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.

In Between

Transcend the noise

Lis­ten up. Turn off the TV. Turn down the radio. Put down your phone. Take a break from the news. Look around. Nature res­onates with life in all dimensions.

“The capac­i­ty to dri­ve away a thought once and for all is the door to eter­ni­ty. The infi­nite in an instant.”
— Simone Weil

Where we place our atten­tion directs our real­i­ty. Emerg­ing from a peri­od in which our atten­tion has been con­fis­cat­ed, reclaim­ing our agency over our atten­tion rep­re­sents an impor­tant step toward liberation.

The moment we open our phones we are com­press­ing our sphere of choice into the apps which all vie for our atten­tion. When we set our phones aside, we get to opt out of the “atten­tion econ­o­my”. In that less medi­at­ed space, we open our­selves to the world in a more recep­tive state. We receive the oppor­tu­ni­ty to explore and see what serendip­i­ty pro­vides us.

As writer Dan Nixon points out in his arti­cle about how atten­tion con­sti­tutes a way of being alive to the world, “there can be beau­ty and won­der in the unadorned act of ‘expe­ri­enc­ing’.”* In this sense, pure expe­ri­ence offers a con­nec­tion to the eter­nal, because there is no dis­trac­tion plac­ing our atten­tion in a fixed place or time, Nixon posits that atten­tion, as a form of unmedi­at­ed expe­ri­ence, relates to what Simone Weil referred to as “the infi­nite in an instant”. We are inspired by this frame­work for atten­tion, and feel that think­ing of atten­tion, as expe­ri­ence, and not a resource, is an impact­ful way to reclaim author­i­ty in our indi­vid­ual roles with­in an inter­con­nect­ed existence.

Along our way for­ward, we rec­og­nize the val­ue of get­ting lost as it teach­es us how to bet­ter deal with uncer­tain­ty. Free of over­stim­u­la­tion, we may well find our­selves more prone to bore­dom, which we must soft­en of all its neg­a­tive con­no­ta­tions. Bore­dom leads to cre­ativ­i­ty and opens up space for pause and intro­spec­tion. Still­ness and soli­tude allow con­scious­ness to rest. A healthy amount of idle time is not only good for us, but makes us more cre­ative. It may even be crit­i­cal to our hap­pi­ness. With only wan­der­ing thoughts for enter­tain­ment, we tune into what our bod­ies might be telling us or what we have buried deep in our psy­ches. These inner secrets, unearthed from deep with­in our­selves, can deliv­er the insights that will help pro­pel us on the path toward regen­er­a­tive living.

“Intro­spec­tor”, devel­oped by PCH for Cartier
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