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)