Saturday, August 29, 2009

Au Clair de Elune

Human beings are creatures of light. Viewed from physics, our human substance is just light at a particular density. It's not simply that we need light to see, it's that we need light to exist at all. Our most basic hunger is for light. It starts with the process of photosynthesis in a plant; light turned into matter. It ends with the biochemical process that turns a deer into a human femur, a trout into a eleemosynary neural synapse. Without light life as we comprehend does not exist.

Biologists say that human beings are on top of the food chain or that man is an alpha predator. All that's really saying is that he is farthest away from the sun as a food supply; he eats the being who eats the being who eats the being that eats light. Of course, when we eat lettuce or some other vegetable we are getting much nearer the source of light conversion. The truth is that man is an omnivore, a polite word for scavenger; he'll take whatever source of power he can find to live. In this sense there is a basic kinship between all living things; we are all creatures of the sun, creatures of the light. From dust we have arisen and to dust we shall return; what animates that dust, what makes it living, is light.

Light of the Mind

It is not surprising then that light is an important image, a vital symbol. When we achieve a state of mental clarity we say, " I see" or "the light is beginning to dawn". The moon in Western culture has always been a symbol associated with the feminine. Jung, borrowing from alchemy, used the concepts of Sol and Luna as symbols for the ego and the unconscious; what we are unconscious of we do not see, it's the place where the light is dim. Historians speak of the Age of Enlightenment, economists talk of "enlightened self-interest;" the state of Buddhist transcendence is called "enlightenment". Enlightenment, literally to become light; to return to the source of all living things.

A biologist would take it as a matter deserving of only the most basic comment that the senses of animals work in fundamentally different ways. The bat and the dolphin use sonar to echo-locate, the dog has a sense of smell up to a million times more sensitive than a human's, the soaring eagle's acuity of sight is legendary, most invertebrates are dependent on a sense of touch. But if anything that evolution tell us is true, then it must be that animals are not merely products of their environment they are more precisely the product of the response of their minds to their environment. As a raw physical matter, no one claims that the brain of the dog is the same as the brain of a frog or the brain of a snake is the same as the brain of a human. Even if we assume that there is an objective fixed reality no one claims that the way the cat perceives that reality is identical to the way a bird perceives it or the way an alligator perceives it. If there is any truth whatsoever to the claim that there is a mind/brain connection then it must be true that fundamentally different senses produce fundamentally different brains which then produce fundamentally different minds.

This reality is beautifully expressed in Druid shape shifting. The different talents, powers, and skill rotations between cat, bear, tree, and human all reflect the reality that when a Druid changes form it changes its mind. Cats prowl, bears maul, there is healing power in the leaves of a tree. The Druid doesn't just master minds, it masters fundamentally different minds; yet it is always remains a Druid. Dying shape shifted reverts the Druid to human form.

But what does a creature do when it wants to express a difference in mind but has no ability to change form? The human answer has be to concoct a wild mixture of totems, heraldry charges, signs, and symbols. We need to communicate in a visual way that our minds see in a different light. Given that we eat light, are light, light glows from within as well as without. If one thinks of the mind as a prism then the range of symbols humans produce becomes a beautiful cascading rainbow of lions, eagles, dolphins, trees, and flowers.

A Gentle Light

I wrote here about how I enjoyed watching the sun set over the ocean in the world of Azeorth. It's not coincidence because I love to watch the sun rise and the sun set outside of Azeroth too. One realization that has come with age is that I'm as much a sun worshiper as the world's worst hedonist. The difference is that I like my sun gentle, fading. I don't do noon. The height of summer is not the time to be basking on the beach covered in oil, drinking margaritas; it's time to be huddled indoors, the air conditioner blasting. The perfect illustration of this truth is the date of my Warcraft anniversary: July 3rd. Even as a child the seasons I loved best were Spring and Autumn. Sun kissed I'm all for, sun burnt no thanks.

Even though I wasn't conscious of it at the time I think this was one of the things the attracted me to playing a Druid, to becoming a creature of the moon. The moon is the ultimate in faded light. I never considered myself acquainted with the night before but since I have started playing Warcraft I have found myself more and more attached to the world of shadows, the world of the indistinct. I joke to myself, does this make me a lunatic now.

The fading light I have come to see is not only beautiful but like all beauties it represents a challenge. Noon is easy. The lack of light makes the way seems dull so the senses must be sharp. This understood the night elf racial passives reveal themselves as fitting: quickness, elusiveness, melding into shadows. Low informational density increases risk; rather than the snap judgments of the desert noon decision making in the moonlight is based upon hints, guesses, hints followed by guesses.

Glowing eyes, prowling cat. Footfall of padding bear. Rustling trees in the wind. Are you nervous my friend. Listen: cry of the crow. Are you tense. Why you jumped. It's only the blur of the cheetah; there is no cause for alarm. See, horns from the stag; feathers from the owl; kin to all living things. Here in the moonlit forest glade; that was me, Elnia. Each time, Elnia. One mind and many minds. Elnia. Come friend, walk with me. Walk by the light of Elune.


Jessabelle said...

I'm the same way. I actually dread and highly dislike summer. I don't like being hot... and I spend most of my summer wrapping myself around the air conditioner.

I've always found the idea of moonlight much more attractive than sunlight. It is the guidance of "the light" without the overzealous, blaring intensity of the sun. When I think of RPing with my Paladin or Priest toons, I always thing of them worshipping Moonlight, not Sunlight.

Very philosophical post, I enjoyed it a lot!

Anonymous said...

the Night sky is alot more interesting than the day time sky.

think about it, during the day all you see is blue sky (or clouds, because i live in the UK) maybe a bird or 2 thats it.

However the setting of the Sun brings out the majesty of the cosmos, from the planets of our own system, to the stars whos light is reaching us after millennia of travel, The Pock marked face of our closest celestial body, to the northern lights.

So yes, i love the night aswell, even though im a Dwarf who lives in a cave.

Cacknoob (not an Aion player anymore)

Christina said...

That was beautiful. Thank you for posting it.

You made me mist up, which is oh so not what I expect when reading my wow blogs. Thank you.

Shamrockgirl said...

very beautiful post, i really enjoyed reading it.

i am currently a bit sun-burnt and as you do i very much dislike it. i try not to go out much on days that it is so sunny in the middle of summer, but the oldest boy had a boy scout picnic and i was so out of my element that i forgot the sunblock. :(

Rhoanna said...

"Viewed from physics, our human substance is just light at a particular density"

As pleasant as your prose is, I'm afraid this really isn't true. Light is one type of matter, and what we humans are made of is a different sort. They share similarities, but they are not the same. This difference is, if anything, most apparent and critical viewed from physics.

Anonymous said...

Photons basically come from Hydrogen (though its abit more techinal)

....and we are mostly made from water which is made from i think the author is correct...


Firespirit said...


What a fantastic (and fantastically researched) post!

I am currently studying to be a Bio Teacher, and when you started to pull in the Bio tangent, I was squealing like a little schoolgirl :)

Does that make me a nerd? LOL

Rhoanna said...

"Photons basically come from Hydrogen"

Photons are the particles associated with light.

You're thinking of protons, which is the nucleus of a hydrogen atom.

River said...

Nice post....light, smlight...I play a mage to blow stuff UP!

Anonymous said...

Protons (nucliae of hydrogen)

If 2 protons come together the short range force mashes then up to form Dueterium (an isotope of Hydrogen) About 7000th of our water on earth is Dueterium.

another Proton comes along and turns the Dueterium into Helium3 ( which releases a particle of light a photon)

2 of the Helium3 meet and form helium4 (which makes a few more protons)

I do know about this not just some trade channel i guess im right


Anonymous said...

crap...the last protons was meant to be Photons...


Anonymous said...

Theres a guy called Professor Brian Fox....sat in on one of his levtures a few years ago...Stunning phyisicist...and a nice bloke


Tesh said...

Yeah, the physics are a bit wonky (protons aren't "solid photons" any more than neutrons are "solid neutrinos"), but the philosophical musings are interesting. :)

Elnia, now you've got me wondering about the etymology of "lunatic". Literally "moon crazy"?

*research a bit*

Indeed, "lunacy" was initially charted along lunar lines: "affected with periodic insanity, dependent on the changes of the moon". Fascinating. Not quite the same usage as the way you're jokingly using the term, but fascinating anyway.

Oh, and I'm a definite "Fall night owl" sort; I love low light, low temperature. It's a better time for comfort and for visual subtleties, and as an artist, I appreciate that.

Anonymous said...

my physics arent wonky....i just put the protons instead of Photons in the last part....