Tossing Pebbles

Toss a pebble into a pond, the surface calm is shattered as concentric rings of reaction ensue — little waves. Ripples. We all know this.

The pebble creates a disturbance. Another pebble creates new concentric rings of reaction — another disturbance and more little waves. More ripples. We have all done this.

The pebble waves may cross each other, interfering positively or negatively, constructively or destructively, enhancing or diminishing the ripples. We have all seen this.

Toss ever more pebbles and ever more rings of reaction ensue, more little waves, more ripples. And the calm pool becomes choppy, like a little storm stirring up the waves. Have you done this?


Emotion. Feeling emotion — passion or fear — our heartbeat increases. The increasing heartbeat fuels the emotion, intensifying it. We all are familiar with the cascade.

What is the source of that feeling — a thought, a fragrance, a caress, or a shadowed form in the dark? For the physical reaction that ensues, it really doesn’t matter. We make no distinction.

The stimulus fuels the response and the response feeds the reaction. There is a cycle of activity and reactivity, action and reaction, increasing our perturbation. This is positive feedback. We live this.


Small disturbances, virtually imperceptible, pass unnoticed. Lacking the intensity of strong emotion, they escape our view. They are mysterious and elusive.

Constant and steady like the flux of waves on a shore building and then eroding a beach, small but incessant forces can have more dramatic and unforeseeable outcomes: reshaping a coastline over time or changing the pattern of rainfall around the world. Aren’t we witnessing this now?

What is the source of that small disturbance, that perturbation? Is it subtle changes in our orbit, or a naturally occurring geologic trend, or human activity? The Earth makes no distinction.


We set a boulder in motion and it rolls down hill — banal in its predictability. We spin the roulette wheel and the ball invariably ends up stationary, fixed in place. We can anticipate the outcome without knowing the specifics. We are not surprised.

Over many years, over many generations, we push at the limits of our Earth’s systems. We cause a disturbance, many disturbances, like all those pebbles tossed in the pond. Our little waves interact, building upon each other, stirring up a tempest.

And we are surprised.

— Jim Modiano, June 2014



© copyright 2017, Jim Modiano