Why do things change?
It’s an odd question, isn’t it? But it’s also an oddly obvious question to ask. Most people would understand change to be a fact of life that we’d never hope to understand. But if we come somewhere towards a theory of why things change, we may come close to how change can be harnessed positively.
Why things change has been a matter of speculation for thinkers since the beginning of western philosophy. Parmenides (born circa 515 BCE) believed that change is an illusion, that all things are one and the same. The philosopher thought the world to be in a perpetual state of “being”.
Heraclitus of Ephesus (c. 535 — c. 475 BCE) believed that the cosmos was eternally “becoming” rather than remaining in a state of static “being”, that the cosmos was in fact change. He compared it to an eternal fire:
“This world, which is the same for all, no one of gods or men has made. But it always was and will be: an ever-living fire, with measures of it kindling, and measures going out.”
Reality, according to Heraclitus, is an ever-flowing stream of change, nothing is ever as it seems. You’re looking at what you think is a solid object, but its an unstable cluster of atoms, imperceptibly changing. What’s more, it’s flying through space at almost 70,000 miles per hour, as are you.
Heraclitus gave us the often-used adage, “no man steps in the same river twice.” The pre-Socratic philosopher also wrote of violence and war in terms that suggests that war is a manifestation of change, and that human beings are merely at the mercy of its forces.
Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900) agreed with Heraclitus that the world is always becoming and never merely being. Ourselves and everything around us is in flux. Nothing is stable and war and conflict is the most pointed expression of that fact.
While Heraclitus believed that a fire within all things drove change, Nietzsche subscribed to a more modern, but similar idea: a force he called the “Will to Power” (Wille zur Macht).
As a young man Nietzsche came under the influence of Arthur Schopenhauer, whom he started reading in 1865. The older German…