Friday, April 4, 2008

Impossibly Beautiful II

On my way to a writing a series about journeys, I stopped to reread comments about the Goldilocks Enigma. What was on the mind of readers? For several it was beauty, as it had been once before.

Reader Mark Thomas told me about a stunning collection of photos entitled Navajoland. (The photographer, Alain Briot, was good enough to let me post these samples.) "Who perceives what is beautiful?" Mark asked. "What is the code for beauty? Is it inherent in our DNA?"

Beauty lies in design, but what is the source of design? Above, one stone monument casts a shadow on another. The placement of the shadow is perfect, the design pleasing. Yet no intelligence planned it.

Here, a shaft of light enters an enclosed space. The required precision comes from "blind" nature. At Newgrange, another shaft of light enters an enclosure (take a look), but now the precision comes from human planning. Whether the source is blind or intelligent, I see little difference in the result.

Something about these photos were "eerily reminiscent" to Mark of Hubble space photos. Was it the expanse? The emptiness? The call from "out there"? In The Story of Everything the desert actually calls to Adam, telling him what to do in life.

How many similar calls have come in deserts? In desert caves? How many lie at the heart of religion? In this scene, is it the perspective that beckons? Or perhaps the focus on a single spire, a single shadow. Monotheism began in deserts.

Such calls are heard no matter what the season. What does beauty have to do with them? What does it have to do with religion? For that matter, what does it have to do with science?

Beauty lies at the core of neither. The universal religious commandment is not "Be beautiful" but rather "Be compassionate." Yet beauty is never far from religion. It permeates its art, its music, its architecture. It is seen in arches and pillars and spirals and domes, in stone that looks like lace.

Nor is beauty that far from science. Copernicus embraced heliocentrism not because it predicted planetary motion better than geocentrism (it didn't), not because he had proof of the earth's motion (he didn't), but because a sun-centered system was aesthetically pleasing. Similarly, Mark Thomas finds Planck units appealing because they're "beautifully simple."

This is from the Navajo Beauty Way ceremony:

On the trail marked with pollen may I walk
With grasshoppers about my feet may I walk
With dew about my feet may I walk
With beauty may I walk

Walk with beauty and you may find a place where science and religion meet.

P.S. Be sure to see the work of Alain Briot at




Anonymous said...

Looking at the picture of two red rock buttes and realizing how that single image of that shadow on the distance rock is so utterly beautiful but just part of the whole flow of time and space and the energy of the universe.

Anonymous said...

Ten years ago I saw and entered Newgrange, it was in the summer, and no tickets were required, only guides with flashlights. What now strikes me is how beautiful and satisfying the ancient workmanship at the entrance and how stunning those visionaries, so earthly skilled. Horace: " Exegi monumentum aere perennius," or close to that. And then he added, "non omnis moriar!"...a part of me shall escape death.