Phase Transition

Form changes while substance stays the same

For me, every element of this image provides opportunity to reflect. The color alone evokes the sensibility of winter, the time of year when, for many of us, the often overcast sky tends to dampen the desire for activity. The lines where snow meets ice and water recalls phase transitions: changes of state, chapters in life where, instead of changing form—as the combination of hydrogen and oxygen do under different temperature conditions—our perceptions and attitudes change under the influence of experience and reflection.

The little ripples in the water evidence both wind and energy, alternatively reflecting light and darkness as life moves forward. In the tree I’m reminded that my personal reality is a reflection of Absolute reality, allowing me to interpret Its reflection freely. I understand that the reflection is not the tree, but does it even come close to representing it faithfully or fully? Of course not, that’s the great mystery.

When we look at images of stars and galaxies, are we seeing the universe as cold and lifeless, a place filled with immense objects that collide with unimaginably gigantic consequences? We’re not seeing then as they are, rather, how they were in the immense past. Might spacetime on this planet be approaching a phase transition for consciousness as it reaches for grander awareness—and community?

The “tree” of our personal reality may at times appear to be barren with only the forces of change and chance moving the branches. But wait! Within them lies the  potential for new growth and radiant color. I observe that on the right side of the reflected tree, life appears to be solid and gritty. On the other side, it’s liquid and flows smoothly. In between, in the center, stillness propagates a reflection. And as this image demonstrates, the greater the stillness the fuller and more true the reflection of reality.

Zooming into the molecular level, I find a social consideration represented along the shoreline where water meets ice. Indeed, at 3:1 magnification on the computer it closely resembles the coastline of Maine, reminiscent of fractal geometry. On one side the molecules stubbornly seek to maintain the status quo as a liquid in motion, whereas those on the other side are rigid, solid and still.

By zooming in even closer I arrive at the place where individual molecules conflict. I imagine their conversation. “I’m liquid and I’m going to stay that way.” “Well fine, but I’m solid and there’s no way I’m going to change!” Well and good. But they are forgetting two important things. They are the same in substance. Irrespective of location and form, they are all water molecules. And they do not exist in a closed system.

A change in the climate, particularly the temperature in this case, would force the change in one direction or the other depending on the presence or absence of heat. Living systems are self-making and self-organizing, but their fate is inexorably determined by changes in the environment. The inevitable choice for all living systems is either resignation or transformation. As George Land put it in his classic book on transformation—“Grow or Die.”

Because atoms and molecules are invisible, we tend to think of them as being still, lifeless and without consciousness. Of course, it depends on how we view life and consciousness, but if characteristics such as individuality, vitality, self-making (autopoiesis) and community-building are part of the formulation, the universe is literally teeming with life and consciousness.

The interface between opposites is the place of transformation.

William Erwin Thompson, Social philosopher, poet


A new phase occurs when communication between agents makes cooperation and interdependence more beneficial than conflict.

Eva Jablonka, Israeli evolutionary geneticist


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