Ex Nihilo began as a spinoff from another site of mine, somewhere I was doing bookmarking, where even by Internet standards, the staff and the members had a strange, antagonistic relationship. The staff seemed to absolutely delight in giving those blogging on their site tools that were never quite adequate, really seemingly willfully designed to be inadequate, and one of the quirks of their system was that it would strip out almost all formatting code. I was left, after a while, with the mildly amusing observation that what was most notable about my blog was what wasn't on it, one might say. With a lot of work, I managed to introduce negative space into my posts by inserting and stretching an empty space graphic as needed. This made the blog look a lot nicer and made it easier to read, except for a few intervals when the platform was redesigned in a passive aggressive sort of way that mangled a good many blogs, but those times would pass.
I was amused enough by that to give my blog an unofficial name based on that - our passive aggressive hosts wouldn't let us name our own blogs - and for the most part, this worked until the day when the host wiped out our blogs, reminding us of a basic truth of life: one ought never to jump through hoops. It just doesn't pay off, in the end. But, I did gain a little from the fiasco. I learned a little about composition, which should serve me well in places where the system hasn't been deliberately designed to thwart and enrage the users, and I had this idea of a blog about nothing. "Absolutely nothing?", Joseph, you ask. "Don't you think that will get a little tedious? What - just one blank post after another?" I'll bet I could get an NEA grant to do that, but no, the word "nothing" will be used in a broader, more colloquial, less literal sense than that. As I explain on my Flickr profile,
"The name 'Ex Nihilo', which that of my blog, ties into the upcoming subject matter. The Flickr groups I've signed up for, intending to try each (as I discover which I enjoy the most and where I wish to develop a long term presence), almost all relate to some of the recurring themes that will develop, which will refer to austerity, simplicity, restraint and often, in one sense or another, emptiness, but not always in a bad sense. I expect that, in visual terms, the emptiness of space and of the desert will often make their appearance on my blog. Both are sources of great natural beauty ..."
... to say nothing of more easily breathed air, for some of us, in the case of the desert. The desert really isn't nothing. There is ground under your feet, there is air in your lungs, and in some of the relatively lusher portions of it, food to be gathered. But this doesn't keep people from insisting on thinking of the desert as being empty, and it is a simpler environment than those one tends to find in less desolate locations, even if the geology is often more interesting than that found in flatter, more seemingly hospital places to the east of the Mississippi. Life is very complex, and most of that is missing. Likewise, as one studies astronomy - most of space is nothing, but obviously, one can't see there is nothing in space, literally. The earth and everything that we know of is located in the universe, but the objects studied by astronomers could reasonably be said to simpler than those studied by biologists, a butterfly being far more complex than a star.
Bookmarking continues to be something that I do, as it shall remain for some time to come. A lot of that bookmarking is going to happen here, more now since my old host (which need not be named) chose to flake out on us. The sites being bookmarked will be rather more diverse than the unifying theme would suggest, though that theme will inform my choices fairly often. I should explain, since this has been a source of confusion for some, that to me, bookmarking is much more than a collection of links to interesting or disturbing sites, just as criticism is far more than a matter of pointing one's thumb upward or downward, or counting out the stars one will assign to a movie. Think of book reviewing, as it is sometimes done in an academic or literary journal. The author of the review, having read the book, will respond to what the author of the book has to say. For me, what the author of the other site has written is used as a springboard, as I have said, for thoughts of my own. Criticism is only as dull a subject as people choose to make it, and I see no virtue in tedium.
"But isn't this blog dull by definition? I mean, you're stripping away all that is imaginative in your work, if that's the way you go, aren't you? How much room is there for imagination, if one is creating plain black or plain white canvases?", somebody might ask, to which I would respond, not at all, because minimalism isn't what a lot of people think it is. "Austere" does not mean plain or dull. In the arts, it can mean stripping things down to their essentials, as we see in this random sampling of photos from one of the Flickr groups to which I belong. No, I'm not an admin of this one, but these might help to illustrate the point. This is a group for photos of the ocean, so, no, I'm not going to be spending all of my time in the desert. Be forewarned - these images come with links, and the links do not open in new windows, so you'll have to hit the back arrow to return. I'm using Flickr badges and they are what they are.
One might think of minimalism as art's cure for kitsch, something that as an amateur - which is what I am - one has to work a lot harder to avoid, admittedly with less than total success. Styles can become baroque parodies of themselves as detail is piled upon detail, and one must strip away that which is extraneous in order to find that which is essential, and build on that. One can take the process too far, and end up with absurdities like a plain black canvas, or a photo of a cloudless blue sky in which nothing can be seen, but one need not do so. Beauty, like common sense, can be found through the dielectic, even when the conversation one is having is an internal one. One pushes oneself to simplify one's work even as one adds detail to it, and in the tension between the two urges, one makes progress - or at least I do.
As I post my own original work, such as it is, this is where I will be coming to clear the clutter, and reform myself in that sense, not just as a photographer, but as a writer. I tend to overwrite, a bad tendancy that perhaps has been reinforced by years of having to overexplain simple points to simple people, or to the hyperargumentative sorts who like to lead simple people astray. In writing philosophy of any sort, one has to give the argument the time it needs and cultivate patience, but patience is not always a virtue when writing fiction or poetry. Read a little Hemingway, and then take a look at the work of the man who penned the infamous words "it was a dark and stormy night", and you'll see what I'm trying to avoid.
I'll be posting short, simplied stories, then, probably some haiku and other such poetric scribblings, posted with little hint of a well earned sense of shame, and some simplified recipes, and other things in which I need not feel as much shame, but on the other hand, will not offer me as many opportunities for personal growth. Literature and art aren't what I studied in school, and they aren't what I ever imagine myself pursuing for a living. They are what I attempt, as I try to become a more rounded person, and a more interesting one to be around. Graduate school, I'm afraid, in addition to doing nothing for one's career path, can do grave damage to one's interpersonal skills, which tend to wither from disuse through years spent in the library with no time for parties or friendships, and the narrowing of one's list of actively purused interests does nothing good for one's conversational skills. I've made a point of doing something about that, but this doesn't mean that I'm just going to forget that school ever happened, or have nothing to do with my own subjects, which are in the sciences, not the arts. To neglect my own strengths and focus exclusively on my weaknesses would be a strange choice to make, while blogging.
This site and blog will be home to a strange mix of many things in which I find delight - Mathematics and Physics, not surprisingly given my background, but other subjects as well. Astronomy, which was my first love in science; Geology, of which I'd like to learn more; and other things which aren't science, at all - cooking, literature (both reading and writing it), art, photography, music, ... I'm going to utter two words which ought to strike fear into the heart of any reasonable and fairly well educated man.
"Oh, no! This is where that idiot starts babbling about past life regression, and how science has proved that nothing exists until it is observed, so really, there is nothing, just a collection of disembodied souls floating in the void, dreaming the world into being, and that must be where the name of his site comes from" ... No. Really, no, but if that was what you were thinking, then I've been trapped in enough of those conversations to understand your concern and annoyance. That is not what this site or its companion blog will be about, ever.
I started out undergrad as a Physics major and ended it as a Math major, going on to graduate school in the latter subject, taking some more courses in the former, and augmenting it all with studies in Electrical Engineering. I don't do Berkeleyan idealism and have little use for the New Age crowd. One subject you're going to see discussed on my blog, sooner or later, is vacuum physics, and one thing that is very interesting is that even empty space does have a Physics of which we can meaningfully speak. In part, this is because space can bend. Take a black hole, move it to a place where it has no gas on which to feed, and very quickly, the interior of the black hole, outside of an ever retreating region near the singularity, will become a very hard vacuum, but that interior and its surroundings (the event horizon, for example) will still, most definitely, have interesting physical properties, as any unfortunate visitor will discover. Perhaps you will say that this doesn't count, because the matter collapsing toward the singularity has generated the warping of space time?
Very well, then. Flat, empty space itself has a lot going on in it, because virtual particles will keep popping in and out of existence, which is one way in which Quantum Mechanics will come into the picture on this site. If the world were run according to the rules of Classical Physics, there could be no such thing as a virtual particle, because by popping into existence, it would violate the law of conservation of mass. Even relativity can't accept such a thing on its own - instead of speaking of a violation of the law of conservation of mass, we speak of mass energy, but with the same complaint that the process would give us something for nothing. In Quantum Mechanics, however, we find that the universe isn't quite entirely sure of exactly what it has and can't be entirely sure, that there's a fuzziness in any description that can be given of reality, not because of the limitations of our knowledge, but because that's how reality is, whether we like it or not. Some of us really don't, but others, including the author of the page you're reading, see the beauty to be found in this deeper understanding of the nature of physical reality and wish to learn more about it.
Others could write about this subject with far greater expertise, at the moment, but I'm not sure how many of them want to have anything to do with the Internet. Emotionalism makes its appearance in the strangest ways, online, and a tenured professor is a high enough profile target that defamation, hacking, and other such nonsense might well become a real problem for him. What you're going to get on this site, instead, are my scribblings as I pick up studies that, with great regret, I put to one side as I entered graduate school, and resumed only partially in the course of studying engineering. While I will inevitably make mistakes, as all students do, I've been a fairly successful student in the past, and can say with confidence that I will generally know wherof I speak. Understand, however, that I will not be able to answer all of your questions, because this really isn't quite my subject, at least not yet.
What is rather more my subject is Mathematics, and that will have a pleasant way of working its way into many of the other subjects covered on the blog, tying them together. Art, yes, poetry, not so much, cooking not all - although I suppose I could celebrate PI day (March 14, 3-14) by baking something circular. More about that later. Webring wants be to get some ring memberships, and I've kept them waiting for a week, so it's time to do something about that.
The blog is here.