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Inevitable or successions of Adjacent Possible?

September 28, 2008

In Stuart Kauffman’s book Reinventing the Sacred, he describes the concept of the Adjacent Possible. This refers to the idea that there are states of a system the follow immediately from the Current Actual state. And there are others, that do not. You sometimes here people say “You can’t get there from here.” To get to states of the system that don’t immediately follow from the Current Actual it may be necessary to follow successions of Adjacent Possibles.

Two problems face problem solvers:

Apprehending the Current Actual, and

Perceiving the Adjacent Possible.

Action becomes clear and easy to motivate (a choice rather than a struggle) given that a leader can accomplish both of these. The problem is that we don’t have as direct a connection to apprehending the current actual (epistemology) nor as complete an understanding of the the adjacent states that are actually possible (science) as we sometime assume. That means particulars have to be worked out and that it is sometimes very difficult.

Fundamentalism ignores the problem completely. Instead of worrying about apprehending the Current Actual or perceiving the Adjacent Possible, fundamentalism both assumes the current state is an illusion and the final state will result from fiat transformation, in some cases no matter what we do (e.g. many Christian’s contempt for stewardship of the Earth is based on a vague mix of a belief in the insignificance of human actions and conviction of an ultimate apocalyptic outcome).

When the end point is “known” to be inevitable, why worry about denial or realism? Why struggle against either? You don’t need to hear the rest of the question when you know the answer. This may be a useful or even necessary state of mind for some (personal!) spiritual pursuits, but it is a bad way to make decisions about systems like the economy, the environment, the judiciary branch of government, foreign relations or the military. We’ve had 8 years of “principled” (read: willfully uninformed regarding the Current Actual and the Adjacent Possible) action from our executive leadership. Let’s move ahead with something more hopeful.

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