Saturday, January 26, 2013

Essential Grandeur

Einstein agreed to have his oft-quoted phrase "God is subtle, but he is not malicious" inscribed and hung in the Princeton mathematics building, but wrote to mathematician Oswald Veblen that he really meant to say,
"Nature conceals her mystery by means of her essential grandeur, not by her cunning."
If I was sitting with Einstein on his porch facing Mercer Street, I like to think I would have asked him,
Isn't nature's cunning the allure of her grandeur?
Nature appears to unfold with a certain randomness because we frequently fail to recognize or appreciate the profound beauty of its overarching patterns.

Ice break-up, Yellowstone Lake, May 2012.

Indeed we often ignore, or are ignorant of, the framework ― the physical and biological patterns ― in which these events occur.

I observe scant if any naivete in nature. The physical and biological patterns I observe then ruminate about suggest that
Nature appears feckless, but has a reliable record of intelligence.
What are examples of the physical and biological patterns that make up the framework?

The most dominant biological pattern is self-correcting survival. Species are programmed to proliferate with a simple rule:
Self-correct the template by mating with survivors.
Then there are the physical laws of the earth and of the universe. There are the sublimely evident and irrefutable earth-bound truths like
There are also the apparent laws of the universe like conservation of energy.
"Our life is a faint tracing on the surface of mystery, like the idle, curved tunnels of leaf minors on the face of a leaf."
― Annie Dillard
Within this framework nature abounds and proliferates. It is up to us to find the passion and self-discipline to observe, to understand, and to appreciate its grandeur.

The old philosophical saw "if a tree falls in the forest" strikes me as naively human-centric. As Annie Dillard writes in the opening chapter of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek,
"The answer must be, I think, that beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there."