Ice is a mystery. How can something so fundamental take so many roles in our society? Water is water, we drink it, we swim in it, and we bathe in it. That’s it. But ice, the solid form of the reliable liquid we call water, is anything but reliable.
Let me take you back to your infancy. You wake up one morning, and you look outside, but the grass outside isn’t green anymore, it’s white. Yes, it was your first time seeing snow and you couldn’t contain your excitement. You fumble down the stairs, half run, half stumble to the front door, open it, and run outside. But what happened? You slipped and fell on that stuff called black ice. But that wasn’t the only thing that happened, when you fell, you skidded across the ice, and you got a burn mark! You ask yourself how could something so slippery be abrasive enough that it burns you worse than the carpet did back in your crawling days?
Fast-forward ten years, and you are in chemistry class. By now, you are familiar with ice. You know it as that really cold stuff that makes whatever it touches cold too. But then your chemistry teacher tells you to put your rubber gloves on before handling the dry ice he got from the corner store or else the ice will burn you. “Burn me!?!?” you ask yourself. “Since when does ice burn? I put ice on my burns!” But again, you have encountered yet another mystical property of that solid form of water.
Then later that year, you are playing soccer, and you hurt your ankle. The coach mysteriously comes at you with a bag of ice. “Get that away from me” you say. “I hate ice feels when it touches my skin!” But he ignores you, and puts the bag on your foot anyway. You want to yell at him more, but you are overcome by sheer jubilation as the ice seems to melt the pain in your ankle away.
We, as a society try to compartmentalize our definitions of “ice” in order to have them fit nicely into these experiences. However, when we get to the basics of it, ice is ice. There are other types of materials that have similar properties to ice, but none of those materials are quite as universal as ice. With ice, we all experience first hand that there is always more to everything than our senses let tell us. It’s a case where our senses, specifically our sense of touch, will continually lie to our brain. Ice is almost too complex for our sense of touch to fully understand what it is. We all experience ice differently in different environments. That traumatic experience you had when you gave yourself that ice burn probably convinced you that ice was a pretty sticky surface until you were at least ten.
The way we define things through our senses depends on our experiences and our environment. There is no such thing as a universal touch or feel that something has; it’s just our brain tricking us. So go ahead and stick a piece of ice to your ear while you convince yourself that you will get burnt; you may be surprised what you feel.