Ask Dr. SETI ®
by Kim Maxwell
from the September 2022 issue of Penn Central,
the monthly newsletter of Central PA Mensa,
used by permission
The concept of a pivot point is commonly used in Physics, Engineering and Finance. The general definition of pivot is: a pin, point, or short shaft on the end of which something rests and turns,or upon and around which something rotates or oscillates. The financial sector uses formulas and algorithms to determine “pivot points” which trigger stock buy/sell actions. In politics and business a pivot point is a dramatic change in policy, position, or strategy. In my High School marching band, the pivot point was the person who stood still in a pinwheel line.
Engaging, whether intentionally or unintentionally, with a pivot point, causes a reaction and a change of direction. A pivot point deflects and redirects the forward flow; it technically changes the future. In our daily life, we run into pivot points many times in a day without even realizing it. Do we get up when the alarm clock rings, or sleep an extra 10 minutes and arrive late to work? Do we look at the weather report and grab an umbrella before heading out? Do we drive over the speed limit to make up for the time we slept in? A more common term is to make a decision. One may not even be aware that a decision was made, until that decision consciously impacts one’s reality. In retrospect, we can see the pivot point – the point at which another choice was possible. And the game of “What it I had done something else” begins.
Sometimes though, the pivot point looms large before us; it’s all we can see. The pivot point may be choosing a school, or taking a job, or signing a mortgage or accepting or declining medical treatment, getting a puppy or moving to a new state. We are aware that we are deciding the future. Generally, this type of pivot point will be outside of our comfort zone, and there will be some risk involved. We will also be very aware that we could regret our choice. The antonyms of “pivot” include “remain, settle, halt and stop”. And too often when confronted with a pivot point, these are also options that are available to us. We can remain paralyzed – pinned in place with a deluge of “what ifs”; the risk is simply too high.
Often, we try to navigate a pivot point with, “I’ll try”, which is a noncommittal non-decision. As Yoda famously said, “Do or do not – there is no try.” Sometimes, we know what we want to do, but we can talk ourselves out of it with all sorts of negative self-talk. Sometimes we can lie to ourselves, sugar coat the facts and convince ourselves to choose poorly. We can orbit the pivot point indefinitely hoping for some Deus Ex Machina to make the decision for us. Sometimes that is exactly what we get. We find ourselves facing a dead end, wits end, final straw, point of no return sort of pivot point. Sometimes these are the easiest pivot points to manage, because we are simply reacting without the paralyzing analysis. These are things like being laid off from a job, or totaling a vehicle or being served with divorce papers or getting a serious health diagnosis – to name just a few. The future arrived, whether you were ready or not.
A pivot point is, however, only a pivot point if there is an actual pivot. A pivot is the process of adjustment to the pivot point, of changing course and choosing a new path forward. The opposite of a pivot is to NOT pivot – to stay where you are with no change in direction and no forward advancement. This is when we are facing a dead end, we’ve hit the wall or it seems like the end of the road, and we simply stop. In my high school marching band, all the pivot point could do was stand at the point of change. If the squad chose not to pivot around him or her, it would have made for either a very boring or a very chaotic half time show.
The same concept applies to our daily lives. We can’t advance and grow in life without reacting to pivot points, so it is worthwhile to learn how to negotiate a graceful turn when possible, or at least know how to scramble back in line when we miss a step. Not pivoting – standing still - is generally disastrous. Like a marching band, the world moves forward around us and we need to learn how to move and turn with it, or risk being out of step, or even being left completely behind. None of us has a drum major or choreographer following and guiding us through life to keep us straight. The pivot points don’t move. How we react to them is completely up to us. Our lives can be boring, energetic, elegant or chaotic – smooth or choppy – happy or sad. Do or do not.
Editor's Note: In the context of SETI science, the confirmed detection of an extraterrestrial civilization would represent humanity's most challenging pivot point. Thus, we SETIzens must consider the social science implications and impact which a successful search would have for our entire planet.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in editorials are those of the individual authors, and do not necessarily reflect the position of The SETI League, Inc., its Trustees, officers, Advisory Board, members, donors, or commercial sponsors.
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this page last updated 3 September 2022
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