Friday, January 22, 2010

The Fluidity of Life

Turbulence is a scientific term for the chaotic movement of liquids or gases. It is the messy part of the science known as fluid dynamics. The part that engineers and scientists struggle with because it is predictably unpredictable. Think of a body of water, or the room of air that surrounds you now. It is made up of a whole lot of molecules... for all practical purposes, an infinite number of molecules. Unlike solids, water and air molecules have much less stickiness to their neighbor molecules, which allow us, for instance, to swim or walk through it. With an infinite number of particles... each with a full range of potential motion, we would think that chaos would reign and the molecules would do whatever they damn well pleased.

But that isn't the case.

Air and water behave in specific ways, and even if they have the potential of a free range of motion, they do not take advantage of it. Instead, they follow well determined paths based on the movement of their neighbors. In other words, if one molecule is going in one direction, the nearby molecules are likely to follow.

You can see this dynamic everywhere. In a flock of birds or a school of fish that are flying or swimming together en masse with no apparent leader. Yet the group somehow collectively decides to suddenly turn to the left or right... or up or down.

So too, humanity. Each of us has a full reign of potential motion... the potential to do anything at any time. And yet, we don't. We follow the subtle unseen cues of our neighbors and collectively move en masse, the same way that fish or fowl or molecules of water do. On paths that carry us, and our neighbors onward in shiny boxes to and fro and on paved arteries. We rebel against this idea, especially those of us in a western world that prides itself on uniqueness. But in point of fact, we all choose what we are and what groups we belong to, not because we have full range of motion, but instead, because of the cause and effect of ideas and actions around us. The conformers, or the rebels. The main path of flow of humanity, or the subtle eddy that ripples off to the side. We are all following a path that envelopes those that we choose to associate with.

How then do we escape the predetermined pathways that would seem to take all the unpredictability out of life? That is the role of turbulence. That is the role of change. Turbulence is what occurs when eddies set up feedback loops that create other eddies which then increase the loops which ultimately infuse the flow with chaos. Throwing a seemingly ordered system into disorder. And as much as the scientists would like to write off turbulence... and as much as you and I would like to expunge disorder from our lives... it is the disorder that makes life worth living.

I see these things all around us in the macro and in the micro. It helps me to realize the role of the molecules around me, each quietly bumping me along a path, or off into an eddy of thought. And I watch as the turbulence boils over and turns the fine straight lines into jagged streams of chance. Each has its place... and each is necessary. Order and chaos. We often fight the flow, and fight the chaos. But these thoughts help me sit back and enjoy the ride, and take joy in my own part of bumping others along or instilling a bit of chaos every once in a while.


  1. At first thought, I feel like I've just read a scientific journal. Yet carefully hidden beneath each sentence was the most marvelous explanation of our relationship with nature. It felt as if I were a single molecule of water enveloped by the sea ... Beautiful.

    Your writing almost always leaves me with a sense of peace and tranquility.

    Well, unless you're blogging about cheese. ;-)

  2. To chaos, to the ride. :) *clink*

  3. I read I felt like I was riding a wave...up and down and back and push--wind in my hair, the smell of the ocean...the sky. Yes, I know exactly what you mean--although I have a bit of a pet peeve for those who let popularity dictate their "originality." (chuckle) I'm sure you've met those that are always "rebelling." If black is in, they like white. Just being polar oposite isn't's a knee jerk.

  4. enjoying the ride....that's always the rub

  5. @lindsay- duly noted... more cheese.

    @Kate- l'chaim

    @chantel- i do know those people... the humor is that they think they original, when they really are anything but.

    @char- I enjoy life AND rubbing.

  6. It felt as if I were a single molecule of water enveloped by the sea ... Beautiful.

    Work from home India

  7. I love the eddys.(eddies?)to me, they are the funner part, and as I get on in age, the bumps, the swirls, the turbulence...these are what makes the second half of this life a little more tolerable, or at least they remind me of the fun life used to hold for me.
    Then again, I'm a cranky bitch, what do I know?
    Excellent blog as always, sir.

  8. I've been trying to get peeps to follow ME since I was old enough to vote. I must not have that extra, elusive electron.

  9. I predictably move away from the common pathways of my fellow men and women. My train goes off the tracks, my thoughts go off the boil, though I tend to say "off the bubble" because it sounds nicer.