phase changes

pattern language entry: phase change

the organization of matter progresses through a series of changes depending upon the temperature and pressure present. these changes are through a series of phases, or states, most of which will be familiar: solid, liquid, gas, and plasma.

solid matter has a fixed volume and shape. sometimes solids an internal structure, a crystal lattice. liquids take the shape of their container, but have a fixed volume. gases have neither fixed shape nor fixed volume. they take the shape and volume of their container. plasma is similar to gas, lacking a fixed volume or shape, but is electrically conductive, has magnetic fields, and is responsive to electromagnetic fields.

in each case, there are transitions between the phases, and we have names for them. moving from solid to liquid is melting, liquid back to solid is freezing. liquid to gas is vaporization, gas to liquid is condensation. gas to plasma is ionization, and plasma to gas is deionization. there’s even a name for solid to gas, sublimation, and gas to solid, deposition.

the phases or states of matter are not chemical or nuclear changes. the same atoms configured in the same molecules are present. the only thing changes is the pressure and temperature, where phase falls out as an emergent property.

last week I used the phase change pattern to describe the stages of economic development mentioned in the sovereign individual.

  1. hunting and gathering
  2. agricultural
  3. industrial
  4. information

it occured to me that I had not defined the concept of phase change in the previous post. so the above is my attempt to put the reader in the right frame of mind to consider these stages of development and how we might move between them.

the authors contend that we are currently in a phase transition between the industrial and information stages. this seems reasonable. they draw an analogy to the fall of rome. not to suggest that our conditions are similar, or to even to necessarily suggest our civlization will collapse, but to point out that due to the logic of such situations, the average person will not be aware of this transition, just as the average person living under the roman empire was not necessarily aware of its fall. the empire would not itself have advertised its declining ability to collect taxes or defend the borders, but would have made every attempt to keep people feeling like they were in control.

this incentive also exists today. the mainstream media are not likely to tell us when they start losing their grip. the structure of power in our society grants many groups power that will be guarded jealously, and any narrative that undermines it will be attacked. I am not making a moral judgement here, only observing the structure of incentives. I am also not suggesting our society is collapsing, just that it is changing rapidly. the transition from industrial to information pulls some groups to the core and centrifugally shoves others out.

this is an attempt to explain what I observe in our public discourse. it feels like a culture, our memeplex, is undergoing meiosis, organizing itself along a dividing line, with the two daughter cells having different compliments of memes in their resulting memeplexes. this is not something I welcome, as it is likely to be destabilizing, and to increase time preference. time preference is the degree to which we discount the future value of goods. so a high time preference indicates a desire for current consumption, for whatever reason. in this case, the reason seems to be uncertainty about the future. this is highly corrosive of civilization, which has been a gradual reduction of time preferences over time and an accrual of capital goods, pushing up the marginal productivity of labor.