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Thinking about Interconnection

No vacuum

I was wondering about what influence Natural Selection has had on philosophy.

One might be that Natural Selection brings the fabulous interconnectivity of the natural world to the top of attention. There interconnectivity at every level from molecules to ecosystems. Everything is influencing everything else all the time. But as I lay in the bath thinking about that it occured to me that perhaps I could find an example of interconnectivity that wasn't quite so mind-bogglingly complex..

The tap dripped.

A wave propagated towards my nose through the hot water. I had a eureka moment. Here was interconnectivity in a physical system - the water in my tub.

The only reason that that wave could propagate was because the molecules in the water interact in a very particular way because of the sort of mutual connections they have with each other. When you think of water on a molecular level in it's liquid state what you have is a bunch of molecules loosely bound to each other. Water isn't like a pile of sand where the grains aren't bound to each other. In water you get billions of molecules moving together. I could feel it when I made a current with my hand and felt the pressure of water on my leg. And it's a sort of zero sum situation - when a billion water molecules move they don't leave an empty space in the water. As those molecules other molecules move into the space they occupied and others move into the space they occupied and on and on and on . . . .

It's impossible to write it out - but it's not hard to visualize and understand. The water in my tub is static - the waves rebound around the surface but the waves themselves (though enabled by the interconnectedness of the water) seem disconnected from each other. You can see them pass through each other without changing their form after they have passed. Throughout the water the pressure at every point is more or less the same - that is there is no particular reason for the water to move.

In fact - if the water is not disturbed it soon settles in to a calm state where no mass of interconnected molecules is trying to go anywhere. The molecules just jiggle about without going far. A degree of interconnection is lost.

But a different thing happens when the plug is pulled - the water starts to flow. Suddenly at one place there is a pressure differential - a bunch of molecules where the plug was suddenly are pressed down the drain by the water behind them and since water can't have holes in it the water level drops.

Think of the moving water as having a new sort of interconnection. Besides the connections of molecular bonds the water is now also interconnected by moving down the drain.
It turns out that water just dropping down a drain isn't the fastest way for water to get down the drain.
If the water starts spinning in a vortex it can use gravity and the coriolis force caused by the spinning earth to actually create a jet of water down the drain. And wonderfully that makes a hole in the water!

I've found it to be a wonderful meditation to contemplate that. I've loved whirlpools all my life. I lived by the Reversing Falls where a big river flows past a big rock through a narrow gorge. The whirlpools are great. Downstream from the whirlpools there were areas where you could see that the water was upwelling that I always knew were there but never thought about. But if you think of a whirlpool as a jet of water going down it's obvious why there is an upwelling - the water from that jet has to go someplace, and the rest of the water in the river pushes the jet water back up to the surface. So it seems that not only are the physical facts of reality like mass and charge and momentum important. Even in a purely physical thing like a river interconnectivity is important in determining how that reality will behave. Might we think of interconnectivity as a force of nature?

Let's see if we can do more with this idea by looking at interconnections in a social context. And let's apply the lesson above - that interconnectivity in and of itself is an important fact about a system - if interconnectivity is significant then the physical material will behave in ways different from situations where interconnectivity isn't important. So while we can't ever eliminate social interconnectivity - do we ever see cases where it get's diminished?

Of course we do - it's called a free market.

In a free market we are supposed to be unaware of our interconnection and instead just focus on our own self-interest and drive the best bargain we can in the circumstances. And the idea is that by cutting those interconnections the free market will automatically produce the most efficient distribution of goods and services. But that most efficient distribution of goods and services come at the expense of a lot of our instincts for interconnection. Because it forces a certain sort of society (the one we are in) as surely as gravity and coriolis forces in water produce vortexes. And we need to recognize that global warming, killing fisheries, stripping forests, impoverishing populations, and ecological catastrophe are all aspects of society that seem to grow directly out of a willful destruction of interconnectivity. And maybe if we tried to increase our interconnectivity we would force a society that is much more benign, even if not as materially rich.

What do you think?

Star I present regular philosophy discussions in a virtual reality called Second Life. I set a topic and people come as avatars and sit around a virtual table to discuss it. Each week I write a short essay to set the topic. I show a selection of them here.

I've been thinking and reading about philosophy for a long time but I'm mostly self taught. That is I've had the good fortune to read what interests me rather than follow a course of study. That has it's limits of course but advantages. It doesn't cost as much and is fun too.

My interests are things like evolution and cognition and social issues and economics and science in general.