Saturday, November 27, 2021

Constructions in 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)

Friday, November 26, 2021

Vuja de

"The hallmark of originality is rejecting the default and exploring whether a better option exists. I’ve spent more than a decade studying this, and it turns out to be far less difficult than I expected. The starting point is curiosity: pondering why the default exists in the first place. We’re driven to question defaults when we experience vuja de, the opposite of déjà vu. Déjà vu occurs when we encounter something new, but it feels as if we’ve seen it before. Vuja de is the reverse—we face something familiar, but we see it with a fresh perspective that enables us to gain new insights into old problems. "

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Unfathomable Mystery

"In the universe there is an un-measurable, indescribable force which sorcerers call intent, and absolutely everything that exists in the entire cosmos is attached to intent by a connecting link. Sorcerers, or warriors, were concerned with discussing, understanding, and employing that connecting link...Sorcerers, therefore, divide their instruction into two categories; one is for everyday-life state of awareness, the other is for the states of heightened awareness, in which sorcerers obtained knowledge directly from intent, without the distracting intervention of spoken language.
... that a warrior, aware of the unfathomable mystery that surrounds him and aware of his duty to try to unravel it, takes his rightful place among mysteries and regards himself as one. Consequently, for a warrior there is no end to the mystery of being, whether being means being a pebble, or an ant, or oneself. That is a warrior's humbleness. One is equal to everything.
The world is incomprehensible.
We won’t ever understand it;
we won’t ever unravel its secrets.
Thus we must treat the world as it is:
a sheer mystery."

Carlos Castaneda (1925 - 1998)

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

An Illusion, a Phantom, or a Dream

“So I say to you –
This is how to contemplate our
conditioned existence in this fleeting world:
'Like a tiny drop of dew,
or a bubble floating in a stream;
Like a flash of lightning
in a summer cloud,
Or a flickering lamp, an illusion,
a phantom, or a dream.'
'So is all conditioned
existence to be seen.'
Thus spoke Buddha."

- Diamond Sutra (c.858)

Monday, November 22, 2021

Macro and the Micro

"It is all very beautiful and magical here - a quality which cannot be described. You have to live it and breathe it, let the sun bake it into you. The skies and land are so enormous, and the detail so precise and exquisite that wherever you are you are isolated in a glowing world between the macro and the micro, where everything is sidewise under you and over you, and the clocks stopped long ago."

- Ansel Adams (1902 - 1984)
Letter to Alfred Stieglitz

Postscript. The purest simplest joy of life is life itself: living, being, breathing, seeing, feeling, sharing, ... But there are preternaturally precious moments when the experience is so all-consuming and so far transcends what words alone are incapable of revealing (though the wisest among us are sometimes able, in Zen-like fashion, to capture glimpses of the deepest truths), that one is simply lost in the Einsteinian awe of it all ("I have nothing but awe when I observe the laws of nature," as quoted in Einstein and the Poet). For me, this happens (alas, far less frequently than I wish) when I become "lost" amidst the "macro and the micro"; when otherwise arbitrary language-driven distinctions among trees and forest and leaves and space and time ... all dissolve and become one and inseparable. A feeling that seems to be also shared by my eldest son, Noah, who is seen here contemplating his own universe of mysteries by the side of a small footpath he and I took this weekend in a local park:

Sunday, November 21, 2021

This Place is a Dream

"This place is a dream.
Only a sleeper considers it real.
A man goes to sleep in the town
where he has always lived,
and he dreams he's living
in another town.
In the dream, he doesn't remember
the town he's sleeping in his bed in.
He believes the reality of the dream town.
The world is that kind of sleep.
We began as a mineral.
We emerged into plant life
and into animal state,
and then into being human,
and always we have
forgotten our former states,
except in early spring when we
slightly recall being green again.
That's how a young person turns
toward a teacher. That's how a baby leans
toward the breast, without knowing the secret
of its desire, yet turning instinctively.

Humankind is being led along an evolving course,
through this migration of intelligences,
and though we seem to be sleeping,
there is an inner wakefulness
that directs the dream,

and that will eventually startle us back
to the truth of who we are."

Rumi (1207 - 1273)

Postscript. The triptych consists of three "quick grabs" with my iPhone during the trip my family and I took to the Pacific Northwest this past summer (e.g., see this blog entry). The left- and right-most images show the play of sunlight (reflected off the door of our car) with the pavement as we were going to breakfast one day in Sequim, WA. The middle panel shows a similar play of light (this time reflected off a kettle on our stove) with the stucco walls of the kitchen in the cabin we rented in the northern cascades. Most of my photography is quasi-deliberate, by which I mean that most of my images arise during planned "expeditions" (such as to a local park, or hikes on a family vacation 😊 using my "real" camera. But some of my favorite images - such the ones in this triptych - are captured purely by happenstance, and when my conscious "attention" lies elsewhere (such as on, say, getting breakfast at a restaurant or the first sip of coffee in the morning). Of course, any distinctions I may choose to draw among these various states of being and attention are, of course, at best illusory, and, at worst, utterly meaningless. Even as my "eye" looks toward the path to a restaurant or at the handle of a coffee kettle, my "I" never ceases to revel at the magic of light, color and form that surrounds us in each moment in time and space!

Saturday, November 20, 2021

Timeless Way of Building

"...towns and buildings will not be able to become alive, unless they are made by all the people in society, and unless these people share a com­mon pattern language, within which to make these buildings, and unless this common pattern language is alive itself. 
The elements of this language are entities called pat­terns. Each pattern describes a problem which occurs over and over again in our environment, and then describes the core of the solution to that problem, in such a way that you can use this solution a million times over, without ever doing it the same way twice.
No pattern is an isolated entity. Each pattern can exist in the world, only to the extent that is sup­ported by other patterns: the larger patterns in which it is embedded, the patterns of the same size that surround it, and the smaller patterns which are embedded in it. This is a fundamental view of the world. It says that when you build a thing you cannot merely build that thing in isolation, but must also repair the world around it, and within it, so that the larger world at that one place becomes more coherent, and more whole; and the thing which you make takes its place in the web of na­ture, as you make it.
The Timeless Way of Building says that every society which is alive and whole, will have its own unique and distinct pattern language; and further, that every in­dividual in such a society will have a unique language, shared in part, but which as a totality is unique to the mind of the person who has it. In this sense, in a healthy society there will be as many pattern languages as there are people-even though these languages are shared and similar.

Since the language is
in truth a network,
there is no one sequence
which perfectly captures it."

Thursday, November 18, 2021

Heaven and Earth

"'I lack nothing, I tell you!'
'Nothing?' I asked.
'Not even heaven?'
He lowered his head and was silent.
But after a moment:
'Heaven is too high for me. 
The earth is good,
exceptionally good–and near me!'
'Nothing is nearer to us than heaven.
The earth is beneath our feet
and we tread upon it,
but heaven is within us.'"

- Nikos Kazantzakis (1883 - 1957)

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Unheard Music

"There are mornings when, from the first ray of light seized upon by the eye, and the first simple sounds that get inside the head, the heart is convinced that it is existing in rhythm to a kind of unheard music, familiar but forgotten because long ago it was interrupted and only now has suddenly resumed playing. The silent melodies pass through the fabric of the consciousness like the wind through the meshes of a net, without moving it, but at the same time unmistakably there, all around it. For one who has never lived such a morning, its advent can be a paralyzing experience."

- Paul Bowles (1910 - 1999)
The Spider's House

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Why is the sky blue?

"[Why is the sky blue?] ... It’s a question every toddler asks, but it is also one that most great scientists since the time of Aristotle, including da Vinci, Newton, Kepler, Descartes, Euler, and even Einstein, have asked... One of the things I like most about this explanation—beyond the simplicity and overtness of the question itself—is how long it took to arrive at correctly, how many centuries of effort, and how many branches of science it involves.

Aristotle is the first, so far as we know, to ask the question about why the sky is blue, in the treatise On Colors; his answer is that the air close at hand is clear and the deep air of the sky is blue the same way a thin layer of water is clear but a deep well of water looks black. This idea was still being echoed in the 13th century by Roger Bacon. Kepler too reinvented a similar explanation, arguing that the air merely looks colorless because the tint of its color is so faint when in a thin layer. But none of them offered an explanation for the blueness of the atmosphere. So the question actually has two, related parts: why the sky has any color, and why it has a blue color.
The sky is blue because the incident light interacts with the gas molecules in the air in such as fashion that more of the light in the blue part of the spectrum is scattered, reaching our eyes on the surface of the planet. All the frequencies of the incident light can be scattered this way, but the high-frequency (short wavelength) blue is scattered more than the lower frequencies in a process known as Rayleigh scattering, described in the 1870’s. John William Strutt, Lord Rayleigh, who also won the Nobel Prize in physics in 1904 for the discovery of argon, demonstrated that, when the wavelength of the light is on the same order as the size of the gas molecules, the intensity of scattered light varies inversely with the fourth power of its wavelength. Shorter wavelengths like blue (and violet) are scattered more than longer ones. It’s as if all the molecules in the air preferentially glow blue, which is what we then see everywhere around us.

Yet, the sky should appear violet since violet light is scattered even more than blue light. But the sky does not appear violet to us because of the final, biological part of the puzzle, which is the way our eyes are designed: they are more sensitive to blue than violet light.

The explanation for why the sky is blue involves so much of the natural sciences: the colors within the visual spectrum, the wave nature of light, the angle at which sunlight hits the atmosphere, the mathematics of scattering, the size of nitrogen and oxygen molecules, and even the way human eyes perceive color. It’s most of science in a question that a young child can ask."

- Nicholas Christakis (1962 - )
This Explains Everything (John Brockman, ed., 2013)

Monday, November 15, 2021

The Brown Autumn Came

"The brown autumn came. Out of doors, it brought to the fields the prodigality of the golden harvest, —to the forest, revelations of light,⁠—and to the sky, the sharp air, the morning mist, the red clouds at evening. Within doors, the sense of seclusion, the stillness of closed and curtained windows, musings by the fireside, books, friends, conversation, and the long, meditative evenings. To the farmer, it brought surcease of toil,⁠—to the scholar, that sweet delirium of the brain which changes toil to pleasure. It brought the wild duck back to the reedy marshes of the south; it brought the wild song back to the fervid brain of the poet. Without, the village street was paved with gold; the river ran red with the reflection of the leaves. Within, the faces of friends brightened the gloomy walls; the returning footsteps of the long-absent gladdened the threshold; and all the sweet amenities of social life again resumed their interrupted reign."

- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807 - 1882)

Sunday, November 14, 2021

Hatching of Self

"As an object prone to fertilization, the egg is an appropriate symbol and metaphor for the idea of potentiality. It is pre-creation chaos waiting to become cosmos. In psychological terms, it is the preconsciousness of the given culture – the collective being waiting to be made conscious of itself. To quote psychologist Marie Louise von Franz, 'we can easily recognize in it the motif of preconscious totality. It is psychic wholeness conceived as the thing which came before the rise of ego consciousness, or any kind of dividing consciousness'. In short, the egg is a symbol of pre-differentiation, differentiation being the essence of the creation of anything. The egg contains within itself male and female, light and dark, all opposites in a state of union. It is perfect entropy and signals the existence of creative power from the very beginning. By extension, the cosmic egg is a symbol of the individual’s preconscious state before the process of individuation allows for the hatching of Self."

Friday, November 12, 2021

A Moment or Two to Just Be

"While I sit here, I don’t beg to be somewhere else; I’m not pulled away by the future or by the past. I sit here, and know where I am. This is very important. We tend to be alive in the future, not now. We say, ‘Wait until I finish school and get my PhD; then I’ll really be living.’ Once we have it – and it wasn’t easy to get – we say to ourselves, ‘I have to wait until I have a job for my life to really begin.’ Then after the job a car, and after a car a house. We aren’t capable of being alive in the present moment. We tend to postpone being alive to the future, the distant future, we don’t know when. It’s as if now is not the moment to be alive. We may never be alive at all in our entire life. The only moment to be alive is in the present moment."

- Thich Nhat Hanh (1926 - )

Postscript. The picture above was captured not with my "real" camera but with my iPhone, whose ability to capture scenes such as this continues to impress. I was on a short "day job" related trip to the beautiful town of Newport, RI, and had a few precious moments of magic hour light at the Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge (just a few miles from the center of town). I was initially despondent over having not taken my real camera (and rationalized the "complexities" of mixing business with pleasure; what, with a laptop and pounds of technical notes already stuffed into my carry-on). I then got even more melancholy over having neglected to take my other "real" camera that I bought specifically for this purpose (an absurdly tiny but equally as absurdly capable digital camera I wrote about earlier this spring). But then I remembered Thich Nhat Hanh's sage advice (quoted above). Stilling my mind as best I could, and clutching my iPhone, I managed to find a moment or two to just be

Monday, November 08, 2021

A Little Round Grain of Rock

"I perceived that I was on a little round grain of rock and metal, filmed with water and with air, whirling in sunlight and darkness. And on the skin of that little grain all the swarms of men, generation by generation, had lived in labour and blindness, with intermittent joy and intermittent lucidity of spirit. And all their history, with its folk-wanderings, its empires, its philosophies, its proud sciences, its social revolutions, its increasing hunger for community, was but a flicker in one day of the lives of the stars."

- Olaf Stapledon (1886 - 1950)
Star Maker

Sunday, November 07, 2021

Symbols, Signs, and Time

"We are living in a culture entirely hypnotized by the illusion of time, in which the so-called present moment is felt as nothing but an infinitesimal hairline between an all-powerfully causative past and an absorbingly important future. We have no present. Our consciousness is almost completely preoccupied with memory and expectation. We do not realize that there never was, is, nor will be any other experience than present experience. We are therefore out of touch with reality. We confuse the world as talked about, described, and measured with the world which actually is. We are sick with a fascination for the useful tools of names and numbers, of symbols, signs, conceptions and ideas."

- Alan Watts (1915 - 1973)

Saturday, November 06, 2021

Universal Patterns

"Every unique thing in nature is related to the whole, and partakes of the perfection of the whole. Each particle is a microcosm, and faithfully renders the likeness of the world. In geometric harmony of the cosmos there are ways that resemble, there are universal patterns, from blood vessels, to winter trees or to a river delta, from nautilus shell to spiral galaxy, from neurons in the brain to the cosmic web. A whole universe of connections is in your mind – a universe within a universe – and one capable of reaching out to the other that gave rise to it. Billions of neurons touching billions of stars – surely spiritual."

- Alejandro Mos Riera (1978 - )

Friday, November 05, 2021

Two Worlds

"There are only two worlds - your world, which is the real world, and other worlds, the fantasy. Worlds like this are worlds of the human imagination: their reality, or lack of reality, is not important. What is important is that they are there. These worlds provide an alternative. Provide an escape. Provide a threat. Provide a dream, and power; provide refuge, and pain. They give your world meaning. They do not exist; and thus they are all that matters."

- Neil Gaiman (1960 - )
The Books of Magic

Postscript. This is a different view (or diptych-ed views) of the same Rocky Brooks Falls (near Dosewallips State Park, on the part of the Olympic Peninsula that faces the Hood Canal in Washington state) I uploaded a different picture of a few months ago. While, as I described in that earlier blog post, the falls themselves are almost embarrassingly easy to get to (since they are less than a 1/4 mile away from a small parking area), maneuvering in and around the falls in hopes of finding a better composition than the obligatory "Here is what my wide angle lens can capture!" is difficult; well, at least it's difficult for a 60yo with 59 years or so of wear and tear on the knees :) With the help of one of my sons (who was kind enough to act as a carry mule for my camera bag and tripod), I managed to catch either one or two non-obligatory shots (depending on how you slice the diptych) from a point well in front of the main falls (from which the bottom-most part of the falls is invisible). I think that while each "part" works well on its own, as an image, they are self-contained enough that the diptych adds a bit of contextual "interest." The relatively small area into which these falls descend has the remarkable property that just about any spot one stands on seemingly offers a veritable infinity of "different" compositions. Though it is, in truth, far more typical than not for photographers to feel this way about any spot (!), I have found this particular waterfall to be blessedly infused with this magical property more so than most. Despite having already taken close to a hundred different shots during our two trips (thus far), I am already looking forward to my next visit :)

Wednesday, November 03, 2021

Optimal Experience


"The theory of optimal experience is based on the concept of flow—the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.
When people reflect on how it feels when their experience is most positive, they mention at least one, and often all, of the following. First, the experience usually occurs when we confront tasks we have a chance of completing. Second, we must be able to concentrate on what we are doing. Third and fourth, the concentration is usually possible because the task undertaken has clear goals and provides immediate feedback. Fifth, one acts with a deep but effortless involvement that removes from awareness the worries and frustrations of everyday life. Sixth, enjoyable experiences allow people to exercise a sense of control over their actions. Seventh, concern for the self disappears, yet paradoxically the sense of self emerges stronger after the flow experience is over. Finally, the sense of the duration of time is altered; hours pass by in minutes, and minutes can stretch out to seem like hours. The combination of all these elements causes a sense of deep enjoyment that is so rewarding people feel that expending a great deal of energy is worthwhile simply to be able to feel it.
The key element of an optimal experience
is that it is an end in itself."

- Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (1934 - 2021)
Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience

Postscript. Sadly, the deeply inspirational Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi passed away on Oct 20, 2021. He joins an (equally sadly) growing number of spiritual/aesthetic mentors of mine that I have never had the pleasure of meeting in person (the last such being John Daido Loori, who passed away in 2009). I have written of applying Csikszentmihalyi's "flow" to photography a number of years ago on this blog (almost exactly 13 years ago, to be precise), but the wisdom and insights he leaves behind are of course timeless. Here is a link to a great TED talk that Csikszentmihalyi gave in 2004. May your soul forever revel in eternal flow, Mihaly! 

Tuesday, November 02, 2021

Wu Wei

"When we learn to work with our own Inner Nature, and with the natural laws operating around us, we reach the level of Wu Wei. Then we work with the natural order of things and operate on the principle of minimal effort. Since the natural world follows that principle, it does not make mistakes. Mistakes are made–or imagined–by man, the creature with the overloaded Brain who separates himself from the supporting network of natural laws by interfering and trying too hard.

When you work with Wu Wei, you put the round peg in the round hole and the square peg in the square hole. No stress, no struggle. Egotistical Desire tries to force the round peg into the square hole and the square peg into the round hole. Cleverness tries to devise craftier ways of making pegs fit where they don’t belong. Knowledge tries to figure out why round pegs fit into round holes, but not square holes. Wu Wei doesn’t try. It doesn’t think about it. It just does it. And when it does, it doesn’t appear to do much of anything. But Things Get Done.

When you work with Wu Wei, you have no real accidents. Things may get a little Odd at times, but they work out. You don’t have to try very hard to make them work out; you just let them ... If you’re in tune with The Way Things Work, then they work the way they need to, no matter what you may think about it at the time. Later on you can look back and say, "Oh, now I understand. That had to happen so that those could happen, and those had to happen in order for this to happen…" Then you realize that even if you’d tried to make it all turn out perfectly, you couldn’t have done better, and if you’d really tried, you would have made a mess of the whole thing.

Using Wu Wei, you go by circumstances and listen to your own intuition. "This isn’t the best time to do this. I’d better go that way." Like that. When you do that sort of thing, people may say you have a Sixth Sense or something. All it really is, though, is being Sensitive to Circumstances. That’s just natural. It’s only strange when you don’t listen."

- Benjamin Hoff (1946 - )
The Tao of Pooh