Archive for July, 2008

A humble call for a new discipline: The Study of Change

Friday, July 25th, 2008

Parmenides held to a view that nothing changes. Everything is permanent and unchangeable. While we have only fragments of his writing, his ideas are prominent in Plato, which in turn gives Parmenides a weight in philosophy that is often not explicitly acknowledged.
Heraclitus, on the other hand, felt everything was in a state of flux and change. He is credited with some variation of the common statement: you can’t step into the same river twice (or, more precisely, you can’t step into the same water twice, even if the river itself remains largely unchanged).
While Parmenides thoughts found some resonance with ancient atomists, and occur in the ongoing quest of physics to find the one base element of all things (currently this has been reduced to such a level that it has become nonsensical to most human beings – note string theory), most people today would likely find Heraclitus’ view of change to be more reflective of reality.
Change is constant. Everything changes. All the time. At times, it would appear that the main task of technology is to disrupt any sense of sameness. Books move to electronic devices (Kindle). Newspapers move online. Then, online newspapers are augmented by citizen journalists. These are then evaluated, “fact-checked”, and held accountable by annotation, comments, and ratings. The main unchanged aspect of my youth is that I still wear clothes (I intend to maintain this habit for the time being). Most everything else has changed. Video, work, information access, libraries, cars, TV, cassette tapes (records)…and so on.
My attention has lately been on the nature of change. What is change itself? To my dismay, I’ve been unable to find many resources of value in this exploration. Change is treated at best as a casual statement: everything changes…or in business literature: the only constant is change.
I have yet to come across a considered, thoughtful body of work on the analysis of change itself. If anyone can offer comments or direction, I would be most appreciative.
It appears to me, that in an era of continual change, what we most need is an understanding of change. What are the characteristics of change? Does a physical system in the process of change – such as an aging body – possess a similar cycle or attributes as social change? Can change be analyzed to a certain level of depth and then be used to broadcast subsequent developments (based on change cycles)? Can change be understood sufficiently to willfully enact it at a social system level?
We all talk about change and live with change. But we don’t really understand it. I suggest we need a body of study and research devoted to change itself. Yes, I know, all fields have this as at least a peripheral element – i.e. medicine continually changes and evolves, therefore doctors are continually adjusting as are hospital systems and government/corporate funding.
Every field has the DNA of change in its veins. And that is the very problem. Change is so prominent, so ever-present, that we don’t see it as a unique field in itself. I think it’s time that it becomes a separate field of study. University’s need departments of “change” in the same sense that we have physics, psychology, and chemistry. After all, isn’t it important to understand an aspect of existence so prominent that we all feel it on a daily basis? It seems odd that the field has to this date remained largely unexplored.