Saturday, 26 July 2014

This World. Part 1: Process and Delusion

Greetings my friends,

            I am going to quote a rather large portion of Alfred North Whitehead’s Process and Reality which is probably the single most influential book in the way I view and experience the world. Let me be quite honest—reading Whitehead is not easy and occasionally brings about no consequence, his terming of common ideas throws much of Western thought right out the window and supposes and very, very different “structure” to this world. I have read this book and only “understood” certain chapters and even maybe only certain parts of certain chapters. What he coined is called “process philosophy” which I will discuss in this post and expound upon in my own interpretation of this world which is also (and obviously) influenced greatly by Zen Buddhism (Masao Abe and Dogen specifically for those who are interested in discovering more of my influences).

(I hate to deviate for a moment but I must say something about Dogen—his writing and views are certainly just as difficult to understand as Whitehead’s but his importance to Buddhism and Zen specifically cannot be ignored. I believe strongly that a “process perspective” reading of Dogen does him great justice and illuminates greatly what he said and how he acted.)

Without further ado, let us begin.

This quotation is taken from Section V of the chapter called “Process” from Process and Reality which was edited and put together by David Ray Griffin and Donald W. Sherburne. I will give a precise citation to the book at the end of this post.

            To sum up: There are two species of process, macroscopic process and microscopic process. The macroscopic is the transition from attained actuality in attainment; while the microscopic process is the conversion of conditions where are merely real into determinate actuality. The former process effects the transition from the ‘actual’ to the actual. The former process is efficient; the latter process is teleological. The future is merely real, without being actual; where as the past is a nexus of actualities. The actualities are constituted by their real genetic phases. The present is the immediacy of teleological process whereby really govern attainment; where as the latter process provides the ends actually attained. The notion of ‘organism’ is combined with that of ‘process’ in a twofold manner. The community of actual things is an organism; but it is not a static organism. It is an incompletion in process of production. Thus the expansion of the universe in respect to actual things is the first meaning of ‘process’; and the universe in any stage of its expansion is the first meaning of ‘organism.’ In this sense, an organism is a nexus.
            Secondly, each actual entity itself only describable as an organic process. It repeats in microcosm what the universe is in macrocosm. It is a process proceeding from phase to phase, each phase being the real basis in question. Each actual entity bears in its constitution the ‘reasons’ why its conditions are what they are. These ‘reasons’ are the other actual interties objectified for it.
            An ‘object’ is a transcendent element characterizing that definiteness to which our ‘experience’ has to conform. In this sense, the future has objective reality in the present, but no formal actuality. For it is inherent in the constitution of the immediate, present actuality that a future will supersede it. Also conditions to which future must conform, including real relationships to the present, are really objective in the immediate actuality.
            Thus each actual entity, although complete so far as concerns its microscopic process, is yet incomplete by reason of its objective inclusion of the macroscopic process. It really experiences a future which must be actual, although the completed actualities of that future are undermined. In this sense, each actual occasion experiences its own immortality.

Okay! I would like to congratulate you on finishing that quote and I am also extremely sorry that of all books, quotes, thinkers, etc. I chose this damn near unreadable one.

If you were somewhat moved by this or are even more curious to what this means here are a few links that will help you (even though I will certainly explain it to my best ability):

Rev. Dr. Charles W. Allen’s website:

The first power-point presentation, “Process thought: A very basic introduction” is extremely helpful.

The Wikipedia page on process philosophy:

I know that wiki pages are occasionally full of total misinterpretations but after scanning the sources and giving the post a good read, it is comprehensive, understandable and helpful as well.

Whitehead very adamantly rejected the idea that “objects” and “substances” existed at all and believed that everything was event. “All things flow” is a quote from Heraclitus which Whitehead claims (and I agree) is the most basic and fundamental aspect of reality. This goes well with the Buddhist doctrine that change is constant and effects all things constantly.

Since all things are events and things are in constant movement “moments” push themselves forward, perpetuating their existence and continually seek a ‘reason’ to exist at all. Their fulfillment is in the future but that also becomes an infinite loop making Time immortal, constantly wanting to Become more and more.

My writing this post began with the idea that popped into my mind which moved into an outline which moved into my beginning to write this which will move onto a completion and an influence to myself and to you—and then on and on and on unto the ages of ages. No rock, no human, no dog, deer, insect, star, no anomaly is “safe” from this. Buddhism rejects a view of the future and says that is unreal, which it is, but only in certain ways. We continue to become whether we want to or not and things are constantly moving, fulfilling themselves and undermining each other, the past, present and future.

What does this have to do with Buddhism? Delusion and history specifically  are of importance here because delusion, as understood in Buddhism, is something that I have trouble with. Delusion is viewed as a way of life, a view of reality, and something unreal even though it participates constantly with the real, influences the real, is influenced by the real. This is a dualism which I’d like to say is a delusion itself.

Yes, I did just say that the understanding of delusion that Buddhism has is a delusion itself!

This is where I shall begin, in a way, again. How do we judge the experiences of others? Western philosophy in a totality can be understood as a delusion according to some more intensive interpretations of delusion in Buddhism and that, frankly, just isn’t fair to the billions of people who have lived their life in this way. I am not saying that they were in “complete” understanding of reality because a “complete” understanding is impossible since, as Whitehead (a Western thinker after all) stated himself that reality perpetuates and undermines itself constantly. I agree with him and so delusion can be undermined with experience and experience undermined with delusion.

A man may live a billionaire, honestly believe he made it there on his very own and also believes that morality doesn’t exist and that sympathy and emotion are in the way of a good life for him (and for others?) He believes that things don’t change; reality was the same when it began as it is now, that rocks are solid and the sun will forever rise in the East and set in the West.

The sun will not always exist and it moves in degrees somewhat North and South each day and each year, changing and only appearing to us to be in the same location.

This is a “wrong” view according to an insurmountable amount of people yet he lives like this until he meets his final resting place. Was he completely unaware of the reality around him? Was he just off in his “own little world” and just spewing hate, inequality, etc? Will this “delusion” come to an end ever? Will this view of the world just evolve into the “right” view as more and more people become aware of how “reality really is.”

First of all—the phrase “how the world really works,” “the way reality really is” etc makes no sense to me; it is not comprehensive, it is not common to all people and it certainly does not accept the idea of change. I must give credit to this man for at the very least being alive and attempting to live and respond to what experience has given him and what experiences he had on his own. The “delusion” he is living in is the real world to him so simply stating, even with argument, that he is having fake experiences is not a Buddhist thing, or a nice thing to say. Delusion “exists” (oxymoron and paradox) in this real world and is the experience of many.

How do we give credit to humanity in this experience and how do we correct the man who has given his entire life to this view?

We acknowledge his reality as a participant in what “reality really is:” a flux, a river, a movement. He is wrong and right at the same time! He lived therefore he is correct. But he lived in constant opposition to what most Buddhists and many other religious and non-religious people believe. His life was a nexus for the life that I and you live that perpetuates and brings this world even closer. I am giving him credit as so far as he made it possible to see the other side of his life, one that incorporates all, seems more consistent with experience of all and one that continues on after his death, our death, everything’s death. This is not delusion—it is distinction. Separation and distinction are very, very important to understand. I am a particular human being in this world but I am not separate from this world. A letter in an essay, a word in an essay, a paragraph in an essay can all be distinguished from the totality but the totality still is there, as a whole. Parts and “microcosms” are important to analyze and understand in our pursuit of a mindful existence and participation in this world.

Buddhism has a lot of trouble understanding History and the significance it brings when looking at the future and the present moment. Without the particular occurrence of events the possibility of this moment would not exist. Understood in macro-terms Time can be flipped around, moved, reciprocated etc but can never be replaced in micro-terms because love, mercy, compassion and justice are here, in the present and cannot simply be flipped around, moved, reciprocated etc. They, and their antitheses, can only be viewed from the micro-perspective. I will agree with Buddhism and state that must of our efforts have been analyzing these micro-perspectives and then assumed to be exactly the same in the macro-perspective. I will also agree with Western thought that Buddhism focuses too much on the macro-perspective, assuming that the way the universe works and “ought” to work is the exact same way that we work and “ought to work.” These perspectives are distinctions and not separations and we must be very careful in understanding this because we may fall into the belief that most of experience has been a delusion whereas no experience is a delusion, it  can be inconsistent, illogical, unethical and so forth but never unreal. Plato stated that anything that has power has a reality and everything has power (therefore nothing has power) therefore everything is real. Here comes another distinction: being real and existing.

I am implying a pragmatic view of Truth here. Truth is in the future and consequentially in the present and partially in the past (since truth moves with time, it must undergo the same change that we all do). I do not change much from the last word I wrote to this one and thus truth, too, moves slowly but it certainly does. Delusion cannot be understood to be Absolute and an Arch reigning over our experiences and our minds cannot constantly be battling this world of delusion and expect to attain or Become anything at all except anxious and lost.

Delusion, experience and the processes of the reality we participate in is all in an infinite loop:
and that is not to state that it repeats itself: but undermines and participates with itself constantly perpetuating itself forward. This is everything’s experience in a nutshell which means a person across the world may be undermining this post at this very moment but if they weren’t, this post wouldn’t be possible. A solidarity of Belief is not possible but only a solidarity of a pragmatic, plural perspective.

History matters because it has brought us here—atrocities from the past must be learned and analyzed just as much as the bliss that the past experienced as well. To believe in a world where Delusion reigns over peoples’ lives is hateful because it takes away the dignity and respect that Buddhism fundamentally offers to all sentient beings, claiming that their right of experience is at the very least, real, and therefore worthy of Becoming something more beautiful, a lotus, and a laughter that brings about an attainment of the Way.

Further Reading:

Abe, Masao, and William R. LaFleur. Zen and Western thought. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1985. Print

Cobb, John B.. The Emptying God: a Buddhist-Jewish-Christian conversation. Ltd. ed. Eugene, OR.: Wipf & Stock, 2005. Print.

Cobb, John B., and David Ray Griffin. Process theology: an introductory exposition. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1976. Print.
Dewey, John, and John J. McDermott. The philosophy of John Dewey. Phoenix ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981. Print.

Dogen, Zenji. Shōbōgenzō: the true Dharma-eye treasury. Berkeley, Calif.: Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research, 2007. Print.

Whitehead, Alfred North, and David Ray Griffin. "Process." Process and reality: an essay in cosmology. Corrected ed. New York: Free Press, 1978. . Print.

Part II: Meditation and Art  will be coming soon!


  1. Very interesting -- but, for me, very difficult material for me to get my white head around. I am very unclear on how accepting (or, more elementarily, "understanding") process philosophy affects one's experience of life or ontological perspective.

    If 'events' are primary -- in contrast to how, by default, I view myself as a substantive being, TOM; which is necessarily the center of my universe -- how will that affect my thinking? Will it still be MY events that I see as (pretty much) all important? Or, does my relationship with the universe change such that it places primary importance as being ALL events that I come in contact with -- whether the experiences (i.e., events) involve me, directly or not?

    I can see how Process Philosophy seems Buddhism connected. It takes you out of yourself, it seems -- but also would seem to, possibly, magnify the importance of the mind, since, if I understand correctly, the mind is involved with every event.

    I think I am, as yet, still to ignorant on this topic to ask comprehensible questions.

  2. Those are extremely good questions. Process philosophers are mixed in terms of ethical questions regarding the influences that a process perspective has. Since I stated that all things are events there has to be a nexus for those events to take place. "I" may not be an individual to the full Enlightenment extent (enlightenment as in Enlightenment philosophy from the Western tradition) but I certainly have a person.

    But the question is to what extent does this person reach? The epidermis is an ambiguous "Myself" and all other people due to the conditions and contexts we live in. I am not taking away freedom in this case, it's an enabling for it to continue to exist.

    The philosophy of mind is tricky in process terms--Merleau Ponty in his "Phenomenology of Perception" claimed that that perception takes place with the whole body. I'm inclined to believe there is some truth to this.

    The test that I believe all philosophy has to past is the pragmatic test -- what's the influence? The influence of viewing ourselves and the world as so connected, shared, and moving, within me, sparks a feeling that virtues that we hold highly have plausible attainment or shared attainment. If i were the center of my universe and had to "combat" daily with other universes around me then cooperation would be much harder, and we would have to then deal with each other's angst and hardships through a "separatist compassion." Compassion itself means "suffering with" and I believe that it is much more intimate than just a few feelings shared between people - but the an example of reality flows.

    The importance of events is not necessarily concerned with process "metaphysics" or "ontology" but rather the pragmatist within me. I don't go as far to say as "all that which has consequence or influence is real" but will say that an awareness of the results of events, their placement, and the result of their taking place within the web of reality can develop an ethic. This cannot take place without an existential person experiencing, reacting, and participating within these events we can call Tom, Denis, or any other sentient being in the world.

    I'm not sure how much that answers, haha.

    Best Wishes,
    Denis Kurmanov