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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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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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In Between

Infinity in an instant

Amidst the chaos of trade wars, mil­i­tary inter­ven­tions, human­i­tar­i­an crises, extreme weath­er, and injus­tice every­where, peace also exists, and is attain­able through the com­bined efforts of count­less com­mit­ted indi­vid­u­als.

It’s easy to get lost in a moment, lost in one­self, in thought, in action, but get­ting lost is not always so bad. Some­times get­ting lost allows us to become present. Pres­ence is a nec­es­sary con­di­tion for calm, thought­ful, and advan­ta­geous deci­sions to be made.

When we make deci­sions based on urgency, we are often stressed, and there­fore do not make the best deci­sions. When we can plan, con­sid­er con­se­quences, and think about what we’re going to do before we do it, we make more informed, and gen­er­al­ly, wis­er deci­sions. Our abil­i­ty to mod­el in our brains what we think might hap­pen is a unique gift. And, if we use this gift in con­cert with a pos­i­tive mind­set, we can make even more capa­ble deci­sions.

Think­ing about archi­tec­ture to sup­port sus­tain­able liv­ing sys­tems helps us look into a pos­i­tive future. These mind­ful activ­i­ties also bring us into clos­er con­nec­tion with the infi­nite. Sim­i­lar to how dis­tanc­ing from ego enhances aware­ness from a self­less per­spec­tive, there is a great abun­dance of ener­gy and pow­er in the infi­nite for it con­tains all of life in count­less forms. In think­ing for­ward on a glob­al and local scale, we feel all busi­ness activ­i­ty should address: soci­etal progress and well­be­ing, inter­con­nec­tiv­i­ty, glob­al equi­tabil­i­ty, and pre­serv­ing authen­tic­i­ty in every rela­tion­ship, expe­ri­ence, and envi­ron­ment.

With a rise in col­lec­tive syn­chronic­i­ty, indi­vid­ual author­i­ty and respon­si­bil­i­ty for one’s own ener­gy remains para­mount. Integri­ty, empow­er­ment, and the free­dom to define one’s best self at the ben­e­fit, and not expense, of any oth­er life will be the pil­lars of per­son­al, soci­etal, and envi­ron­men­tal stew­ard­ship. It’s time to blend our abil­i­ties. It’s time to pro­duce a bal­anced ver­sion of what phys­i­cal and dig­i­tal inter­ac­tion can be.

At this point, look­ing for­ward, the sin­gle biggest con­trib­u­tor to arriv­ing at the foun­da­tion for a pos­i­tive future a gen­er­a­tion from now will be mass adop­tion of cir­cu­lar prin­ci­ples and pat­terns in our eco­nom­ic and indus­tri­al­ized sys­tems. Cir­cu­lar­i­ty, in this sense, means both deriv­ing ways to keep resources in use as long as pos­si­ble and also ensur­ing that all parts of a cor­re­spond­ing sys­tem ben­e­fit from those resources. This approach resem­bles the cir­cu­la­to­ry sys­tems of our bod­ies, in which net­works of blood, blood ves­sels, and the heart all work togeth­er to sup­ply oxy­gen and nutri­ents through­out the body and remove unnec­es­sary waste. * There’s no short­age of exam­ples to bor­row from nature when it comes to cir­cu­lar­i­ty. From the solar sys­tem itself with orbital arcs, shape of plan­ets, to the struc­ture of a sim­ple food chain, to more per­son­al mat­ters like men­stru­al cycles, humans are sur­round­ed by the cycli­cal nature of cir­cu­lar­i­ty, and ben­e­fit tremen­dous­ly from incor­po­rat­ing its struc­ture into our col­lec­tive activ­i­ties.

“Imple­ment­ing cir­cu­lar econ­o­my oppor­tu­ni­ties would result in a decrease in con­sump­tion of non-renew­able resources, includ­ing fos­sil fuels, by 49% in 2030 and 71% in 2040.” — Ellen MacArthur Foun­da­tion, The Cir­cu­lar Econ­o­my Oppor­tu­ni­ty for Urban and Indus­tri­al Inno­va­tion in Chi­na (2018) **

“The acci­dent is an invert­ed mir­a­cle, a sec­u­lar mir­a­cle, a rev­e­la­tion. When you invent the ship, you also invent the ship­wreck; when you invent the plane you also invent the plane crash; and when you invent elec­tric­i­ty, you invent elec­tro­cu­tion… Every tech­nol­o­gy car­ries its own neg­a­tiv­i­ty, which is invent­ed at the same time as tech­ni­cal progress.” — Paul Vir­ilio, 1999

As we learn from the mis­takes of tech­nolo­gies built around neu­ro-feed­back loops designed to manip­u­late people’s behav­ior and sen­sa­tions, we become more aware of what we decide to inte­grate into our lives and how those micro-deci­sions play a major role in how we per­ceive real­i­ty. The more we incor­po­rate a mind­set of resilience, recep­tive­ness, and adapt­abil­i­ty into our prac­tices, the more that we can lever­age inno­va­tion to help guide approach­es to a glob­al par­a­digm of moral­i­ty.

Tap the source of uni­ver­sal con­nect­ed­ness. Through a greater aware­ness of inter­con­nec­tions, we can revise our social and eco­nomic sys­tems with heal­ing and har­mo­ny in mind.

“In the long term, it’s not a ques­tion of if things go wrong, but when. The eth­i­cal con­cerns of inno­va­tion thus tend to focus on harm’s min­i­miza­tion and mit­i­ga­tion, not the absence of harm alto­geth­er.” 
— Tom Chat­field

“His­to­ry shows that every tech­ni­cal appli­ca­tion from its begin­nings presents cer­tain unfore­see­able sec­ondary effects which are more dis­as­trous than the lack of the tech­nique would have been.” – Jacques Ellul, 1954

We need to be mind­ful of how we approach technology’s expo­nen­tial effects. In the last decade, the buzz­word of “dis­rup­tion” described how indus­tries served by long­stand­ing busi­ness mod­els were upend­ed by the appli­ca­tions of new tech­nol­o­gy. Dis­rup­tion became a kind of syn­onym for inno­va­tion. Now, as we approach 2020, we can see that this mod­el of dis­rupt­ing the sta­tus quo through nov­el solu­tions to exist­ing chal­lenges, is insuf­fi­cient to heal human­i­ty on the whole. Heal­ing is a process, not a set of solu­tions. Think­ing of dis­rup­tion as a met­ric for suc­cess is prob­lem­at­ic. We became so wrapped up in a quest for solu­tions that we for­got we’re not here to solve life. What we can solve, how­ev­er, are the prob­lems we’ve cre­at­ed that dis­rupt life. Prob­lems like fam­i­lies not being fed or hav­ing ade­quate shel­ter or sim­ply get­ting to spend enough time togeth­er. In this way, the focus of inno­va­tion can become more tied to holis­ti­cal­ly-revis­ing sys­temic, eco­nom­ic stan­dards. A sus­tain­able, social­ly desir­able, and eth­i­cal­ly accept­able mod­el for busi­ness will also have to be accept­able for the plan­et on the whole.

“The world is not a prob­lem to be solved; it is a liv­ing being to which we belong. It is part of our own self and we are a part of its suf­fer­ing whole­ness. Until we go to the root of our image of sep­a­rate­ness, there can be no heal­ing. And the deep­est part of our sep­a­rate­ness from cre­ation lies in our for­get­ful­ness of its sacred nature, which is also our own sacred nature.” — Thich Nhat Hanh

As long as the impe­tus for inno­va­tion, with­in the busi­ness sec­tor, remains engrained in the cur­rent eco­nom­ic sys­tem of cap­i­tal­ism, we don’t have much of a chance at affect­ing the kinds of change that we des­per­ate­ly need. This is why the val­ue of slow­ing down and being more atten­tive to the true needs of life is so impor­tant.

Now’s the time to fig­u­ra­tive­ly lift a flame to mon­ey. We can feel the flick­er­ing embers begin to catch fire beneath the sod­den dead­wood of an old, stag­nant world­view in which prof­it defines val­ue. By insert­ing more uplift­ing val­ues, like integri­ty, in place of cor­rupt­ing prin­ci­ples, like prof­it, the entire machin­ery of our eco­nom­ic sys­tem will shift its gears into much more flu­id and empow­er­ing dynam­ics. As we learn to bet­ter incor­po­rate eco­nom­ic stim­u­lus pack­ages to cir­cu­late cap­i­tal to areas that have suf­fered from neglect and more of the pop­u­la­tion thrives, ideas will be able to cas­cade around ways to heal dam­aged rela­tion­ships between peo­ple and plan­et.

Chal­lenges don’t exist in vac­u­ums. Each chal­lenge we encounter has a rela­tion­ship to anoth­er, most like­ly larg­er, prob­lem. Eco­nom­ic injus­tice is con­nect­ed to greed and a desire for dom­i­na­tion. Eco­nom­ic jus­tice will arise through rela­tion­ships found­ed on sol­i­dar­i­ty and a desire for coop­er­a­tion. In order to inno­vate our way beyond the con­ven­tions con­strain­ing our abil­i­ty to live sus­tain­ably on this plan­et, we need to con­sid­er risks in terms of rela­tion­ships. How might our own seem­ing­ly inde­pen­dent deci­sions affect oth­ers? By con­sid­er­ing the con­nec­tions between how we live and the con­di­tions of our cur­rent eco­nom­ic sys­tem, we can bet­ter see where the prob­lems emerge. With this knowl­edge we can begin to break open empow­er­ing def­i­n­i­tions of wealth, aid, and exchange.

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In Between

Searching for a theory of everything

From sci­en­tif­ic co­nundrums to the dra­ma of dai­ly life, how can we make sense of every­thing being con­nect­ed when we
can feel so torn apart?

The human species does not like a ques­tion left unan­swered. The unex­plained must be explained. It feels impor­tant to us that we try to sat­is­fy our var­i­ous curiosi­ties. Ever since the days of our ear­li­est ances­tors, we’ve been on a per­pet­u­al search to under­stand the uni­verse.

Along the way toward this knowl­edge, we became sto­ry­tellers. We began telling our­selves cre­ation myths. These myths were attempts to derive some sense of mean­ing out of the mys­ter­ies of nature. Why does every­thing we see around us appear as it does? Where did it all come from? What is the cause that led to any per­son being present at a giv­en moment?

The ear­li­est reli­gious sto­ries jus­ti­fied and shaped the soci­ety around them. Some craft­ed epic tales of a con­flict between good and evil, and our role with­in this bat­tle. Some helped to estab­lish social class­es in their tellings of the dif­fer­ences between peo­ple. Regard­less of the detail, they all share one gen­er­al pur­pose: to cre­ate order from the appar­ent chaos of the world.

Despite an entire­ly dif­fer­ent method­ol­o­gy, sci­ence seeks to answer these same ques­tions. It just takes a more evi­dence-based approach toward deter­min­ing the exact nature of the uni­verse.

Gen­er­al rel­a­tiv­i­ty and quan­tum field the­o­ry are the two dom­i­nant the­o­ries of physics that have looked to shed light on these inquiries. Since their incep­tion, they have both been proven almost entire­ly cor­rect, and capa­ble of being used to explain the mech­a­nisms behind almost all facets of the observ­able uni­verse. But there’s a prob­lem between these two can­di­dates for describ­ing all  nature. They can­not both be cor­rect. They are ulti­mate­ly incom­pat­i­ble with one anoth­er, and are only func­tion­al when used in their respec­tive area of appli­ca­tion. Gen­er­al rel­a­tiv­i­ty helps us under­stand the mechan­ics of large, high-mass objects, like galax­ies, inter­act­ing grav­i­ta­tion­al­ly. Quan­tum field the­o­ry explains the mechan­ics of small, low-mass ele­ments, like mol­e­cules, using the fun­da­men­tal forces of weak, strong, and elec­tro­mag­net­ic inter­ac­tions. * The fun­da­men­tal force of grav­i­ty sits apart from the oth­er three fun­da­men­tal forces of weak and strong nuclear forces, and elec­tro­mag­net­ism. String the­o­ry emerged in the 1970s as a promis­ing attempt to uni­fy these forces into a the­o­ry of every­thing, but has suf­fered its own set­backs. At the time of writ­ing, there is absolute­ly no sci­en­tif­ic con­sen­sus on a grand the­o­ry of every­thing that accounts for all four of these forces in a sin­gle cohe­sive mod­el. In fact, there is a dis­tinct pos­si­bil­i­ty that one com­pre­hen­sive the­o­ry may nev­er be pos­si­ble.

In their 2010 book The Grand Design, physi­cists Stephen Hawk­ing and Leonard Mlodi­now pro­posed the idea of “mod­el-depen­dent real­ism” to rec­on­cile the pos­si­bil­i­ty of co-exist­ing the­o­ries. The con­cept states that the objec­tive truth of a giv­en mod­el is not its most impor­tant ele­ment. Any mod­el or the­o­ry of the world should be eval­u­at­ed on the basis of its use­ful­ness alone. Do the rules out­lined with­in the mod­el match up cor­rect­ly with obser­va­tions of the world? Does it allow us to make accu­rate pre­dic­tions? If this is true, then the mod­el can be con­sid­ered valid. It may not tell us the whole truth, but it pro­vides enough truth to broad­en our knowl­edge and increase our capac­i­ties. Ear­ly humans didn’t need to under­stand ther­mo­dy­nam­ics to know that fire burns. How­ev­er they con­cep­tu­al­ized it, they still learnt how to use fire to cook.

Mod­el-depen­dent real­ism nego­ti­ates with our lim­i­ta­tions. The con­cept accepts, as a pos­si­bil­i­ty, that a frame­work that ful­ly explains objec­tive real­i­ty is for­ev­er beyond our reach. It puts forth the idea that the best we can do is to find approx­i­ma­tions of real­i­ty that are nonethe­less capa­ble of gen­er­at­ing under­stand­ing of the mechan­ics of our world. **

Our entire per­cep­tion of the world we inhab­it is already an abstrac­tion, it is an inter­pre­ta­tion of mat­ter fil­tered through our indi­vid­ual sens­es. Our brains have evolved to process sen­so­ry data in a way that is most con­ducive to our sur­vival, but this does not con­sti­tute an objec­tive real­i­ty. How­ev­er, it would be sil­ly to denounce our mode of per­ceiv­ing as “not being real”. Per­cep­tion serves our needs quite well. We can func­tion as humans and do all sorts of activ­i­ties thanks to our par­tic­u­lar inter­pre­ta­tions of mat­ter. Mod­el-depen­dent real­ism applies a sim­i­lar type of rea­son­ing to sci­en­tif­ic mod­els of the world, allow­ing the co-exis­tence of many the­o­ries. In this way, we are able to make sense of seem­ing­ly incom­pat­i­ble obser­va­tions, like the con­tra­dic­tions observed by sci­en­tists between the laws of clas­si­cal physics and those of quan­tum mechan­ics.

“Every­thing should be made as sim­ple as pos­si­ble, but no sim­pler.”
— Albert Ein­stein

An approach for try­ing to grasp any­thing that seems incom­pre­hen­si­ble might take inspi­ra­tion from mod­el-depen­dent real­ism. This notion could be just as use­ful for under­stand­ing glob­al soci­ety as it is for deal­ing with sci­en­tif­ic mys­ter­ies. When we speak of uni­fi­ca­tion, we do not mean the elim­i­na­tion of all dif­fer­ence. This is nei­ther pos­si­ble nor desir­able. In fact, it is through the many nuances of dif­fer­ence that strength is found. Dif­fer­ences cre­ate resilience through flex­i­bil­i­ty to adapt to chang­ing sce­nar­ios and con­di­tions. The human urge is often to sim­pli­fy and reduce our mod­els to their most ele­gant pos­si­ble forms in order to facil­i­tate under­stand­ing. This urge works won­ders some­times, but this ten­den­cy has its lim­its. As humans with lim­it­ed sen­so­ry per­cep­tion, our entire under­stand­ing of exis­tence is sub­jec­tive. Even still, we can har­ness sub­jec­tive truth by incor­po­rat­ing mul­ti­ple per­spec­tives to advance our under­stand­ing of the world. In order to see the big­ger pic­ture, we must learn to har­mo­nize dis­parate ele­ments. Diver­si­ty of world­view, evi­dence-based frame­works and belief sys­tems can all be inte­grat­ed to cre­ate a more com­pre­hen­sive mode of under­stand­ing across the many cul­tures and the­o­ries that make up soci­ety.

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