What is a process?
Processes are the central elements of a processual metaphysics. But how can they be defined? A definition is given by Rescher (1996: 38);
‘A process is a coordinated group of changes in the complexion of reality, an organised family of occurrences that are systematically linked to one another either causally or functionally. It is emphatically not necessarily a change in or of an individual thing, but can simply relate to some aspect of the general condition of things.’
Hence processes and events are linked, developing over time, not only existing in the present, but also the past and future, meaning that processes flow through time, with a spatiotemporal continuity. This continuity means that a process is not a random juxtaposition of unconnected events or occurrences, but are causally and/or functionally linked. Over time, processes therefore actualise some possibilities whilst not fulfilling others.
In this way, experience is an example of process. Experience is constituted of a coherent series of occurrences and/or events. These events develop over time, and hence there is the emergence of a past, the present of any occurrence/event within the experience, and the move towards a future, making the experience a flow over time. But the events are not random, they have spatiotemporal continuity, and therefore there is a shift in the process from possibility to actualisation.
This example also shows that process does not occur through its continuing and essential properties, as would be the case with ‘substances’,
‘by its history, by the temporal structure of its descriptive unfolding across time. The identity of a process is constituted through a sequential pattern of action.’
(Rescher, 1996: 40-41)
Therefore, the core of a process is a group of changes through events/occurrences which have spatiotemporal coherence, flowing through time, and which are constantly moving from possibility to actuality. In turn a process is characterised/identified though its pattern of action or events.
With this as a basic definition of process, Rescher (1996) then goes on to offer different ways in which processes can be classified, hence identifying different ways of grouping processes. As he says,
‘The taxonomy of processes is a complex and diversified venture, and the present indications do no more than make a start, with the distinction between physical and mental processes playing a role of particular importance.’ (42)
Three different ways in which he presents classifications are.
1. Productive and transformative processes: product-productive processes produce actual products, which can be characterised as things or substances (e.g. manufacturing cars) AND state-transformative processes, which transform states of affairs in general and can lead to further processes without producing particular things. Process metaphysics stresses transformative processes as fundamental.
2. Owned and unowned processes. Owned processes are those owned by agents, for example a barking dog, in other words, the processes are owner attributable. Unowned processes are ‘free-floating’, and are not the result of actual agents, e.g. rising temperature or flashing of lightening. Unowned processes are important in process metaphysics because it identifies that processes can occur without the need for substances.
3. Thematic nature of processes. For example, physical causality – related to physical changes; purposive/teleological – related to achieving deliberate objectives; cognitive/epistemic – relating to intellectual problem-solving; communicative – relating to transmitting information.
Hence, by considering the nature of process, we can begin to expose a huge complexity in the nature and classification of processes, but also the potential for processes to interact and create a metaphysical perspective. How these might relate to complexity is something I’ll consider in a future post.
Rescher, N. (1996) Process Metaphysics. An introduction to process philosophy. New York: State University of New York Press.
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A blog taking an often incoherent look at the concept of change