A World Within

A World Within

I took the photo at the top of this blog, using a GoPro HERO 4 Silver, while swimming in a lake in the Saguenay region, just before sunset. Actually, it is a screen capture from HD video I shot that evening. I wanted to film the fading light in the sky from just beneath the surface.

The result surprised me. Except for the silhouette of trees along the bottom left, I could swear this is a planet wandering in space! Clouds blowing across a deepening blue sky make it seem like an ocean planet. The GoPro’s fish-eye lens gives a roundness to the sky, plunging the surrounding water into the darkness of night. The sky looks like water, and the water looks like sky!

As I swam in the water, holding my camera, I noticed low-flying insects once in awhile, buzzing right over the surface. Low enough for a trout to leap out of the water, and swallow whole. Could I see the way the trout saw?

This image recalls the way we project our perspective onto Nature, the way we form a picture in our mind, based on what we saw somewhere beforehand, dreamed, believed, longed for, or feared, and then associate it with other pictures in our mind.

The image also recalls the metaphor of the microcosm, according to which there is a correspondence between the greater world “out there” and the little world within each one of us. Many people have waxed poetic about the microcosm over the centuries, from Pythagoras and Plato to Leonardo da Vinci, Sir Walter Raleigh and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz.

Leonardo da Vinci got a lot of his ideas about correspondences while hiking in the mountains of northern Italy

For example, Leonardo da Vinci writes in his Notebooks: “By the ancients man has been called the world in miniature; and certainly this name is well bestowed, because, inasmuch as man is composed of earth, water, air and fire, his body resembles that of the earth; and as man has in him bones the supports and framework of his flesh, the world has its rocks the supports of the earth; as man has in him a pool of blood in which the lungs rise and fall in breathing, so the body of the earth has its ocean tide which likewise rises and falls every six hours, as if the world breathed; as in that pool of blood veins have their origin, which ramify all over the human body, so likewise the ocean sea fills the body of the earth with infinite springs of water. The body of the earth lacks sinews and this is, because the sinews are made expressly for movements and, the world being perpetually stable, no movement takes place, and no movement taking place, muscles are not necessary.–But in all other points they are much alike.”

And if a human being is a world in miniature – a microcosm – why not other species as well, with whom we have so much in common? Why shouldn’t a deer be a world unto itself, or a brook trout, or a nightingale, or a firefly?

The metaphor of the microcosm is interesting because it works both ways – both from lesser to greater, and from greater back to lesser.

At one level of intuition, people feel they are worlds unto themselves. I have sometimes been uncomfortable (i.e. weirded out) to hear introverted people tell me they were ready to welcome me into their world. It seemed like they were projecting a sombre kind of grandeur onto their inner state. No thanks, I would rather not enter their world! It would be such a stifling, claustrophobic space inside their heads! I couldn’t ever be sure of getting back outside afterwards!

But at another level of intuition, people take the world to be something like a person, which is another kind of projection. During the current pandemic, a few people have told me that Gaia – the personification of the Earth, the ancestral mother of all life – is sending us an angry message about the way we humans are mismanaging life on this planet.

I don’t believe in Gaia myself. But anxious talk about the Earth goddess, coming at this particular time, gives an indication what people are going through, emotionally.

The Sun, care of NASA – some people tell me Gaia is sending us a powerful message these days

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