Can a single molecule of water be characterized as liquid, odorless, colorless,…?

Here is an interesting question:

We know that water is liquid, colorless, odorless, and has several other unique properties. Does a single molecule of water have these same properties? Or is it the case that water molecules exhibit these properties only in the aggregate? One can ask this question about aggregation of all kinds of things: atoms, molecules, neurons, computer code, genetic material, ….

While I have thought about this question independently, I am not the first person to pose such a question. In fact, I recently stumbled on a book by Paul Humphreys (a philosopher of science at U. of Virginia) who has collected a series of articles on the new science of “Emergence”. The idea is that certain systems exhibit properties in the aggregate that seem to “emerge” without any clear reductionist explanation to the properties of its constituent parts. The slogan, which is very well-known, is that “The whole is greater than the sum of parts”. The idea of emergence is variously explained through concepts such as irreducibility, unpredictability etc. It is still very much a developing scientific discipline and hence the current state-of-the-art is mostly philosophical discussions by philosophers and scientists.

As I read further I plan to blog about this topic, which I find fascinating.


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