far-between photo opportunities) in knowing that there are always wonders to be discovered, even if such "discoveries" are of discoveries made long ago!

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Geometry and Space

"It is well known that geometry presupposes not only the concept of space but also the first fundamental notions for constructions in space as given in advance. It only gives nominal definitions for them, while the essential means of determining them appear in the form of axioms. The relationship of these presumptions is left in the dark; one sees neither whether and in how far their connection is necessary, nor a priori whether it is possible. From Euclid to Legendre, to name the most renowned of modern writers on geometry, this darkness has been lifted neither by the mathematicians nor the philosophers who have laboured upon it."

- Bernhard Riemann (1826 - 1866)

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Other Worlds

"Is there anything on earth which would have meaning
and would even change the course of events not only on
earth, but in other worlds?” I asked my teacher.
“There is,” my teacher answered me.
“Well, what is it?” I asked.
“It’s...” began my teacher and suddenly fell silent.
I stood and waited intently for his answer.
But he was silent.
And I stood and was silent.
And he was silent.
And I stood, silent.
And he was silent.
We’re both standing and silent.
We’re both standing and silent.
Yes, yes, we’re both
standing and silent!"

-  Daniil Kharms (1905 - 1942)

Postscript. Daniil Kharms is one of my all-time favorite authors of the "absurd." The best, purest form of absurdist literature - such as its uniquely Russian incarnation (called the Oberiu) in the 1920s and 1930s, which included such luminaries as Alexander VvedenskyNikolai Zabolotsky, and  Konstantin Vaginov - shares much with its spiritual cousin, the Zen koan. Its twists of logic, humor, and hallucinatory distortions of babble and reality often - unexpectedly - point to the deepest truths. For those of you who share my affection for these kinds of inner journeys of discovery, a great place to start is with this collection of Kharms' writings: Today I Wrote Nothing, from which the following passage is quoted (from the story, The Werld”):

"I told myself that I see the world. But the whole world was not accessible to my gaze, and I saw only parts of the world. And everything that I saw I called parts of the world. And I examined the properties of these parts and, examining these properties, I wrought science. I understood that the parts have intelligent properties and that the same parts have unintelligent properties. And there were such parts of the world which could think. And all these parts resembled one another, and I resembled them. And I spoke with these parts. And suddenly I ceased seeing them and, soon after, other parts as well. But then I understood that I do not see parts independently, but I see it all at once. At first I thought that is was NOTHING. But then I understood that this was the world and what I had seen before was NOT the world.

And then I realized
I am the world.
But the world -  is not me.
Although at the same time
I am the world.
But the world's not me.
And I'm the world.
But the world's not me.
And I'm the world.
But the world's not me.
And I'm the world.
And after that
I didn't think anymore more."

Friday, April 23, 2021

Abide in Quietude

"Into the mind of the Exalted One, while he tarried, retired in solitude, came this thought: I have penetrated this deep truth, which is difficult to perceive, and difficult to understand, peace-giving, sublime, which transcends all thought, deeply-significant, which only the wise can grasp. Man moves in an earthly sphere, in an earthly sphere he has his place and finds his enjoyment. For man, who moves in an earthly sphere, and has his place and finds his enjoyment in an earthly sphere, it will be very difficult to grasp this matter, the law of causality, the chain of causes and effects: and this also will be very difficult for him to grasp, the extinction of all conformations, the withdrawal from all that is earthly, the extinction of desire, the cessation of longing, the end, the Nirvana. Should I now preach the Doctrine and mankind not understand me, it would bring me nothing but fatigue, it would cause me nothing but trouble! And there passed unceasingly through the mind of the Exalted One, this voice, which no one had ever before heard. 

Why reveal to the world what I have won by a severe struggle? The truth remains hidden from him whom desire and hate absorb. It is difficult, mysterious, deep, hidden from the coarse mind; He cannot apprehend it, whose mind earthly vocations surround with night. 

"When the Exalted One thought thus, his heart was inclined to abide in quietude and not to proclaim the Doctrine."

- The Mahavagga of the Vinya Pitaka,
The Buddha: His Life, His Doctrine, His Order,
by Herman Oldenberg (1854 - 1920)