The Speeds of Change

Watching my son, now 8, grow is a fantastic lesson in the nature of change. There he'll be, all 3 feet 9 inches of him, when all of a sudden he begins eating voraciously, sleeping longer and then appears before me two weeks later standing 4 feet tall.  The same happens with his social and intellectual capacity — one day, he's struggling to make sense of the written word; the next, he's reading Hegel. 

This is all to say that change, while gradual, is not an even hum, a straight line that takes a body from one state to another. No, change is punctuated: there are periods of acceleration and longer periods of relative plateau.

And some changes are infinitely fast. Take the transition from nonsense to sense: a baby is babbling and then, one days, says, "Dada." Now, that "dada" at first is just the same old babbling, a fun sound to say. But when the enormous idiot with the big shnoz responds gleefully, "Yes, I''m Dada!" the babbling bundle of delight repeats it.

And then, one day, he says, "Dada" and means it.  That movement from nonsense to sense, from chaos to order, may involve a certain prolonged training but the change itself happens infinitely fast.

The relationship between training and transformation is complex. If I want to behave differently or understand something new and strange, I need to practice and concentrate. But the transformation itself will be sudden. And this acceleration can be disarming as old patterns, habits, and perspectives — our arms with which we take on the world — fall away very quickly.

But usually changes happen in the world around us — from the cosmic to the existential (as if the two were different) — without our awareness. After all, the world is in a relentless state of flux, everything at every level changing all the time. But this change is not even or gradual: it is punctuated, often violently.  Things turn on a dime as cosmic change accelerates, altering the infinite states of the universe at infinite speed.

For us, this means we may be cruising along when, suddenly, we are off our game — we stub our toes, lose our keys, feel disoriented.  Or we are suddenly oppressed by the conditions of the world or, hopefully, are fueled by them.  In a world that is essentially networked, the constant accelerations and plateaus of cosmic change affect us in innumerable ways.  Sudden unexplained change should come as no surprise. 

A key to survival amidst such tumult is always be prepared, poised for whatever may come because change happens fast and it happens behind your back.


Linz said...

Your last line made me think of Lennon's "Life is what happen to you while you're busy making other plans." Which is funny, because he said it in the context of thinking about his kid, too.

umpolung said...

You might already be familiar with this, but I came across it the other day (and it's another sense of the word "Dada" too...): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Swallow's_Tail

I guess that the only way to deal with sudden, unforeseeable change is to become one who can change with it: not entirely resisting or entirely giving in, but yielding to it, in a sense. Sort of like the jiu-jitsu principle that "force should never be met with force" but instead a leveraging of that force in a way that you both go with it and go with it on your own terms.

You can sort of see this played out if you ever take the bus and watch people who are standing up. It's really clear who is new to the city and who has been there forever...the former clings white-nuckled and is completely rigid while the latter just sort of holds on loosely, ready to swing around to redirect the stopping force to his advantage. Both get to the same place at the same time and for the same amount of money, but only one struggles.

Daniel Coffeen said...

@ umpolung: This is fantastic. The bus figure works well as it has moments of acceleration that throw the body and extended moments of plateau. Life, I suppose, is like this bus ride only we can't see out the window and don't know why the bus is stopping or accelerating — or even where it's going.