Tuesday, March 3, 2009

It Snowed Last Night. Snow! What Crazy Stuff That Is!

Why does this aspect of the universe amaze me so much? That water comes in three funky phases and how they intertransform is interesting. That Earth is a dynamic place. The sun is warmer than outerspace and warmer than Earth so light flows from the sun to earth and warms the seas and the water in the seas is not just a continuous featureless goopy liquid it's frenetic dance of things called molecules. anyway these 'things' are actually rather clever, they can respond to energy and their neighbors. give 'em energy and they can dance away from their neighbors, let 'em lose energy at night and they bump into their neighbors and stick. water molecules are actually quite sophisticated little machines and can do some simple computations and can make interesting shapes.

anyway sunlight is enough energy to launch a water molecule if it absorbs some light, then emits some light back, it will spring, and if it bounces against a neigbor fast enough it will be going fast enough to launch itself into space. until it bounces into another air molecule also launching into space and you get a chaotic pinball game of molecules bouncing into each other that we call our atmosphere. something we can breath.

of course by the time they get pretty high, it gets colder up there and colder means they start loosing energy to the cold outerspace and if they start crashing into each other they start holding on. if enough of them do this it's a water droplet. water droplets though even are complex, they have distinct outsides and insides. they float around up there, having all those faster molecules bouncing into them imparting motion to them in all different directions. eventually though they grow big enough and gravity pulls 'em down. that's called rain. and of course that does all the building of streams and ponds and washing away of soil, Grand Canyons etc...

but what if they get higher and get REALLY cold? then they really get a chance to slow down and 'feel' each other out. even in water droplets they are actually bouncing around each other momentarily holding on and letting go. ( what's the dividing line microscopically between being water and being ice? not sure really. i think it's a matter of what percentage of them are holding on at any given time! there's a branch of mathematics called zero one laws on random graphs that gives some results on sudden bifurcations in behavior of masses of interacting thingies given the slow increase in percentage of connections...) so it turns out that at a certain temperature, water freezes. but not microscopically! at the surface of the growing crystal there is no such thing as temperature! and many curious things can happen, many dynamic things can happen. and they do! and the water molecules dance delicately back and forth together back into the air and sculpt themselves into... snowflakes! so curious that each one is a unique sculpture.

it is a tribute to the dynamic sensitive nature of these molecule thingies that ice does not ONLY come down in tiny featureless blobs, but often comes down as snow. and funny stuff snow is. it's feathery but eventually it does succumb to gravity's pull and eventually falls and piles up on Earth. because it is so feathery it reflects white, and because snowflakes are feathery they catch on each other higgledy piggledy and snow is fluffy. it's also a good insulator, catching air pockets...

it is a tribute to the 'intelligence' of these little molecules that at different temperatures and climatic conditions they can make moisture in the air, that's pleasant, or they can condense and make a dynamic fluid we can swim in! and they can tell they are at the edge of their fluid and they hold on REALLY tight there and little bugs can walk around on that! if they slowly freeze at the top of the pond then you can go iceskating on it! because the pressure of your iceskate blades makes it melt again momentarily and the water makes a good lubricant! if the moisture in the air freezes more delicately it comes down as snow and kids can jump into it and roll down the hills in it, it's soft enough to break their fall due to a complicated interaction between millions of quickly snapping snowflake arms... the simplest physical system, only water cooling - already makes complex structures with fascinating functionality.

snow molecules are things? if the things can respond to each other and make connections and separate etc... do you call 'em things? if they can sense whether they are at the edge or the middle of a pile of themselves because of their connections do we call them things or machines or what's the dividing line between a thing and an animate being. forget about reproduction most animate beings right now ain't reproducing. I want to explore the fundamental nature of animate beings, break the concept down into its components. What are the multiple properties that make beings animate? I think the properties are well distributed into all the parts, and then built up from interactions between parts, between parts that are capable of interacting.

see, many people are fond of pointing out that a pile of boeing 747 parts in a heap would never come together to make an aeroplane. they are "dead inert matter". And by anology a pile of chemicals could never spontaneously come together and become a living being. But this is a faulty analogy due to our perception of size scale and time. of course as time goes on they WILL interact (NOT inert at all) with the rain and the oxygen and begin to rust. sand will blow against them and the rust will eventuall break off, they will eventually crumble and the rust will eventually wash away into the soil where it will dissolve into individual ions and the ions at the level of ions are certainly NOT inert dead parts, but active sensitive little critters that will get into all sorts of dynamic combinations and can even catalyze other dynamic combinations, similar to the ones that power US.

But at our scale of time and space, Boeing parts do not interact. But ont he scale of molecules, molecules CERTAINLY are capable of interacting, getting cought up in networks of interactions that are creative... I want to show that the ground of being of the universe, is not lumpish, inert, like clay, but dynamic, responsive, containing the 'microscopic components' so to speak, of creativity.

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