I only recently stumbled across the work of Michel Conche, the French philosopher.
He says this about Nature – that Nature is like an artist. Nature is a poet, continuously improvising and creating.
I like that.
In one of his works where he writes about the Tao Te Ching, he says
The Tao Te Ching allows the artist and the philosopher to live according to Nature, to place their confidence in the flow of things, to be led by inspiration, unlike the man of action who attempts to master Nature and the course of things through calculation.
The reference to “the flow of things” particularly resonates with me. As does living a life “led by inspiration”. But the phrase “unlike the man of action who attempts to master Nature and the course of things through calculation” really struck me. It immediately made me think of the definition of the scientific method which I saw a student on the train learning years ago – “Observation, Description, Explanation, Prediction, Control”. And it reminded me of the left hemisphere approach to the world which is described so clearly in Iain McGilchrist’s “The Emperor and His Emissary” – how we use that half of our cerebral cortex to analyse, measure, categorise and “grasp” things.
Conche uses this language of the “man of action” vs the “artist”, not to suggest that artists don’t “do” anything, but reflecting the thinking of the Tao Te Ching and concepts such as “wu wei”
Because he is about to create, he finds himself on the margins of society and fixed forms. If he consents to a paid profession, it is only to earn what is necessary for life and work. Literally, the artist “works without acting” (wei wu wei: Chinese for “non-action”), because, contrary to the entrepreneur who sets an objective for himself and then uses means to obtain it, the artist cannot know in advance what the work will be. He advances step by step, innovating where necessary, incapable of rationalizing his steps.
We’ve lost touch with so much of that “artistic” way, haven’t we? With our emphasis on outcomes, goals and targets.
The man of action is the opposite of the artist, because he wants to know in advance all things concerning his actions, in order to move forward in complete safety. He wants, as much as possible, to avoid risk, which is precisely what the artist cannot avoid. To master Nature and the course of things by calculation is the dream of the man of action; nothing pleases him more than the progress of science and technology. The artist places his confidence in the flow of things, allowing himself to be led by inspiration.
Ha! There’s that thing about fear again! As Elizabeth Gilbert said in her “Big Magic” –
…when I refer to “creative living”….I’m talking about a life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear.
So if we understand Nature as an artist, “led by inspiration”, “driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear”, “continuously improvising”, placing “confidence in the flow of things” – how does that feel?
Doesn’t it feel very different from the view of Nature as a mechanism, measurable, and controllable?
I like this idea of Nature as an artist – becoming not being!