In Between

Burning mirrors reveal the intensity of nature’s power

Con­vex reflec­tive sur­faces ­focus light from the sun into a fixed point. At this apex, the pow­er of the ­con­cen­trat­ed sun­light can result in fire.

“The rays of the sun seemed a more spir­i­tu­al way of cre­at­ing fire than human hands”
— John Per­lin, Whole Earth Cat­a­log, Win­ter 1999

The ancient tech­nol­o­gy of har­ness­ing and redi­rect­ing the sun’s pow­er was used mil­len­nia ago. Archimedes, the Greek math­e­mati­cian, physi­cist, engi­neer, inven­tor, and astronomer, employed burn­ing mir­rors to set fire to invad­ing Roman war­ships. The Romans then adopt­ed the same tech­nol­o­gy for their own ends. The tech­nol­o­gy was also used in ancient Chi­nese and Incan cul­tures to light fires for the peace­ful pur­pos­es of cook­ing and ceremony.

Burn­ing mir­rors reveal how the pow­er of nature has been har­nessed by humans for dif­fer­ent pur­pos­es. This also shows how the inten­tion behind a technology’s use is as sig­nif­i­cant as the tech­nol­o­gy itself. Archimedes’ burn­ing mir­rors chan­neled forces of nature for a process of destruc­tion. Mil­len­nia lat­er, sci­en­tists work­ing on the Man­hat­tan Project fig­ured out how to assert fur­ther con­trol over nature by split­ting the atom in order to cre­ate a nuclear weapon. The manip­u­la­tion of nature for the pur­pos­es of war­fare has had world-chang­ing con­se­quences. We should be hum­bled by the pow­er­ful ener­gies that nature stores and releases.

To pro­tect the sacred­ness of life, we are remind­ed of the impor­tance of liv­ing inten­tion­al­ly with­in the bound­aries of nature and not attempt­ing to assert con­trol over it. To recon­nect with the peace­ful pow­er of burn­ing mir­rors, we won­der what it will feel like to light a fire for cook­ing by focus­ing the sun’s rays, or make cer­e­mo­ni­al offer­ings in this way. How might we be uplift­ed by dis­play­ing rev­er­ence to life-giv­ing sources like the sun in our dai­ly activ­i­ties? How might we rein­te­grate an intu­itive spir­i­tu­al­i­ty from chan­nel­ing nature’s ener­gy with­in our technologies?

We can begin by explor­ing var­i­ous ways to live clos­er to nature. Arcology—a mashup of archi­tec­ture and ecology—presents a mode of cre­at­ing eco­log­i­cal­ly low-impact habi­tats for humans. In the Amer­i­can South­west, Arcosan­ti stands as a liv­ing exam­ple of this con­cept.* There, in this desert loca­tion, about 80 res­i­dents live and work togeth­er in an archi­tec­tur­al set­ting con­scious of the nat­ur­al land­scape in which it’s inte­grat­ed. In the Unit­ed Arab Emi­rates, the exper­i­men­tal Mas­dar City ambi­tious­ly attempt­ed to become a thriv­ing city with build­ings that could adapt to the weath­er through­out the day. While the large scale project of Mas­dar City is cur­rent­ly on hold, we can still con­tin­ue to con­jure up inspi­ra­tion and search for more nuanced ways to incor­po­rate nature into the archi­tec­ture of our lives.

Peo­ple and plan­et will all ben­e­fit from human endeav­ors becom­ing more envi­ron­men­tal­ly con­scious. Wher­ev­er there are healthy liv­ing soils, there’s a good chance of find­ing healthy liv­ing peo­ple. The notion of burn­ing mir­rors can serve to inspire a clos­er, and more respect­ful, rela­tion­ship between tech­nol­o­gy and nature. Our hypoth­e­sis is that the more we learn to con­verge nature and tech­nol­o­gy, the more we will feel con­nect­ed to the pow­er and pur­pose of who we are meant to be in every con­ceiv­able way.

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