People, Places, and Particles.

How the heat in a system affects how, where, and with whom we want to live.

Aaron Mayer


[Originally posted on Substack — sign up here]

I’ve been thinking a lot about colleges recently.

College is exciting and stimulating for many reasons, but in my experience, the best part of school was the ability to meet people (whether after classes or in clubs) and be quite confident that I would have a positive interaction.

I felt as if I had something to learn from every encounter, and that was a strong motivator for me to get outside my dorm room and be sociable. For the most part, everyone in school was approachable, and so these interactions happened very often.

We can imagine a college campus as a closed system, with each person inside behaving like a gas particle. For gases, heat is measured by the kinetic energy of particles within a closed system, and since the likelihood of whizzing around and colliding with another interesting person is very high on a college campus, we can say that college is a heated environment.

After graduating, though, and moving to a big place like New York City, the boundaries of one’s enclosure suddenly become much wider and there’s more room for the particles to spread out. This makes the system a lot colder.

The good news is that this widening of boundaries is compensated by a much larger volume of particles (people) in the city with whom we can collide. The bad news is that even though you may find yourself surrounded by people, they aren’t necessarily approachable people you can genuinely interact with, and so they might as well not exist.

Yes, you can strike up conversations on the subway, but I wouldn’t recommend it.

Still, there’s hope for infusing some much needed heat into the system, it just needs to be done intentionally.

As someone who’s been living in NYC for 2 years since graduating, I can attest that the first few months were difficult, but after being more intentional with the people I spent time with and the places I spent time in, I gradually found communities that supplied the missing heat I needed.

Now, I feel confident going to House of Yes or an Effective Altruism NYC event knowing that I’ll likely bump into people with whom I can have…