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Tipping the Balance

Balance is so fundamental to nature that I think we take it for granted. Consider mathematics, our preeminent tool for describing natural laws. Mathematics is built on the concept of two things being either in balance (an equation) or out of balance (an inequality). Look at all the places this comes to play!

The perfection of the universe is revealed in the fundamental natural forces. Nature needs the attractive force of gravity to bring matter together, while the repulsive force of atoms’ outer electrons keeps it from collapsing altogether. The two forces balance each other to provide an equilibrium where organized matter can exist.

Closer to the point for the Sailing Science Center, is the dynamic balance in water waves, where kinetic energy and gravitational potential energy are continuously exchanged to provide the undulating fluid surfaces on which we sail.

A balancing challenge I enjoy immensely as the captain of large power boats, is docking in conditions of wind and current. There is inexpressible satisfaction in using just the right amount of rudder, just the right amount of power to each engine, and just the right amount of bow thruster to ease the boat gently into its slip.

We find chemical balances in the ocean’s carbonate buffering system and the homeostasis of our own bodies. The Earth maintains a relative heat balance by the rotisserie action of spinning on its axis to give each surface a daily average of twelve hours of cooking and twelve hours of cooling. We want to eat balanced diets to assimilate all the nutrients our bodies need. Sailing on a sloop, or other rig, we seek sail trim to create the right balance against the helm. In politics we find stability when there is a balance of power. Diverse contributions bring balance and resilience to relationships. Good financial management encourages us to balance our books. And on it goes! It is no wonder that the yin yang symbol is so fundamental to Chinese philosophy by recognizing that balance creates harmony in nature.

When we consider all the places where equilibrium results from opposing forces, we realize that everything can be viewed through a lens of balance.


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