Continuity vs. Discontinuity: Theories in Developmental Psychology

Through the history, the vast majority of scientists attempted to find successful explanations of natural laws that are dominant in controlling the universe and living world around us by investigating sophisticated mathematical theories and conducting experiments that may occur as a mystic to the global population. Regardless of a research subject’s form, ranging from a nucleus to cosmos, the interplay between these two quantitative laws, theories and experiments, appeared to be the continuous analysis of the vagueness and lucidity in order to get and fully interpret dependent physical measurements. Thus, there was a hope that humanity would be able to understand and foresee the destiny of the universe by investigating whether the continuity or discontinuity is more dominant. This is a continuity vs discontinuity essay in which will be an attempt to reveal this topic. Considering the interplay between these two terma I will discuss the harmony that unites both continuity and discontinuity.

Continuity and discontinuity are two rival theories in developmental psychology that try to explain how people change through their lives, where the continuity theory says that someone changes throughout their life along a smooth course while the discontinuity theory instead contends that people change abruptly. These changes can be described as a wide variety of someone's social and behavioural makeup, like their emotions, traditions, beliefs, habits, personality and so on.

Also, continuity and discontinuity do not agree with one another in how they evaluate the changes that someone experiences through the course of their life. The continuity theory inspects the way someone changes in a measureable and non-stop respect. On the other side discontinuity theory, looks at these changes through the lens of a qualitative study with an importance on the discontinuous nature of how someone changes. 

While continuity expresses the unity and mutual dependence of the elements creating a system of a specific degree of complexity as a whole, discontinuity refers to the possibility to extract the elements within the system letting them be reinforced or interchanged and therefore, enabling their specific functions to be implemented within the system. The evidence of the discrete parts can be found in nature as grains of dust or drops of water. 

Democritus was an Ancient Greek philosopher who was widely known for influencing the perception on life and the universe and introducing a base theory of what we know today as a natural philosophy that refers to the discreetness of the classical atomic form and implies the reduction of complex phenomena to fixed unit factors - Atomism. Generally believing that everything around us in the infinite universe is a product of the natural laws overlapping and consists of ultimate hard, indivisible and unchangeable entities of various shapes and sizes was the main idea. Atomists did not tend to search for explanations of life’s purpose. Moreover, according to Democritus, the atom had three main properties: shape, order and position. However, some characteristics were thought to be subjective because they only appear in the contact of the atoms with the subject or in the form of senses for humans – the way we perceive.

The essential, indispensable idea was that nature consists of two fundamental principles: atom (matter) and void (empty space, nothingness) where atom does nothing but fills the void and moves through it. To Democritus, the existence of the void allowed the atoms to move and be separated. The word Atom itself comes from Greek ἄτομον (atomos) which means indivisible. The large phenomenon comes with the concern that it can never be proved that the ultimate units have actually been reached. Though at some stage it may become unnecessary to assume the existence of any finer structure or further complexities. For instance, the gravitational forces are way less important to atoms than electromagnetic forces which keep them together. The fundamental particles for which physicists and other scientists of the early 19th century found experimental evidence were thought to be indivisible, and therefore were given the name 'atom”. However, as these particles kept being investigated, the existence of quarks was confirmed which lead us to conclude that we cannot deny the possibility that smaller building blocks might be present as well because the lack of evidence is not the same as the proof of non-existence. Therefore, the characteristic of a fundamental particle may not be physical indivisibility but possession of a definite set of fixed parameters that implies that we could not keep breaking down the matter infinitely because at some point it could become invisible.

The idea that the universe was composed of tiny building blocks built out of small atoms remained influential. Speaking chronologically, the beginning of perceiving the essence of particles started with Pythagoras around 550 BC as he introduced numbers presented as patterns of points, suggesting their discreetness. Later on, in his “Principia”, Newton showed that Boyle’s law for gases could be derived on the assumption that they consist of hard particles repelling each other, making him estimate the using the conclusions that there exist attractive and repulsive forces between them. Newton’s conception of forces and gravitational laws were strongly correlated with the idea of the void in distinguishing between occupied and empty space. The idea that the space is occupied by ultimate indivisible and permanent constituents of matter that move through it, is one of the main conceptions of atomic particles that refers to dualism discontinuity and is known as Democritan-Newtonian. However, it was important to acknowledge that unseen and unexplained is necessary to explain the seen. Underlying contradictions between two ideas have persisted throughout the history and were modified by a number of studies and interpretations. That is why many scientists thrived in their findings to prove and disprove the continuity-discontinuity relationship. One example is the atomic conception of Boscovich who eliminated Democritan-Newtonian dualism of occupied and empty space, using point-centers and three-dimensional pattern of points as the smallest pieces of matter but evidences of physical interactions. Finally, the third conception is known as De Broglie - Schrödinger theory where in certain circumstances the ultimate particles possess both, properties of waves and particles. This was the moment for Faraday to implement findings about the particle-field duality as a result of his work on electrolysis that led directly to the conception of units of electricity and stimulated discovery of electric particles. Furthermore, relating to the Faraday’s research, Maxwell was the first to demonstrate that the electric and magnetic fields could be unified into one field whose energy travels through empty space as waves. By presenting this idea, he confirmed the duality of atoms and particles and introduced the theory of light, indicating the interplay between continuity and discontinuity. This was the perfect example of how nature is ultimately controlled by continuous sources of energy, even though the energy is manifest of the position, motion and interaction between fundamental particles. For a century the particle-wave theory of matter and the wave theory of light were present without scientists discovering relations between these contrasting ideas.

But how do we perceive the qualitative units of measure that are available from atomic systems? People tried to use coordinates and differential equations as a characteristic expression of continuity after introducing different kinds of measuring standards don’t depend upon a particular man as they used to do. We can take one cubit (the distance from an elbow to the outstretched fingertip) as an example of such. The birth of experimental quantitative atomism during the 17th century was the trigger for atheistic theories since there was no positive evidence of a final limit to divisibility making people question the existence of God . It was wrong to consider dividing things to pieces, instead of accepting, enjoying and using them as they are. This suggests that religion and science are both expressions of the desire of the human mind for harmony and order and the tendency to completely understand life, even though they are based on contrasting ideas. 

In conclusion, we reach the moment where it is not simple to distinguish between physical phenomena of matter, which were supposed to be discontinuous, and the continuous phenomena of light. This makes us conclude that they come together as a unity. Moreover, regardless of modern theories still mentioning void and empty space, the nothingness may not be absolute. This suggests further investigation in order to better understand and explain what it means to divide a particle which extends to infinity but may vanish at any moment.  

10 October 2022
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