Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Posts Tagged ‘cactus

Full house

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From May 13th at the Southwest Williamson County Regional Park, look at all the Euphoria kernii beetles that had crammed themselves into the base of a prickly pear cactus flower, Opuntia engelmannii. The beetles did seem to be in a state of euphoria.

 

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 Here’s more about consciousness from philosopher Julian Baggini’s The Ego Trick:

So we have these three facts: thoughts and feelings are real, they are not describable in purely physical terms, but the universe has within it only the physical things described by the equations of physicists. It seems the only way to make sense of this is that mental events emerge from physical ones, without being strictly identical with them. As the neurologist Todd E. Feinberg puts it, “your life is not a pack of cells; your life is what your particular pack of cells collectively do, though I cannot observe such a thing as your life, touch it, put it under a microscope, or keep it on a bottle on a shelf.” Thought and feeling are what matter does, when it is arranged in the remarkably complex ways that brains are. Matter is all that is needed for them to exist, but they are not themselves lumps of matter. In this sense, “I” is a verb dressed as a noun.

The idea that the mental emerges from the physical is a tricky one. It looks to me like a partial description masquerading as an explanation. What I mean is, to say consciousness is an emergent property is not to explain consciousness at all. To do that you’d have to explain how it emerges, and although some claim to have done that, most remain unconvinced. But what does seem to be true is that consciousness does indeed emerge from complex physical events in the brain, even if we don’t know how it does so. Whatever the mechanism, we have thoughts and feelings because we have physical brains that work, not because there’s something else in our heads doing the mental work instead. The evidence for this is simple but overwhelming: damage the brain, and you impair consciousness. Change the chemicals in the brain, and you change consciousness. Stimulate certain parts of the brain, and you get a certain kind of experience. To accept this (as surely we must) but insist that brains aren’t the engines of thought is not impossible, but it is perverse.

(Another passage appeared in a post two weeks ago.)

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 24, 2022 at 4:26 AM

Red and green at Inks Lake State Park

with 20 comments

One reason I headed out to Inks Lake State Park on May 6th was that some of the prickly pear cactus flowers there in other springtimes have displayed more red than I see in their Austin counterparts. The top picture shows that was true this year, too. In contrast to that red, look at all the placid green around one inlet.

  

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Did you hear about how the imaging technique of photogrammetry has revealed details of cave art in Alabama from about 2000 years ago? “The motifs, which depict human forms and animals, are some of the largest known cave images found in North America and may represent spirits of the underworld.” Check it out.

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 15, 2022 at 4:27 AM

Two views of prickly pear cactus flowers

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From April 28th in my part of Austin come outer and inner flower views from a prickly pear cactus, Opuntia engelmannii. I’m happy to report that as of today these cacti are still putting out flowers.

 

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As someone who has worked in the field of race relations for twenty-five years, I am utterly amazed that advocacy for “race essentialism” has come to the forefront over the last decade. Race essentialism is the practice of ascribing character traits and experiences to individuals based on the color of their skin. Advocates justify this approach by highlighting how skin color has been used to oppress people in the past as well as in the present, and argue that recognizing one’s “race” is necessary in order to correct for racism and build a more equitable future.

So begins an article by Quay Hanna entitled “How talking to strangers on the bus changed my views on race.” The author had grown up as a white supremacist but came to realize how mistaken that ideology is.

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 10, 2022 at 4:36 AM

Lace cactus

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Yesterday I found flowers on several adjacent lace cacti (Echinocereus reichenbachii ssp. reichenbachii) in my hilly northwest part of Austin. Today’s picture of one is the first I’ve ever shown here. Great saturated colors, don’t you think?

 

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For decades I’ve criticized the American education system. In the 15 years since I last taught, not only have the old problems persisted and worsened, but new problems have arisen. Here’s how Shane Trotter describes one of them in his Quillette article “Hidden in Plain Sight: Putting Tech Before Teaching.”

In its desire to embrace technology, our school district failed to recognize the social devolution that was taking hold of society. The iPad Initiative [which he’d just described in detail] came right as smartphones became virtually ubiquitous among American teens and adults. Teens began spending over seven hours per day consuming entertainment media. Twelfth-graders in 2015 were going out less often than eight graders Adolescent mental disorders skyrocketed. And at this crucial juncture, we decided to begin allowing students to use smartphones throughout the school day. These students would not know how to set boundaries for how they used their phones. They’d have no understanding of the psychological vulnerabilities that tech companies exploited—no training in how to use their phone without it using them. Most of all, they’d have no environment where they could be free from the incessant psychic drain that had come to define their world. Oblivious to any responsibility to help students or their families adapt better, our schools helped facilitate the community’s descent into becoming screen-addicted, constantly distracted people whose cognitive skills and attention spans were being chipped away rather than cultivated.

You’re welcome to read the full article.

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 29, 2022 at 4:38 AM

Contortions

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Contorted is how I might describe the branch of a possumhaw tree (Ilex decidua) already leafing out at East Metropolitan Park on March 25th. Five days earlier, as spring officially began, I’d photographed a prickly pear pad in my part of Austin that had reached the end of its life. In addition to the usual drying out and loss of green that a dead pad undergoes, it had contorted itself in a way that made me have to do its portrait.

 

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And speaking of contortion, I recommend Reason for its anti-contorted stance, which is to say its adherence to reason. The magazine of “free minds and free markets” promotes free speech, due process, and the deciding of matters based on evidence and logic. If you check out the Reason website, you’ll notice that it finds things to criticize in camps on both sides of the conventional left~right political divide. You could call that outlook libertarian.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 31, 2022 at 4:29 AM

Rosy splotches and an upright flounder*

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At Allen Park on December 17, 2021, I cautiously maneuvered among some prickly pear cacti (Opuntia engelmannii) to take pictures of aging and deteriorated pads. The one above looked to me like it had the measles, while my imagination insisted on comparing the pad below to an upright flounder. Or maybe it was a worse-for-the-wear owl seen from the side.

* I’m pretty sure that of all the hundreds of millions of people who’ve ever spoken and written English, not one has previously used the phrase that serves as this post’s title.

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The academic literature on the use of facts to correct delusions shows very mixed results. It sometimes works, it sometimes works in a limited way, and it sometimes doesn’t work at all. The effects sometimes seem to last over a longer period, and sometimes they don’t. It depends a lot on the issue being tested, how it’s done, and what we’re expecting to shift, from factual knowledge to policy preferences to beliefs.

That makes perfect sense when we bear in mind the theory of cognitive dissonance and consider what we know about how we think. We naturally look for confirming information, and discount disconfirming information. When the evidence reaches a tipping point and there is sufficient weight against our current view, we switch. The dissonance is emotionally unpleasant, and while we’re attached to our current opinions, it becomes less unpleasant to shift than to cling onto them.

The message is that we can’t always solve delusions with more facts alone, but that we definitely shouldn’t give up on them entirely. People are marvellously varied, and different approaches work with different people in different situations. Of course, facts don’t exist entirely outside of their context: as we’ve seen, many measures are more complex than they seem, require cautious interpretation, and selection of other, equally valid facts can paint a very different picture. But this is not an excuse to give up on the value and power of the best facts we can muster. They can indicate an underlying truth that we shouldn’t carelessly discard because they are imperfect.

That’s one of the conclusions Bobby Duffy reaches in the closing chapter of Why We’re Wrong About Nearly Everything.

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 10, 2022 at 4:35 AM

Posted in nature photography

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More red from Inks Lake

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At the same place in Inks Lake State Park on November 29th where Virginia creeper vines announced their presence by turning bright red, Eve noticed and drew my attention to a nest in a prickly pear cactus (Opuntia sp.) It provided a deep red via its tunas, which is what the fruits of this kind of cactus are called in Spanish and increasingly even in English (they’re the supposed “pears” in “prickly pears”). One tuna on a different pad was in fact a twin tuna. Here’s a view looking straight down at that pear pair:

 

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Linguistics professor John McWhorter‘s book Woke Racism was recently released. I encourage you to watch an excellent 18-minute summary of the book via a PBS interview of McWhorter by Walter Isaacson.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 21, 2021 at 4:30 AM

Tall tunas

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This vertical, narrowly cropped, edge-on view of a prickly pear cactus pad (Opuntia engelmannii) makes it seem that the fruits at the top, known as tunas, are standing unusually tall. For whatever reason, I don’t often see spiderwebs on prickly pears, but there’s no missing the silk on this one. Today’s portrait is from September 18th in my hilly part of Austin.


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Here are a couple of paragraphs from “Expanding Your Tribe in the New Age of Conformity,” by Andrew Fox.

[T]he number of ideological activists needed to drive a whole nation into enormously destructive social turmoil and intergroup violence is not very large. The Bolsheviks in Russia in 1917 represented a tiny percentage of the overall Russian population. A relative handful of ethnic chauvinist Serbian agitators in post-Tito Yugoslavia managed to incite years of ethnic cleansing campaigns and intercommunal massacres as well as the disintegration of their former state. A cadre of ethnic extremists in Rwanda’s Hutu Power movement were able to infiltrate the military and organize a war of extermination that resulted in the murder of hundreds of thousands of Tutsis.

An individual’s sense of identity can be molded around many different types of attributes—ethnicity, clan, religion, place of residence or origin, sex, age, language, vocation, family roles, types of illness or disability, preferred style of music, and favored forms of recreation. Yet recent historical experience has illustrated repeatedly—in Germany, Yugoslavia, Lebanon, Rwanda, and Syria, to name just a few—that emphasizing ethnicity or race as the primary, overriding source of a citizenry’s identity, fostering resentments based on both historical grievances and exaggerated contemporary outrages, and dividing a populace into Manichean categories of good and evil, of victims and oppressors, can lead to intragroup violence on a sometimes genocidal scale.

That’s what’s been increasingly worrying me for the past year and a half. You’re welcome to read the full article, which appeared in Tablet on September 12.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 25, 2021 at 4:34 AM

Posted in nature photography

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A pretty yellow

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A few prickly pear cacti (Opuntia engelmannii) were still putting out flowers in June.
I’d made this bold portrait of one in Allen Park on May 15th.


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Four days ago I saw a car with the custom license plate MRSCORN.
Was that Mrs. Corn or was it Mr. Scorn?
Or was it both, with the Mr. scorning the Mrs.?

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 21, 2021 at 4:33 AM

Euphoria

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I often see Euphoria beetles in prickly pear cactus flowers (Opuntia engelmannii). On May 21st I noticed this pair apparently living up to their genus name. For a closer look, click the excerpt below.

For the origin and meanings of euphoria, the word, here’s a brief account.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 27, 2021 at 4:37 AM

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