Are cities the same as water? It’s possible to look at chemistry for new understandings of social dynamics.
The universe is a field where existence is transformed from state to state. The transformation of matter from one state to another is generally called a “phase transition” and each phase has its own characteristics. A phase transition is possible via the alteration of some parameters and variables. For instance, heat is one of the parameters required for the transition of ice (solid) into water (liquid) and later into vapor (gas); the increased heat causes ice to change states. The characteristic feature of each phase (ice, water, and vapor) is unique. For example, ice has a certain volume; however water and vapor take the shapes of their containers. In contrast to ice, water and vapor have flowing properties.
In a similar way, if the temperature of a ferromagnetic material displaying magnetic properties is elevated, at a certain temperature, it is observed to lose its magnetism; this is called the “Curie point.” In some materials, such as some solutions, the transition into different phases can be achieved by adding solvents.
Seasons can also be considered different phases. Each season has its own specific traits and features. Seasons are generated by the alteration of the angle between the axis of earth and its orbital plane.
As these examples show, the universe resembles an erase board where continuous transitions are taking place, new sentences are being written, and existing writings are dismissed to form new sentences with new meanings.
In a recently completed academic study, a new definition of a phase transition encountered in social life has been made and this phase transition is called “freezing by heating” . It is well known in daily life that the less individuals are informed about their temper and the direction they are headed, the weaker the efficiency of cooperation among individuals. If people in a unit or group behave irregularly, a dead end or bottleneck could occur. Solving dead-end problems and bottleneck situations, or preventing them before they happen, is among the topics scientists study today. In Figure 1, cases showing the traffic stream of people moving in opposite directions obtained in this study are displayed.
It is stated that there is less “noise” in situations in which there is a reduced amount of irregular behavior taking place. The term “noise” is used to define concepts that can be disruptive human relations. The higher the noise, the more the degradation of human relationships, and as a result, a disruption or even an arrest (freezing) may happen regarding social events. The elevated temperature of a melting solid material provides it with the properties of a fluid, whereas in social events, an increase in temperature ends up with a jam and freeze in social life. In Figure 1a, a pedestrian traffic flow in which there is less noise present – in other words, a situation that characterizes ideal relations among people – is displayed. Here, it is observed that people with yellow marks have a stable flow towards the left and those with red marks move towards the right side. They do so via lanes of people going towards both directions. A stable flow indicates that the system is not frozen (not in an arrest), or free of a bottleneck. In such a flow, relations work in such a way that fluidity results.
An intermediate noise level causes an increase of irregular behaviors (in other terms, unpredictable human behavior) and shows the presence of serious problems that are experienced regarding the relationships among people. The corresponding situation for this case is shown on Figure 1b. Here, the pedestrian traffic is now jammed and the flow is almost halted. It is impossible for lanes to form since irregular behaviors are above a certain critical level. For a system to be rescued out of this state, oscillations of sufficient magnitude are necessary.
If the situation in Figure 1c occurs, forming a vertical interface (please note the vertical interface that separates people going left and right), this case is called a “frozen state” and much bigger oscillations are required to get out of this state. Figures 1a, 1b, and 1c exhibit before our eyes how elevated noise affects pedestrian traffic: an increase of the noise in the system (for instance, an increase in the number of people who do not stop at red lights and do not continue on green) changes it from a fluid phase to a frozen one, resulting in gridlock. It is possible to compare the increased noise of the pedestrian traffic to an increase in temperature; the elevation of temperature also causes an abundance of irregular movements inside matter. Just like that, the rise of heat in a society due to a particular issue (like turmoil or other problems) may generate an increase in chaotic behaviors. Let’s try to explain this with certain events happening right now.
Let’s think about motor vehicle traffic in any city. If every individual driver observes the rules of the road, this means a low temperature – less noise, and little traffic. Fluidity is present here. On the contrary, if there is not any consensus in terms of traffic rules among the citizens – in other terms, if majority of the people are failing to abide the rules – there will be “heat”; the noise will be high, and there will be a traffic jam. If drivers cannot assess the rules at a four way intersections, or if people with no knowledge of red, yellow, or green lights are driving, a city will have a major problem with traffic.
When a freezing event takes place, waiting becomes inevitable. Unfortunately, most people don’t like waiting. Thus, such “freezing” events should be avoided, so as to keep citizens happy. For example, public announcements of road closures due to scheduled road works limit the reactions against traffic problems on certain routes. However, if traffic is announced and no reason is given, people might still be very unhappy.
For a second example, let’s consider a judiciary system. Just like the example of motor vehicle traffic, the presence of irregular moves independent from rules can lock a legal system. If laws are insufficient, or existing laws are not universally implemented nationwide, or the laws are executed and interpreted differently according to individuals, it is inevitable for a bottleneck or a freeze in the legal system. Actors within the system may anticipate a “freeze” about to happen. People in a state of anticipation need to be convinced and satisfied pertaining to legal practices. Otherwise, they may not enforce the laws properly, and legal chaos may ensue.
Freezing by heating may also apply for certain economic processes. Some economic uncertainties or some actions of unknown cause can be considered as noise by elements of the economy, thus enforcing a behavioral change that is able to affect the entire economy. Therefore, any applied change is followed carefully by the actors of the market and these actors must be satisfied about the changes taking place. Higher noise levels and dissatisfaction of members who are waiting affects the liquidity of the market and can lead to the withdrawal of funds. Withdrawal of money negatively impacts the parties who are in need of cash in various ways and the economic system gains momentum towards a “frozen state.” Negative factors are not the only reason for a bottle neck. Conservation of balance and the fluidity of the economic system are considered as the essence of this issue.
The principles briefly given above can also be applied to socio-psychological events. It is impossible not to encounter a bottleneck for a society consisting of members who are aggressive, stressed, or have less knowledge of their destinations. If a decision can be made with a peaceful state of mind and there is no doubt present regarding current practices, patience becomes the most important parameter. Hence, until a state of balance is established, it is advised to wait with understanding and patience. Patience is a healing aid that plays a role in reducing the temperature in all bottleneck situations.
Fasting prayer is very important for people in terms of gaining this habit. Even for a person who observes fasting one day or two in a week, it becomes more possible to deal positively with any bottleneck situations encountered that week. Another way to lessen the impact of a bottleneck is living to be aware of the fact that each event may serve a purpose. As Nursi stated, each negative or positive event that has been experienced has a purpose. Every event will be over once its purpose is reached. For a sincere believer who is aware of this, realizing that patience also means to appreciate time; thus, it is possible for him to disperse the negative elements that this waiting will bring.
It is possible to expand the “freezing by heating” phase transition to various different mediums across many other disciplines. However, the only necessary element in all of them to prevent such freezes, or to break present freezes, is the reduction of noise (temperature). It’s possible to find guidance by acknowledging that this world is a place of wisdom and service, and rewards do not always come in this life.
- Dirk Helbing, Illes J. Farkas, Tamas Vicsek, “Freezing by Heating in a Driven Mesoscopic System,” Physical Review Letters 84, 1240-1243 (2000).
- H.Eugene Stanley, “Non-equilibrium Physics: Freezing by Heating,” Nature 404, 718-719 (2000).