The blog of photographer Kim Ayres


A wave travelling through water is not an object - it is a process. The water it flows through is affected by the energy of the wave, causing it to move up and down, but it doesn’t move along with the wave. If you place a rubber duck, for example, in the path of the wave, it is not swept along with it – it merely rises and falls as the energy wave passes under it. When the wave hits the beach, the water crashes and some of it surges up the sand or pebbles, only to retreat again once the energy has dissipated, not having actually travelled very far.

A flame, likewise is not an object, but a process. We can follow it as it burns down the candle, or even from one candle to another, but it is not a solid, enduring thing. It is a process that moves the atoms around it from one state to another. What makes up the actual fire changes by the moment.

Over a longer time span, it is possible for a ship to have a different plank changed every time it comes into port until there is no longer a single piece of wood remaining from the original construction. We see it as the same ship, as an enduring object, and yet it could easily be said that the ship is a process too, not unlike the wave or the flame. The only difference is the time scale.

In fact, if we had a time-lapse camera sequence long enough, we would see that even mountains, planets and stars are also processes. They rise and fall, are built and consumed, are created and dissipated and the atoms that make them up are constantly changing.

And of course, we are no different.

To think of ourselves as unchanging and permanent is a misconception in the same way as thinking a wave, a table, a mountain or a star is. We only appear to be an object because of the timescale in which we view ourselves. But we are a process as much as a wave or a flame. The cells of our bodies are constantly dying off and renewing. It is reckoned 98% of our cells are replaced at least every year.

I might think I am more or less the same person as I was last year – a little older, a little heavier, a little greyer, but essentially still me – and yet only 2% of me is the same as the person who wrote about photographing The Sex Pistols Experience tribute band 12 months ago.

We are like the wave travelling across the ocean. Even though the atoms that make up the wave change from moment to moment, the energy has a momentum that keeps it moving in a direction until eventually it runs out of steam, or hits something and is dispersed. But while it is moving, it creates the illusion of being an object.

The only real difference is we have gained self-awareness, even if we often mistake what it is we are aware of – falling for the illusion of permanence.


Anonymous said...

Heavy and deep Kim! Nothing in the universe is permanent...except perhaps change. I wonder what would happen if the body did not replace 98% of itself every year. Would the old cells just keep collecting like dust in the corners? After even one year what would our bodies look like with old cells and new cells all mixed in together? I believe I just woke up some brain cells with all this thinking. Great post!

Unknown said...

Wow. I suppose it is too much to ask to have you stop thinking. You make my brain dizzy trying to keep up.

Eric Fischer said...

At it's core we understand very well the nature of change - do we fight against it? Absolutely, we want the illusion of permanence - hence the concept of God. Impermeable and thus everlasting. That's why we cherish that grandparent who, since we were a child and until they passed appeared to us to be always the same, rock solid.
As we hunger and strive to be the effect of that wave, we'll take illusion- Maya -. My eldest's name is שובל which means exactly that wake or effect of the energy of the wave or the trailing of the comet - never the thing itself, just the effect.

Hindsfeet said...

I *LOVE* how you make me think, Kim. Love what you bring to the table.

Thank you,

Jayne Martin said...

Lovely piece to go with my Sunday morning coffee. Interesting that we so often arrogantly think of ourselves as separate from nature.

hope said...

Yep, "the only thing constant is change".

Funny how we perceive that through a mirror..or camera lens. :)

Thanks for making me think.

Pat said...

I must be bonkers to even think of entering a philosophical discussion but...
I agree the essential 'me' develops over the years as a result of education and experience but to my mind it is a separate thing from the body.
I believe that after death and my aged body is cremated my spirit will live on - older, wiser but essentially the same.
You started it:)

debra said...

life is a process rather than an event, isn't it. (o)

Alan Richardson said...

Another prescient piece that bring my present into focus.

Haven't visited for a while.


Belovedlife said...

Wow! Deep thoughts! I missed reading ur blog, but I'm back!

Kim Ayres said...

Theanne & Baron - well if only 2% of my cells are the same after one year, if the old ones didn't die off, but the new ones kept growing, I'd be 49 times bigger after 12 months...

Carole - oddly enough, I'm thinking a lot less than I used to :)

Eric - that's a wonderful meaning behind the name. Did you choose it because of that, or was it coincidental?

Liz - thank you :)

Jayne - for maximum impact you need a piece of cake with the coffee when pondering this... :)

Hope - it's true - when we follow something from moment to moment, we rarely see the change. We often need to leave it and come back to it to notice :)

Pat - I realise this idea is incompatible with most forms of Christianity, but I think it's quite Buddhist :)

Debra - absolutely :)

Alan - welcome back :)

BelovedLife - Welcome back! And do nudge your husband to start up his blog again :)

neena maiya (guyana gyal) said...

I never thought about all this until I started going to funerals here, and let me tell you, every single time they talk about the impermanence of life. Man, it's stuck in my head now.

Kim Ayres said...

As we get older it's something that tends to preoccupy us more frequently...

Mimi and Tilly said...

Beautiful. I love the feeling of knowing I am a process. It stops me feeling rigid and afraid and allows me to let go and relax. I find it very comforting to see myself and other people as unfolding anew in each day. It helps me deal with the limitations of living with an illness and also helps me to be gentler with myself and other people. I really enjoyed reading this Kim, thank you. Em :)

Kim Ayres said...

Lovely words, Em :)

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