Saturday, March 26, 2016

Everyman in Harmony

Early humans scavenged for subsistence. Two hundred thousand years ago, human subsistence meant collecting wild plants, mushrooms, and berries or pursuing wild animals.

Living in Harmony

Early humans, as low-impact hunter-gatherers, were as close to an ideal of living in harmony as ever.
The romantic contrast between modern industry that “destroys nature” and our ancestors who “lived in harmony with nature” is groundless. Long before the Industrial Revolution, Homo sapiens held the record among all organisms for driving the most plant and animal species to their extinctions. We have the dubious distinction of being the deadliest species in the annals of life.
Yuval Noah Harari, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind
Since the first agricultural revolution around 10,000 BC, when humans began cultivating crops and domesticating wild species, we've become less harmonious and more destructive. And to what end?

The Search

The most existentially poignant theme of Breugel's Everyman is the search for worldly goods and self-knowledge.

Everyman, pen and brown ink
Pieter Bruegel, 1558

Bruegel depicts Elck (Everyman) in the center of his composition crowded by worldly goods, staring into an open lantern at a burning candle.

Everyman is in search of something (cf. Interpretation of Everyman). An inscription reads, Nobody knows himself. Another inscription below the image in a subsequent engraving made from Bruegel's drawing reads,
No one does not seek his own advantage everywhere, no one does not seek himself in all he does, no one does not look everywhere for private gain. This one pulls, that one pulls, all have the same love of possession.
A Conscious Endeavor

Bruegel's allegorical drawing depicts the dark side of the human condition, bequeathing an unflattering portrait of humanity.

Where does this leave us? We're left with the notion of mindful living. Thoreau called it a conscious endeavor.
We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake, not by mechanical aids, but by an infinite expectation of the dawn, which does not forsake us in our soundest sleep. I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by conscious endeavor.
Henry David Thoreau, Where I Lived, and what I Lived for
Mindful living is being awake, a heightening of the senses, and a conscious endeavor. When we're awake, we endeavor to make choices, rather than acting on impulse.
I tried to discover, in the rumor of forests and waves, words that other men could not hear, and I pricked up my ears to listen to the revelation of their harmony.
Gustave Flaubert, November


Saturday, March 19, 2016

Spring Snow

The curiosity of life is seldom more poetic, rarely more tenuous, and scarcely more improbable than when a fledgling green shoot pokes through a covering of spring snow.
Life is a gamble, at terrible odds. If it were a bet you wouldn’t take it.
Tom Stoppard
The animation prevails however temporarily, however incongruently, in an ever-flowing cycle ― like some sort of Möbius band driven by the energy of the Sun.

Spring snow
by Bob MacNeal
Spring Snow
by Richard Greene

Wet snow coats
twig, branch and bud.
Against the still black street
the waning season
limns its last words
in bold calligraphy.

Life flourishes despite a confluence of improbability of astonishing breadth ― from that which is too tiny to see, to that which is too large to imagine.

Spring snow shoots
by Bob MacNeal
In the upper latitudes of Earth's thin biosphere, a season seems like an exit through a door frame that, at its threshold, becomes an entrance to whatever follows.

Earth is our sacred shelter ― a temporary home for life, the animate, the inanimate, and events inevitable and unlikely.

Yukio Mishima wrote that everything has a quality of sacredness that can defiled by touch.
Once we are even marginally separated from what we can touch, the object is sanctified; it acquires the beauty of the unattainable, the quality of the miraculous. Everything, really, has this quality of sacredness, but we can desecrate it at a touch. How strange man is! His touch defiles and yet he contains the source of miracles.
Yukio Mishima
Relative newcomers, homo sapiens thrive on sacred ground informed by physical and phenomenological evidence that our species is the most destructive life force in the annals of Earth.

Spring snow rock
by Bob MacNeal

It must be obvious... that there is a contradiction in wanting to be perfectly secure in a universe whose very nature is momentariness and fluidity.
Alan Watts


Saturday, March 12, 2016

Photosynthetic Phytoplankton

Most atmospheric oxygen comes from plant-life converting the Sun's energy into chemical energy via photosynthesis.
I cannot cause light; the most I can do is try to put myself in the path of its beam.
Annie Dillard
Photosynthesis in aquatic plants like phytoplankton contributes roughtly 45% of atmospheric oxygen.
a botanical prefix derived from the Greek phyton meaning plant, flora, or vegetation.
Phytoplankton are single-celled, aquatic plants adrift and aplenty in the oceans, seas, and freshwater ecosystems. Phytoplankton are microscopic organisms that sustain aquatic animals like whales, shrimp, snails, and jellyfish.

The diatom Attheya Longicornis at 400x magnification

The main classes of phytoplankton are diatoms and dinoflagellates. Diatoms often form ribbon-shaped colonies, but with no means of propulsion, are subject to the flow of currents.

Dinoflagellates are swimmers with whip-like flagella used to propel themselves.

Whip-like tail of a dinoflagellate

All phytoplankton convert the Sun's energy into sustenance via photosynthesis within the euphotic zone. The term euphotic comes from the Greek roots for well lit: εὖ "well" + φῶς "light".
Euphotic Zone
Sunlit water extending from the water's surface to a depth where the light intensity falls to 1% of that at the surface. 
Phytoplankton thrive where sunlight can penetrate and fuel their activity. About 90% of all marine life exists in the euphotic zone.
The oxygen in today's atmosphere is almost entirely the result of photosynthetic living, which had its start with the appearance of blue-green algae among the microorganisms.
Lewis Thomas


Saturday, March 5, 2016

Deep Sounds

In Music at Night and Other Essays, novelist and philosopher Aldous Huxley wrote,
"After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music."
Anticipating near silence, marine acoustic oceanographers found music to their ears in the deepest point on Earth.
You would think that the deepest part of the ocean would be one of the quietest places on Earth. Yet there is almost constant noise.
Robert Dziak, marine acoustics oceanographer
In an ocean trench deep enough to hide Mount Everest, scientists listened to natural and human-made sounds including baleen whale vocalizations and ship propellers.

Baleen whale by Nobu Tamura
The ambient sound field is dominated by the sound of earthquakes, both near and far, as well as distinct moans of baleen whales, and the clamor of a category 4 typhoon that just happened to pass overhead.
Robert Dziak
Hydrophone lowered into
Challenger Deep
A hydrophone was lowered into the Challenger Deep trough — a depth of more than 7 miles. The ceramic hydrophone was encased in a titanium housing to withstand the great pressure at those depths.

The purpose of this 3-week data collection expedition was to establish a baseline acoustic level at depth. Some marine animals rely on sound to feed, navigate, and communicate.

Marine scientists hope to continue monitoring how growing levels of human-made sounds affect acoustically-sensitive marine life.

Silence will contain all the sounds,
All the words, all the languages,
All knowledge, all memory.
Dejan Stojanovic