A Call for the Preservation of Beauty

By Benedikt Loula, GLOBUS Assistant Editor

And once again, poetry has been proven to be too good for this world.

– Sir John Brannox

When we advocate for sustainability, more often than not, we descend into practical arguments, be it in relation to our welfare, survival or simply economics. Although I sincerely applaud environmental attitudes and I try to conduct myself accordingly, I sometimes catch myself thinking — isn’t the environmental picture a bit incomplete?

To elaborate, the gist of the environmental struggle is often reduced to climate change. But what we are facing now is a far greater issue of human expansionism. As our civilisation grows, nature becomes more and more depleted due to widespread deforestation and pollution, which inadvertently leads to species extinction. In general, nature is on retreat as our population keeps expanding.

But is that necessarily a bad thing? Should we keep preserving nature just because of our own survival, or is there some more inherent value in nature? This is a question of profound importance, as it will determine the degree of our commitment to sustainability.

We need to examine closely the relationship between man and nature to see what kind of bond there is. It is my belief that an inquiry into the aesthetics of nature is one of the small, but important steps we need to make to successfully complement the environmental narrative.

Aesthetics of Nature

“Beethoven’s walk in nature” by Julius Schmid

In 2020, Beethoven’s Pastoral symphony will be used as an anthem to unite millions across the world to act against climate change. This is by no means a coincidence. Beethoven admittedly derived a great deal of inspiration from nature and has frequently left Vienna to work in rural locations.

Beethoven loved nature. There was nothing he loved more than taking long walks in the country … always composing as he went, waving his arms in the air, jotting notes down.

– John Suchet, Classic FM – Presenter

Beethoven’s story quite nicely outlines the interconnectedness of man and nature. It shows that nature is not simply a nurturing mechanism that just spits out resources to satisfy the endless calamity of our desires. Nature also saturates our minds with ideas. After all, nature’s internal structure is filled with inspiration. Just consider these examples:

Arrangement of leaves on a stem. Credits: The Fibonacci sequence in phyllotaxis – Laura Resta (Degree Thesis in biomathematics)

First, there are mathematical sequences to be found in the geometry of plants. For instance, we can find the Fibonacci Sequence (a mathematical formula that constitutes spiral dimensions) in the arrangement of plants such as daisies, sunflowers, cauliflowers, and broccoli.

Moreover, Kepler famously noted that in many types of trees the leaves are aligned in a pattern that includes two Fibonacci numbers. This means that nature is immensely good at creating complex geometrical patterns. Hence, our intuition that there is a certain innate wisdom in nature is true, or at least on the mathematical level.

Second, the field of biomimicry is a good example of how nature can inspire practical solutions. Biomimicry is a practice that learns from the strategies and designs found in nature to solve complex human problems.

That might mean studying prairie dog burrows to build better air ventilation systems; mimicking shark skin to create a bacteria-resistant plastic surface for hospitals; or coordinating the movement of several autonomous cars by replicating the self-organisation processes of ants.

Furthermore, biomimicry is also widely practiced in engineering, architecture, and agriculture.

We are learning, for instance, how to harness energy like a leaf, grow food like a prairie, build ceramics like an abalone, self-medicate like a chimp, create colour like a peacock, compute like a cell, and run a business like a hickory forest. 

– Janine M. Benyus, a leading pioneer in biomimicry

After all, biological designs and systems were in development for millions of years. During that time, they were in a perpetual dialogue with the laws of physics and the principle of natural selection. This is what made nature the best architect, the most creative artist and the most effective organiser. Therefore, the overall wisdom of nature is, in some aspects, far superior to ours. And hence, we are condemned to be its observers and most dedicated pupils.

Summary

This is but a glimpse of the untapped plethora of inspirations that can be found in nature. I believe that what makes nature beautiful is, above all, the amassed wisdom of time that is hidden in its roots, branches, streams, waterfalls and in the entirety of animal kingdom.

If we follow Plato’s famous conception of love, then it follows that the 2nd highest form of love is the love of knowledge, whereas the highest form of love is the love of beauty. Maybe it is because the concept of ‘beauty’ reflects and de-facto contains wisdom as such. Perhaps that is the reason why we all like to take strolls in nature; because the green surroundings contain bottomless inspiration and wisdom of time.

Hence, depletion of nature is comparable to the burning of the Great Library of Alexandria, the death of Shakespeare and the pillaging of Jerusalem. It is one of the tragic losses of knowledge. On this account, sustainability is not only about survival and optimal economy. Sustainability is also about nature’s inherent value; that is its beauty.

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