Change

So far, I carefully avoided the topic of change, presenting my problem-solving realm in a delightfully modernist manner. “See phenomenon? Make a model of it! Bam! Now we’re cooking with gas.”

Alas, despite its wholesome appeal, this picture is incomplete. Change is ever-present. As the movie title says, everything, everywhere, all at once – is changing, always. Some things change incomprehensibly quickly and some change so slowly that we don’t even notice the change. At least, at first. And this ever-changing nature of the environment around us presents itself as its own kind of force.

While the force of homeostasis is pushing us toward routine, the force of change is constantly trying to upend it. As a result of these forces dancing around each other, our problems tend to walk the awkward gait of punctuated equilibrium: an effective solution appears to have settled down, then after a while, a change unmoors it and the understanding process repeats. The punctuated equilibrium pattern appears practically everywhere, indicating that this might be another general pattern that falls out of the underlying processes of mental modeling.

Throughout this repeating sequence, the flux and effectiveness components wobble up and down, just like we expect them to. However, something interesting happens with the model diversity: it continues to grow in a stair-step pattern.

If you’ve read my stories before, you may recognize the familiar stair-step shape from my ongoing fascination, the adult development theory (ADT). It seems to rhyme, doesn’t it? I wonder if the theory itself is a story that is imposed upon a larger, much more fractally manifesting process of mental modeling. The ADT stages might be a just slice of it, discerned by a couple of very wise folks and put into a captivating narrative.

Every revolution of the process of understanding adds to our model, making us more capable of facing the next round of change. Sometimes this process is just refining the model. Sometimes it’s a transformational reorganization of it. This is how we learn.

Moreover, this might be how we are. This story of learning is such a part of our being that it is deeply embedded into culture and even has a name: the hero’s journey. The call to the adventure, the reluctance, the tribulations, and facing the demons to finally reveal the boon and bring it back to my people is a deeply emotional description of the process of understanding. And often, it has the wishful “happily ever after” bookend — because this would be the last change ever, right? It’s another paradox. It seems that we know full well that change is ever-present, yet we yearn for stability.

For me, this rhymes with the notion of Damasio’s homeostasis. Unlike the common belief that homeostasis is about equilibrium, in Strange order of Things, he talks how, from our perspective, homeostasis is indeed about reaching a stable state… and then leaning a bit forward to ensure flourishing. It’s like our embodied intuition accepts the notion of change and prepares us for it, despite our minds continuing to weave stories of eternal bliss.

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