MAY 13, 2011 9:59PM

Explain the Wind, Will You

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What would you think of the wind in a world without science? How would you experience it? How would you explain it?

You can’t see it, though you can see its effects in the motions of trees and bushes, grasses and flowers. You can see the dust it whips up. How it ripples the water in a pond. Drives the clouds and rain.

But the wind itself is invisible.

You can feel it on your skin. The resistance it offers when you move against it, or across it. It may even knock you off your feet it’s that powerful.

So, yes, there’s something to explain. But how do you craft the explanation? That’s the question, HOW explain the wind?

When a tree falls and crushes your dwelling, there’s a clear and obvious relationship between what the tree does and what happens to your dwelling. When you grab a stick at either end, put the middle against your knee, and then pull back on the ends, breaking the stick, there’s a clear relationship between what you do and what happens to the stick.

What is there to explain the effects of the wind? A spirit perhaps? Yes. It’s the spirit of the wind that causes those things, leaves blown off trees, the coolness on your skin, the ripples on the pond. It’s the spirit of the wind that does those things.

That was then, in ancient times. Now we know more. We know about the phases of matter: solid, liquid, gas, and plasma. We know that the atmosphere consists of gases that, when sufficiently cooled, become liquid (like water) or even solid (like rocks). The wind is just movement in matter in its gas phase.

We know about pressure differentials in the atmosphere and how they cause atmospheric gases to flow from regions of high pressure to regions of low pressure. That flow is the wind. And we can tell stories about what causes differences in atmospheric pressure.

Or, shall I say, some people can tell such stories. But I can’t do much better than what I’ve just done in the previous two paragraph. Sure, with time and thought I CAN do better. And I could do much better by doing a little reading in this and that source. But there will come a point where I must face my own ignorance. It some point I just don’t know what’s going on with the wind. My best explanation will be rather shallow compared to the best explanation that’s available to atmospheric science.

That, I suggest, is why I do not experience the wind as a mystery despite that fact that I cannot explain it. And I know that I cannot explain. I know also the others CAN explain it. And I am willing to trust that their explanations are correct.

That trust keeps the sense of mystery, and the fear, at bay. That trust informs me that the matter is in hand.

What is the source of that trust?

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