- The Power of Humility
- Healthy Habits
- Environmental Actors
- Economic Priorities
- Lessons Ahead
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.
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.
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.
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.
- The Power of Humility
- Healthy Habits
- Environmental Actors
- Economic Priorities
- Lessons Ahead