Friction: An under-appreciated aspect in relating with objects & people

pushing-thru-resistance1-300x207Friction is often considered a dirty word in the context of relating one person or thing to another. In the Thesaurus, next to friction you will find: conflict, opposition, hostility, resentment, disagreement, antagonism, resistance, erosion, and so on. Many people will also make an association with pain and difficulty when thinking of friction in their lives.

In my experience, friction is a key indicator of the quality of contact or connection (relationship) between two objects (or people).

What I consider to be a good quality bow hold/grip (I’m not a huge fan of the standard terminology by the way) is one that the friction of the skin of the fingers against the wood of the stick and frog is enough when force is applied through the arm to initiate movement of the bow or change direction of the bow. This type of friction is known as Static friction: friction between two or more solid objects that are not moving relative to each other. When this friction is established you can hold the bow without any squeezing or gripping of the bow with the muscles of the hand and doing less gripping actually increases friction. A 2012 study has demonstrated the potential for a negative coefficient of friction, meaning that a decrease in force leads to an increase in friction. This contradicts the common belief that an increase of normal force improves friction.

I’d also like to point out that the shape of the hand is much less important than the quality of the contact. Amontons’ second law of dry friction states that: The force of friction is independent of the apparent area of contact (the amount of surface area contact doesn’t really matter).

Friction between two objects that are moving in relation to one another(kinetic friction or sliding/rubbing) results in a release of energy. According to the law of conservation of energy, no energy is destroyed due to friction, though it may be lost to the system of concern. If we return to the bow as an example, if sliding occurs there is a loss of energy that would otherwise go into the string (probably in the form of heat). This release of energy can deteriorate the relationship and even the wear on the objects themselves.

Since we are looking at friction in the context of relating to people and things, we will call moving independently of the person or thing too little friction. When there is too little friction a solid connection is never established. The two objects can become completely separated or crash into each other violently.

Just the right amount of friction fosters a responsive connection that acts to unify the two objects in such a way that they can move together or in opposition to one another without losing energy or loosening the bond.

It is my belief that these principles go beyond the physical realm. For example: a couple that challenges each other to grow individually is a healthy form of friction. Too much friction in this relationship and the bond can become heated and deteriorate, too little friction and there is not enough of a bond between the two, allowing for them to move apart and/or occasionally bump into each other. With just the right amount of friction the two are responsive to each other’s movements and can move together or apart(in their interests and development) and simultaneously balance each other’s differences and needs. These dynamics can be found in all relationships.

Over the years I have learned not to fight or run away from friction, but rather to let myself meet and be challenged by it. This creates an internal condition of healthy working.

When working with the Alexander Technique, it is possible to undo changes in the shape of the body resulting from trauma and/or bad habits of using one’s self with extremely subtle manipulation from a teacher. I found the following physics principles to be insightful in the process: The change of an object’s shape is called strain. The force causing it is called stress. Stress does not necessarily cause permanent change. As deformation occurs, internal forces oppose the applied force. If the applied stress is not too large these opposing forces may completely resist the applied force, allowing the object to assume a new equilibrium state and to return to its original shape when the force is removed.

That new equilibrium state is what we are constantly trying to find, and it is an ever moving target. An AT teacher can help you learn to guide your own internal forces to oppose the forces of habit that are disturbing your equilibrium and keeping you from achieving your goals and full potential.

One thought on “Friction: An under-appreciated aspect in relating with objects & people

  1. Nice essay, John. I think your extending the physics concept of friction into the interpersonal realm is brilliant–and useful. Also its application to teaching: just today I was demonstrating in a class how a system can actually find additional freedom through the introduction of stress…although I didn’t couch it in those terms. Thanks for sharing this!

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