Thursday, November 10, 2011

Green Chaos: Randomness as a Source of Inspiration

I recently read a post on Tea Musings, titled Green Chaos, which references a term used by John Fowles in his essay The Tree. In case you don't read or know of this blog, it's a collection of original poetry and, as the name suggests, musings. The posts are brief, expressive, and I find often calming and nature-oriented. This blog offers an interesting contrast to the standard, cut-and-dry, "talk directly about tea" approach that many of us (including myself, usually) take to tea, and I find it very refreshing and inspirational.

The photo pictured here is from Rittenhouse Park in Newark, Delaware, a deceptively large forested park nestled in between suburban areas. This park and its forest are oven overshadowed by the two nearby parks, each of which has larger tracts of forest: White Clay Creek State Park and Iron Hill Park. But I find this park and its wild forests beautiful as well.

This is the sort of green chaos that I find inspirational: it is a forest where trees and other plants grow wild, and it shows an intricate and almost endless pattern of order emerging from chaos, flowing into more chaos, with yet more order emerging. This is the world in which we thrive, feel most alive, and realize our full potential, not the tightly controlled environments that we often create around us in the modern world.

Wild ecosystems as a source of inspiration:

Inspiration is very important to me. In my work, I create things...writing, poetry, sometimes images, websites, software, ideas, and systems. And as hobbies, I create music, and improvisatory dance (swing dancing and blues dancing). I also create food when I cook, and when I grow and dry herbs, and sometimes blend them, to make herbal teas or flavored teas, usually just to drink by myself. All of these activities require inspiration. Even things that are often viewed as mechanical or technical, such as programming, require great inspiration to me. When I'm inspired, I can finish a task in a tiny fraction of the time, and do a much better job of it, than when I'm trying to mechanically trudge through it. I also need to use inspiration to solve problems in my daily life, from complex problems involving human relationships, to practical ones like how to reattach the knob to my antique dresser that fell off because the bolt was stripped.

Inspiration is not a luxury, it's a necessity.

If you read this blog a lot, you'll know that I often like to cite my sources of inspiration. Often, I'm directly inspired by another person's blog post, or a conversation I read on an internet forum. But there are other, more indirect, and possibly more important sources of inspiration in my life.

Chaos as inspiration, randomness as a resource:

If you are skeptical that chaos can be a source of inspiration, I want to provide you compelling proof of this fact, from a realm that is about as highly ordered and as un-chaotic as one can get: the realm of computers.

One of the things that I've done over the course of my life is server administration. A server is a computer, usually housed in a data center, which is the physical location for websites and other web-based services. Servers are at the very core of the internet, but many of us are not aware of them or how they work. Administering a server is something that relatively few people are familiar with. Indeed, now I use a managed virtual hosting plan to host my websites, and I only do small tweaks to the administration, but for a while, I was doing everything myself.

One interesting thing about understanding the inner workings of a server is something called the entropy pool. Servers actually have a need for randomness--it sounds crazy, but randomness is actually a valued resource under certain conditions, such as the highly controlled conditions in a data center. One of them is in the generation of cryptographic keys. If you want to create an encryption scheme, you need to have random numbers. If the numbers are not truly random (i.e. if they are generated by a simple algorithm) they can be predicted, and thus, the encryption can be easily cracked. Even in the world of computers and technology, randomness, or chaos (which can be referred to as entropy) can be a valued resource.

Back to nature:

We cannot live without nature, and I think all of us would agree on that. We depend on the Earth's ecosystems for our clean air, water, and also for our food, other natural resources, and of course, our tea.

But in addition, we also depend on the randomness of nature for inspiration. Without the randomness, our lives would be sterile. We would not be able to create things, to solve problems, or to do anything that requires creativity.

The dry leaf of this pouchong / bao zhong tea shows a similar interplay between order and chaos of the forest above. Unlike computers, it exhibits an organic sort of structure, a lot like the structure of the forest above, or this blackbird flock below:

What are the sources of inspiration in your life? What are the sources of chaos and randomness that you find most inspirational?


  1. Alex: My closest friend is a painter, whose images you might find interesting. He plays with chaos/order, and uses nature images to explore this.

    Robert is a bit of a "painter's painter," always experimenting deeply within the medium.

  2. Thanks! I actually really like the aesthetic of these paintings...they seem to be some of the similar subjects and perspectives that I like to photograph!

  3. Hey, Alex - Nice post! And yes, the Huang Shan area I visited is of Mao Feng esteem. Cheers!