Do you recall your first discovery of light when you were a child? What an alluring beauty that intangible phantom presents for babies at a certain age. I remember a great many things from my childhood, but not that discovery. Perhaps I ignored it or it didn’t fascinate me the way it should have. And maybe that’s why it took so many years, until last August, for me to discover light again.
Even the physics we learn in school tells us there’s something very special and elusive about how light works in the real world: it’s a particle and a wave. Nothing else can claim both properties. In art class we learn about the flow of light over objects: core shadow, cast shadow, reflected light, highlight. Light on all materials, whether it is a snowball or a cell, a finger or a blood vessel, can be related to the behavior of light wrapping itself around the basic geometric forms: a sphere, a cube, a cylinder, and a cone.
How lovely it is, that flow of light. An artist’s world begins at that door. But not for me. I didn’t even begin to explore these simple questions about light until I was a graduate student. And then, I was concerned with other great questions: understanding the science and medicine within, mastering composition, exploring the great masters of illustration, mixing color, learning the technology.
What pushed me to an exploration of light at the layers beneath? Spiritual questions, it seems. As a child, my world had been a rational one. Things made sense that way. Then, I discovered the irrational world where emotions and other “out of the ratio” behaviors made sense. My model of a world divided between rationality and irrationality worked well and still does, but there was something shining through, disturbing the sharply defined territories there, and that breach can only be analogized to the behavior of light itself. Perhaps I’ll one day find a good way of explaining this experience. I brought out my camera again to help me ask questions about how light behaves. Taking photos, I was learning deeper answers in the presence of light there: we can do more than reflect light or transmit light, we can ourselves be light.
While a photographer has the magical eye to capture the secrets of light and freeze them for all to learn by, an artist can move one step beyond. Interpret that behavior for me. What does it mean that light passing through a leaf offers the serenity of a stained glass window? How can the golden light reflecting off that icy lake tell me about where to pour my energies in my everyday life? An artist is able to ask these questions. I am finally ready, myself, to begin asking these questions professionally and personally.
What have you learned about light: light as a natural phenomenon; light in art; light as the spiritual metaphor?
And yet relation appears,A small relation expanding like the shadeOf a cloud on sand, a shape on the side of a hill.
-Wallace Stevens, “Connoisseur of Chaos”
What are your favorite fractals? For me, simply to list my favorite fractals together, knowing they all share something in common, is a great pleasure… Lightening and neural networks both follow fractal patterns. Then there is the vascular system branching, tissues, clouds, trabecular branching patterns within bone structure, distribution of arthropod body lengths, distribution of human digit to finger to hand to arm lengths, mammographic parenchymal pattern (revealiing risk for breast cancer), snowflakes, seashells, lungs, cracks, spiral arms of galaxies, the folds of the brain and the encoding of thoughts, facial dimensions, tree and leaf branching, the coastline of Britain, growth rates of plants, structure of mountain ranges, DNA folding, quarks, atoms, and the fingers and arms of the sun.
From Jackson Pollock to lightning to Russian nesting dolls, I’m looking for connections there, too. What are your observations? What strikes you about them? If you find them beautiful, what makes them so?
What can we learn about the design of the universe, as we look to the body for clues? My question finds me at a somewhat broken place where I have observed a great deal of disconnectedness. But recently I am beginning to observe in those same patterns, a common architecture. I wonder if this sense is real. I want to find design parallels using science, art, philosophy and all the truth traditions as tools. I want my professional life and my personal life to lead me down this path of exploration. At first my entries may not seem to be connecting medicine to deeper questions of design and they may seem broad and far afield. But with time, perhaps years, I hope to approach this question legitimately.