Monday, December 7, 2020


Geoaesthetics:
the aesthetic intelligence of the Earth

by Silvia Peppoloni*

This article was published in ReWriters Magazine, in Italian and English:

* Istituto Nazionale di Geofisica e Vulcanologia, Rome (Italy); Secretary General of the IAPG - International Association for Promoting Geoethics; Councillor of the IUGS - International Union of Geological Sciences; Member of the Executive Committee of the CIPSH - International Council for Philosophy and Human Sciences. Email: silvia.peppoloni@ingv.it


Silvia Peppoloni
The Dolomites are coral reefs of an ancient tropical sea, of hundreds of millions of years ago. The continental collision between Europe and Africa raises the seabed and the islands of that sea for thousands of meters during the process of Alpine orogenesis. Today, sculpted like works of art by meteoric agents, they dominate with sharp peaks and crests in the midst of gentle and flared valleys.

On the other side of the globe, the imposing mountain range of the Andes, scattered with volcanic systems, has an origin due to the subduction of the Pacific oceanic crust beneath the South American continent. Flaps of ocean floor plunge to enormous depths, melt due to the high pressures and temperatures, and once transformed into fluid magma they rise to the surface due to the lower density, creating the material on which meteoric agents sculpt and shape the relief, with results of extraordinary beauty.

Geology is essentially the study of how pressure acts over time, shaping matter and configuring space. It is a search for the causes that guide the evolution of a physical place to its current form. The geologist knows “how”, “where”, “when” a mountain was formed, yet, like the majority, he/she may not be able to explain why that vision, that beauty excites him/her. Knowledge increases emotion, but emotion anticipates knowledge through the image of what is beautiful. The natural environment, the mountain, the rock are living, concrete, phenomenological elements, specified in a precise time and space, and at the same time captured in their continuous becoming, in that incessant innate transformation, aimed at achieving a balance, anyway transitory.

Their vision transmits the energy, the force of the Earth, born in the depths of the core and of the mantle, which shapes matter, raises mountains, sculpts the relief, a small part of that primordial energy that gave rise to the whole universe, the same energy that flows in us humans.

The mountain, the “geosymbol” par excellence, an expression of the sacred and the supernatural, a place of extreme solitude, where it is easy to perceive the spiritual and essential strength of nature, appears to us with its lights and shadows, tormented surfaces, ravines winding and sharp profiles. But all these elements are not static, definitively fixed. On the contrary, they express the whole dynamics of the geological process that led to their formation over time, they communicate the unstoppable movement of that powerful energy with precise direction, which already contains and configures a different, new space-time condition.

Looking at the mountains activates a perceptive plane in us which anticipates our mind, which recognizes that force even before rationality provides the logical and scientific explanation for the natural process in progress, that perceptual plane that enables us to intuit (or perhaps just imagine) an intentionality of nature in our continuous search for aesthetic satisfaction.

We are capable of grasping the beauty of matter, the harmony of the natural phenomenon before our emotion is framed in paths of rational knowledge. Geological landscapes excite us, because they connect us again with the dynamics of the whole. Unknowingly, we understand that the energy that moulded that shape, that created that harmony in matter, is in us, we are part of it, it is the same “life” present in every particle of the universe.

That spiritual, deep and ancient way of enjoying beauty without filters and superstructures, without the need for a why and a how, has always been in us. Geological landscapes have memories, they preserve the history of the events that shaped them. The fractures, the folds, the stratifications of the reliefs are signs that the geologist decodes and explains, but while he/she is doing this, those signs reach his/her perception without mediation, transmitting the emotion of the force responsible for their formation.

If wrinkles fix the physiognomy of a face as an effect of the perpetuation of an expressive habit that remains imprinted on the skin, in the same way the discontinuities engraved in the rock communicate the expression of the character of those places, their physical identity. And then the idea of the natural environment as a simple reality to be exploited, controlled and managed is cancelled in us, and our spiritual and emotional relationship with the physical place emerges overwhelmingly, as well as the perception of its identity, its sacredness, satisfying our ancestral need to establish an emotional and aesthetic bond with the natural environment that surrounds us, leaving us suspended in timeless moments.

This luminous intuition almost leads us to imagine the existence of an intrinsic intentionality in nature, its aesthetic intelligence. We are stimulated to go beyond the belief that there is a simple physical-chemical necessity in natural events, an inevitability of geological forms, which wants them to be created in that way to give identity to a dynamic quantum developed according to a precise natural evolutionary law. The river that digs the hard rock of its bed, the mountain that rises powerfully from the seabed, the relief that reveals its deep layers, the volcanic stone that flaunts its fiery red colour, up to the simple crystal that grows reaching to break the rock that embeds it, all things in nature tend to develop their potential to the maximum, occupying all the space they need and can, all the space they need “for being”. And in this continuous movement, where the transformation between energy and matter is incessant, it really seems that the aim is the harmony of forms, of the one in the whole and of the whole in the one. And for those who benefit from it, the value of this experience lies all in the recognition and enjoyment of that harmony.

Reading the book Genesis by Sebasti√£o Salgado (publisher Taschen), entering the beauty of his wonderful photographs discovering mountains, deserts, oceans, can help us understand that there is a way to rewrite our emotions, rethink sensations that the earth, nature and life can communicate, following new storytelling that becomes a bridge between science and spirituality.


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Other articles published in the IAPG Blog:

IAPG - International Association for Promoting Geoethics

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