Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The Wind Chill Doesn't Care About Your "Feelings"

The idea of a wind-chill factor is confusing. Our ordinary understanding is that wind chill refers to the way that things feel. It might be a temperature of 10 degrees outside, but with a certain amount of wind, they say it can feel like it's -10 degrees. But this is where the concept gets strange, because we commonly believe that feelings vary among people, and so it is presumptuous to quantify such things without a survey. This patron at Bent River Brewing Company, for example, responds to a cold Quad Cities day by putting on a hefty coat, while quite happy to have wind chill factoring its way up his legs, from ankles to crotch.

But what really is the difference between the supposed actual temperature, and the wind chill factor? In the objective world, it means nothing. Water does not freeze if the wind chill drops things below 32 degrees. Practically speaking, there seems to be no difference. One can get frostbite from a temperature of -10 as much as from a temperature of 10 with a wind chill of -10. So feelings, in one sense, are irrelevant. A person with a strong sense of tolerance for the cold, one who doesn't give a crap about your cold-weather complaining, is just as likely to get frostbite as you are. Wind chill, after all, does not care about your feelings, or your lack thereof.

An episode of Car Talk in which a caller asked about whether starting a car is affected by wind chill prompted some thoughtful discussion. The Tappers had said that a car wouldn't be affected because cars do not feel, but that is an incomplete answer. A car sitting in a fierce wind will lose heat faster than if it were sitting in the calm cold, and the colder a car is, the more difficult, presumably, it is to start. Once the heat is lost, however, wind doesn't matter, since a stopped car does not generate heat.

Just like the proverbial tree falling in the deserted forest and making no sound, a car sitting in a cold parking lot over vacation with no one there to drive it is not cold. Pluto is not cold. And even if Pluto had an atmosphere, there would be no wind chill factor -- until we consider what it would be like for us to be on Pluto. This giving-of-a-crap is the important factor.

There are a number of failed expeditions up Mount Everest, and the human race appears not to have the ability to retrieve the bodies. They are statues in the frozen air. It seems to be part of the allure of the expedition to pass these objects knowing that you, unlike them, are still subjected to wind chill.
This is where the idea of the wind-chill factor is interesting. It is both a subjective and an objective concept. It is subjective in that it is relevant to subjects rather than objects; and it is objective in that it refers to an objective fact among those subjects, namely the danger of lost heat for the physical objects associated with those subjectivities. The metaphysical theories of idealism, materialism, and dualism are all topics to be discussed in relation to the concept of wind chill. So it's no wonder that wind-chill is confusing: it draws you into the mind-body problem.
-- Tadd Ruetenik