Thursday, April 29, 2021

Patterns


"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


"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.
Ho-la-la!
We’re both standing and silent.
Ho-le-le!
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)

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Secret from the River


 "Have you also learned that
secret from the river;
that there is no such thing as time?
That the river is everywhere at the same time,
at the source and at the mouth,
at the waterfall, at the ferry,
at the current, in the ocean and
in the mountains, everywhere and that
the present only exists for it,
not the shadow of the past
nor the shadow of the future."

- Hermann Hesse (1877 - 1962)
Siddhartha

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Continuous Cloth


 "Time really is one
big continuous cloth, no?
We habitually cut out
pieces of time to fit us,
so we tend to fool ourselves
into thinking that
time is our size,
but it really goes
on and on"

- Haruki Murakami (1949 - )
A Wild Sheep Chase

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Light of Skye


 "The light of love, the purity of grace,
The mind, the Music breathing from her face,
The heart whose softness harmonised the whole —
And, oh! that eye was in itself a Soul!"

- Lord Byron (1788 - 1824)

Postscript. As photo-safari opportunities have dwindled (and though I do have a growing backlog of house-studio-facilitated abstracts to work on, as time permits), much of my "photo time" nowadays consists of discovering and reworking old images. This one is from the summer of 2009, captured during the first trip my wife and I took to Scotland; specifically, South Ronaldsay, one of the preternaturally beautiful Orkney Islands off Scotland's northeastern coast. The light there, as in all of Scotland, is not entirely of this world!

Thursday, April 08, 2021

Centering


"To have humility is to experience reality, not in relation to ourselves, but in its sacred independence. It is to see, judge, and act from the point of rest in ourselves. Then, how much disappears, and all that remains falls into place. In the point of rest at the center of our being, we encounter a world where all things are at rest in the same way. Then a tree becomes a mystery, a cloud a revelation, each man a cosmos of whose riches we can only catch glimpses. The life of simplicity is simple, but it opens to us a book in which we never get beyond the first syllable."

- Dag Hammarskjöld (1905 - 1961)
Markings 

Monday, April 05, 2021

Living Mirror


 "This interconnection or
accommodation of all
created things to each other,
and each to all the others,
brings it about that each
simple substance has relations
that express all the others,
and consequently, that
each simple substance
is a perpetual,
living mirror of
the universe."

- G.W. Leibniz (1646 - 1716)
Monadology

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Waves


 "You are a function of what the whole universe is doing in the same way
that a wave is a function of what the whole ocean is doing."

- Alan Watts (1915 - 1973)

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Vibrant Hum


"At a certain point, you say to the woods, to the sea, to the mountains, the world, Now I am ready. Now I will stop and be wholly attentive. You empty yourself and wait, listening. After a time you hear it: there is nothing there. There is nothing but those things only, those created objects, discrete, growing or holding, or swaying, being rained on or raining, held, flooding or ebbing, standing, or spread. You feel the world's word as a tension, a hum, a single chorused note everywhere the same. This is it: this hum is the silence. Nature does utter a peep - just this one. The birds and insects, the meadows and swamps and rivers and stones and mountains and clouds: they all do it; they all don't do it. There is a vibrancy to the silence, a suppression, as if someone were gagging the world. But you wait, you give your life's length to listening, and nothing happens. The ice rolls up, the ice rolls back, and still that single note obtains. The tension, or lack of it, is intolerable. The silence is not actually suppression: instead, it is all there is."

- Annie Dillard ()
Teaching a Stone to Talk

Monday, March 29, 2021

Subterranean Stream


"The landscape of my days
appears to be composed,
like mountainous regions,
of varied materials
heaped up pell-mell.
There I see my nature,
itself composite,
made up of equal parts
of instinct and training.
Here and there protrude
the granite peaks of
the inevitable, but all
about is rubble from
the landslips of chance.
I strive to retrace my life
to find in it some plan,
following a vein of lead,
or of gold, or the
course of some
subterranean stream,
but such devices
are only tricks
of perspective
in the memory."

- Marguerite Yourcenar (1903 - 1987)
Memoirs of Hadrian

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Vibrations


"The infinite vibratory levels,
the dimensions of interconnectedness
are without end.
There is nothing independent.
All beings and things are
residents in your awareness."

- Alex Grey (1953 - )
 

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Virtual Delights


"Paul uncovered his eyes, and looked around the room. Away from a few dazzling patches of direct sunshine, everything glowed softly in the diffuse light: the matte white brick walls, the imitation (imitation) mahogany furniture; even the posters — Bosch, Dali, Ernst, and Giger — looked harmless, domesticated. Wherever he turned his gaze (if nowhere else), the simulation was utterly convincing; the spotlight of his attention made it so. Hypothetical light rays were being traced backwards from individual rod and cone cells on his simulated retinas, and projected out into the virtual environment to determine exactly what needed to be computed: a lot of detail near the centre of his vision, much less towards the periphery. Objects out of sight didn’t “vanish” entirely, if they influenced the ambient light, but Paul knew that the calculations would rarely be pursued beyond the crudest first-order approximations: Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights reduced to an average reflectance value, a single grey rectangle — because once his back was turned, any more detail would have been wasted. Everything in the room was as finely resolved, at any given moment, as it needed to be to fool him — no more, no less.
...
Paul closed his eyes and turned his face to the sun. In spite of everything, it was hard not to take solace from the warmth flooding onto his skin. He stretched the muscles in his arms, his shoulders, his back -- and it felt like he was reaching out from the "self" in his virtual skull to all his mathematical flesh, imprinting the nebulous data with meaning; binding it all together, staking some kind of claim.
...
Existence was beginning to seduce him. He let himself surrender for a moment to a visceral sense of identity which drowned out all his pale mental images of optical processors, all his abstract reflections on the software's approximations and short-cuts. This body didn't want to evaporate. This body didn't want to bale out. It didn't much care that there was another - "more real" - version of itself elsewhere. It wanted to retain its wholeness. It wanted to endure."

- Greg Egan (1961 - )
Permutation City

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

An Immense Landscape


 "I picture the vast realm
of the sciences as an
immense landscape scattered
with patches of dark and light.
The goal towards which
we must work is either to
extend the boundaries of
the patches of light, or
to increase their number.
One of these tasks falls
to the creative genius;
the other requires a
sort of sagacity
combined with
perfectionism."

- Denis Diderot (1713 - 1784)
Thoughts on the Interpretation of
Nature and Other Philosophical Works

Monday, March 22, 2021

Stirrings of the Soul


"The sea refreshes our imagination because it does not make us think of human life; yet it rejoices the soul, because, like the soul, it is an infinite and impotent striving, a strength that is ceaselessly broken by falls, an eternal and exquisite lament. The sea thus enchants us like music, which, unlike language, never bears the traces of things, never tells us anything about human beings, but imitates the stirrings of the soul. Sweeping up with the waves of those movements, plunging back with them, the heart thus forgets its own failures and finds solace in an intimate harmony between its own sadness and the sea’s sadness, which merges the sea’s destiny with the destinies of all things."

- Marcel Proust (1871 - 1922)

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Middle Ground


"We now know that complexity arises in a middle ground—often at the order–disorder border. Natural systems that evolve with and learn from interaction with their immediate environment exhibit both structural order and dynamical chaos. Order is the foundation of communication between elements at any level of organization, whether that refers to a population of neurons, bees or humans. For an organism order is the distillation of regularities abstracted from observations. An organism’s very form is a functional manifestation of its ancestor’s evolutionary and its own developmental memories.

A completely ordered universe, however, would be dead. Chaos is necessary for life. Behavioural diversity, to take an example, is fundamental to an organism’s survival. No organism can model the environment in its entirety. Approximation becomes essential to any system with finite resources. Chaos, as we now understand it, is the dynamical mechanism by which nature develops constrained and useful randomness. From it follow diversity and the ability to anticipate the uncertain future. 

There is a tendency, whose laws we are beginning to comprehend, for natural systems to balance order and chaos, to move to the interface between predictability and uncertainty. The result is increased structural complexity. This often appears as a change in a system’s intrinsic computational capability. The present state of evolutionary progress indicates that one needs to go even further and postulate a force that drives in time towards successively more sophisticated and qualitatively different intrinsic computation. We can look back to times in which there were no systems that attempted to model themselves, as we do now. This is certainly one of the outstanding puzzles: how can lifeless and disorganized matter exhibit such a drive? The question goes to the heart of many disciplines, ranging from philosophy and cognitive science to evolutionary and developmental biology and particle astrophysics. The dynamics of chaos, the appearance of pattern and organization, and the complexity quantified by computation will be inseparable components in its resolution."

- James P. Crutchfield (1955 - )
Between order and chaos

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Imagination


"We know,
but cannot grasp,
that above and below,
beyond the limits of
perception or imagination,
thousands of millions of
simultaneous transformations
are at work,
interlinked like
a musical score by
mathematical counterpoint
...a symphony
...but we lack the
ears to hear it."

- Stanislaw Lem (1921 - 2006)

Friday, March 19, 2021

Plural Realities


"Maybe each human being lives in a unique world, a private world different from those inhabited and experienced by all other humans. . . If reality differs from person to person, can we speak of reality singular, or shouldn't we really be talking about plural realities? And if there are plural realities, are some more true (more real) than others? What about the world of a schizophrenic? Maybe it's as real as our world. Maybe we cannot say that we are in touch with reality and he is not, but should instead say, His reality is so different from ours that he can't explain his to us, and we can't explain ours to him. The problem, then, is that if subjective worlds are experienced too differently, there occurs a breakdown in communication ... and there is the real illness."

- Philip K. Dick (1928 - 1982)

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Subliminal Knowledge


 "Can we perceive those
inorganic beings,
don Juan?" I asked.
"We certainly can," he replied.
"Sorcerers do it at will.
Average people do it,
but they don't realize that
they're doing it because
they are not conscious of the
existence of a twin world.
When they think of a twin world,
they enter into all kinds
of mental masturbation,
but it has never occurred
to them that their fantasies
have their origin in a
subliminal knowledge that
all of us have:
that we are not alone."

- Carlos Castaneda (1925 - 1998)
The Active Side of Infinity

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Enfoldment


 "The essential feature
in quantum interconnectedness
is that the whole universe
is enfolded in everything,
and that each thing
is enfolded in the whole."

- David Bohm (1917 - 1992)

Monday, March 15, 2021

Lines of Meaning


"The library will endure;
it is the universe.
As for us,
everything has not been written;
we are not turning into phantoms.
We walk the corridors,
searching the shelves
and rearranging them,
looking for lines of meaning
amid leagues of cacophony
and incoherence,
reading the history of
the past and our future,
collecting our thoughts
and collecting the
thoughts of others,
and every so often
glimpsing mirrors,
in which we may recognize
creatures of the information."

- Jorge Luis Borges (1899 - 1986)
The Library of Babel

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Dreams and Apparitions


"Dreams, as we all know, are very curious things: certain incidents in them are presented with quite uncanny vividness, each detail executed with the finishing touch of a jeweller, while others you leap across as though entirely unaware of, for instance, space and time. Dreams seem to be induced not by reason but by desire, not by the head but by the heart, and yet what clever tricks my reason has sometimes played on me in dreams!"

- Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821 - 1881)
Notes from Underground

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Entropy Curve


"There is no logical necessity
for the existence of a unique
direction of total time;
whether there is only
one time direction,
or whether time
directions alternate,
depends on the shape
of the entropy curve
plotted by the universe."

 

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Forms of Things Unknown


 "More strange than true: I never may believe
These antique fables, nor these fairy toys.
Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,
Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend
More than cool reason ever comprehends.
The lunatic, the lover and the poet
Are of imagination all compact:
One sees more devils than vast hell can hold,
That is, the madman: the lover, all as frantic,
Sees Helen's beauty in a brow of Egypt:
The poet's eye, in fine frenzy rolling,
Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven;
...
And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet's pen
Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.
...
Such tricks hath strong imagination,
That if it would but apprehend some joy,
It comprehends some bringer of that joy;
Or in the night, imagining some fear,
How easy is a bush supposed a bear!"

- William Shakespeare (1564 - 1616)
Theseus, Act V, Scene I, in A Midsummer Nights Dream

Friday, March 05, 2021

Atmospheric Lights


"Terraforming Mars is a primary goal for the twenty-second century. But scientists are looking beyond Mars as well. The most exciting prospects may be the moons of the gas giants, including Europa, a moon of Jupiter, and Titan, a moon of Saturn. The moons of gas giants were once thought to be barren hunks of rock that were all alike, but they are now seen as unique wonderlands, each with its own array of geysers, oceans, canyons, and atmospheric lights. These moons are now being eyed as future habitats for human life."

- Michio Kaku (1947 - )
The Future of Humanity

Wednesday, March 03, 2021

Islands of Life


"He could not feel that they were an island of life journeying through an abyss of death. He felt almost the opposite--that life was waiting outside the little iron egg-shell in which they rode, ready at any moment to break in, and that, if it killed them, it would kill them by excess of its vitality. He hoped passionately that if they were to perish they would perish by the "unbodying" of the space-ship and not by suffocation within it. To be let out, to be free, to dissolve into the ocean of eternal noon, seemed to him at certain moments a consummation even more desirable than their return to Earth. And if he had felt some such lift of the heart when first he passed through heaven on their outward journey, he felt it now tenfold, for now he was convinced that the abyss was full of life in the most literal sense, full of living creatures."

- C.S. Lewis (1898 - 1963)
Out of the Silent Planet

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Abstract Moons


"I distinguish two parts of it, which I call respectively the brighter and the darker. The brighter seems to surround and pervade the whole hemisphere; but the darker part, like a sort of cloud, discolors the Moon’s surface and makes it appear covered with spots. Now these spots, as they are somewhat dark and of considerable size, are plain to everyone and every age has seen them, wherefore I will call them great or ancient spots, to distinguish them from other spots, smaller in size, but so thickly scattered that they sprinkle the whole surface of the Moon, but especially the brighter portion of it. These spots have never been observed by anyone before me; and from my observations of them, often repeated, I have been led to the opinion which I have expressed, namely, that I feel sure that the surface of the Moon is not perfectly smooth, free from inequalities and exactly spherical… but that, on the contrary, it is full of inequalities, uneven, full of hollows and protuberances, just like the surface of the Earth itself, which is varied everywhere by lofty mountains and deep valleys."

- Galileo Galilei (1564 - 1642)
The Starry Messenger

Postscript. I could just as well have called this entry "Homage to White," as in paying homage to Minor White's well-known dictum to always strive to photograph what else a "thing" is. Always on alert for things and light to photograph, I was entranced this morning by the ravioli mold sitting quietly, Zen-like, beside our sink. Though it was "clean" (my wife has recently taken to making pasta and pasta dishes from scratch, including a delicious spaghetti meal she made last night), the play of light revealed distinctive palimpsest-esque patterns of residue. A quick jaunt upstairs to grab my camera and tripod was all it took to transform a simple, ordinary hunk of aluminum into a cauldron of wondrous cosmic delights!

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Complex Networks


"Thanks to the rapid advances in network theory it appears that we are not far from the next major step: constructing a general theory of complexity. The pressure is enormous. In the twenty-first century, complexity is not a vague science buzzword any longer, but an equally pressing challenge for everything from the economy to cell biology. Yet, most earlier attempts to construct a theory of complexity have overlooked the deep link between it and networks. In most systems, complexity starts where networks turn nontrivial. No matter how puzzled we are by the behavior of an electron or an atom, we rarely call it complex, as quantum mechanics offers us the tools to describe them with remarkable accuracy. The demystification of crystals-highly regular networks of atoms and molecules-is one of the major success stories of twentieth-century physics, resulting in the development of the transistor and the discovery of superconductivity. Yet, we continue to struggle with systems for which the interaction map between the components is less ordered and rigid, hoping to give self-organization a chance."

- Albert-László Barabási (1967 - )
Linked: How Everything Is Connected to Everything Else

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Distorted Reality


"Other big questions tackled by ancient cultures are at least as radical. What is real? Is there more to reality than meets the eye? Yes! was Plato's answer over two millennia ago. In his famous cave analogy, he likened us to people who'd lived their entire lives shacked in a a cave, facing a blank wall, watching the shadows cast by things passing behind them, and eventually coming to mistakenly believe that these shadows were the full reality. Plato argued that what we humans call our everyday reality is similarly just a limited and distorted representation of the true reality, and that we must free ourselves from our mental shackles to comprehending it."

Max Tegmark (1967 - )

Monday, February 22, 2021

Dreaming and Seeing


"The diagram in the ashes had two epicenters; one he called “reason,” the other, “will.” “Reason” was interconnected directly with a point he called “talking.” Through “talking,” “reason” was indirectly connected to three other points, “feeling,” “dreaming,” and “seeing.” The other epicenter, “will,” was directly connected to “feeling,” “dreaming,” and “seeing”; but only indirectly to “reason” and “talking.” I remarked that the diagram was different from the one I had recorded years before. “The outer form is of no importance,” he said. “These points represent a human being and can be drawn in any way you want.” “Do they represent the body of a human being?” I asked. “Don’t call it the body” he said. “These are eight points on the fibers of a luminous being. A sorcerer says, as you can see in the diagram, that a human being is, first of all, will, because will is directly connected to three points, feeling, dreaming, and seeing; then next, a human being is reason. This is properly a center that is smaller than will; it is connected only with talking.” “What are the other two points, don Juan?” He looked at me and smiled."

- Carlos Castaneda (1925 - 1998)
Tales of Power

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Abstract Forms


“And what is it that experiences our self? Only our self! There is only one substance in experience and it is pervaded by and made out of knowing or awareness. In the classical language of non-duality this is sometimes expressed in phrases such as, ‘Awareness only knows itself’, but this may seem abstract. It is simply an attempt to describe the seamless intimacy of experience in which there is no room for a self, object, other or world; no room to step back from experience and find it happy or unhappy, right or wrong, good or bad; no time in which to step out of the now into an imaginary past or into a future in which we may become, evolve or progress; no possibility of stepping out of the intimacy of love into relationship with an other; no possibility of knowing anything other than knowing, of being anything other than being, of loving anything other than loving; no possibility of a thought arising which would attempt to frame the intimacy of experience in the abstract forms of the mind; no possibility for our self to become a self, a fragment, a part; no possibility for the world to jump outside and for the self to contract inside; no possibility for time, distance or space to appear."

Rupert Spira (1960 - )
Presence: The Art of Peace and Happiness

Friday, February 19, 2021

Unified Theory


"The mind calls out for a third theory to unify all of physics, and for a simple reason. Nature is in an obvious sense "unified." The universe we find ourselves in is interconnected, in that everything interacts with everything else. There is no way we can have two theories of nature covering different phenomena, as if one had nothing to do with the other. Any claim for a final theory must be a complete theory of nature. It must encompass all we know. Physics has survived a long time without that unified theory. The reason is that, as far as experiment is concerned, we have been able to divide the world into two realms. In the atomic realm, where quantum physics reigns, we can usually ignore gravity. We can treat space and time much as Newton did-as an unchanging background. The other realm is that of gravitation and cosmology. In that world, we can often ignore quantum phenomena. But this cannot be anything other than a temporary, provisional solution. To go beyond it is the first great unsolved problem in theoretical physics."

- Lee Smolin (1955 - )
 The Trouble with Physics

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Holiness of the Mountain



"Phædrus wrote a letter from India about a pilgrimage to holy Mount Kailas, the source of the Ganges and the abode of Shiva, high in the Himalayas, in the company of a holy man and his adherents.

He never reached the mountain. After the third day he gave up, exhausted, and the pilgrimage went on without him. He said he had the physical strength but that physical strength wasn’t enough. He had the intellectual motivation but that wasn’t enough either. He didn’t think he had been arrogant but thought that he was undertaking the pilgrimage to broaden his experience, to gain understanding for himself. He was trying to use the mountain for his own purposes and the pilgrimage too. He regarded himself as the fixed entity, not the pilgrimage or the mountain, and thus wasn’t ready for it. He speculated that the other pilgrims, the ones who reached the mountain, probably sensed the holiness of the mountain so intensely that each footstep was an act of devotion, an act of submission to this holiness. The holiness of the mountain infused into their own spirits enabled them to endure far more than anything he, with his greater physical strength, could take."

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Star-Stuff


"The cosmos is full beyond measure of elegant truths; of exquisite interrelationships; of the awesome machinery of nature. The surface of the Earth is the shore of the cosmic ocean. On this shore we've learned most of what we know. Recently we've waded a little way out, maybe ankle deep, and the water seems inviting. Some part of our being knows this is where we came from. We long to return. And we can. Because the cosmos is also within us. We're made of star-stuff. We are a way for the cosmos to know itself."

Carl Sagan (1934 - 1996)

Postscript. For those of you wondering what this is "actually" an image of, it is a tight crop - about 1 cm square - of a mildly edited (i.e., basic luminance adjustment, white balance, noise removal, and selective contrast and sharpening) image of an onyx marble stone drink coaster I sometimes use to rest a cup of coffee on while working. Perchance, I happened to catch a glimpse of this phantasmagoric, dreamlike vortex swirling atop a Himalayan mountaintop! I never cease to marvel at the beauty that literally surrounds us throughout our lives; nor at the timeless wisdom contained within the Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistus (purportedly, since no one has actually seen the original tablet):

"As above;
so below.
As within;
so without.
As with the universe;
so with the soul."

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Informational Processes


"The greatest flaw of conventional physics is the acceptance of magic that has been forced upon all of us by our ignorance of the science of informational processes. This is particularly true with respect to Newtonian motion. We have no right to complain about the fact that nowhere in all of contemporary physics is there a commonsense model of motion. We haven’t had a way to know better. Newton swept this matter under the rug and Poincare and Einstein convinced us that we must believe that there is nothing under the rug. Intoxicated by all our fantastic accomplishments since Newton, it is human nature to avoid dwelling on dead-end issues. So, as smart as we all are, concepts of motion have remained in a state similar to the vitalistic theories of life that flourished in the past. 'Things move.' 'Mass has inertia.' 'Like begets like.' The idea that physics can get along without a fixed reference frame is utter nonsense from an informational viewpoint. It does not matter how brilliant and convenient the theory of relativity is or how many experiments validate its formulas. It is our collective misfortune that, until recently, no one has ever had any competent idea of what an informational point of view is."

- Edward Fredkin (1934 - )
Introduction to Digital Philosophy

Monday, February 15, 2021

Space


 "We do not know space.
We do not see it,
we do not hear it,
we do not feel it.
We are standing in
the middle of it,
we ourselves are
part of it,
but we know
nothing about it."

M. C. Escher (1898 - 1972)

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Mythology


"That it doesn’t strike us at all when we look around us, move about in space, feel our own bodies, etc. etc., shows how natural these things are to us. We do not notice that we see space perspectivally or that our visual field is in some sense blurred towards the edges. It doesn’t strike us and never can strike us because it is the way we perceive. We never give it a thought and it’s impossible we should, since there is nothing that contrasts with the form of our world.What I wanted to say is it’s strange that those who ascribe reality only to things and not to our ideas move about so unquestioningly in the world as idea and never long to escape from it.
...
An entire mythology is
stored within our language."

- Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889 - 1951)

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Temporality #3


 "No permanence is ours;
we are a wave
That flows to fit
whatever form it finds"

- Hermann Hesse (1877 - 1962)
The Glass Bead Game

Postscript. One last "improvisation" on finding ways to render the ephemeral beauty that lives and dwells in flame (as described in Temporality #1) before I move on to other images and musings. The base images in this example are selected from the same set I used for my earlier examples (i.e., roughly 100 or so macros of flame, exposed between 1/2000th and 1/5000th sec). Also, just as in the last example (Temporality #2), each panel of the triptych is effectively an average (in terms of luminance) of three separate images. But this time, I loosened the constraint that individual photographs must retain their original orientation. I've written a short Mathematica program that automates the process of assembling triptychs of luminance-averaged layers, wherein each image either remains "as is" (i.e., in its original upright position), is reflected horizontally or vertically (as in a mirror), or is reflected both horizontally and vertically. Of course, this vastly increases the set of randomly assembled images. Assuming 100 "base" images - i.e., original flame macros - a 3 panel assembly consisting of 3 layered base images, each of which can assume any of four orientations, leads to over 50 million! combinations! But, while this makes it difficult, if not impossible, to sample even a small fraction of the "abstract triptych space," it can also yield striking images that would otherwise likely remain unknown. Of course, there are myriad associated aesthetic, conceptual, and philosophical depths that can be mined here (e.g., "What does the space of all possible 'creative' excursions from a starting set of images even look like?" - echoes of Stuart Kauffman's space of the "Adjacent Possible"), but I best end the discussion here, and let the lone exemplar above speak of what lives in that unimaginably larger universe of latent realities.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Temporality #2


"But what about "time"? After all it is not a bundle in which past, future and present are wrapped up together. Time is not a cage in which the "no longer now," the "not yet now," and the "now" are cooped up together. How do matters stand with "time"? They stand thus: time goes. And it goes in that it passes away. The passing of time is, of course, a coming, but a coming which goes, in passing away. What comes in time never comes to stay, but to go. What comes in time always bears beforehand the mark of going past and passing away. This is why everything temporal is regarded simply as what is transitory."

- Martin Heidegger (1889 - 1976)
What is Called Thinking?

Postscript. A lesson my dad (an artist, who passed away a much too long 19 years ago) implicitly drilled in to me - oh, ever so gently, as it was simply a way of life with him; something he did as instinctually as most people breathe - was the importance of constant play and experimentation (something I've underscored before in another context). As I wrote a few days ago, I am "revisiting" - and rediscovering - the ephemeral beauty that lives and dwells in flame. And so, in the spirit of my dad's freewheeling jazz-like improvisation, I've been toying with alternative ways of "seeing" - after the fact - more deeply into what only my lens can see when the flame I am pointing my camera at is alive. My first stab (as shown in an earlier post) was to use triptychs to emphasize the "dance" within the flame; the preliminary fruits of which have already spawned a small portfolio (with more to follow). An example of an "improvised" second take on this idea is shown above. It is still a triptych, but here each frame merges three separate images, captured in rapid succession during a given sequence (individual images are still exposed between 1/2000th and 1/5000th sec). The implied enfolding makes the flame look even more organic and alive! Perhaps - with a nod to Goethe, who famously described architecture as "frozen music" - I ought to call these ethereal moments frozen fire.

Tuesday, February 09, 2021

Miniature Universe


"All the matter of the world that surrounds us, the food that we eat, the water that we drink, the air that we breathe, the stones that our houses are built of, our own bodies — everything is permeated by all the matters that exist in the universe. There is no need to study or investigate the sun in order to discover the matter of the solar world; this matter exists in ourselves and is the result of the division of our atoms. In the same way we have in us the matter of all other worlds. Man is, in the full sense of the term, a 'miniature universe'; in him are all the matters of which the universe consists; the same forces, the same laws that govern the life of the universe, operate in him; therefore in studying man we can study the whole world, just as in studying the world we can study man."

P. D. Ouspensky (1878 - 1947)

Monday, February 08, 2021

Temporality


"The moment is that ambiguity in which time and eternity touch each other, and with this the concept of temporality is posited, whereby time constantly intersects eternity and eternity constantly pervades time. As a result, the above-mentioned division acquires its significance: the present time, the past time, the future time.
...
A moment as such is unique. To be sure, it is short and temporal, as the moment is; it is passing, as the moment is, past, as the moment is in the next moment, and yet it is decisive, and yet it is filled with the eternal. A moment such as this must have a special name. Let us call it: the fullness of time.
...
The fullness of time is the moment as the eternal, and yet this eternal is also the future and the past. If attention is not paid to this, not a single concept can be saved from a heretical and treasonable admixture that annihilates the concept."

- Søren Kierkegaard (1813 -1855)

Postscript. What you are looking at are three closeups of a small flame (less than a few inches in height) captured at about 1/3000th of a sec. While I have toyed with "abstract flames" many years ago (e.g., see here), those earlier experiments used fairly large open flames; such as when my family I would gather around our backyard firepit after an autumn barbecue. This new series (that I've only just started playing with) is decidedly different. I still use a "firepit," but one that is only 5 inch wide! The beauty of the minimalist "ephemeral sculptures" - that dance so elegantly to and fro - is mesmerizing! Part of the appeal is undeniably philosophical: these sculptures live far too briefly to be visible while "alive"; their presence may be felt only long after they have ceased to be. Testaments to both temporality and the fullness of time.

Sunday, February 07, 2021

Beyond One's Reach


"What is frequently appreciated
in many so-called symbols
is exactly their vagueness,
their openness,
their fruitful ineffectiveness
to express a 'final' meaning,
so that with symbols
and by symbols one
indicates what is always
beyond one's reach."

- Umberto Eco (1932 - 2016)
Semiotics and the Philosophy of Language

Saturday, February 06, 2021

Imagination Itself


"The tree which moves
some to tears of joy
is in the eyes of others
only a green thing
that stands in the way.
Some see nature all
ridicule and deformity...
and some scarce see
nature at all.
But to the eyes of
the man of imagination,
nature is imagination itself."

- William Blake (1757 - 1827)

Friday, February 05, 2021

Just Sitting


"Thoughts well up in our
mind moment by moment.
But we refrain from doing
anything with our thoughts.
We just let everything come
up freely and go away freely.
We don’t grasp anything.
We don’t try to control anything.
We just sit."

John Daido Loori (1931 - 2009)
 The Art of Just Sitting

Monday, February 01, 2021

Edge of Chaos


"Complex systems have evolved which may have learned to balance divergence and convergence, so that they're poised between chaos and order ... It's precisely those systems that can simultaneously perform the most complex tasks and evolve, in the sense that they can accumulate successive useful variations. The very ability to adapt is itself, I believe, the consequence of evolution. You have to be a certain kind of complex system to adapt, and you have to be a certain kind of complex system to coevolve with other complex systems. We have to understand what it means for complex systems to come to know one another — in the sense that when complex systems coevolve, each sets the conditions of success for the others. I suspect that there are emergent laws about how such complex systems work, so that, in a global, Gaia-like way, complex coevolving systems mutually get themselves to the edge of chaos, where they're poised in a balanced state."

- Stuart Kauffman (1939 - )

Saturday, January 30, 2021

Touchstones and Palimpsests


"We’re so caught up in our everyday lives that events of the past, like ancient stars that have burned out, are no longer in orbit around our minds. There are just too many things we have to think about every day, too many new things we have to learn. New styles, new information, new technology, new terminology … But still, no matter how much time passes, no matter what takes place in the interim, there are some things we can never assign to oblivion, memories we can never rub away. They remain with us forever, like a touchstone."

- Haruki Murakami (1949 - )
Kafka on the Shore

The panels of this triptych are "digital double exposures" of images taken at two very different times and places: the foreground consists of photographs of reeds in a pond and a tree basking in a warm sun one autumn day in 2003 at one of my favorite little parks near where my mom used to live on Long Island (before passing away in 2017); the background consists of splotches of paint I found on an old tire that was bobbing up and down in the Port of Piraeus in Athens, Greece in the summer of 2008 as my wife and I were waiting for a boat-ride to Santorini. The fusion of images serves as both touchstone and palimpsest, tinged with melancholy and hope. Melancholy, because ever since my mom's passing, the little park has become less a place to visit, and more a ghostly memory of times past; and the Athenian splotches of paint serve only to strengthen my wife's and my own longing for trips to "faraway places" that - before the pandemic - we used to take for granted. And hope, because though such memories of times and places are indeed ghostly, they also point to happy experiences yet to arrive. Memories fade, but meaning only deepens.   

"It is as if the Caru'ee were able
to perceive an echo of the past,
and unconsciously, as they built
upon a palimpsest of books written
long ago and long forgotten,
chanced to stumble upon an essence
of meaning that could not be lost,
no matter how much
time had passed." 

Ken Liu (1976 - )
The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories