Art in Nature

Paul Cézanne once said, “Art is a harmony parallel with nature.” His intention was not merely copying the superficial view of what he sees but rather capturing the more profound phenomena where he exists.

Maurice Merleau-Ponty (1908-1961) called it “Cézanne’s Doubt.” What we see is indeed what we see. If so, how can we capture it? For a French Philosopher, Merleau-Ponty, it was the effort of phenomenology and existentialism. Hence, he was empathetic with Cézanne.

Paul Cézanne (1839-1906) was a French Post-Impressionist painter. His works were the bridge between late 19th century Impressionism and early 20th century’s new line of artistic inquiry, Cubism. It was not only copying and expressing what we see in nature but more capturing the reality of what we see is what we see.

One of the effects in this direction is to see designs in nature. In principle, this is not uncommon. Both physics and metaphysics have tried the same in their ways. We have now a lot of formulas, equations, rules, mechanisms, theories, even a set of wisdom on designs in nature. These are beneficial tools for us to understand the world. What we see is “how” we see.

Understanding designs in nature would be one way of contemplation. That could lead us to a profound sense of awe. Some people call it Intelligent Design. Some (like Adrian Bejan) call it Constructal Law – we see biological designs in nature and geographical ones in biology.

Whether it is scientific or non-scientific, physical or metaphysical, even symbolic, metaphorical, allegorical, and superstitious, there is always the sense of awe in what we see, how we see, and “why” we see so.

The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork.

Psalm 19:1

Facing diversity and complexity in nature, we have tried to see designs. Designs mean the shapes with meanings. When we see the meanings in nature through a set of shapes (forms and sounds), it means that we understand them as a series of specific designs.

Put it bluntly; we hear the messages of the universe. A Geramn philosopher, Karl Jaspers (1883-1969), calls it something like “the message in cipher.” How can we decipher it? It’s limited and yet up to us.

One of the interesting examples is the concept of a fractal. For many years, we thought it was impossible to extract patterns from the complex chaos of nature, such shapes as human lungs and coastlines.

From Adrian Bejan’s Designs in Nature

It looks random and chaotic at a glance, and yet our intuition could also see there must be patterns in it. As Adrian Bejan (1948-) calls it Constructal Law in his book Designs in Nature, there are the patterns.

For this, we can go back to the great finding of Benoit Mandelbrot (1924-2010). He was able to come up with the formula for a fractal pattern that is cross-dimensional infinite repetitions (rhythms) of self-similarity. The formula is called the Mandelbrot set. If we visualize its equation, then the following shape shows up.

The implication of a fractal is profound. It proves the fact that there is no difference between the whole and the part. Both are essentially the same entity.

Seeing the whole, if we focus on each part of the whole, then we can see the same whole in each of it. And this whole in each part also contains various parts; then, each part also includes its whole as well. And this self-similarity of whole/part would repeat itself infinitely.

Let’s focus on our “self.” In our self-consciousness, we see our self in our minds. And if we could identify ourselves with this self in our mind, we could see another dimension of self-consciousness, which also contains its self in the same way. And we can again identify ourselves with this self as well.

We can infinitely identify our self in the infinite mirror of our minds. It’s similar to the pattern of the two mirrors facing each other.

If so, where had our self started such an infinite repetition of a fractal self-similarity on earth? There are two answers.

One is that there is no such thing as the primary self. It’s just an infinite repetition without starting and ending. The other is that perhaps God would be the primary self. He repeats Himself infinitely in all parts of the universe, including our selves – God within.

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