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


"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


 "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


"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


"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 and 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 - )