A&O – CHANGE

ART & ORGANISM

notes on CHANGE

֎

 

we pursue the stillpoint

but cannot escape change…

.

There is a mode of vital experience‑‑experience of space and time, of the self and others, of life’s possibilities and perils‑‑that is shared by men and women all over the world today.  I will call this body of experience “modernity.”  To be modern is to find ourselves in an environment that promises us adventure, power, joy, growth, transformation of ourselves and the world‑‑and, at the same time, that threatens to destroy everything we have, everything we know, everything we are.  Modern environments and experiences cut across all boundaries of geography and ethnicity, of class and nationality, of religion and ideology:  in this sense, modernity can be said to unite all mankind.  But it is a paradoxical unity, a unity of disunity:  it pours us all into a maelstrom of perpetual disintegration and renewal, of struggle and contradiction, of ambiguity and anguish.  To be modern is to be part of a universe in which, as Marx said, “all that is solid melts into air.” 

–Marshall Berman (1982) All That is Solid Melts into Air 

.

ART speaks to change:

There are no fixtures in nature. The universe is fluid and volatile. Permanence is but a word of degrees” (Emerson (1841) from “Circles,” Essay X in  Essays: First Series, 1841.)  [like TRUTH]

and to PERMANENCE:
“Art has something to do with the achievement of stillness in the midst of chaos. A stillness which characterizes prayer, too, and the eye of the storm—an  arrest of attention in the midst of distraction.” [such stillness is a precious “momentary stay against confusion,” as Frost called it.].  As Ellen Handler Spitz put it, “the aesthetic ideal dissolves categories of time and space and absorbs into itself past memories and anticipation of the future” (1985:142).
 
 
 
 
DOES ANYTHING LAST FOREVER? what about the truths of ephemerality and transience: read HERE

 

 

BIOLOGICALLY we are concerned with CHANGE at two levels — individual development and evolutionary change, The former involves change within an individual as it grows and matures … is inevitable in any organism that must cope with a changing environment.  [development in A&O]  assimilating or accommodating new experiences.  It begins with conception and ends with demise.   The later involves change between generations as organisms coping with the constraints of their environments communicate biologically relevant information to subsequent generations. . [evolution in A&O]  .. As change relates to TRAITS that animals manifest, they can also be referred to as PROXIMATE and ULTIMATE, implying the distance between the processes that led to change and its manifestation.

.

 

“A MAELSTROM OF PERPETUAL DISINTEGATION AND RENEWAL…”

 

The human body replaces its own cells regularly. Scientists at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, have finally pinned down the speed and extent of this “turnover.” About a third of our body mass is fluid outside of our cells, such as plasma, plus solids, such as the calcium scaffolding of bones. The remaining two thirds is made up of roughly 30 trillion human cells. About 72 percent of those, by mass, are fat and muscle, which last an average of 12 to 50 years, respectively. But we have far more, tiny cells in our blood, which live only three to 120 days, and lining our gut, which typically live less than a week. Those two groups therefore make up the giant majority of the turnover. About 330 billion cells are replaced daily, equivalent to about 1 percent of all our cells. In 80 to 100 days, 30 trillion will have replenished—the equivalent of a new you.” (Fischetti & Christiansen 2021)[i]  The graphic is excellent: see it at Scientific American Graphic Science April 2021 p 76 

The level of organization of our primary interest is the human organism, but for perspective, know that the disintegration and renewal that characterizes change occurs also at the cosmic level: about 275 million stars are born and die each day  (Cornell University)  

.

UNDERSTANDING CHANGE, TRANSFORMATION, TRANSPARENCY: Although Life must be lived forwards, as Kierkegaard said, it must be understood backwards.[1]  Memories and imagination are all we have. 

DEVELOPMENTAL BIOLOGY.

OUR BODIES and MINDS ARE IN CONSTANT FLUX:  With respect to COGNITION and PROXIMATE CAUSATION we must remain aware that every percept, every construct, reaches its place within an organism after being passed through the lenses …  or the Procrustean beds … of every preceding percept or construct.  It is trimmed or enlarged, sanitized or sullied, disfigured or disguised, all in the interest of assimilation or accommodation to all its predecessors  We are creatures of these constructions

EVOLUTIONARY BIOLOGY.

OUR TRAITS ARE IN CONSTANT FLUX:  Much as the mental constructs of any particular individual are filtered through all preceding constructs, all traits which are transmitted from generation to generation can only be understood in the light of the past roles of its central constituents as well as their allies and their adversaries, at every level of organization from biochemical to morphological.  Every change in a trait, from imperceptibly slow through startlingly sudden and dramatic is built on millions of generations of precedent, millions of generations of each trait negotiating its place in the organism with a myriad of shifting alliances with other traits. An endless jostling of traits maximizing their functionality in the light of their host’s prime NEED of the moment, and ultimately to self-actualize.  “… the reasons for the evolutionary origin of a structure can rarely be found in the functions of its more elaborate, much later form. For example, feathers did not begin to evolve because of selection for the ability to fly. To put it another way (one that would have appealed to Stephen Jay Gould), exaptation is everywhere.”  (from Wallace Arthur’s review of Perspectives in Animal Phylogeny and Evolution, by Alessandro Minelli (OUP 2009) in Science 323:717 .. complete review)

ALL that is NEW … every innovation of individual or species  has the potential to affect biological fitness.  “Transformatively new innovations “have to be emplaced in already existing organizational forms, social structures, and biographies. … they must be accepted and altered in such a way that they identify and meet latently present needs.” So the shock of the new is conveyed and modulated through the arrangements and understandings of the old. Innovation is a process of mutual accommodation, its success dependent as much on societal receptivity and the quality of communication and integration with existing social forms as on the sacred spark of its inventor.”  –(Edw J Hackett  reviewing Insatiable Curiosity  by Helga Nowotny 2008 in Science16 Jan 2009 pp340-341)   .

BUT we can turn also to PHYSIOLOGY for insight about “how long is NOW; and the inextricability of MEMORY and IMAGINATION.  (Read Miller’s (2007) brief essay on their surprising connection)

.

CHANGE in the BRAIN:

The brain is waking and with it the mind is returning. It is as if the Milky Way entered upon some cosmic dance. Swiftly the head mass becomes an enchanted loom where millions of flashing shuttles weave a dissolving pattern, always a meaningful pattern though never an abiding one; a shifting harmony of subpatterns.

–Charles Sherrington (1942) Man on His Nature

Underscores the point that even the connections between discrete entities are in constant flux–disintegration and renewal, as Marshall Berman said of “modernity” (above) 

.

ART speaks to change:

“We all live on the great, dynamic web of change.  It links us to one another and, in some ways, to everything in the past.  And in the way that each of us influences the course of events, it also links us to the future we are all busy making, every second.  No matter how remote all these links may seem, over space and time, they are real.  No person acts without causing change on the web.  Each one of us has an effect, somewhere, somewhen.  Everybody contributes to the process.  In some way, anything we do makes history, because we are history.  The web is the expression of our existence, and of all those who went before us, and all who will come after us.”  (James Burke, from his book: ‘The Pinball Effect’; via PhysLink July 15, 1998).

.

BELIEF

amongst the most resistant to change which is often seen as an EXISTENTIAL THREAT (especially when we identify with our beliefs).   For example, 

In the course of centuries the naïve self-love of men has had to submit to two major blows at the hands of science. The first was when they learnt that our earth was not the centre of the universe but only a tiny fragment of a cosmic system of scarcely imaginable vastness… the second blow fell when biological research destroyed man’s supposedly privileged place in creation and proved his descent from the animal kingdom and his ineradicable animal nature… But human megalomania will have suffered its third and most wounding blow from the psychological research of the present time which seeks to prove to the ego that it is not even master in its own house, but must content itself with scanty information of what is going on unconsciously in its mind.   — Sigmund Freud (1916)  Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis (1916), in James Strachey (ed.), The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud (1963), Vol. 16, 284-5.

 

 

To CHANGE is to experience stress

[maintain a vivid sense of the paradoxical nature of stress, its ability to destroy as well as stimulate creative adaptation (“disintegration and renewal”): envision the stress response curve while thinking about this.]  Coping with change implicitly or explicitly energizes us at every level:  consistent with the idea that reason is our way of rationalizing feelings or intuitions. (This opens the possibility of being right for the wrong reasons as well as being profoundly misguided.)  Circumstances “conspire” to cause phenomena, but the term is almost always used to refer to constellations of circumstances which are speculative or hypothetical and applied to justify or explain beliefs that are typically very unlikely.  In practice they are used to justify feelings contrary to those for which much more broadly validated evidence is available, and as such represents a profound and often pernicious bias. 

     Paranoia in the face of complexity–reasonable when we are overwhelmed with competing possibilities:  Reading recent (2021) blip from NYRB online, Matt Seaton is speaking with Hari Kunzru about conspiracy theories, fiction, complexity, and UFOs “… in his book, Red Pill, Kunzru seems to speak to the pervasiveness of paranoia [represented by some of the conspiracy theories advocated by the far right]—a cast of mind that can ensnare and consume any of us….” 

“I think we’re living through a moment when the inhuman scale and complexity of the world has been made visible to us. We are uncomfortably aware of all the things that we don’t know, and we are reacting in human ways. Paranoia is understandable, even logical. Conspiracy theories promise an artificial simplification of these vast, unknowable forces. If there are just a few gray men in a Davos boardroom pulling the levers, then the world is potentially knowable. It’s hard, but necessary, to give up that hope.”  

[related to “inhuman scale and complexity:”    “To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything is itself to succumb to the violence of our times. Frenzy destroys our inner capacity for peace.  It destroys the fruitfulness of our work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.” –Thomas  Merton]

 

TO LEARN is to CHANGE

New experiences either consolidate and strengthen our current understanding, or we adopt a more adaptive understanding. 

New experiences either consolidate and strengthen our current understanding, or we adopt a more adaptive understanding. 

TRANSFORMATIVE LEARNING is manifest in a student’s experience of change from merely knowing course content to realizing its relevance in their personal and professional lives.

This kind of change is shadowed by the Piagetian distinction between assimilation (enlarging; incorporating new knowledge in to a data base that is coherent in  a specific theory, model, or world-view) and accommodation (changing shape; changing a theory, model, or world-view in order to allow novel experiences and new knowledge).

The difference between knowing and realizing reflects affective as well as cognitive depth. Realizing involves an aesthetic sense of gratification that imparts confidence in one’s understanding or insight – an intuitive sense of its truth.

(in 2015 I led a transdisciplinary research team in a conference presentation–read the short abstract) –or you can cut to the chase: read the A&O Parable of the Two Philosophers that inspired the research…)

.

CONNECTIONS CREATE, CONNECTIONS CHANGE

CHANGETHE TEACHABLE MOMENT —  THE TRANSFORMATIVE LEARNING EXPERIENCE

notes about time (and timelessness), change (and changelessness), The ephemeral (and the eternal)

 

 
 

 

  CHANGE and REINVENTION . . .  

Intercultural: Yi Shu:   “Yi  means ‘change’.  Shu  means, ‘the way’, the ‘art,’ or ‘the dao’.  Yi Shu simply means “the art of living with change.” 

The fundamental thesis in Yi Shu is that healing is a constant process of balancing and harmonizing the psychological, biological, social and spiritual realms of the self. 

Yi Shu is a new yet ancient theory and practice of healing that integrates a wide range of therapeutic methods and forms of creative expression from both Eastern and Western cultures.

  …  

Yi Shu draws upon procedures from psychodrama[1] sociometry[2] gestalt therapy[3], traditional Chinese medicine, and the creative arts. 

Yi Shu fuses these diverse healing processes into a powerful, unified experience that detects and releases energy blockages in body, mind and spirit. 

The process of Yi Shu works to release energy blockages in intrapersonal, interpersonal, transpersonal, intra-cultural, inter-cultural, intra-racial, and inter-racial relations.  …

Daoism, which is the theoretical basis of Chinese medicine, believes spontaneity and creativity are the core of healing and growth.  …

Yi Shu will demonstrate the uses of therapeutic procedures to enhance one’s spontaneity and creativity and to create a social environment that is conducive to creative growth.

Bottom of Form

NEXUS:

Might CHANGE be the essence of the relationship we perceive between a whole and its parts–the differentiation we see in DEVELOPMENT, speciation in EVOLUTION.  

Theory of Everything…

  • is a hypothetical single, all-encompassing, coherent theoretical framework of physics that fully explains and links together all physical aspects of the universe.[2]
  • A perpetually intriguing dimension of this pursuit is manifest in physics: although there is experimental confirmation of “virtually every prediction made by two principal alternative theories (general relativity and quantum mechanics) … they are mutually incompatible – they cannot both be right. Since the usual domains of applicability of general relativity and quantum mechanics are so different, most situations require that only one of the two theories be used. … As it turns out, this incompatibility between general relativity and quantum mechanics is only an issue in regions of extremely small scale [read more]

.

Unity in Diversity

  • “When Coleridge tried to define beauty, he returned always to one deep thought; beauty, he said, is unity in variety! Science is nothing else than the search to discover unity in the wild variety of nature,—or, more exactly, in the variety of our experience. Poetry, painting, the arts are the same search, in Coleridge’s phrase, for unity in variety.” — J. Bronowski 
  • This recalls Jos Campbell: “The great deed of the supreme hero is to come to the knowledge of this unity in multiplicity, and then to make it known” (In The Hero with a Thousand Faces, 1949:40); and Einstein: “The religion of the future should be based on a religious sense arising from the experience of all things, natural and spiritual as a meaningful unity”  (quoted by Dukas & Hoffman, Eds., Albert Einstein: The Human Side 1954)

.

To be “one with everything…” 

  • An idea is invoked often by people seeking harmony, free of perceptions or other experiences that create dissonance and evoke stress

  • “This quest for harmony with nature gained its preeminent  expression in the philosophy of the dào. Yet all this philosophizing  can scarcely compete with the experience of a work of art. ” [read more

Alan Watts argues that as long as we divide life into interior self-awareness and exterior experience, into life in here and life out there, we split our psyches asunder and doom ourselves to never attaining the wholeness at the heart of human happiness. With an eye to the inherent interconnectedness of the universe, he writes:

There is a world of difference between an inference and a feeling. You can reason that the universe is a unity without feeling it to be so. You can establish the theory that your body is a movement in an unbroken process which includes all suns and stars, and yet continue to feel separate and lonely. For the feeling will not correspond to the theory until you have also discovered the unity of inner experience. Despite all theories, you will feel that you are isolated from life so long as you are divided within.

But you will cease to feel isolated when you recognize, for example, that you do not have a sensation of the sky: you are that sensation. For all purposes of feeling, your sensation of the sky is the sky, and there is no “you” apart from what you sense, feel, and know.

.

Read the complete commentary on “Our Integration with the Universe, and How We Wrest Meaning from Reality” at brainpickings.org

 

January 2010

[1] Kierkegaard note: “Life is lived forward but understood backward.” This quotation occurs in various reported forms: e.g.: “life(history?)must be lived forward but can only be understood backward.” Man kann das Leben nur rückwärts verstehen, doch leben müssen wir es vorwärts.”