Reality no longer appears essentially static, but affirms itself dynamically, as continuity and variation. What was immobile and frozen in our perception is warmed and set in motion.
Those are the words of Henri Bergson, quoted in Michael Foley’s excellent “Life lessons from Bergson”.
I love that. The experience of life as dynamic, “warmed and set in motion”.
Life isn’t “frozen and immobile” to me, and that’s why I am wary of categories and labels. I’ve always resisted being put into a box, defined by one or two of my characteristics. When I think of that I recall the adage of the General Semanticists – “judgement stops thought”. So often fixing someone or something into a category or type stops us from really seeing, really understanding.
Reducing an individual to a type diminishes them in all senses of the word.
Every patient I ever encountered was unique, presenting experiences and stories unique to them. To reduce them to diagnostic categories, or to types of any sort, blocked my understanding of them. Everyone always has more to reveal, more to share, more to experience and be understood.
Michael Foley says he came back to Bergson’s work after dismissing it decades earlier. His way back is interesting. It’s not the same as mine. My first encounter with Bergson came when I was reading Deleuze but I didn’t find him easy. I later stumbled into complexity theory and, in particular, the idea of complex adaptive systems. At that point I remembered some of Bergson’s ideas and went back to explore his writings further. Michael Foley’s path was through his encounter with “process philosophy” and with particle physics –
I learned from twentieth century philosophy of mind that memory and the self are processes rather than fixed entities – and suddenly this connected with the theories of particle physics, which claim that at the heart of matter there are in fact no particles but only processes…….everything is process…and everything is connected to everything else.
In the process view nothing is fixed, nothing is final and no circumstances ever repeat in the same way.
This strikes me as very true. Dan Seigel, one of the founders of Interpersonal Neurobiology, worked with colleagues to come up with a definition of the mind. What they concluded was that ” the mind is a process of regulation of energy and information flow. ”
The mind is not an entity or a thing, it’s a process.
The body is not a fixed entity or thing either – it’s a dynamic ever changing network or community of cells.
Disease is not a thing either. That really startled me when I read that once I was a practising doctor. As a medical student I picked up the view that disease was pathology and pathology was the changed organs or cells. Once I became a GP I encountered dynamic, hard to pin down illnesses that certainly couldn’t be reduced to pathological entities. Hearing that disease was a process not an entity was liberating for me.
I will return to some of the issues raised by this thinking in other posts but let me finish this one by returning to the title, because once we gain the insight which shifts our attention from entities to processes we discover diversity – we find out that variation is a key characteristic of Nature and of Life. But I think we find out something else too – that the universe, the world, and our lives are not completely random, chance, accidental phenomena. Instead there is continuity. We are in a process of continuous creation and emergence. We are who we are in our networks of family, nature, society and the world. We emerge from the past, as the past encounters and interacts with the present. Our future doesn’t contain just anything you could ever imagine. It emerges from here and now, from that flowing river of life and connections.
Continuity and variation. Just like the flow of a river. Just like the natural history of a plant, an animal, or any other living organism.