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,
- 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).
- Alfred Noyes (1880 - 1958)
"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."
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