October 05, 2012


     There are certain words in the English language that portray different meanings depending on the context that they are used.  Everybody uses a bathroom scale and obsesses over the incremental weight that they gain or lose in any given three-day period, even though normal fluctuation might estimate this shift at ~10 lbs for a 200 lb gent - which at 10% is not a large variance.
     We can also talk about the scales that adorn a dragon hide and know that this is a figment of biology, where scale is a protective covering on animal skins (snakes skins are composed scales).  This also differs significantly from chemistry where the term scale is use in connection with hard water - you build up lime scale in the plumbing and it lowers the rate of water movement by blocking the flow path.
     The major use of the term scale is when we look at the relative magnitude of the coming effect.  The size and scale of an operation tells us whether it's going to be the big one or just another brick in the wall.  Douglas Adams pointed out this concept humorously when an entire invasion force on Earth was wiped out by a small dog when the attacking forces misjudged the relative scale of this planet's happenings.  This man also noted that we didn't evolve from the Gungafrindgen 'B' ship - we stagnated.
     So let's look at this question of scale.  It brings together numbers in a different weigh - a comparison of the order of magnitude.  The bigger things get, the further the distance between such things; when you change physical scale, you reset your calibration without thinking to enable the new scale to be the scale of one.
     We always operate on the scale of one.  You are you, and i am me and we are altogether - (each one).  See how we run like pigs from a gun - no way.  When we count, we sort thing upon this order of scale - I would profess that counting is something we really need to relearn to do in a more viable form.  We have some changes that are happening at different scales from the one we operate upon - there is absolutely nothing we can do to affect change at scales more than three orders of magnitude away in either direction.
     What is this order of magnitude concept and how does it work in relation to scale?  Let's do a thought experiment and look at how things work in the real world, and how we can misinterpret these same things in our world from our specific perspective of scale.  Let's take a glass of water.  This is a very common measurement device for a liquid - we tend to measure things like ounces and gallons - a glass can fit into both those measurable terms - liters in metric terms if you are not amerikan.
     How many water molecules are actually present in your glass of water?  Wow!  We can calculate that number very easily - in fact, i will allow that to be a homework assignment for the Many Facets of Water course currently at nweti.com  .  Instead of working through the math, i am going to pull out a magic number - discovered by a fellow named Avogadro.  The number is 6.023 x 10 to the power of 23.  There are this many molecules in 18 mL of water. This barely would cover the bottom of our glass.  About 20 of these units will get us a drinkable glass.  For relative magnitude - a thousand is ten to the power of three.  So, if water molecules are as individual as human beings and are the level of thinking and cognition - what do we need to do to grasp this concept of scale, from the vantage point that we are at - that conveys a sense of how it really is?  1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 is a rough guess.
    Well - i stumbled into some depth with this post - the scale that humans operate at is much different than the scale that chemistry and bio-chemistry happen at.  In fact - if we move from water molecules 25 orders of magnitude away to cell nucleii in biology, we might gain six to eight orders of magnitude - let's say that each cell has between a million and a billion water molecules.  How many cells in your body?  How many stars in the sky?
     At which scale are we an entity?  At which scale are we like tardigrades?  What - you have never heard of a tardigrade - it looks like a cross between a teddy bear and the Michelin man.  A community of tardigrades might live on a leaf.  Magic is anything that you believe, but cannot prove.  Life is magic when you consider the difference in scale. 
     Deep for early morning - enjoy the weekend.     doc

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