Trail in Namibia Trail in Namibia

The Problem with Analysing Nature

I feel a need to touch on a subject that occupies my thoughts from time to time. Any attempt to truly understand nature inevitably leads to analysis and yet nature itself seems well-equipped to mock such overtures. When standing on a beach, admiring the final deep pinks and oranges of the sun setting over the horizon, it seems churlish to let words like bearing, declination or azimuth enter our thoughts. To look at the wondrous and bizarre world of lichens and then think of Latin names feels wrong. Should solstices be about understanding the physics of our solar system, or naked abandon and dancing around fires and stones? I’ve absolutely no idea. I am delighted to not have any final answers in this area and so for now I will leave you with an excerpt from an extraordinary book.

‘When analytic thought, the knife, is applied to experience, something is always killed in the process. That is fairly well understood, at least in the arts. Mark Twain’s experience comes to mind, in which, after he had mastered the analytic knowledge needed to pilot the Mississippi River, he discovered the river had lost its beauty. Something is always killed. But what is less noticed in the arts – something is always created too. And instead of just dwelling on what is killed it’s important also to see what’s created and to see the process as a kind of death-birth continuity that is neither good nor bad, but just is.’

Robert M. Pirsig
from ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance