Everday I watch a cloud for five minutes. Every minute I take a photograph of the same patch of sky where I first started tracking the cloud. Every day I understand a little more and a little less about what's going on .
On Wednesday the small puffy cumulus cloud I chose vanished completely in 3 minutes, leaving me with photos of a patch of blue sky. Because I wanted to post some nice cloud photos with this blog, I turned to antoher part of the sky for another five-minute cloud.
This time, aimed my camera at a slightly denser cloud. It moved across the sky, it changed its shape, but I could track it over five minutes before it vanished behind the trees. Which made me wonder, when is a cloud a mass that retains its "self" as it moves across the sky and when is a cloud the result of what is happening in a particular patch of the sky at any given time. That is, does the cloud move along--being the same cloud as it moves--or does it form on the leading edge and dissipate on the traling edge so that it seems to be the same cloud.
This meteorological conundrum reminds me of the problem of the soul, of the self, of knowing how much of "me" remains "me" over time every cell in my body is constantlly being renewed (at different rates and not precisely every 7 years as the myth holds).
The water that makes up clouds, like the cells that make up our bodies, are in a state of constant flux. Clouds are more dynamic and life out their lives in moments not years. The kind of change and the speed of change within a cloud is mind-boggling and only a fraction of it is visible to us with the naked eye. In addition to the visible water molecules that make up a cloud, there are invisible molecules of water vapor influencing the form of the cloud.
The "cloud" we think we are watching is both a product of the atmospheric conditions in a particular patch of sky (which bring it into existence) and also an entity which moves as a unit for a while until the atmospheric conditions change and transform the cloud and we no longer recognize it.
At what point does the cloud we started watching become a different cloud? Well, at what point does a loved one's face age?
All the time and never. Take a look at this cloud. I watched it for five minutes, but I didn't notice the changes it was undergoing until I looked at my photographs, taken one minute apart..