Seeing in the Dark, Part II

Yesterday I proposed that the science of light and the world it allows humans to see …


… was a deduction, a creative act, so to speak, not a leap of faith but a skillfully built up screen, part biological and part mathematical, created upon a different knowledge, based on darkness and direct physical apprehension.


Red Osier Dogwood Living in the Dark

Its form of ‘seeing’ is to mine light for electrons, with which it reconfigures the matter of the earth and the air, and out of which it, ultimately, constructs itself. It, however, is a tree. In the culture that sees the world as light, humans aren’t trees. Yes, they have trunks and arms, as trees do, and they put down roots, and their labours with light blossom and bear fruit, but that’s metaphor, the science of light tells us. In this conception, which is the one most of us live in today, these are not three humans watching the light caught in the fog, beside a winter road.



They are three maples, beside a road, and if one wants to see them as human, well, that’s just an error, at worst, and a metaphor, a bit of poetry, at best. It’s not so simple, though. For one thing, Germanic words for people, come from trees: our “arms” are actually branches, our “bodies” are actually trunks, not as metaphors for trees, but from the observation of human identity within trees, embedded in the world, applied backwards to humans. That was the intellectual leap. That was the metaphor.


The First Human —Oak in the Belevedere English Gardens, Weimar, Germany

Those are WWII soviet graves at her feet.

Not a metaphor. More of a comment on identity. This too. Look at the leaves here at Siebenfelsen, a sacred Celtic site abandoned in the Black Forest.



Those leaves, rising up and catching the light in such varied ways, those are thoughts. That is a way of apprehending light not centred in the human body. The tradition went through many refinements. Here it is in 1930s Iceland, a bit grown up with the years, looking out from the church at Reykholt, where the sagas were written. One looked out from the sacred church to the trees. The people were inside the church, where a specific intellectual and spiritual tradition made them into people. The other people were outside the church.



They were not less for that. The image below, the Evangelical Church of Kuppenheim, Germany, consecrated eighty years ago when my father was a boy in town, is surrounded by trees. These ones, though, are in a deeply scientific culture (on the brink of madness, yes, but not quite totally yet) and are symbols, of nationalism, faith, Germany, and a romantic past, when the Germans lived out in the trees and the church was something brought in from Rome and plunked down there amongst them: a system of thought, and a system of architecture: a kind of machine for creating Christian men out of tree people.


It’s a form of sculpture, not as a physical carving of a man, or woman, for such has sculpture been for most of its history in the West, but as a process of carving humans out of energy and time. In other words, for focussing the mind. It’s not just a Christian invention. The celts were into it.


Phallus Wearing a Carnival Mask at Siebenfelsen

The phallus is actually made out of stacked skulls, with heads looking both ways, like a watcher. Here’s the same phallus, from a different angle.



Skull With a Skull for a Hat

The celts were doing this work with the body, not with the mind. That was intervention, but it was done onto the darkness of touch, not the light of the eyes. Quite a different thing, but with the same sculptural impulse, if by sculpture is meant the representation of the human body that is made out of stone, binding a two dimensional object with directionality, or time, as Goethe’s friend and mentor Johann Gottlieb Herder put it. The thing with light, that came from the Mediterranean. That’s not a bad thing, but, still, it was an en-light-enment, a filling of the ‘darkness’ with light. And there we are.


Apple Tree Seen With Mediterranean Light

We’re filled with light. The work has been done, and most of the Christian world, and the Celtic one, is happy living in the world of Newton’s light.


Celtic Grapes, Growing in Newton’s Light, and Picked by Birds


Look, men walked, where only trees had been before!



Beech Trees at the Siebenfelsen Complex, Yach

However, only certain characteristics of a red dogwood (for example) can be ascertained with the use of light. That’s to say that human beings only extend themselves so far in the dimensions of light. Deducing the work of other dimensions, such as touch or taste or smell or movement, from light is to make what is equal secondary. Perhaps the darkness didn’t need to be dispelled, or replaced, and perhaps the light, as a form of darkness (which I argued yesterday), and the colours that come from its intersection with darkness, is sculpture as well, in the same way that a church sculpts men and women.


The feel of bark, the cool of a tree, the rush of its height, these are all meaningless to light… yet not to the earth and certainly not to humans. We apprehend them directly with out bodies. They are us. They dance us. They extend us.



Or we extend them. Strange, isn’t it, how such a useful tool, the scientific imagination, that can carve the undifferentiated light into shapes made out of secondary vibrations (the intersections between light and matter) like this…


… can erase the essential human-ness of the tree, when you are within its presence, or, perhaps better, the essential tree-ness of the human within its presence. In my discussion yesterday, I drew on the work of the poet scientist Goethe, who pointed out that the tools Newton used to split light …


 Starling After Rain

… created a science of split light, not a science of whole light. Light, he pointed out, was white; it came from the sun in one undifferentiated mass. Only a tool cut it up. When it was put it back together, it was actually something else altogether, like this:


Frankenstein’s Monster On the Search for Love

In other words, light disassembled and put back together is not light. Not according to Goethe. I think this might actually be an empirical thought, graspable if we just stop for a moment and reinterpret Goethe. What is his “white light”? Why, God. God might not be in fashion these days, and not always seen as an equal partner for science, but in Goethe’s day God certainly was. Humans can see in the dark, he told us.



Chinese Elm, Seen in the Dark

I mean, just because we see light, doesn’t mean that light isn’t a form of darkness, and that the process of ‘seeing’ it isn’t an abstraction in the same way that a man is carved into a statue and something of his spirit, or the spirit of the sculptor is said to be there, or the way in which the ponderosa pine, below, is created out of an unbroken extension of time, leading directly back to the Big Bang.

P1620066 But that’s not what I wanted to say, not completely. I wanted to point out that we are bodies in a physical world; we apprehend the world physically, and the forms we see, are real forms, not light. The light is just a way of apprising them from a distance.P1640983

Red-Tailed Hawk Bending Weighing Down a Poplar’s Crown

Some day we’re going to have to touch them. The work has been done to make us human and to differentiate us from the mass of the world, but it was roughly done, and done too simply. Goethe tried to point that out, 200 years ago. I’m stumbling into that darkness now, and seeing, like he did, that it’s not dark, at least not in the sense of being a place of diminishment of blindness.



It is a place of extension across distance. Light would be nothing to us without the sense of a body to ground it. Every moment is art.



Old Peach Trees

Every moment of science is art. This separation has gone on far too long. We’ve made humans.


Gundestrup Cauldron

This is how you make humans.

It’s the most vital remnant of Celtic culture, and nobody knows who these figures are. The stag-headed Cernunnos is the common guess, but look, just look at those antlers and then look at this for a second:




Then back to the antlers…


They are growing out of a head that is anchored to a body that is holding a snake, ancient symbol of the earth. It’s a tree, growing out of the ground, in an ancient story of rebirth, fertility and growth — a story, in other words, about life as a force in and of itself, and about the earth as both human and deer (but not fish or lion). That life force coming from the earth is very celtic. It’s also an amazing intellectual leap, as is also the concept that it’s not the tree that is the human, but that the earth is a body itself, like a human, that gives the tree, and that this power can be created in a cauldron and passed on to others as the food of life. A feast is not just about calories. Here’s the snake at Siebenfelsen, to demonstrate just how celtic all this is.


The earth is not just an inanimate rock. That is the light talking. It is an entire intellectual edifice, and our ancestors have created us out of that. We are them. When we walk through the hills, they are walking through the hills.

P1320017 copy

John Day Painted Hills National Historical Monument, Oregon

Next: environmental and scientific consequences and opportunities.

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