Non-Equilibrium Thinking

A thought experiment.

Imagine you are holding a ball. It could be a football or a baseball or a beach ball or a tennis ball or a golf ball. Even a balloon would do. It can also be any colour you like.  (I’m imagining holding a two foot diameter beach ball, with pink and yellow stripes. These things are as light as a feather.)

Now gently place the ball on the floor. Any floor. The main thing about the floor is that it should be flat, and have a firm hard horizontal surface. It could be a car park or a road or even a flat roof. Maybe even a table would do.

What happens?

Nothing happens.

The ball just sits on the floor. It doesn’t roll away. If you examine the ball closely, you may find that it’s slightly compressed on the underside. Unless something disturbs it, the ball will just sit there all day, for days and days and days. It might even sit there for ever.

What you’re looking at is an equilibrium system. The force the ball exerts down onto the floor beneath it is being exactly cancelled out by the counterforce the floor exerts upwards on the ball.

Right. Now that you’ve performed that experiment. Pick up the ball again, and hold it at arm’s length away from you, and this time drop it onto the floor.

What happens?

Quite a lot happens. And keeps on happening.

The ball falls to the floor, and then bounces back up off it. It may even bounce all the way back up to your outstretched hand, although usually they don’t bounce quite that high.

And then after it’s bounced back up it’ll fall back down onto the floor. And it’ll keep bouncing up and down, with the height of the bounce getting smaller and smaller and smaller until it doesn’t look like it’s bouncing at all.

And that’s a non-equilibrium system, in which all the forces aren’t exactly cancelling each other out. A swinging pendulum is a non-equilibrium system. The equilibrium state for a pendulum is hanging straight down, motionless. But when it’s swinging from side to side, the forces pushing one way get gradually overcome by the forces pushing the other way.

Now I’d like to suggest that we live in an non-equilibrium world. As I see it, we’re living on a little spinning planet, that goes round the Sun once every year. It’s a non-equilibrium system. It’s an oscillating system. And we’re being whirled around in this oscillating system, like clothes in a spin-drier.

A Flat Earth is an equilibrium system. It’s a world in which nothing happens. And everything remains the same all the time. It doesn’t spin at all, and it doesn’t orbit around the sun, and it doesn’t wobble or bounce either. It just is.

And we’re all of us either equilibrium thinkers or non-equilibrium thinkers. That’s to say that we either see the world and everything in it as an unchanging place where nothing ever happens, or we see it as something in which things are always being spun and bounced and vibrated and shaken first one way and then another.

And, just as I think of the Earth going round the Sun as a non-equilibrium system, I also see all the things that happen on the surface of the Earth as also not being in an equilibrium state. So we have the seasons of the year, and daily tides, and clouds and wind and rain, and heat waves and cold snaps. And we humans are always having to respond to what’s happening to us. We’re having to put on more clothes, or take them off. We’re having to carry umbrellas, or put on sunglasses and sun hats and sunscreens. We’re being jostled and shaken and spun, all day, every day.

So we’re part of the non-equilibrium system too. We’re not above it or outside it. And just as the world exerts forces on us, we also exert forces on each other. Forces of attraction and repulsion, of love and hate. When we fight battles with each other (as we frequently do) the clash of arms is a physical clash of swords against shields, or bullets against helmets.

We describe almost everything in physical terms: I fell in love. My heart sank. Our spirits rose. I was completely bowled over. The government was toppled. The king was overthrown. The coalition disintegrated. The people united. The company went bust. For the most part no actual falling or sinking or rising or toppling or throwing or disintegrating or uniting visibly happened. But we all know when we’re falling or rising or being bowled over.

And human societies are also subject to the same forces: Empires rise and fall. Businesses expand and contract.

These also are non-equilibrium systems. They’re always changing. They never stop changing.

I’m a non-equilibrium thinker. I see everything as a process rather than a stable equilibrium state. My orbital simulation model is a model of a non-equilibrium system. The dirty snowballs I’ve been modelling recently are also non-equilibrium systems. I see around me a world that is happening, not a world that simply is. And I am myself a non-equilibrium system as well. I’m always changing.

But the antismokers in Tobacco Control are equilibrium thinkers. They want to create a new “smoke-free” equilibrium state, in which nobody ever smokes anything ever again. They think they’ve almost managed it, given their current “endgame” scenarios. They see themselves as replacing one smoky equilibrium state with another “smoke-free” equilibrium state. Just like holding a ball in your hand, and then putting it on the floor.

Most people are equilibrium thinkers. They see the world as essentially unchanging. If they want to change the world, it’s always from one equilibrium state to another. When equilibrium thinkers become political revolutionaries, they always imagine themselves as replacing  one equilibrium state with another.  And so if they see societies as masters oppressing slaves, or capitalists exploiting workers, they always imagine a revolution which is a simple inversion of the present equilibrium state, so that slaves take control of masters, or workers oust capitalists. And they then expect nothing else to ever happen again.

The antismokers are revolutionaries of exactly this sort. They have set out to inaugurate a “tobacco-free” world which will be a new unchanging equilibrium state of affairs, much like a workers’ paradise, or an egalitarian society. And their new world is really just an inversion of the old world.

The antismokers will never succeed in creating any “smoke-free” society. And they will never succeed because human beings and human societies are non-equilibrium systems. They never come to rest.

For instead we ought to see the imposition of smoking bans on any society as being just like dropping a ball on it.

It will bounce off.

It will bounce off just like the ball you imagined dropping bounced off the floor.

It may take a long time for it to bounce off, but it will.

It may look to you like nothing is changing, and nothing will ever change. But that’s just the equilibrium illusion again: the illusion that nothing ever changes.

For smokers have been compressed by the smoking bans that have been dropped on them. They feel crushed. And they are crushed. But being crushed is just always what happens to anything before it bounces back. And the more crushed that smokers might feel is really only an indicator of how strongly they’re going to bounce back.

It’s not just that Tobacco Control must be destroyed, but that Tobacco Control will be destroyed.  And it’s absolutely inevitable that it will be destroyed. It’ll cease to exist.

And what will follow will not be the return of a smoky world. There will be no return to any pre-existing equilibrium state, because there never was any equilibrium state, and there never will be one. It’ll just continue to be a ding-dong battle between smokers and antismokers, just like it always has been – an endless cycle of action and reaction.

The crushing smoking bans that have been imposed all over the world are going to be followed by an equally powerful rebound that will throw them all off again. Because the smoking bans have been imposed too suddenly, and too quickly. The antismokers might have succeeded if they had put the ball gently on the ground. And for a long time with their piecemeal smoking bans they were trying to do exactly that. But then they dropped the ball. In fact they threw the ball hard against the floor. And when they dropped/threw it they ensured that there’d be a rebound. The rebound won’t happen immediately. It never does. Even when you drop a beach ball on the ground, there’s a delay before it comes back up.

All the equilibrium thinkers reading this will say: “Nah! Nothing ever changes! Nothing is going to change! The smoking bans are here to stay, and there’s nothing that anyone can do about it.”

But you’ll see. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon, and for the rest of your life.

About Frank Davis

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17 Responses to Non-Equilibrium Thinking

  1. Rose says:

    They want to create a new “smoke-free” equilibrium state, in which nobody ever smokes anything ever again. They think they’ve almost managed it, given their current “endgame” scenarios

    The ball rebounds.

    Prison smoking ban ‘makes air quality WORSE because cons turn to “Frankenstein fags”’
    27 JAN 2018

    “The findings heap embarrassment on prison chiefs, who have trumpeted the health benefits of outlawing cigs at all the jails in England and Wales.
    An official report found prisoners are breathing in more polluted air since the ban because so many cons have turned to so-called “Frankenstein fags” – contraband cigs made from Bible pages, nicotine patches and tea leaves.

    And the number toking on Spice – synthetic marijuana – has rocketed, further worsening air quality.
    The damning verdict came in a report by inspectors from the Independent Monitoring Board, who found that since the smoking ban came into place at HMP Cardiff in March 2016 the air quality in the jail had worsened.

    It found that there had been an ­increase in complaints from non-smokers.

    The report said: “In March 2016 Cardiff became a non-smoking prison. This led to ­incidents of smoking other substances including nicotine patches, tea leaves and Spice (and) it would appear that the smoking ban has had the effect of increasing the use of other harmful and illicit substances.”

    “The report added: “Non-smoking prisoners reported to the Board that whereas previously they would share a cell with another non-smoker, they did not feel able to complain about their cell mate to obtain a cell transfer when they were smoking illicitly.”

    According to the most recent stats, just over 80 per cent of the UK’s 86,000 prisoners were smokers before the ban.

    Last week’s report also said the number of violent incidents at the jail had rocketed by 50 per cent since the smoking ban, with ­assaults against staff soaring by a massive 160 per cent.”

  2. Dirk says:

    Here Richard Feynman speaks about a bouncing ball

  3. smokingscot says:

    I’ve been described by others as eccentric – and they have a point. Also stoical, which I had to look up, and again I can see their point. Myself, well I sort of see myself as reasonably resilient, forever curious and at times just daft as a bat on stilts.

    With respect to my view of society, I see it as gradually evolving and while various healthists and controllers attempt to speed things up in their general direction, it’s seldom it turns out even close to what they expected.

    Laws can only seem to work if they’re enforced, or if there’s broad support for them. Enforcement is beyond belief expensive and, where people are employed to do this, they’re only in it for th salary. They may or may not believe in the underlying law, but they need the money.

    One problem is person to person and one example I witnessed was a hospital grounds. The woman was smoking under a canopy at the front door to the building. It was about 10 at night. She had a catheter with a large plastic container of her urine hung on the pole on wheels where a drip solution fed into her arm. She was wearing a dressing gown and slippers. And was smoking a cigarette.

    Not one person attempted to stop her, despite a constant stream of staff. I sat close to her and learned she was a very modest and unassuming lady who had an incurable and a very limited time left to her.

    On a less morose tone, the 20 mph speed limits are unenforceable at night, as is littering.

    Taking your analogy with the compressed ball, there comes a point where the ball will burst. You say it’s filled with air, however let’s imagine it’s filled with fluid. That explodes with huge force, there is no change to the contents of that ball, it’s just it’s all in other places.

    And here’s the danger for those applying the force, the entire mechanism can be destroyed when that happens. I suspect some of the more intelligent know this, hence that business of Chapman warning about banning it outdoors.

    But most of them don’t seem to have that ability, or more likely are simply agenda driven, assuming the salary will continue, at least for as long as they need it – sort of I’m alright Jack, so pull up the ladder.

    What we have here is an early squirt from the ball. And let’s face it, we’ve doing a pretty good job of observing the system used and the perverse shites hiking the pressure.

  4. Barry Homan says:

    I still think of it in my own simplistic terms: they can’t rid the world of smoking because they can’t rid the world of smokers.

    ..and for what it’s worth: “Simplicity is not simple” -Charlie Chaplin

  5. Smoking Lamp says:

    Sometimes the antis bounces are total fabrications. Check out this story at The Guardian about the fraud and deception behind tobacco package warning photos. How my ‘dead body’ ended up on millions of cigarette packets across Europe” They used a non-smoking model for one popular fraudulent image.

    • smokingscot says:

      That’d be this chap

    • smokingscot says:

      But not to worry. In 40 years all the fellas will have such low sperm counts, the whole human race could well become extinct!!!

      Maybe someone will explain this to the Indigenous people’s world wide. Don’t think it’ll affect them one tiny little bit.

    • Joe L. says:

      Thanks for the link, SL. This is now the second report of a deceitful photo being used for Antismoking propaganda without the consent of the subject of the photo. The first being reported in 2016, when a man from Galicia, Spain discovered a picture of his unconscious, intubated self while recovering from spinal surgery on cigarette package warning labels claiming him to be a “victim” of tobacco. He wasn’t even aware that the photo had been taken, let alone that it would be used for antismoking propaganda.

      Original article:

      Man whose photo was used as a cigarette health warning says the image of him in hospital has NOTHING to do with smoking – because he was having spinal surgery

      This is a revolting, underhanded practice by these Antismoking liars. It doesn’t get more dishonest and abusive than this. How many more of these so-called “victims” of tobacco still haven’t even discovered their photographs are being plastered as “pathology porn” on tobacco products? My blood is boiling! These stories need wide exposure–the public must be made aware of the vile fraud that is Tobacco Control!

      • smokingscot says:

        Joe, the Spanish guy’s claim was chucked out because that hospital does not use that type of breathing device.

        However a slightly, very slightly more credible claim has been made in the UK.

        Certainly the photo bears a strong resemblance and I wouldn’t be in the least surprised if some arse took it upon him/herself to take the photo just because he smoked, though that in no way contributed to his untimely demise.

        • Joe L. says:

          Thanks for the info and the link, smokingscot. I had not heard that the Spanish guy’s claim was discredited. Do you, by chance, have a link to an article about it?

          I agree about the strong resemblance of David Ross, the man in the new claim. However, I doubt we will ever know with certainty, because the EU conveniently claims it “cannot give out further information on their identity in order to protect the rights of the individuals depicted.” If the EU is being honest that “all individuals depicted in the library of picture warnings were informed and gave their consent,” then what harm would it cause to release the name of the man in the warning label photo? It would absolve them of any wrong-doing.

          I wouldn’t be in the least surprised if some arse took it upon him/herself to take the photo just because he smoked, though that in no way contributed to his untimely demise.

          When it comes to Tobacco Control tactics, nothing is out of the question, and nothing surprises me anymore.

      • smokingscot says:


        Did most of my searches using images, then going to the article. It was a Spanish newspaper that Google translated.

        The gist is the Spanish chap tried suing the hospital, however it never went to court because of the breathing apparatus.

        I also noted the complainant never allowed a photo of himself. This is the best they got.

        Backtracked this morning but no luck so far. If I find it, I’ll let you know.

  6. RdM says:

    For more, even perhaps controversial considerations on what might be in actuality – in the universe, not in equilibrium – as opposed to or superseding old theories:
    Acres of reading, there… years worth, decades…

    The beat goes on …

  7. Rose says:

    Grammys 2018: US official BLASTS video of Hillary Clinton and artists MOCKING Donald Trump
    Jan 29, 2018

    “DONALD Trump was viciously mocked at this year’s Grammy Awards by Hilary Clinton as the former presidential candidate made a special appearance to read extracts of the controversial book ‘Fire and Fury’

    “This is the most concise demonstration yet of how Trump won.”
    “Trump is living rent free in all of these Hollywood celebrities’ minds.
    They literally can’t go 5 minutes without talking about him.”

    Interesting comments.
    It’s a dreadful thing but I am beginning to enjoy the outraged howling of the pro-Hillary camp, you just want to keep poking them to hear them squeak.

    Which is probably what has kept the antis posting on every smoking thread they can find for the last ten years.

    • RdM says:

      Interesting comments.
      Ideally sort by Oldest first instead of the default “Best” (WTF algorithm sorts that?)
      Newest would be for those who’d read everything and poised for further replies.

      My browser is acting like wading through treacle or porridge or even quicksand, too many tabs open and not enough ram, so I have to sign out!

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