The theory of punctuated equilibrium was first proposed by Niles Eldredge and Stephen Jay Gould in 1972. Based on their empirical studies of the fossil record, they opposed the mainstream idea of gradual evolution, and suggested instead that once a species appears in the fossil record it will become morphologically stable (stasis). Significant evolutionary change occurs only rarely, but rapidly (punctuations). There have been lots of discussions about the theory (read more here: http://www.scholarpedia.org/article/Punctuated_equilibria) but basically I think it’s sound.
But what about transferring the theory to developmental psychology and life-writing, as a metaphor for the life-course? I do indeed think it catches an important aspect of our lives. A life-course can be described as a mixture of long periods of mental and emotional stasis interrupted by short periods of rapid personal development (punctuations). I guess I could describe my own life in these terms, and I remember how other autobiographers have viewed their own lives in terms of long periods of stagnations and bursts of rapid change, although I have never seen it described in terms of punctuated equilibrium.
The only reason for my mild skepticism is that I’m generally wary of importing metaphors from the natural sciences. This one is particularly problematic, because even though it may be an interesting analogy for those of us who are familiar with evolutionary biology, it may not be equally useful for someone who isn’t.
Nevertheless it made me think. Thanks, Mark, for giving me a creative start of the day.