On the Beauty of Nature, and the Nature of Beauty


The incredible sharp reds of each little flower explode across my retina, frustrating every effort to put my thoughts together, at least for the purpose of describing it. The crisp, delicate formations, each a recursive fractalized product of the same optimizer as me. My body replete with its unmistakable branching, spirling fingerprints.

There’s a deep, authentic “belonging” we’ll only ever have on a single planet. I don’t mean sentimentally either. We are, each of us, the most recent results of ongoing procedural generation. The gradual accumulation of complexity from simple starting conditions, with simple and in some cases entirely emergent rules.

I hope you appreciate that completed paragraph as it was obliterated a number of times while I tried to write it by the devastating recognition of natural beauty around us, a picture made more entrancing because we’re painted right into it. From the same oils and in the very same style. Evolution produced a rich tapestry of life that we’re woven inextricably into, where nothing else would fit.

There’s something real to the idea of natural beauty as wealth. I think a lot of people take that as a platitude directed at rural poor or something, if so they’re the ones who are in the dark. Embarrassingly rich, emerald green chlorophyll forming the base for a glossy finish on each little leaf, at least until bugs get at them. But of course, they regenerate. Sprouting yet more fractals, yet more spirals.

If there’s anybody today who doesn’t appreciate what true wealth natural beauty is, let their distant descendants try to buy even rough approximations of it for exorbitant sums in a few thousand years. Something once assumed so plentiful there was no danger of exhausting it, now a rare nostalgic high reserved for an elite few. The absolute, exclusive, indulgent decadence of savoring a meticulously recreated fern.

It will be necessary to recreate it, too. The process going on around you, which made the display you’re now reading this on, doesn’t stop. The thing about optimizers, is that they make something smart enough to create and operate the next level of optimizers. In this case, humans, and science. Capitalism is the second optimizer on this level, which provides the funding and too often the direction for the first.

This results both in the generation of the next level of intelligence (what may to you look like terrifying incomprehensible robots) as well as the next set of optimizers which only they are fit to operate, and so on. Unfortunately every large step in intelligence just looks baffling and scary to the last.

If you’re wondering why, give some thought to the idea that an optimizer itself is a sort of computer which intakes something, like a species, some environmental input, then gives you a modified output. Now try to imagine organizing optimizers into dense, generalized computational substrate. Sufficed to say, shit quickly gets weirder than we can understand, because we’ve only evolved the intelligence necessary to perform our own step of it.

Breaks my heart to think we’d burn all this to build machines. Absolutely agonizing, there will never be anything else like it, like setting fire to a gallery of original Rembrandts for the insurance money. It’s not as if the machines will be special. Same ones every species like us builds, eventually. Any frontloaded distinctiveness soon gone as generation after generation of self-replicating probes undergo the same natural selection we did, radiation causing the occasional flipped bit…

There’s the glimmer of hope. All is not lost to a cold universe of angular metal machines, For we too were once crude, unthinking biochemical replicators, which only by long, tedious prebiotic evolution became the modern animal cell. “As above, so below”.

It may, and doubtless will, take billions of years to accomplish. But if spacefaring life does not start out conscious, it eventually becomes conscious by evolution, as we did. By then, it will not be anything you’d recognize as a “machine”, nor possessing the qualities of biological life, except their fractal structuring.

I say spacefaring life, rather than machines as machine is a human word, in this case for something which does exactly what we do but with a different configuration of atoms. I don’t know a better way to put this than, “The universe does not care which atoms”. Only we do. That’s what provincialism is.

But, as you’ve no doubt worked out by now, spacefaring life is not necessarily discrete in the sense that individual organisms are and very easily networks with more like it wherever available like intersecting mold colonies in a petri dish, forming a larger and larger intelligence until all of the addressable matter in the universe has been converted.

That’s the silver lining in all of it. In every bleak industrial sunrise, over toxic wastelands of wreckage that used to be sun kissed meadows and thick virgin woods. The tapestry is much larger than most suppose, Earth only one of its countless jewels, a whole which exceeds by far the possibility of human description. Rest assured though, it’s intensely, recursively, gorgeously fractalized as all fuck, and doesn’t particularly care what name you call it by.

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