Random Musings #38: Water Seeks Its Own Level!
It is physics and, equally, a metaphor!
Aristotle is credited with being the first to articulate that “Water seeks its own level”. He is said to be “one of the greatest philosophers who ever lived and the first genuine scientist in history”. A ‘polymath’, i.e., a person of wide knowledge or learning, he was taught by none other than Plato. Aristotle, in turn, taught Alexander and his friends — medicine, philosophy, morals, religion, logic, and art!!
My memory of learning about the physics of “Water seeks its own level” goes back to school days. That and the elaboration “If you have two separate bodies of water connected to one another, their levels must be equal” has stuck and stayed with me. Along with the illustration of un-capped glass tubes of various shapes, sizes and heights with a common shared base. Water filled in it resting at the exact same level across the tubes.
I think that it was a part of a lesson on hydro statics: “Fluid statics or hydro statics is the branch of fluid mechanics that studies the condition of the equilibrium of a floating body and submerged body and the pressure in a fluid, or exerted by a fluid, on an immersed body” (credit: Wikipedia)
This makes one think of Archimedes’ principle, even if more for the vivid imagery of him shouting “Eureka!”, jumping out of his bath-tub and running stark naked on to the street and less for his principle “A body at rest in a fluid is acted upon by a force pushing upward called the buoyant force, which is equal to the weight of the fluid that the body displaces. If the body is completely submerged, the volume of fluid displaced is equal to the volume of the body.”
My realization of the metaphorical aspect was later, well after school. That is, “Water seeks its own level” as a metaphor for how things equalize in society. More personally, and hence even more importantly, in one’s life. With oneself and with others. In all stages, aspects and walks of life. The conscious and sub-conscious seeking of equilibrium. Equilibrium itself being both physiological and psychological.
The physiological aspect is the ‘body’s sense of position and movement including one’s sense of balance’. Mine was put to test recently at the Dubai Expo 2020 German pavilion where a display required one to stand on a disc fitted with a sensor. The screen displayed deviation away from an ideal straight line as my balance swung from my left to right — the more I tried to stay straight and still the wider was the deviation! No surprise there though as on the couple of occasions when I have tried to roller skate or ski, even with the girls holding an arm on each side, I managed to fall a few times on my backside!!
The psychological aspect of equilibrium is ‘a well-balanced state of mind’! The word equilibrium having its origin in Latin aequi (equal) and libra (balance).
And, we are, arguably, constantly seeking equilibrium in our lives. I, for sure, have been, am and will continue to seek for this equilibrium. Consciously and sub-consciously. Whether quiet and, even, calm on the surface or intense and, even, agitated.
Like water, I realize that I have this innate need and a compulsion, almost, to seek and find my own level and equilibrium. I have sought to find these through the different stages of my life — childhood, young adulthood into middle age and, more so, since. Through different aspects and walks in my life — as an individual, with family, with friends, as a professional and as a member of society. A common and shared base — values, IQ, EQ, interests and even quirks— is key to finding this level with success or otherwise depending on this. Not being capped also matters — whether an imposed cap or, more often, self-limiting thinking and approach.
Like water, I realize that an immersed ‘body’, whether floating or submerged, is exerting pressure on me and also that I am exerting pressure on the ‘body’. The ‘body’, being external forces and positive or otherwise to varying degrees. In life, obviously, the ‘bodies’ are multiple and vary over time. The key being, to give and take. In equal measures. Egos, quite often causing ripples, turbulence and, worse, whirlpools which suck us in. Choosing between options, embracing change and accepting compromises matter too, clearly.
“Eureka” moments when our level and equilibrium are found and bliss when it lasts, at least for a reasonable while.
And, of course, hydro statics are about liquids at rest. Then we have the physics of hydro dynamics which is about liquids in motion. Life too, as we know, is rarely at rest, and almost always in motion!
That ‘Water is the elixir of life’ is a truism and one that we are familiar with, in the sense of it being the driving force of all nature. Water being equated, sometimes, with the mythical and magical alchemical ‘Philosophers’ Stone’ gives it an even more all-encompassing dimension though.
That life is like water. Seeking one’s own level. Seeking equilibrium. At rest and in motion.