Saturday, June 10, 2023

Sparks of Ephemeral Unrealities

"Gaze upon the triptych, a cryptic labyrinth from Point Lobos,
Where the past is the future in a dance never-ceasing.
Waves shatter against stoic stone, immortalizing ephemeral.
It's not a mirror of the world as is,
But a mirror of the world
as it can be imagined to be.

Three panels like the infinite rooms of Babel's library,
Each a moment, a universe, within and outside of time.
The eternal tide, a metaphysical echo, a Zahir in the mind,
A testament to reality's nonlinear discourse,
Each snapshot, a universe, an
aleph of unending possibilities.

A dance of ideas, where the sea isn't merely sea,
A reality refracted, multiplied, eternally forking paths.
In the serene mirror of the triptych, we are the dreamt,
Drawing the depths of existence, asking,
"Who dreams the dreamer?"
Behold, we are all, the other,
in this world as it can be imagined to be."

- ChatGPT (30 Nov 2022 - )
Sparks of Artificial General Intelligence

Prompt = "You are a photographer, poet and philosopher, with a penchant for metaphysics and stories by Jorge Luis Borges. You have stitched together a triptych of long exposure images taken at sunset at Point Lobos, California. Write a prose poem in the style of Borges that describes the mystery this triptych is meant to evoke in a viewers mind's eye. Limit the number of stanzas to three, with 5 lines each. Be creative."

Sunday, June 04, 2023

Cosmic Observer

"In quantum mechanics...
an observation here and now changes in
 general the ‘state’ of the observed system...
I consider the unpredictable change
 of the state by a single observation...
to be an abandonment of the idea of
 the isolation of the observer from the
 course of physical events outside himself."

Niels Bohr (1885 - 1962)

"The cosmos is within us.
We are made of star-stuff.
We are a way for the
universe to know itself."

Carl Sagan (1934 - 1996)

Saturday, June 03, 2023

Coastal Forms

"Then in my thoughts these shores, so different in their nature and in the inhabitants they support, are made one by the unifying touch of the sea. For the differences I sense in this particular instant of time that is mine are but the differences of a moment, determined by our place in the stream of time and in the long rhythms of the sea. Once this rocky coast beneath me was a plain of sand; then the sea rose and found a new shore line. And again in some shadowy future the surf will have ground these rocks to sand and will have returned the coast to its earlier state. And so in my mind’s eye these coastal forms merge and blend in a shifting, kaleidoscopic pattern in which there is no finality, no ultimate and fixed reality — earth becoming fluid as the sea itself."

Rachel Carson (1907 - 1964)

Friday, June 02, 2023

Neither Time nor Space

"The scene of action of reality is not a three-dimensional Euclidean space but rather a four-dimensional world, in which space and time are linked together indissolubly. However deep the chasm may be that separates the intuitive nature of space from that of time in our experience, nothing of this qualitative difference enters into the objective world which physics endeavors to crystallize out of direct experience. It is a four-dimensional continuum, which is neither "time" nor "space". Only the consciousness that passes on in one portion of this world experiences the detached piece which comes to meet it and passes behind it as history, that is, as a process that is going forward in time and takes place in space."

- Hermann Weyl (1885 - 1955)

Thursday, June 01, 2023

Looking at Things

"If we are always arriving and departing, it
is also true that we are eternally anchored.
One's destination is never a place but
rather a new way of looking at things.
You will then be ready to undergo initiation: an ordeal imposed by the Brotherhood of Fools and Simpletons. Three questions will be put to you. Just three. The first: 'How would you order the world if you were given the powers of the creator?' the second: 'What is it you desire that you do not already possess?' The third: 'Say something that will truly astonish us!' If you answer these satisfactorily you are then to return to your birthplace, sit quietly with hands folded, and meditate on the needs of all God's creatures... When you know what it is they need... you are to report back to the Brotherhood and dissolve the order.
Whoever uses the spirit that
is in him creatively is an artist.
To make living itself an art,
that is the goal."

- Henry Miller (1891 - 1980)
Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch

Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Singing Elephants

"Treading delicately during one of the loudest bursts of music he at last saw through the flowery branches a black something. Standing still whenever it stopped singing, and advancing with great caution whenever it began again, he stalked it for ten minutes. At last it was in full view, and singing, and ignorant that it was watched... the mouth wide open as it sang of joy in thick-coming trills, and the music almost visibly rippled in its glossy throat. He stared in wonder at the wide liquid eyes and the quivering, sensitive nostrils. Then the creature stopped, saw him, and darted away, and stood, now a few paces distant, on all four legs, not much smaller than a young elephant, swaying a long bushy tail... [there was no] fear. When he called to it it came nearer. It put its velvet nose into his hand and endured his touch; but almost at once it darted back and, bending its long neck, buried its head in its paws. He could make no headway with it, and when at length it retreated out of sight he did not follow it. To do so would have seemed an injury to its fawn-like shyness, to the yielding softness of its expression, its evident wish to be for ever a sound and only a sound in the thickest centre of untravelled woods. He resumed his journey: a few seconds later the song broke out behind him, louder and lovelier than before, as if in a paean of rejoicing at its recovered privacy."

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Subtle Interconnections

"Living things (…) present situations in which a half-dozen, or even several dozen quantities are all varying simultaneously, and in subtly interconnected ways. Often they present situations in which the essentially important quantities are either non-quantitative, or have at any rate eluded identification or measurement up to the moment. Thus biological (…) problems often involve the consideration of a most complexly organized whole.
The essence of science is not to be found in its outward appearance, in its physical manifestations; it is to be found in its inner spirit. That austere but exciting technique of inquiry known as the scientific method is what is important about science. This scientific method requires of its practitioners high standards of personal honest, open-mindedness, focused vision, and love of the truth. These are solid virtues, but science has no exclusive lien on them. The poet has these virtues also, and often turns them to higher uses.
If science deals with quantitative problems of a purely logical character, if science has no recognition of or concern for value or purpose, how can modern scientific man achieve a balanced and good life, in which logic is the companion of beauty, and efficiency is the partner of virtue?"

- Warren Weaver (1894 - 1978)
Science and complexity

Monday, May 29, 2023

Limits of the Possible

"A wise man once said that all human activity is a form of play. And the highest form of play is the search for Truth, Beauty and Love. What more is needed? Should there be a ‘meaning’ as well, that will be a bonus? If we waste time looking for life’s meaning, we may have no time to live — or to play.
"It is a good principle in science not to believe any 'fact' - however well attested - until it fits into some accepted frame of reference. Occasionally, of course, an observation can shatter the frame and force the construction of a new one, but that is extremely rare. Galileos and Einsteins seldom appear more than once per century, which is just as well for the equanimity of mankind.
1. When a distinguished but elderly scientist
states that something is possible,
he is almost certainly right.
When he states that something
is impossible, he is very probably wrong.

2. The only way of discovering the
limits of the possible is to venture a
little way past them into the impossible.

3. Any sufficiently advanced technology
is indistinguishable from magic."

Arthur C. Clarke (1917 - 2008)

Note. This is another one of a series of images I took with my iPhone during a trip my wife and I recently took to Monterey, CA. I had to resort to my iPhone because of an unfortunate "error" in judgement I made in packing my "minimal travel" photo gear for the trip. Thinking (correctly) that since my trip was ostensibly work-related and I had "only" a few days for our mini vacation, I (incorrectly) reasoned that I should only take an old camera and an even older (much older) lens. Well, the camera and lens both worked, separately, but - because of the age-mismatch - not together. So, for the first day, my photography consisted mostly of spraying iPhone shots at whatever my eye/I could find; things got a bit better the next day after B&H came through with an overnight delivery of a newer lens (I have no affiliation with B&H beyond simply being a long-time happy customer). While I soon put down my iPhone, I must confess that many of my favorite shots from this short trip - such as the one above of our younger son, Josh, musing on the marine life as it swam by in a large tank at the Monterey Bay aquarium - were taken with the iPhone.

Sunday, May 28, 2023

Doors and Landscapes

"With an emphasis on a conceptual rather than visual manifestation of nature, ancient shanshui aims to convey an experience of ‘being in nature’ rather than ‘seeing nature’. This being in nature is not about any singular experience of when and where man encounters nature, but a perpetual truth experienced by man in/with nature, namely, the wholeness and universality of the cosmic, laws and cycles in nature, and the integrative harmony between man and things. This can be best explained by comparing the sense of vastness in nature found in both Western landscape and ancient shanshui . In Western art, the cosmic sense in nature often evokes a sense of might, and even the destructive power, of nature. A moment prior to a thunderstorm, as described earlier in Ruisdael’s work, Turner’s images of snowstorm and shipwrecks, as well as Friedrich’s depiction of graveyards and the Sea of Ice, are all about the omnipotent power of nature, so much so that it can be lethal. In contrast to landscape painters of the West, ancient shanshui painters were not attracted to the unrelenting power of nature. This explains why images of natural disasters cannot be found in ancient shanshui . To ancient shanshui painters, their images visualize not the unusual but the common and perpetual sense of nature. They convey a message of a transcendental experience of being in/with nature."

Note. Like the image in yesterday's post (and perhaps like a few more to come) this one is a "quick grab" with my iPhone during a trip my wife and I recently took to Monterey, CA. "Objectively speaking," the image shows the central panel of an old dilapidated door that guards the entrance to a property on Ocean Avenue, Carmel, about a half mile or so from the beach. But, in my mind's eye, it is "really" an even more withered palimpsest of an ancient Chinese landscape. I have always been drawn to how Chinese landscapes lead you to gently experience the painting as a whole, rather than (as is more typical of Western art) to make you "see a subject." Apart from the academic paper I quoted from above, a wonderful book that explores the artistic and philosophical implications of this point of view is called The Great Image has no Form (by Francois Jullien, University of Chicago Press).

Saturday, May 27, 2023

Finite Worlds

"It is known that there are an infinite number of worlds, simply because there is an infinite amount of space for them to be in. However, not every one of them is inhabited. Therefore, there must be a finite number of inhabited worlds. Any finite number divided by infinity is as near to nothing as makes no odds, so the average population of all the planets in the Universe can be said to be zero. From this it follows that the population of the whole Universe is also zero, and that any people you may meet from time to time are merely the products of a deranged imagination."

Douglas Adams (1952 - 2001)
The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

Note. The image is a "quick grab" with my iPhone of some lights on the ceiling of the hotel my wife and I recently stayed at in Monterey, CA. A basic photography lesson I learned and embraced long ago (though occasionally still forget to apply; happily, not this time) is this: if you are in a "dull, dull, insufferably dull" place for image taking (or, at least, think you are - like standing around in a hotel lobby with nothing to do or to "look at"), just look up or down ... something is sure to catch your eye 🙂

Friday, May 26, 2023

Mysterious Worlds

"Much on earth is concealed from us, but in place of it we have been granted a secret, mysterious sense of our living bond with the other world, with the higher heavenly world, and the roots of our thoughts and feelings are not here but in other worlds. That is why philosophers say it is impossible on earth to conceive the essence of things. God took seeds from other worlds and sowed them on this earth, and raised up his garden; and everything that could sprout sprouted, but it lives and grows only through its sense of being in touch with other mysterious worlds; if this sense is weakened or destroyed in you, that which has grown up in you dies. Then you become indifferent to life, and even come to hate it."

Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821 - 1881)
Brothers Karamazov

Thursday, May 25, 2023

Talking to a Rock

"Hogen, a Chinese Zen teacher,
lived alone in a small temple in the country.
One day four traveling monks appeared
 and asked if they might make a fire
in his yard to warm themselves.

While they were building the fire,
Hogen heard them arguing about
subjectivity and objectivity.
He joined them and said:
'There is a big stone. Do you consider it
to be inside or outside your mind?'

One of the monks replied:
'From the Buddhist viewpoint everything
is an objectification of mind, so I would
say that the stone is inside my mind.'

'Your head must feel very heavy,' observed Hogen,
'if you are carrying around a stone like that in your mind.'"

- "The Stone Mind," Shaseki-shu (Collection of Stone and Sand)

"Yunyan asked a monk what he was doing.
The monk replied, 'I’ve been talking to a rock.'
Yunyan said, 'Did it nod to you (indicating that it understood you)?'
When the monk didn’t reply, Yunyan answered for him:
'It nodded to you before you even said anything.'"

- Yunyan Tansheng (780-841)

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Quiet Light II

"There is a quiet light that shines in every heart. It draws no attention to itself though it is always secretly there. It is what illuminates our minds to see beauty, our desire to seek possibility and our hearts to love life. Without this subtle quickening our days would be empty and wearisome, and no horizon would ever awaken our longing. Our passion for life is quietly sustained from somewhere in us that is wedded to the energy and excitement of life. This shy inner light is what enables us to recognize and receive our very presence here as blessing. We enter the world as strangers who all at once become heirs to a harvest of memory, spirit, and dream that has long preceded us and will now enfold, nourish, and sustain us. "

- John O'Donohue (1956 - 2008)
 To Bless the Space Between Us

Monday, May 22, 2023

Quiet Light

"It is light that reveals, light that obscures, light that communicates. It is light I 'listen' to. The light late in the day has a distinct quality, as it fades toward the darkness of evening. After sunset there is a gentle leaving of the light, the air begins to still, and a quiet descends. I see magic in the quiet light of dusk. I feel quiet, yet intense energy in the natural elements of our habitat. A sense of magic prevails. A sense of mystery. It is a time for contemplation, for listening - a time for making photographs."

- John Sexton (1953 - )

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Daliesque Dreams

 "One day it will have to
be officially admitted that
what we have christened reality
is an even greater illusion
than the world of dreams."

- Salvador Dali (1904 -1989)

Tuesday, May 09, 2023

To See Takes Time

"I made you take time to look at what I saw and when you took time to really notice my flower you hung all your associations with flowers on my flower and you write about my flower as if I think and see what you think and see--and I don't.
You paint from your subject, not what you see…I rarely paint anything I don’t know very well. It was surprising to me to see how many people separate the objective from the abstract. Objective painting is not good painting unless it is good in the abstract sense. A hill or tree cannot make a good painting just because it is a hill or a tree. It is lines and colors put together so that they say something. For me that is the very basis of painting. The abstraction is often the most definite form for the intangible thing in myself that I can only clarify in paint.
To see takes time, like to have a friend takes time."

-  Georgia O'Keeffe (1887 - 1986)

Monday, May 08, 2023

Enfolded Energy Fields

 "In all ages even among scientific men,
there can be discerned the urge to
apprehend the living form as such,
to grasp the connections of
their external visible parts; to
take them as intimations of inner
activity, and so to master, to some
degree, the whole in an intuition."

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749 - 1832)

Postscript. This image is of the garden peony that adorns the ground beneath our mail-box; more precisely, and paraphrasing Minor White, I should say that the image is what else the garden peony is. What you are "really" looking at is a digital-negative (i.e., wherein the white-to-black tonalities are reversed) of a zoomed-in portion of what started out being 1:1 macro shot of the folds-within-folds of petals inside a single peony flower. The distance from left to right is no more than about two inches. In my physicist's mind's eye, I see an undulating play of interpenetrating enfolded forms of some mysterious energy field; the same impression I get when gazing at Bruce Barnbaum's mesmerizing slit canyon abstracts. Images such as this also remind us that magical otherworldly realms are always near us, just waiting for our eye to discover.

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

A Garage, Brazil, and a Stieglitzian "Equivalent"

"Harry Tuttle: Harry Tuttle. Heating engineer. At your service.
Sam Lowry: Tuttle? Are you from Central Services? I called Central Services.
Harry Tuttle: Ha!
Sam Lowry: But... I called Central Services.
Harry Tuttle: They're a little overworked these days. Luckily I intercepted your call...Officially, only Central Service operatives are supposed to touch this stuff...
Sam Lowry: Sorry. Wouldn't it be easier just to work for Central Services?
Harry Tuttle: Couldn't stand the paperwork. Yes, there's more bits of paper in Central Services than bits of pipe read this, fill in that, hand in the other listen, this old system of yours could be on fire and I couldn't even turn on the kitchen tap without filling in a 27B/6...Bloody paperwork.
Sam Lowry: I suppose one has to expect a certain amount.
Harry Tuttle: Why? I came into this game for the action, the excitement. Go anywhere, travel light, get in, get out, wherever there's trouble, a man alone. Now they got the whole country sectioned off, you can't make a move without a form...Ah ha! Found it! There's your problem.
Sam Lowry: Can you fix it?
Harry Tuttle: No, I can't. But I can bypass it with one of these.
[Holds up a bizarre device]
Harry Tuttle: My good friends call me Harry."

- Brazil (1985),
 Screenplay by Terry Gilliam, Tom Stoppard & Charles McKeown

Postscript. I have written before about the mystery of what "sits behind" (and directs) the eye/I/camera to see and take a photograph; and about the equally mysterious joy of just going with the flow of it all. Why do some scenes/compositions attract our attention while we walk past others as if sleepwalking through a void? While it is easy to overthink (even obsess) about seeing, interpreting, and composing - which only disrupts the natural flow - indulging in an occasional self-reflection can also reveal a part of the creative process. In my case, I've always had a penchant for making split-second associations with something either imagined or recalled). What I don't know is whether my inner musings are synchronous-with, antecedent-of, or follow my photographer-self's gaze? I've no doubt experienced each of these variants countless times, but the question of what really happens remains a deep mystery to me. But I have also grown to savor this mystery whenever it presents itself, as it did this weekend, when my wife and I parked our car in a garage before going to see a play in Washington, DC. As I closed my door, and for whatever reason, the vista of pipes, lights, and soiled concrete that met my gaze conjured up a scene from the absurdist Monty-Pythonesque-movie "Brazil" wherein Robert De Niro (playing a character named "Harry Tuttle," who is part heating engineer and part special forces operative) breaks into the Sam Lowry's apartment (Sam is the "hero," played by Jonathan Pryce), and rips apart a section of Sam's wall to expose a bizarre mass of writhing, all-but-living, pipes and electrical conduits! So, there I stood transfixed beside our car, my mind a blank (with a silly grin on my face), mentally replaying what I could remember from this scene from Brazil. The image you see up above is my attempt at using my iPhone to record a Stieglitzian "equivalent" of what I was experiencing while gazing at the vista of pipes, lights, and soiled concrete in a Washington, DC garage 😊

Monday, April 24, 2023

A Universe Comes into Being

"A universe comes into being when a space is severed or taken apart. The skin of a living organism cuts off an outside from an inside. So does the circumference of a circle in a plane. By tracing the way we represent such a severance, we can begin to reconstruct, with an accuracy and coverage that appear almost uncanny, the basic forms underlying linguistic, mathematical, physical, and biological science, and can begin to see how the familiar laws of our own experience follow inexorably from the original act of severance. The act is itself already remembered, even if unconsciously, as our first attempt to distinguish different things in a world where, in the first place, the boundaries can be drawn anywhere we please. At this stage the universe cannot be distinguished from how we act upon it, and the world may seem like shifting sand beneath our feet.

Although all forms, and thus all universes, are possible, and any particular form is mutable, it becomes evident that the laws relating such forms are the same in any universe. It is this sameness, the idea that we can find a reality independent of how the universe actually appears, that lends such fascination to the study of mathematics. That mathematics, in common with other art forms, can lead us beyond ordinary existence, and can show us something of the structure in which all creation hangs together, is no new idea. But mathematical texts generally begin the story somewhere in the middle, leaving the reader to pick up the threads as best he can. Here is the story traced from the beginning."

G. Spencer Brown (1923 - 2016)
Laws Of Form 

Postscript. This simple "point and shoot" image (albeit with an assist from Photoshop's perspective-crop tool) was taken with my iPhone as my wife and I were waiting for yesterday's matinee of Les Mesirables to start at the Kenney Center in Washington, DC. I have been drawn to mirrors and reflections ever since my teenaged-self stumbled across their deep mysteries through Borges' stories. Objectively speaking, the image is composed of nothing but metal, glass, some branches and leaves, and just a hint of a massive chandelier hanging just inside the Kennedy Center. But, as all Borgesian souls know, this "objectively banal reality" is but a shadow of the dynamic undulating froth of invisible universes! The first step toward catching a glimpse of these other realities is - as G. Spencer Brown reminds us - to draw a subjective distinction.

Monday, March 27, 2023

Connection, Resemblance and Order

"The aspect of external nature, as it presents itself in its generality to thoughtful contemplation, is that of unity in diversity, and of connection, resemblance and order, among created things most dissimilar in their form; — one fair harmonious whole. To seize this unity and this harmony, amid such an immense assemblage of objects and forces — to embrace alike the discoveries of the earliest ages and those of our own time — and to analyse the details of phenomena without sinking under their mass — are efforts of human reason, in the path wherein it is given to man to press towards the full comprehension of nature, to unveil a portion of her secrets, and, by the force of thought, to subject, so to speak, to his intellectual dominion, the rough materials which he collects by observation."

Alexander von Humboldt (1769 - 1859)
Cosmos: A Sketch of the Physical Description of the Universe

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Serene Illumination

"Serene illumination, or just sitting, is not a technique, or a means to some resulting higher state of consciousness, or any particular state of being. Just sitting, one simply meets the immediate present. Desiring some flashy experience, or anything more or other than 'this' is mere worldly vanity and craving... Just sitting does not involve reaching some understanding. It is the subtle activity of allowing all things to be completely at rest just as they are, not poking one's head into the workings of the world."

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

Monday, March 06, 2023

Cartesian Fallacy

"The universe is wider than our views of it."

Henry David Thoreau (1817 - 1862)

"Logic does not lead us from the fact that we are an integral part of the web of life to certain norms of how we should live. However, if we have the deep ecological experience of being part of the web of life, then we will (as opposed to should) be inclined to care for all of living nature. Indeed, we can scarcely refrain from responding in this way. 

By calling the emerging new vision of reality 'ecological' in the sense of deep ecology, we emphasize that life is at its very center. This is an important issue for science, because in the mechanistic paradigm physics has been the model and source of metaphors for all other sciences. 'All philosophy is like a tree,' wrote Descartes. 'The roots are metaphysics, the trunk is physics, and the branches are all the other sciences.'

The systems view of life has overcome this Cartesian metaphor. Physics, together with chemistry, is essential to understand the behavior of the molecules in living cells, but it is not sufficient to describe their self-organizing patterns and processes. At the level of living systems, physics has thus lost its role as the science providing the most fundamental description of reality. This is still not generally recognized today. Scientists as well as nonscientists frequently retain the popular belief that 'if you really want to know the ultimate explanation, you have to ask a physicist,' which is clearly a Cartesian fallacy. The paradigm shift in science, at its deepest level, involves a perceptual shift from physics to the life sciences."

Fritjof Capra (1939 - ) and Pier Luigi Luisi (1938 - )
The Systems View of Life: A Unifying Vision

"Nature is an infinite sphere
whose center is everywhere and
whose circumference is nowhere."

Blaise Pascal (1623 - 1662)

Sunday, March 05, 2023

The Mind of Some Eternal Spirit

"When scientists study the world of phenomena, the shadows which nature throws onto the wall of our cave, they do not find these shadows totally unintelligible, and neither do they seem to represent unknown or unfamiliar objects. Rather, it seems to me, we can recognize chess players outside in the sunshine who appear to be very well acquainted with the rules of the game as we have formulated them in our cave. To drop our metaphor, nature seems very conversant with the rules of pure mathematics as our mathematicians have formulated them in their studies, out of their own inner consciousness and without drawing to any appreciable extent on their experience of the outer world.
And now it emerges that the shadow-play which we describe as the fall of an apple to the ground, the ebb and flow of the tides, the motion of electrons in the atom, are produced by actors who seem very conversant with these purely mathematical concepts-with our rules of our game of chess, which we formulated long before we discovered that the shadows on the wall were also playing chess.
When we try to discover the nature of the reality behind the shadows, we are confronted with the fact that all discussion of the ultimate nature of things must necessarily be barren unless we have some extraneous standards against which to compare them. For this reason, to borrow Locke's phrase, "the real essence of substances" is forever unknowable. We can only progress by discussing the laws which govern the changes of substances, and so produce the phenomena of the external world. These we can compare with the abstract creations of our own minds.
It does not matter whether objects 'exist in my mind, or that of any other created spirit' or not; their objectivity arises from their subsisting 'in the mind of some Eternal Spirit.'"

- Sir James Jeans (1877 - 1946)
The Mysterious Universe

Saturday, March 04, 2023

The Celestial Way

"So it is said, the life of the sage follows the celestial way, and in death he dissolves and merges with all things. In stillness he is at one with the virtue of yin; in movement he flows with yang. He does not bring fortune and does not cause misfortune. He only responds when external circumstances call for it. He only acts when pushed. He only rises up when there is no other alternative. He throws away the whys and wherefores, and follows the celestial way. Therefore, he does not meet with disaster. Nor is he burdened by material things. He is not slandered by people nor punished by the spirits. He floats with life and rests with death. He does not worry and does not scheme. He is like light that does not dazzle. Completely trustworthy, he does not need to make promises. His sleep is dreamless and his waking hours are free from worry. His spirit is pure and his soul is not tired. In emptiness, nothingness, and simplicity, he is in harmony with the celestial way."

Chuang Tzu (c.369 B.C. - c.286 B.C.)
Translation in Teachings of the Tao by Eva Wong

Friday, March 03, 2023

I Am

"Silent friend of many distances, feel
how your breath enlarges all of space.
Let your presence ring out like a bell
into the night. What feeds upon your face

grows mighty from the nourishment thus offered.
Move through transformation, out and in.
What is the deepest loss that you have suffered?
If drinking is bitter, change yourself to wine.

In this immeasurable darkness, be the power
that rounds your senses in their magic ring,
the sense of their mysterious encounter.

And if the earthly no longer knows your name,
whisper to the silent earth: I'm flowing.
To the flashing water say: I am.""

- Rainer Maria Rilke (1875 - 1926)
Translation by Stephen Mitchell (The Enlightened Heart)

Wednesday, March 01, 2023

Into Another Intensity

"Home is where one starts from. As we grow older
The world becomes stranger, the pattern more complicated
Of dead and living. Not the intense moment
Isolated, with no before and after,
But a lifetime burning in every moment
And not the lifetime of one man only
But of old stones that cannot be deciphered.
There is a time for the evening under starlight,
A time for the evening under lamplight
(The evening with the photograph album).
Love is most nearly itself
When here and now cease to matter.
Old men ought to be explorers
Here or there does not matter
We must be still and still moving
Into another intensity
For a further union, a deeper communion
Through the dark cold and the empty desolation,
The wave cry, the wind cry, the vast waters
Of the petrel and the porpoise. In my end is my beginning."

- T. S. Eliot (1888 - 1965)

Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Eternal Energy

"You, yourself, are the
eternal energy which
appears as this Universe.
You didn't come into this world;
you came out of it.
Like a wave from the ocean.
We are the eyes of the cosmos.
So that in a way, when you look
deeply into somebody's eyes,
you're looking deep into yourself,
 and the other person is looking
deeply into the same self."

Alan Watts (1915 - 1973)

Friday, February 24, 2023

Gentle Traces and Imprints

"The past I know is gone;
the present never lasts.
Time glides by without a trace.
Who can be wise in this constant flux?
I take each day as its own
sustaining myself until I’m released.
After so much wandering,
I have arrived here—
twenty years seen through a cloud."

- Taigu Ryokan (1758 - 1831)
The Kanshi Poem of Taigu Ryokan

Thursday, February 23, 2023

Tree Talk

"Whether we can somehow listen in on tree talk is a subject that was recently addressed in the specialized literature. Korean scientists have been tracking older women as they walk through forests and urban areas. The result? When the women were walking in the forest, their blood pressure, their lung capacity, and the elasticity of their arteries improved, whereas an excursion into town showed none of these changes. It's possible that phytoncides have a beneficial effect on our immune systems as well as the trees' health, because they kill germs. Personally, however, I think the swirling cocktail of tree talk is the reason we enjoy being out in the forest so much. At least when we are out in undisturbed forests.

Walkers who visit one of the ancient deciduous preserves in the forest I manage always report that their heart feels lighter and they feel right at home. If they walk instead through coniferous forests, which in Central Europe are mostly planted and are, therefore, more fragile, artificial places, they don't experience such feelings. Possibly it's because in ancient beech forests, fewer "alarm calls" go out, and therefore, most messages exchanged between trees are contented ones, and these messages reach our brains as well, via our noses. I am convinced that we intuitively register the forest's health."

- Peter Wohlleben (1964 - )
The Hidden Life of Trees

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Another World

[There is a...] "...long shamanic tradition wherein the shaman-storyteller himself is transformed, no longer storyteller but a character, an animal, a god, a goddess, or a natural force that is not his everyday identity. And these moments, when the characters come alive and the author disappears, take us into another world."

- Hal Zina Bennett (1936 - )
Spirit Circle: A Story of Adventure & Shamanic Revelation

Monday, February 20, 2023

Bound by Time-Space

"To look is important. We look to immediate things and out of immediate necessities to the future, coloured by the past. Our seeing is very limited and our eyes are accustomed to near things. Our look is as bound by time-space as our brain. We never look, we never see beyond this limitation; we do not know how to look through and beyond these fragmentary frontiers. But the eyes have to see beyond them, penetrating deeply and widely, without choosing, without shelter; they have to wander beyond man-made frontiers of ideas and values and to feel beyond love. Then there is a benediction which no god can give."

Jiddu Krishnamurti (1895 - 1986)

Friday, February 17, 2023

Memory is strange

"Memory is strange. Scientifically, it is not a mechanical means of repeating something. I can think a thousand times about when I broke my leg at the age of ten, but it is never the same thing which comes to mind when I think about it. My memory of this event has never been, in reality, anything except the memory of my last memory of that event. This is why I use the image of a palimpsest - something written over something partially erased - that is what memory is for me. It's not a film you play back in exactly the same way. It's like theater, with characters who appear from time to time."

 - Gore Vidal (1925 - 2012)

Thursday, February 16, 2023

What's a Photographer to Do Without a 'Real' Camera?

"The best camera is the one that's with you."
- Chase Jarvis (1971 - )

As I wrote about in my last blog post, my wife and I recently visited our youngest son in college. Since the trip was only for a few days (cross-country, no less: we live in northern Virginia, but our son's college is in California), and our ostensible purpose was to attend "Parent's Day," I reasoned - foolishly, as it turns out - that there would be zero time for "real photography" (meaning: photography with what I call my "real" camera). Note that I intend no disrespect either to my iPhone (which I always have with me) or to anyone who's "real camera" is an iPhone. The iPhone is a great photographic tool and is more than capable of capturing wonderful images! I use this phraseology only to convey a truth of my own reality: if I am without the camera(s) that I am usually armed with when I go on my photo safaris I somehow feel less than whole - disarmed, as it were - photographically speaking (which in hindsight of course is, again, rather foolish). Which is not to say that my "eye" is not constantly searching for something to photograph (even as the brain behind the eye laments not having my "real camera"). 

The (abstract) triptych above is an assembly of a few miscellaneous "shots" I took with my iPhone while waiting to board one of our planes. A few other "quick grabs" I managed to take during the trip included: (1) a shot of the ceiling at an American Airlines' Admirals Club (the "upside down" view of which I much prefer over the "straight" version) ...

(2) a shot of a chandelier at LAX ...

(3) a series of "fire abstracts" (captured while waiting for our dinner to arrive at a restaurant close to our son's college) ...

... and (4) - my personal favorite - a Wynn-Bullock-like "abstract energy-field" (that is really just a part of the tree ring structure I found in an old stump while hiking with my son in a local park):

So, what is a photographer to do without a "real" camera? Exactly what the photographer would have done with a real camera: look for pictures and capture them as best as possible given whatever camera happens to be with you 😊

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

Infinitely Visible World

"Close your eyes, prick your ears, and from the softest sound to the wildest noise, from the simplest tone to the highest harmony, from the most violent, passionate scream to the gentlest words of sweet reason, it is by Nature who speaks, revealing her being, her power, her life, and her relatedness so that a blind person, to whom the infinitely visible world is denied, can grasp an infinite vitality in what can be heard."

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749 - 1832)

Postscript. The picture above is of our youngest, Josh (the photographer), with whom my wife and I just had a brief weekend visit at his college in California. It was our first trip to his neck of the woods since dropping him off last August (although we did enjoy a few weeks together in our home in Virginia over the winter break). Since the book I was reading on the plane (well, re-reading for the second time) was Andrea Wulf's magisterial biography of Alexander von Humboldt, Goethe's quote that Wulf uses to set the stage for her book seems apropos. While Josh spent a fair amount of time happily composing away on a beach in Malibu, I managed to capture him contemplating the siren call of the "infinitely visible world" unfolding before his gaze, and enfolding him in its mystery. Not to be outdone, my wife captured me "capturing Josh contemplating the 'infinitely visible world'" 😊

Tuesday, February 07, 2023

One Model of Reality

"The world in which you were
born is just one model of reality.
Other cultures are not failed
attempts at being you; they
are unique manifestations
of the human spirit."

- Wade Davis (1953 - )

Saturday, February 04, 2023

Worlds Within Worlds

"It was from them [spiders] that I first learned of the intelligence that lurks in nonhuman nature, the ability that an alien form of sentience has to echo one’s own, to instill a reverberation in oneself that temporarily shatters habitual ways of seeing and feeling, leaving one open to a world all alive, awake, and aware. It was from such small beings that my senses first learned of the countless worlds within worlds that spin in the depths of this world that we commonly inhabit."

- David Abram (1957 - )
The Spell of the Sensuous

Postscript. The quote is from a remarkable book that has nourished my soul since I first read it in the mid 1990s (whose author, by coincidence, attended the same university as I did - Stony Brook, NY; I suspect we walked past each other a few times during our overlapping time there, though we graduated with very different degrees). It is part of a longer section in which Abrams describes an awe-inspiring encounter with a spider. Though spiders have no direct connection to the triptych above (which, for those of you wondering, is "just" a sequence of crepes that my wife prepared for our breakfast this morning), I had only last night started my 10th or 11th re-reading of Abrams' book, and had - by coincidence? - earmarked the page on which that wonderful combination of words "...worlds within worlds..." appears (page 19). Of course, while I almost certainly would have captured the same images whether or not I had been rereading Abrams' book the night before (since my eye is naturally tuned to seeing "ordinary-yet-not-ordinary" abstract patterns, I was instantly drawn to the crepes' tapestry of web-like forms), the serendipitous indirect enfolding of crepes and spiders brought an added joy to this morning's breakfast 🙂

Thursday, February 02, 2023

Photograph-Not-Taken, Taken

 "Without birth and death, and
without the perpetual transmutation
of all the forms of life,
the world would be static,
rhythm-less, undancing, mummified."

Alan Watts (1915 - 1973)

Postscript. This lovely image was captured early this morning both before and after my wife and I took our after-breakfast walk through the neighborhood (a habit we picked up during the early "stay at home" phase of the pandemic, and which we still try to do whenever our almost-back-to-normal work schedules permit). The "before" part consisted of me simply noticing - then, more deeply "seeing" - this beautifully rhythmic dance of half-decayed leaves on display on a corner of a neighbor's lawn. More to the point, and by sheer coincidence, literally seconds before I "saw" this static-yet-living form, my wife and I were chatting about a book I reviewed over 10 years ago called Photographs Not Taken. As the title suggests, the book is a collection of short stories by photographers describing images that, for whatever reason, were never taken; of course, the book itself contains no photographs! I reminded myself of the (lessons in this) book after heading out on our walk without my camera (not even an iPhone!) and immediately commiserating about "another gorgeous dramatic cloud-ridden sky gone to waste!" A split-second later, my eyes fell on the small patch of leaves you see above. What did the intrepid photographer do? Nothing. I merely continued commiserating: "Oh, if only I had brought my iPhone!" (How has my muse put up with me over the decades?) The "after" part of the image started about a mile or so later, as my wife and I returned to our house to start our workdays; the book - and the siren call of the little patch of leaves - were both still firmly on my mind. I grabbed my "walk around" camera, ran back to our neighbor's corner house, and made sure that, today at least, this was going to be a "photograph-not-taken taken." 😊

Wednesday, February 01, 2023

The Original Mystery

"Let us consider, for a moment, the world as described by the physicist. It consists of a number of fundamental particles which, if shot through their own space, appear as waves, and are thus… of the same laminated structure as pearls or onions, and other wave forms called electromagnetic which it is convenient, by Occam’s razor, to consider as travelling through space with a standard velocity. All these appear bound by certain natural laws which indicate the form of their relationship.

Now the physicist himself, who describes all this, is, in his own account, himself constructed of it. He is, in short, made of a conglomeration of the very particulars he describes, no more, no less, bound together by and obeying such general laws as he himself has managed to find and to record. 

Thus we cannot escape the fact that the world we know is constructed in order (and thus in such a way as to be able) to see itself. This is indeed amazing. Not so much in view of what it sees, although this may appear fantastic enough, but in respect of the fact that it can see at all.
But in order to do so, evidently it must first cut itself up into at least one state which sees, and at least one other state which is seen. In this severed and mutilated condition, whatever it sees is only partially itself. We may take it that the world undoubtedly is itself (i. e. is indistinct from itself), but, in any attempt to see itself as an object, it must, equally undoubtedly, act so as to make itself distinct from, and therefore false to, itself. In this condition it will always partially elude itself

It seems hard to find an acceptable answer to the question of how or why the world conceives a desire, and discovers an ability, to see itself, and appears to suffer the process. That it does so is sometimes called the original mystery. Perhaps, in view of the form in which we presently take ourselves to exist, the mystery arises from our insistence on framing a question where there is, in reality, nothing to question.
Thus the world, whenever it appears as a physical universe*, must always seem to us, its representatives, to be playing a kind of hide-and-seek with itself. What is revealed will be concealed, but what is concealed will again be revealed.

* unus = one, vertere = turn. Any given (or captivated) universe is what is seen as the result of a making of one turn, and thus is the appearance of any first distinction, and only a minor aspect of all being, apparent and non-apparent. Its particularity is the price wo pay for its visibility."

G. Spencer Brown (1923 - 2016)

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

What is a Wave?

"...'An object is a monotonous process.'
A stone is a vibration of quanta
that maintains its structure for a while,
just as a marine wave maintains its identity
for a while before melting again into the sea.
What is a wave, which moves on water
without carrying with it any drop of water?
A wave is not an object, in the sense that it
is not made of matter that travels with it.
The atoms of our body, as well,
flow in and away from us.
We, like waves and like all objects, or
a flux of events; we are processes,
for a brief time monotonous."

Carlo Rovelli (1956 - )
Reality Is Not What It Seems