Monday, April 18, 2022

Communicating the Joys of Doing Photography

“A great photograph is one that fully expresses
what one feels, in the deepest sense,
about what is being photographed.”
- Ansel Adams (1902 - 1984)

To my ever-patient readers, I will dispense with my usual (and likely tiresome) "excuses" for yet another prolonged period of inactivity on my blog. Suffice to say, that photography is something I am able to pursue only as time - i.e., "day job" constraints - allow; and to which I look forward to soon returning. But this is not to say that the pleasures of photography are ever far from my mind (or soul); even as the making of photographs goes through the inevitable crests and troughs of daily realities. It is in this spirit that I offer not one of my own recent photographs (since there are none I dare share), but instead introduce - and provide links to - a few prodigiously talented YouTube photographers/storytellers that I'm sure my kind readers would enjoy spending some quality time with. By "talented," I mean that these photographers are not just gifted artists (something that is immediately obvious by looking at their online portfolios), but that they all possess a preternatural gift of (seemingly effortlessly) conveying the joy of doing photography through visual narrative. As I wallow in my current state of creative non-being, I have repeatedly turned to these "YouTubers" for inspiration, solace, and the simple pure pleasure of immersing myself in beautiful imagery. (To be clear: though I sense a deep creative kinship with each of these storytellers, I do not know nor have I ever met any of them, except through the videos and portfolios they post online.)

So, who are these magnificent "aesthetic storytellers"? I follow about a dozen or so photographers on YouTube (and there are certainly many more that deserve attention), but the ones whose channels I go back to again and again - and why I always smile when my iPhone notifies me that a new video has been posted - are: Henry TurnerThomas HeatonNigel Danson, Simon Booth, and Gary Gough

First and foremost, these are all magnificent photographers, in the purest sense of the word; i.e., if they did nothing but stare into a camera each week and pull up whatever new images they produced since their last video, it would still be a privilege to view. But each of them does so much more (as explained below). Overall, their channels are mostly landscape oriented (which is easy to understand, since they all live in the U.K. and are within easy reach of the Lake District, the Scottish Highlands and the Isle of Skye, among other spectacular places), but it would be foolish to blindly categorize the imagery that any of these photographers produce as "just landscapes," for their artistic sensibilities and repertoires run considerably deeper.

"Photography for me is not looking, it's feeling.
If you can't feel what you're looking at,
then you're never going to get others to
feel anything when they look at your pictures."
- Don McCullin (1935 - ) 

Turner, who is my favorite (for reasons I'll immediately explain), has a bit less experience than some of the others in this esteemed group (Turner posted his first video only four years ago, while Heaton's first is seven years old and Gough's eight), but - my oh my - what a God-given gift Turner has to inspire even time- and weather-beaten old photographers such as myself (for whom straggling down a short slope at a local park to get to a "shot" depends more on the state of my 61yo knees than how good the shot is that I think I might get!). Turner's joy of photography - his utter delight in just being out and about in nature, hiking, exploring, doing photography (or, sometimes, just looking, with his camera still in the bag) - infuses each and every frame of the videos he posts. He comes across as a genuinely unassuming, humble and creative soul; his instinctive reaction to beauty appears deeply visceral (on at least one occasion, I recall seeing him shed a tear because of what he was "seeing"). His infectious enthusiasm for being/reveling in nature is utterly mesmerizing and intoxicating (in a good way)! I challenge you to watch any of Henry's videos without discovering a smile on your face, and finding yourself in a relaxed, meditative state of mind after seeing his trademark signoff - "Out!" - at the end. Turner is an impassioned, sometimes humorously self-deprecating, master photographer and storyteller; and his stunning videos are experiential wonders. A few of my favorites are: Isle-of-Sky, Stop complaining about the conditions, and What landscape photography gives.

Heaton is the first "YouTuber" I became a devoted follower of a few years ago, and - as is true for the others in this group - I rarely miss any of his episodes. He is both a consummate photographer and an experienced, and creative, YouTuber. Indeed, I am often left in awe at the care he takes in putting together and editing his videos. All are masterful, and are a treat to experience. His 2021 two-part series recounting his north-to-south hike on Scotland's Isle-of-Skye (part 1 and part 2) is one of my personal favorites. Heaton is as comfortable - and gifted at - capturing "Wagnerian" epic like vistas, the likes of which most of us will never get to see (simply because we lack the will or stamina, or both, to trek up some mountainside hours before a glorious sunrise reveals itself at its peak!), as he is at finding quiet abstract compositions of nothing but sand on some otherwise nondescript beach.

"Great photography is about depth of feeling, not depth of field."
- Peter Adams

Danson, who started his channel about five years ago, has a quiet and inviting demeanor. The relaxing tone of his voice and cadence gently lulls you into a creatively receptive state of mind, as he explores the practice and philosophy of what it means to "do photography." Endearingly, he is often accompanied on his "adventures" by his adorable English Springer Spaniel, Pebbles. (Equally endearing, at least to me, is that Danson and I share a love of physics: Danson's Ph.D. is in optics, mine is in complex systems.) While Danson is a superlative all-around landscape photographer (and founded the World Landscape Photographer competition in 2020), his work with trees is among the most accomplished I've ever seen. A few favorites: woodland photography, trees of scotland, and woodland photography tips.

Simon Booth, whose channel I have only recently "discovered" (but who has been uploading video content for five years), is both a landscape and wildlife photographer with over 30 years experience. Like Danson, he a scientist; specifically, an ecologist. His research interests often play an integral part in his adventures, as he uses his scientific knowledge to help guide his aesthetic choices. Dedicated viewers of his channel learn as much about the flora and fauna of the places he saunters in as they do about the creative process. His graceful unassuming manner belies a keen eye for composition. If ever there was a photographer who can find a photograph where others see nothing - with the magical ability to transform (what to most people's eyes, even to other photographer's eyes, is) an "uninteresting" leaf or fungus into an otherworldly, exquisitely beautiful image - it is Simon. He is a master of turning the "ordinary" into the extraordinary! A few of my favorite Simon Booth videos are: hidden gems, summer photography, and looking beyond the obvious.

"Don’t shoot what it looks like.
Shoot what it feels like."
- David Alan Harvey (1944 - )

Gough is a landscape, commercial, wedding, and portrait photographer, though his YouTube channel is focused mainly on landscape. What I love about Gough's videos is an amalgam of what I admire about what all five of my favorite YouTube photographers do so well. He is a talented artist, unassuming and unarrogant, knowledgeable about the art and craft of photography, takes his work seriously but not always himself doing it, and is a wonderful story teller. Gough is also a dedicated experimentalist, by which I mean that he often injects an element of "play" into his photography; such as when he recently challenged a $20 (old, old, so very old) camera to taking long exposures, combined wide-angle and telephotos shots of a railroad track and train into a single image, and discussed shooting landscapes in poor light. Gary's channel also include wonderful video tutorials on myriad specific topics; watching them is akin to being part of a master workshop (albeit, remotely, observing and learning, but - alas - unable to interact; and Gary's cheerful and inviting "video personality" certainly makes one want to engage with on a personal level). 

It is often said (as evidenced by the quotes above) that what distinguishes a "fine art" photographer from someone who merely takes "snapshots" is (in part) the ability to create an image that shows the viewer not just the "thing" or "place" the photographer was looking at, but to convey what the photographer experienced, emotionally (even spiritually) while engaged in the creative process that led to capturing the image. Each of the YouTubers introduced above shines in this regard! They all have a gift for story telling and for expressing their obvious love of being out in nature and capturing its beauty. YouTube may even be the perfect medium for communicating what it feels like to do photography, since it directly shows the photographer in his or her element; provided, of course, that there is something worth communicating, and that the photographer is skilled in doing so. YouTube provides a powerful new channel through which a special group of artists - those who are skilled equally in image making and storytelling - can engage with their followers; not by just showing them finished products of their work, but by taking viewers along with them on the walks (or hikes) the photographers themselves went on as they find and create their images. But you do not have to take my word that these five "photographer storytellers" are among the very best at communicating the joys of photography on their YouTube channels; just follow the links and enjoy the journey! 😊

Sunday, February 20, 2022

Web of Time

"This web of time, the
strands of which approach
one another, bifurcate,
intersect or ignore each
other through the centuries,
embraces every possibility.
We do not exist in most of them.
In some you exist and not I,
while in others I do,
and you do not"

Jorge Luis Borges (1899 - 1986)
"The Garden of Forking Paths" in Ficciones 

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Celestial Light

“Celestial light, shine inward...
that I may see and tell of things
invisible to mortal sight.”

- John Milton (1608 - 1674)

“When you touch the celestial in your heart,
you will realize that the beauty of your soul
is so pure, so vast and so devastating that
you have no option but to merge with it.
You have no option but to feel the rhythm
of the universe in the rhythm of your heart.”

- Amit Ray (1960 - )

Postscript. This is (for now) the last of my recent "celestial leaves" series. In the context of "creative process," I thought it worth mentioning how these images came to be. As with 90%+ of my photographs, very little forethought went into them; at least, initially. After picking up the Sunday paper from the bottom of our driveway, turning and heading back to the house, I noticed a small shriveled leaf - perhaps two inches long or so (and that I couldn't immediately identify) - lying just off to the side of our walkway. I was mesmerized by its delicately translucent veins and patterns. The weathered leaf had clearly been "sitting" around for quite some time, as evidenced by its many rips and tears, and splotches of dirt and fungus. Still, in my mind's eye, it was radiantly beautiful. I knew instinctively that I needed to try to capture its essence. I had "pictured" it almost exactly as shown above (in what is effectively a digital negative, to highlight its luminescent quality), and as each of the other recent images appear. Despite a valiant effort to find similar-looking "dilapidated leaves" (including a 2 hour dedicated mini-hike around the woodlands in our neighborhood!), I managed to find only three others; which my wife finally identified as belonging to a simple hosta bush. But the real story as far as the "creative process" goes is just this: that one's muse prods when she will, on her own schedule; and that we must always be attuned to our muse's musings. I had nary a thought to whip out my macro lens to take still-lifes of dilapidated leaves this past Sunday morning; heck, I strolled out for the paper even before my first coffee! But that numinous little "celestial leaf" that I noticed by chance (or, better, that my muse's own eye wisely led me to) eventually - and happily - consumed my creative energies for days afterward 😊

Monday, February 14, 2022

Living Centers

"What is the life that we discern in things?"

"Each of us has an eternal self—a best self—an “I” that goes beyond what we normally see. This is what allows us to contact the 'living centers' in ourselves, in others, and in spaces that come alive for us. This field of centers, that appears in things, people, events, places shows us our interconnectedness…and can be called God or Spirit manifest. Everything we do and make, then, is a gift to IT. Good things grow and unfold out of our understood wholeness."

Christopher Alexander (1936 - )
The Nature of Order: Luminous Ground

Sunday, February 13, 2022

Cosmic Tree

"The alchemist saw the union of opposites under the symbol of the tree, and it is therefore not surprising that the unconscious of present-day man, who no longer feels at home in his world and can base his existence neither on the past that is no more nor on the future that is yet to be, should hark back to the symbol of the cosmic tree rooted in this world and growing up to heaven - the tree that is also man. In the history of symbols this tree is described as the way of life itself, a growing into that which eternally is and does not change; which springs from the union of opposites and, by its eternal presence, also makes that union possible. It seems as if it were only through an experience of symbolic reality that man, vainly seeking his own “existence” and making a philosophy out of it, can find his way back to a world in which he is no longer a stranger."

C. G. Jung (1875-1961)
Psychological Types

Saturday, February 12, 2022

Nothing is Dead

"Millions of years ago,
there was blackness,
pure and beautiful Nothing.
There was no thing in it,
no star, no wind,
no light, no word,
no broken heart.

But a time came when perfect,
restful Nothing was to vanish
forever. Something was
about to be.

Suddenly, there it was.
Something, all alone, king
of everything. Killer
of ancient, beautiful
Nothing. There was
a silence.

...till Nothing screamed
a death scream and
that scream is still screaming,
an expanding ring into the
universe that will never end.

Nothing is dead…"

- Joseph Pintauro (1930 - 2018)
To Believe in Things

Friday, February 11, 2022

Ethereal Being

"...this little hissing and buzzing
whirlwind, of wings of purple and
azure, in the midst of which floated
an elusive form veiled by the very
rapidity of its movement.

The ethereal being which took
shape confusedly through this
quivering of wings seemed to you
chimerical, imaginary, impossible
to touch, impossible to see.

But when at last the young lady
was resting at the tip of a reed
and you could examine,
holding your breath,
the long gauze wings,
the long enamel dress,
the two crystal globes,
what astonishment did
you not feel? "

Wednesday, February 09, 2022

We are Stories

"We are stories,
contained within the twenty
complicated centimeters
behind our eyes,
lines drawn by traces
left by the (re)mingling
together of things in the
world, and oriented toward
the direction of increasing
entropy, in a rather particular
corner of this immense,
chaotic universe."

Sunday, February 06, 2022

Cosmic Sea of Energy

"Space is not empty.
It is full, a plenum
as opposed to a vacuum,
and is the ground for
the existence of everything,
including ourselves.
The universe is not separate
from this cosmic sea
of energy.
Relativity and quantum theory agree, in that they both imply the need to look on the world as an undivided whole, in which all parts of the universe, including the observer and his instruments, merge and unite in one totality. In this totality, the atomistic form of insight is a simplification and an abstraction, valid only in some limited context.
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)

Saturday, February 05, 2022

Mathematical Beauty

"The harmony of the
world is made manifest
in Form and Number,
and the heart and soul
and all the poetry of
Natural Philosophy are
embodied in the concept
of mathematical beauty."

- D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson (1860 - 1948)

Postscript. As may be the case with many of you, my day-job constraints leave me precious little time to devote to purely aesthetic pleasures (notwithstanding those that occasionally overlap with more mathematical pursuits). Sometimes, as now, even my weekend time is filled mostly with staring at gibberish on a computer screen, and pounding away at my keyboard to produce picture-less reams of technical reports (even as I day-dream of month-long photo-safaris in far-away lands). Thus, the short walks my wife and I take through our neighborhood after breakfast each day have become immeasurably important physical and spiritual oases for me. The simple pleasure of encountering beautifully haphazard arrangements of natural forms rejuvenates and nourishes my soul. The images in the triptych above were taken no more than a few minutes apart during a walk that itself lasted less than a half hour. But what a joy it is to stumble upon such humble transcendent beauty hiding in plain sight! The great polymath Thompson's book, On Growth and Form (the first edition of which came out in 1917, and which to this day remains an extraordinarily beautiful book to read) is essentially a 1100+ page erudite argument that biology can be reduced to mathematics (a sentiment that a much younger version of myself would have been happy to accept): "It behooves us always to remember that in physics it has taken great men to discover simple things. They are very great names indeed which we couple with the explanation of the path of a stone, the droop of a chain, the tints of a bubble, the shadows in a cup. It is but the slightest adumbration of a dynamical morphology that we can hope to have until the physicist and the mathematician shall have made these problems of ours their own." For those of you interested in exploring (taking a deep-dive, really, into) the broader entanglement of art and science, here are some slides I used for a 2017 presentation at a Humanities and Technology Association conference (held that year in Newport, RI). This lecture is one of three I've given in (relatively) recent years during which I wore both of my hats, as physicist and photographer. The other two lectures were given at the American Center for Physics (College Park, MD in 2009) and at the Morrison House (Alexandria, VA in 2011).

Sunday, January 30, 2022

New Riddles

"The modern world was not alive to the tremendous Reality that encompassed it. We were surrounded by an immeasurable abyss of darkness and splendor. We built our empires on a pellet of dust revolving around a ball of fire in unfathomable space. Life, that Sphynx, with the human face and the body of a brute, asked us new riddles every hour. Matter itself was dissolving under the scrutiny of Science; and yet, in our daily lives, we were becoming a race of somnambulists, whose very breathing, in train and bus and car, was timed to the movement of the wheels; and the more perfectly, and even alertly, we clicked through our automatic affairs on the surface of things, the more complete was our insensibility to the utterly inscrutable mystery that anything should be in existence at all."

- Alfred Noyes (1880 - 1958) 

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

An incandescent light, Extinguished

"Each morning when I wake up you offer me twenty-four brand new hours to cherish and enjoy your beauty. You gave birth to every miraculous form of life. Your children include the clear lake, the green pine, the pink cloud, the snowcapped mountain top, the fragrant forest, the white crane, the golden deer, the extraordinary caterpillar, and every brilliant mathematician, skilled artisan, and gifted architect. You are the greatest mathematician, the most accomplished artisan, and the most talented architect of all. The simple branch of cherry blossoms, the shell of a snail, and the wing of a bat all bear witness to this amazing truth. My deep wish is to live in such a way that I am awake to each of your wonders and nourished by your beauty. I cherish your precious creativity and I smile to this gift of life."

Thich Nhat Hanh (1926 - 2022)
Love Letter to Earth

Postscript. A bit over a dozen years ago I mourned the loss of Zen Buddhist roshi (and gifted photographer) John Daido Loori. I now mourn the passing of another Zen Buddhist master, Thich Nhat Hanh, whose physical pattern dissipated into the eternal mystery on Jan 22, 2022. Thây (as he was known by his followers, which is Vietnamese for teacher), may not have been a photographer, but he radiated an incandescent light of such spiritual intensity that no camera was ever needed.

"We have a lamp inside us. The oil of the lamp is our breathing, our steps, and our peaceful smile. Our practice is to light the lamp." - Thich Nhat Hanh

Sunday, January 23, 2022

Fragmentated Wholes

"As has been seen, fragmentation originates in essence in the fixing of the insights forming our overall self-world view, which follows on our generally mechanical, routinized, and habitual modes of thought about these matters. Because the primary reality goes beyond anything that can be contained in such fixed forms of measure, these insights must eventually cease to be adequate, and will thus give rise to various forms of unclarity or confusion. However, when the whole field of measure is open to original and creative insight, without any fixed limits or barriers, then our overall world views will cease to be rigid, and the whole field of measure will come into harmony, as fragmentation within it comes to an end. But original and creative insight within the whole field of measure is the action of the immeasurable. For when such insight occurs, the source cannot be within ideas already contained in the field of measure but rather has to be in the immeasurable, which contains the essential formative cause of all that happens in the field of measure. The measurable and the immeasurable are then in harmony and indeed one sees that they are both ways of considering the one and undivided whole."

David Bohm (1917 - 1992)
Wholeness and the Implicate Order

Saturday, January 22, 2022

Harmonious Unit in Itself

"There is not a
fragment in all nature,
for every relative fragment
of one thing is a full
harmonious unit in itself."

John Muir (1838 - 1914)

Friday, January 21, 2022

Kandinskian Cacophonies - Part II

"It seems to me that we live in two worlds... there is this physical one, which is coherent, and there is the spiritual one, which to the average man with his flashes of religious experience, is very often incoherent. This experience of having two worlds to live in all the time, or not all the time, is a vital one, and is what living is like."

-  William Golding (1911 - 1993)

Postscript. Regular followers of my blog will have noticed by now my recent focus on "leaves in ice"  abstract-like compositions. Of course, most of this has to do with the fact that the seasonal weather (in northern VA) has just not allowed any other kind of photography. But another important reason is that the morning walks my wife and I have been regularly taking through our neighborhood since the start of the (seemingly, never ending) pandemic have over time uncovered a kind of aesthetic bestiary that I've learned to both appreciate and revel in. Quiet little scenes that would normally be "invisible" (literally, since there are parts of our neighborhood I've rarely been in before we started our walks) have gradually revealed themselves - and their compositional possibilities - to me; microcosms of an ethereal beauty all their own. I hesitated taking "real" photographs for a long while (apart from a few quick snapshots with my iPhone). While the natural galleries of haphazardly arranged Kandinskian forms and colors  mesmerized and fascinated me (and, obviously, have continued to do so), I was unsure of my ability to find compositions in such "busy and confusing" cacophonous worlds. But after each walk ended, and my work day got started, I soon noticed myself thinking more and more about lost opportunities. And so, eventually, inevitably, I succumbed to the creative process. I embraced the cacophony. These kinds of compositions - in which multiple elements (mostly form and color; less so, luminance) compete for attention - have never come easily to me, but when they work, they are very satisfying 😊. This is also one of those times that I especially miss my dad, the artist, without whom - and without whose aesthetic sage wisdom - I have now been for 20 years (as of this March). His eye for these kinds of compositions was second to none, with perhaps Kandinsky being the sole exception (and to whose art the New York Times once traced my dad's aesthetic lineage).

Thursday, January 20, 2022

Kandinskian Delights

"In nature nothing is perfect and everything is perfect."

- Alice Walker (1944 - )

"There is no scientific discoverer, no poet, no painter, no musician, who will not tell you that he found ready made his discovery or poem or picture—that it came to him from outside, and that he did not consciously create it from within."

- William Kingdon Clifford (1845 - 1879)

Postscript. There is a small swale (the depression is no more than 6 feet by 10) in the front yard of one of our neighbors that inevitably traps a pool of water after a rain. And whenever a rainfall is followed by a night with sufficiently-less-then-freezing temperatures this "depression with water" turns into a veritable paradise of Kandinskian-composition-like delights! Camera-in-hand (whenever I remember to take it!), I always eagerly rush over to this humble aesthetic oasis as my wife and I set out on our morning walk through our neighborhood. And it never disappoints. Always, there are compositions galore! Quiet unassuming harmonies of contrasting shapes and colors; which for me is what the best (certainly, the most enjoyable spur-of-the-moment) photography is all about 😊

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Nature's Simplicity

"I should like to propose that we look at this element of freshness, of newness, of strangeness, as a thread along which to place the activities of the consciously creative artist, the conscious patron and critic of the creative artist, and the common man — common in the sense that he has no specified part in creation or criticism. If we make one criterion for defining the artist (as distinct from the craftsman and the trained but routine performer of dance, drama, or music) the impulse to make something new, or to do something in a new way — a kind of divine discontent with all that has gone before, however good — then we can find such artists at every level of human culture, even when performing acts of great simplicity."

 - Margaret Mead (1901 - 1978)

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Early Morning Walk

"An early morning walk is
a blessing for the whole day."

Henry David Thoreau (1817 - 1862)

"None of your knowledge, your reading, your connections will be of any use here: two legs suffice, and big eyes to see with. Walk alone, across mountains or through forests. You are nobody to the hills or the thick boughs heavy with greenery. You are no longer a role, or a status, not even an individual, but a body, a body that feels sharp stones on the paths, the caress of long grass and the freshness of the wind. When you walk, the world has neither present nor future: nothing but the cycle of mornings and evenings. Always the same thing to do all day: walk. But the walker who marvels while walking (the blue of the rocks in a July evening light, the silvery green of olive leaves at noon, the violet morning hills) has no past, no plans, no experience. He has within him the eternal child. While walking I am but a simple gaze."

- Frédéric Gros (1965 - )
 A Philosophy of Walking

Sunday, January 16, 2022

Janusian Creativity

"There are two schools of thought on defining creativity: divergent thinking, which is the formation of a creative idea resulting from generating lots of ideas, and a Janusian approach, which is the act of making links between two remote ideas. The latter takes its name from the two-faced Roman god of beginnings, Janus, who was associated with doorways and the idea of looking forward and backward at the same time. Janusian creativity hinges on the belief that the best ideas come from linking things that previously did not seem linkable. Henri Poincaré, a French mathematician, put it this way: ‘To create consists of making new combinations. … The most fertile will often be those formed of elements drawn from domains which are far apart.’"

- Ainissa Ramirez (1969 - )

Postscript. I have written before about my lifelong penchant for sometimes seeing things not so much visually (at least, at first), but as free-form assemblages of rapid-fire associations and memories that percolate up from my unconscious. A recent example was when an obscure (and certainly not consciously retrievable) passage from a novel by Vonnegut I last read about 30 years ago made my head swivel to look at an equally obscure stain on a piece of driftwood. A similar experience made me look at what in "reality" is nothing but leaves entangled in a bit of ice, but which I "saw" as a melodic string that went, "Janus, Kandinsky, and Yin|Yang." This is close to literal truth. My brain was reacting to this string of associations before I consciously "recognized" what my eye/brain/I was actually looking at! These experiences are far from unique for me, but sadly do not appear very often. But when they do... Ahh, pure magic and joy; a Janusian creative moment, one might say 😊 

Saturday, January 15, 2022

Signs of Nature

"Morphology rests on the conviction that everything that exists must signify and reveal itself. From the first physical and chemical elements to the spiritual expression of man we find this principle to hold. We turn immediately to that which has form. The inorganic, the vegetative, the animal, the human. Each one signifies itself, each one appears as what it is to our external and our internal sense. Form is something changeable, something becoming, something passing. The doctrine of metamorphosis is the key to all of the signs of nature."

Friday, January 14, 2022


"On one thing most physicists agree. If the amount of dark energy in our universe were only a little bit different than what it actually is, then life could never have emerged. A little larger, and the universe would have accelerated so rapidly that matter in the young universe could never have pulled itself together to form stars and hence complex atoms made in stars. And, going into negative values of dark energy, a little smaller and the universe would have decelerated so rapidly that it would have recollapsed before there was time to form even the simplest atoms. Out of all the possible amounts of dark energy that our universe might have, the actual amount lies in the tiny sliver of the range that allows life. As before, one is compelled to ask the question: Why does such fine-tuning occur?"

Postscript. And so, we have a repeat of the "apology" I made a bit over a week ago, after posting a "poor quality" iPhone image captured while out on my morning walk with my wife. But I continue to be mesmerized by the (unfortunately, dwindling number of) ice abstracts our walks sometimes reveal. This one is from this morning. And, as before, I am looking forward to resuming an earnest search for "otherworldly vistas" (with "real" camera in hand) tomorrow, as some cold weather is again predicted over the next few days. Stay tuned 🙂

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Invisible Links

"In my youth I regarded the universe as an open book, printed in the language of physical equations, whereas now it appears to me as a text written in invisible ink, of which in our rare moments of grace we are able to decipher a small fragment.

Einstein’s space is no closer to reality than Van Gogh’s sky. The glory of science is not in a truth more absolute than the truth of Bach or Tolstoy, but in the act of creation itself. The scientist’s discoveries impose his own order on chaos, as the composer or painter imposes his; an order that always refers to limited aspects of reality, and is based on the observer's frame of reference, which differs from period to period as a Rembrandt nude differs from a nude by Manet.
The moment of truth, the sudden emergence of new insight, is an act of intuition. Such intuitions give the appearance of miraculous flashes, or short circuits of reasoning. In fact they may be likened to an immersed chain, of which only the beginning and the end are visible above the surface of consciousness. The diver vanishes at one end of the chain and comes up at the other end, guided by invisible links."

Arthur Koestler (1905 - 1983)

Monday, January 10, 2022

Different Schemes and Patterns

"It would be a very naive sort of dogmatism to assume that there exists an absolute reality of things which is the same for all living beings. Reality is not a unique and homogeneous thing; it is immensely diversified, having as many different schemes and patterns as there are different organisms. Every organism is, so to speak, a monadic being. It has a world of its own because it has an experience of its own. The phenomena that we find in the life of a certain biological species are not transferable to any other species. The experiences - and therefore the realities - of two different organisms are incommensurable with one another. In the world of a fly, says Uexkull, we find only "fly things"; in the world of a sea urchin we find only "sea urchin things."

Ernst Cassirer (1874 - 1945)
An Essay on Man

Sunday, January 09, 2022

Ceaselessly Creative

"The past three centuries of science have been predominantly reductionist, attempting to break complex systems into simple parts, and those parts, in turn, into simpler parts. The reductionist program has been spectacularly successful, and will continue to be so. But it has often left a vacuum: How do we use the information gleaned about the parts to build up a theory of the whole? The deep difficulty here lies in the fact that the complex whole may exhibit properties that are not readily explained by understanding the parts. The complex whole, in a completely nonmystical sense, can often exhibit collective properties, “emergent” features that are lawful in their own right.
This web of life,
 the most complex system
we know of in the universe,
breaks no law of physics,
yet is partially lawless,
ceaselessly creative."

Stuart Kauffman (1939 - )

Saturday, January 08, 2022

Nonlinear, Experiential, and Receptive

"The creative process,
like a spiritual journey,
is intuitive, non-linear,
and experiential.
It points us toward
our essential nature,
which is a reflection of
the boundless creativity
of the universe.
To be still means to
empty yourself from the
incessant flow of thoughts
and create a state of
consciousness that is
open and receptive."

John Daido Loori (1931 - 2009)

Postscript. My postscript to a blog entry I published a few days ago ("...Another Order") included an "apology" from me for the poor quality of the image I posted, which I made with an iPhone on a morning walk. I also said that I was looking forward to going out with my "real camera" on the weekend to hunt for "ice abstracts" (cold weather permitting). Well, today was the day. Our local forecast had overnight lows in the low 20s (F). So our younger son (Josh, the photographer), my wife and I all eagerly woke up early, warmed ourselves with a bit of coffee and breakfast, and drove to a nearby lake park. As Josh and I both bolted out the van with our cameras and ran to the water, our smiles immediately vanished. No ice! Or at least none of the symphony of abstract swirls and curlicues we both anticipated spending the morning reveling and composing in. Naturally, we were crestfallen, and had a depressed notion to traipse back home and crawl back into our beds. Luckily, my wife, who joined us more for the adventure and some exercise, is also our Zen master. "Just enjoy what's here," she said, "Have a bit of fun!" So we did; and, my oh my, what fun we all had 😊 I am embarrassed to admit that, though I've experienced this exact scenario countless times (here is one from almost 15 years ago), the basic lesson has apparently never stuck: there are always unexpected opportunities and joys waiting for us, if only (as John Daido Loori reminds us) we are open and receptive to the boundless creativity of the universe. There may have been no real ice, but after slowing down and emptying ourselves of our "incessant flow of thoughts," Josh and I discovered a veritable paradise of tiny "icelet universes," some free-standing, others entwined with small leaves, rocks, and twigs. Though these icelets were few in number, and some were so small that only Josh (who presciently attached a macro lens to his camera before leaving the house) was able to find workable compositions, we all felt like privileged visitors to a magnificent living museum of fleeting wonders. And so, bowing to my Zen master's sage wisdom, an early morning "disappointment" was quietly transformed into a stunningly joyous experience filled with the simplest pleasures of life: family, nature, and a total "loss of self" in the creative process. 

Josh and me "merrily composing whatever morsels of icelets we could find" (captured by my wife).

Friday, January 07, 2022

Wiggly Order

"When you look at the clouds they are not symmetrical. They do not form fours and they do not come along in cubes, but you know at once that they are not a mess...They are wiggly but in a way, orderly, although it is difficult for us to describe that kind of order. Now, take a look at yourselves. You are all wiggly...We are just like clouds, rocks and stars. Look at the way the stars are arranged. Do you criticize the way the stars are arranged?"

Alan Watts (1915 - 1973)
The Tao of Philosophy 

Wednesday, January 05, 2022

Being, Meaning, and Another Order

"Each person is at each moment capable of remembering all that has ever happened to him and of perceiving everything that is happening everywhere in the universe. The function of the brain and nervous system is to protect us from being overwhelmed and confused by this mass of largely useless and irrelevant knowledge, by shutting out most of what we should otherwise perceive or remember at any moment, and leaving only that very small and special selection which is likely to be practically useful.

The really important facts were that spatial relationships had ceased to matter very much and that my mind was perceiving the world in terms of other than spatial categories. At ordinary times the eye concerns itself with such problems as where? — how far? — how situated in relation to what? In the mescaline experience the implied questions to which the eye responds are of another order. Place and distance cease to be of much interest. The mind does its perceiving in terms of intensity of existence, profundity of significance, relationships within a pattern.
"Space was still there; but it had lost its predominance. The mind was primarily concerned, not with measures and locations, but with being and meaning."

Aldous Huxley (1894 - 1963)

Postscript. My apologies for the poor quality of this image, but it was captured with a shivering cold hand tapping on an even colder iPhone while out on my morning walk with my wife (these now routine walks have been a very generous "gift" of our pandemic-ridden times). I had a thought to run back into the house to get one of my "real" cameras, but my brain and legs were colder still and simply refused to budge. Searching for otherworldly vistas in ice forms is one of my favorite pastimes in the winter, but I've had precious few days in which to do so (as yet, in northern VA). While work week constraints prevent me from truly indulging myself, the promise of some continued cold weather has me eagerly looking forward to continuing my search for "otherworldly vistas" this weekend!

Tuesday, January 04, 2022

Embodied Network

"We’re all—trees, humans, insects, birds, bacteria—pluralities. Life is embodied network. These living networks are not places of omnibenevolent Oneness. Instead, they are where ecological and evolutionary tensions between cooperation and conflict are negotiated and resolved. These struggles often result not in the evolution of stronger, more disconnected selves but in the dissolution of the self into relationship. Because life is network, there is no 'nature' or 'environment,' separate and apart from humans. We are part of the community of life, composed of relationships with “others,” so the human/nature duality that lives near the heart of many philosophies is, from a biological perspective, illusory."

- David George Haskell (1969 - )
The Songs of Trees