Chapter 3: The Meaning of "Process"
In the previous
last chapter, it was mentioned that the integration methodologies developed by Teilhard and Whitehead could most accurately be described as the “process-relational” model of reality. It is important to point out that despite both men’s integration of a God-concept, the overall philosophy produced in no way requires such a conceptualization to remain a generally accurate reflection of human experience. Here will be discussed the overall integration philosophies that fall under the term “process thought”, in other words, here we will primarily concentrate on the “process” aspect of “process-relational thought”, the relatedness of the universe will be discussed later.
II. Scientific Revolution and The Concept of Being
a. Stability in spite of instability
As was pointed out before, in this century several scientific discoveries completely redefined our understanding of such ideas as “truth” and “fact”. Along with these discoveries came others that, when looked at in conjunction with our general intuitions concerning the human experience, in fact also could cause us to redefine our understanding of the nature of existence as a whole. The ideas of matter/energy conversion (or the probablity that those both forms are just two aspects of the same phenomenon) and of the actual and very real wave/particle nature of atomic elements (probably another instance of two observational aspects of one reality)
all existence that came about during the scientific revolution of the last century revealed a state of affairs in the universe that would have, no doubt, shocked the earliest philosophers, totally replacing the common-sense view of existence as composed of “things” and “beings”. “What, for example, are we to make of the fact that when one subatomic particle is bombarded by another, some of the kinetic energy of these particles can actually be converted into the cumulative mass of the various particles created through the collision? What kind of matter is it that can become motion?” (Pregeant, Mystery Without Magic, 117)
When Whitehead saw this state of affairs growing up in the world, he took it upon himself to try and apply these findings to the collective intuitive conclusions of human history. After looking at the nature of the philosophies of such men as Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, as well as Sartre, Descartes, and others, Whitehead concluded that the nature of existence was not composed of “beings” or “things” but rather “becomings” and “organisms”. The universe is not a place of stagnant matter and isolated moments, but rather is a living field of change that never seems to end. Nothing exists outside of time; it is a constant companion bringing one creative act into its next stage of creativity, and the next, and change continues without end. This model of reality seems very similar to the philosophy of the Buddhists and Taoists, perhaps, but one fundamental difference is pointed out in the Whiteheadian view of a becoming-reality. Our existence, while definitely in a constant state of change, also has a definite point of direction; things have a point of order around which they seem to center. If matter and energy are exactly the same, and seem to switch form quite often, then why do tables not suddenly transform into powerfully destructive nuclear energy that removes entire cities without warning? If things are constantly becoming, then why don’t we just replay the same cycle of becoming over and over again? In true process philosophy, as professed by Whitehead and Teilhard, there must be an acknowledgement of some kind that things grow, that despite the constant setbacks that becomings may encounter in their process of constant self-creation, some kind of linearity is generally recognized in that process, losses often become gains, and chaos will generally lead to some kind of overall growth for a system. People in groups may often fall into mob mentalities, but the ones that choose to create an orderly system of government will cause a kind of self-fulfillment for its individual parts that can lead to a new kind of growth, a new kind of becoming, of a different level than before. The full implications of this kind of linearity, the general conclusions it leads us to about the nature of the universe and our own existence, the “whys” of our experiences, will be more fully discussed later.
An explanation for this stability/instability paradox may be that it is only our observational position that makes the difference, thus that the elements "objectively" don't switch from state to state.
b. Continuous creative evolution
However, the realm of physics is not the only one to have a revolution in which our classic understanding of the concepts “being” and “existing” is challenged. Beginning with Darwin, a new understanding of how our species, how humanity itself, has reached the heights of greatness and superiority over the world that it has was completely redefined. No longer do we see ourselves as some kind of beings created complete in and of ourselves, but instead we know that our existence came about through the evolution of species, beginning almost 3 billion years ago, before life even came about. Beginning in the quagmire of a pre-living primordial soup, life slowly climbed a complex ladder that led to more and more complex forms of existence, until finally hominid and then human species arose, possessed of a new base for becoming that made them far superior to anything that had existed before: consciousness. Next we see the same kind of state of affairs, a constant growth of complexity in the nature of human culture. Thus the same biological transformations that we see in the evolution of our species can also be applied to the fields of anthropology and sociology, revealing a fundamental analogy between leves, a definitive thread, an “Ariadne’s thread” as Teilhard called it, through the seemingly purely creative actions that led to our existence as it stands today. Teilhard looked at this thread and the general nature of the biological revolution of the last century and concluded that the nature of our existence is not one of stagnancy, but one of “genesis”. Teilhard de Chardin saw the “zest for life” that moves humanity forward as an indication that the process through which we walk, this genesis that seems to move all things forward, is not one of random self-creation, but one that has a definite base of order, a nucleus around which all existence seems to center itself. He called this center “The Omega” and the general order that results from it “the law of complexity-consciousness”. Definitely, Teilhard saw the world as also a state of becoming, a place of self-perpetuating creativity, but one that is not without some guiding order, some point or reason for existing.
WeAlso our bodies exist in a state of constant creativity: at least every seven years our cells are completely regenerated (the red blood cells even every three months), and yet our body is what it is. What happens to us is always a new experience to be integrated into the experiences that have come before, and history is a long lesson of how out of the seemingly random creative acts of a multitude of individuals and groups, something good is still generally produced; even out of mistakes and setbacks, victories and growth can come. A state of becoming is evident everywhere we look, but a universe of constant change does not necessarily mean a universe devoid of a grounding in order.
This phenomenon even suggests that the "identity" of a living being doesn't reside in its meterial stability, but rather in the stability of the structure.
Experientialism and The Unification of The UniverseThe creative development of a Unifying Universe
a. Creative development according to Whitehead
One of the primary examples of the order that comes from the freedom of the universe is that the free-willed agents that make up inclusive existence generally lead
s to a state of constant creation. Creativity usually means an act of creation. For Whitehead, this action of creation out of creativity is one of the foundations for his suggestion that a universe of becoming, in order to integrate fully not only scientific facts but also the nature of reality as it has been intuited throughout human history, must necessarily also include an explanation for the unique nature of the universe’s growth VERY DIFFICULT SENTENCE. Any philosophy of process or integration must account for that strange act that seems to come when different elements of the universe come in contact with one another, the act of creation.
Anyone familiar with even basic thermodynamics is also familiar with the fact that entropy is, in a very real way, degrading the universe. This nature of self-destruction may seem to controvert the overall orderliness that process thought claims is the center of the universe’s creativity.
However, the overall creation that results from these acts indicated to Whitehead (and to Teilhard, see below), that there was still an overall gain from the universe. In Religion in the Making, Whitehead clearly states his overall view of this creative universal nature, which for him is the ultimate defeat of any chaos that may attempt to consume the basic nature of reality, “The passage of time is the journey of the world towards the gathering of new ideas into actual fact. This adventure is upwards and downwards. Whatever ceases to ascend, fails to preserve itself and enters upon its inevitable path of decay. IT decays by transmitting its nature to slighter occasions of actuality, by reason of the failure of the new forms to fertilize the perceptive achievements, which constitute its past history. The universe shows us two aspects: on one side it is physically wasting, on the other side it is spiritually ascending.” (We need a Teilhard quote in the next paragraph to coincide with this one). For Whitehead, the primary mode of this spiritual growth is through the aesthetic gathering of individual aspects of reality through the concrescence of experience. In Whiteheadian philosophy, experience is the basic unit of reality; it is the basic unit of becoming. Apart from experience "there is nothing, nothing, nothing, bare nothingness [Whitehead, Process and Reality, p. 254, corrected ed. p. 167]." Time is only the measurement of experience, it is the cause of creation, experience is the action of taking other experiences and bringing them together into a unified whole, and time is that aspect of reality that makes creation possible. Each experience, and remember ALL things are experiences (the becoming is the thing) has the ability to absorb other experiences into itself through the act of PREHENSION. Prehension is most accurately defined as “the nonsensory sympathetic perception of antecedent experiences” (David Ray Griffin, Charles Hartshorne, in David Ray Griffin, John B. Cobb, Jr., Marcus P. Ford, Pete A. Y. Gunter, and Peter Ochs, Founders of Constructive Postmodern Philosophy: Peirce, James, Bergson, Whitehead, and Hartshorne (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1993), p. 209)). Every becoming-experience builds itself, self-creates, by taking other experiences into itself and unifying them into a new whole.
A single, isolated example of concrescence is called an “epochal occasion”, and the experiences when looked at as a unified whole is called an “organism”. Thus any one epochal occasion is the concretion of other experiences that have come before to create a new experience within a set measurement of time, all becomings are predicated on the becoming-experiences that precede them. This term “prehension” simply combines all known distinctions of experience: mind, body, physical, spiritual, intuition, and physical laws. A painter, when creating, takes some colors and ideas and leaves others behind, and electron responds to some influences and not to others, each is building its reality with prehensions of other experiences. The implications of these concepts will be expanded in Chapter 5.
b. Creative development according to Teilhard
Teilhard also recognized the relatedness of becoming and realized that creation was a major part of the center around which genesis ordered it
s self. Particles and non-living matter would be affected by energy and influences of the environment, and of other particles, which it was in contact with. This influence of the external is called tangential energy (I need a Teilhardian to continue this, talk about radial energy, and creation through unification). He described the developmental energy or drive as two complementary processes: radial and tangential energy. Tangential energy is a drive that pushes the developping organisms along a varying creativity line. Simple atoms tend to evolve into mpore complex atoms, simple molecules into more complex molecules, simple metazoa as cell colonies inti more elaboratye metazoa including invertebrates and vertebrates. But at a certain point on this evolyionary line, a natural limit seems to be reached: no more complex atoms than Uranium (92) are developped in nature, no more complex molecules that amino-acids, no more complex metazoa than Man.
But the evolution proper didn't come to an end when reaching such a limit. Another direction, one level higher, is developped, taking the elements of the previous level as building blocks: , partoicles gather to "create" atoms, atoms gather to "create" molecules, autonomous cells gather to "create" metazoa, men gather to "create" societies. This tendency leading to one upward step of complexity was calle radial energy by Teilhard.
Both kinds of drive, of energy, are equally important but alternate, exploring two kinds of possible complexification: intra-system and inter-system complexification.
a. The guiding psychism
Another common thread between process mechanics is the concept of panpsychism, or the idea that consciousness is not something unique to humanity, but is rather common to all existing systems
aspects of reality and merely finds its fullest expression in the human condition.
For Whitehead, all of reality in some sense self-creates, all of reality has some level of free will. It is how each experience exercises free will that determines what effect it will have on reality, what prehension(s) it will create for the advance of descendent experiences. All experiences have choices, but those choices are in some way predicated on the choices of other experiences that came before. Despite this, the choice that makes up this present moment is still the action of the epochal occasion, the point of concretion of earlier experiences. The earlier example of the painter and the electron illustrated this point well, while it may seem that there is a huge difference between the action of the electron and the action of the human, we find upon close examination that they are, in fact, not fundamentally
all that different after all. The only difference is really the fact that (1) the human has more options to choose from and (2) his actions are going to be more consistent than the electrons. Humans respond to the order of the universe more accurately than individual particles do.
Teilhard was also and panpsychist, and on this note he and Whitehead are almost eerily in agreement. Teilhard believed the radial energy mentioned earlier, the energy of consciousness, the energy of the soul, was present in all aspects of the universe. All matter is influenced by radial and tangential energy, but as tangential influences move just a little bit matter up the ladder
latter of complexity -consciousness, it is radial energy that eventually becomes more influential, the energy of consciousness, dispersed as it is in non-living matter, becomes more complex and concentrated in living matter, and to an even greater degree in conscious beings like ourselves.
In fact, the hypothesis of an ubiquitous consciousness, even in pre-human and pre-biological beings, was often misunderstood by many readers, leading them even to hypothesize "souls" within primitive animals, plants, dead objecxts and even atoms and electrons. But Teilhard didn't hypothesize a kind of human consciousness into those primitive beings, but just a Within. This Within can take many forms. In "dead" beings, during the Lithophase (levels 1 through 5), it is merely the structure of matter, a whole of external, physical influences and interactions that determine the behaviour and the mutations of the systems. Laws of probability and quantum physics are paramount at these first evolutionary levels. During the next stage, the biophase (levels 6 through 8), the guiding principle becomes the encodation of biological processes: RNA and DNA, later the genes and chromosomes, and finally the instincts and nervous reflexes are the way the Within functions. And eventually, at the noospheric phase (level 9), a typical consciousness tends to materialize to complet the "mission" of the Within: guiding the universe towards its aim: maximal complexity, enabling and sustained by maximal consciousness.
Of course, metaphorically structure and encodation can be interpreted as primitive forms of knowledge and consciousness: they result into "intelligent" actions and decisions, nurtured by "experience", as if Nature knew how to proceed. And this kind of structural and endoded data form a thesaurus of accumulated experience, and are primitive but real precursors of consciousness.
But, of course, calling them consciousnessis merely a metaphor, and hypothesizing some kind of conscious souls within the inanimated beings is just one logical step too far. The notion of psychism has to be interpreted in its systemic, not in its anthropomorphic meaning.
Taken from a process point of view, two major issues are presented here. First, we see the problem of free will, a problem that has plagued mankind for many millennia, finally solved by the process point of view. By understanding the transformation of the universe as a transformation towards greater degrees of consciousness, the nature of free choice and its place in the universe becomes clearer. If our free will is in fact a function of all of reality, then the nature of our existence is no longer some great mystery that sets us apart from the natural order; we are, in fact, a part of that natural order.
[The question of Free Will is a very senstitive matter, Joshua. In our first chapter I should like to introduce the notion of secondary and tertiary thinking, each with its secondary and tertiary definitions and core concepts. "Free will" is a very important notion, but only so within the secondary WorldView. The Free Will hypothesis is necessary to sustain a series of secondary statements, including guilt, responsibility, value, merit, intelligence. ABut al those terms are "transcended" in the tertiary WorldView making the Free Will hypothesis obsolete, because it is no longer necessary to explain the high moral value of human functioning. Of course, for people blind for this secondary/tertiary differences in WorldView, this remark is ununderstandable and even stupid. Nevertheless, this notion of conceptual transcendence is paramount to understand Teilhard.]
The other issue is the arrow of orderliness that shines through the self-creation of the universe. The consciousness that seems to guide the universe forward, if taken as a part of the nature of the universe, could be taken to be a general consciousness that guides itself forward. In other words, if there is a field of free will that seems to be the source or end result of the forward motion of the universe, then it doesn’t take a lot of deductive reasoning to figure out that this consciousness may be the mind of the universe itself, spread out across the oceans of time and space, distributed and guiding all aspects of its self creation into a organic cohesive unit.
V. Process Epistemology and Integration Methodology
Although it may be obvious already, the nature of process philosophy leads one up
down a path of logical reasoning that causes us to re-examine (transcend) the nature of knowing. Thus the classic epistemologies that have governed mankind for the last 10.000 2000 years or so (the secondary phase of the Noosphere) should be re-thought in order to account for the universe as it is generally seen today. This new epistemological model, this new model for the (tertiary) nature of knowing, has influenced many fields of thought and research, and in general supports the integration methodology which is the main route of this treatise. Integration methodology, when looked at from a certain perspective, IS a type of process philosophy --the direction, the result of the Process is Integration--, and the influence of the latter on the former is too great to overestimate. For process philosophy by its very nature suggests that any truth gleaned from it is necessarily incomplete, if not incomplete for this time, then by the time this truth is clarified, its nature will probably have changed, and new types of information will have to be brought in to make it complete. Thus the exact method of science could not discover anything without it soon being incomplete and obsolete, now needing new input from such sources as history and human intuition, to further expand and clarify the knowledge already made available. The point of process philosophy is to create as complete a picture as possible of the condition of experience, but since experience by its very nature is a state of becoming, that picture must be constantly updated. Both Teilhard and Whitehead saw a dying idea in the form of exact methodology, they felt the end point of such modes'ability to accurately express human experience creeping closer with each decade. In the same way, they believed strongly believed that classic intuitions of human relations with the universe at large, such as religion and philosophy, were also coming to a crawl. Without a doubt, there is a sense of urgency in the writings and philosophies of both men, and both were humble in their quest for as perfect an integration of all aspects of human experience as possible, noting constantly the need for others to take up the mantle of truly understanding the universe from all possible directions. In many ways they were like John the Baptist, pointing the way in the right direction, while humbly admitting their own limitations in the quest for truth as it exists all around us.
VI. Process Philosophy and God
Earlier it was stated that process philosophy did not necessitate a God-concept, and this is completely accurate: a complete process view of the universe is possible without a personable God envisioned within it.However, the vast majority of process thinkers have found that inserting such a conceptualization into process philosophy is implied in its overall total assertions.
In fact, most Whiteheadians concentrate on a field known as process theology, and even the philosophy’s application to other fields usually begins from the point of view of process theology, and similarly most Teilhardians in history have themselves been theologians, ministers, priests, and other such religiously minded people. The reason for this view should be obvious: a universal mind that moves in a certain direction naturally implies (but does not demand), a mind that has the ability to see where its going, and try to pull it in some set direction. For Whitehead, in order for things to transcend, in order for a self-creation to lead to a creation of greater value than what had come before, somehow that greater creation had to be prehended before it was reached, in other words, nothing could grow unless something already knew that there was a place for it to grow TO. An example of this could be illustrated by the recent entomological discovery in Europe. Recently, primarily in Spain, a supercolony of ants was discovered that spanned 1500 miles. Now up to the point of this discovery, all known theory and observation of ants suggested that when one colony would meet another, the two would battle with one another, and one would destroy the other, consuming their “territory”. However, in this supercolony when one colony met the other, they learned to co-exist, and worked together to create a better situation for all experiences involved. This was an example of transcendence, even if only on the level of ant. For a Whiteheadian, this change could not have taken place unless something, some experience, had already created the possibility of it happening before it did. In other words, unless a prehension of the growth-experience already existed, there could have been no transcendence, especially not on this level, for all experiences must in some way be predicated on experiences that have already come, a new concretion could only come if there was something to concrete in the first place. If creation can only come from unification, as a Teilhardian would say, that unification must have some parts it is created from. On the human level, this also includes the human ability to transcend our baser instincts and to reach for a more aesthetic way of life, such as morality. Russell Pregeant, “Whitehead could never understand values as something arbitrarily imposed by the human mind upon a universe that is value-neutral itself. Every actuality—every event that happens—comes to be only through and act of valuation.” (118) If reality is based on valuation, then there must necessarily be a value-giver, some force that gradates things as “better” or “worse” as “growth” or “loss”.
Teilhard also envisioned the necessity of a God in the process of evolution
valuation, [(Teilhardian input) and thus Christ was a necessary part of our evolution towards Omega.]
Describing an evolutionary hypothesis of Trinity, Teilhard sees only the Father God as completed in His existence, not excluding, of course, a prior evolution. But the Son and the Spirit clearly are in a process of evolution, of creation. The Divine Love, that had yielded an evolving universe proceeding towards completion, towards an Omega point, could be interpreted as a kind of Christ, a kind of second person of the Trinity. In fact, Teilhard indicated the evolving universe, guided by its conscious humanity reaching the Noosphere level, as the Mystical Body of Christ, calling it a Christogenesis, with the historical Jesus as the most significant incarnation or protagonist of it. This implies that the second Person of the Trinity is still developping, to reach completion at the Omega Point. He doesn't dwell as much on the third Person, but suggests this can be seen as the mutual exchange of creative love, divine energy between Father and Son.
As was mentioned earlier, the God that both Teilhard and Whitehead envisioned was a panentheistic God, and the full implications of their view of the divine will be discussed in subsequent chapters.
Reality is not a stagnant, dead place; rather, it is a place of life, a place of change and mutation
adaptation. However, this change is in no way a random series of events, with no examples of order or growth. In fact, the very essence point of this change is growth, and such a state of affairs is indicative of some source of growth, some point around which self-creation can center itself to produce true creation for the rest of the universe. Without a teleological principle determinism, there could be no growth, without self-creation, determination would bring stagnation. The earlier discoveries of the age of exact methodology led to a view of a universe predicated on some changeless fact, some point that began a mechanical system that generally follows the rules and methods that are its base. No longer are we bound to this limited vision of things. To relate and to change is the nature of reality, and thus becoming is the only state of existence we ever encounter. In this view of the world, our intuitions about the nature of all things must be re-examined (transcended), from our understanding of such things as “truth” and “fact”, to our very understanding of the nature of God Himself.