20 October, 2006

continuing discussions with august

the issue at hand was transformation vs. rearrangement, and I asked you about igneous v. metamorphic rocks. How do they work? How do scientists distinguish different degrees of change? Is this model a helpful metaphor for talking about human change?

as you likely know, there are three major groupings of rock: igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic. you mention only igenous and metamorphic, but we really have to dicuss all three. igenous rock is primal and primary. that is, it is formed by cooling magma, either extrusively (ie: basalt) or intrusively (ie: granite). thus, as the earth first began to cool and form a crust, the first rock type to exist was igneous. sedimentary rock is formed from the lithification of eroded igneous and metamorphic rock; metamorphic rock is formed by the alteration by heat and/or pressure of igneous, sedimentary or metamorphic rock.

in a way, it's like heraclitus's river, again. the instance changes, but what underlies is the same. consider marble and limestone. chemically, they are identical: calcium carbonate. yet, marble is metamorphized limestone. what changes? crystal structure. however, that simple change has a profound effect.

granted, this is but one example of metamorphism. a simple one at that, as there is no alteration mineralogically. heat and pressure are extremely important factors in the crystalization of minerals. but, i suppose to say there is only rearrangement, not change is, while accurate, incorrect. that does imply there is no change at all in the universe.

as far as metaphor goes, i'm unsure. one could consider humanity as a base, with culture acting as a metamorphizing force. but that feels wrong to me. i think of culture more as clothing. changing clothes doesn't change the person wearing them, but it can and does change the perception of that person.


seph said...

How funny you are, my love. Even before the last paragraph I began to compare your rocks to people.

But,unlike you, I don't think of it as culture and clothing -- an external shroud. I think of it as events and circumstance, so much more deeply penetrating.

Are you the same person as you were as a child? I was irrevocably sunny -- I like to think I bear some of that still. But to think that I am still irrevocably sunny would be a willful blindness. There's a cautiousness there -- a change in the crystal -- likely too from heat in a certain spot producing a certain effect. But, yes, I've changed.

twiffer said...

i see august's intention. i think you understand it somewhat better than i. to apply the metaphor to a single person, i think it works much better: igneous, the primal formation, birth; metamorphism as life experience, pressure, heat, change and refinement, an alteration (to some degree) of the original substance to enviromental stresses, often resulting in harder rock (sandstone vs. quartzite) or more beautiful (limestone vs. marble).

but in regards to human nature, as an abstract whole? that i'm not so sure about. have the basic wants, needs, desires changed? cultures may change and differ, but the purpose of culture remains rather constant, does it not?

and no, i'm not the same as the child i was. were that the case, you'd never be able to pry a book from my hand (and i'd be blonde).


august said...


For convenience: here is the last post on the thread.

I asked about metaphor, but in looking at what you wrote, I think the issue is one of definition rather than comparison. I'm asking what we mean when we say words like "change," "rearrange," "transform." Or even "essence" vs. "clothing." Geology has a language for talking about this sort of thing, and I was curious whether it would help either of us talk about change. It can distinguish, for example, between chemical composition and crystal structure. It has a rigor about its use of words.

History tries, but doesn't quite manage. What I study, at the end of the day, is change over time. But if you look closely enough, all things are different, and if you operate at some higher level of generalization, all things are the same.

So let's keep working on definitions and words, and let's take Persephone's point. When we say we are different, that we have changed since we were kids, what do we mean? Or maybe it would make more sense to say: what has remained?

[Digresssion: I was of course a Star Trek Next Generation Fan. I had friends who were Northern Exposure fans. I tried to explain to them that their show was much weirder and more frightening. In one episode, somebody was visited by their 13 year old self. [Shudder]: I'd much prefer a Romulan battle cruiser to decloak of the starboard bow.]

What's the same about me? My past (it accumulates but remains), my sense that I am me, my family relationships (er, kind of), what else? I don't know, some kind of texture.

It seems to me that we all must have some sort of texture, and that must be getting close to what you are talking about. A desire, perhaps, to make sense of ourselves?

But I still think that there are huge shifts in how we see the world that change the way we ask these questions. I think that's what Seph (Persephone, is that you?) and I mean by the transformative effects of culture.

That make sense?

Keifus said...

Morphology (the study of form, I guess) is important in all sorts of materials science. Why (some) rubber is springy instead of flows, for instance, why different things of the same composition behave differently. It's not even just crystal structure, but crystal size, distribution, and shape. I'm resisting every temptation to be a know-it-all, but these things are close to what I do for a living.

As far as geology goes, it's amazing to me that many minerals simply can not be reproduced well in the laboratory. The temperature, pressure, and time is simply not available.

Metaphor-wise, you can extrapolate that to mean that none of us are going to achieve diamond. More generally, it suggests that things of the same chemistry (and even structure) can behave drasitically differently in when exposed to the same stimuli. Be resistive instead of conductive maybe. Opaque instead of transparent.

This is a cool train of thought!


twiffer said...

nah, be a know-it-all. i was being purposefully general in so far as geologic processes go. a combonation of somewhat hazy recall of the finer technical points, but also not wanting to bring up stuff like phase diagrams.

however, the unique circumstances of formation apply not only to metamorphism, but igneous as well. we can tell what layer of the mantle a mineral began to crystalize in by the chemical composition and structure of the crystal. neat stuff like that.

august, you do make a good point about the rigor of words. one of my favorite examples is the difference between rock and stone. most people use these words fairly interchangable, but geologically, they are not the same. rock is, well, rock. a formation of one or more minerals. stone is, or more accurately, was rock. what makes rock into stone is human intervention. once a human alters rock in some way, it becomes stone. even if it's to lift it, unchanged, and place it into the matrix of a border wall for a pasture. pick up a flat rock to skip across a lake, and you've turned it into stone. magic, almost.

so, if we look at it this way, we have a spectrum of change: from a change in definition to actual, physical change. there are metamorphic changes and morphological changes. given time, a mountain becomes a hill, without undergoing any chemical or mineralogical (well, not much) alteration. it just erodes. glaciers scrape out valley, slowly and inevitablely, while rivers can saw through the earth in a geologic blink of the eye. the very surface of the earth moves: every year we creep about 2 cm westward (in north america at least).

i could go off on a tangent about the prevelence of cyclical reincarnation/rebirth in earth's religions. seasons, the rebirth of spring; the earth renews itself; even the very universe is big on recycling. but that's a slightly different conversation.

instead, let's pull back: how does (if it does) this metaphor apply to humanity? we've been here but a moment. we still behave much as any other social animal, in particular, social primates. individuals undergoe change through out their lives: the process of maturation. though the individual experience is unique, that we all experience it as a constant of human nature.

where does this leave us? well, it leaves me in need of more coffee. but, caffiene addiction aside, i do honestly believe that change is a constant aspect of humanity. we're remarkably adaptable and obsessive tool-makers. from generation to generation, change can be astounding. yet we adapt to these changes with remarkable ease. if not, my grandmother wouldn't use email. or my great-grandmother, for that matter. but, stretching throughout history, has the nature of humanity changed all that much? what we do seems to be, whatever the means, towards the same ends.

i suppose this leaves me backing away a bit from my intitial statements, because certainly the means do change. and what we think of as our world seems to have more to do with how we define ourselves physically and environmentally, than considerations of base human nature.

then again, it could just be cause it's monday morning.

oh, and yes, august, seph is persephone (and yes, she is a goddess too).

august said...

I wrote a very long response earlier today and it didn't take. I'm going to try again.

I just have an intuition that what you are saying might not ultimately work out because of the point Persephone made to begin with.

This could get tedious (and if you get tired of the enterprise let me know), but it seems to me we have a few categories of change:

To individuals (which might further be subdivided by the kind of changes everybody goes through (you mentioned maturation, illness might be another) and types that are specific to a given person (haircut, relationship fluctuations, etc).

And then, there are changes to societies. Which I think is the level at which you are speaking of adaptability (I recognize that there must be some individual aspect of this as well).

Finally, you don't say (did you) -- environmental. Things working on societies that create the need for adaptation.

My sense is that culture is both at the level of social and environmental. In some cases it is the thing adapting, in some cases the thing causing the need to adapt. Which is why I'm a little nervous about it.

I also want to get back to thinking about sonnets and patterns, but I think the best way to do that will be to comment on your poem. I'll check back in after I give it a read. Fritz has an interesting toppost in Faith Based about consciousness that is relevant to our discussion. It suggests change.

Of course, it's crap science. But worth taking a look.

twiffer said...

well, you also have to remember that i'm a bit stubborn.

twiffer said...

we can tie in the fluidity of language with cultural changes and trends in literature. if we want to.

culture is interesting: changable by nature and need, yet designed to resist change (tradition! ack! fiddler on the roof in my head!). a balancing act.

i suppose what we need to address is meaning. consider "the classics". why do we continue to read old and ancient writings? beyond the fact that they are well written (or at least well recorded and translated)? is there a constant theme that speaks to an essential, unchanging factor in humanity? or do we reinterpret as we seem to change?

likely somewhere inbetween.

Anonymous said...

A GODDESS? Compared to WHAT? PHELGM? Honey, there are many here who know her. A goddess she ain't.

I mean, what have you been USED to fucking before you and she (king and queen of gross, unwashed, and ugly human specimens)? Rancid raw meat enclosed in your fist? [shudder]

Anonymous said...

I was irrevocably sunny -- I like to think I bear some of that still.

Wow. Still delusional, I see.

You bear none of it. You're a depressing and dysfunctional bitch.