Light Bulbs

What would life be like without them?

In the summer of ’76, the year Linda and I were married, we went to the Cayo district in Belize so I could better appreciate where and how she’d lived for a year, teaching English to high school students under the auspices of the Papal Volunteer’s—the Catholic church’s version of the Peace Corps. We hired a taxi at the Chetumal, Mexico airstrip to drive us a hundred miles into the jungle. For hours, the only lights we saw were the taxi headlights on the deeply pitted dirt road and occasional kerosene lamps flickering through the trees.

Linda’s dear friends were excited to reunite with her and they welcomed us to stay with them. That same night, a roach as big as my forefinger was on the sheet when Linda pulled back the blanket. And the fluttering I heard as I brushed my teeth in a basin, turned out to be a bat. I said I wanted to leave in the morning. But she informed me that there weren’t any taxies in town, there was no bus that day and the only telephone line had been destroyed by the Maya burning their fields for planting. So I resigned myself to stay one more day. The next morning I stepped outside and into a jungle with dripping leaves, parrots, glistening lime trees and sparkling bright sunlight. I ran and got my camera. I was in photography heaven.

So what’s that got to do with a lightbulb? Appreciation—for the gift of electric power and the lack of it. At that time, San Ignacio had neither televisions nor electric refrigerators. The town’s electric generator shut down at ten o’clock after three hours of use in the evening, so as darkness approached our hosts, friends and Linda and I sat around a 60 watt bare bulb that hung from the ceiling on a wire. There was nothing to do but talk. As I remember it, these were less like conversations and more like family reports on who did what, who went where, when certain animals would be slaughtered for market, who said what to whom and what politicians were doing—or not doing. When the generator shut down the talk continued for another hour, kerosene lamp were lit.

The light bulb in this image evokes memories of that challenging and wonderful week, in particular an appreciation for the luxuries—and necessities—that electric power affords. I understand now, how the light bulb became the symbol for the word “idea.” Now, instead of sharing the news and gossip of the day with family, friends and neighbors electricity allows us to converse, interact, connect, read and watch movies at night in the comfort of our well-lit air-conditioned homes. It’s staggering to consider how much has been gained because of access to consistent, affordable and abundant electricity. Don’t we notice, whenever it goes down for whatever reason, our appreciation awakens and grows with every passing hour?

But something has also been lost. We no longer sit together face-to-face in the evenings, sharing the close-in happenings of the day with family members, friends and neighbors. It’s not that I miss what’s been lost. But the light of that 60-watt bulb in San Ignacio, Cayo gave me a fresh appreciation for how people—and our not-to-distant relatives—managed and thrived without electricity. The light of that little bulb created a context, a call to gather without distraction and share face-to-face.

We forget just how painfully dim the world was before electricity. A candle, a good candle, provides barely a hundredth of the illumination of a single 100 watt light bulb.

Bill Bryson, British author on travel

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Email: smithdl@fuse.net

Portfolio: DavidLSmithPhotography.com

Photography Monographs (Click on the pages to turn them)

Tranquility

Reflecting as a floating leaf

Leaf In The Surf

One among many leaves that float on the surface of life, I ride the waves.

The calm—

meaningful conversations,

helping where help is needed,

Linda’s cooking; Graeter’s ice cream; Skyline chili,

Scott Hamilton’s tenor saxophone; Chuck Mangione jazz; Andrea Bocelli; Beebe Adair piano

backroads to photograph; photographing in the studio; producing books

orange tabby cats, jaguars; 

The West Wing; Northern Exposure; Morgan Freeman’s Through The Wormhole, Downton Abby

The Life of Pi; Avatar; Singin’ In The Rain; Contact; Close Encounters Of The Third Kind; Ghost

The turbulent—

war; man’s inhumanity to man; intolerance; cruelty to animals

not being able to help when help is needed,

loud music in malls and bookstores; discordant jazz, 

loud talkers in restaurants; busers clearing gravy-stained plates near the table,

littering; line jumping; horn honking; cursing and swearing; robo calls,

television ID’s in the corner of the screen; hype and destructive commercials

apocalyptic movies,

On the surface I come to know who I am and where I fit.

Beneath the surface, I relish the depths; expanse; it draws me.

Further down, stillness; peace of mind.

Deeper yet, ironically, in darkness comes greater illumination.

Descending through the abyssal plane, the adopted surface-self diminishes.

No place to look, no distractions, authentic self emerges.

At Tranquility Base, the place where not knowing is embraced, being takes precedence over doing.

There, aware of how much more there is—and how much more there is to all of us,

I rise to the surface with fresh insight: Though I am still a leaf, I am more. And One.

You can’ t do anything about the length of your life, but you can do something about its width and depth.

Henry Louis Mencken

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Portfolio: DavidLSmithPhotography.com

Photography Monographs (Click on the pages to turn them)

Collaboration

It’s how we build a better world for everyone

Urinal Handle

If this object happened to be found by future archaeologists, isolated and with nothing to compare it to, it would signify the existence of a complex and highly advanced civilization—even if its function was not known. The evidence: chromed metal, parts that function together as a whole, intricate design, meticulous manufacturing, a “system” to convey the flow of water complete with fittings, seals and regulators to control that flow—all without leaking. Although such an item could well be exhibited as an object of ancient art, the clear indication is that it was functional and probably mass produced.

Civilization. It’s what can happen when people, oriented toward a common vision, come together to collaborate, not to serve or support a powerful individual or committee, but to build a social structure that works for everyone—bottom to top. For me, at this stage of human evolution, one of the indicators of an advanced society is the extent to which people work together to create and maintain an infrastructure, particularly, but not solely, systems that satisfy basic human needs including abundant and healthy food, clean water, sanitary and safe living conditions, efficient and effective means for managing waste, safe and efficient transportation modalities and widely distributed electric power.

Social collaboration is difficult and slow to evolve, in part because of the prerequisites. People have to have a common objective, come together, agree and contribute labor. They have to be willing and able to pay taxes. There has to be a trustworthy management team that has both know-how and access to resources. And all of this needs to be coordinated within a structure where, again, the intention is to build a workable and sustainable society for everyone.

What prompted my selection of this image for contemplation is that it stands as a symbol of collaboration, in contrast to symbols of dysfunction, such as conflict, poverty and crime. Other signs include the felt need to own guns and other weapons for protection, buildings that lack plumbing, contaminated water, open sewer trenches, shanties and so on.

Without becoming maudlin or political, I observe that in many places age-old rivalries, greed and power-grabs are preventing the possibility of collaboration, thereby sustaining conflict and violence in a vicious cycle of pain and retribution. I don’t have a solution. But I do have faith. In the final analysis, human beings want to have the freedom to be more, do more, have more, know more, contribute and experience life more fully. History has shown that those who interfere with that, don’t long endure.

It’s going to take collaboration of the whole planet to save the planet.

Joseph Firmage, Scientist, futurist, author

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Bounty And Beauty

An appreciation

Amish Hay Shocks

Two words come to mind when I look at this image: bounty and beauty. Even more than the wheat shocks, the cultivated ground on which they stand evokes in me a sense of the skin of the earth—how thin it is and how marvelous that, year after year, seeds dropped into it rise in such a short period of time to provide the nutrients we need to survive. It seems like a miracle—until I remember that it’s part of the chain of interconnections that evolved to make life sustainable and more abundant.

Images like this also remind me to appreciate that we in the technologically developed nations of the world enjoy regular and bountiful harvests. It’s not something to take for granted when, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, in 2021 10.7% of the world’s population (7.6 billion people) suffer from hunger. That’s 815 million people.  

I made this photograph in Central Ohio’s Amish country with a 4×5 view camera. As I was standing close to a busy road with my head under a dark cloth to adjust the composition on the ground glass, I heard a horse and buggy approaching. Not wanting to get my tripod bumped or frighten the horse, I stepped aside and waved for the driver to pass. Surprisingly, he stopped and let traffic go around him. “You like that field do you?” said the long-bearded farmer wearing a wide-rimmed black hat.

“I do,” I replied. “These fields are amazing. May I ask what those stacks are called?”

“Shocks,” he said. “Wheat shocks. Do you know why we arrange them like that?” I shook my head. “It’s a lot more work to do it that way, and it takes longer than rolling. Either way, the bulk of the wheat stays dry. But we do it because it’s beautiful.”

That little but precious comment took root in my soul that day as both an inspiration and an injunction to, as much as possible, make beauty an essential component of all my creations. I don’t always succeed, but the intention is firmly planted.

Beauty is finally our surest indication of whether what we do is in the most creative direction for nature as a whole. 

Fredrick Turner

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Photography Monographs (Click on the pages to turn them)

Equanimity

Under stress, we can at least gather our feathers

This image of a flamingo illustrates the kind of composure referred to as “equanimity”—steadiness of mind under stress. Calm. His feathers aren’t ruffled. His posture reminds me of the social science phenomenon of “cocooning,” a term coined in the 90’s by trend forecaster Faith Popcorn to describe how individuals were socializing less and retreating into their homes more. Whereas the trend began in part because of the desire for more people to work at home (even air conditioning was a contributing factor), more recent insecurities such as Covid, increased incivility, gun violence and terrorism have contributed dramatically to this drawing in. Add to this the advances in communications technology that have made it much easier to keep the rest of the world at arm’s length.

Whether or not we view cocooning as a positive or negative—perhaps both and at different times in our lives—the image of the flamingo gathering his wings with a watchful eye suggests to me an appropriate response to the winds that carry breakdown, disappointment, pain, loss and grief. Psychologists warn that resistance to these experiences makes them worse. Placing blame and railing against them stirs up negative energy and spreads the misery. Gathering our feathers amounts to standing calm and watchful, allowing the storm to bring what it will—and pass. That’s not to say we should be passive. The time for action is when, through observation and with increased information relating to opposing perspectives, the fuller truth is understood. Equanimity is the opposite of rushing to judgment or acting on information that only supports one perspective.

I’ve always lived with cats. One of the things I’ve observed that’s so marvelous about them, and animals in general—aside from their innate appeal and unique personalities—is that they respond to everything with equanimity. One day we picked up our cat, Indy, and he quickly retracted his paws. Normally they were pink. Now they were dark brown and rough. Yet he walked normally and didn’t vocalize. The vet diagnosed that his paws had been burned, probably from jumping up on the stove when one of the burners was still hot. Animals feel pain like we do, yet they respond to it with equanimity, allowing  healing to take place and in the meantime making themselves as comfortable as possible.

Perhaps it’s easier for animals to maintain their composure because their operating systems are driven by instinct rather than self-awareness and they can’t speak. But I think we can at least learn from them that acceptance with composure is a more balanced response to upset. When at times that’s not possible, especially in communication situations, instead of spreading of negative energy, we can keep it to ourselves  

In my novel, Jaguar Sun: The Journey of an Ancient Maya Storyteller—the third and last in the trilogy, a young lord, wise beyond his years, gathers his feathers by doing exactly what this flamingo is doing— standing and watching, carefully observing and assessing the situation before taking action. It’s also what Indy did in the heat of extreme pain. The word “grace” comes to mind.

With so many viewpoints about any topic, if one person is aggressive about his viewpoint, it is likely to bring imbalance into the situation. What is required is a certain calm, a lack of ego, a lack of delusion that one sees all around every situation, and give some space for others to contribute other viewpoints which would allow the emergence of a balanced view, so that there might be balanced action. There has to be balance for there to be health at any level.

Alan Hammond
Spiritual visionary, former president of Renaissance Business Associates, Inc.

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Photography Monographs (Click on the pages to turn them)

Acknowledgement

Appreciating those who support the great pyramid of society

Bearers Of Light

Late evening, New York city. Men hauling pipe on a busy sidewalk. I see shadows, light, pedestrians and aging cement. I also laborers playing their part to deliver materials to those who will used them to fix a problem, maintain a system or realize a dream. Although I can’t tell much about these individuals beyond their forms and a hint of clothing, they speak to me of the mass of people who provide the goods and services that keep the wheels of society churning, the everyday people whose hauling, building, cleaning, repairing, collecting, moving and monitoring activities are essential yet not glamorous.

I’m reminded of a luncheon I attended at the headquarters of a multinational corporation. Waiting in the lobby for my host, I read the company’s impressive mission and values statements. I was introduced to the CEO and other officers. People dressed professionally throughout. Luxurious facilities. The details of the meeting are lost to me now—except for one that I will never forget.

After lunch my host, a relatively new department manager, led me to a place where we dropped off our food trays. Behind the open window, an older woman wearing a hairnet and apron busily took the trays as we slid them to her so she could move them onto a conveyor belt headed for people who separated the items on their way to the dishwasher.

My host and I were talking but she stopped. “Excuse me David,” she said. She turned and set her tray down, but held onto it so the woman couldn’t take it. “Hello!” she said, looking her in the eye. “I just want you to know how much I appreciate what you do here.” She said something else, but I didn’t hear it. A line was forming in back of me. Moving on, I asked my friend if she knew this woman. She didn’t. “I think it’s really important to acknowledge people for what they do,” she said. I asked if everyone there did that and she answered, “Probably not. But I have to.”

Indeed. Acknowledgement. She probably made that woman’s day. Certainly, she made my day. And the best part, it left such an impression that I have ever since wanted to emulate her simple words of kindness. And so this image calls me to acknowledge and appreciate the hard working and largely unnoticed individuals who keep everything running. They constitute the foundation of the social pyramid. Without them, it could not stand.

We’re a country that acknowledges only those who stand on the victory podium, but some of my heros come in last.

Bud Greenspan

 

Flowers

Can they provide a model and direction for human evolution?

Red Hibiscus

Color texture and geometry combine here to elicit an immediate visceral response—a Wow!— whether from a potential pollinator or a human observer. It’s the energy of attraction. But from where does it originate? From the flower itself? From the image of the flower? From the colors and the arrangement of elements? Likely all of these, but my mind wants to dig a little deeper. As I write this, I feel like there is something more going on here, but I don’t know what it might be. What is it exactly, that attracts? Exploring, unfolding the implicate order of possibilities, is one of the joys of contemplation, each a spontaneous experience. So I proceed.

First things first: Flowers, more specifically “blossoms,” evolved their appearances and fragrances as a way to reproduce. For human beings the combination of color, form and odor exerts a pull. We want to come closer. Attraction to flowers is basic and obvious.

Then there’s the image of the flower—which is not the flower—yet it too, perhaps even more so for some, exerts a pull. In this instance, a two-dimensional substrate such as paper or a computer screen represents the subject, not as it is but as someone chooses to see it according to and enhancing the qualities that appeal to that person’s aesthetic sensibilities.

The quality of image reproduction is so good these days, the mind tends to believe that the image of an object is an accurate, one-to-one representation of it. It’s not. Never is. For instance, the above image does not very well represent the hibiscus blossom that I saw when I photographed it. According to my preferences, I manipulated the image by intensifying the color saturation and sharpness, darkening the outer petals and cropping it overall so the pistil would occupy the center of the frame. The photographer’s consciousness has entered in, manipulating the subject in order to increase the appeal. I used to tell my television production students, “No matter the format, everything you see on the screen is a reflection of the consciousness of those who produced it.”

In thinking about the influence of color, form and geometry I’m reminded that when we look at a flower, it’s the complex of wavelengths, lines, edges, contrasts, textures and other parameters that stimulate the retina, which in turn generates electrical impulses that travel to the brain. There, they are combined and compared to past experiences of objects with similar qualities, and the result is the experience of a blossom. There is no picture in the brain; It’s the mind that sees—experiences.

This is too simplistic, of course, but the general outline suggests that the aesthetic dimensions of wavelength, line, texture and so on trigger something more than the word or experience of a blossom. They combine to elicit the subjective experience of such things as radiant being, beauty, peace and vitality—qualities that touch and feed the soul. We can and do make more of what is actually there in front of us.

What then are the qualities of a person’s being and expression, beyond window dressing and personality? What are the authentic and subjective qualities that have long-term survival value for human beings? Might they include radiant being, beauty, peace and tranquility? Of course, responses to these questions will be different for everyone.

I look at the images of flowers in my collection and observe that they are the result of billions of years of evolution, and that flowers provide both a model and a direction for our own evolution—personally, socially and globally. Radiance. Beauty. Peace. Vitality. Just a few of the qualities that contribute to health and have long-term survival value.

One way or another, we all have to find what best fosters the flowering of our humanity in this contemporary life, and dedicate ourselves to that.

Joseph Campbell

 

Stewardship

Personally taking responsibility for the whole

Birds On Wires

I always enjoy seeing how birds space themselves along a wire. How do they know when close is too close? I’ve watched them land in a space that seems wide enough to maintain a proper distance between them and their neighbors, but if it isn’t enough they’ll adjust. And then there’s the individual, seen here, who prefers to be alone. Or is he just waiting for a spot?

In this image, the additional elements of sky and jet trail evoke in me a sense of how the earth is filling up. Is there space enough for everyone? Will there be in the future, considering the trend in population growth? We’re definitely crowding out wildlife. “Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!” Considering the increasing loss of habitat, where can the birds and animals go? Where can we go to avoid traffic, street noise, apocalyptic movies and television hype?

Some folks say the planet is finite and fear that, if we keep multiplying, the quality of life for everyone will deteriorate until the earth becomes uninhabitable. My preferred perspective has two parts: that expansion is the norm at all levels, from atoms to universe, and life makes more of itself while matter transforms to accommodate increasing complexity. As we know from the tumultuous geologic past and the history of civilizations, evolution does not favor individuals. Rather, it favors expansion—now most noticeably from a human perspective in the form of increased complexity and consciousness. So I tend to view the increasing human use of space on earth and everything that’s expanding within it, as life’s way of providing the pressure we need in order to learn effective and responsible planetary management. Stewardship. It can be uncomfortable and chaotic, even tragic, but sometimes that’s how we learn.

Like those birds on the wire, we are all watching and seeking in our own way, relating and adjusting to life as it becomes more complex. Intolerance, the clash of ideologies, environmental irresponsibility and climate change are some of the predominant and long-term forces that are providing the impetus for humanity to learn and implement appropriate and responsible management systems and processes that are life affirming and sustainable—at every level and in the long term. Evolution favors the big picture. It brought forth life and intelligence. Now it’s up to us to care of its parts, the members that have the capacity to envision and co-create. As the song goes, “We have the whole world in our hands.” Is there enough space for everyone? Will the apocalyptic movies and television programs contributing to a self-fulfilling prophecy? Or will we build a world that works for everyone, in harmony with nature? No doubt, one way for some of us to learn, is to see what we don’t want.

From a whole-systems evolutionary perspective, individual integrity and species survival have less to do with fitness, wealth, governance or who has the most or “badder” weapons of mass destruction. It has far more to do with how we perceive and think about ourselves, each other and the world. Breakdowns such as war, crime, corruption and even domestic violence and incivility are telling us current modes of thinking are not working. They’re leading us down a more divisive and destructive path.

Viewed constructively, the established paradigms of separation and fear are forces that are pressuring us to adopt a shift toward unity and love., from “subdue the earth; me first, last and always,” to “respect the earth; we will prosper together or perish together.” Beyond sentimentality and wishful thinking, love, compassion and collaboration are the practical and realistic forces that encourage us to respond more appropriately to change. They transcend narrow and limited, short term, winners and loosers thinking. Crisis precedes transformation, it doesn’t block it. The pressures we’re experiencing may be nature’s way of showing us how we’ve been creating, prompting us to change course so we can build a world that works for everyone including the lions and tigers and bears. And birds. Oh yes!

Stewardship is the willingness to be accountable for the well-being of a larger organization by operating in service, rather than in control, of those around us.

Peter Block

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Email: smithdl@fuse.net

Portfolio: DavidLSmithPhotography.com

Photography Monographs (Click on the pages to turn them)

Knowledge And Imagination

Going deep to gain insight and expand awareness

748 (e) Wide

 

Connoisseurs of fine wine and vintage cars relish detail. They follow the lines of interest and attraction as far as they can because observation, knowledge and reflection improve both the breadth and depth of experience. In addition to “contemplating” a finished photograph, which has been the emphasis of my offerings so far, I thought I’d provide some descriptions of going deep into aspects of my creative process itself.

When processing film I turned off the stereo, telephone and dehumidifier. Although I could have used “daylight” tanks, which allows the lights to be turned on when changing chemicals, I much preferred to work in total darkness and process the film in trays. I allowed me to go deeply into imaginative—contemplative—space.

Einstein famously said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” Indeed. It is also true that knowledge of a subject—a sport, cooking or an art form—feeds the imagination. For instance, the more I learned about photographic “materials and processes”—we had a class by that name at R.I.T.—the more adept I became at using them. Over time, as I shifted from thinking about what I did was “Fine Art Photography” to “Contemplative Photography” the knowledge and experience I gained triggered what I call acts of “immersive” contemplation.

I offer the following an examples. Because most photographers work in the digital domain, I include descriptions relating to both digital and chemical processes.

 

Chemical Process

In total darkness I slid sheets of 4×5 film into clear water, a “pre-wash” that swells the gelatin emulsion so the film will more quickly and evenly absorb the developing solution. In total darkness, like looking through a high-powered microscope, I imagined the emulsion absorbing water like a sponge. The anti-halation backing—a layer of red dye between the emulsion and the acetate substrate that prevents light from reflecting back through it, otherwise creating flare—dissolves and through agitation floats away in billowing red clouds.

As the sheets of film are immersed in the developing solution, I begin to soar as if on an underwater scooter, moving through the emulsion. Like flying through the rings of Saturn, I pass by a myriad of silver halide crystals, “T-grains,” looking like thin geometric icebergs that clump together to form islands. Their flat surfaces were ideal for absorbing radiant energy—light. I observe the crystals oxidizing, some more quickly than others, turning gray and black according to how they were exposed to light.  Magnified image of Kodak T-Grain emulsion crystals

All around, as individual grains become more dense, the islands they’re attached to grow darker and darker. After six minutes or so the environment has become very dark. I turn the scooter around and head in the direction of brighter islands. Like swimming from the depths of the ocean toward the surface, the gelatin field begins to brighten. The transition appears to be gradual, but when I zoom out, as it to the sky, it’s a sharp edge. Contrast! (See the dotted rectangle in the photograph of the sphere photograph).

Zooming in again, a single grain of silver halide catches my eye. The surface looks smooth, so I descend slowly, somewhat like a soft approach to the moon. Closer yet, grooves and channels become apparent, then there’s a landscape of mountains and valleys, and some of the grooves turn out to be deep crevasses. 

From the bottom of a crevasse, the walls on both sides look like Superman’s crystal palace, but with spires arranged more orderly. I detect movement, like pulsing within the walls. The dance of molecules? Like the aurora borealis, there’s a brightness that modulates, and I notice dark spots on the walls, looking like blemishes. Curiously, the imperfections are attracting neighboring crystals—like the way water vapor forms around a dust particle in the atmosphere to form a raindrop or snowflake. And suddenly they turn black.

On the surface of the emulsion, I’m startled as the slippery and caustic environment I’d grown accustomed to becomes acidic. The “stop bath,” a weak solution of acetic acid solution halted the development. Outside as an observer now, I watch as a flood of sodium thiosulfate washes away the silver crystals that had not been exposed to light, and the density of the others becomes “fixed,” rendered no longer sensitive to light. At this point I turn on the room lights and wince because of the sudden brightness, the shift between worlds. 

Digital Process

Here’s another example of taking a deep dive into the details of a medium. In this case, rather than a journey, it evokes a contemplation. Sitting comfortably in front of my computer with an image on the screen that I particularly like, I use the image processing software—Adobe Lightroom in tandem with Photoshop—to magnify it 11:1 so I can discern the individual pixels.

748 (e) CU

Moving this image to a place where there’s a distinct transition from light to dark tones or from one color to another, I focus my attention on a single pixel, and make it my avatar. (The medium gray pixel, top right).

748 (e) ECU

I imagine being surrounded by family avatars—the nearby pixels—and a vast community of others. Some are darker than me, others are lighter. Because I’m familiar with the photograph, I see how well we fit together to form the whole. Although different, none is better and each is necessary.

748 (e) Medium

In the image we began with at the top, here again is the section enclosed in the box. Zooming out a bit from the family of pixels, I reflect on the part-whole “relationship.”  If my avatar or any of the others were excluded or even changed, the whole picture would be changed. There would be a hole or a dark spot that would be out of place. And so my contemplation moves to considerations of “community.” Is it simply a matter of proximity? Or individuals who share an interest? If the whole is to have integrity, diversity becomes a necessity—as does respect for one’s uniqueness and place in the scheme of things.

Zooming in again to consider my avatar, I imagine its physical components, the interacting and vibrating atoms, within them the subatomic particles and within them the quanta that are blinking in and out of existence.  Suddenly, I’m reflecting on matters of constitution and identity. Am I merely a composite of these vibrating energies? What is it that distinguishes me from everyone else? Or is there no distinction at this level? The deeper I go, I see less of what sets me apart from everyone else, and then reach a point where there is no difference. Yet all are present. We still know each other. And at any moment we can zoom out—shift our awareness—and see the whole picture again. Having descended into the depth of my being, I can now realize what we are together, where we are, how each of us fits perfectly in the whole and how together we are creating the picture.

The contemplation reminds me about one of the observations of quantum physics, that we find what we’re looking for. For what should we be looking? What do I want to see in me? Where do I fit in the big picture? What picture am I creating?

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Email: smithdl@fuse.net

Portfolio: DavidLSmithPhotography.com

Photography Monographs (Click on the pages to turn them)

Entropy And Syntropy

Consciously or not, every day we choose between breakdown and transformation

Rust Running From Stairway

Because the rust is so prominent in this image, giving the appearance of a “bleeding” or disintegrating stairway, I see it as an excellent illustration of entropy—matter in the process of dissipation, reverting back to heat energy. According to the Third Law of Thermodynamics, matter disintegrates. Everything transforms. Dust to dust. Iron rusts, computers fail, bones break, noise disrupts communication, relationships fail, businesses reach the end of their lifecycle and civilizations collapse. Without exception, all forms of matter eventually return to their component elements and energies.

I observed to my video production students, “The natural tendency is for cameras and production crews not to work. Parts, relationships and communication break down. So if you want things to work, every element needs attention—maintenance. Constantly. Periodically. Metal needs to be oiled. Connections need to be maintained. People need to be on the same page, fairly compensated and encouraged.” From a human perspective, the forces of entropy are put off for a time by caring, maintenance and increased information.

This stairway would not have been bleeding had it been properly cared for, perhaps with periodic painting or applying a retardant at the first sign of rust. Without maintenance, entropy speeds up and culminates in dis-integration. The steps break and need to be replaced. One of life’s principle lessons for me is that in every domain, maintaining a system is better in the long run than shoring up the consequences of entropy.

In this image I also find it metaphorically suggestive that “steps” are disintegrating. In the course of our lives we take the steps we believe are necessary to reach our goals. We start out feeling secure because the steps have a proven track record of stability and success for other people. But with experience we sometimes find those steps to be unreliable in our situation.

Even when we feel we’re on the right stairway, we may not care enough or give proper attention to certain steps and we falter. Minimally, security and trust are at risk, particularly when someone else’s course of action doesn’t resonate with our temperament, values or beliefs. Worse, is continuing to follow a path that has already been shown to be entropic. Instead of bemoaning breakdowns, the more appropriate response is adaptation by analyzing the situation objectively, paying close attention to the location of the breakdown, and if warranted, taking appropriate action to retard the forces of disintegration.

Consider this in terms of a social system that are experiencing breakdowns. Where are the points of disintegration? Where is entropy in evidence? What can I do about it—personally, within the context of my family, friends and colleagues? What can we do together? Syntropic acts, those that reduce entropy, can be as simple as a smile, saying “yes” to good ideas and doing the right thing. Then too, realistically it can take some time, effort and possibly some expense to keep our personal and professional “steps”—desires, projects, businesses— from disintegrating. Entropy is a dragon that cannot be tamed. But it can be managed effectively.

Syntropic management involves a process of “remaking.” Businesses and other organizations, including nations, characteristically follow the standard bell curve: birth, growth, peak experience, decline and death. It’s the lifecycle of all systems, living and inanimate. When a system recognizes that it’s facing decline there’s a choice to me made. Do nothing, that is, continue doing what it’s doing. Or create a new identity, purpose, mission and vision based on the new, currently threatening circumstances.

Die a slow death? Or engage in a process of rebirth by shifting to an identity, purpose, mission and vision that functions well, even thrives in the new environment. Living systems are what they are today because at some level the organisms or organizations chose to change themselves, to adapt. The scientific term for this process is “evolution.”

Entropy is the occasion less for cosmic pessimism than for hope that the universe is always open to new creation.

John Haught

Email: smithdl@fuse.net

Portfolio: DavidLSmithPhotography.com

Photography Monographs (Click on the pages to turn them)