Separation And Reinforcement

In a fortuitous turn of events, shortly after coming up with the skeleton of an idea for this week’s post I happened upon a physical manifestation of the abstract theme that I was working on.

For this nugget of serendipity I had a loathsome television commercial to thank which, going beyond the normal degree of irritation engendered by advertisements, compelled me to switch channels. In doing so, I was transported from a fantasy world of Tolkien’s making to the fifteenth century of the Ming Dynasty.

The documentary itself, whose subject was The Forbidden City, was interesting enough but one particular passage had me mesmerised. A wooden structural building component known as a dougong, invented in China more than two thousand years ago, was the subject of a remarkable experiment. In a simulation of a powerful earthquake, a scale model of one of The Forbidden City’s fifteenth century timber framed buildings was stress tested on a shake table.

As the power of the artificial earthquake was cranked up the walls of the building disintegrated. The intensity was increased until a reading equivalent to more than ten on the Richter scale was reached, equivalent to the explosive force of more than fifteen thousand megatons of TNT. This magnitude exceeds that of the strongest recorded earthquake. At the conclusion of the test the wooden frame, incredibly, remained standing and intact.

Apart from the aesthetic beauty of the complex structure of the dougong, I was struck by the elegant design principle that makes it so resilient to major seismic events. The interlocking wooden parts fit together in an intricate and ingenious manner, connecting the wooden pillars to the roof beams securely but with enough play between them to allow flexibility. The slightly loose coupling permits a small degree of movement between the components, allowing the frame to absorb shocks very effectively while keeping the vertical and horizontal members tied together.

So how does this relate to my abstract theme? The idea postulates that we can live our lives to greatest effect if we devote our time to a small number of related activities that strongly reinforce each other and yet remain independent. In this way, any setback suffered by one area of endeavour will not impact the others.

This is in line with The Knot Garden’s belief that we should maintain a fine balance between the the key elements of our life such that they are bound to each other tightly enough to provide mutual support but loosely enough to preserve the integrity of the whole when we are tested by adversity.

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