I open my eyes and see beauty, a gratifying perception that inspires respect and reverence, that directs my actions and endows them with meaning and purpose. What is it? It is beyond me to verbally articulate it and yet I feel compelled to share the emotion and power that beauty engenders in me, even try to understand its essence; it is so easy to trivialize and so hard to capture the deep meaning of beauty with its multifarious forms, form a drop of dew and a falling autumn leaf to a majestic mountaintop, form a bird song to a symphony orchestra, from a snowdrop to a beautiful woman.
What is the unifying feature among all of these? Is it just a spatiotemporally organized neuronal activity, the response of my brain to fundamentally different stimuli or is it a multifaceted diamond presenting itself in hologramic mosaic of images. Is it the dynamic interplay of elegant simplicity creating astounding diversity, an intricate world that puzzles with its variety and charms with its few powerful unifying principles?
I can hardly approach these questions without biases! Being educated in the Western scientific tradition, I seek and marvel at the immutable forms from that sublime world that Plato called superlunary and Aristotle considered quintessential. Now we call it with different names but more often just tacitly assume that it exists; the implicit assumption that we can explain diverse phenomena in terms of universal principles is the very foundation behind much of modern science. It was the assumption that Newton made in inferring the laws of motion from astronomical observations of “the heavenly bodies” and then boldly generalized the principles to all terrestrial phenomena. We have indeed pursued this seductive assumption with a remarkable success and found common unifying principles behind ostensibly disparate phenomena.
I would go further and claim that even our ability to perceive the world testifies to its structure, to a set of statistical dependencies that consistently and reliably guide us through the dynamical interplay of thousands of variables; when I fail that is because my intuition cannot grasp the sharp turns in the enormous phase-space of my life, the high-order combinatorial nonlinearities that paint the dynamical portraits of life, portraits that often appear quite impressionistic while carrying their distinctive characters: Fractal portraits imprinted by stochastic influences and yet unmistakably reflecting their underlying intrinsic dynamics. I perceive and marvel and still cannot articulate the awe-inspiring grandeur that animates my life, the beauty that surrounds me — it is a feeling, a wonderfully gratifying perception!