Nikolai Slavov

On the Wings of a Seagull

January 03, 2007 | 2 Minute Read

The time had stopped. Watching the chaotic ballet of ripples in the lake, I was thinking of the deep connections that unify seemingly disparate phenomena. The direction of the wind was fluctuating from second to second, switching the direction of the ripples almost in synchrony with my thoughts. In the Platonic tradition, I have always searched for and marveled at the deep unifying connections between different aspects of life and the world around me.

Still, I never suspected that the same fundamental ideas and symmetries that lie at the heart of nuclear physics, quantum chromodynamics and a huge variety of critical phenomena in physical systems would apply to biochemical networks, would govern the finely orchestrated regulation of tens of thousands of genes, would make the miracle of life possible. I wanted to savor the glory of the moment, not to be conscious of time.

Nonetheless, my thoughts were interrupted by a couple of seagulls soaring majestically in the air. The same fickle blows that caused the ripples to lurch back and forth were converted into a graceful flight. Through occasional adroit movements of their wings, the seagulls were gliding elegantly in the air. They were harnessing the erratic wind for their graceful ascent.

My immediate impulse was to emulate the seagulls, not only literally – because of my desire to glide through the air and soar toward the sky – but also figuratively, because of my desire to harness the power of the winds and storms in my life that I cannot even hope to control. I felt an irresistible urge to make the most of what I have with the grace and mastery of nature, with an insightful understanding of and respect for the deep principles shaping the universe. The seagulls went sky-high without controlling the wind, an example worth admiration! An example of gentleness and power synergistically united into a beautiful ascent.

Basking in the light of these thoughts, I sensed the blueprint of the erratic wind imprinted onto the random Hamiltonian matrices of atomic nuclei. Similarly to the seagulls, an elegant flap of wings (chiral symmetry) is enough to transform the randomness into a robust system-characteristic behavior. This is a recurrent, pervasive pattern that charms with uncanny, magnetic appeal: Complex systems transcending stochasticity and shaping randomness into exquisite creative dynamics. I know of nothing that can rival the grace and power of nature to leave freedom for creativity and still direct and orchestrate the large-scale dynamics. The world is a beautiful picture painted with gentle and adroit touches of the nature’s brush.