Is Change Given In Experience?

For this week’s exercise, I have played with attending to change while sitting at my desk at work.  It is a static place, so I have focused on my shifting experience of the cubicle — either to the roving of my eyes (and attention) around the space, or to subtle ‘flickering’ and changes in the ‘still’ objects before me (and my ‘interior’ responses to them).

I have done this sort of exercise before, but I was surprised this time to find that, on a number of occasions, my conviction was that “change is not given in experience.”  I had the sense of discrete ‘units’ that did, yes, somehow replace each other, but there was not a sense of one thing ‘changing’ to the next.  There was this, this, this.  But at other times, I could ‘toggle’ to a different view and it seemed that, no, change and movement were apparent — very much so.  The sense of ‘change’ seemed to become more apparent when I was able to take a ‘meta-view,’ holding several experiences in attention at once — usually one experience strongly present, the others like echoes ‘behind’ it. 

The seemingly equally true contrary perceptions — no-change and change — have intigued me and I will stay with this.

On an ‘academic’ note, I’m finding the topic of these two chapters timely, since I’m otherwise in the midst of some readings in the new field of Object Oriented Ontology, which is making a case for a return to substance-thinking (quite contrary to my preferred — and TSK-influenced — orientation).  I’m appreciating this contradiction as well.

Bruce

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5 Responses to Is Change Given In Experience?

  1. tinac says:

    Hey Bruce, this was a very interesting piece you wrote, however, your ‘conviction’ that change does not occur within experience is a little baffling to me, since everything can qualify as experience, whether we can actually ‘see’ the changes or not, or are aware of them happening, everything, in our reality, is in constant transition. So, I’m thinking that I might be misunderstanding you, and maybe you could elaborate a little more on what you mean.

    The trees outside right now are constantly transforming whether we ‘see’ it in our immediate experience or realize it in a later one, like today the tree is green, tomorrow a few leaves are yellow, etc. kinda thing…

    Oh, I just read your reply to Michael, so I understand a little clearer as to what you are pointing to. Maybe if we look deeper, we can actually see the transitions, like on those documentaries that speed up the growth of a plant or something. I cannot actually experience the changing of leaves from my present awareness, like you stated, it is more of an ‘after the fact’, but that does not mean that change does not occur within experiencing, it just means that our awareness is not yet capable of allowing these changes to ‘appear’ within it. Are the changes really happening? It would appear that summer is turning into fall as I type this, but then again, as you stated, this is the story we tell to explain our realities, but I have come to realize that these stories are necessary, not in any concrete way, but then again, understanding the changing of the seasons helped our ancestors know when and what to plant. Am I way off track here and maybe not understanding what exactly you mean by ‘change is not ‘given’? That it is just all part of the experience? Love to you, Tina.

    • Bruce says:

      Hi, Tina,

      Yes, I understand your bafflement! I think my observation in that exercise was driven, in part, by the fact that I was sitting in a cubicle at work where nothing was moving (except me). When I drive down the road, obviously change is all around: there’s a seamless seeming flow of movement, as cars pass by, flags wave, people walk, etc. Looking at such a scene, it’s easy to say, “Change is definitely given in experience.” But, in any event, to explain what I was “seeing” in my cubicle that day: “change” did not show up as an empirical, sensory experience. It’s similar to causality: we never perceive “cause” itself directly, we only see one thing following another thing. Cause is an interpretation we apply to such sequential events or movements. Yes, interpretation is also a kind of “experience,” so in that sense, causation or change are experiences, but that isn’t what I was talking about in my post. I was referring to what I was given by my senses — namely, my eyes, ears, and skin. For a few moments, change did not appear to me as a phenomenological experience, more of a hermeneutical overlay on top of or together with sensory experience. What I was experiencing at the moment felt like very quick snapshots, each of which was whole in itself and not related to any other. Rinpoche describes such experiences when he describes read-outs (and says one ‘holistic’ read-out may not have any relation to another one). I think he discusses this with the example of drinking tea, for instance. The “sameness” we experience throughout the act of drinking tea, in his example, is akin to what I was experiencing with “change”: a kind of story, or maybe a read-out alongside other read-outs.

      Best wishes,

      Bruce

  2. Bruce says:

    Hi, Michael, that sounds like a nice practice — allowing TSK to deepen or enliven your yoga practice, and allowing yoga to provide you with a ‘field’ in which to ‘do TSK.’ I often do something similar with my daily walks, although this time I just tried the exercise while sitting in my office.

    In my post, the main observation that I was highlighting was that, at certain points in the practice, transition was not apparent phenomenologically, among the observed contents of my experience. I could notice transitions having taken place, but this was a kind of after-the-fact interpretation applied to phenomenal experience. Transition itself was not phenomenally presented, just this, this, this, as ‘wholes’ or ‘givens.’ It’s like observing “difference” or “cause” — you don’t directly perceive either. It’s a kind of story we tell. I guess I was just saying I was a little surprised this time to ‘experience’ transition or change as a similar kind of story. Do you relate to this?

  3. michaelg says:

    Hi Bruce,
    I sometimes combine doing some yoga with an intention to practice what I have just been reading in TSK. I did that this morning. If nothing else it allows me to be a bit more present to both: looking for transition makes the yoga less tediously driven by my mind (that often just wants to be done with it); and settling into yoga movements and positions gives me an opportunity to look at what is happening inside and out. As for noticing transitions, I at least become more aware that something has already changed (as opposed to being with the change as it happens). Lying on a mat, I notice that the skylight above me has gone from being dimly present on the dark ceiling to a disk of light. Right now, as I type at my computer I hear a bird (who also must be noticing in her own way that the light has returned to our part of the world) and in the distance a car accelerates. Perhaps the driver is noticing changes in his life, as he rushes toward an appointment and hopes that the light ahead will stay green a moment longer. –Michael

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