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.


Email: smithdl@fuse.net

Portfolio: DavidLSmithPhotography.com

Photography Monographs (Click on the pages to turn them)


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



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



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


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?


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)

Nations And Nature

All flags wave in the winds of nature

American Flag

Aside from the symbolism represented by the stars and stripes, the American flag standing against the sky speaks to me of the contrast between nations and nature, and how the former are dependent upon the latter.

The flag, most flags, symbolize a people, a group characterized by the things they hold in common, typically their history, values and aspirations. So far, nations represent the largest social structure on the planet. As complex and dynamic as these entities are, their survival and development largely depends upon the establishment and nurturing of mutually beneficial and amicable relations with other such entities—and nature.

Current events indicate that the leaders of many nations, particularly those based on radical fundamentalist ideologies, have not yet come to terms with this, the result being warfare and acts of terrorism. I think we’re witnessing the death throes of the paradigms of both separation and male dominance. At this stage of global evolution I guess we shouldn’t be surprised that nations are still learning how to live and work together collaboratively, internally and externally, in order to create mutual growth and prosperity for all while maintaining the integrity and sustainability of the planet.

Amidst this transformation in consciousness, nature is providing another, perhaps even shorter-term and more vital lesson, this one having to do with the quality of life for everyone; eventually the survival of nations. Climate change.

No nation can stand without healthy citizens. And health requires clean air, appropriately filtered sunlight, an abundance of clean water, sustainable forests and non-polluted, fertile soils to produce food. To keep the flags of nations waving then, it’s not enough for individuals to seek their own health. They—we—must also do what we can to maintain the health of the nation.

In the United States of America, a principle way to do this is by electing representatives who understand that the conservation and preservation of the environment is a survival issue for our children, grandchildren and for the nation. In a very real sense, the flag in this photograph—and the flags of all nations—stand on the pedestal of nature.

Some argue that measures to respond to the changing climate is too costly. But that cost will pale in comparison to the cost of lives lost, property destroyed, species loss, towns and cities impacted by flood, fire and other natural disasters. History has shown, the size, wealth and power of civilizations and nations does not shield them from the awesome, unmanageable forces of nature.

The American flag is a symbol that reflects the ideals of the founding fathers. It will stand and endure only so long as we enact those ideals as a united community. As far back as Aesop and his fables we were cautioned: “United we stand, divided we fall.”

We are all here together, at once, at the service of and at the mercy of nature, each other, and our daily acts.

Paul Hawken, Environmentalist and entrepreneur


Being in the “Now” evokes an appreciation of “Being” itself

Footprints & Tire Tracks in Sand

In this image I observe and celebrate impermanence and the aesthetic of the present moment, happenings that are will never be seen again. Capturing them is one of the unique features of photography. In this instance, the patterns and textures lasted perhaps a day at most before being lost to the incoming tide. Impermanence is the story of risings and fallings, comings and goings, syntropy and entropy, processes that urge us to appreciate what’s given as it was given. What is.

As a document, there’s an abundance of information in this image. It tells a story of two-footed creatures who’ve evolved sufficiently to create a highly patterned, well organized mechanism capable of making a linear imprint in sand. Geologists could derive information about the planet and the time the photograph was made, just from the material, the pattern and the shadows. We can imagine the significance of this image by considering our response if it came from another planet.

Aesthetically, the elements of patterned light and shadow evoke in me a sense of beingness. A person walked or stood there long enough to make an impression in the sand. And a vehicle came along, leaving its imprint as well. Although this is obvious, it’s not the information that moved me to make the photograph. It was an attraction to the quality of light that interrupted my walk on the beach—how it was creating textures and illuminating the pattern of the tire juxtaposed with the footprints. Human and machine. Animate and inanimate. It was only later, when I spent time thinking about the image, that I began to catch the sensibility of being— the wonder of presence and the fleeting precious moment.

And an enigma— the foot impressions don’t conform to a normal human being. How could they have been made? One foot faces the opposite direction of the other.

By letting go of our conceptual beliefs and judgments, by letting go of rules and just being present in the moment, we perhaps gain our true humanity. We see.

George DeWolfe, Fine art photographer

Email: smithdl@fuse.net

Portfolio: DavidLSmithPhotography.com

Photography Monographs (Click on the pages to turn them)

Order And Coherence

Forces that characterize the universe from the beginning

Sphere 754

Initially, this image evoked in me an appreciation of the organizing principles that underlie manifested reality, from sub-atomic particles to the universe. The consistent spherical shapes, irrespective of size, and the way the light raked across them suggesting mass and texture, and that led to considerations of order. Upon further reflection, my appreciation widened to include the forces of coherence that are displayed between and among the spheres.

I tend to think of ordering as the arrangement of parts within a system, and coherence the adhering property of those parts. Combined, the result is a balanced dynamic, a whole system that functions according to its design. Here, I observe subtle forces, a dance of pushing and pulling that maintains the shape and integrity of each sphere of oil as it seeks a comfortable place on the surface of a hostile environment—a graduate filled with water. This image captured a moment of adaptation in a turbulent situation. In a sense, the cells (oil drops) are “learning” about their identity and place, how to “live” in relation to the other cells given the repulsive environment.

Coherence in us means health: the optimum functioning of the body. When the body is coherent, its immune system is strong and resistant to disease. Everything we do either promotes or counters coherence and thus our and our environment’s evolution and development; it is either healthy or unhealthy, and is either constructive or destructive.

Ervin Laszlo, Systems scientist

Perhaps because the larger sphere in the center of the image contains texture, I’m reminded of the processes of ordering and coherence that took place when the Earth was forming, struggling to  take shape and establish coherence at a time in the planet’s history that was so violent we can barely imagine it. I marvel at the improbability of that happening. And yet, out of the chaos came order and coherence, the combination allowing the development of higher organisms and intelligent life.

The probability of life evolving through random genetic variation is about the same as the probability of a hurricane blowing through a scrap yard assembling a working airplane.

  Fred Hoyle, Astronomer

For atoms to bounce together haphazardly to form a single molecule of amino acid would require more time than has existed since the beginning, even a hundred times more than 13.7 billion years.

Mary Coelho, Author, “Awakening Universe.”

The chance that a livable universe like ours would be created is less than the chance of randomly picking a particular single atom out of all the atoms in the universe.

Bruce Rosenblum & Fred Kuttner, Authors, “Quantum Enigma

Email: smithdl@fuse.net

Portfolio: DavidLSmithPhotography.com

Photography Monographs (Click on the pages to turn them)

Educating The Whole Person

Addressing the soul as well as the mind

Lecture Hall

In this image I see the next generation of professionals being exposed to the knowledge of the past and unfolding present. I also see the learning process accelerating, facilitated by the rapid and global flow of information technology that empowers many more people to make many more and better connections between content and others than ever before.

Going forward from the industrial revolution, we acquired knowledge about how the human senses, particularly sight and sound can be expanded, improved upon and extended far into the cosmos through the use of microwave and radio telescopes. Intricate surgeries are being successfully performed by robots acting under the control of surgeons at a distance. Animals are being cloned. Innovations in technology are advancing exponentially every year.

Millions of people are communicating globally and simultaneously. I look at this image and wonder if considerations of more and faster are also producing better results. Does more knowledge, better tools and increased capacities result in higher quality—more competent, ethical, responsible and caring human beings? More secure, economically sound and vital societies? In some cases “yes,” in other instances “no.” When it comes to tools of any kind, what matters is how we use them.

Certainly it’s easier, faster and more financially profitable to direct the flow of information and knowledge toward external changes, more so than addressing internal changes, those relating to the qualities of consciousness and character, which are neither sexy nor profitable. Reflecting on these qualities in relation to learning, I wonder what we’re educating for—at every level. And toward what ends should we be applying what we’re learning?

Constructive jobs and the professions are part of it. Wisdom born of hard experience is another part, necessary for intelligence and creativity to be channeled into understanding, improvements, health and well-being. And then there’s knowledge that contributes to personal growth and social development. Might there be less crime and corruption, perhaps even less political polarization, if more people understood the many ways in which all of life is interconnected and interdependent? And that all choices have consequences—for the society, species and environment as well as the individual.

A long time ago, I was a students in this very lecture hall. Back then, we took notes with pad and pen. And the focus was more on the teacher than projected images. Beyond the name of the teacher and the course, I have only a vague memory of the lessons that were taught there. I do, however, vividly remember the teacher and his passion for the subject. He captured our attention, not only because he had expertise and experience in the field we aspired to; he lived it. We listened with rapt attention because he provided the model for what we could expect at the executive level in the broadcast industry. And in my experience it proved to be an accurate assessment.

Years later, as a university professor myself, I learned that education is only partly about the conveyance of knowledge and information. Students can get that on their own. And they will pursue certain subjects when they’re sufficiently motivated to do so. What’s more difficult for them to acquire are the qualities of character that contribute to a life well lived with meaningful contributions, qualities that are best demonstrated rather than talked about.

Technologies in the classroom are essential tools now, particularly for learning the externals—how the world works and what’s needed to enter into it. Equally, perhaps even more, I think attention to the internals, the qualities of thought and character, are essential. And for that we need positive role models—parents, teachers, professionals and leaders in every domain, people who consider their role a vocation, not just a job.

The process of creating intelligence is not merely a question of access to information. Would that learning were as easy as diving into a swimming pool of information or sitting down at a great banquet table for an info-feast. Rather, education, which comes from the Latin educaré, meaning to raise and nurture, is more a matter of imparting values and critical faculties than inputting raw data. Education is about enlightenment, not just access. 

David Shenk, American writer, lecturer and filmmaker

Email: smithdl@fuse.net

Portfolio: DavidLSmithPhotography.com

Photography Monographs (Click on the pages to turn them)