A colleague recently pointed me an article by J.B.S. Haldane, of population genetics fame, entitled “On Being the Right Size.” It’s a good read and quick, and in it Haldane talks about evolution as a “struggle to increase surface in proportion to volume.”
Those of you following my interest in nano know that surface-to-volume ratios keep popping up all over the place, both as an explanation for novel phenomena only witnessed at the nano scale and as one of the main hindrances to stability in nanoscale systems. These issues, it turns out, are not just issues for nanosynthesis, which is pretty exciting when you think about it: what other scientific systems can be understood in terms of the struggle to maximize surface-to-volume ratios? What can we learn from studying systems in this way? What ways of understanding how theories work can promote insights of this sort, and what ways might inhibit that understanding?
On a related note, the new HBO documentary series The Weight of a Nation, which investigates research into obesity in a variety of modalities, makes the point in its first episode that the human body is designed to bear loads of a particular size. Above that scale bodily processes strain and weaken: joints ache, the liver freaks out, and of course there’s the diabeetus. Aligning a system with the scale at which it best functions, it seems, can save lives as well as provide insights of scientific and philosophical interest about the various constraints on a system’s behavior.