Friday, 31 July 2015

Eden Domes, The Whole Earth Catalogue - new times and the old days

The Biomes at the Eden Project are, as far as I can see, particularly sophisticated geodesic domes. They are structured in hexagrams  without the six component triangles typical of geodesic domes, but it's surely the same principle.

Geodesic domes - that's a big topic, but as far as I remember, the point was that the struts provided the strength, and you could cover a dome with whatever you wanted. You can make a curved structure  with straight lines.

Memory comes into it, because during a formative period of my life, (1965-71) they were a big deal and a new hope. They were and are lovely to look at, they can be built very cheaply, and they looked like a future. 

They weren't a future, for most domestic use. Whatever their other advantages, it was difficult to create effective internal partitions, and unless they were better-made than most DIYers could easily manage, they were prone to leaks. Can you imagine trying to get planning permission for a three-bedroom dome in Cheadlehume or Surbiton? 

 They are perhaps better-suited to large, spectacular structures - or expensive exclusive modern domestic architecture, which was not what we hoped in 1968.

But they helped forward visions of different ways of living, ways that were kinder to the environment. They were structures that helped people feel they were moving closer to their earth.

Drop City, in Colorado, was early in the building of domestic domes out of scrap materials such as old car panels (particularly poignant, given the appalling effect of our cars on the environment.) It was also an idealistic effort to live communally and as such, it didn't last too long. But I think, looking back now, we should salute the courage and creativity of those people trying to avoid the widespread and rampant consumerism that....consumes us.

Here are the guys at Drop City putting their homes together:

  I'm sure the sunshine helped...

For more on Drop City from a 2012 perspective:

 Key publications from The Old Days:

and Domebook:

Domebook and Drop City are the past; it's thrilling to see Buckminster Fuller's big idea carrying forward from Drop City to the Eden Project. Hopeful visions, both.

Thursday, 30 July 2015

What the Eden Project tropical waterfall says

(sorry - title's a bit forced; I needn't need to meditate or sit by the waterfall, what follows hit me from the start of a five-hour family visit.)

It's a no doubt irritating habit of mine to enthuse madly about things the people I'm talking/writing to probably already know about. But what the hell - have you been to the Eden project, just outside St Austell, in Cornwall?

A familiar image, perhaps. The meaning of the Project, what it can, in the best of all ways (immersion) teach us is valuable beyond price. 

Of course it's expensive - look at the scale and complexity of the whole thing! It's excellent value for money, though. And the kids loved it.

At the social level, it shows what can be done with a truly creative vision, given guts, energy and good team-work - and of course, brilliant fund-raising and planning. In those aspects alone, it is a truly heartwarming and encouraging place. It's brought a lot of employment and money into an area that badly needed both.

Did you ever visit the old disused claypits in the area pre-Project? Fascinating, but - yuk. This is what Eden looked like before they got going.

 It's not just the chance to explore and learn about the plants of medditeranean and tropical regions inside the mighty Biomes. I came away with a much stronger sense of the interrelatedness of organic and non-organic things - life-forms and environments.

eg this:

 The Seed. A huge solid (Cornish granite) sculpture which you are invited to contemplate quietly - it's set a little apart in its own space. It represents all seeds, and more - some deep structures. 

You'll recognise the patterning from things such as a sunflower seed-head. The sculptor worked up a groundplan plan of 2000 circles according to Fibonacci numbers onto a graceful curved cone. According to Wikipedia, "(Fibonacci sequences) also appear in biological settings,[9] such as branching in trees, phyllotaxis (the arrangement of leaves on a stem), the fruit sprouts of a pineapple,[10] the flowering of an artichoke, an uncurling fern and the arrangement of a pine cone's bracts."

One of the signatures of the underlying unities of life, and of abstract human thought. Fibonacci sequences are, apparently, closely linked to the Golden Mean, that ancient guide to satisying proportionality in works of art.

What the Project tells us - no, what it makes us feel as well as think - is that we are entirely linked to the rest of the living and non-living world, and we are the first creatures to be able to conceptualise that underlying unity abstract thought and in works of art. So, er - let's not blow it.

BTW, outside the Domes there are some amusing and thought-provoking displays. It does this without being too preachy. Here's the Junk Monster - made up with what each of us will throw away in a lifetime, in the way of appliances and IT stuff:

And there's some lovely planting, to satisfy inquisitive gardeners even on a grey, showery day:

We live in a wordworld of exaggerated and trivial superlatives, but even that won't stop me saying that the Eden Project is amazing 
(OED "causing great surprise or wonder; astonishing" - so, not just "great fun" or even "cool....")

I'm proud of what they've achieved, and I'm not even Cornish!

Saturday, 11 July 2015

Ultimate, absolute reality and Bernard Williams

In a review of a book of essays by the philosopher Bernard Williams (London Review of Books 2nd July 2015)  I came across this:

"The pieces are informed by two general arguments in his philosophy. One is for the possibility of what he called an 'absolute knowledge' of the world that is 'to the largest possible extent independent of the local perspectives or idiosyncrasies of inquirers - the kind of knowledge to which scientists aspire."

The little I know of this area of science suggests that when you observe something you change it - that is, "reality" and the observer are contingent upon each other. Isn't that one of the things the theory of relativity tells us? (I'm open to offers of help at this point...)

That being so, I can only see one way of knowing the universe free of my idiosyncrasies and local perspectives, of being IN the world. That doesn't involve observing it, in any scientific sense (tremendously valuable though that is.) Nor does it involve verbal analysis (ditto).

We can get moments of such "independent" being in the world when we meditate (you could see that coming, couldn't you?) It's a state of being that is often called "mystical." Not a term I like much, because it can suggest mystifying, making something obscure and remote. But so-called "mystics" have written about it - in so far as it can be written about.

The presentmomentness of being IN the world, OF the universe and not separate from it, is an absolute knowledge, or rather an absolute state of being, I guess, and it is independent of our local perspectives or idiosyncrasies. It must be, because writers from very different cultures try to say the same sort of things about it.

I still like most one of the most ancient statements; it admits defeat as soon as it has started: "The way that can be spoken of is not the perfect way." But I also like Angharad Price's "tranquillity," her "transparency between myself and the world" (my post about her book, June 3rd.)

I expect Bernard Williams, a powerful writer and speaker, a great moral philosopher, would tear into all of the above - he was known for being a bit sharp-tongued and sharp-penned - but I'm sticking with it. Meditation can get us there. Scientific or verbal enquiry and analysis, on their own, wonderful as they are - don't.

 Bernard Williams:

 Lao Tse (possibly...if he existed...if he wrote "Tao Te Ching...):

Monday, 6 July 2015

About Greece....

I can't pretend I went to listen to the waves on the subject of Greece's current woes, but thoughts occur...

1. Many people seem to line up on one side or the other. Either: they've brought it on themselves - corruption, very low tax collection rates, reckless borrowing, huge expenditure on arms (much higher as % of GDP than ours) All this economists and politicians tell us.  Or: they are victims of the rich nations of Europe and their leaders (Merkel being almost as keen on austerity economics as Osborne), they are being shafted by international capitalism and its agents -  banks and international agencies (IMF, ECB) rushed to lend them far too much, as our banks did to individuals pre-2008.

2. There seems to be validity in both views. In which case, the people of Greece have been betrayed by their governments down the years, and they are being crushed by international capitalism.

3. The Eurozone is a desperately bad idea. Nations don't just have different currencies, in the abstract, they have different cultures behind them. A Euro without closer integration of nation states (were that possible or desirable) was doomed to failure of one sort or another. Some people point to the USA as an example of a federation with a common currency. Nonsense - for all its differences, the USA is one country with powerfully centralising ideologies in balance with federal powers. The differences between Germany and Greece (or Italy, or....) are too significant for a common currency.

4. The Eurozone and its economic ideologies will at this rate destroy the EU. Because the bottom line is this: the people of Greece are in a desperate state. We are told they are already RUNNING OUT OF ESSENTIAL MEDICINES. Sorry to shout at you, but a member state of the EU is being allowed to collapse into crisis because of its past economic follies, whilst politicians quarrel. What sort of message does that play to the rest of the EU and the world? 

"Some people rob you with a six-gun, and some with a fountain pen." (Woody Guthrie)

"A plague o' both your houses! They have made worm's meat of me." (The dying Mercutio in "Romeo and Juliet.")

Thank - er, Gordon Brown, I think - for keeping us out of the Euro, but in the EU.

 Just a few unoriginal and probably ignorant thoughts to clear my head.