A&O notes on CHANGE

we 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).



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.

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. 


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


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)


“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).



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 Psychoanalyis (1916), in James Strachey (ed.), The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud (1963), Vol. 16, 284-5.



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 it’s 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…)









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.


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.” “Life must be lived in the present and viewed from the past.” “You can only understand life backwards, but we must live it forwards.” In Kierkegaard’s Danish this is: “Livet skal forstås baglaens, men leves forlaens”. A literal translation is: ‘Life is to be understood backwards, but it is lived forwards’. Kierkegaard is alluding to Carl Daub, 1765-1836, professor of theology at Heidelberg university. This is what Daub says [in ‘Die Form der christlichen Dogmen- und Kirchen-Historie’, Zeitschrift för spekulative Theologie, ed. Bruno Bauer, I-III, Berlin, 1836-38, I, 1836, p. 1]: “The act of looking backward is, just like that of looking into the future, an act of divination; and if the prophet is well called an historian of the future, the historian is just as well called, or even better so, a prophet of the past, of the historical”. Kierkegaard repeats this thought of Daub, putting it together with the thought that life is “lived forward”. Life can be interpreted only after it has been experienced, but the past informs one’s understanding and grasp of the future.The allusion occurs in S.K. in several places. In Hong: KW I, From the Papers of One still Living, p. 78 and in Hong: KW VII, Philosophical Fragments, p.80. Also in: JP 1, A-E, entries 1030 and 1025]