More Individual As We Fall


by Zoë Pollock

Adam Gopnik ruminates on the snowflake, and how we've imprinted our own neuroses on them over time:

 In 1988, a cloud scientist named Nancy Knight (at the National Center for Atmospheric Researchlet’s not defund it) took a plane up into the clouds over Wisconsin and found two simple but identical snow crystals, hexagonal prisms, each as like the other as one twin to another, as Cole Sprouse is like Dylan Sprouse. Snowflakes, it seems, are not only alike; they usually start out more or less the same.

Yet if this notion threatens to be depressingwith the suggestion that only the happy eye of nineteenth-century optimism saw special individuality hereone last burst of searching and learning puts a brighter seasonal spin on things. “As a snowflake falls, it tumbles through many different environments,” an Australian science writer named Karl Kruszelnicki explains. “So the snowflake that you see on the ground is deeply affected by the different temperatures, humidities, velocities, turbulences, etc, that it has experienced on the way.” Snowflakes start off all alike; their different shapes are owed to their different lives.

(Image from Westport, Connecticut, where much of the northeast has been hit by snowstorm, by Spencer Platt/Getty.)