Aquatic Sensibility
The Cosmology of Water

Shin'ichi Takemura,
Anthropologist and Producer of sensorium

We live in extraordinary times. Everyday matters and events suddenly take on special meaning, look different. Everything we normally take for granted is changing fundamentally.

One source of this mind-shift is water.

The "Anomalous" Substance

We learn early and take it for granted that ice floats on water. No one ever got excited finding that out. Yet even this seemingly simple phenomenon is in its own way extraordinary and irregular, if you think of the common sense of science and the regular behavior of matter on the earth.

The regular pattern is that any material increases in density and specific gravity when it changes from a liquid to a solid. So, one would think that if you put the solid form (ice) on to the liquid form (water), it would sink. But the opposite is the case. When water becomes ice, its volume increases (that's why pipes leak in cold weather), and so its density and specific gravity decrease, and it floats on water.

Water's behavior is extremely irregular. This everyday substance is, in fact, like a familiar friend with a secret. Imagine what would it be like if it did not have its secrets. Lakes and oceans freeze only on their surfaces, thanks to the fact that ice floats on water. The underlying water retains a relatively constant temperature level, thus maintaining an environment favorable for the survival of aquatic creatures. Without this phenomenon, entire bodies of water would freeze through and through, leaving no room for organisms to evolve. (The life scientist Lyall Watson has long emphasized the meaning of this secret). Paradoxically, water's irregular nature is what provides the basic condition for the genesis of life on earth.

Nomadic Particles of Water
Water Isn't Just H

The irregular properties of water are strongly related to its molecular structure, in which the oxygen and the hydrogen atoms are combined at the unstable angle of 104.5 degrees. This instability makes water constantly changeable at the molecular level. Water exists amid a delicate tension between two forces: the tendency of the two hydrogen atoms to connect and form a large "H2O chain," a polymer or cluster: and the tendency of these chains to break up and dissipate.

More precisely, water is constantly changing substance, alternating from one moment to another. There is no permanent and constantly identical substance called "water" or "H
2O." These are loose nicknames of a fluid mass of nomadic particles/waves that turn kaleidoscopically into one substance and another.

Even more surprisingly, water's properties change constantly, depending on the molecular structure at a given moment.

Sensitive Water and Our Aquatic Sensibility

Some researchers indicate that water's bioactivity intensifies at times, and its ability to decompose polluting substances increases when a water cluster decreases in size. This feature might become a great contribution to such fields as medicine, agriculture and environmental preservation.

Pharmacologists are beginning to take seriously the idea that ordinary water may possess pharmacological efficacy. Some have arrived at the radical hypothesis that in traditional herbal medicine water is mixed with herbs "not as a means to facilitate the taking of the herbs, but in order for the herbs to alter the property of the water."

Given the flexible molecular structure of water, which allows it to retain the imprint of certain electromagnetic waves, it is no longer a naive poetic expression to say that water senses places, memorizes information and then transmits that information to another place or medium. Research has also indicated this point. Water is not a clumsy material: instead, it is a living organism, an information medium.

2O is certainly too weak and general a term for such a versatile being! This commonplace component of everyday life has suddenly revealed to us its mysterious and infinitely intriguing character. Water, with its flowing and ephemeral sensibility, urges us to discover our own aquatic sensibility, this marvelous versatility.

Water as the Sensory Interface of the Planet

T. Schwenck, a German hydraulics expert, described water as an information medium possessing a particular sensibility. He called it "sensitive chaos."

A scientist in the Romantic tradition of Goethe and R. Steiner, Schwenck finds a bio-information essence in the deep layers of the natural world. As a fragile interface that encircles the globe, water functions as a kind of sensory device for the living earth. It listens to the moon and other celestial bodies, reacts to various forces (gravitational/ electromagnetic), and imprints a variety of information on itself as it changes in shape.

Schwenck may not be the first to have seen this. Evidence shows that humanity has been aware of the essence of water as a sensory interface (or sensor), and has expressed this idea in various ways.

Folk cults, for example, have long assumed that the property of water changes with the waxing and the waning of the moon. They believe that water exhibits irregular behavior on days of the full moon, and on those days it is inadvisable to collect water. Conversely, in certain Hindu and Buddhist traditions, a ritual is performed in which offerings are made to deities on nights of the full moon: the water they offer is irradiated and blessed by moonlight.

The courses of rivers and patterns on the surface of water also change in relation to the moon and other celestial bodies. At the full moon, for instance, the surface of a pond of water swells in the center, while during a new moon it tends to "crawl" to shore. Lumberjacks, who are aware of this phenomenon, transport their logs at the full moon because at these times the logs do not get stuck on the shallow edges of rivers but float smoothly in the center of the stream.

Water constantly feels and reacts to the changing environment, altering its own shape. Humans react to water and its transformations: we possess an inherent sensibility to live in resonance with water.

Aquatic Communications Network

We live on a planet of water, and each one of us is a microcosm of water. We spend the very earliest parts of our lives in an aquatic environment, the perfectly packaged miniature ocean that is a mother's womb, and 70% of our bodies is water. Even when we are still and unmoving, various substances and kinds of information live within us as constantly flowing and whirling beings.

Within ourselves is the implicit order of the effects of the waxing and waning of the moon: our lives are a part of the macroscopic circulation of the water on this aquatic planet, which includes the ocean currents, river streams, clouds and rain.

We are walking water bags, just as trees are standing water columns. The rapport we have with the trees in a forest may be mediated and activated by a silent communication between the water elements within us and inside those trees. Water is indispensable to our makeup, and, moreover, we are connected to almost everything in this world via the medium of water. You are connected to a distant forest via tap: sewage from your kitchen and bathroom travel numerous kilometers through solid pipes like an extension of your intestines, to finally flow into the seas and make its contribution to the maritime ecosystem.

"Naga" and the Aquatic Cultural Network of Asia-Pacific

At the core of many Asian cultures, including Japan's, we find a traditional sense of being connected to water and variations of a water-based view of life. Throughout India, Southeast Asia, China and Japan, water has traditionally been worshipped in the popular and symbolic form of the dragon or snake Naga, the God of Water. These peoples share a deeply hydrophilic sense of life.

The book "Naga, God of Water," by Thai architect Sumet Jumsai and Buckminster Fuller, author of the classic "Spaceship Earth," is an exquisite treatise on their vision of aquatic culture.

The spirit of sensitivity toward water underlies the Japanese New Year ritual of rejuvenization called "waka-mizu-tori" (tapping vital water). In East Asia as a whole, it has influenced the engineering philosophy of water control and site selection through the reading of wind and water behavior. (fung-shui --see linked senses, the third verse "air" by Cai Guo Qiang)

In feudal Japan, the city of Edo (present-day Tokyo) was an aquatic city consisting of a vast network of canals. People then lived in constant contact and affinity with water. Look at the design of bridges during this period.

Designs on the bridges were more elaborate on the undersides than on the parapets and other aboveground elements so as to please the many people passing underneath. The bridges were for aquatic residents to look up at as they were for their land-based neighbors to walk over.

There is an expression in Japanese meaning "one fabric with a narrow belt of water between." This expression signifies our living close together, or being in a very intimate relationship with someone or something. It was used to point to the special role water played in linking people.

This sort of articulate cultural sensibility towards water was a contributing factor in the development of those particular spaces of intimate social interaction that were based around water and its various uses: the bath-house, neighborhood wells, tea ceremony houses, taverns, and so on. These spaces were indispensable to community life, entertainment, and even clandestine or intimate meetings.

Back-to-the-Water Revolution
A Perspective for "Homo Aquatics"

On the surface, people today seem to be far away from such an aquatic sensibility. But in fact there is a slowly emerging hope of a new human-water relationship. The first signs can be seen in some rather specialized fields: diving, "water birth" and experiments in interspecies communication, particularly with dolphins and some other aquatic mammals. I see great potential in this aquatic movement, and expect that it will exert a strong influence on our future civilization as a whole.

The renowned skin-diver Jacques Mayor swims side-by-side with dolphins, and from this collaborative experience he has acquired certain aquatic skills in body and respiratory movement, floating, and alternative states of consciousness. These things he has learned from dolphins are in fact inherent human traits that lay dormant after our departure from the womb. Having tapped back into his aquatic memory and instinct, Mayor has established a record for staying underwater at one hundred meters without breathing. He is showing us the aquatic potential that we all possess.

Actually, there are already a number of children who were delivered in water and who have maintained close contact with water. These dolphin-like kids enjoy playing underwater, where they can stay for long periods of time. Based on his own experience and such facts as these children's aquatic experiences, Mayor hypothesizes that humans may be amphibians capable of living both on the ground and in the water. He calls for yet another name for us: "homo delphinus." This is not the story of a "new breed" in the human community: I am not speaking of exceptional people.

Living as we do in a post-modern civilization, we are at the dawn of an era of new processes, a period when a more supple and mutually interactive sensibility might govern our culture.

Tentatively, let us call this a "Back-to-the-Water Revolution." Indeed, the restoration of our inherent aquatic sensibility is a major challenge as we face a new millennium.

[sensing Japan, Shibuya's interview part 1]
[sensing Japan, Shibuya's interview part 2]

[linked senses, "air" (Cai's essay)]

Theme pavilion "sensorium" (sensorium home page)
INTERNET 1996 WORLD EXPOSITION (World Public Park) / JAPAN (Japan EXPO home page)