No Conflict in the Clouds

By Joseph Ryan Rioflorido. Joseph is a university student. He lives in Dagupan City, Philippines. Please read his article and leave your thoughts and comments below.

Narratives of everyday engineering and economics are stories of conflict and concession. There is always a compromise involved in manufacturing pieces and in making policies. The human experience is riddled with terms and trade-offs. We even have enough experience managing these deals and disputes that estimating simple bargains and balances is done almost instantaneously. We can rapidly gauge and guess the value of things. We learn how to assess and adapt to affairs. Basically, is it worth it?

When investing, we accept the danger of a downturn. When asking someone out, we embrace the risk of rejection. When resisting temptations, we believe in the possibility of a payout. Life becomes a sort of gamble – running risks and returns. We try to learn how to play our cards right. We wish to play it smart. But a night at the casino doesn’t end with just one play. We are in it for a series of games. So we need to play it clean. Children know this. A kid who plays rough may win a game but at the cost of not getting invited to play again. Play smart and play clean.

Sometimes players choose at the expense of others to gain a lot. Sometimes players choose to cooperate to gain a little. Sometimes players don’t know what they’re doing. There are unsystematic players and there are strategic players. Some strategies involve being forgiving, holding a grudge, or always cheating. Some give only as good as they get and play a tit for a tat. All of these owing to a conflict of interests between players.

Simply put, conflicts challenge us to be cunning and dare us to develop. They pressure us to pursue.

Conflict is interesting and important but is not imperative to a good story. Molecules jiggle around. Temperatures are a measure of how jiggly molecules are. When energy from the sun heats them up, some water molecules jiggle more than before. The most energetic ones break off from the rest of the group and rise up.

Eventually, they reach a level where, if they were of a certain critical size, would condense and become visible to us as clouds. If they weren’t at the critical size, they wouldn’t condense as such. Fortunately, tiny salt and dust particles and other chemicals are there to help. They are rain seeds. Water molecules cling on to their surfaces and cloud formation proceeds. At the right states, rain pours and waters our trees. Trees use water to grow to incredible heights. Trees transport absorbed water from their underground roots to their topmost canopies. Now another curious phenomenon is involved here. How can trees carry water to such a high place? If you suck on straws of varying lengths, you might eventually notice that the longest one you can suck your water through is about ten meters. When you suck, you are effectively reducing the pressure on your end of the straw. The created pressure gradient, an imbalance of forces, pushes the water up the column then into your mouth for a much needed sip of refreshment. Any longer than ten meters and you wouldn’t be able to overcome the downward pull of the weight of the water column. Trees grow taller than ten meters by reducing the pressure on their topmost side to immense negative relative pressures.

Trees accomplish this incredible feat by the vaporisation of water on pores of their cell walls. The ability to carry water and nutrients up is essentially what limits how tall a tree can grow. The tallest trees we have are at about a hundred meters. The vaporised water from the trees are released into their surrounding atmosphere. Rainforest trees give off the most water compared to other groups of trees. A large rainforest tree can release a thousand litres of water in a day and the aggregate of trees called the Amazon rainforest pumps about twenty trillion litres of water in a day. This vapor is a “river in the sky” that actually transports more water than the Amazon River itself. Furthermore, trees give off volatile organic compounds which could act as rain seeds. It has come to light that there is substance in the Hawaiian phrase “hahai nō ka ua i ka ululāʻau” which translates to “the rain follows the forest.”

A day of a tree is an interesting story. There are amusing accounts all around. In the shade of trees live an assortment of animals. The Paradisaeidae, I would argue, is one of the most fascinating families of birds. The birds-of-paradise are known for their pretty plumage and daring dances. The speciation from common ancestors into a range of flashy and fancy feathered fauna resulted from spatial and temporal factors including geography and evolutionary pressures particularly sexual selection. The fact that these birds evolved to appear as attractive as they are is fascinating. Other bird species also have their own forms of this alertness to the alluring and appreciation of the appealing. Some species are known for courting through the construction, cleaning, and coloring of nests. Colors have roles in the lives of insects as well. Flowers use this to their advantage. Bees are more attracted to certain colors than others.

It has become apparent that aesthetic sensibilities exist for the birds and the bees. We could go on and on about the complexities, the whys and hows, and find that deeper is riveting. There are other mediums besides seeing. There are choice chords that sound pleasant to our ears. Pythagoras even placed an air of mathematical mystic to this music phenomenon. We are also arbiters of taste. Different people prefer different strengths of spice and season. Maybe we all carry distinctive devices and doodahs, some innate and some acquired, that aid us judge what is delightful and what is divine.

The cosmos is inconceivable in its size. We, Earth, are imperceptible and inconsequential at such scales. Only operating at our dimensions, we often forget our place and become drunk with ignorance and arrogance. It is, at times, sobering to call to mind how small we actually are and how local our issues would then seem to be. As far as we can tell, our planet is the only one that knows conflict. This certainly wouldn’t mean that the rest of totality is not worth talking or reading about. The stars and their planets and their moons have their own stories and secrets. Even at home, there are characters that are casual and carefree. The trees know no discord with the clouds and our eyes do not debate with the colors.

There are also stories of situations – the setting is stagnant, characters do not develop, plots are not driven forward. Note that these are not necessarily dull. In these, we remember how arbitrary things are, how lucky we got, and how absurd life sometimes seems to be. Not all stories need conflict. There was that embarrassing memory with your first love, the sense of accomplishment of finishing your first marathon, and the rush of your first kiss. There is that funny anecdote of you passing out drunk, the pride of buying a new watch, and the silliness when you slipped on a puddle. There will be the warmth during your fairytale wedding, the victory of setting the record for the least time to consume a triple quarter pounder burger, the joy of hearing your children laugh, and more.

There are no antagonists attacking you, bad blood breaking you, or crises crushing you in these stories. Nevertheless, they become a few of our favorites.

Conflict drives us. It wisens us. It ages us. But not everyday has to be about getting bigger and growing stronger. On some days, we stroll for leisure, we chow for fun, and we recount for laughs. Children love stories about dinosaurs simply because of dinosaurs.

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