Worldview

How we see the world, what we believe about it, creates our experience.

Human beings are meaning makers. Without having an anchor, a view of the world that makes sense of our existence, there’s little to no reason to carry on. As thinking and caring individuals who can rise above biological instincts, we have an urge to make something of ourselves by doing something that matters. Psychologist Artur Nilsson says the meaning we make, our personal view of the world and how it works, is what makes us unique in the animal kingdom. 

Every man, whether he is religiously inclined or not, has his own ultimate presuppositions. He finds he cannot live his life without them, and for him they are true. Such presuppositions, whether they be called ideologies, philosophies, notions, or merely hunches about life, exert creative pressure upon all conduct that is subsidiary to them (which is to say, upon nearly all of a man’s conduct). — Gordon W. Allport, psychologist

 

Acquisition

A worldview or “gestalt” develops in the context of family and culture where we’re socialized to perceive, think and behave in certain ways. With observation, experience, education and hearing stories, we develop beliefs about ourselves, others and the world. And the subconscious mind  takes in everything to shape our identity. Into the adult years, our beliefs are generally modified in response to the ultimate questions, challenges and mysteries of life—Who am I? Why am I here? Where do I fit? Is human nature good or bad? Who wins and loses? What constitutes success—wealth, fame, relationships, adventure, lifestyle…? What do I most want from life? Does the end justify the means? What happens when we die? The perennial questions.

The subconscious doesn’t discriminate between good and bad, right or wrong, healthy or not. Its job is to store and hold our beliefs so we can measure everything against them, accepting new information, ideas and experiences that are familiar and rejecting those that are unfamiliar or in conflict. Our beliefs are so firmly established, we’ll arrange to be right by rationalizing, lying, cheating or creating situations that confirm them. What agrees with us is right; what doesn’t is wrong. And that has considerable consequences—as we’ve seen in business and politics. 

Writing in Psychology Today, Dan Mager  says “For someone who is emotionally attached to the need to be right, all divergent perspectives, ideas, suggestions, and actions must be wrong. The need to be right convinces him or her of the correctness of his or her approach, thus justifying the means to have their way. When this dynamic is acted out, it creates suffering for those caught in its wake.” Keeping an open mind takes tremendous self-confidence, courage and a quest for truth because it requires putting a temporary “hold” on how we see the world and what we think is right. 

(Worldviews) inform how we interpret, enact, and co-create reality. They are the fundamental ‘lenses’ through which we see and filter reality, and they interface with our perceptions of global issues in ways that are profound, persistent, and frequently overlooked. Worldviews not only tend to shape how individuals perceive particular issues and their potential solutions, they also tend to influence their willingness to partake in, or politically support, such solutions. Annick de Witt, founder of Worldview Journeys

 

Lesson to be learned

We don’t hear “worldview” being talked about much, especially not in the media, perhaps because it’s a very personal and complicated subject, and not many people could articulate their view of the world if asked. Appropriately, it’s the domain of psychologists and other behavioral specialists. But in light of recent history, particularly in the political sphere, there are lessons to be learned about mental health when it comes to leadership. For instance, a person can be diagnosed clinically as “mentally competent,” yet hold an unhealthy, even toxic worldview that lacks a moral-ethical compass. Globally, history attests to enormous human tragedies and national setbacks perpetrated by sociopaths. In every domain, neither wealth or celebrity status or charisma qualifies a person to lead.

How you imagine the world determines how you live in it. — David Suzuki, Emeritus professor of genetics.

 

Negative And Positive Beliefs

While the emphasis of this site is positivity and appreciation, this is an instance where insight into the negative as well as the positive can promote understanding—which can deepen appreciation. The following is borrowed from Psychology Backs the Power of Developing a Positive Worldview by Todd W. Hall, professor of psychology, Biola University, Los Angeles. He excerpted the following from Return on Character: The Real Reason Leaders and Their Companies Win by Fred Kiel. 

Beliefs underlying negativity

False Views of Self

  • It’s not important to understand what drives me.
  • Personal meaning is derived from proving my success to others.

False Views of Others

  • People are generally untrustworthy, so you should closely monitor them and not show kindness.
  • Creating conflict helps you get at the truth of a situation.

False Views of Goals

  • It’s better to focus on the short-term than the long-term.
  • It’s better to avoid change unless I am in control of it.

“These beliefs are rooted in a lack of basic trust, lack of self-awareness, and lack of a positive sense of self-worth, which lead a person to constantly seek approval through achievements (an understandable coping strategy that doesn’t work in the long run).”

Beliefs underlying positivity

Healthy View of Self

  • Personal meaning is derived from growing and stretching my natural talents.

Healthy View of Others

  • People are generally trustworthy.
  • All people deserve the same respect, regardless of job status.
  • Most people grow and change throughout their adult life (A “growth mindset”).
  • Everyone has core strengths that should be engaged.
  • The best managers have good relationship skills.

Healthy View of Goals

  • All businesses share a responsibility to contribute to the common good.
  • Leaders generally desire to leave the world a better place.

“The virtuoso leaders in our study clearly illustrate that the most successful leaders focus on what’s right about the world around them.”

Dr. Hall elaborates four ways to develop a positive worldview, backed by psychology. I summarize them here.

1. Become aware of your filters and develop new lenses for noticing the positive.

2. Seek out new experiences that challenge your implicit negative beliefs.

3. Reflect on new experiences that challenge your beliefs.

4. Connect with people who speak into your life with wisdom and compassion.

 

What is your worldview? A Test

The Institute for Cultural Evolution (ICE) provides a Worldview Questionnaire designed to place us on one of four major groups—Traditional / Modern / Postmodern / Integrative. And these are described. The test was developed by Annick de Witt, one of the most respected researchers on worldview. By joining the nonprofit, nonpartisan organization (for free) you can get your confidential results (and then unsubscribe if you like). I didn’t do that. But answering the excellent questions was insightful in itself. Even if you don’t join, the ICE home page says, “At the very least, answering the questions is an opportunity to reflect on the distinct worldview frames that make up the political spectrum in most of the Western world.”

Love and fear represent two different lenses through which to view the world. Which I choose to use will determine what I think I see. — Marianne Williamson, author, A Return To Love

I believe worldviews are unique to each of us for good reason—nature and evolution favor variety. In living systems parlance, the more diversity in a system the greater its resilience and potential for adaptation, mutation and innovation. The same with consciousness. Consider that, over time, individuals who hold negative worldviews eventually provide examples of what doesn’t work for the good—qualitative sustainability—of the whole. That’s not a reason to praise or support negative views of the world, but the perspective gives us hope. We learn from our mistakes, personally and socially.

As more parents and teachers learn about the significance of a person’s worldview, the better they can foster positive perceptions in young people—the co-creators of tomorrow. While it’s important to prepare children for the world of family life and work, it’s equally important, arguably even more so, to assist them in finding answers to the perennial questions that empower them to be good, healthy, confident, successful and contributing human beings. 

We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are. — Anais Nin, author and poet

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I welcome your comments at <smithdl@fuse.net>

My portfolio site: DavidLSmithPhotography.com

My Photography Monographs

 

Aesthetic Experience

One of the primary ways to feed the soul

Philosophers since Plato have sought to define and describe the aesthetic experience. Among them there’s agreement that it’s a capacity unique to human beings, a contributor to well-being and different for each individual, but there’s no consensus on what it is in essence.

This is understandable because the word “aesthetic” is an abstraction that refers to something ineffable, a non-physical phenomenon like “beauty,” “truth” and “goodness.” We only know it through cognitive and emotional experience. But just as we don’t need to say how a computer works to use it effectively, we can discover and utilize our sensory preferences without knowing what an aesthetic is exactly. 

What everyone agrees upon is that aesthetic experience has to do with how something looks and feels; it relates to beauty and taste, and is a central feature in creative expression, especially in considering or producing works of art.

Philosopher Immanuel Kant argued that, because aesthetics is a matter of judgment, only rational beings can experience it. “Rational beings need aesthetic experience, are significantly incomplete without it…” It “stands in fundamental proximity to moral judgment and is integral to our nature as moral beings.” After a long study of well-balanced and thriving individuals, psychologist Abraham Maslow ranked “aesthetics” high on his hierarchical pyramid of human needs — above physiological, safety, belonging, self-esteem and cognitive needs. In his scheme, “higher” needs don’t generally become active until the lower needs are being met. 

Humans need beautiful imagery or something new and aesthetically pleasing to continue up towards Self-Actualization. Humans need to refresh themselves in the presence and beauty of nature while carefully absorbing and observing their surroundings to extract the beauty that the world has to offer. This need is a higher level need to relate in a beautiful way with the environment, and leads to the beautiful feeling of intimacy with nature and everything beautiful. — Abraham Maslow

Eric Booth, author of The Everyday Work of Art: Awakening the Extraordinary in Your Daily Life  wrote that aesthetic experience consists in

  • Noticing well
  • Attunement to what attracts you so you find relevance everywhere
  • Authentic response
  • Making strong & flexible personal connections
  • Attention to impulses
  • The feeling of natural curiosity
  • Asking good questions
  • Making informed choices & seeing the consequences

To this list I would add “believing ourselves to be creative,” owning it as a natural and unique inheritance, free from the opinions or expectations of others. I would also emphasize Booth’s second item—“attunement”—because, along with joy, it’s how the soul informs us about its needs. In my experience, when an aesthetic hunger is satisfied, feelings of joy, awe, reverence or peace of mind, even the feeling of being able to breathe better, accompany it. In effect, the soul is saying, “Thanks, I needed that!” 

Some people say they aren’t creative. Others say “I’m logical, not artistic.” And we’ve heard the excuses: “I took an art class but didn’t keep it up.” “I used to draw but… (life happened).” Little wonder—we grow up in a culture that divides subjects into “disciplines,” a word that implies exhaustive work, and places values (money, prestige) on artistic production and the artifacts of creative experience, even to the extent of holding art competitions. Most young people emerge from high school thinking that art—creative activity—is something to do on the side, perhaps later in life, because the career opportunities are few and low-paying. It’s the unique school that stresses creativity and integrates it in the curriculum. 

I see “artistic expression” and “being creative” as subsets of the aesthetic experience—how we see each other, the world and the cosmos. Understandably, not everyone can or wants to produce works of art. But everyone has an aesthetic. According to Szabolcs Keri of the National Institute of Psychiatry and Addictions in Budapest, we are born with the capacity to make judgments about how things look, and have preferences in the way they are arranged or displayed.

Creativity is related to the connectivity of large-scale brain networks. How brain areas talk to each other is critical when it comes to originality, fluency and flexibility. In highly creative individuals this connectivity is thought to be especially widespread in the brain, which may be down to genes that play a role in the development of pathways between different areas. — Szabolcs Keri, Professor of Cognitive Science 

“Highly” creative people tend to express themselves through some art form, but everyone with an intact brain continuously exercises their aesthetic preferences. The music we make and choose, the foods we prepare, furniture we arrange and objects we purchase all require judgments based on preferences. This dress for the photograph, not that one. A wood desk for my office, not a glass and chrome one. Most everything, including our lives, are acts of creation. We are all, self-creators and co-creators. 

Culture itself is an ongoing creative process, as are the many components that give it substance and character. I think of the Japanese who centuries ago turned the commonplace act of making tea into a high art. It’s an example of how special treatment, focused attention and contemplation beyond utility, can transform the ordinary into the extraordinary.

The Zen aesthetic shows us that all things are perfectly complete, just as they are. Nothing is lacking. Each one of us is already an artist, whether are we realize it or not. In fact, it doesn’t matter whether we realize it—this truth of perfection is still there. Engaging the creative process is a way of getting in touch with this truth, and to let it function in all areas of our lives. — John Daido Loori, author The Zen of Creativity: Cultivating Your Artistic Life

For me, the aesthetic experience is an energy, an impulse or urge, that both seeks and finds resonance in and attunement to the expression of Source, which in part is the physical universe. Said another way, it’s a “pull” of the heart to know the Divine manifesting in the world, as the world.

It took some time to see, but when my photographs revealed the pattern of my aesthetic preferences—simplicity, exquisite light, geometry, gradation—I began to look for them and their combination in the environment, to focus on them. I continued to work with other dimensions, including color, composition, form, contrast and texture, but was always on the lookout for the dominant four. Because that’s where the joy was in the final print, and finding it challenging to find them with some frequency in the world, I created setups at home where I could optimize my preferences. 

Whatever your creative context, whether making a house a home, constructing a music playlist, a Zoom party, reading, writing, cooking, painting or photographing, notice the pattern of your preferences, the elements that give you the most joy. Write them down. It’s your soul saying, “More, please!” Continuing, acting authentically in this way, we not only make a difference for ourselves, we make a contribution to the world. It doesn’t need another work of art, but it does need people acting from soul, expressing their unique endowment.

To look at a thing is very different from seeing a thing. One does not see anything until one sees its beauty. — Oscar Wilde

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I welcome your comments at <smithdl@fuse.net>

My portfolio site: DavidLSmithPhotography.com

My Photography Monographs

What’s So Critical About Critical Thinking?

It’s a vaccine against lies, disinformation and conspiracy theories.

My grandson, Ethan Miller, and I face off in a heady game of checkers.

In an era when untruths have been proliferating across platforms in the form of disinformation, misinformation, fake news, lies and conspiracy theories, it’s refreshing and hope-inducing to know that there’s a vaccine against the easy acceptance of what’s heard, seen or read. It’s called “critical thinking,” and it’s currently being taught in select schools, K through college. 

I say “select” because some schools include it and many don’t. It’s a gap that’s decades-long, in part because “teaching to the test” took up so much of the curriculum there wasn’t time to add a class or teach critical thinking skills in the context of existing classes. Consequently, students that lack critical thinking skills remain susceptible to falsehoods, disinformation and conspiracy theories throughout their lives.

The critical thinking gap is one of the most significant, yet overlooked equity challenges in education today. — Colin Seale, author, “Thinking Like A Lawyer: A Framework for Teaching Critical Thinking to All Students.

Frank Breslin, a retired high-school teacher in the New Jersey public school system, writes in a Huffington Post article, Why High Schools Don’t Teach Critical Thinking — “State education departments mandate that so much material has to be covered that critical thinking cannot be taught, nor can the courses themselves be critically presented. To cover the curriculum, courses must be taught quickly, superficially, and uncritically, the infallible way of boring students… It leaves students with the mistaken impression that there is little if any disagreement among scholars about what they are taught, as though what is presented is self-evident truth… Because students are usually taught only one viewpoint about everything, they simply accept the theory they learn on their teacher’s authority with perhaps little understanding of the reasons provided… The essence of an education—the ability to think critically and protect oneself from falsehood and lies—may once have been taught in American schools, but, with few exceptions, is today a lost art.”

 

Definition

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, critical thinking is “The process of thinking carefully about a subject or idea, without allowing feelings or opinions to affect you.” 

 

Significance

Critical thinking wards against the immediate acceptance or judgment of an idea, opinion, event, policy, perspective or phenomenon, political philosophy or religious ideology, irrespective of the presenter or source. 

It’s necessary because there are many people who, purposefully or not, and for a variety of reasons, tell and disseminate falsehoods. In part, we’re experiencing an “uncivil war” because the preponderance of our educational systems have been teaching students what to think rather than how to think—

To question whatever they read, and never to accept any claim blindly; to suspend judgment until they’ve heard all sides of a question, and interrogate whatever claims to be true, since the truth can withstand any scrutiny. Critical thinking is life’s indispensable survival skill, compared to which everything else is an educational frill! — Frank Breslin, retired high school teacher.

  

The Value

Critical thinking (CT) promotes attentiveness, a habit of inquiry, self-confidence, courage, open-mindedness, willingness to suspend judgment, trust in reason, evidence-based beliefs, and  the desire to know the truth. By stepping back to look at an idea or situation from different perspectives, we gain an understanding and empathy for how other people think and decide. CT provides reasoning skills that form the basis of history, science and mathematics. It promotes democratic citizenship, which requires the ability to observe carefully and check emotions and prejudices before jumping to erroneous conclusions. It prevents baseless assumptions and prejudging, increases awareness of who and how language is being used and looks for both causes and consequences. Essentially, it’s a thought process that seeks the truth. 

 

The Skillset

“Critical thinking is the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action.”  (Foundation for Critical Thinking) The following are specific skills that are developed in thinking critically.

Active rather than passive thinking

Critical thinking is about being an active learner, a discover or wonderer, rather than a passive recipient of information. Critical thinkers want more information before accepting something as real or true. They question everything. How do you know that? What’s your source? Where’d you hear that? What’s it based on? What are the other possibilities? How can we make it better? If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If it sounds outrageous, beyond reason, it probably isn’t true. And if it’s out-of-character for someone, it needs to be investigated. Intuitions like these constitute “red flags,” signaling that critical thinking is required.

Open-mindedness

Among human beings, truth is almost never one thing and it’s never absolute, that is, holding for everyone, all the time everywhere. In pursuit of the truth, an open-minded person is willing to consider ideas and opinions that are new or different from their own, even to the extent of modifying or completely changing their point-of-view. This is commonplace for scientists, the foundation of scientific inquiry. And it’s what we expect in lawyers, judges, politicians and the criminal justice system. 

Reserving judgment

It’s easy to accept something as true or factual, especially when it comes from an authority figure or someone we know and respect. But no one is infallible and we all tend to  diminish, embellish or exaggerate, often to persuade, enhance the telling of a story, to telegraph that “I know something you don’t know” or to be seen as part of the in-the-know crowd. Reserving judgment on whatever is presented to us, gives us time to find or allow more information to either affirm or refute what’s been said, shown or written.

Gathering facts

In whole-systems terms, more information increases the resilience of a system’s functioning. The same applies to discovering the truth. As we gain information about an idea, event, theory or circumstance, the reality becomes more clear. Typically, this is done through question and answer interactions, the more and more diverse the people the better. As we know from police and detective movies, to prove that something is true, there has to be  evidence—indisputable facts. 

Sources matter

Credible sources are those that are credentialed to have direct knowledge and extensive experience with the subject or viewpoint we’re researching. Because we don’t have ready access to professionals on many issues, we go to the Internet and Google a question. Of the options presented there, critical thinkers will pay close attention to the source, indicated in the green URL address under the topic heading. 

After the https:// designator is the source’s name, many of which are advertisers, publishers, information services such as Wikipedia, Linked In, Facebook and dictionaries. These are “Tertiary Sources.” They present summaries or condensed versions of materials, usually with reference to other sources. “Secondary Sources” are accounts written after the fact with the benefit of hindsight. They are interpretations and evaluations of primary sources. Secondary sources are not evidence, but rather a commentary on and discussion of evidence. “Primary Sources” are firsthand documents that provide direct evidence on your topic. (Sotheby’s Institute of Art).

We wouldn’t go to a carpenter next door to heal a toothache. Neither would we consult a dentist about creating a will. Edutopia, George Lucas’s educational foundation posted some very nice guidelines to help students evaluate sources on the Internet— 

  • Who wrote it and what credentials do they have?
  • Why was it written?
  • When was it written or updated?
  • Does it help meet my needs?
  • How is the site organized?
  • What would be a good to-do list for the future?

Especially, I look for an answer to the second question—What’s in it for the source? How they benefit from your visit? As noted, I  give more credence to individuals who have direct knowledge and extensive experience with the subject or viewpoint being researched.

Evaluating facts

When to our satisfaction the facts are in, we apply logic, a method of reasoning that involves a series of statements, where the truth follows from preceding statements that are all true. For example— 

Dogs are man’s best friend.

I have a dog named Fluffy. 

Therefore, Fluffy is my best friend.

The conclusion is false, not logical, on two counts: Not all men consider dogs to be their best friend. And most “best friends” are persons, not animals. Another—

Where there’s a gun in the house there’s the potential for harm.

We have a gun in the house.

Therefore, harm could come to someone in my house.

The conclusion is logical, true because the statements that precede it are true. 

Considering the consequences

This didn’t turn up in my research on critical thinking, but it deserves serious consideration. The  ideas, theories and perspectives we accept shape our life and the lives of those around us and the world. 

Hypothetically, I move to a new town and am invited to the home of an acquaintance to watch a football game with his friends. In short order, the group tries to convince me that the moon landing was a hoax. They tell how the government, in cahoots with a movie producer, pulled it off as part of a scheme to beat the Russians to the moon. Another says that big corporations were in on it, reaping enormous profits on ancillary sales. They offer no evidence, but the ideas they present are many and they sound plausible. Driving home, if I take what they said somewhat seriously, the first step in my thinking process would be to apply a brief litmus test to see if their perspective would warrant some investigation. If I adopt their point-of-view —

  • Would it make me feel good or bad about myself?
  • Would it make me feel good or bad about humanity?
  • Would it increase or decrease trust in our economic, social and political systems?
  • Does the idea uplift or depress me?
  • Would it move me further in the direction of love or fear?
  • Would it encourage me to widen my circle of friends or narrow it? 
  • Would it boost my confidence in the way the world works, or diminish it?
  • Would I want to speak about it openly? 
  • Would it impact my family life?
  • If I accept it, what would I do about it? 

If the answers indicate that adoption would be generally uplifting, enriching and good for my mental health I’d begin to take the next step—gather some facts.

 

The Good News

At Woburn High School in Boston, 60 new classes were added to teach critical thinking. Jeff Landers, CEO of Mind Edges Inc., an educational technology company that reviewed the system, concluded that “Critical thinking should be integrated into every course in every high school.” 

Jason Singer, Principal at Kipp King Collegiate High School, San Lorenzo, California said “Our theory is that critical thinking wins the day.” CT is integrated throughout the curriculum, in a school that’s 85% African American and Latino. One of the students said, “To me, critical thinking means thinking beyond what you hear.” Jared Kushida, who teaches global politics, encourages the flow of questions. “I rarely go on for more than 30 seconds without asking a question, and I rarely stop at that one question.” 

The Foundation for Critical Thinking is a comprehensive resource offering programs, conferences, events, media and materials to educators from the 3rd Grade on, including the institutions of science and engineering, business, health systems and homeschooling. It’s a “primary” source that offers on-line courses, guided study groups, webcasts and more. It’s a wealth of information. And there’s no charge. 

   

Critical thinking takes time, of course. It’s so much easier to accept someone’s word or perception, especially if the issue generates heat and is in alignment with a group that invites us in. Trouble is, we act and promote what we believe. And it escalates. Personally, we start living the lie or unproven theory. And socially, these can build into a consensus reality where numbers of people will act on it. The raid on the U. S. Capitol building is a prime example of violent actions precipitated by false information and erroneous beliefs. By taking the time to think critically, the realities we create will be based on facts, on the truth. And when that happens, both the universe and our soul will support it. 

_____________________________

I welcome your comments at <smithdl@fuse.net>

My portfolio site: DavidLSmithPhotography.com

My Photography Monographs

An Appreciation of Ingenuity

The application of skill and imagination to create new things

I’ve long thought that typewriters were amazing. The above image, taken of the machine I used in my freshman year of college, called out to me recently so I decided to try to understand why. By consulting the web I discovered that in 1575 an Italian printmaker named Francesco Rampazetto built a machine to impress letters on paper. Centuries and many iterations later, the machines were huge and impractical. Then in 1868 Americans Christopher Latham Sholes, Carlos Gladden and Samuel W. Soule of Milwaukee invented the first commercially successful, small device that everyday people could use to type words on paper. A prototype was made by machinist Matthias Schwalbach and E. Remington and Sons (of sewing machine fame) purchased the patent for $12,000. To promote and sell the machine, they called it a “typewriter.”

The number, variety and complexity of working parts in a typewriter still has me marveling at how a person could envision the whole system and then create the many metal parts such that they fit together perfectly to perform its function. “Ingenuity,” the quality of being clever, original and inventive, is certainly the word for it.

In the movie The Martian starring Matt Damon, his character was a master of ingenuity, inventing solutions to seemingly impossible, life threatening circumstances. After a moment of  accepting his inevitable death he decides instead to survive—and he gets busy. The television series Scorpion has gained popularity in part, I believe, because ingenuity on the part of the geniuses overcomes seemingly impossible situations. The take action. Although these are fictitious stories, they demonstrate the very real capacity for human beings to envision and then act in order to build, improve, discover, prevent or recover. In short, to innovate and advance. The motion picture and television industries have evolved the capacity to seamlessly put on the screen anything we can imagine. I think humanity itself is going down that road. The ability to create what we envision is so strong in us, I can well imagine that human beings placed on a lifeless planet, given enough time and opportunity, could turn it into a habitable place, perhaps even transform it into a living system. Like my dad often said, “The impossible just takes a little longer.”

Along with the application of ingenuity and innovation comes advances in understanding our fuller potentials, including who we are, why we’re here, what works and what doesn’t work and the part we’re playing in the unfolding story of the universe. We are not only human beings, we are also human doings.

Observing human activity over the past several decades, geneticists have found that even in the physical domain, “Human evolution has sped up in the past 40,000 years, becoming 100 times faster in the past 5000 years alone.” Buckminster Fuller, whom I was privileged to know, found that up until 1900 human knowledge doubled approximately every century. By the end of World War II knowledge was doubling every 25 years. “Nanotechnology knowledge is doubling every two years and clinical knowledge every 18 months. On average human knowledge is doubling every 13 months.” In 2013 IBM postulated that the Internet will lead to the doubling of knowledge every 12 hours. And then there’s Kurzweil’s Law of Accelerating Returns, which says “There’s exponential growth in the rate of exponential growth. As we discover more effective ways to do things, we also discover more effective ways to learn.” He says we won’t experience 100 years of progress in the 21st century—it will be more like 20,000 years of progress at today’s rate.

From the perspective of the individual person, the activities of satisfying day-to-day needs and wants challenges us to be clever, original and inventive. We envision and take action to secure a better life for ourselves and our families. And we’re always looking for a better way of doing things. Standing back and looking at all this activity from an evolutionary perspective, it appears that we are agents of the universe, exercising a variety of drives that are moving us—purpose—through increased complexity, awareness and experimentation to become more on its behalf, perhaps to realize more of its unlimited potential. Could it be that through us, and possibly other intelligent creatures, the universe is expressing all that it can be? Assuming so, I asked myself—Specifically, what are these drives, the urges within us, that are moving the human project forward?

One night I awoke to a litany of action words filling my head. Annoyed but grateful, I jotted them down. I list them below as ways the universe is using us to become more aware, to envision, build and grow. They’re intended to be scanned here, rather than read, as an illustration of how so much of what we’re dreaming and doing is the universe operating through us.

Out of these considerations I conclude that we’re not just here for ourselves. That those alive now are are the leading edge of consciousness manifesting the world through everyday needs, wants and aspirations, applying ingenuity to purpose. From this perspective, the universe is as much a verb as it is a noun. And the typewriter, now the computer, is evidence of it.

So here is my partial listing of the acts, drives and urges, that are moving humanity forward —

Accelerate / Accentuate / Affiliate / Allocate / Appropriate / Articulate / Authenticate / Communicate / Compensate / Concentrate / Congregate / Contemplate / Create / Cultivate / Decorate / Demonstrate / Discriminate / Educate / Eliminate / Extrapolate / Fascinate / Fixate / Illuminate / Incorporate / Integrate / Interpolate / Investigate / Invigorate / Manipulate / Mate / Migrate / Orchestrate / Participate / Penetrate / Perpetrate / Procrastinate / Procreate / Propagate/Reciprocate / Recreate

What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us. — Ralph Waldo Emerson

ABOUT THE IMAGE

One of our assignments at RIT was to make a photograph with a view camera that displayed shallow depth of field, so only the point of “critical focus” would be sharp. It’s easy to do by getting in close on a subject and exposing at the widest aperture possible. Through the years I occasionally wondered why I didn’t clean the typewriter keys before shooting them. Now I think the accumulated particles from the ribbon contribute to the sensibility of a well used machine.


Email: smithdl@fuse.net

Portfolio: DavidLSmithPhotography.com

Photography Monographs (Click on the pages to turn them)

2020 — What Went Right

Within every social and global tragedy, the light of love, compassion, goodwill and truth shines through the darkness. Acknowledging it and appreciating its appearance demonstrates that virtue lives in the hearts of many people. It gives us hope for the future and a reason to persist in right thinking and socially constructive behavior. Seeing others with the courage to do what’s right, to make the world a better place, is contagious. From this perspective, I offer a sampling of incidents from 2020 that demonstrated the best in us. 

Health

When the Coronavirus struck and people heard there was a shortage of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), people around the world didn’t wait for businesses to step up manufacturing  masks, face shields and coverings. Many took to making masks. Among them was an 89-year-old woman who sewed hundreds of them at her dining-room table. Later on, 3M and Apple pooled their resources to produce millions of masks. Joann Fabrics gave away material and supplies to anyone who would sew masks at home. 

Eight of the top 10 most successful global responses to Covid-19 came from democracies. Success appeared to rely less on being able to order people into submission, and more on having a high degree of trust and societal compliance. Bloomberg

Through global collaboration, Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna researched and developed vaccines that were approved by FDA, all in record time.

Canadian scientists have cured diabetes in mice, raising hopes for a cure in humans. Frontline medical workers in every country were celebrated in many ways, from fighter-jet flyovers to people hanging out windows banging on pots and pans. 

A FedEx worker disinfected a package for a girl who had an autoimmune disorder. Millions of people respected the recommendation of health experts to take precautions and not travel. Instead, many birthdays, holidays and weddings were celebrated with Zoom calls and parties. 

99-year-old Captain Tom Moore raised over $42 million for Britain’s National Health Service by walking laps in his garden. Dolly Parton donated $1 million to help fund Moderna’s Covid-19 research. Their vaccine is 94.5% effective.

For much more  on global health—not mentioned here—visit Future Crunch.

Helping

Stories abound of small and large acts of helping. Celebrities and talented everyday people performed free of charge on Zoom from their homes. Many celebrities and others supported family-owned restaurants and their employees by leaving beyond generous tips. A 17-year-old cashier paid $173 grocery bill for a senior shopper who was short on cash. 

Worldwide, as people shuttered in place, they made the best of the situation turning to life-enriching activities such as home improvement, baking and gardening, activities that were demonstrated and shared on the internet. 

In Canada, a moving company helped victims of domestic violence get resettled nationwide at no cost. A hotel in England opened its doors to homeless people, giving them odd jobs to do. In Paris and elsewhere, bookstores and restaurants were being saved by their customers. After completing a three-day medical emergency training course, Princess Sofia of Stockholm helped healthcare workers by carrying out supporting duties such as disinfecting equipment, cleaning, and working in the kitchen.

In Somerset, Massachusetts a police officer paid the grocery bill for two women who he found shoplifting. An oncologist in Arkansas forgave $650,000 worth of medical debt for his cancer patients. And in Maine, an electrician volunteering to fix an elderly woman’s light continued, enlisting the entire community, to repair her crumbling house for free. In Cincinnati, Ohio a stuffed puppy lost in the airport was returned to a family that spent days exploring the travel industry looking for their child’s precious friend.

When African-American Shawn Dromgoole was afraid to walk in his gentrified community, 75 neighbors walked with him sparking a national movement. 

Many museums opened their collections to virtual viewing.

During the assault on the Capital building, quick-thinking congressional aides rescued the electoral ballot boxes before the mob entered the chamber. Otherwise, they would likely have been destroyed.

After the Capital building riot, Representative Andy Kim, Congressman from New Jersey,  wearing a suit, cleaned up trash in the rotunda. 

 

The Environment

Lockdowns in major cities substantially improved air quality by lessening carbon emissions through ground and air travel. 

Ocean Voyages Institute removed 103 tons of fishing nets and plastic in each trip to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, and a company that sells $20 plastic bracelets pulled 12 million pounds of waste from the ocean. 

In France, a fusion reactor hotter than the Sun was successfully demonstrated. It will provide unlimited clean energy without waste. The University of York designed solar panels that increase light absorption by 125%. 

In Halifax, Nova Scotia, just a day’s drive from New York City, life is unfolding much as it did a year ago because public health officials, not politicians, set the Covid-19 response policy and people mostly followed the rules on closures, gatherings and masks. A citizen commented, “We will make hard choices for each other, and sometimes when we do, the reward is a life we recognize.” Also, a company there turned 80% of the local plastic recyclables into lumber. 

California paved state highways with a recycled plastic material that lasts three times longer than asphalt, and plastic bottles were being used to create solar-pavement panels for driveways that can power the average household. 

Researchers announced that efforts to protect and restore the ozone layer have been “a thrilling success.” 

Sweden closed its last coal plant two years earlier than anticipated. Austria is next. 

Whales were spotted in the New York harbor. A large reef system, part of the Great Barrier Reefs in Australia, had a noticeable recovery. Belize increased its ecosystem reserve to 1,300 sq. km. to protect the coral reefs, and the Seychelles reported that one-third of its ocean waters (410,000 sq. km.) are fully protected. Future Crunch.

 

Peace

I selected the following information from reports in  Future Crunch, a free Australian newsletter produced by “science communicators” that features stories of human progress. In whole-systems terms, they report on the “emergents,” individuals, groups and institutions advancing the leading edge of positive change.   

The 2020 Global Terrorism Index reported that deaths from terrorism fell for the fifth consecutive year and that the terrorism situation had improved in 103 countries — the highest number of countries to record a year-on-year improvement since the inception of the index.

Italy abolished anti-immigrant decrees installed by former populists and reinstated humanitarian protection for migrants and refugees. The government has also cut the time needed for citizenship applications from four years to three. A public statement read, “Onward towards a country with more humanity.” The Local

Mexico changed its laws to prohibit holding children in immigration detention centers, shifting responsibility to the country’s family development agency, and Colombia allowed hundreds of thousands of Venezuelan migrants to legalize their presence in the country through work permits.

Over the past five years, Germany has opened its borders to 1.7 million people fleeing war and persecution. This is arguably the greatest humanitarian act of the 21st century. The decision has paid off. In August, the country revealed that more than half of the immigrants are employed and paying taxes. Over 80% say they feel a strong sense of belonging. Guardian

Kazakhstan joined an international protocol on the abolition of the death penalty, the 88th nation to become a signatory, which fulfills a fundamental right to life and human dignity. The country’s head of state, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, quoted Kazakh poet and philosopher Abai, stressing the need for “love, compassion, bold actions, deeds and thoughtfulness.” Astana Times

Lessons being learned through the experiences of 2020

We are all interconnected and interdependent

One person, whatever and wherever the circumstances, can trigger a global pandemic. As of January 8, 2021, the Coronavirus has killed 1.9 million people; confirmed cases amount to 88.1 million.  The United States has the most fatalities and the numbers are climbing.  (BBC News). Just as one person can trigger a war or undermine democracy, so one scientist can stop a disease from devestating a population. For instance Johnas Salk who developed the polio vaccine.

 

Beliefs carry consequences

The internet is being used to express and spread lies and conspiracy theories—anti-establishment falsehoods—that stoke the flames of fear, mistrust, polarization and hatred in millions of people. Falsehoods are compelling because they explain the complexities of life in simple and emotional terms. Left unchecked and not countered with truth in public media, the flames combine to create an eventual explosion.   

Your beliefs become your thoughts. Your thoughts become your words. Your words become your actions. Your actions become your habits. Your habits become your values. Your values become your destiny. — Mahatma Gandhi

 

Elected leaders must be of high character

The worldview of those who would lead and represent a nation matters greatly. To not cause polarization and harm, these individuals must have a positive and constructive mindset and be morally grounded rather then egocentric. To be responsible, a leader will have a track record that demonstrates a commitment to public service and qualities of character that include honesty, empathy, caring, open-mindedness, eagerness to collaborate and unify, intelligence and wisdom born of experience. 

 

Priorities matter

Health matters—failing that, nothing else can get done. Words matter—as Gandhi said, words beget actions and actions determine reality. Truth matters—without it, trust breaks down. And without trust, society breaks down. Consciousness matters—the more we act on purpose, the more our actions will be authentic and responsible. Black lives matter—discrimination weakens diversity, necessary for a system to be resilient and innovative. Education matters—the more we understand, the better prepared we and our children will be to make decisions that affect them and all of us. Responsible parenting matters—children who are loved, nurtured and educated grow up to be healthy, competent, contributing and fulfilled adults. Failing this, they can grow up  to hate established values and norms of behavior.

 

Technology use has consequences

One person or a small group using the internet can hack into computers at all levels with grave consequences for individuals and social, financial and political systems. 

There has been a lot of talk about 2020 being a “terrible” year. For millions of people it has been devastating. For the rest of us it has been frustrating, disheartening and depressing. Inadvertantly, the mainstream media has saturated us with news of multiple breakdowns and tragedies. In the larger picture—where these can be seen as evolutionary drivers pressuring us to correct our thinking, valuing and acting away from what doesn’t work to what does—it’s important to witness the resiliance of the human spirit, demonstrated by acts of caring, helping, learning and collaborating. In these, we see light dispersing darkness. And in these, we contribute to the light.   

_____________________________

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My portfolio site: DavidLSmithPhotography.com

My Photography Monographs

What To Do When Your House Is On Fire

Responding appropriately to climate change

First—Be Aware Of What’s Happening And Take Action Immediately

From a whole-systems perspective, the key to managing complex living systems is to manage the parts in right functional relationship to each other. When this happens, the whole takes care of itself. With regard to climate, Earth is the whole and individual human beings are the parts—“members” of the Earth’s body. The proper function of members in a living system is to maintain their integrity—health, ability to communicate and collaborate with others, offer their unique contribution and make decisions that serve the growth and well-being needs of the whole as well as themselves.

The emergents—responsible individuals, activists, small groups and the worldwide network of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO’s)—are already responding appropriately, despite the hesitation or failure of governments and many corporate leaders to lead.

 

What can I do?  

Shift My Perception

The highest priority need is a shift in perceptions. First and foremost, who am I? By virtue of being aware of ourselves, there’s a spark that makes us more than our bodies and thoughts. Its been observed that, within each of us are the archetypes of both devil (ego) and angel (soul). So we have a choice. Are my actions in tune with “The Force” or the “The Dark Side?” Is my being in the world making it better? Is what I do an asset or liability for myself, others and the planet? Do my opinions and prescriptions uplift and empower others? Or do they make people feel bad about themselves or humanity, helpless or less optimistic about the future? Am I choosing information and entertainment sources that uplift or confuse and depress me or my family? 

Another, critical shift in perception relates to how we view ourselves in relation to the planet—if we think of it at all. Am I simply a decades-long passenger, here for the ride wherever it takes me? Am I just playing the hand I was dealt at birth? Or am I an engaged member of a living system, doing what I can to take only what I need, clean up after myself and keep the house in good repair for others. These are the “Earth House Rules” articulated by Sallie McFague in A New Climate For Theology: God, the World and Global Warming. She reminds us that the Earth is a home, not a hotel.

Am I doing what I can to take care of it, especially the spaces entrusted to me? In Healing Gaia: Practical medicine for the planet, scientist James Lovelock demonstrated that the planet is a living system, an entity that possesses all the qualities that define life. Am I treating her—the Earth Mother in Native American parlance—as the source and sustainer of my life? All life? 

The paradigm of separation, fear, domination and competition have resulted in the blossoming of the human species—for many, but not most. That manner of thinking and acting has been so successful in creating wealth for the few in the “developed” world, it’s nearly impossible for financial and political interests to release their grip. It’s even hard for us to imagine a world no longer dependent on fossil fuel, nuclear energy, strip-mining, deforestation, ocean pollution and meat production. Yet that’s on the horizon, and it needs to happen soon—“it” meaning a 180º shift to the paradigm of unity, love and respect for each other, nature and the Earth. Clean and renewable technologies.

Like it or not, we are the generation of the shift. We will succeed together or our children and grandchildren will suffer serious physical, mental and emotional consequences, which in the near term (scientists predict two decades) is likely to threaten the survival of many and precipitate a serious reduction in the quality of life for everyone else.

Sixteen-year-old Greta Lungren said “We need to act as if our house is on fire—because it is!” When asked what she considered the core of her message, she said it’s for all people everywhere to engage in conversations about climate change. That’s key. The first step toward solving a problem is recognizing that  it exists.  

Vote For The Voices Of Empathy, Intelligence And Integrity

Another, perhaps the most significant, way to become part of the solution is to understand the beliefs and priorities of political candidates. What do they talk about most—the economy, jobs, energy, education, healthcare, etc.? At that level, every issue has one thing in common—money. To understand a person’s values, follow the money. What have been and continue to be their spending priorities and practices? And realize that none of the issues before us are going to matter in the long run, if we don’t first attend to the survival threats—the pandemic and climate change—that are calling us to responsible action on behalf of the whole system. 

There is still time to affect substantive change. What it requires is electing individuals of integrity—intelligent and wise truth-tellers and collaborators who understand the seriousness of Coronavirus and climate change, make them the top priority and commit to taking responsible action immediately. To safeguard the health of all living systems well into the future, difficult decision are needing to be made by all of us.

Given that there will be resistance, a crucial roll for the United States president and other leaders is to tell the truth, define hot-button and misunderstood terms like “freedom,” “socialism” and “rights,” affect a shift away from fossil fuels and toward sustainable energy sources, frequently convey scientific facts and consequences to the public and empower citizens to become engaged in conservation, recycling and sustainable energy. With a shift in perception and attitude, the challenges we face can become the catalyst that unites us.

Recommendations By Experts

Sallie McFague (Ecologian): A New Climate for Theology: God, the World, and Global Warming.She suggests a fourfold practice.

1. Voluntary simplicity

2. Focus on the needs of others

3. Cultivate the inclusive Self—expand the circle of caring to the world and everyone in it

4. Apply the above at all levels of activity, personal and public

 

Charles Eisenstein (Ecologist): Climate: A New Story. “Climate change is inviting us to forge a different kind of relationship, one that holds the planet and all of its places, ecosystems, and species sacred—not only in our conception and philosophy, but in our material relationship. Nothing less will deliver us from the environmental crisis that we face. Specifically, we need to turn our primary attention toward healing soil, water, and biodiversity, region by region and place by place… We must enact a civilization-wide unifying purpose: to restore beauty, health and life to all that has suffered during the Ascent of Humanity… If I were pressed to offer a universal solution, it would be to see and treat the world as sacred again. As my friend Orland Bishop says, the sacred is something that requires sacrifice; that is, it is something we value—and would sacrifice to protect—beyond its use-value to ourselves.”

 

His Holiness The Dalai Lama: The Universe In A Single Atom: The Convergence of Science and Spirituality. “Because of the profoundly interconnected reality of today’s world, we need to relate to the challenges we face as a single human family rather than as members of specific nationalities, ethnicities, or religions. In other words, a necessary principle is a spirit of oneness of the entire human species. Some might object to this as unrealistic. But what other options do we have?”

 

Brian Swimme (Cosmologist): What Is Enlightenment? Magazine, Spring/Summer 2001. “The solution to our crises: Reinvent ourselves, at the species level, in a way that enables us to live… not just with humans but with all beings—so that our activities actually enhance the world.”

 

Sarah VanGelder (Editor, YES! Magazine).“Small actions and choices can have major, although unpredictable, effects in determining what comes next. Among the possibilities is that the thousands of experiments and millions of choices to live more consciously will coalesce into a new civilization that fosters community, provides possibilities for meaning, and sustains life for the planet.”

 

Little Things Add Up

The following is a sampling derived from people committed to amending their lives in response to climate change. I offer it for consideration and with a tip of the hat to those who are already putting small things into practice.

  • Take shorter showers.
  • Fly less. Use video or phone conferencing for work meetings and gatherings instead. 
  • Travel by train or bus. On long distances, cars pollute more than airplanes.
  • Turn lights off, except when necessary.
  • Turn down the thermostat & wear sweaters in winter.
  • Set the summer-time air conditioner a little less cooler.
  • Shop close to home; ride a bike.
  • Car pool or use public transportation.
  • Make the vehicle you purchase a 10-15 year commitment.
  • Improve the energy efficiency of the house
  • Turn off the hot water heater while on vacation.
  • Satisfy wants less frequently than needs.
  • Purchase a vehicle that doesn’t burn fossil fuel.
  • Only purchase shoes and other wearing apparel when necessary.
  • Use existing materials of any kind before buying new.
  • Borrow books and videos from the library rather than purchasing them.
  • Never litter and pick up litter.
  • Wrap sandwiches and other short-use foods in recyclable paper rather than plastic.
  • Offer charitable contributions to NGO’s.
  • Drive the shortest distance between two points.
  • Turn off electronic devices when not needed for long periods.
  • Cut back on meat, especially beef.
  • Cancel subscription to a lawn care service—because it kills insects and worms.
  • Buy organic foods as much as possible.
  • Switch to ink pens or pencils, so not to use ballpoint pens.
  • Never throw waste into a pond, stream, river, lake or any other body of water.
  • Use fewer devices that require disposable batteries.
  • Learn a trade in the solar or wind technology industries.
  • When searching for a job, look into alternative energy companies.
  • Use cloth rather than paper towels.
  • Use natural cleaning products; ammonia or vinegar rather than Clorox.
  • Never purchase anything with real fur, animal skin or leather.
  • Use washable cloth rather than commercial diapers.
  • Use existing office supplies before buying more.
  • Mulch leaves in the Fall, don’t just throw them away.
  • Use a printer and copier only when necessary and recycle the cartridges.
  • Reading more; watch television less.
  • Hold off buying the next generation smartphones—or anything—until it’s necessary.
  • Recycle everything possible, and in appropriate ways.
  • Recycle metals that are no longer needed; don’t let weeds grow over them.
  • Use hand rather than power tools, especially not those that burn fossil fuel.
  • Ask for paper rather than plastic cups and straws in restaurants.
  • Borrow or rent tools rather than purchase them.
  • Reuse binders, folders and mailers as much as possible.
  • Reduce, ideally eliminate, single-use plastic bottles and other containers.
  • Take cloth bags to the grocery store.

 

Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.

George Bernard Shaw

 

The Earth will not continue to offer its harvest, except with faithful stewardship. We cannot say we love the land and then take steps to destroy it for use by future generations.

Pope John Paul II 

 

You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference and you have to decide what kind of a difference you want to make.

Jane Goodall

 


Email: smithdl@fuse.net

Portfolio: DavidLSmithPhotography.com

Photography Monographs. The pages can be turned in each book.

Photographing To Feed The Soul

Beyond taking pictures, make photographs that express emotion

Being house bound, this is an excellent time to develop or exercise your creative “eye.” Modern cameras and smartphones in all price ranges have tremendous technological capability. But when I look around and on the internet, they’re mostly being used to produce images that  capture or document what’s in front of the camera. Even professional and fine art photographers are mostly documenting what they see. I enjoy these images and appreciate what it takes to produce them; as a lifelong photographer, my collection is filled with them. But my preference has always been to photograph expressively. 

Expressionism    

Artists in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, tired of accurately representing their subjects on canvas, turned to express their feelings by painting distortions, exaggerations and fantasies that were dramatic, sometimes violent. Always emotional. Examples of the “expressionism movement” in painting include Edvard Munch’s The Scream and Franz Marc’s The Large Blue Horses. 

Many fine art photographers in the late 20th century picked up on that approach, but photo historians don’t consider expressionism a “movement” in photography because masters working in “Straight Photography” (Imogen Cunningham, Edward Weston, Ansel Adams) and “Modern Photography” (Chuck Kimmerle, Ruth Bernhard, Paul Caponigro) varied their styles. 

Photographic documentation involves the recording and presentation of subjects as they are. To find interesting or spectacular locations, travel was required and for many professionals, hardships had to be endured. Documentary photographs excel at providing information about  the visible world, revealing what the photographer saw from his or her point-of-view at a particular time and place.

Expressive photography is less about recording information and more about revealing the photographer’s feelings about a subject and eliciting an emotional response in the viewer. To those ends, subject matter can be found anywhere. One of my teachers at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) said “A creative person can photograph in a phone booth with an Instamatic camera and come away with a masterpiece.”

As opposed to the hunter-gatherer approach of documentarians, the expressive photographer’s challenge is to see in ways that differ from everyday reality, to image the ordinary as extraordinary. This is not to say that documentary photographs can’t also be expressive. They can be, very much so. Master photographers such as Mitch Dobrowner and Julia Anna Gospodarou have demonstrated that both approaches can be inspiring. 

Try it yourself

Technically and aesthetically, expressive photography is largely about the light and what it’s doing, so I offer the following little exercise in black and white to make a photograph that feeds your soul.  

Equipment & material

  • Camera or smartphone. Consult the manual on how to photograph in black and white
  • Tripod or phone support. You need your hands free to adjust the subject, camera and light
  • A plain black cloth. Nothing with a print or pattern, and about 4 ft. long on one side.

Light source

Use a penlight and a way to support it; another person could even hold it in place. As a specular “point-source,” it’s ideal for creating very sharp shadows. And being the only light you’ll use, it will produce a high contrast image. Penlights differ widely in color. That’s another reason for shooting in black and white, but the main reason is to take the impact of color out of the equation. An aesthetic eye is best developed by first becoming sensitive to what the light is doing, how it’s affecting the qualities of form, brightness, contrast, gradation and texture. 

Location and subject

At night, turn off all the lights in your kitchen; make it as dark as possible. Shine the penlight on whatever is there, ideally something smaller than 8-inches in diameter and without printed words. You might take an item from a cabinet or the refrigerator. Fruits and vegetables, cut or whole, make great subjects. 

Instead of pointing the light from the front as you would a flashlight, direct it to the sides, behind, above and below. As you move the light around, change your point-of-view as well. Resist the impulse to name the object. Just see it as a form that has texture. Watch what happens to the shadow as the light moves. You might want to look at several objects this way to create fascinating forms and textures. When a particular combination stands out, that’s your subject. Here’s another one of mine.

The setup

Stretch the black cloth on a flat surface. Eliminate or hide any seams or buttons, anything that could distract from the subject matter. With the item placed, move the penlight around it again.  Notice how light from the side emphasizes texture. To reduce it, light the subject from above. At some point, as you change your position and the light relative to the subject, your soul will prompt a Yes! or Wow! When that happens, fix the camera and the light so they stay in place. 

To compose the shot in the camera, turn the penlight off and the room light on to make adjustments. Go in close with the camera or phone. Exclude everything that’s not the subject, and eliminate any distracting elements in the foreground or background. When that’s done, turn on the penlight, turn off the room light and shoot. 

Edit and print 

Sometime later, select the image you like best. What you have is a digital file, it’s potentially a photograph. You could print it as is, but that won’t be as satisfying as it would be with some editing. If you have the technology, crop the image as desired—eliminate spots, lighten or darken it overall, increase or decrease the contrast and sharpen. 

When you’re satisfied with the adjustments, make a print. Because this is a photograph, not a snapshot, I recommend a letter-size (8.5 x 11) print. Critically important, if you care about making images to grow your aesthetic eye and feed your soul, do not let anyone see it! Not yet. Ultimately, the only evaluation that matters is your own.

Your aesthetic evaluation

Sit alone where you won’t be disturbed. Have the photograph in front of you. A notepad is not necessary, but a good idea if you want to continue with expressive photography. Close your eyes for a full minute or more; you want nothing else of importance on your mind. When you open them, look at the photograph and address the following questions. There are no right or wrong answers. What you’re going for here, is a recognition of what worked and what didn’t work relative to your aesthetic preferences—contrast, gradation, texture etc. When a soul “sees” authentic creativity, it provides a jolt of joy, feedback that’s saying “Do more!” So this exercise is an opportunity to discover which of your aesthetic inclinations worked at that level. Ask yourself —

  • Why did I choose this subject?
  • What about the “ground” that the subject is sitting on? Does that work?
  • Does the background work? Distract? What would have been better?
  • What is the light doing, relative to brightness,  contrast,  form, texture?
  • What about the shadow? Does it contribute or distract?
  • What worked best?
  • Does the photograph convey what you were feeling when you took the picture? 
  • What would I do differently? Given the response, you might want to do another edit.

Feedback from others 

Now, share the photograph with others, including people who don’t know you. They’ll be objective if someone other than you does the showing and asking. Considering those you show it to, pay attention to their immediate response. In a matter of seconds, are they curious about you or the subject matter? Or did they react with a Wow! or other emotional response? When that happens, you know your photograph moved them. Did the responses you got make you feel good about yourself? Encouraged? Joyful? If so—continue shooting. Your soul is asking for more.

Looking directly into the penlight

Beyond expression

Within the images we create, there’s a message from the universe about life—if we’re open to looking for it. Receiving it. I consider it feedback from the soul. 

In a quiet place and a meditative state, look at your photograph again. In what way is it a reflection of—or metaphor for—how things are? Trace back the origin of the object you photographed. What was its journey? How did it get to you? How many people handled it? Why did this subject appeal to you? This type of questioning amounts to “contemplation,” focusing our attention on a point—in this case, a photograph—and hold it there long enough to explore its deeper meaning. Besides heightening appreciation and improving your eye, one of the great benefits of photography is that it employs the light without—from penlight to sunlight—to illuminate and awaken the light within—Self (soul) l awareness.


Email: smithdl@fuse.net

Portfolio: DavidLSmithPhotography.com

Photography Monographs (Click on the pages to turn them)

Greta Thunberg Speaks Urgency To Power

In a previous posting in this series, one of the reasons I expressed optimism regarding climate change was the concern and initiatives of young people. Because sixteen-year-old Greta Thunberg has stepped up to speak to power with intelligence, wisdom and passion, I dedicate this posting to her and those she is influencing worldwide. 

As the image above illustrates, a storm is brewing and it’s time to do something about it.

You may have seen sound-bites of Greta on television, but I highly recommend these presentations.  

Greta Thunberg’s 11 minute TED TALK

 (1, 734,269 views)

Greta Thunberg at the UN (4 minutes) “How dare you!”

(Over 2 million views)

Greta Thunberg speaks to EU leaders (4 minutes)

(664,719 views)


Email: smithdl@fuse.net

Portfolio: DavidLSmithPhotography.com

Photography Monographs. The pages can be turned in each book.

Which Would You Rather Have: More Or Better? Choose one.

The climate challenge and decision point for everyday citizens

Ecologists note that growth in commerce and the economy are primarily based on consumption, which is linear and limited because resources are finite. Growth in nature, however, is cyclical and unlimited because the decay of organisms produces materials that are recycled. Mulching is a prime example.

Less considered but equally contributing to the slowing and diminishing severity of the changing climate is a shift in thinking from quantity to quality. Ecologists promote “qualitative growth”  rather than quantative growth because it enhances the quality of life. According to systems theorist and ecologist Fritjof Capra “In living organisms, ecosystems, and societies, qualitative growth includes an increase of complexity, sophistication, and maturity. Unlimited quantitative growth on a finite planet is clearly unsustainable, but qualitative economic growth can be sustained if it involves a dynamic balance between growth, decline, and recycling, and if it also includes the inner growth of learning and maturity.”

Psychologists trace motivations and desires to a variety of physical, mental and emotional causes. Whatever they may be, everyday living is filled with choice-points. Growing up in a consumption-oriented culture, decisions relating to what we need and want come easily because so many products and services are on the shelf. Available. But as the photo attests, “everything has a price tag.” Our hesitation is often just affordability and priority.

Consumption proliferates in the bloodstream of American culture. The unwritten, unspoken but clearly understood and pervasive message is clear: Having things and having exciting experiences will make you happy. There’s even a well-trodden path to success in life, the American dream. Get your toys, books, desk, telephone, computer, car, college degree, apartment, job, spouse, house, children, stock portfolio, pension and retire in luxury. It brings to mind comedian George Carlin’s sketch A Place For My Stuff. 

… And when you leave your house, you gotta lock it up; wouldn’t want somebody to come by and take some of your stuff. They always take the good stuff. They never bother with that crap you’re saving. All they want is the shiny stuff. That’s what your house is, a place to keep your stuff while you go out and get more stuff! Sometimes you gotta move, gotta get a bigger house. Why? No room for your stuff anymore. 

George Carlin

When peoples’ homes, properties and material goods have been destroyed in a fire, flood or tornado they report, “At least we have each other.” Homes can be rebuilt. Goods can be replaced. Happiness is not  attained through acquiring, owning or consuming, not even collecting a variety of interesting or exciting experiences. That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with these. It’s just good to be aware of what we’re considering at decision-points, so consumption is based on real needs and prioritized wants, ideally taking social consequences and the environment into consideration. 

Historically, because the modus operandi in science is measurement, money became the best way to assign value. Then, when movies and television came along they showed us that having more was sexy, fun and glamorous. Images of people having less were shown to be miserable. It’s a fallacy, of course. The tragic lives of many attest to the fact that extravagant wealth and high status are no guarantee of happiness. And many people around the world are happy despite their lack of luxury items and meager living conditions.

Ecologists recommend a shift in thinking, making life-decisions less about quantity and more about quality across the board—in material goods, services, relationships. Such decisions enhance the quality of life and at the same time lessen the ecological footprint and optimize sustainability.

 

The perpetual growth myth promotes the impossible idea that indiscriminate economic growth is the cure for all the world’s problems, while it is actually the disease that is at the root of our unsustainable global practices.

Brundtland, G.H., Author, Environment and Development Challenges: The Imperative to Act

 

I found it curious and on the mark that Dr. Capra cited “inner growth of learning and maturity” as contributing to sustained qualitative economic growth. For instance, it took a lot of maturing for me to realize that, in many instances, buying cheap is a false economy. It’s more economical to pay more for a high quality product that will last, than an inexpensive one that will need to be replaced.

A popular consumer attitude is summed up in the bumpersticker slogan, “He who dies with the most toys wins.” Linda had a student who died unexpectedly in his freshman year of college while studying architecture. His dream was to design a great building. In high school, he’d built a replica of Shakespeare’s Globe Theater.  After hearing that he’d passed, she said to her class: “What you do today could be the most important thing you’ll ever do.” Relative to our topic, it matters less how much we get done or how much we have, far more important is how well we do what we do. And the joy it brings. In light of this, I’d revise the bumpersticker to say “He wins, who dies having fulfilled his purpose in life.” .

 

Ecological healing requires our society to look beneath its consumptive symptoms and reorient toward qualitative development. To do so requires significant reprogramming, since our guiding narratives, from economic to scientific, embody quantitative thinking.

Charles Eisenstein, Author, Climate—A New Story

 

As the purpose of this blog is to express appreciation, I am grateful for the many companies that advises their customers to “consume responsibly.” I appreciate those in leadership positions who are finding ways to conserve and recycle their goods and packaging materials. And I acknowledge the many restaurants and employees who are giving customers the option of taking less or no plastic.

 


Email: smithdl@fuse.net

Portfolio: DavidLSmithPhotography.com

Photography Monographs. The pages can be turned in each book.

“Snowy Forest” — A Christmas Card

Shuttered inside in the snow-ladden forest

Feeling lonely

I made a fire

Settled down with a book.

Two pages later

Distracted by crackling and flames

I put the book down

Reached for the TV remote.

That too, put down

There would only be people

Auguing, silliness, telling me what to do or buy

Instead, I looked around at what I had.

Aunt Martha’s old Scrabble game

Dad’s hole-in-one driver

Joanne’s chicken soup tureen

The DVD of Jennifer’s graduation

The photo of Ethan at three standing in my size twelve shoes

Mom’s plug-in Christmas light that bubbles

Grandma’s stained-glass lamp

Cousin Bob’s collection of Irish beer-bottle caps.

Seeing these and more

Souls, now memories, of days gone by

And those shaping days to come

I see. I am not alone. I stand in a forest of souls.

No longer lonely

I put on my heavy coat, wool hat and gloves

Go outside

And breathe in the trees.