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



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