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006_ Essay: turbulence

23 October, 2020 - 7 min read

006_ Essay: turbulence

When burning incense, I’ve always enjoyed watching the dance of smoke filling the room.

The pleasant aroma filling up with smoke.

A steady straight line erupting up, before dancing around in swirls and swirls. Slowly, and subtly, sliding through the tiny currents of air.

It’s in that dance, that a lot can be learned about the nature of thoughts and ideas. With a few concepts taken from science, we can view the world of ideas in a framework of reality.

I’m sure it’s been a long time since any of you took your last fluid dynamics lesson, so allow me to bracket for one moment while I stage my point.

There are two types of flow, or how matter moves together in a form, like water or air; that I’m going to highlight. Turbulent flow, and laminar flow.

Turbulent flow, like turbulence on an airplane, is describing chaotic movements.

It is what I was describing with incense. Those subtle swirls that ribbon around in varying directions, and varying ways, on their way to a single point.

Like smoke moving towards an open window.

Laminar flow, is what you get from putting a nozzle at the end of a garden hose. One single straight clear tube of water, all the “fluid”, water or air, flowing together.

Both can be puzzling.

Like a water fountain display creating arches of water. A stream moving from one end of the arch to the other, looking as if it’s a single solid line of water held together by some unseen force. A delightful thing to witness.

It is also, not too dissimilar from a typical logic exercise.

One stream of events, thoughts, actions, over time.

One event, leading into another, which in turn explains an outcome, sometimes in delightful ways that seem incomprehensible.

Incomprehensible that is, until you see it all stitched together in time.

A simple, X then Z leading to C == Y

Here’s three questions, with three answers that can be told through one word representing the explained linear outcome.

Why did Donald J. Trump win the election in 2016?

Why is the earth going through rapid change with drastic extinctions?

Why is there gross inequality in the US, and the world?

Russia.

Oil.

Billionaires.

One single reason that satisfies the chain of connections, one jolt of the water and an arch flows from one side to the other, completing the solution.

Single streams of thought that can be corroborated with several more verifying claims, do create a lovely display of logic.

One point gracefully chained to the next, can spark genuine insight and in many cases are indeed true for the portions in which they comment.

Such an exercise, just as laminar flow, are great tools to serve a specific purpose.

They are often delightfully satisfying, but rare if existent at all in reality.

I’ll posit to you that if they do exist, it’s by design. Like the veins in your body.

Single chains of thought can, and frequently are, useful. But they’re not so good outside of their specific task, and shouldn’t be extrapolated as fact in broader reality.

Turbulent flow though.

Turbulent flow, like how smoke moves around a room, is influenced by what came before it, after it, and what is happening in that moment you’re seeing it.

Looking at any single part of any turbulent system, requires you to consider the broader environment that interacts with it.

3 dimensional space over the course of time, that is reality.

If you focus on any part of the smoke disappearing, or whitewater crashing at the beach, it’ll quickly propagate to more pieces before eventually fading out.

That, is how most events, thoughts, ideas truly happen.

Not x + b = c, but, here’s the part we’re choosing to suspend for a moment, here’s where it came from, and this is all we can see from this perspective that’s near it, affecting it, and influenced by it.

We can chase how that suspension got there, but the further we go back, the more we will need to find out about our new point.

The more we will find affected by it, causing us to have to move further and further back.

Look at the cover art for this episode.

It is the ocean currents for the gulf of Mexico, a beautiful example of turbulent flow.

It is also, a suspension in time. If we were to ask where any of those currents came from, it would result in the same as that exercise, and only end when we choose to stop investigating.

Why did Donald J. Trump win in 2016?

Russians? Sure, they played their part, as did Saudi Arabia, Israel and others through the same means.

And to only land on this one point actor or even factor in his win, would ignore campaign miscalculations, media sensationalism, identity politics, growing inequality, lack of political will to face any real issue, and countless other factors.

Why is the earth going through rapid change with drastic extinctions?

Oil right? Sure, that is no doubt a driver of climate change and fallout effects therein, but is that it?

Does replacing oil do much to alter the trade complexities from those large cargo ships moving across oceans to bring me blueberries in winter, or my latest amazon order from china?

What about the coal that powers those factories that make my amazon order?

And that the amazon order, and even the power for those factories, is only as cheap as it is because they’re made in a geolocation that ha less government pressure on pollution.

Does it even do anything to call attention to the massive amounts of methane being released from landfills where my rotten blueberries and amazon dohickies end up?

Or even put a dent in dense tropical deforestation that sinks some of that carbon back into the soil?

Let alone concrete?

Now to close out our triplet, why is there gross inequality in the US, and the world?

Billionaires is what I went with. They’re the reason for it all, their influence on elections, laws that are written, stories that are reported, goods that are bought.

All of that is all true.

What is also true, is people really enjoy branded merchandise, not having to think too hard about political issues, enjoy a good fluff piece or a salacious story about the Montagues and Capulets at it again.

We enjoy getting the new iPhone, seeing the latest update to Instagram or any numerous other examples of novel delight and a genuine increase in comfort.

Never do we think that these increases in comfort, from a more absorbent swiffer, through pumpkin spice baby yoda, all play into everything else around us at that moment, in a chaotic swirl.

So much so, that when you follow the swirls out and out and out, you start to wonder if why Donald J. Trump got elected, why the is earth going through rapid change with drastic extinctions, and why there is gross and growing inequality in the US, and the world, are all connected in one ribbon after another.

The atoms, events and dance between them that we call the world, is only going to get more chaotic as it flows.

And as we flow with it, it’s a helpful exercise to remember the tool of laminar flow when building or spotting a narrative, and the wondrous structures it can craft.

While recognizing the artificial nature of it being useful only as a model, not an example in reality.

For normal, is turbulence.

-J.R.

This was an excerpt from the intro essay to _bandwidth: coast to coast

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