Friday, July 29, 2011

Sensitivity/Insensitivity to Change

Here's some stream-of-consciousness on change.

I often discuss various random things with my co-worker Jesse. The other day, we had a conversation about change. He and I are both people that are very welcoming of life changes. He even mentioned that "change for the sake of change" is good. I often think that as well.

A major point of discussion was Robert Krulwich's 2006 piece on NPR entitled Does Age Quash Our Spirit of Adventure? When I heard this story, I was immediately interested in the ideas presented by Krulwich and Robert Sapolsky which are, in short, that as you get older, you become less interested in trying new things. I immediately decided that I would try at least one new and out-of-character thing per year to help maintain my openness to experience (something Jonathan Haidt mentioned in his TED Talk). This year, my new experience will be skydiving. Next weekend, actually, I am going to Duluth with Luke and some of his buddies for his bachelor party. We're kicking it off by jumping out of a plane.

During this discussion of change, I couldn't think of any particularly great adjectives for "accepting of change" and "unaccepting of change". The term "conservative" -- as in the typical old maid or grumpy old guy set in his ways -- contrasts with "liberal," but those terms have too strong political connotations. How strongly people react to change and whether they react positively or negatively may not necessarily be correlated to social or economic political beliefs. So what words should be used?

The best terms I could come up with at the time were "sensitive" and "insensitive," though "averse" and "amenable" may also be good. Someone sensitive/averse to change prefers (all other things being equal) to stay with the comfortable and known, while someone insensitive/amenable to change doesn't avoid or even seeks out change.

Referring back to that NPR piece, the three examples were taste in music, willingness to try sushi and getting a body piercing. The former may be the best example with which to use these terms. If you're "new music averse," then you stick with the music you like ("breakthrough minus twenty") and rarely try new stuff. So when I'm an old fart sitting in a rocking chair, I will still be listening the Foo Fighters and Smashing Pumpkins -- if I'm particularly averse.

The point of the story, however -- "breakthrough minus twenty" -- is that pretty much everyone becomes less adventurous as they age. So while you're insensitive as you're young, you become more sensitive as you get older. Certainly there are exceptions, but as a general rule, is this necessarily true? Is it part of aging -- like getting wrinkles and gray hair -- or is it something that can be avoided?

Alzheimer's was once thought to be inevitable for certain people, but new research shows it can be slowed by Vitamin E, marijuana, and various lifestyle choices -- even hobbies. So if one is constantly trying new things, will they train their brain to be more "change plastic"? I think to test this, I would need to try new things more than once per year.

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