I N E R T I A   ©

  Meredith B. Mitchell

To Writings & Thoughts To Home Page


There are a few concepts that I feel have been seriously neglected by psychologists, namely aesthetics (as related to the Soul), epistemology, and inertia.

Neoplatonists and other philosophers have dealt with aesthetics and the soul. According to Glen Wegge (on the Internet), "It seems safe to conclude that a main consideration of medieval aesthetics is to facilitate the ascent of the soul to the One, in which is contained all Beauty, Goodness, and Truth." In addition, I have written an essay from a Jungian perspective on "Aesthetics and the Soul" (posted on this web site).

Epistemology has largely been a topic studied and discussed in philosophy, but rarely found in psychology. The primary psychologist who has dealt with this subject is Jean Piaget in the context of his theories of developmental psychology. Since our behavior derives from what we think we know, understanding how we come by knowledge is essential to understanding human behavior.

Inertia is a topic ordinarily associated with the field of physics, which defines inertia as matterís resistance to a change in its condition. And interestingly, since inertia is independent of temperature, pressure, and position, matter itself is defined as anything that has inertia. As a psychologist, I find that fascinating, because when I perceive resistance to change, my primary question to myself is, "Whatís the matter?" That is, what inner process is interfering with or preventing movement or progress?

It is also interesting that the word "matter" derives from the Latin word mater, meaning mother. An etymological interpretation could lead to the idea that the protective aspect of the Great Mother strives to keep her child from experiencing that anything is "the matter," implying an effort to deny or avoid inertia. But paradoxically, inertia is an unavoidable characteristic of Mother Nature. The very effort to avoid inertia establishes resistance (a form of inertia) to growth and change.

It seems evident, therefore, that inertia is not a principle relegated only to the field of physics. It operates everywhere in nature, and in particular -- relevant to this essay -- in the human psychological condition. I find it difficult to imagine anyone who has not consciously experienced inertia in some form. At one time or another in our lives, most of us -- if not all of us -- have resisted hearing something we would rather not hear, avoided a distasteful issue, or procrastinated performing unpleasant tasks, at the very least. So inertia is no stranger to us.

Nature seems to operate under two primary, paradoxically opposing forces: change (i.e., growth or deterioration) and inertia, (i.e., the resistance or opposition to change). Both are inevitable, yet they are perpetually in opposition to one another. In our psychological development, we feel the urge to grow and become aware of more and more parts of ourselves.

Yet we find ourselves consciously resisting change, because, as Carl Jung has pointed out, change is experienced as a death; it is a death of the status quo. The absurdity of such resistance becomes evident when we realize that what we believe to be the status quo continually is undergoing change! The concept of status quo itself is an oxymoron, because even as we say it, at some basic level, everything is changing. What puzzles my logical mind is, how does change continually occur when inertia inexorably resists it? The most logical answer seems to be that change energy is stronger than resistive energy. But, is that an everlasting fact of Nature?

At a Caltech "Alumni Day" talk several years ago, a professor of Astronomy discussed one of the Big Bang theories popular at the time. It went something like this: The Big Bang occurred roughly ten billion years ago. The force of the explosion sent the elements of the universe out into space with a force that produced an expansion of material in all directions. As the particles expand, the force of gravity between them creates a braking effect such that in about 40 billion years the gravitational pull will equal the diminishing force that caused expansion. Consequently, all the outwardly moving elements will, for an instant, stop in their tracks Ė relative to the initial Big Bang point in space. Subsequently, gravitation will pull the particles back to the locus of the Big Bang in another 50 billion years, and at that moment, all matter and time will come to an end. There is no reason to expect, the professor stated, that there will be a bounce to start the process over again. The theory states that that moment will mean the absolute end. The significance, here, is this: if we take all time into consideration, change and inertia will ultimately end up in a draw.

Is there an allegory here for our lives? Perhaps itís a metaphor for the human condition in human development. So much of the world seems to me to be implacably immature. Wars and strife abound. Like children, our leaders and politicians declare they know whatís "right" and declare "truth," and they are prepared to attack other childlike leaders who express the same sentiments regarding their "knowledge" of whatís "right" and their "truth." In the growth of our universe, suns are born and others die. Collisions among particles destroy, black holes swallow up, and suns expire or go nova. If the closed-end Big Bang theory holds water, we might expect that as the universe matures, in 20 billion years more or so, the distance between elements will be so great that interactions between them will become more laissez-faire. That would be analogous to our becoming more respectful and accepting of individual differences. Elements would expire less frequently because of fewer collisions among them. So if humanity can survive the conflicts long enough without overloading Earth, perhaps there is hope for eventual relative peace.

But what about the individual? How can we live our personal lives with change and inertia acting upon us? Change IS, and inertia IS; can we learn to accept them both? I believe we can, even though I am aware of the paradoxical aspect of that process, because learning to accept change and inertia is itself change. Therefore, if we are dedicated to consciousness, we are challenged to accept every conceivable level of change and inertia. What a task! Are there individuals who are up to it? How much of humanity can do it?

Not only do we have the issue of dealing with change and inertia within ourselves, but it also applies to relationships between people and in society. Look around, and we are confronted daily -- almost hourly -- with people who act as if to say, "My way is the only right way," or "I am the center of the universe, and everyone else can go to Hell." In Los Angeles, we see it on the freeways every minute. Any movement among a group of people offers evidence of the attitude. In my papers on "Existential Consciousness" and "Learning to Love" (on this web site), I offer an explanation for such behavior. Being aware only of our own mental and physical conditions isolates us, but it can also connect us to others, if we realize that probably every other person is precisely in the same boat. . Inertia to reaching for and arriving at that realization seems to be immense.

What is behind our resistance? My guess is the anticipation and fear of pain. Inertia often arises from friction, and friction, in turn, produces heat. Perhaps that describes what happens within us, since it is generally accepted in psychological theory that significant inner change comes only with the experience of emotion (heat), and transforming emotion can be extremely painful. The struggle for consciousness is imaged in the Hero fighting the dragon, whose talons ravage and whose flames scorch the Heroís body. In the context of this paper, the Hero would represent the energy toward constructive change, and the dragon would represent the inertial friction that must be overcome for effort to succeed.

But who wants to fight a dragon? The Child in us certainly doesn't; it is too hard and painful. Whether we like it or not, the dragon is there, and if it is not overcome, we are overcome by it. Then destructive change takes place, and that too results in pain.

Consequently, we are confronted by the apparent fact that change of any kind, whether constructive or destructive, can bring pain. As mentioned earlier, inertia defines matter, and matter is associated with the Mother. The subjective experience of inertia can often be viewed as a time when gestation can occur and the change being resisted can be evaluated and assimilated.

So which road do we choose, assuming we are sufficiently free of inner and outer constrictions that we are free enough to make a choice? The road of the inner Child who seeks to avoid the pain of having to do battle, thereby depending on others to care for it, and hence suffering the pains of fear, misunderstanding, and disappointment? Or the road of the inner Hero who courageously faces whatever efforts it takes to carry out the Soulís longings and accepts the pain and strain associated with the struggles?

Whichever course we choose, we will inevitably experience a mixture of joy and suffering arising out of change and inertia. Each path offers a different quality of those experiences and, of course, different outcomes. The inner Child tries hopelessly to hang onto experienced pleasure -- as if change could be held at bay -- and vainly attempts to avoid the pain of inevitable resistances that natureís inertia brings. In contrast, the Hero in us accepts both, allowing that enjoyment and struggle are generally both transitory, and strives toward wholeness despite the consequences, no matter what obstacles must be overcome.


To Writings & Thoughts To Home Page




   Mounted on 11/30/2003.