One of the Greatest Secrets of the Universe

by Les Saidel - July, 2012

What I am about to present to you is nothing new. You probably know it by another name, as it has many names and myriad applications.

Consider the following picture -

What you see above may look like an eye, but it is in fact a spherical ball placed in a semicircular tube, like a pipe sawn in half along its length. The ball is at rest and is motionless. If the ball were to be pushed out of the above position, it would oscillate left and right in the tube a number of times, before finally coming to rest in the above position once again. This is called the equilibrium position. It does not matter at which point you place the ball in the tube it will eventually come to rest at the above equilibrium position.

Equilibrium is a principle that can be found in almost every facet of our existence, from physics, chemistry, economics and biology to philosophy and religion.

Like our ball in the tube above, the entire universe tends toward equilibrium. There is one, universal equilibrium which comprises myriad subsystems and beyond that myriad sub-subsystems, ad infinitum, each with its own individual equilibrium and all together tending towards that one universal equilibrium position.

To maintain something in a position which is not its equilibrium position requires energy. Consider picture 2 below -

To maintain the ball in the above positions in the tube would require energy or force of some kind, either holding it there with your finger, or creating some magnetic field to hold it in that position. As soon as that force or energy is removed however, the ball would return to its equilibrium position. At the equilibrium position no energy or force is required to maintain it there other than gravity itself, which is one of the naturally occurring equilibrium forces.

That is the great secret!

So what is so fantastic about that, you are asking yourself dear reader? Balls, tubes, physics, forces and energy, etc. - everyone knows about that, where is the profundity?

This physical principle may be simple and ubiquitous, but the applications of it and the insight it provides upon deeper examination, that is where the magic and the wisdom lies.

Consider this for example. If you look at planet earth from space, you will see that man is just a speck on the landscape. Even if you look at highly populated areas like New York or Beijing, in the larger picture, these are just minute dots on the planet compared to the vast expanses of land and sea.

Modern society is highly energy dependent. We have created a lifestyle which depends on a continual input of energy. Consider the internal combustion engine, cars, planes, ships - these are our methods of travel, they all depend on an influx of fuel. Modern society is also dependent on electricity to operate all the gadgets of modern living, from the electric light bulb, to the computer to the pump that gives us water in the faucet. This electricity is also dependent on fuel - oil, gas, coal, nuclear fission, etc.

We all live in a "normal reality", where we wake up in the morning, fill our kettle from the kitchen tap, turn it on for a cup of coffee or tea, check our email or Facebook for new messages, call someone on the cell phone to make an appointment, get in our car, drive to the office, work on the computer the whole day, drive home, watch TV, shoot some hoops in the floodlit back yard with the kids, set our alarm clocks and go to sleep with heating on to keep us warm. This is a "normal" routine that almost everyone in the modern, "civilized" world has become accustomed to.

Upon closer examination however we will find that this "normal" existence is dependent on an amazing amount of energy input. The utility company needs to pump water to your tap. They need electricity to pump it. To make electricity, the electrical company needs fuel. To operate your kettle, your computer, phone, TV, lights, alarm clock, heating system etc. also needs electricity. To drive your car you need fuel.

Our existence is very similar to the diagram in picture 2 above - it requires energy to hold all of that up. If something happened to that energy, that "normal" existence would fall apart. We have all had such experiences. When was the last time you had a power failure? Suddenly everything grinds to a halt. First of all, you are plunged into darkness, your supper cooking in the stove is put on pause, there is no Facebook, no internet, no TV. For some, this condition even creates something close to panic. We all just assume that the power will come on in a few minutes again. But what if it didn't come on again? What if there was a locally occurring natural disaster like an earthquake or a hurricane? We may be days or weeks without power. If there was a global disaster like a large meteor hitting the earth, it could disable the planet. There are lots of movies about this.

We go on day to day, happily deluding ourselves what reality is, living according to some probability rule of statistics, until something fundamental jars us back to the TRUE reality, usually when we least expect it and are unprepared.

We are living in a society and civilization out of equilibrium, held up by a fragile network of man made gadgets. It doesn't take a genius to see that at some point the universe is going to adjust itself back to the equilibrium position. How long can we deplete our natural resources and pollute our environment? At some point nature is going to correct itself and the whole house of cards will come tumbling down. It may not happen in this generation or even in the next, but that it will happen is inevitable, it is the law of equilibrium.

If you think we can avoid this I wish to remind you of the satellite picture of earth taken from space. We are simple dots on the landscape, nature is much bigger than all of us put together and its force and natural progression cannot be stopped by man's idiocy. We can seriously damage the natural balance, but nature will correct itself anyway - the more we damage it, the more drastic will be the correction.

The only way to prevent or try fix this, is to slowly begin to undo the unnatural addictions and dependencies man has developed. This is certainly not easy. Have you ever tried giving up smoking? Well, how about a planet full of addicts trying to give up an addiction - for electricity, for processed food, for motorized transport. etc. I would say that it borders on the impossible and the only remedy is a huge Act of G-d that leaves civilization no choice. It would be less painful if we did it ourselves but as a race, we are too weak and short sighted.

This is the application of the equilibrium principle on a global scale. The principle of a simple ball in a tube applied in a profound way. The fact that we choose to ignore it is irrelevant, it is there and it is irreversible.

We can apply the same principle in a more personal, philosophical way. The Rambam (Maimonides), a great physician, philosopher and scholar, whose teachings our bakery tries to follow, advocated the "middle path". Different people have different personalities and temperaments. Some are generous, some stingy, some calm, some excitable, etc. The Rambam taught that we should follow the middle road in all things, not be too extreme in anything or do anything in excess. The universe will always tend toward equilibrium regardless of what we do. If we do not adhere with this natural law, then something will happen that will eventually force us to comply in the end. This could be a broken marriage, suicide, murder, mental breakdown or other equally unpleasant ultimate consequences of living in a non equilibrium state of mind.

Medically and physically speaking, all of us are born with different starting points. At birth some are healthier than others. One may be born perfectly healthy, another may have congenital heart problems, diabetes, be more predisposed to obesity, etc. Everyone then has their own individual starting position, physically speaking. If that position does not conform with the universal equilibrium, that person needs to take corrective measures to correct or stabilize it so that it does and then adopt a lifestyle that is maintained as close as possible to the equilibrium position. If we do not, we can expect heart attacks, cancer, disability, illness and breakdown. We cannot punish our bodies endlessly, they like the universe, will eventually say enough and take corrective measures to stop the abuse, hopefully we will survive these events and live to tell the tale and consider them wake up calls.

Similarly the same equilibrium principle can be applied to almost every facet of our lives.

So what can we do on a personal level to get back on track as it were so that we are more aligned with the stream rather than fighting it constantly until we run out of power?

Firstly we need to recognize that there is a natural balance in the universe and strive to align ourselves with it as much as we can.

This means when we search for solutions for things, we should prefer those that are self sustaining and close to equilibrium as possible. For example when designing a feature in our homes, it would be better to select an option that requires less energy input and that "almost runs itself". For example selecting a hedge from a plant that needs pruning only once a year instead of once a week, or sloping the land on your lot or on your roof that water drains by itself away from the house by the force of gravity, rather than draining it the wrong way and then having to pump it out with an electric pump.

There is a principle in design and problem solving called the KISS principle (Keep It Simple, Stupid) which usually provides the most elegant solution. The more simple, the closer it is going to be to equilibrium and self sustaining.

When making choices, whether they are construction choices, choosing what to feed your family for dinner, how to deal with your relatives, or absolutely anything under the sun, opt for the simpler, self sustaining, rather than the complicated, energy depleting solutions. These tend toward equilibrium naturally and do not need some force to constantly maintain them.

When you adopt this outlook on life, in how you behave, how you interact with people, what you eat, how you work, what you believe in, then you will be more aligned with the universal equilibrium. If everyone on the planet would also do that, our world would look a lot better than it does.

It begins with you.

Les Saidel

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