Qualia: Day 14 / by Jeff Tacklind

I love the smell of Jasmine. This time of year, our vine erupts with color and fragrance. Right now, it is covered with hundreds of tiny pink buds that will soon burst open with the most incredible aroma.  When I walk past it in the mornings, I pause for a moment and take in the fullness of it.  Sometimes I’ll even pick a flower and carry it with me on the way to Lila’s bus stop.  I love the smell.  It is so good for my soul.

The jasmine shrub covers a portion of our fence and winds up the side of our house.  I remember Patty planting it years ago, a tiny, little vine, and wondering if it would take root.  It is amazing how it has thrived.  It is so thick and full, that birds will sometimes nest in it.  Last year, we would leave the nearby window open and not only smell the jasmine but listen to the little newborn birds chirping away in the nest hidden in its midst.

There is something about the unpretentious beauty of nature that I find so moving.  It hints at a brilliant simplicity.  It is truth that we need not rationalize or defend.  It just is.  It is beautiful by design.  And the goodness of that is somehow caught up in the scent.  It points to something greater. 

Because beauty is something that extends beyond the science.  Sure, the fragrance contributes to the survival of the plant and its ecosystem and promotes pollination and on and on.  I realize that the attraction component has a practical, mechanistic survival advantage to it.  But this doesn’t go deep enough.  It explains the what and the how, but it doesn’t get to the why.  And that is the deepest question of all.

In other words, the beautiful smell is something richer and truer than the sum of its parts or the role it plays.  It has to do with the deeper perception it creates.  The actual experience of pleasure.  In philosophy, this is sometimes referred to as qualia.  It has to do more with the emotional reaction, the essence of the perception, and the stirring of the heart.  The actual delight and not just the trigger. 

I realize this is getting abstract, but this is where the richness lies.  The beauty points us to a profound goodness.  It reveals more than the brilliance of the mind behind the design.  It shows the artistic heart of God.  The one who takes such joy in creation. 

From a mechanistic worldview, the qualia is irrelevant.  It is unnecessary for the machine to work.  It is an unnecessary luxury in nature.  It is gratuitous.  But it happens to be the thing that matters most.  At least to me.

Chesterton wrote, “It is possible that God says every morning, ‘Do it again’ to the sun; and every evening, ‘Do it again’ to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately but has never got tired of making them.” 

Chesterton goes on to compare this way of seeing to that of a child.  He says, we’re the ones who have grown old.  That the creator is younger than us.  That we must rediscover that childlike heart.  That we must remember what it is like to be filled with wonder.  It requires some practice.  But when we do, our hearts are most like God’s.

So, my friends, breathe in and smell the smells and remember that God is good.  Savor the simple beauty of the day.  And be reminded that underlying the deep elegance of nature is a God who knows, and delights, and loves you…that little child in you.  Enjoy!