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

Monday, January 30, 2023

Forests of Symbols

"So long as a symbol is a living thing, it is the expression for something that cannot be characterized in any other or better way. The symbol is alive only so long as it is pregnant with meaning. But once its meaning has been born out of it, once that expression is found which formulates the thing sought, expected, or divined even better than the hitherto accepted symbol, then the symbol is dead, i.e., it possesses only an historical significance."

C. G. Jung (1875-1961)

"Nature is a temple in which
living columns sometimes
emit confused words.
Man approaches it through
forests of symbols, which
observe him with familiar glances."

Charles Baudelaire (1821 - 1867)

Sunday, January 29, 2023

Cognitive Fantasy

"It is cognition that is the fantasy.... Everything I tell you now is mere words. Arrange them and rearrange them as I might, I will never be able to explain to you the form of Will... My explanation would only show the correlation between myself and that Will by means of a correlation on the verbal level. The negation of cognition thus correlates to the negation of language. For when those two pillars of Western humanism, individual cognition and evolutionary continuity, lose their meaning, language loses meaning. Existence ceases for the individuum as we know it, and all becomes chaos. You cease to be a unique entity unto yourself, but exist simply as chaos. And not just the chaos that is you; your chaos is also my chaos. To wit, existence is communication, and communication, existence."

Haruki Murakami (1949 - )
A Wild Sheep Chase

Friday, January 27, 2023

Hegelian Dialectics

"...life, beginning from a non-developed unity has run through the circle towards perfect unity. The world and the possibility of separation stood over against the non-developed unity. While evolving, reflection had always produced more opposites so as to reunify them by satisfying impulses until it has set the Whole of man in opposition to itself, until love transcends reflection in total inobjectivity, until it deprives the opposite of all foreignness, until it discovers life itself without anything missing to it."

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770 - 1831)

Monday, January 23, 2023

Order in Consciousness

"The optimal state of inner experience is one in which there is order in consciousness. This happens when psychic energy—or attention—is invested in realistic goals, and when skills match the opportunities for action. The pursuit of a goal brings order in awareness because a person must concentrate attention on the task at hand and momentarily forget everything else.
How we feel about ourselves, the joy we get from living, ultimately depend directly on how to the mind filters and interprets everyday experiences. Whether we are happy depends on inner harmony, not on the controls we are able to exert over the great forces of the universe. Certainly we should keep on learning how to master the external environment, because our physical survival may depend on it. But such mastery is not going to add one jot to how good we as individuals feel, or reduce the chaos of the world as we experience it. To do that we must learn to achieve mastery over consciousness itself.
We cannot reach happiness by consciously searching for it. “Ask yourself whether you are happy,” said J. S. Mill, “and you cease to be so.” It is by being fully involved with every detail of our lives, whether good or bad, that we find happiness, not by trying to look for it directly. Viktor Frankl, the Austrian psychologist, summarized it beautifully in the preface to his book Man’s Search for Meaning: “Don’t aim at success—the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue…as the unintended side-effect of one’s personal dedication to a course greater than oneself.
The mark of a person who is in control of consciousness is the ability to focus attention at will, to be oblivious to distractions, to concentrate for as long as it takes to achieve a goal, and not longer. And the person who can do this usually enjoys the normal course of everyday life."

Sunday, January 22, 2023

Deep Time

"Above all, geology makes explicit challenges to our understanding of time. It giddies the sense of here-and-now. The imaginative experience of what the writer John McPhee memorably called ‘deep time’–the sense of time whose units are not days, hours, minutes or seconds but millions of years or tens of millions of years–crushes the human instant; flattens it to a wafer."
"Yet there is also something curiously exhilarating about the contemplation of deep time. True, you learn yourself to be a blip in the larger projects of the universe. But you are also rewarded with the realization that you do exist–as unlikely as it may seem, you do exist."

Robert Macfarlane (1976 - )

Friday, January 13, 2023

Inviting Childhood's Wonder

"We dismiss wonder commonly with childhood. Much later, when life’s pace has slackened, wonder may return. The mind then may find so much inviting wonder the whole world becomes wonderful. Then one thing is scarcely more wonderful than is another. But, greatest wonder, our wonder soon lapses. A rainbow every morning who would pause to look at? The wonderful which comes often or is plentifully about us is soon taken for granted. That is practical enough. It allows us to get on with life. But it may stultify if it cannot on occasion be thrown off. To recapture now and then childhood’s wonder, is to secure a driving force for occasional grown-up thoughts."

- Charles Sherrington (1857 - 1952)
Man on his Nature

Postscript. A much-deserved shout-out to Maria Popova and her extraordinary blog, The Marginalian, from which this quote - and the reference to this book (which I did not know of before, and immediately ordered!) - both come from. Thank you Maria! 😊 A little bit more about the book appears here.

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

The World is a Weave

"I cannot hope to make you understand how the world is truly made,' he told her. 'Metaphor, then: the world is a weave, like threads woven into cloth.' His hand came out of his sleeve with a strip of his red ribbon.

'If you say so.'

'Everything, stone, trees, beasts, the sky, the waters, all are a weave of fabric,' he said patiently. 'But when you think, it is different. Your thinking snarls the fabric, knots it. If you were a magician, you could use the knot of your mind to pull on other threads. That is magic, and now you see how every simple it is. I wonder everyone does not become an enchanter."

- Adrian Tchaikovsky (1972 - )

Monday, January 09, 2023

Form, Space, and Light

"Architecture is the very mirror of life.
You only have to cast your eyes on
buildings to feel the presence
 of the past, the spirit of a place;
they are the reflection of society.
The essence of architecture is form and
space, and light is the essential element
to the key to architectural design,
probably more important than anything.
Technology and materials are secondary."

- I. M. Pei (1917 - 2019)

Friday, January 06, 2023

Accidental Universe

"Evidently, the fundamental laws
of nature do not pin down a
single and unique universe.
According to the current thinking
of many physicists, we are
living in one of a vast number of universes.
We are living in an accidental universe.
We are living in a universe uncalculable by science."

Alan Lightman (1948 - )

Wednesday, January 04, 2023

Meditative Inseparability

"Now, of course, reality—from a philosopher’s point of view—is a dangerous word. A philosopher will ask me: what do I mean by reality? Am I talking about the physical world of nature, or am I talking about a spiritual world, or what? And to that, I have a very simple answer. When we talk about the material world, that is actually a philosophical concept. So, in the same way, if I say that reality is spiritual, that’s also a philosophical concept. And reality itself is not a concept. Reality is [imagine hearing Alan Watts striking a standing bell], and we won’t give it a name.

Now, it’s amazing what doesn’t exist in the real world. For example, in the real world there aren’t any things, nor are there any events. That doesn’t mean to say that the real world is a perfectly featureless blank. It means that it is a marvelous system of wiggles in which we describe things and events in the same way as we would project images on a Rorschach blot, or pick out particular groups of stars in the sky and call them constellations as if they were separate groups of stars. Well, they’re groups of stars in the mind’s eye, in our system of concepts. They are not—out there, as constellations—already grouped in the sky.

So, in the same way, the difference between myself and all the rest of the universe is nothing more than an idea. It is not a real difference. And meditation is the way in which we come to feel our basic inseparability from the whole universe, and what that requires is that we shut up. That is to say, that we become interiorally silent and cease from the interminable chatter that goes on inside our skulls. Because you see, most of us think compulsively all the time, that is to say, we talk to ourselves."

Alan Watts (1915 - 1973)
Essential Lectures, Meditation

Tuesday, January 03, 2023

Borgesian Batesonian Patterns II

"These similarities would seem
to suggest, among other things,
that there are spiritual patterns
at work in the universe,
at least as far as we can tell,
and these spiritual patterns announce
themselves with impressive regularity
wherever human hearts and minds
attempt to attune themselves to
the cosmos in all its radiant dimensions.

Ken Wilber (1949 - )

Monday, January 02, 2023


"If you want to live your life in a creative way, as an artist, you have to not look back too much. You have to be willing to take whatever you’ve done and whoever you were and throw them away. The more the outside world tries to reinforce an image of you, the harder it is to continue to be an artist, which is why a lot of times, artists have to say, 'Bye. I have to go. I’m going crazy and I’m getting out of here.' And they go and hibernate somewhere. Maybe later they re-emerge a little differently."

- Steve Jobs (1955 - 2011)
Quoted by Walter Isaacson

Sunday, January 01, 2023

Borgesian Batesonian Patterns

"It turns out that
an eerie type of chaos
can lurk just behind
a facade of order;
and yet, deep inside the chaos
lurks an even eerier type of order."

 -  Douglas R. Hofstadter (1945 - )

Postscript. Clicking on the image at the top will take you to a new "Ice Forms" portfolio I've posted on my web gallery. On the other hand, the image below - which shows an amalgam of the 16 photographs in this gallery - has a curious aesthetic all its own.


Apart from my lifelong attraction to "order within chaos within order within..." (both as photographer and physicist), the Borgesian Batesonian in me is drawn to the all-but-invisible emergent patterns that connect the patterns we (only partly consciously) weave. While the individual images hold no more relation to one another than the fact that they were all captured along the same 10-foot-long shoreline of a local lake during a single happy hour of searching for "ice forms" a few days ago when the temperature dipped into the single digits, the "amalgam" is at once both strangely familiar (as though I had "seen" it lurking somewhere within the frozen water) and alluringly alien (since, though it is undeniably something my camera "captured," it is also something I could not have possibly observed). It's random-yet-not-random frozen forms and eddies hint at some mysterious (creative - living?) froth that periodically dispenses with aesthetically pleasing patterns that photographers "catch" glimpses of and then call their own.