Wednesday, May 25, 2011

TEDxCarletonU 2010 - Manuel A. Báez - Crystal & Flame: Form and Process

Brief introduction to the theme Crystal & Flame

As the twilight of the first decade of the new millennium fades and is followed by the emerging dawn of the second, the themes, values and observations identified by the writer Italo Calvino in 1985 as Six Memos for the Next Millennium (posthumously published in 1988, Harvard University Press), continue to offer us insightful guidance and inspiration. The Crystal & Flame is one of these cross-disciplinary, paradoxical and metaphorical themes. It offers a richly diverse history and new inspiring perspectives for the imagination, poetically evoked in the intermingling and catalytic Inhibition & Excitation of synaptic firing process-patterns that allows for thought and reflection on and through our embodied consciousness. An intrinsic fundamental theme deeply embedded in the reciprocal relationship within the ubiquitous paradox of constrained and yet versatile freedom.

In the memo on Exactitude, Calvino offers us the following:

The crystal, with its precise faceting and its ability to refract light, is the model of perfection that I have always cherished as an emblem, and this predilection has become even more meaningful since we have learned that certain properties of the birth and growth of crystals resemble those of the most rudimentary biological creatures, forming a kind of bridge between the mineral world and living matter.

Among the scientific books into which I poke my nose in search of stimulus for the imagination, I recently happened to read that the models for the process of formation of living beings "are best visualized by the crystal on one side (invariance of specific structures) and the flame on the other (constancy of external forms in spite of relentless internal agitation)."

What interests me here is the juxtaposition of these two symbols . . . Crystal and Flame: two forms of perfect beauty that we cannot tear our eyes away from, two modes of growth in time, of expenditure of the matter surrounding them, two moral symbols, two absolutes, two categories for classifying facts and ideas, styles and feelings . . . I have always considered myself a partisan of the crystal, but the passage just quoted teaches me not to forget the value of the flame as a way of being, as a mode of existence. In the same way, I would like those who think of themselves as disciples of the flame not to lose sight of the tranquil, arduous lesson of the crystal.

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