Sunday, March 17, 2019

The Unaccountable Truth

" 'listen' is to be in a position where hearing is impossible--or deceptive. It is the wrong kind of listening: listening for a limited message, an objective sound, a sensible meaning. Actually one decides one's life by responding to a word that is not well defined, easily explicable, safely accounted for. One decides to love in the face of an unaccountable void, and from the void comes an unaccountable truth. By this truth one's existence is sustained in peace--until the truth is too firmly grasped and too clearly accounted for. Then one is relying on words, i.e., on one's own understanding and one's own ingenuity in interpreting existence and its "signs." Then one is lost and has to be found once again in the patient Void."

- Thomas Merton (1915 - 1968)

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Existence Itself

"If you awaken from this illusion,
and you understand that
black implies white,
self implies other,
life implies death.
You can feel yourself,
not as a stranger in the world,
not as something here on probation,
not as something that has
arrived here by fluke,
but you can begin to feel
your own existence as
absolutely fundamental.
What you are basically,
deep, deep down,
far, far in,
is simply the fabric
and structure of
existence itself."

- Alan Watts (1915 - 1973)

Monday, March 11, 2019

What You See

"The question is not what you look at, but what you see. It is only necessary to behold the least fact or phenomenon, however familiar, from a point a hair's breadth aside from our habitual path or routine, to be overcome, enchanted by its beauty and significance."

- Henry David Thoreau (1817 - 1862)

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Limits of Perception

"Phenomena unfold on their own appropriate scales of space and time and may be invisible in our myopic world of dimensions assessed by comparison with human height and times metered by human lifespans. So much of accumulating importance at earthly scales ... is invisible by the measuring rod of a human life. So much that matters to particles in the microscopic world of molecules ... either averages out to stability at our scale or simply stands below our limits of perception. "

-  Stephen Jay Gould (1941 - 2002)

Saturday, March 09, 2019

Unexpected Meeting of Objects

"Mathematicians attach great importance to the elegance of their methods and their results. This is not pure dilettantism. What is it indeed that gives us the feeling of elegance in a solution, in a demonstration? It is the harmony of the diverse parts, their symmetry, their happy balance; in a word it is all that introduces order, all that gives unity, that permits us to see clearly and to comprehend at once both the ensemble and the details. But this is exactly what yields great results, in fact the more we see this aggregate clearly and at a single glance, the better we perceive its analogies with other neighboring objects, consequently the more chances we have of divining the possible generalizations. Elegance may produce the feeling of the unforeseen by the unexpected meeting of objects we are not accustomed to bring together; there again it is fruitful, since it thus unveils for us kinships before unrecognized. It is fruitful even when it results only from the contrast between the simplicity of the means and the complexity of the problem set; it makes us then think of the reason for this contrast and very often makes us see that chance is not the reason; that it is to be found in some unexpected law. In a word, the feeling of mathematical elegance is only the satisfaction due to any adaptation of the solution to the needs of our mind, and it is because of this very adaptation that this solution can be for us an instrument. Consequently this esthetic satisfaction is bound up with the economy of thought."

- Henri Poincare (1854 - 1912)

Wednesday, February 27, 2019


"The rules of the universe that we think
we know are buried deep
in our processes of perception.
It is as if the stuff of which
we are made were totally transparent
and therefore imperceptible and
as if the only appearances of which
we can be aware are cracks and planes
of fracture in that transparent matrix.
Dreams and percepts and stories
are perhaps cracks and irregularities
in the uniform and timeless matrix.
Was this what Plotinus meant
by an 'invisible and unchanging
beauty which pervades all things'?"

- Gregory Bateson (1904 - 1980)

Sunday, February 24, 2019


"There is in all visible things an invisible fecundity, a dimmed light, a meek namelessness, a hidden wholeness. This mysterious unity and integrity is wisdom, the mother of us all, "natura naturans." There is in all things an inexhaustible sweetness and purity, a silence that is a fountain of action and joy. It rises up in wordless gentleness, and flows out to me from the unseen roots of all created being."

- Thomas Merton (1915 - 1968)

Sunday, February 17, 2019


"I don’t know why we long so for permanence, why the fleeting nature of things so disturbs. With futility, we cling to the old wallet long after it has fallen apart. We visit and revisit the old neighborhood where we grew up, searching for the remembered grove of trees and the little fence. We clutch our old photographs. In our churches and synagogues and mosques, we pray to the everlasting and eternal. Yet, in every nook and cranny, nature screams at the top of her lungs that nothing lasts, that it is all passing away. All that we see around us, including our own bodies, is shifting and evaporating and one day will be gone. Where are the one billion people who lived and breathed in the year 1800, only two short centuries ago?"

- Alan Lightman (1948 - )

Monday, February 11, 2019

The Extraordinary Ordinary

"Quit trying to find beautiful objects to photograph.
Find the ordinary objects so you can
transform them by photographing them."

- Morley Baer (1916 - 1995)

Postscript. When I do photography (that is, when I am lucky enough to have some time to squeeze photography in between my day-job responsibilities), I am decked out with the usual "photographer's paraphernalia" (i.e., camera + vertical grip, tripod, an assortment of lenses, filters, ...). For subject matter, almost without exception, I find myself either perusing landscapes in a local park (that I know the trails of about as well as I know the layout of my home), or exploring color light abstractions in a make-shift studio I've built in my basement. The exceptions are when traveling with my family (when I do essentially the same thing anyway - photographically speaking - but just don't know the trails as well:), and when not in possession of my "real" camera or the bag-full-of-paraphernalia that accompanies it. 

While all photographers strive to transform the "ordinary into the extraordinary" (ala Morley Baer's admonition, and in deference to Minor White's dictum to take pictures of "what else" a thing is), it is often the case that just recognizing that something is sufficiently "ordinary" to warrant training one's camera on is itself hard enough, let alone the task of transforming that "ordinary thing" into something "else." A (far from original) trick I use is to force myself into a more receptive frame-of-mind by deliberately not having my camera at the ready. When the (clich├ęd) "best camera is the one you're carrying" is not my usual "go to" camera of choice, my mind's eye is free to discover (perhaps otherwise invisible?) patterns, realities, and the myriad extraordinary ordinary things we spend our lives immersed in.

And so, the "rest of the story" behind the images you see assembled in the 3-by-3 polyptych shown above, is that these are some recent examples of the magical "extraordinary ordinary" reality that my iPhone - not my Nikon D810 - consistently and generously reveals to me. The more banal descriptions of what these images are really images of, are, in no particular order: staircases in the building I work in 5 days a week, lights at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts (in Washington, DC), the ceiling at a Department for Motor Vehicles service center, light fixtures at a local Mall and restaurant, and a skylight at a supermarket. The extraordinary ordinary indeed.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Palimpsests and Dreams

"I will write in words of fire. I will write them on your skin. I will write about desire. Write beginnings, write of sin. You’re the book I love the best, your skin only holds my truth, you will be a palimpsest lines of age rewriting youth. You will not burn upon the pyre. Or be buried on the shelf. You’re my letter to desire: And you’ll never read yourself. I will trace each word and comma As the final dusk descends, You’re my tale of dreams and drama, Let us find out how it ends."

- Neil Gaiman (1960 - )

Monday, January 14, 2019

Time Has No Divisions

"Time has no divisions to mark its passage,
there is never a thunder-storm or
blare of trumpets to announce the
beginning of a new month or year. 
Even when a new century begins
it is only we mortals who
ring bells and fire off pistols."

- Thomas Mann (1875 - 1955)

Tuesday, January 08, 2019

Expansive Existence

"There was an epoch in the Night of Time, when a still-existent Being existed—one of an absolutely infinite number of similar Beings that people the absolutely infinite domains of the absolutely infinite space. It was not and is not in the power of this Being—any more than it is in your own—to extend, by actual increase, the joy of his Existence; but just as it is in your power to expand or to concentrate your pleasures (the absolute amount of happiness remaining always the same) so did and does a similar capability appertain to this Divine Being, who thus passes his Eternity in perpetual variation of Concentrated Self and almost Infinite Self-Diffusion. 

What you call The Universe is but his present expansive existence. He now feels his life through an infinity of imperfect pleasures—the partial and pain-intertangled pleasures of those inconceivably numerous things which you designate as his creatures, but which are really but infinite individualizations of Himself. All these creatures—all—those which you term animate, as well as those to whom you deny life for no better reason than that you do not behold it in operation—all these creatures have, in a greater or less degree, a capacity for pleasure and for pain:—but the general sum of their sensations is precisely that amount of Happiness which appertains by right to the Divine Being when concentrated within Himself. 

These creatures are all, too, more or less conscious Intelligences; conscious, first, of a proper identity; conscious, secondly and by faint indeterminate glimpses, of an identity with the Divine Being of whom we speak—of an identity with God. Of the two classes of consciousness, fancy that the former will grow weaker, the latter stronger, during the long succession of ages which must elapse before these myriads of individual Intelligences become blended—when the bright stars become blended—into One. 

Think that the sense of individual identity will be gradually merged in the general consciousness—that Man, for example, ceasing imperceptibly to feel himself Man, will at length attain that awfully triumphant epoch when he shall recognize his existence as that of Jehovah. In the meantime bear in mind that all is Life—Life—Life within Life—the less within the greater, and all within the Spirit Divine."

- Edgar Allan Poe (1809 - 1849)