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.