Monday, June 11, 2012

What Is Not a Process?

I am posting a snippet from the book that I am editing. Previously I posted “What Is Process Philosophy?” This posting supplements that one by exhibiting some common misconceptions about process, and it focuses on the temporality of processes. Recall that I am intending this to be both a general primer and an entry into Deweyan process philosophy. If you want to see the full explanation ... you will have to buy the book.

A process is a dynamic, continuous series of act-events that has analogies and dis-anologies to a moving train. I have discussed several characteristics including: holism, internal vs. external relations, asymmetry, dynamic teleology, and multidimensionality. These address common misconceptions about processes that I would make more clear. First, one should not treat events as separable and atomic, and should think of the process in terms of a whole. Second, events in a process are to an extent internally related, but this does not mean radical dependency. For example, the relation of the present to the past is one of fixity, as the past is fully actual while the present is becoming, and thus a change in the present does not change the actual past, though a change in the present always affects the future. This leads to a third common misconception, whence one treats all relations or events in a process as symmetric that is not always the case. Moreover, the kind of asymmetry is not the same, as the asymmetries of the present-to-past (becoming in light of the actual) are not the same as that of the present-to-future (what might be in light of what is), or even the future-to-present (what may be in light of the possible). This last asymmetry is crucial for understanding the ideal, the function of imagination, or the experience of meaning, and also plays a part in emergent hierarchy. Fourth, it may be difficult for one to read “teleology” without thinking classical Aristotle and reading telos as implying magical causation rather than as describing the dynamic disposition of non-determinate change. Finally, processes are non-deterministic and non-linear, and thus the next event is not simply just a roll of the dice that implies a fixed probability. A common misconception is to think that each event follows the next in a regular if asymmetric pattern of probability—what mathematicians call a “probability function”—but this conception falters when applied to living processes, since they are characterized by dynamic equilibriums, homeostasis, autopoesis, and other mechanisms that are neither linear, circular, or predictable without thinking in terms of progressive and open feedback loops. This last misconception is perhaps the hardest to avoid.


  1. Just a quick question. Are you saying that our conceptions of time are too rigid when you say "events in a process are to an extent internally related, but this does not mean radical dependency"? You go on to say that present follows from past but the present does not affect the past. Is that a statement of belief on your part or is it an example of not being imaginative enough?

  2. I have responded in a new post, since your question solicited a meditation. I'll give a better answer here, but you might still check our the other one.

    Conceptions of time too rigid? Yes, though that depends on what you have in mind. A statement of belief on my part? A question like that implies that you are not familiar with arguments about temporality or academic philosophy. It's about what one can argue and justify, and on what grounds. As for why, I am trying to figure out how people can be honest hypocrites, the most dangerous kind, although the connection is lightyears from obvious. Let me just say that one way that we lie to ourselves is in how we fabricate our lived experience, an there is a sense in which we do this autonomously, and a sense in which we learn not to think about our habitual actions. Something about lived time, experienced time, is at work in this.

  3. I've been thinking about honest hypocrisy a lot too. I find it's not just the most dangerous kind but also the most prevalent.

    If you go into psychology there is a lot to be said about defection and the effect 'bad apples', so to speak, have on the actions of the rest of the group. They create increased defections where there were none before and cause cooperation to fall apart. The action is much more effective than someone working to cooperate.

    In addition, there is an argument by an evolutionary biologist I saw on Edge about being truly creative. He states that true creativity only presides in a small percentage of the population and the rest of humanity is good at picking out the best traits and then copying them. As time and communications have progressed we've needed fewer and fewer people to create good ideas to make our lives comfortable however. This leads to a dearth in creativity at a time when creativity, as a result of social, ecological, and political problems, abounds.

    I say this because creativity implies the ability to create actions that align with the beliefs one states as their own. If creativity is in dearth because there are fewer people being creative and we're playing telephone through the internet then the actions that go along with creative beliefs get lost in the static.. The creativity to carry out those beliefs doesn't exist even though the tools and evolutionary traits are still there. Less people are just using them.

    I was just reading a couple articles by Jacques Derrida on how invention is only possible through the impossible. An event is only present when the impossible, something unforeseen or unplanned for, is broached and the Other or the truly unknown is faced. The impossible seems to be something we as a society work against. The drive for comfort overwhelms the need for novelty. Novelty is drowned in the necessity for career, the daily routine of work, T.V., drink, sleep. I haven't figured out how you produce a society that values the Other and novelty. I think that is the challenge.

    I am not well schooled in temporality or academic philosophy. Always willing to learn though. You said that fence jumpers always have an interesting perspective. I agree.

    I also completely agree with your statement on lived experience vs fabricated experience. I feel like the need for fabrication is a grey line. We do need to build ourselves up to create an imagination that can accomplish what is unforeseen. When that gets to a point of destruction or trampling others human right though you have gone too far.

    I believe that is the one thing psychoanalysis brings to the table that is beneficial. Many of the theories within the discipline were originally ridiculous in their *brutality*. I don't know what to call it. It reveled in the taboo to an extent that I believe fetishized behaviors it didn't have to instead of understanding and accepting them. Personal insight is extremely valuable though and a very maligned topic. Machismo works against it to an extent that is ridiculous.

    I hope this fleshes out what I'm thinking. I'll take a look at your post now.

  4. Clim,

    Thanks for your thoughts. If you want to read an explanation of my thoughts on hypocrisy in more detail, it is here.

    I believe that people over-promise on their agency and awareness. Your invocation of psychoanalysis is apt, because Deweyan pragmatism was offered as an alternative to psychoanalysis. He argued against the notion of a substantive unconscious, especially one having some sort of agency. I agree with Dewey in general, though I disagree with the specifics. Dewey gave an analysis of habit and in part began what is now called symbolic inter-actionism. That is, we embody the symbols of our culture in our flesh to such an extent that we may not be aware of them.

    Concerning temporality, let must just say why thinking the phenomenological temporality as I do is difficult. To be conscious is to convert the temporality of physical processes into another kind of temporality built upon those processes. So, the way things seem in consciousness is related to the physical, but not necessarily in the way that it appears to us. If we try to unify these two, things get difficult, and I am still trying to find how much a philosopher can write before that person should become a neuroscientist.

    Yes, you are getting it. We are really talking about the applications rather than the details of temporality.