Phase Transitions

"Had the Soviet security apparatus decided [to retain Lev Landau in Moscow’s
Lubyanka prison in 1989], physics today would be very different. Landau
explained [Pyotr] Kapitsa’s discovery within a few months, and over the next
three decades left his mark on virtually every area of physics, from
astrophysics and cosmology to the study of magnetic materials.  Landau also
invented a revolutionary new theory of phase transitions, a theory of how
substances of all kinds change their forms" (158).Phase Transitions

Stole away several pages of Mark Buchanan’s Nexus on the flights today
from KC to Detroit to Syracuse.  Once in town, D. and I checked out an
apartment, four houses, and, after a delectable dinner on Marshall Street, drove
around a bit more until it was too dark to see.

I’m tired and scattered-feeling, but I wanted to post a few notes about
Landau while I was thinking of it.  According to one of Buchanan’s end
notes, "Landau’s explanation [of Kapitsa’s discovery?] later won him a Nobel
Prize.  He showed how the laws of quantum theory turn liquid helium at low
temperatures into ‘superfluid,’ a bizarre new liquid form of matter that lacks
any trace of internal friction.  A superfluid set swirling in a cup will
swirl forever, never coming to a rest." 

Buchanan builds up to this through a snaking series of segments on
ecosystems, networks and organic structures.  Buchanan’s explanation of the
molecular phases of water and Landau’s superfluid state strike me as incredibly
useful for retooling metaphors of ideational flow–thought, distributed. 
Next to his section on Tipping Points called "How Ideas Acquire People,"
Buchanan has me thinking that systems lacking "any trace of internal friction"
are so delicate that a superfluid state (superfluousness?) cannot prosper except
under artificially controlled conditions. Only with total control and
subjectivity is sustained superfluidity possible.  (Get your glue stick;
this is going to need some holding together.)