Change is an odyssey, and we are its heroes. Homer filled 24 books but gave us only a flake of Odysseus’ labors. A figment of the poet’s imagination, Odysseus never struggled with habits of anger, excess weight, time management, or a short attention span. But like Homer’s hero, our odyssey is always on, our treadmill never-ending, our journey continually sprawled before us. Most days, we go it alone. All in, no other human has faced—or will come close to enduring—our inspired but individual hour upon the solitary road between being and becoming. But on certain days, we thank the gods for Fingerposts. Following are a few in my collection.
I seem to be more successful at changing something that cannot at first be changed by first changing something that can. It’s as if I am surrounded by a kind of bubble. Whenever I think, feel, or behave in a given way, the direct action I take is somehow taken outside the bubble. Once no longer under my control, the effect of that action is then conveyed by some interstitial transport through a series of indirections to its intended object. If that is so, that there is some kind of intermediary/proxy/interpreter/carrier between my known and unknown parts, between myself and you, or, going all in, between everything and everything, am I not wise to respond in kind? Should I not, like the savvy drugmaker, coat my thought, feeling, or behavior with the protection and smoothness required to speed its indirection between sender and receiver? When I observe how most consequences of most actions are mercifully delayed, I sometimes wonder that all equal and opposite reactions predicted by Newton might, in nearly every instance, be observed—and if observed, mitigated—by some unseen but necessary intermediary.
Because I often think it, you might hear me say in the assays to come that I shall attempt to “change this to change that.” If so, it will be because I have learned, by precept upon experience, that much of the world I experience, as physicist David Bohm theorized, is enfolded to me—folded against me, I should say. And like the physicist, physick, or rugby player, who attempt to trigger something inaccessible—a subatomic particle, an organ, or just a football—by first triggering its accessible neighbor to achieve the desired kind of knock-on effect, I hope to sharpen my indirections, make them more, dare I say, direct. As individuals, organizations, and societies, we persist, as Bohm puts it, as part of both an explicate and an implicate order. My explicate identity comprises the things about me I can touch, point to, and explain. Implicate identity, on the other hand, the in-explicate whole that is, at the highest levels of abstraction, all there is of me, is far more mysterious. Entanglement means that to change some bit of me; I must find a way to change every bit of me. No direct assault can cover all my fronts.
Appearances to the contrary, all change happens in an instant. Transformation broadens and deepens as component changes ripple, propagate, compound, and persist throughout our system of systems. That sounds easy enough—just give it a push, right? It is not. All change, fast or slow, internal or external, organic or forced, begins not gradually but is initiated in a flash of will. What we experience as change is not its incitement—the flash is more often than not imperceptible to us—but the propagation of its rippling leaps and bounds—forward, sideways, backward; all simultaneous and synchronized by the hidden hand of our systems of systems—as the moment becomes a pattern of moments that ultimately change everything in their wake. Transformation coordinates and eventually reconciles the manipulation of all transformatives and temporalities through the action of what I call ‘siliences’—Dissilience, Consilience, Transilience, Resilience, etc.,—the respective leaping apart, together, across, and back, etc., of bone, wit, gut, flash, and outbreak into a coherent transition and final Insilient (non-leaping) equilibrium.
The Conservation of Identity
In physics and chemistry, mass is said to be conserved, meaning that when a physical object is converted into energy—think solid rocket fuel afire—the principle of mass conservation states that for any system closed to all transfers of matter and energy, the mass of the system must remain constant over time. In other words, in a closed system with no other force being applied, any change in a physical object must be accounted for within that system—the spent fuel has resolved to heat, motion, and a complete set of byproducts. According to this law, matter can be neither created nor annihilated. The same applies to human systems. When I change, the original ‘I’ transformed to become the future ‘I’ does so without a shred of gain or loss to the ‘mass’ of my identity. Like the mass of rocket fuel that is converted to energy and its byproducts, as I change, I literally become the change. Put another way, identity and change are not separate states or activities but two names for the same thing, two sides of the same coin.
Transformatives are the building blocks of change. The enchangeable ecosphere that makes up ‘us’ includes any number of elements—Bone for body, Wit for mind, Gut for heart, Flash for will, and a pinch of Outbreak for quintessence and good measure—that can be manipulated to our advantage. That fifth transformative, though beyond our reach—enfolded as it is—is a necessary component of the formulary. Like Einstein’s Dark Matter—he couldn’t prove it was there but could account for its impact—Outbreak is my catch-all for everything we don’t yet know about who we are and, thus, how we change. I might as well say it upfront. I should have named this blog The Flash and Outbreak of a Fiery Change. But that would have over-baked the Shakespeare I try to reserve for special occasions.
Like any motion, transformation can only occur in time. Everything that changes must converge within the past, present and future boundaries that circumscribe it. The problem is that any of the transformatives we must manipulate to achieve transformation—all of them, basically—are almost impossible to grab when time’s gravity is turned on. Because of this, I’m interested in ways to slow down or shut down time altogether, at least long enough to surgical tweak whatever bits of bone, wit, gut, flash, or outbreak need tweaking. Like Lewin’s unfreeze-change-refreeze machine, time-zero-gravity (zero-time-gravity?) is the gold standard here. The trickiest bit is that I am not just the sum of my five transformatives. I am the product of that sum and my three temporalities. This brings us back to Hippocrates: “Declare the past, diagnose the present, foretell the future, practice these acts.”
While existing and seen as holistic organisms, all human systems, from the individual to the organization to the whole shooting match of society, usefully decompose into static sub-elements of physicality, intellect, affect, choice, etc. Just as our bodies function as a series of systems—respiratory, digestive, lymphatic, neurological—so, too, is our comprehensive wholeness viewable as a collective, be it physiological, mental, emotional, deliberate, mystical, etc. Like those systems at work inside our bodies, all the systems that combine to make ‘us’, intersect and overlap. To get at them— isolate them, fiddle with them, even just stroll around them, microscope in hand—requires some level of artificial, if temporary, separation from their natural flora and fauna. According to Kipling, is that not how the Leopard got its spots in the first place? Then why not how it changes them?
Intransitive (Actor-less) Change
When we say we change, unless we mean lightbulbs, tires, or socks, what we more accurately convey is that we are changed. Because we can only directly change the accessible bits of us—our thoughts, our feelings, our actions, maybe a few more inarticulate bits like our will, our that thing some have come to call their souls—we are at a kind of mercy to the systems that implicitly govern us from within. More deeply compiled, inaccessible (implicate) transformation can only be indirectly manipulated via their precursive neighbors. When jiggled, our thoughts, our feelings, our actions, our wills, and that certain je ne sais quoi I also call outbreak—the soul catches fires at times—jiggle it forward. If this supposition holds water, we might then ask ourselves the fair question, “If I am not changing myself, then who—or what—is?” The answer is more nuanced than to glibly quip that the we that we know, is changed by the we that we don’t know. I suspect I will circumspect this riddle often.
Systems of Systems
There is no halfway when it comes to transformation; it is a holistic phenomenon. If we hope to change something, we must be willing to change everything about it. Because if we don’t, the system that holds that something in place will, like a lizard’s tail, a hole in the in sand, a melting ice tray once you pull the rack out, reconstitute it straight away. But when it comes to human systems, we’re not just talking about a single one. We must consider identity’s entire ecosystem, its transformatives, and the temporalities that hold them in place, and only then execute our intervention upon the whole ball of wax. Any human transformation that does not address the entire system of systems that form and will not attain the momentum required to overwhelm the built-in resilience—its backward leap—of that system. To achieve the escape velocity required to break resilience’s back, all systems must Go. This is not to say that each of our explicate interventions—there are no implicate interventions, not direct assaults, anyway; I might wish to change me, but am always happy to settle for changing some bit of me whose systems are happy to do the ripple work I cannot do for myself—must be undertaken separately. Due to the salient (leaping) knock-on effect inevitable in the entanglement that is human being, a number of explicate tipping points short of the whole will, indirectly, propagate throughout—and thereby jiggle—the whole of our identity into, back into, or out of place, whichever direction we seek.
Not that I will ever think like Martin Heidegger, but I used to think as he once did, that Being and Change were two separate instances of existence. We are either in a state of being or in a state of changing. But I have to say that I was mildly tickled when, after drawing my own conclusion that Being and Change were but two sides of the same coin, I learned that late in life, Heidegger set aside his life’s hypothesis to explore the notion that Being is Change. Change is not a phenomenon that exists outside or runs counter to the natural systems that govern our identity. What forms us transforms us. I call this duality Kai, after the Greek word for the conjunction And. It’s the most underrated word, And. What other is so expansive, so magnanimous, so inclusive? In the assays I am writing, Kai is the conjunctive And that signals the middle distance between being and becoming.
(Since this writing project originated as a series of letters to my posterity, permit me to share a personal connection to the notion of Kai. To my wife Karin—who goes by Kari and whose nickname might have been further shortened by a single letter to Kai—Kai is also the name given to the ocean of her youth by the Hawaiian people who created the culture that raised her. Kai is also the nickname sometimes used by our youngest daughter, Kaile, who, like her mother, could live at the beach year-round. For my part, Kai is part of the Chinese name given to me by my college Mandarin instructor, Brian Gong. In Chinese, Kai means door or open.)
A special case of ‘silience’ (to leap), resilience (to leap back) is not always our friend. It is the anti-change necessity because in order to set out on a new path, we must sometimes exert quite an effort to turn away from one so trodden that the tall grass on either side tends to push us back towards our past. But once we beat a new path, we hope the same tall grass that kept us on the old path will likewise keep us on the new one. To prevent resilience in the first instance from swallowing change whole and in the second instance to hold it in place once change arrives, the tall grass of resilience must be hacked into shaping whatever bidding we desire of it.
Last but not only least but the entirety of what this project amounts to is my attempt, by indirections, to find directions out about change. I will not attempt to say here anything comprehensive or even cogent about the wonderful idea of changefulness. I will, however, as I approach each of my assays of bias, remember to interleaf within them this note or that about the attributes of changefulness. It is measurable. It is the distance between There and Yet. It happens in the Now but can be predicted, gauged, and expected once one knows what to look for. I view changefulness as potential that can be stored up like mass, unleashed like energy, and bottled like a whole pickle. I began these assays of bias in a futile but always fruitful attempt to get to know something of it.
Oh, and Change Science
My jury is still sequestering on this one.