What the Water Spider Taught Me

In texts, it seems that, barring changes in chemistry, the appearance of surface tension or capillarity is a property of the material–as with water/glass vs. mercury/glass. In the first, the water exhibits capillarity, in the second the mercury exhibits surface tension. So we can say that if the cohesive forces in the liquid are stronger than the attractive forces to the solid, then the liquid responds by withdrawing and establishing this membrane-like behavior (surface tension), more solid-like. If the attractive forces are greater, then the liquid exhibits capillarity effects, almost more gas-like by wanting to spread (balanced by weight of rising liquid). Either way, it seems that this state of tension–the liquid (transition) state between extremes of solid and gas–is forced into breaking the form that it had established in response to the gas. It becomes either more solid or more gas-like, and the force imbalances cause changes in surface shape which then refract the light like lenses, focussing it into brightness in the effects described above.

However, what do you expect would happen when the needle–which is supported on the water under surface tension–is touched to the surface like my finger (which exhibits capillarity)? Should it dimple the surface slightly, giving the large round shadow with bright ring? Wrong! It makes a beautiful diamond-shaped bright starburst! Further investigation reveals that the same materials that cause water to exhibit surface tension effects actually cause both (and vice versa). Here is the crux: slowly pushing an object (like a small thin steel screwdriver) into the water and then pulling it out, forms the bulging/bright ring on the way down, and narrow starburst on the way out. Obviously, the entire system of forces under which the effects are observed must be considered. When the needle is resting on the surface, it is obviously pressing down (weight effects predominate), while held at the surface (like my finger), it is not pressing down (‘levity’ effects predominate). So the visual effects may have as much to do with force conditions as with material properties.

On Soul Conditions
The physical world offers us a kind of fossilized indication of more ephemeral forces also at work in the soul. One of the premises of Alchemy is, of course, that through the working of material substances, indications of non-material forces will become apparent, and the alchemist will ultimately achieve spiritual growth. Though physics has outwardly been stripped of this role, I believe that it is possible to revalue the non-material understandings offered in working out the material understanding of physical phenomena. Consequently, adolescent students, who may be less conscious of, though more beholden to, their soul forces, may be helped symbiotically in understanding themselves and the physics when it is presented with a subtle, inexplicit allegory to these soul conditions. What does the study of physics have to say about the human condition, and our responses and reactions to changing forces and conditions? Also perhaps there is a lesson in our struggles to apply mathematics, the inward journey whose forms and structure reveal something internal, on our outward journey in the physical world.

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