02/04/2015 04:38 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

From the Ivory Tower Kitchen: The Value of Change

Change is good - But why? The substitution of one thing for another, as defined by the Oxford English Dictionary is an intuitive definition, but what is the intrinsic value of change?

"Be the change you wish to see in the world" may very well be one of the most inspirational messages embraced around the world. Many of us see it as a reminder to practice what we preach. Perhaps, that is because doing so endears us to our allies and protects us from accusations of hypocrisy.

In calculus - the mathematics of change - we teach students how to calculate the derivatives of functions and apply that calculation to solve various problems. For example, with enough information, one can determine the least amount of building materials necessary to construct a warehouse with the largest volume, but of course most individuals will never face that task. Our senses are more likely to be excited and our interest piqued when there is change. So, I motivate the idea of the value in studying calculus by pointing out very simply that almost everything is the world is changing and so to learn more about our surroundings and even ourselves, we must learn how to measure, analyze, and perhaps, even explain the changes. If something was truly static (like the slope of a linear function), then we could explain phenomena very precisely, but in most cases, that explanation would be an oversimplification of our perceived reality.


Sitting on a rocking chair in the forest may seem like an activity engulfed by a still environment, but the fact that there is wind, falling leaves, chirping birds, and scurrying forest inhabitants proves that we are hardly in absolute serenity. And let's not forget the rocking of the chair. We perceive and ultimately appreciate our environment because of the existence of elements which are causing pleasing change. Our senses are designed to perceive change.

A restaurant menu without change may be comforting to some, but the vast majority of us would quickly tire of it. From the guests who frequent the dining room to the cooks who create for the enjoyment of themselves and others, change is essential because it fuels our wants and drive, respectively. The farmers and artisans who provide inspiration for those creations provide the raw materials which facilitate change. Without those inspirations, we cooks would simply find a thousand ways to make grits - only a slight exaggeration.

"Don't ever change" may be a sentiment shared between loved ones who truly love and appreciate each other. But frankly, that may be a kiss of long-term relationship death. A modicum of surprise (change) every now and then is both appreciated and expected. To change for the better or worse is to live. Utopia may be an ideal for existence, but for me, I would prefer the ability to affect, perceive, appreciate, and understand change over a life of unwavering constancy. Because then, I can continue to espouse the virtues and value of calculus.