by Neil Rickert

sThere’s an old saying: “The more things change, the more they remain the same.” But it seems to me that you could also say “the more things stay the same, the more they change.” Or, as people sometimes say, “We are in a world where the only fixture is that everything is changing.”

We live in a world of change. And that’s the idea behind this post.

In the beginning

According to Genesis, it all began with the creation of the earth as a solid foundation. But, since then, Copernicus, Galileo and others have persuaded us that the earth is actually adrift, moving around the sun. Later astronomers found that the sun itself is adrift, going around the Milky Way galaxy. And the Milky Way galaxy, much like millions of other galaxies, are adrift in the cosmos.

Once we understand it, this is not particularly surprising. If you set a boat in the ocean, you expect the boat to drive with the tides, currents and winds. You can stop the drift by anchoring the boat to the continental shelf. But then we have learned that the continents are themselves drifting.

It seems that everything is adrift, and nothing is fixed.


If we look to science, we see an attempt to give us stable measurements. For example the Newtonians fixed time based on the rotation of the earth, and they fixed length based on a fixed platinum rod in Paris. But these are all somewhat arbitrary choices.

The velocity of light in a vacuum appears to be fixed. But, unfortunately, the rules of relativity are such that we cannot use this speed to calibrate other scientific measurements.

What if the speed of rotation of the earth is itself adrift? Scientists actually worried about this, and today we use the atomic clock, rather than the rotation of the earth, to standardize our measurement of time. This change was done to minimize that problem of drift.

Similarly, there’s a question of whether the length of that platinum rod might drift. This is now avoided, because the distance has been redefined in terms of how far light travels in a small interval of time. But the new standard still depends on the atomic clock. And we should expect the atomic clock to drift. Even in science, we cannot prevent drift.


When we look around, what we see is our immediate environment. But as we walk around (or drive around), we change what constitutes our immediate environment. So what we perceive is also adrift.

We mostly don’t notice that everything is adrift. The world that we perceive seems stable enough for us. Our cognitive systems evolved in this world of drift, and came up with ways of providing an appearance of stability in a world that is adrift. This is pragmatics in effect.

We see that attempts at a foundational epistemology do not work. I see this as related to the drifting. There is no real foundation on which to build an epistemology. There is no real foundation which can be used to build a notion of truth. So we are left with an underlying pragmatism, derived from our attempts to cope with reality and its changing.

3 Responses to “Adrift”

  1. This is quite good, Neil. Everything is adrift

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I think you are not correct. But I like the concept and effort.

    Liked by 1 person


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