Wednesday, May 26, 2010

An Element Never Forgets

Understanding what an 'element' is, should not be that difficult, in fact it's really the simplest matter. Aristotle defined an element as one of those bodies into which other bodies can decompose, and that itself is not capable of being divided further. Basically an element is a substance made of just one type of atom. To date, there are 103 elements known to man, and they are neatly listed in a thing called the periodic table. Ninety-two of these elements or various combinations of them (called minerals) occur naturally and many of these minerals and elements are found in the stuff we commonly refer to as 'rock' or 'stone'. The most common ones are Oxygen, Silicon, Aluminum, Iron, Calcium, Sodium, Potassium, Magnesium but there is a truck load of other trace elements too.

Elements because they can't be subdivided are not just the building blocks of matter they are basic units of being, which means they have a great capacity to stay the same and be unaffected by time. If a thing, or a substance, can not be divided any more, it exhibits and continues to retain only the quality and essence of itself. Because it contains great concentrations of these fundamental elements, stone is one of the most enduring materials on earth.

People, on the other hand, are all in an Aristotelian state of decomposing. Besides the obvious downside, one of the main problems this presents is that we have a annoying tendency to forget things. Ultimately, at the point where our memory is lost, we literally, cease to be. In fact many psychologists say the thing that defines us as a species is the human activity of 'remembering'. Memory is the thing that moves us and keeps us going. Stones, which hardly ever move on their own, and have very few 'activities', have in fact a far greater ability to 'go the distance'. That's why mankind, since the dawn of recorded history, has tried to utilized this material as a means of being remembered and keeping the records straight.

Obelsks, inukshuks, walls, monuments, pillars, cairns and a whole pile of other stone structures have all at one time or another been stacked in unique configurations for the purpose of remembering something or other. For the ever prone-to-forget human species these things become an expedient extension of our human memory. While the significance of many of these stone edifices may sometimes be lost over time, the structures themselves, because they are built of stone continue standing for a long time after. The point is that stones have been, and still are, the most efficient way of storing knowledge. Amazingly in our computerized age, nothing has changed. Silicon for example, which is found in almost all of these ancient stone memorials and shrines of many past civilizations, is the same basic element used in computers today, providing trillions of gigabytes of memory, which apparently we need to help us remember who we are, and what it is we are doing, as well as enable us to store all our collective knowledge as a species.

Would that we could, rather than scurrying around in a frenzy, trying to remember and be remembered, discover the one basic elementary secret of stone and rocks - that of merely knowing how to just 'be'.


  1. Maybe I'll build a cairn in my living room to keep my car keys safe.

  2. Good idea. Maybe with an arched opening? And so you don't forget, hide them behind the keystone!