“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.”
― Lao Tzu
“The search for something permanent is one of the deepest of the instincts leading men to philosophy.”
― Bertrand Russell, A History of Western Philosophy
Evolution . . . History . . . Revolution . . . Genetic mutations . . . Biography . . . These are all stories of changes. Certain aspects of today are different from what we had yesterday. After decades of economic prosperity, the country is now experiencing a crisis. . . . Once a dictatorship, now a democracy. Air and water pollutions have become major global issues in heavily industrialized societies of the modern western (and westernized) world whereas more than a century ago, they were never big deals at all. Humanity has gone through a series of civilizations all the way from the first wave (agricultural age) to the second wave (industrial age) to the third wave (information age). [Cf. Alvin Toffler´s The Third Wave (published by Bantam Books USA in 1980 . . . http://es.scribd.com/doc/21790569/The-Third-Wave-Alvin-Toffler] The American physicist-turned-business-and-futurist-philosopher Karl Albrecht even attempts to conjecture on the emerging ¨fourth wave civilization¨ of the 21st century in his essay ¨Brain Power: The Last Unexploited Capital Asset¨ (http://www.karlalbrecht.com/articles/pages/brainwave.htm) and carry on the discussion of the continuing trend from where Toffler left it off. Albrecht observes:
Futurist Alvin Toffler gave us the concept of the three great waves of change in human history. The first of Toffler’s socioeconomic waves was agriculture; the second was industrialization; and the third – upon us now – is the wave of information. Although we’re currently fascinated with this awesome Third Wave, it won’t be the Last Wave.
The Fourth Wave, I believe, will be the wave of consciousness – the “brain wave.” The last unexploited capital asset in business is the gray matter: the human capacity to think productively. Jeff Taylor, CEO of the Internet job exchange firm Monster.com, talks about the fast-approaching “smart gap,” a shortage of competent knowledge workers. He warns: “The knowledge worker is going to be at the center of company desperation.” One of the irresistible trends of Toffler’s Third Wave is a steady shift in the working population from “thing-workers” to “think-workers.” The trend goes far beyond the shortage of computer and software specialists. This shift to think-work may force us to completely rethink human education.
Humanity is perennially heading towards the future and we are no longer surprised to encounter novel theoretical configurations of what to expect in the next twenty or more years in a world that is categorically characterized by moments of transformation. Changes occur here and there in sudden or in gradual modality. The world is always in constant change and with this are our own respective perceptions of reality, i.e., our worldviews.
To cope with the ever-changing patterns of reality, we could decide to make ourselves relevant and updated and in the process be able to re-invent and thus equip ourselves with the latest technological breakthroughs to better understand and effectively participate in the events of post-modern significance. Otherwise, we get left behind and the most available recourse is to resign in a much more simple circumstances reliving Thoreau´s Walden Pond experience or making into reality Johann David Wyss´ Swiss Family Robinson´s fictional adventures in the wild. Either way—of progression or regression—is of course a matter of change.
In the sphere of academic philosophy, Plato stands out in the problematization of the issue of change versus permanence. His dualistic idealism holds the primacy of universal ideas over and above particular aspects of experience. Ultimate meaningfulness of reality emanates from the realm of universals and particular matters of human experience in the here and now are meaningless unless they connect with universal ideas.
Reality is viewed like in the construction of a house where a blueprint is initially required. The conceptualization as planned is primarily deemed necessary before the construction begins. In the case of particular chairs, we have them in various shapes, sizes and designs. They are perceivable, temporal, changeable and destructible. But beyond them in the realm of universals is the universal idea of ¨chair-ness¨ which is not perceivable by the senses, permanent, unchanging and indestructible. This is the ¨blueprint¨ whereon the existence of particular chairs is based. In other words, there cannot ever be particular chairs in the empirical world unless there is an ¨ideal chair¨ in the realm of universals.
In this connection, Plato contends that changes occur only in the realm of particulars but never in the higher domain of universals. Universal ideas are permanent and those that are of moral types as justice, honesty, love, integrity and decisiveness among others are the noblest ones that can originate only from the realm of universals and hence make human life in the empirical world worthwhile and virtuous.
Plato was basically an epistemologist who advanced the notion that true knowledge must be of universals or general types or kinds and not of particulars. To know a particular chair like an armchair or a monoblock chair, the knowing person must first know what general characteristics make up the ¨chairness¨ of chair. Otherwise, s/he cannot really recognize the particular characteristics of ¨chairness¨ in an armchair or a monoblock chair. Plato proposed that these universals are called Forms or Platonic Ideas. These are precisely and obviously expressed in mathematics. They are known by the mind, not the sense organs. The realm of Platonic Ideas is the Forms of things that can never change; it is a permanent realm. The philosophers, therefore, should be concerned with the realm of Forms rather than with this world of appearances, according to Plato.
[From: Ruel F. Pepa´s An Introduction to Philosophy: Readings in Academic Philosophy (with Logic), pp. 142-143 . . . http://issuu.com/ruel56/docs/intro_to_philo ]
This theory is however reversed in Aristotelian realism. Aristotle agrees with Plato that there are universal ideas and particular experiences. But contrary to his mentor´s theorizing, Aristotle asserts that universals do not precede particulars. In fact, it´s the other way around; there couldn´t have been ideas had there been no human experiences of particular states of affairs in the here and now. For Aristotle, ideas are mental conceptions that draw their configurations from concatenations of components whose most fundamental roots are the data of experience. In this sense, there is nothing ineffable or supernatural at all in universal ideas and the Platonic realm of universals is just an illusion. The idea of ¨chair-ness¨ is thus the resultant conception of the particular existences of different types of chairs we perceive in this world of human experiences. We are living in a world of particulars that constantly change in the space-time landscape. The real world is therefore indubitably a world of changes. Transformation is a common event in the human reality.
Aristotle was Plato´s most outstanding student. He developed the most comprehensive system of philosophy in the ancient western civilization. Aristotle broke with his teacher Plato, contending that the world of changing particulars was more important than Plato´s realm of permanent universals. In 335 BC, Aristotle founded his own school in Athens; he called it Lyceum. Aristotle was more concentrated on the study of natural sciences and the majority of his writings were on scientific subject subjects, mostly on biology. Aristotle was convinced that changes and development in this world could be explained by a thorough study of states of affairs as they are experienced, without having to deny their reality and seek explanation by an appeal to a higher type of reality. For him all objects in the natural world were composed of form and matter, and the changes that we observe in matter are the emergence of one form in place of another; these changes Aristotle called substitution.
[From: Ibid., Pepa, p.143 . . . http://issuu.com/ruel56/docs/intro_to_philo ]
But the much fiercer clash on the issue of change versus permanence long before the time of Plato and Aristotle was between the camps of Parmenides of Elea (early 5th Century BCE) and Heraclitus of Ephesus (ca. 535 – ca. 475 BCE).
In the case of Heraclitus and Parmenides, the issue was whether the most basic character of the world or reality was change or permanence. Heraclitus said it was change; Parmenides insisted it was permanence. In defense of his belief, Heraclitus even said that no one could possibly step into the same river twice.
[From: Ibid., Pepa, p.141 . . . http://issuu.com/ruel56/docs/intro_to_philo ]
For Parmenides, what is real is permanent and change as we perceive it in the world is an illusion. To truly understand reality, we must rely on what is eternal and hence changeless. We can only capture the meaningfulness of being by its permanent characters. Unceasing changes that continually occur in space and time are impossible to seize and become the stable basis of how we should better understand reality. Of course there are changes here and there in this world of experiences but these are supposed to be synthesized in more universal terms that defy time and space. Reality is therefore genuinely understood and preserved in the permanence of the conceptual sphere and not in the elusiveness of an ever-changing world of sense perception. And only philosophers are mentally equipped and hence able to fully grasp this incontrovertible fact.
However, Heraclitus vehemently disagrees. For him the most basic stuff of reality is Fire which is symbolic of unceasing change. Fire consumes everything on its path. Nothing is permanent in reality. If it is real, it must be constantly changing. Things visible and invisible through the naked eyes are incessantly changing at various degrees of velocity. Except for the metaphysical presupposition, the Heraclitan conception of reality sounds appealing to the way modern science has progressed through time. In this context, it makes real sense to agree with Heraclitus´ illustrative statement pertinent to his theory of eternal flux (or change) that ¨No one can step into the same river twice.¨ The water in a river is supposed to be flowing and there is no way that the second time one steps into the water, s/he is stepping into the same water again.
But at this point, we should have already noticed a logical flaw in this Heraclitan formulation. There is no question about the flowing water that continuously changes in motion. There is real perceivable change in the event. However, the logical issue focuses on the conceptual aspect of what a river is. It has been previously determined that the water in the river must be flowing otherwise it is not a river. The flowing water is therefore a definitional aspect of the nature of a river and this factor we cannot change. In other words, despite the fact that we have perceived change in the flowing water of a river, what is definitely considered as permanent in the same instance is the fact that we cannot change the reality that a river is a river. We find changes in the river but the ¨river-principle¨ doesn´t and can´t ever change. The same is true with the water; the water flows but its ¨water-ness¨, i.e., the ¨water-principle¨ doesn´t and can´t change. The very propositionalized assertion of Heraclitus itself that ¨No one can step into the same river twice¨ as well as the corollary statement that ¨The world is in constant flux¨ are absolutized principles that cannot be subject to change.
A similar point is found in Aristotle´s metaphysical conception of the ¨Unmoved Mover¨. There are motions—changes—in the cosmos but behind all these that we observe through sense perception is an unchanging principle which is the foundational ground of being; an axiomatic presupposition that stabilizes and puts order to reality. Even Hegel reckons history as a succession of monumental changes in the socio-political arena. But the ¨universal guiding principle¨ that steers history—the Absolute—is the unchanging foundation of a totalized reality that marches on in a dialectical fashion. Marx´s principles of dialectical and historical materialism whose basic methodological presupposition is derived from Hegel are also an affirmation of changes in history. But the very principles themselves are deemed to be absolute and thus unchanging. We can go on and on and mention more of these so-called axiomatic philosophical foundations that approximate the mechanics and dynamics of changes in human reality and get to the conclusion that these foundational principles are conceived to be absolute, permanent and eternal. Nietzsche´s principle of eternal recurrence is classified under the same category as well as its more realistic expression in Vifredo Pareto´s cyclic principle of social reality.
In the same vein, we can track the changes in the life of an individual person as we read her/his biography from infancy to adulthood. And these changes are even backed up by existing photographs archived in albums. The life-events of a particular human being is certainly characterized by changes and this matter could lead us to automatically conclude that there is really nothing permanent in this world. Everything is in unceasing flux. But on second thought, we get to the realization that the person who has changed through time is the same person all the while. Nicole Kidman in infancy is the same Nicole Kidman in adulthood. In this case we could say that the baby is now a lady but the truth of the matter is she is one and same person. Nothing as far as the personal essence of her identity has changed at all. Her being as such does not and will never change.
Conclusively, we should agree to the fact that reality is after all characterized by two aspects: permanence and flux. And we should be able to meaningfully exercise the wisdom to discern both in every experiential instance that comes our way. In doing so, we render due respect to matters scientific on the one hand and matters philosophical on the other as we appropriately distinguish them. For the God believers, the late celebrated 20th century Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebur has the following prayer to share:
God, give me grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, Courage to change the things which should be changed, and the Wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.
© Ruel F. Pepa, 2 July 2013