A friend introduced me to a new term: the adjacent possible. What a rich phrase — a field for dreaming.
The term comes from theoretical biologist Stuart Kauffman, who talked about what might happen in biology to precipitate life. But the way Steven Johnson explains it in a Wall Street Journal article, “The Genius of the Tinkerer,” the adjacent possible is more a room opening off of a single door, that opens into several more rooms off of that first room, and then builds exponentially off of those rooms. Each subsequent place you end up — or new area of exploration, or new combination of amino acids — makes possible so much more… infinite possibility, adjacent to now.
When I was younger, I thought I could see the futures. Plural. Like a map of possibilities spreading out from the point of decision where I stood at that moment. It was as if I could actually see the lines that led out from that point forward. Now, my life so much more tangled and its threads so tightly interwoven, I am often traveling in the dark.
So the idea of all these futures that become possible as we move through the decisions that mark our days, our hours, sometimes even our minutes… this entrances me. Today, for instance: what if I had decided not to do my stationery bike? What if I had fallen when I took the dogs outside while the guy repaired the washer? What slightly different — even very different — futures might I have cut off by small decisions today? And what are now open?
I have to agree w/ Johnson: ‘Ideas are works of bricolage.” But I also think of the way the anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss uses the word bricolage, how we bend old myths to forge new ones, to address — if not answer — age-old questions & problems. The possible answers to my current dilemmas (small & large alike) can be seen as a kind of steampunk kit ~ the pieces are all there. I just have to figure out the best (and most beautiful) way to use them.
This intrigues me. And it appeals to my understanding of Buddha nature — always & already in us. We just have to open up. Set it free. Or, possibly, put it in working order … With all the possible tools to hand.