Water Knows no Limits

By Stefan Flöper [CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

Well… There are a number of reasons why I post this picture. Probably none of them are what the artist intended.  I find it colossally ironic that such a statement would be made by a stone sculpture.  Or perhaps the point is the damage that water will ultimately do to the sculpture over time.

First of all, water is DEFINED by it’s limits. If water had no limits, we would not even notice it. It would permeate everything, do anything, and we would be at a loss to even know what it is. Water flows because it sticks together in a specific way. Water erodes so freely  because it’s molecules are so magnetic and sticky (metaphorically, at least). When water breaks down stone, it is not a scouring but a seduction– molecule by molecule.

Water evaporates in the air because it wants to stick to tiny dust particles so very much. Water laps up to the beach, and ripples because that reflects it’s form. It responds to pressures we can’t even see.  It conforms with every shape it is poured into. That is a limitation writ large– it does not define it’s own form as a rock might, but accepts and adapts rather than stands firm.

It wants to blur various categories it fits into together (such as solid, liquid and gas) but– on it’s edges, what it does is entirely defined by it’s limits. It’s movements are predictable, once you wrap your head around the fact that it has very different limits than most materials in it’s class. So while it is ultimately predictable, it it still unexpected when compared to the things around it.

Indeed if we look at things like hard vacuum, these seemingly limitless things are very sharply proscribed.  There is an awful lot of vacuum out there, but it requires specific environment to exist, that have to be produced artificially here on earth.

In this same vein, human potential, though limited, has wildly different limits than mere human beings can ascribe to it. This is why we didn’t develop the scientific method and the technological knowledge we have until relatively recently.  Recognizing a world directed by natural laws did not exist on a consistent basis until the advent of Christianity, like it or not.

What gives us our broad horizons is our understanding of limits.  We tend to think of limits as oppressive and repressive, but the opposite is the case. Human beings need order so we can find the loopholes. We need borders so we can breach them. Once we know the rules, we can find the applications where they work best, and make sure the spirit of those laws are respected by poking at those limits and reflecting on all things that rely on those limits.

Without knowing the natural order, we can’t test it’s limits, we can’t know what can be known– or argue with those limits.   Without the knowledge of these limits, we simply distract ourselves with more pleasant, predictable  activities, and flail around with no object in mind. Neither of these accomplishes anything, as diverting as they may be.  This sort of nothing is a limit. If you aren’t looking at it as such, you won’t  even know it’s there, begging to be breached.  Thus, you can’t exceed your potential if you don’t know it’s limits.

Chances are, you can get a discouraged person to make a few guesses if he is offered a handful of options.  There is a better way.  Have you ever noticed how many people, when told, “The sky’s the limit! Go forth and do whatever you want!”  They stare at you like a lost puppy?  If you offer a number of options- or worse yet, make suggestions — it may or  may not work.  Usually, though, people will say, “I don’t know. You pick something,” or foolishness like that.

The best bet is to ask, “Ok, so what *don’t* you want to do?”  This is because humans have to know where the limits are, so we can formulate a goal.    A wide open field is simply not a challenge.  Who cares if you sail across an open field without any aim? Sure there is the joy of movement, but that is gone moments after inertia sets in.

 Even the despondent respond in this way, even if they aren’t aware of it.  Giving up is often a result of a lack of feedback. A concrete limitation is the least ambiguous signal there is.   A wall directly in front of you suggests the possibility of freedom– and points the way to it.  When we know where our negative space is, we can go forth and sculpt a  more effective positive space.

Knowing your limits demonstrates  in a concrete way where to start in any endeavor.  Having all the freedom in the world does you no good, if you are immobilized by the plethora of options.

Eis an einem Wasserfall. Made by Walter J. Pilsak, Waldsassen. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

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