In the Physical, Suffering, and Something Else

The point of this post is the “Something Else.”  Let me know if you see it.

If you ask “Why do we suffer?” you might as well ask, “Why not?” because suffering is inherent to the core experience of living, like making things warmer is inherent in being hot: that’s what heat means. Living makes us part of the physical, which means we can either act or be acted upon.

Once we are part of the physical, it’s like we jump into an infinite torrent of other physical entities, where we all react and act with each other. Before we get too complicated, let us look at the importance of the one physical entity we call water:

Water does something unique. As a molecule, it is made up of two atoms hydrogen, one atom oxygen, and when many of these molecules freeze, they don’t lock in closer to each other like a bunch of friends collapsing in a clumsy game of Twister. Instead, water molecules form a homogenous, crystalline structure: picture a human pyramid. So when water freezes, it expands.

Expansion is a fairly unique reaction to freezing. Most liquids’ molecules actually pile up, all smashing together in a tighter space, creating a denser material. However, the expanded water means it is lighter, which means it floats. Ice floats.

Since water is physical, it acts a certain way when it freezes. It’s affected. Then, as we know, it can affect us. Think, for example, of icebergs.

Suppose, however, that water was like most other liquids, suppose water contracts when it freezes. What would happen? Imagine a water planet. Night falls and temperatures drop, the water on the surface of ponds lakes, and oceans freezes. Since it contracts, it gets denser and therefore sinks to the bottom of the ponds, lakes, and oceans. Liquid replaces the sunken ice at the surface of the ponds, lakes, and oceans, then, it freezes and sinks. Pretty soon, by dawn, there is an ice layer at the bottom of all bodies of water.


What happens with the sun? It warms the top of the waters first. In order for it to melt the ice at the bottom, it has to warm through all the rest of the water layer above the ice. Effectively, if water contracted when it froze, Earth would be an ice planet. Life on Earth as we know it would not exist.

As a liquid, water molecules might have formed crystalline pyramids and floated like icebergs, or they might have smashed together and sunk, but the structure of the water molecule means ice forms pyramids.

Being physical allows water to react. And it only reacts one way at any given moment, meaning, water cannot expand and contract at the same time. It cannot do both, and, by the way, because it just so happens that it expands, we live.

Suffering: we suffer, because we feel. We feel because we are alive. We are in the physical, we can act and be acted upon. However, it would be a shame if we only thought of suffering. Just as it would be a shame to only think of icebergs and disasters like the Titanic when we think of the effects of ice, it would be a shame to only remember suffering when we think of life.

Because we live, we can act, we can feel, we can love and experience joy. The infinite torrent of all physical things makes flowers, music, and mountains. It makes our hands, faces, even our brains, and because we can act, we can also be still.

Witness and an actor, you are alive.


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