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Take This Walz - Musings and Meditations

Updated: Jan 22

“And I'll dance with you in Vienna

I'll be wearing a river's disguise

The hyacinth wild on my shoulder

My mouth on the dew of your thighs

And I'll bury my soul in a scrapbook

With the photographs there, and the moss

And I'll yield to the flood of your beauty”


Leonard Cohen




Spiraling ‘bubble-net’, a creation of ‘dancing’ whales. Still image from a film of bubble-feeding humpback whales, made by nature photographer and arctic guide Piet van den Bemd. You can view the film on Instagram here: https://www.instagram.com/p/C0zRhHNqocT/ 

Website of the photographer: https://pietvandenbemdphotography.com 





Man has always worked with stories, images and metaphors to try to explain, interpret, give meaning to the Universe and existence.

The story we currently inhabit in secular Western societies is that of nature and the Universe as a machine. An essentially unconscious, dead machine that has no meaning or purpose. A mechanism that senselessly completes a program dictated by blind mechanical forces. That story and image or metaphor originated in the nineteenth century, not coincidentally the century when the machine began to take center stage in our society. 


Can we imagine another story? Using another image or metaphor to try to make sense of the Universe (it's impossible to fully grasp it, but we can't help but try - we can't do without story).





The above image is a still from a film made by Piet van den Bemd, a nature photographer and Arctic guide.

This film shows how humpback whales create a ‘bubble net’, a technique in which a whale deep in the water creates a kind of ‘net’ of bubbles that rises to the surface and traps fish until the other whales on the ‘team’ can consume the fish by simply swimming through the school of fish with their mouths open.

This extraordinary cooperation of a few whales (sometimes up to a couple dozen whales participate in this teamwork) is a learned behavior; not all humpback whales know how to do this. So it is a technique that is transmitted.

And so this 'dance' of two or more humpback whales has a purpose: it helps them find and catch their daily food.


But it is also an image of staggering and moving beauty. How is it possible that that whale creates such a perfect spiral in that process? He/she does not see from underwater what is being created in this way, and how beautiful it is. It would already be phenomenal if something or someone intentionally created such a perfect spiral from underwater, and that this is created this way as a ‘side effect’ of a process that is (or seems to be from our perspective) 'unconscious only makes it more miraculous.


Is it the whale's intention to create something beautiful? Is it ever nature's 'intention' to be beautiful? And what makes something beautiful? Is beauty an inherent property of the Universe and all that comprises that Universe? And why should a Universe, if it arose from a 'chance' event, and if it unwinds blindly according to purely mechanical forces, be so beautiful?





The spiral is a form found at all scales in nature, from the microscopic scale to the scale of the Universe.  From microorganisms and nautilus-shells to ‘bubble nets’, hurricanes and galaxies: the spiral, with the Fibonacci sequence and the golden ratio, is one of those geometric shapes or constants that appear everywhere in the organization of the Universe.

There are many other forms that appear at every possible scale, and that is an aspect of the fractal nature of reality. (A fractal is a geometric figure that is self-similar, that is, composed of parts that are more or less similar to the figure itself. Fractals have an infinite amount of detail, and some fractals involve motifs that repeat on an increasingly smaller scale). 

The shape of ‘super-structures’ in the universe consisting of millions of galaxies is staggeringly similar to the shape of neural connections in our brains. The shape of veins in a leaf is staggeringly similar to that of branching rivers and deltas. The shape of spiral galaxies is staggeringly similar to that of a hurricane or... a ‘bubble net’ made by humpback whales.

It is like the ancient dictum: ‘as above, so below’. Reality reflects itself at every scale of existence, both things we consider ‘alive’ like shellfish or plants, and things we don't immediately attribute life to, like galaxies.

But who ever decided that galaxies are not alive? For the majority of all people who have ever lived, long before the advent of monotheistic religions, the entire Universe was animated and alive, from the smallest to the very largest. Who are we to claim that all our ancestors were wrong? Are we that much smarter? And if we are so much smarter, why are we heading straight for self-destruction?


The fractal nature of reality is a great mystery, pointing toward other possible models, stories or metaphors to interpret or represent the wondrous Universe we are part of. And what is more: the fractal nature of reality, according to a small but growing part of the scientific community, seems to extend to our consciousness itself: what we experience as ‘our’ personal consciousness may very well also be a fractal of a much larger consciousness.





And as for those metaphors or images with which we try to grasp reality: instead of the image of the lifeless and purposeless machine, what if we used the image of the dance: the Universe at every scale of its existence as a whirling dance, from galaxies and planets to whales and nautilus shells to microorganisms and electrons and protons? A dance of unfathomable splendor, imbued with an intelligence and beauty that is as bewildering as it is moving.

And a dance of which we are an inseparable part? A dance in which we can merge, and enjoy, rather than anxiously stand on the sidelines or resist with the conviction that it is all scary, dangerous or pointless? A fractal dance that takes place at every level of this reality, and also in our consciousness itself (if we allow it)?

What if we can only save our world if we finally find our rhythm in harmony with the music of the world, and start dancing along?



Stills from the film of “bubble-feeding” humpback whales, made by nature photographer and arctic guide Piet van den Bemd. You can view the film on Instagram here:

Website of the photographer: https://pietvandenbemdphotography.com 



An image of galaxy NGC 1566, appropriately nicknamed ‘The Spanish Dancer’, located at a distance of 40 million light years from us. The spiral is one of the most common forms of galaxies. This one, like our own galaxy, is a waltz of several hundred billion stars.  Image credit: ESA, NASA, Hubble








Thank you for reading, and until the next installment,


All the best to you,

Filip


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