Our Cosmos, from Substance to Process

Timothy E. Eastman
2008 World Futures : Journal of General Evolution  
In its most successful results, research in physics and astronomy has led to perspectives that emphasize a "both/-and" character of systems: both continuity and quantization; both symmetry and asymmetry; both space and time, both substance and process, both reduction and emergence. This conceptual shift contrasts with common assumptions of a "substance universe," which gives priority to "things" or externally-related objects and spatialized representation. The latter likely derives from the
more » ... nance of vision for homo sapiens, along with apparent empirical validation by many classical systems and models, reinforcing a worldview of perceptual objects, reductionism, reversibility and possibilities of a "God's-eye" view that have become presuppositions of modernism. In contrast, quantum field theory shows the world as a plenum of events at multiple scales, now extended in networks of relationships to cosmic scales -a "process universe." Recent results in nonlinear dynamics and ecology, among other research fields, demonstrate emergence in multiply-interconnected systems. Undercutting global realism, certain limitations and approximations have been found to be fundamental and have contributed to the evolution of modern 1 physics, including relativity theory and quantum theory. Discoveries in space plasmas and other fields further illustrate limits of substance language and mere spatialized representation, and are steadily reinforcing processual aspects and both-and characteristics of physical systems. Seeing is believing. For those of us blessed with sight, our experience of the world is visioncentric. This dominance of vision for humans often leads us to adopt a worldview of perceptual objects in which the world is simply constituted by a multiplicity of discrete objects, from atoms to galaxies, all of which are ultimately like classic substance, hence a "substance metaphysics" (see "Evolution in Metaphysics" below). Closely related concepts are simplistic forms of global realism in which some "God's eye view" allows for completely spatialized representation of systems at multiple levels and times. Global realism claims the natural actuality of nonperspectival surveys of the universe, which contrasts with Whitehead's denial of any genuinely non-perspectival surveying of the universe (Whitehead, 1929). Nevertheless, Whitehead was a nuanced realist with categorial obligations that had global implications. 1 The term "modern physics" refers to quantum and relativity theories and their various developments and applications that have dominated much of 20 th century physics. In contrast, "modernism" and "postmodernism" refer to cultural, philosophical and artistic movements. Griffin (1993) has developed a constructive postmodern framework that offsets the typical focus on deconstruction.
doi:10.1080/02604020701845509 fatcat:shohzsrxorevrcyqqruftappym