soft and malleable vs hard and brittle

just finished an amazing episode of onbeing with xavier le pichon. he’s one of the geophysicists who created the field of plate tectonics. he’s also “A devout Catholic and spiritual thinker [and] he raised his family in intentional communities centered around people with mental disabilities.” (from the interview web page). like many people i respect, there is little contradiction between his science and his faith. 

the most incredible part of his interview was how he explained fragility. in his mind, fragility is what makes life pleasurable and enjoyable. this also lines up with chapter one of alan watts ‘the wisdom of insecurity,’ but that’s for another post. he started with this analogy.

in the earth, the closer you get to the core, the hotter it is. the deeper down you go, the more liquified the rock. at deep levels, molten rock and rock sheets are able to bend and fold, sliding over each other and deforming when they come into contact. at the earth’s surface, the same types of contacts cause violent disruptions: earthquakes, chasms, tsunamis, etc.

so, the softer and more malleable the rock, the more it’s able to flex and accommodate pressure.

the first level out of this analogy is to the individual person. people who are steadfast in their ways and thinking require big shake-ups to really make any change. those who are flexible tend to be able to go with the flow and evolve more easily.

the second level out of the analogy was to society. small, malleable groups of people or societies are able to accommodate changes in environment and circumstances fairly resiliently. empires, which tend to be large and well-formed (brittle), require revolutions or catastrophes to experience real, deep change.

such good thinking.