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by Melanie Anne Phillips

There is a "magic moment" that stands as the bridge between existence and non-existence. This volatile period of time is at the heart of theories revolving around the "big bang" that brought the universe into existence, as well as quantum theory pertaining to the nature of particles that exist only as vibrating probabilities and only coalesce into matter while observed. The focus of this essay centers on a similar aspect of the human mind that separates consideration from motivation in the magic moment in which a decision is made.

The theoretical model that describes this moment involves a number of novel concepts that must be introduced individually before they can be appreciated in concert. What follows then, is an inventory of essential components of the over-all theory.

The shift between the two states of existence and non-existence or between the processes of extropy and entropy requires an outside force. The degree of force required (power) is directly dependent upon the Volatility of the environment in which the states reside or the processes engage.

One can think of a volatile atmosphere of oxygen and gasoline fumes. If there was only Oxygen, no fire could possibly exist, for there is no fuel. If there were only gasoline fumes, there could be no fire, for there is nothing to combine with the fuel. At some point between all oxygen and all fuel, the mix most conducive to combustion is attained.

It is important to note that the best mix to begin combustion may not be the best to sustain it. In other words, even if more energy is required to begin an interaction because the mix is not ideal, in the long run the interaction can be made to occur faster or slower or in a greater or lesser maximum volume. Under certain conditions an interaction may occur so slowly as to appear not to be happening for all practical purposes. In other conditions it may occur so fast as to appear to shift from one binary state to another instantaneously. It becomes clear that the scale of measurement used by the observer determines the appearance of the interaction and the purpose of the instigator determines the best mix.

Notice that gasoline fumes are of a completely different nature than fire. In fact, they have little to do with each other since one is a process of energy and the other a state of mass. However, the essence of gasoline fumes and fire is that they are related, for one can precipitate the other. It should be noted, however, that this transition appears to move in only one direction. Fire seldom reduces to gasoline fumes and oxygen. Still to assume that processes will never work in both directions, perhaps even at the same time, would be erroneous.

In an environment where a transition from gasoline fumes and oxygen is underway, the atmosphere is only volatile in the transition to fire. In respect to the transition from fire to fumes and oxygen, the atmosphere is not volatile at all.

It must also be noted that volatility is no guarantee of interaction. Something must begin the interaction. This precipitous event is not due to any of the participants to the interaction, rather it is a chaotic effect from outside the system in question.

Why chaotic? Because in terms of the participants only, there is no way to predict if the precipitous event will occur, when it will occur, or what form it will take. It might be a match, a static electric spark or any source of energy. And it might occur at any time or not at all. If it never occurs, the interaction cannot occur. The mix might remain at it most volatile balance forever and never interact.

Depending upon conditions, a single instigation may start an interaction at the smallest possible magnitude that generates just what is needed to create a sustained or growing interaction until one of the essential components is exhausted.

So, volatility merely describes the sensitivity of a given mix of components to potentially interact, and is not an indicator of the likelihood that an interaction will actually occur.

In an interesting shift in perspective, we can see volatility as a tendency for fire to exist or for gas fumes to cease to exist. From this comes a ludicrously simple law: That nothing can come into existence without something going out of existence. What may not be as apparent is that nothing can begin without something ceasing. And vice versa for both examples.

One might think, therefore, that the inverse of Volatility would be Stability. However, this is not the case. In fact, the inverse of Volatility has no name (as it is seldom looked at conceptually) but essentially describes the tendency to maintain identity.

What an odd concept! It seems something like inertia, but is not. Rather it is the inertia of identity. Inertia, and its inverse, Change, are the binary pair that Volatility and its inverse share a reciprocal relationship with.

So what is it that separates beginning from ceasing, existence from non-existence? Volatility is only one component of the mechanism. The other requires an observer. In fact, as indicated earlier, defining something as being in existence or not requires an arbitrary scale against which these determinations can be made.

Our most common yardstick is our senses. If something is observed as existing, it exists. If not, not. What then of optical illusions? Surely we do not believe that what appears to be is of necessity what is? But those are simply tricks of the mind or the senses. What of real life?

Let us look at two aspects of the mind: our space sense and our time sense. If we look at a man, let’s call him Joe, we might ask, Does Joe exist? Our initial response would likely be to say yes. Joe cuts his hair. Does Joe exist? Well that now depends on how we define Joe. If the original "Joe-ness" is defined by his exact original material state, then clearly this human is no longer Joe. By this definition, there is a different Joe every time he blows his nose or cuts his fingernails. For all practical purposes, however, we would likely agree that this slightly different Joe was the same man.

Now, what if he grows old? Loses a leg? Dies? Is he still Joe? When all his molecules are redistributed into the environment, where is Joe then? Clearly, there is some arbitrary point at which we would agree that Joe has moved from existence into non-existence. The key is that this point of determination will occur at a different place for every individual. Some of us would give the man much more latitude than others before we wrote him off.

If we select another scale, say Joe’s personality, the same sort of problems occur when he learns, changes his mind, remarries, has a stroke, suffers from Alzheimer’s. When is there Joe; when is there not Joe?

People are one thing, the material world of inanimate objects, another. Or is it? We see a chair like the kind they use in schools, with a little built in table upon which to write. We ask 100 people, "What is this object?" Some say it is a chair, some say it is a desk. Which is it? If we cannot agree, has the object ceased to exist? To say that something exists, we must broaden our definition, referring to the item under consideration not as a chair or a desk but an object. By that definition, however, it is identical to all other objects everywhere.

We might narrow and refine our definition until we arrive at the tightest definition we can all agree upon. Or, we might all simple point at the same thing and say, It exists. But what of common misconceptions? Does agreement make them true?

What of the temporal nature of the chair/desk? At some earlier time it was a tree. At some later time, it might be firewood. What if it spent twenty years as a tree and only five years as a chair/desk? What it more tree or furniture?

These questions are not frivolous. They serve to illustrate that where something ends and where something else begins depends just as much upon the scope of the observer’s definition as it does upon the nature of the object. Our own senses show us more and more as we get closer and closer to that which we observe. At some point of approach, a picture in a newspaper ceases to be a picture and becomes a series of meaningless dots of ink on paper. The paper ceases to be smooth and becomes rough and cratered. Scope and context are the active issues here, and both are determined subjectively.

The point is that there is no absolute determination that can be made as to when one thing begins or ends or where one object merges into the holism. There is, however, a specific determination that can be made by each individual within the scope of their powers of observation in the context that is uniquely their own.

We might frequently agree that some things are the same to us all, but if we look just a little deeper or a little longer we will find the commonalty of our view is completely context dependent and subject to the fickle nature of volatility.

Copyright Melanie Anne Phillips

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