I saw a talk today by sculptor Ned Khan, who creates circumstances for nature to misbehave I mean behave. He is an artist who thinks nature is beautiful, and tinkers his way into some great creations.
sp;Most of his works involve fluids, or air, or flowing solids, and show the complex way that large numbers of things interact.
He had this great observation:
There are properties of large numbers of things that you would never predict from looking at only one. If you were given a water molecule, or even a drop of water, you would never predict all the shapes and forms and behaviors that water can take, from steam to snow to icebergs and eddies.
Because I was probably the only lawyer there, I’ve got to make the logical leaps for all of us: what does that say about individuals and society?* Our judicial legacy is to make decisions based on how individuals behave (or should). But does understanding individual people help us at all to know how large groups of people behave?
The point is not whether the behavior of groups should somehow trump individual behavior as a basis of judgment. The harms of imposing collevtive visions on individuals are many and huge. The point instead is that the properties of groups are different
than the properties of individuals, and that you can’t extrapolate the one from the other. You’ve just
got to watch them happen, and then make your judgments. The presentation was at the science center, and one of the interesting outcomes was that these sculptures depict things that scientists have not been able to measure or explain, and some things that scientists didn’t know existed. But there they are, to everyone’s surprise.
* ”Metaphors in law are to be narrowly watched, for starting as devices to liberate thought, they end often by enslaving it.” Berkey v. Third Ave. Ry. Co., 244 N.Y. 84,94, ISS N.E. 58, 61 (1926) (Cardozo).
Previously, on Hard Consonant: