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The Spinning Top

A fascinating application of the physics of a childhood toy to the process of existence.


I remember sitting on the floor of my grandparents apartment as a small child and playing with a spinning top. It was mesmerizing. How could something that would otherwise fall right over, balance itself just by spinning? In physics class years later, learning the answer to this question only bred more questions: Why can't intricate systems keep their balance, when a simple system like a gyroscope can do it so easily? Then in biology, I found out that they can indeed. In nature, balance is the name of the game: Predators automatically balance out their pray. Parasites drive growth of the very immune systems they try to elude. Animals feeding on plants, to said plants return their nutrition. Well, what about people?

It seems people don't do balance very well. From modern parenting to modern agriculture to modern banking, something's missing. We could easily define "modern" as: "Lacking a system of checks and balances". We know this stuff works: In parenting, we see "primitive" tribes where life's lessons are automatically instilled by the very games that children play. In agriculture, we have permaculture - a system so un-modern that it actually works! In banking we have... well, nevermind. Now that I think about it, when it comes to banking, politics, and commerce in general, we don't have much to model. Unlike parenting and farming, here we don't have a new school and an old school. Everything is new. We have yet to master these concepts. Somehow, I feel that the Mayans knew this when they predicted their own demise.

Have we evolved too quickly? Often, when lifeforms evolve in one aspect, they do it at a rate slow enough for other aspects to also change accordingly, thereby sustaining balance. I can only guess that if bees developed the ability to make honey before developing their incredible skills of cooperation, their honey would only be a burden. We've grown smarter, but often, this has backfired. It seems like we're paying the price for all this growth. Damn us and our big brains! We just can't seem to get right the things that make us human.

Possibly, the wars, problems, and injustice of the world are the very balancing act that will somehow result in a society where big intellect is on par with big intuition, big compassion, and big wisdom. And if this is the case, should we presume that the evils of society are necessary, and stand there trusting in the collective wisdom of the world while we watch things play themselves out in horrifying ways? Or should we risk making another mistake by sticking our fingers into this grand mechanism?

I guess it's not in our nature to just lean back and watch. We are invested. We must act. And we do the best we can. We might not yet know how, but there is more and more of us with good intentions. For every person driven by greed, there is another greedy for positive change. For every tycoon with high profit-motive, there is someone motivated by love. For each millionaire blinded by competitive spirit, there is someone opening their eyes to cooperation. We have a long road ahead of us. Everywhere we look, we see deep holes, and many are getting dug deeper by the minute. But things are going to change. It's inevitable. If we don't pave a smooth road to a better culture, laws of nature will provide a road for us, albeit a much bumpier one.

In the meantime I'll dream of a world where the weak are protected by the strong like cleaner fish and the shark. Where show of elegance, not show of force displays the worth of our leaders, like the plumage of a peacock. Where the greedy turn their voracity into productivity like pigs burrowing the topsoil. I'll dream of a planet that balances itself just by spinning, instead of spinning out of control.

Irtcles by Bart Migal

The Spinning Top

A fascinating application of the physics of a childhood toy to the process of existence.