Patterns In Nature

The Art, Soul, and Science of Beholding Nature

Nature's Three Voices

To Know Living Things

"The words of our grandmothers and grandfathers have taught us Respect for the Web of Life and the interdependence of all things in the Universe. The stories passed down through oral traditions remind us that we are all connected." Ancient Native American saying

"...I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay till sundown for going out, I found I was really going in" -- John Muir

I spend a lot of time contemplating Nature as I write in my journal, capture photographic images, or simply meditate without a pen or a camera. My goal is to discern my perceptions of what I sense in Nature. I find that the process of encountering and recording natural patterns requires me to move several times between my aesthetic right brain self, my spiritual Being, and my analytical left brain. For example, when I encounter a beautiful dawn, I first respond to the golden beauty of that first light as it casts its glow upon the cactus and mountains that surround me. I'm then struck by the wholeness of the experience as I wonder about the numerous interrelationships within the scene and how I fit. I am a part of all of this. And then I ask: "How does this happen?" as I capture the image in my camera's memory. Back and forth, I move from my aesthetic perception, on to the center of my soul, and then to my camera and my questions.

Is this perception aesthetic? Is it spiritual? Or, is it science? Clearly to me, it is all three. And these three modes of perception, which I call the "Voices of Nature", are inseparable and interrelated in their grand chorus.

Nature's aesthetic voice communicates with our perceptual self - our physical senses of sight, smell, touch, hearing, and taste. It is beauty, form, and the dynamics of Nature's patterns. Nature's spiritual voice expresses the present moment as it communicates timelessness, sanctity and interrelationships amongst all things. Nature's logical voice communicates tangible facts about Nature's physical forces and how they come together to create form and process. It is our conceptual self that labels things and comes to logical conclusions.

Each voice offers its own unique perspective as one seeks to engage Nature. Nature's aesthetic, spiritual, and analytical voices, the three cultures of art, the soul, and science, are essential partners. In the synergy of this partnership of the human mind and soul, one can behold Nature and her patterns in ways that none of these cultures could do alone. These voices come together in a harmony that forms and expands the senses. The human response is the excitement of exploration, creativity, adventure, and discovery.

This essay provides my view of how Nature's three voices come together to reveal herself to us and to allow us to engage her.

Nature's Aesthetic Voice

A human's first encounter with a pattern in Nature is almost always accompanied by an emotion coming from our physical senses usually stimulated by Nature's beauty. Seeing a majestic mountain peak or dawn's golden light, hearing the beautiful song of a bird, the smell of fresh rain, or feeling a rush of wind are all experiences of beauty provided to us by nature.

Aesthetic perception can evoke many emotions. According to Peter Saint-Andre:

"it can inspire, enlighten, send shivers up the spine, delight, anger, frighten; it can make one think, feel, shake one's head in astonishment, cry, laugh out loud; it can evoke feelings of triumph, melancholy, light-heartedness, serenity, excitement, boredom, rightness, anxiety, joy, sorrow."

Aesthetic perception offers the power of deep focus. For example, when one focuses the right brain through writing, sketching, or photography, one sees patterns and relationships that are otherwise overlooked.

Aesthetic perception can raise questions. But, there are questions with answers and questions without. Nature's logical voice works on questions with answers that is, a problem of such a kind and stated with such clarity that it is certain to have a definite answer. That answer may take ten years to find, or a hundred, but an answer exists. By contrast, in the world of aesthetics, the question is often more interesting than the answer, and often an answer doesn't exist. How does one answer a question such as "What is beauty?" In Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet he says:

"We should try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue."

That first sensory encounter with a pattern in nature is accompanied by the emotion of a beautiful happening. No matter what might happen later, that first response is aesthetic. And, that aesthetic response is usually the avenue to a spiritual experience where one connects to Nature within one's soul.

Nature's Spiritual Voice
"Even a stone, and more easily a flower or a bird, could show you the way back to God, to the Source, to yourself. When you look at it or hold it and let it be without imposing a word or a mental label on it, a sense of awe, of wonder, arises within you. Its essence silently communicates itself to you and reflects your own existence back to you." -- Eckhart Tolle

Nature's spiritual voice emphasizes the depth of intimately "knowing" and not just "knowing about". Not simply naming something and its attributes. It is the voice of value and meaning. It is the voice of sanctity - a voice of awe and reverence for all that lives. The spiritual voice evokes a search for the larger dimension of unity, context, and balance. A search for interrelationships. That search results in a deep resonance in the innermost center of our soul in which we lose our separateness and become one with Nature. That voice evokes a feelings of gratitude, awe, wonder, and being connected to a whole. Thoreau describes this as being "at oneness".

Hearing Nature's spiritual voice means being present to and engaged with whatever is happening at the moment. Listening to Nature's spiritual voice is being free of a sense of time. Eckhart Tolle describes this as being in the "Now" completely free of ties to the past or the future.

"Who among us knows what significance any other kind of life has? For the truly ethical man, all life is sacred, including that which from the human point of view seems lower in scale. If a person has been touched by the ethic of Reverence for Life, he injures and destroys life only when he cannot avoid doing so, and never from thoughtlessness."

There is that aesthetic voice that speaks as we absorb the beauty of the moment. The wonder and awe of the color, the form, and the pattern. And there is the spiritual voice that speaks with sanctity as appreciate the interrelationship of an object with ourselves and our surroundings. That awe of knowing that everything somehow fits together.

But at some moment, we may yearn for another kind of understanding. Our left brain kicks in as it attempts to explain how and why an object is formed. We want to "know about" the beauty we are experiencing.

Nature's Logical Voice

Nature's analytical and factual voice provides tangible labels, judgments, facts, and opinions about a pattern in nature. It is a voice that speaks with lists, numbers and computer simulations. It asks about such things as size, habitat, movements, and chemical makeup.

Nature's analytical voice communicates patterns such as the center a sunflower where the florets are laid out in a definite geometric order. The angle between one floret and its outbound neighbor along a spiral, is a constant angle of 137.51 degrees. This empirical observation leads to questions (and further research) about why this arrangement exists. In fact, we find that this and other spiral arrangements are ubiquitous in nature. We see spirals in sea shells, sheep horns, strawberries, and pine cones to name a few.

This process of exploration and discovery can become a stunning synthesis of the aesthetic, the spiritual, and the ideas of modern science. The analytical has a strangely spiritual component to its voice as it defines factual unities amongst seemingly diverse patterns in nature. There are similar patterns of order, symmetry, self similarity, self organization, Fibonacci numbers, scaling patterns, and networks across widely diverse natural objects. Almost always, these logical sequences produce patterns that have a strong aesthetic appeal as well. Fractal images, for example. What is quite surprising is that many of these unities work in harmony with each other. They are interrelated.

So, nature's analytical voice can express, in quantitative terms, the harmony and the interrelationships that are communicated by nature's aesthetic and spiritual voices.

A Synthesis Of Voices

Nature's three voices, the aesthetic, the spiritual, and the analytical, are separate expressions from Nature that are also deeply interrelated and sing in harmony. Science has shown that there are many diverse patterns in Nature that exhibit similar characteristics that are interrelated. It is almost as if Nature's spiritual voice that focuses on relationships is in synergy with Nature's analytical voice. Moreso, these same patterns in Nature exhibit great aesthetic beauty in their symmetry, order, and self similarity. Again, a joining of voices.

In my view, it is difficult to explain this synergy of these three voices simply as happening by chance alone. The trend is way too prevalent in Nature. I leave the reader to ponder his or her answer as one contemplates the next dawn.

I'm hoping to start a dialog with you. Please email me with your thoughts, ideas, and comments .

-- Bill Graham