In has been awhile since I have offered new material; I come to you with a new introduction to process and temporal metaphysics. I have talked with many people who admittedly do not understand process metaphysics. This is another attempt to explain the basic insight while proposing my own solution. Please note that I am not, in any way, invoking Whiteheadian thought. In many discussions, there is a tendency to reduce processive or temporal philosophy to Whitehead, which is not unmerited given his dominance, but is premature. For those who note the similarity of this musing upon past ones, I am practicing modes of explanation.
What something is, and what something does, are distinct. Traditionally, we have described what something is in terms of a timeless identity or essence. What it is, its identity, does not change. In contrast, what changes is its activity. What something does is its activity; it is how it changes itself and other things.
The problem with the traditional understanding, which remains the basis for many contemporary notions even if not traditional, is the privileging of identity over activity and the presumption that identity is timeless. Hence, while complete identity is supposed to be both what something is and what it does, complete identity is a monstrous chimera of the eternal and the temporal. That is, identity is eternal while activity is temporal, yet the activity of a thing is supposed to arise from its identity. Exactly how can the two combine? The traditional answer is to render activity as dependent on identity, or the temporal on the eternal, and treat the activity as a potential waiting to be sprung by some external cause.
Hence, we say that action is dependent upon the actor. By “dependent,” we can mean a number of things. Most commonly, we accept Aristotle and claim that the actor must have the innate “potential” to perform a given action. Without the actor, there is no action, but the reverse is not true: there can be an actor without action. Since the identity of an actor does not change, and thus what actions is it capable of do not change, we render the temporal as dependent upon the eternal.
This solution proposes a number of problems, many of which are pushed aside. First, how does an activity begin? If an activity is temporal, then it must either begin or end at least once, else it is eternal. If we accept only efficient causes, which is now common, then the usual answer is to claim that it was an external or efficient cause. Yet that only defers the question; what causes that efficient cause? We could continue all the way back to cosmogenesis.
I propose another solution: temporalize everything. I will suggest how, which will focus how a potentiality becomes an actuality, the process of which I call an “activity.” Rather than treat the actuation of a potentiality as occurring through an external efficient cause, which views activity [kinesis] as a discrete event, assume that the activity is always active. (Please see prior posts on pragmatic naturalism and the triadic conception of dunamis.) Hence, if an activity has no effect, it is not because the activity is only potential, but because the end of the activity [entelechy] is frustrated by some other activity. This shift is a revolution in how we understand the conceptual framework of metaphysics. Rather than the genesis of the temporal out of the eternal being the problem, it is now why the temporal is not the eternal. That is, why isn’t every potentiality always fully actualized?
Activity must be networked. This is perhaps the most important inference to draw; or to say in in more typical pragmatic terms, I propose a metaphysical semiotic. Assuming pragmatic naturalism (see prior posts), any realization of an activity must in principle involve other activities, events, and identities. The lines of resistance on continual activity form persistent events and assemblages that when determinate are individual “identities.”
We need to accept activity, energy, force, or change as its own category of reality rather than one derivative on identity or determinate existence. I propose that what we call “identity” is merely the concretion of past activities into what determinately exists. (See prior posts.” Likewise, real creativity is possible. Activities can, through constellations of interference, create new forms that would not have existed prior to that configuration. Hence, location in cosmic history matters.
I will stop here for now. Later, I will explain how this process is temporalized. So far, I have offered only a “historical” explanation that treats past, present, and future as successive parts of a history. Yet true temporality, the temporality of a present activity, has a dynamic relation to the past, present, and future. “History” only has a static one, and we should not mistake history for temporality.