The Fractal of Life

The Fractal of Life
Interdependence and the Quest for Community
by Fadil Cantave

Complex beings. Complex patterns. Life can be overwhelmingly complex. Yet in its complexity, we are able to share seemingly simple moments and add them to our diverse collection of experiences and memories. 

Our guide? Consciousness: for some, science; for others, God. When one considers the phenomena of life and its properties, it is difficult to pinpoint the specific set of forces that give life orderliness and purpose. Looking at any community, one finds an elaborate construct of individuals simultaneously seeking and defining such order and meaning. How then does any community define itself collectively? How does one come to recognize the order of community beyond the previously defined meanings given to us by that very collective? 

Technology, we have heard, is praised as the great connector of community—a healer of nations, a voice of the voiceless, the interactive multimedia champion of access fighting against marginalization. Simultaneously, however, it is used to create weapons, manipulate ecosystems, and infect perspectives through viral media campaign tactics run by mathematical formulae. Is there anything that is truly pure in life and community? Anything untarnished by dismay or horror? 

Perhaps. 

Mystics, the ancient scientists, the sages of old, sought after such concepts through the study of both the simple moments and the complex patterns. They studied the universe attempting to define its proportion that they might also come to understand themselves. They strove to understand the manifestation of life forces in relation to their own subjectivity. They traveled the lands, flew with the birds in their mind’s eye, marveled over life’s many creatures, and created dance and song in adoration of nature’s magical processes. They descended into the substratum, hoping to uncover truths hidden in the heart of the Earth. They observed and attempted to determine some degree of completeness and integration in their analysis. 

We still dive into the depths, fly into the infinite darkness of imagination, space, and time.

We still dive into the depths, fly into the infinite darkness of imagination, space, and time. We still question the mechanics and truths of reality. We still ask the question of what it means to be. We explore the seams of our lives to discover and understand where we come from and where we are going. 

Sometimes the Earth appears to be moved by some grand wizard or grand energy. Even our institutions—massive structures of economy, nation, and culture—seem to reflect some capacity of determined collective thought or force moving in a direction defined not just by the acts of individuals, but also by something greater. But have we substituted money for deity? How do we make sense of the individual engaged in community, nation, or world?

Opening our minds like channels to a greater imagination may allow us to see patterns of balance and harmony beyond the scope of our experiences. There is a sky and also a ground. One being does not have to contradict the other. Perhaps there is my mind, your mind, the two together, and also something beyond?

...it need not be the case that my freedom exists in conflict with another’s or that my being is a threat to nature’s flourishing.

Such existential explorations have inspired many generations to stand up for what their community has deemed the “other”—to see that it need not be the case that my freedom exists in conflict with another’s or that my being is a threat to nature’s flourishing. The world can be imagined as an augmenting organism whose veins are the lakes, rivers, and oceans; whose organs are the continents; and whose nervous system is the network of interdependent individuals processing opinions on the morning news, deciding what to wear to work, and saying “hello” to their neighbors. How then might we see the world’s conflict? All of us together could be seeking to determine a logical and harmonious interbeing capable of uniting ourselves into a healthy and unbroken system. What call exists for us to see the whole and our role in it? Must we follow such a call not just for ourselves but also for a planet whose health and ours are one and the same—connected like the atom is to a flowing ocean or a rising sun?

If we look at the movements in our society today—from the quest for racial equality to the pursuit of environmental sustainability—the specifics of our cause-based conversations may differ, but the overarching link between them pertains to this exploration of the interdependence of the collective across our entire ecosystem. Earth? Beyond? 

People here on earth seek access to prosperity and exemption from fear and want. People seek respect for one another’s human rights. For each of us, the trial of identifying the collective lies in our ability to increase our frame of understanding. When we begin to open our perspective to the range of life—of being—and to the range of love—of connection—then we may treat ourselves, the constant other, and our ecosystem with reverence. Again the question arises, where does one draw the line between individual and community? 

Envision, if you can, a single quark, the smallest component of matter known to man, floating in the dark depths of the lamina. Its orbit follows a trajectory predictable only by observing its pattern. Without the ability to observe it or its reflection one would believe it ceased to exist. Magnify this image. Likewise with our experience: we are individuals in a web of life whose pattern grows forever in interdependence on a planet whose very being is anchored in the dark membrane of space. One day, we may come to see it and be one with it. §

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Fadil Cantave is a musician and urban philosopher based in Boston, Massachusetts. He graduated from Trinity College with a B.A. in Philosophy and Music.