Interaction density

by CarlD

Remember the thing from high school physics where molecules move faster and get hotter when they are compacted into greater densities of interaction? Basic principle of my car’s diesel engine, for example: the piston compresses the air/fuel mixture until it gets hot enough to ignite, explosively expands, drives the piston outward which rotates the crankshaft, yadayada.

People work like that too. At least I do. I’ve been really slow this summer. Lots of alone time and very low interaction density. Plenty of time to do all the things I don’t think I have time to do in other parts of the year, but not enough pressure and interaction density to get me energized and moving. Just a molecule wandering around the big ether.

As the video shows it’s not the density per se that energizes the system – actually molecules bouncing off each other dissipate each other’s energy – but the process of confined compression. Too much and there may be an explosion, or just a lot of dissipative jostling. Not enough and there’s the aimless wandering.

There are all sorts of problems with this analogy, but you get the idea. It’s like Kant’s remark about the swallow imagining how much faster it could fly without the air holding it back. I’d like to think that less pressure would be good, but really it’s not.


18 Responses to “Interaction density”

  1. Wouldn’t the swallow not be able to fly if the air didn’t hold it back? Isn’t the air in “collusion” with the rest of the universal forces to allow a “surface” for the swallow’s wings to glide on? Isn’t the flapping of the wings just a way of creating a sort of black hole in space that the swallow can then subsequently glide through? Oh, and please note I am not sarcastically asking these questions. I really want to know!

  2. Same thing happening here, with business slow and Japan’s rainy season irritating the sinuses to boot. Lots of time to spend on projects but a serious disinclination to act.

  3. Must … move … fingers … to … type … response …………..

  4. Your notion of compression reminds me of the process of simulated annealing (and real annealing), some thoughts:

    I feel like I have mentioned/linked this before, but I never tire of its subject. There is an incredible aesthetic sense that we are all like steel, being heated and cooled to a variety of schedules.

    I don’t know if you’ve read Kauffman’s book Investigations, but I sense that you might enjoy it.

  5. Hey Hairdo, sorry you got caught in the spam filter. Yes, that was Kant’s point, or at least everything but the black hole part.

  6. Sorry, that was a theory I tried to sneak in there. Sort of passive aggressive, I know.

  7. Listen. In order to maintain air-speed velocity, a swallow needs to beat its wings forty-three times every second, right?

  8. Hm, that sounds a bit frenetic. Do you mean a European or an African swallow? I mean, I guess if it was carrying a coconut or something tied to a length of creeper I could see it working that hard. But then the drag coefficient and caloric output would be prohibitive, no?

  9. Kvond, I tracked down our earlier conversation (a good one, I think) about this cluster of topics:

  10. hey Carl, I just wanted to say that this metaphor (or whatever the right term is) of interaction density is SO GREAT and really speaks to my experience a whole lot. I’m going to have to think more about this, but I just wanted to say this was one of those blog posts where I was like “whoa this totally makes me understand what I do better” – and you know since it’s all about me, that’s like the best compliment I can think of. Anyway, enough chit chat, let’s talk about me … 🙂
    Seriously though, thanks a lot for this.
    take care,

  11. Yay! And since the compliment is directed at me, it’s like the best one ever! Thanks, Nate.

  12. hi Carl,
    I don’t know much about science so pardon me if this is a dumb question. Is there a word for … like … stuff wearing out? What I mean is – let’s say there’s materials which are quite energetic at or above a certain interaction density. Let’s say they’re more energetic at or above a second higher threshold but that above that threshold they begin to break down as well. Know what I mean? Any terms for this?
    take care,

  13. I don’t know that one, but if you hum a few bars perhaps I could fake it…. I’m reminded of all those Castrol commercials where they tout their oil’s superior resistance to viscosity and thermal breakdown. In humans, for muscles (like your shoulder) and psyches we call this baseline functionality ‘tone’.

  14. I’d like to second what Nate said: this made a lot of sense to me. Thanks, Carl!


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