Fluidity and solidness

Updated: Mar 9

Double, double toil and trouble; fire burn and cauldron bubble.

-Shakespeare, Macbeth

“Having this in view, the Creator mingled earth with fire and water and mixed with them a ferment of acid and salt, so as to form pulpy flesh.”

-Plato, Timaeus (1873)

The concept of mixing solidness with fluidity, or the respective characteristics of things in these states, and doing so in a marginal way, not completely erasing the behavior or characteristics of the original solid or fluid, is essential to the cosmic cycle of Empedocles, Timaeus' (Plato's) description of the creation of the universe, the Ancient Chinese philosophy of Yin and Yang, liquid crystal science, biological membranes, organic evolution, the substance of life, especially the brain, and it occurs frequently in aesthetic phenomena such as idioms, metaphors, rhymes, poems, lyrics, stories, jokes, paintings and architecture, as well as philosophy, mythology, religion and dreams.

Empedocles devised a classification system for nonliving things consisting of fire, air, water and earth, which, he said, were caught up together in a cyclic alternation between a singular cosmic sphere of "Love" and a multitudinous chaotic cosmic swirl of “Strife.” When the associative force Love is dominant the elements are pulled together and mix into the “One,” where life is not possible because Strife is missing. And when Strife, or dissociation, comes to dominate the sphere swirls apart into the “Many,” so that the elements are divided, and again there’s no life, now because there's nothing left of Love. It's only when Love and Strife are in a relative balance and the elements are mingling together in a hospitable middle condition that life comes into existence.

Plato gives a description of how the universe was formed in the Timaeus:

“Now that which is created is of necessity corporeal and visible and tangible,—visible and therefore made of fire,—tangible and therefore solid and made of earth. But two terms must be united by a third, which is a mean between them; and had the earth been a surface only, one mean would have sufficed, but two means are required to unite solid bodies. And as the world was composed of solids, between the elements of fire and earth God placed two other elements of air and water, and arranged them in a continuous proportion—

fire : air :: air : water, and air : water :: water : earth,

and so put together a visible and palpable heaven, having harmony and friendship in the union of the four elements; and being at unity with itself it was indissoluble except by the hand of the framer.”

“He was finished and smooth, having neither eyes nor ears, for there was nothing without him which he could see or hear; and he had no need to carry food to his mouth, nor was there air for him to breathe; and he did not require hands, for there was nothing of which he could take hold, nor feet, with which to walk. All that he did was done rationally in and by himself, and he moved in a circle turning within himself, which is the most intellectual of motions; but the other six motions were wanting to him; wherefore the universe had no feet or legs....”

“God took of the unchangeable and indivisible and also of the divisible and corporeal, and out of the two he made a third nature, essence, which was in a mean between them, and partook of the same and the other, the intractable nature of the other being compressed into the same. Having made a compound of all the three, he proceeded to divide the entire mass…” (Plato 1892).

To the extent it’s right to assume a brain is hotter when its owner is angry, excited or otherwise aroused in a simple way, we should expect it to be more fluid as well, given that fluidity naturally increases with temperature, and there should be evidence for this in language and culture. That fluidity is related to anger and sexual excitement in the mind may explain the popularity of the expressions: “stirring up trouble,” “cause a stir,” “boil over,” “spitting mad,” “spiting fire,” “cast aspersions,” “blow off steam,” “blood was boiling,” “blood in the water,” “fuming,” “huffing and puffing,” “fan the flames,” “simmer down,” “blow your top,” “for crying out loud,” “come hell or high water,” “have a meltdown,” “sow the wind and reap the whirlwind,” “mix like oil and water,” “stewing,” “mad as a wet hen,” “on thin ice,” “don't make waves,” “add fuel to the fire,” “where there’s smoke there’s fire,” “turbulent times,” “trouble is brewing,” “sleep with the fishes,” “take a licking,” “steam your beam,” “coffee and love taste best when hot,” “foaming at the mouth,” “drooling over,” “steamy,” “juicy,” “smokeshow,” “a tall drink of water,” “take my breath away,” “sleazy” and “blow air with the bellows,” a Spanish idiom for sex.

Other expressions involving fluidity also suggest that we find it exciting: “get a second wind,” “shower with praise,” “walk on water,” “gain steam,” “souped up,” “cream of the crop,” “take the wind out of your sails,” “sail close to the wind,” “open the floodgates,” “blow way out of proportion,” “have a gas,” “make a splash,” “the sky is the limit,” “stir things up a little,” “uncharted waters,” “gushing,” “get fired,” “blow it out of the water,” “sizzle and no steak,” “waiting with bated breath,” “it’s a gas,” “cooking with gas,” “all gas and gaiters,” “weak sauce,” “outpouring” “up a creek without a paddle,” “pleased as punch,” and “the calm before the storm.” In China the phrase “deep water and scorching fire” is used to describe terror and suffering; “a drop of water doesn’t leak” means a situation that is completely under control. “Jiayou,” literally meaning “add oil” in Mandarin, according to Wikipedia, is a ubiquitous expression meaning good luck. And from Empedocles in Ancient Greece: “But, O ye gods, turn aside from my tongue the madness of those men. Hallow my lips and make a pure stream flow from them!” “Don’t cry over spilled milk,” seems to reflect the idea that fluidity and disorder are more problematic in perception than reality. “No sweat” is similar, meaning no trouble and the absence of a fluid. “A tempest in a teapot” illustrates the same idea, that fluidity is conceptually exciting, saying the reason for excitement is like a fluid, but not to worry, the fluid is contained in a small, harmless solid object. “A drop in the bucket” uses the insignificance of a small amount of fluid to indicate needless excitement. “Like water off a duck’s back,” “on thin ice” and “keep your head above water” are similar. Meanwhile dryness is often associated with lack of excitement as in “like watching paint dry,” “cut and dried,” and “dry humor.” Also evidently exciting are “Feng Shui,” which translates as “wind water,” and “Christ,” which comes from Khristos (Χριστός) in Greek, meaning smeared with oil. Power Thesaurus currently gives “boring,” and “dull” as the top synonyms for “dry.” Associations between low excitement and solidness, inwardness (boring), holes, flatness (dull), lack of spikiness or projections (roundness) are also evident in language. Fluidity is similarly essential to certain actions within behaviors related to anger, sex, and other strong emotions among terrestrial animals such as crying, drooling, kissing and spitting.

Various other common expressions which reference fluidity in a way that is not literally relevant and therefore may be of interest include: “stem the tide,” “mainstream,” “spitting image,” “fountain of youth,” “blood, sweat and tears,” “walk on water,” “tailwinds,” “headwinds,” “head in the clouds,” “take a spill,” “air tight,” “shoot the breeze,” “clouded judgment,” “secret sauce,” “sea legs,” “ripple effect,” “it’s an ill wind,” “carry the water for,” “long winded,” “spill the beans,” “all wet,” “pouring over,” “bloody,” “the foggiest idea,” “fair weather friend,” “air grievances,” “airhead,” “the rising tide,” “change horses midstream,” “a far cry,” “under the weather,” “swimming upstream,” “wet your whistle,” “get hosed,” “off the deep end,” “dip your toe in the water,” “salvation” and “crocodile tears.”

Meanwhile, we refer idiomatically to rocks and stones, bones, hardness, metal, ice, teeth, shell, nails and other solidness that doesn’t literally exist regularly in conversation, as in the following expressions: “rock solid,” “solidify the relationship,” “stepping stone,” “stone faced,” “stonewalling,” “rock on,” “on the rocks,” “stone deaf,” “the cornerstone,” “hard to handle,” “hard stare,” “sleep hard,” “a solid job,” “solid pay,” “nickel and dime me to death,” “steel yourself,” “bring a knife to a gun fight,” “on a knife’s edge,” “it cuts like a knife,” “like a hot knife,” “heavy metal,” “an axe to grind,” “nose to the grindstone,” “a bone to pick,” “cut to the bone,” “knock on wood,” “walking on eggshells,” “come out of your shell,” “all bells and whistles,” “ironclad,” “petal to the metal,” “a magic bullet,” “bite the bullet,” “tip of the iceberg,” “sweet tooth,” “tooth fairy,” “fight tooth and nail,” “red in tooth and claw,” “a hen’s tooth,” “long in the tooth,” “clean as a hound’s tooth,” “gold digger,” “man of steel,” “iron man,” “dead pan,” “pave the way,” “gag me with a spoon,” and “you are my rock.”

Fluidity and solidness in expressions

Works Cited

Open Source Shakespeare: Search Shakespeare's Works, Read the Texts.George Mason 25 December 2020.

Plato. Republic. Timaeus. Critias. United States, Scribner, 1892. Google Books.

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