Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Keep Moving, Keep Changing, Keep Shifting Gears

by Daddy X

“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you have to keep moving.” – Albert Einstein


Momma X: “Daddy? What’s the OGG topic this week?”

Daddy: “Inertia.”

Momma: “How’s it coming?”

Daddy: “Umm … unn…”


If there is a “Purpose of Life” to consider, it is compromised by the fact that we can’t be sure of many things.

In our relationship to this particular existence, as it reveals itself to us at this time on this planet, in this form, few things are set in stone. But this existence is largely governed by cause and effect. Truths that, relative to this dimension, are kinda set in stone, so to speak. In my opinion we are here to experience this existence in all its complexities.

“An object in motion tends to stay in motion. An object at rest tends to stay at rest.” A familiar law of physics that sounds simple. We live this understanding on a cellular level, incorporating inertia into our lives the same way we accept gravity. By immersion. We experience and deal with it every day. The immovable object and the irresistible force. Momentum. Apply your brakes before you run into the car in front of you. All very neat, cut-and-dried, basic truth.

But can the same laws be applied to areas of our lives that go beyond the physical? Certainly inertia holds sway over more encompassing human dynamics. Think for a moment the fantasy of how different our lives might be if we had actual control over the more internal, less physical aspects of inertia:

Could bad habits simply be cast off? Our methods of choosing a mate could result in not making the same mistake twice. We’d shift gears to suit momentum. We wouldn’t get “stuck in a rut”. We’d likely grow into more interesting, less predictable human beings. 

People don’t often see clearly when heading towards an emotional place they don’t want to be. Not until it’s too late. Inertia may provide an answer as to why it’s so difficult to change course. A depressed person tends to lay static. The longer the state persists, the more pragmatic depression can seem to the victim, some may even say more familiar, more comfortable on some dark level. Any effort to change direction is like rolling a square boulder uphill. It’s also been said that simple movement can be the most effective cure for depression.

Those who become manic or depressive would recognize their trajectory or lack of it. It could be a first step to determining what is true motivation and what is running off a cliff. What constitutes simple laziness or pragmatic economy of resources, and how those conditions differ from clinical depression.

When would be the right time to tell someone a truth they need to hear, but a truth we know will be uncomfortable for them to bear?  If we say we’ll ‘wait until the right time’ is that an effort to work with inertia or is it simple procrastination? Is inertia getting in the way of resolution? These are decisions we’d have to consider. But recognizing the phenomenon would be a first step. Eliminating forces of habit could make it easier to discern the certainty of true cause and effect.

Sports teams recognize the reality of psychological inertia. They refer to it all the time. “We’ve got great momentum this year.” Or, “We never picked up steam,” if they’d lost all their games.

Writers experience similar dynamics with writers’ block, but also when ‘in the zone’.

We usually think of mental inertia as pertaining to the static, like when we experience the dreaded curse of writers’ block (or blahs). Actually, the more dangerous aspect may be running at top speed within the fog of inertia, combined with the force of herd mentality. One-track thinking can produce ill effects, whether through single-issue voting, religious zealotry or political idealism.

Have you ever noticed that while on vacation, if we hang about and watch TV the entire time, the days go by slowly. Like a pea sinking through syrup. Conversely, when we go on an active, varied holiday to a strange place, the same time span seems to fly by. Back home, our impressions switch. In hindsight the varied vacation seems longer, more impressive in scope. Doing so many things that our time away, in retrospect, gets filled up. The recollections become more extended. The one-dimensional vacation will seem like it never happened. Could or should we apply that concept to our way of being?

If we could interpret inertia for the force it is, perhaps we could analyze it; predict it. Inertial tendencies could perhaps work for us, rather than drag us down or spin us out of control. The first step would be to recognize how momentum works as a determining factor in our lives, how the laws of inertia influence our way of being beyond the simply physical causes and effects.

Of course life throws us curve balls, hazards we need to work around, hurling at us constantly from the unknown. They carry an inertia of their own. We must deal with new situations as they bombard us. We have to change course, dodge the bullet, so to speak. How easy is that if we’re static? How difficult is changing course while running at top speed? If we had control over our mental agility it’d easier to adapt to new trajectories.

I’ve been considering this theory of inertia (as opposed to ‘the law of inertia’) for quite a few years. I’ve come to recognize that nearly everything we do is influenced in some respect by inertia. Do I want to do something in the first place?

No? Yes?


We enjoy intellectual domain over a finite order in this form at this time on this world. Take advantage by recognizing how momentum, or lack of it, affects us. Be purposeful about variety, about adapting our ways of living or being. Try to objectively determine when to stop, when to press on. Come to know psychological inertia as innately as we do the physical laws. That attitude will open us to experience through adaptability. What it’s all about. Why we are here.

After all, Sapiens is the ‘adaptable’ animal. If we just don’t get stuck in a rut.


  1. You've articulated the paradox of inertia here. Habits can be adaptive. They lighten our cognitive load, freeing us to think about what is changing in our world because we execute the familiar more or less on autopilot. At the same time, there's the risk of getting stuck, because fighting psychological inertia, wrenching our paths away from the direction prescribed by momentum, takes more effort than we are able or willing to expend.

    It's difficult to battle inertia - to make ourselves move when we're standing still, to stop ourselves when we're barreling ahead full tilt. Even if we can overcome the inertia, though, there's the much tougher problem. When should we? If we're having trouble in our marriage, for example, is it better to stick with our choices and try to work things out? Or to take a left turn and leave for the possibility of something better?

    I think there's fertile ground for stories in that question.

    1. I don't see it so much a battle as the importance of being aware of the dynamic in a particular situation.

  2. "Actually, the more dangerous aspect may be running at top speed within the fog of inertia, combined with the force of herd mentality."

    I think this is a really important point. In our busy culture, we tend to be more alarmed of standing still, but as you point out eloquently, rushing forward can be just as dangerous, if not more so.

    I also love Lisabet's point about the question of when we should try to overcome inertia. When I was getting divorced the question she alludes to was very much on my mind. Was sticking with my choices and moving forward good or bad? Those are the ways life gets complicated beyond laws of physics.

    I wrote my post this time before reading yours, and I think it's going to be an interesting counterpoint tomorrow. I don't disagree with what you've said, but I think I've taken a related angle but gone in a different direction.

  3. Always glad to hear another aspect of inertia. It's been an interest of mine for years.

  4. I wonder if free will (if such a thing exists) is in some way the the opposite of inertia. But no, if out of free will one chooses inertia rather than action...but maybe choice of any kind is an action...Nope, I'm getting nowhere, fast. Wheels spinning. Tank empty. I think I choose to just have a nice cup of tea. But then eventually I'll need to pee... Unintended consequences.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.