Humid warm air in the room hits a cold window. The window is cooling down, the air near its surface. That cooled air can no longer hold as much water vapour and it condenses as water droplets on the window.
The droplets of water condensing on a window are a contextually enabled phenomenon. The constituent parts are always present – the window, the water molecules in the air – but the droplets only materialise on the window when the necessary conditions are changing to a limited set of conditions. If the window warms up, for example through sunshine, the droplets evaporate. If the window cools down even further, the droplets might freeze.
The interplay of constraints has to be just right for condensation to occur. We can only understand the condensation by understanding the current AND the past conditions within the regime of constraints. Condensates signal that feedback loops have closed in a particular way, that there is, at least temporarily, a new phase space within the regime.
This made me wonder if condensates might be a useful metaphor when describing phenomena that we can perceive as they occur when interdependent bottom-up context-sensitive constraints afford new possibilities. The constraint architecture is not yet stable. In the case of droplet condensation, the stability is only temporary, fleeting. No top-down constraint that could counteract changes in temperature (room or window) is emerging. There is a phase change with novel properties, but not yet permanence.
In chemistry, condensation can also mean a reaction in which two molecules combine at the loss of water molecules, i.e. where the outcome is a new molecule and water.
As a metaphor when thinking about configurations within constraint regimes, condensates are parts that experience a phase change due to changes in the configuration. They can be a tracer to new possibilities, desirable or not (droplets on the inside of your car’s windscreen in the morning are less romantic?). They might be an early warning sign of unintended consequences, or they might be leading indicators that the overall system is changing in the right direction. They might also be something noteworthy on their own.