Punctuated Equilibrium

Thursday 12 May, 2011

Today’s historical post (‘Noticeable Progress’) mentions the first time during my training when I noticed a leap in my progress. In all learning situations some progress is visible during the initial period before things level off, settling down into a more steady state, such that we sometimes think we are making no progress at all.

Then, once in a while, there are the leaps forward; times when everything slots into place, new habits are consolidated and we become a markedly improved version of ourselves. In evolution this is called punctuated equilibrium: a theory which suggests that life evolves very little over geological time but, during these long periods of stasis, there are episodes where life makes considerable evolutionary advances (the Cambrian Explosion being the most famous example of this).

When I first came across the term in the nineties, it was somewhat discredited, at least by the author I was reading. The consensus at that time was more with the view that evolution occurred gradually, steadily. These days it is more accepted, and common sense suggests the evolutionary process is governed by a combination of the two theories: progress is indeed gradual but there are also times when life and nature make great leaps forward.

This means there are no periods of stasis (equilibrium). There is always something happening, even if it is too slight for us to discern. Beyond our perceptions, momentum is building and everything we do becomes the foundation of each subsequent progression. No matter how large or small, the next step in our personal development is already happening.

So, when I read the account of that weekend 11 years ago, I smile to myself because I still remember it. I remember how delighted I was to be able to put into practice all the things I had learnt in the short time under Karaj’s guidance. It was motivating to see how effectively everything came together and to feel how powerful progress can be when it is so obvious.

But perhaps the most encouraging aspect was the connection with evolutionary theory; even though it appears that nothing is happening, there is something going on under the surface. During those times when we think we are getting nowhere, we should know that we are always making progress.

This day, 11 years ago: Noticeable Progress

4 Responses to “Punctuated Equilibrium”

  1. Eveline Says:

    This is such a lovely post. And I love the interrupted long line. The intervened stretch. The abbreviated progress. THE PUNCTUATED EQUILIBRIUM! 🙂

  2. Jonathan Lewis Says:

    Not to mention the interrupted continuum.

  3. Maria Sepulveda Says:

    I am really surprised for this wonderful initiative. The blog with the beginning of the process and the mature look after the years. I want to congratulate you for such enriching generous act.

    I so much agree with the idea that evolution works continuously but there are moments of greater advance. It is as if assimilation of the steady process would suddenly give a completely different view on things.
    Curiously the learning in piano is exactly the same. You can be feeling stagnated for several weeks/months playing one same piece, not feeling that you are really advancing in the concrete technique, and suddenly as a result you acknowledge not only you have advanced in that concrete piece but your skills have globally advanced towards a new level of mastery.

    This is definitively a place to follow and reflect about. Thank you!

  4. Jonathan Lewis Says:

    Dank je wel, Maria.
    Thanks for your feedback. And lovely to hear about your piano connection.

Leave a Reply