Tag Archive 'order and chaos'

Jan 02 2022

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The Existential Stick

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There’s a limb stuck in the upper branches of a large tree in our back yard. It bugs Judy. She asked me if there’s any way to bring that stick down, but it’s too high up for me to reach with any tool I possess. I told her it will come down eventually, in its own time, but she doesn’t find that very consoling.

Strong winds blow, taking down limbs all over our yard. I gather them up periodically. The pile of dead wood grows until I burn the smaller pieces and have the larger ones hauled away. Entire trees have fallen in our woody neighborhood. We have one in our front yard that’s a good candidate to do so. I’d bet that tree falls sometime soon… while the limb hung up our backyard remains there.

Nowadays Judy and I jokingly refer to that limb as the existential stick because it reminds us how powerless we are in the face of natural reality. We know the stick will come down eventually, but we have no more control over that than we do over nature itself. What do we really know about nature? What do we really know about anything? Why do we exist? Why does anything exist? Hmm… that’s an awful lot to garner from a stick, isn’t it?

The existential stick bugs Judy more than it bugs me. It offends her photographer’s eye whenever she gazes out the window, and this little bit of chaos reminds her of nature’s unpredictability. I, on the other hand, only sigh heavily when I see that stick. I’m somewhat resigned to it. My entire life’s work is an attempt to make sense of nature – to render meaning where there may not be any. The joke might very well be on me.

It’s just a stick, some would say, ignore it. Others would hire someone to come with the proper equipment to remove that eyesore. Judy and I rather impatiently await the wind to bring it down. But even when it’s gone, nature will remain what it is and has always been, both inscrutable and beyond our control. Is that a bad thing?

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Jun 18 2020

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Order and Chaos

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I have a lot of time on my hands, thanks to the pandemic. As a result, I’ve been doing two things a lot more than I usually do: reading and gardening. And in a strange way, these activities are related.

A month and a half ago, I finished putting together my latest book, Campfire Philosophy, for publication. Since then I have been hard at work, reading and doing research for a brand new book project about nature and the Absolute. Central to this project is the dance of order and chaos that we find in nature – something that has always fascinated me. To what extent is nature designed, subject to immutable laws? To what extent are the forces in it utterly random? Needless to say, these questions have taken me all over the place, from German Idealism, Indian philosophy and microbiology, to Natural Theology, evolution, and quantum mechanics. My latest stop: chaos theory. Egads!

Along with the entirely ordered gardens around the house that are full of utterly domesticated plants, Judy and I have cultivated a patch of forest floor in our back yard that we call the Buddha Garden. A stone Buddha lords over this somewhat haphazard experiment in what I call unnatural selection. In addition to a dozen or so domestic flowers that we’ve planted there – some of which are found naturally in the wild, like false Solomon’s seal and foamflower – we have allowed many of the native plants to stay. Among these are trilliums, baneberry, trout lily, and some rather aggressive asters. So you could say that this so-called garden, wilder than most, is a curious blend of order and chaos.

At any rate, while transplanting more flowers into it this morning, I couldn’t help but wonder what the laws of nature are and to what extent they dictate what happens in my semi-wild garden regardless of my tinkering. Meanwhile, the stone Buddha just sits there, seemingly detached from my pondering and handiwork, staring into oblivion as if there’s something about simply being in the world that guys like me completely miss.

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Sep 29 2010

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Mountain Stream Philosophizing

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Sometimes I head to the mountains to escape my thoughts.  Other times I take my intellectual baggage with me.  The other day was a good example of the latter.

Even as the rush of the mountain stream filled my ears, and the intoxicating smell of autumn leaves tickled my nose, I brooded over a comment made by a world-renowned physicist a week or two earlier.  He had said that a Creator was not necessary, that the universe could have arisen spontaneously from nothing.  I immediately scoffed at the notion, but it ate away at me regardless.

Order or chaos – it all comes down to that, doesn’t it?  Either the universe is organized according to certain immutable laws, or all events are essentially random.  Recent cosmological discoveries point to a Big Bang occurring 13.7 billion years ago, to a singular event giving birth to the universe as we know it, thereby ruling out the possibility that things are now as they have always been.  But that leaves the non-religious thinker no choice but to embrace utter randomness.  And that’s a tough pill to swallow.

Order or chaos?  While fly fishing a mountain stream, I see plenty of both.  All around me there are downed trees, rotting wood, and the quiet tumult of growth and decay, yet the leaves overhead are turning gold, completing a cycle set in motion many centuries ago.  Rocks are strewn about haphazardly, as are twigs and branches, yet the stream itself follows the inexorable tug of gravity.  Is wild nature ordered or chaotic?  A good argument can be made either way.

A small brown trout rose to my showy fly, an Ausable Wulff, then all was quiet for a while.  When I spotted a cloud of tiny, slate gray mayflies hovering over the water, I changed to another fly – one called a Blue-winged Olive – that better matched the hatch.  I was betting that the hungry mouths beneath the water’s surface would know the difference.  This bet didn’t escape the philosopher in me.  I was betting on natural order and was not disappointed.  Several trout splashed to the surface, chasing my tiny gray fly.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have the eyes to see my offering on the water so I missed the strikes, leaving all matters philosophical unresolved.

Shortly thereafter, I resorted to my showy A. Wulff, which is much easier to see.  I soon hooked and landed a ten-inch brook trout.  It didn’t make any sense, really.  You’d think a big, old brookie would know better than to rise to something that looks as out of place as an A. Wulff.  Clearly Mother Nature was making fun of me, mocking my assumptions.  Or maybe we just don’t have enough information to really know what’s going on around us.  I laughed long and hard at that, while returning the trout to the drink.  There’s always a rationalization, isn’t there?

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