Finding patterns and pathways in a chaotic universe – The Irish Times

The Cosmic Dance: Finding Patterns and Ways in a Chaotic Universe

Author: Stephen Elcock

ISBN-13: 978-0500252536

Editor: Thames and Hudson

Guide price: £25

In the preface to this visually overwhelming and deeply uplifting book, Stephen Ellcock describes himself as “an exhausted, punch-drunk middle-aged man” whose lack of perspective a decade ago led him “to disintegrate”. , loses his bearings and finds himself adrift in a world of unstretched pitfalls and pitfalls, engaged in perpetual war not only with himself but with friends and foes, real and imagined”.

The Cosmic Dance is the astonishing result of Ellcock’s 10 years of rediscovering his perspective: “a quest to find his place in space”. He reconnected with the world, even the universe, through images, “the infinite archive of images that was suddenly and freely available online”.

And so The Cosmic Dance brings together the best of the best of these images, from across space, time and culture. Woodcuts, photographs, shells, plans, ceremonial engravings, x-rays, oil paintings, alchemical texts, carved rocks and woven blankets mingle here with promiscuous joy.

Throughout, Ellcock’s curation of these images is a marvel of sympathy. A 16th century German castle staircase calmly reflects the stone spiral of a fossil snail. A modern English crop circle is set in lively conversation with an ornate Italian church cupola. A 1930s photograph of sliced ​​onions by Midori Shimoda – a dream of silvery circular stillness – sits opposite an ink drawing of waves by Louise Bourgeois (a nightmare of jagged, sharp, frozen rage). They balance each other perfectly. You can watch this two-page broadcast for an hour as it deepens and resonates. It is a visual koan.

Meanwhile, the book’s accompanying text quickly guides you through a magnificent array of the world’s mythologies, religions, philosophies, arts, and sciences, drawing connections and noting similarities.

Exuberantly unpredictable

The images, while exuberant and unpredictable, are not random: the book has an arc, from the microscopic to the macroscopic. Beginning with the fizzle of the subatomic and the rapid pulse of bacteria, it gently leads you outward and upward, through the interwoven realms of humans, animals and plants, beyond majestic planets. spinning, beyond galaxies that take a billion years to spin once, until you look at the universe as a whole; the mysterious organism that generates all these wonderful moments on all possible scales.

There are points where one can be a little dazed, a little lost. Am I looking at a computer-generated mathematical fractal or the intricate blue ceiling of a mosque? Crystallized ascorbic acid or moth antennae? Finally, you realize that these questions don’t matter. Everything here, seen at the right scale – zoomed in enough, zoomed out enough – is alive, meaningful and beautiful. As Annie Dillard says, in one of the many wonderfully chosen quotes that dot the book: “Crystals grew inside the rock like arithmetic flowers.”

If you know any punch-packed middle-aged burnouts, buy them this book for Christmas. Give them the gift of perspective. Maybe even save their lives.

Julian Gough is the author of the children’s books Rabbit & Bear (illustrated by Jim Field). Her most recent novel is Connect. He is currently writing The Egg and the Rock (a non-fiction book about the universe), in public, online, on

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