Ex Die in DIEM

by duncan mcnicholl

State Function

Thermodynamics makes a distinction between properties of a system that are determined simply by how things are, and those determined by how things got here. The former are State Functions, and include things like entropy that depend solely on the current equilibrium. The latter are Path Functions, and include work and heat. It’s a useful categorisation to make in the study of energy and why things happen, but I think it’s a shame that we stop there.

Understanding comes from familiarity and thought, and the ideas I’ve spent the most time dwelling on are scientific: my education and employment so far have been based almost exclusively in that field. It lends my life an interesting tint, and means that I tend to see things through these concepts, even if the things don’t lend themselves to it.

And that’s kind of what I mean: our interactions and understanding aren’t state functions. When you learn something new, either from a book or a conversation, you understand it because of its context. We can’t help but colour events as we explain them to others, even if it’s just through our choice of words or tone.

I suppose the counterpoint to this is that we have a wealth of information to read into and extrapolate from when people tell us things, and even when we communicate in written form without clear tone that simply gives us free rein to infer and once again to extrapolate.

I don’t have a solution to the problem of learning being path-based, except to notice it so that we can perhaps be more aware of the fact that we make more of things than our knowledge strictly allows. The world we see is never exactly the one that’s there, and if it was, wouldn’t life be dull?