We can do the same type of functionality analysis on natural phenomena such as a stream, a cloud, sunshine, or a glacier. Let’s try it on a glacier. First we have to define our objective or function of interest for the glacier (you have to know a little bit about glaciers to do this, but it’s easy to follow along if you don’t). Let’s assume that our objective really just reflects typical glacial behavior: to continually grow or gain new snow and ice on the upper parts while the lower parts continually move downslope and degenerate into meltwater.
According to #1 of our requirements for functionality, for this glacier to continually grow on one side and melt or slough off on the other, it must have internal designs, conditions, and forces that support this objective. For a glacier, these would be an ability to transform snow to packed ice, and an ability for that ice to melt at warmer temperatures, and essentially to flow under pressure. The external design/conditions/forces (second requirement for functionality) that enable this often are a mountainside with cold winters, cool summers, and ample snowfall. That’s it. We’re done with what is required for our hypothetical glacier to behave like a typical glacier.
Now to broaden our understanding, we want to also determine things that will prevent the glacier from achieving its objective. In this case, this means to prevent it from behaving like a typical glacier. Recall that all objects, groups of objects, systems, contraptions, and organizations of any kind are unable to function well for or toward a given objective or purpose if they have a prevalence of these two things:
- Internal designs, conditions, or forces that limit, weaken, or fail to support the objective.
- External designs, conditions, or forces that limit, weaken, or fail to support the objective.
We said that to work well with regard to its internal design/conditions/forces, the glacier would need the ability to transform snow to ice, and the ability for that ice to melt at warmer temperatures, and to essentially flow under pressure. Now we have to turn this around in the logical sense. Very simply, if water and ice had different physical properties, the whole glacier thing might not work.
If, for example, water had the physical properties of sand, our accumulating sand piles would never compress into rock (like snow compresses into ice chunks), and if they did solidify, the rock wouldn’t tend to flow downslope (the way ice does under pressure). Another way to imagine a failed glacier would be one in which salt was spread on the surface after every snowfall, causing the snow to melt and preventing thick ice from ever forming.
We said that to work well with regard to its external design/conditions/forces, the glacier would need to be on a mountainside with cold winters, cool summers, and ample snowfall. What if we take any of these things away? Take away cold winters, and there is no period when ice accumulates. If summers are too hot, there is too much melting relative to ice accumulation. If there isn’t enough snowfall, the glacier will not form, or will evaporate and sublimate rather than accumulate. Put the glacier on a flat area, and it could still exist, but it might need more snow to survive a seasonal onslaught of sunshine, and it will flow more like a flattening pancake, rather than the downslope movement that is more typical.
A Glacier Example continues…