As Above, So Below, and Vice Versa

“One might say: ontological understanding is rooted in the perception of patterned resonance in the world.”

- Jan Zwicky

Earth’s lavish complexity depends on repeated structures and patterns. I rediscovered this recently as a novice scuba diver, gob-smacked by what I saw beneath the surface of the ocean, where I couldn’t help but notice how above-ish the underwater world actually is. The shapes of corals showed me the way: Soft corals undulating in the underwater currents look like ferns, or redwood tree leaves, or veins.

Other corals are solid and deeply patterned, with countless creatures attached to them, or hiding beneath or within them. As I studied the shapes of the corals, the nudibranchs, the sea worms, I was stunned by the multiple uses of familiar forms: Fan corals like the veining in leaves and lungs, like rivers and tributaries seen from the air. Spirals abound - once I recognized them in shells and eddies, I began to see them everywhere: whirlpools and water swirling down the drain, DNA helices, spirochetes, conifers, the shapes of certain trees and the furled petals of unopened blossoms. Labyrinthine corals look exactly like brains, like intestines, like the trails left by wood-eating worms. Soft corals and anemones that ripple in currents function exactly like the cilia of tonsils, tongues, lungs and digestive tracts. Sea worms and tubular nudibranchs look like aquatic spinal chords, blood vessels, elephant trunks, earthworms and roots. Sunlight dances underwater in polyhedrons identical to the patterns in giraffe hides, succulent leaves and turtle shells. Spheres appear as eyeballs, cells, seedpods and grains of sand. Scales and overlapping plates multitask on fish, reptiles, turtle shells, feathers, rhino hides and sedimentary rock. Ellipses, regular and amphora-shaped, appear in orbits, grains, seeds, eggs, water droplets and pears. Translucent jellyfish like the membranes in lungs, eardrums, soil, skin, gills and mucosal linings. Waves and undulations everywhere: oceans, of course, as well as brains, light and sound waves, peristalsis, and the serpentine wriggling of eels, snakes, sharks, and sperm. As I swam, the enchantment deepened. Nubs. Notches. Crystals. Once I saw these forms underwater, I began to see them everywhere. The more I see, the more I see.

This matters because there are natural structures and systems for every living function from filtering to fertility, insulation to waste management. Besides being beautiful and mind-blowing, this reminds us that our bodily structures are Earth structures, shared with every form of life. It is not possible to be separate, alone or out of place.