Failing to grasp change.
This post presents a philosophical idea inspired by the text of today’s Daf. The Daf is one page in the Talmud that tens of thousands of people study each day. I explain the connection to the text in a comment below. My purpose is to show that there are underlying philosophical assumptions in the Talmud that can have great significance for anybody today trying to understand our complex reality.
There are many definitions of “life”. One uncommon definition could be any non-uniform collection of matter or energy that adapts, or has adapted, to fit its environment over time. Regardless of whether it is used as a definition or not, adaptability is a key feature of all life. In recent years, we have even learned to create software components that learn and adapt to achieve a goal in their “virtual” environment, which enhances our understanding of adaptive processes.
A notable limitation of systems or organisms that have learned to adapt to a specific environment is that it is often difficult for them to apply the same adaptation strategies to new environments. Change is hard.
Even as the most capable adaptive organism known to us, human beings face the same fundamental limitation as any other adaptive system. Throughout our lives, we acquire knowledge of how things work, and our attitudes and decisions reflect the strategies we have been taught or have developed for ourselves. We also struggle to adapt when the “way things work” changes.
When our physical, social, and technological environment undergoes significant change, we often resist accepting it in its new form. We stubbornly cling to the frameworks that our culture and belief systems created to cope with the world as it once was. We defend strategies and draw boundaries that we have believed in throughout our lives and the lives of our ancestors. Even when we do adapt and change, we often do so reluctantly and late.
However, abandoning too many of our values and beliefs can be just as dangerous, if not more so. There is no perfect solution or balance. Perhaps the best advice is that we must strive to look further, broaden our perspective, consider the larger picture, and ask ourselves not just what today’s goal is, but where we ultimately want to be.