Volatility and crystallisation

When young, our memory is volatile; when old, it crystallises. Photo by Ekaterina Shakharova on Unsplash

We have two forces inside us, and inside the universe we encounter.  One is volatility – the tendency of things to ‘go walkabout’, to lose confinement, to break existing structures, to find chaos.  In contrast, another is crystallisation – the tendency of things to stay home, to seek confinement, to meld with existing structures, to find order.

In the evolution of life on earth, both forces have been at play.   We are all a mixture: we each have elements within us that tend towards chaos and unpredictability; and other elements within us that tend towards order and predictability.


Volatile attributes are incredibly useful in fostering creative adaptation.  Think of a game of chess.  Thirty-two pieces are arranged on a board with sixty-four squares.  An apparently simple setup.  Yet, after only three moves, there are 121 million possible games.

It is no coincidence that games provide so many permutations.  Again, think of the game of football (soccer).  From the moment the game starts, a huge number of event variations are possible.  Spectators are engaged by the thought that ‘anything can happen next’.  In many sports, unpredictability is key to giving fans a good time.

And it’s not just sport: chaos is everywhere.  Even something as mundane as a dripping tap contains behaviours which can tend towards chaos.


Crystallising attributes are incredibly useful in harnessing energy and generating stability.  Think of a building.  The pieces are arranged so that they retain maximal stability over time.  No one would buy a house that was in significant danger of falling down while they were asleep.

Think also of cooking recipes.  The aim of a recipe is to generate a relatively predictable result (ideally like the photo in the recipe book!) from a set of ingredients and actions.  Restauranteurs and customers thrive on the fact that, if certain procedures are followed, certain predictable results will ensue.  This is the basis on which menus are presented: a crystallised consistency which is the same or similar, time after time.


We all have both of these tendencies within us.  Sometimes we feel like escaping our surroundings and ‘going walkabout’.  And sometimes, in contrast, we feel like bedding into our home and ‘staying put’.  Our organisms have a need for both.

In early life, our memories are highly volatile – we are built, in our early years, to grab onto novelty, to seize adventure.  That’s why children grab at new textures, and try to taste everything.  They are building connections.  In later life, however, our memory becomes crystallised – we become more stable and solid in our views, more predictable.  We are consolidating connections.

When we are old, we can keep in touch with volatility by learning new instruments, hobbies and languages.  This delays the onset of atrophy.  When dealing with the young, educators can feed a young person’s natural curiosity and enthusiasm; but also ensure a strong basis for future structured thinking and feeling.


It’s good to enjoy both forces, volatility and crystallisation, in our lives.  Here are a few suggestions:

To enhance volatility:

  • Be open to trying new things
  • Be receptive to other people’s ideas, even if you disagree
  • Be willing to disrupt your own habits sometimes

To enhance crystallisation

  • Learn to build and maintain a stable home environment
  • Be willing to establish good timetables and habits
  • Learn one or two things really, really well, in a disciplined manner