Everything flows: A process perspective on life
Jaeger (Johannes) & Monk (Nick)
Source: EMBO Reports 16(9), 1064–1067
Paper - Abstract

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Authors’ Introduction

  1. Sometimes, an important aspect of the world is so obvious that we simply take it for granted. We rarely discuss it or even think about it explicitly.
  2. In our opinion, the processual nature of reality — that it is fundamentally a sequence of interconnected occurrences or events — is one such aspect: we continually experience change, but tend instead to explain the world in terms of static things.
  3. For historical reasons, Western philosophy — and with it the scientific world view — largely adheres to this notion: that substance is fundamental and processes are mere epiphenomena or derived properties of things. The tradition can be traced back to ancient Greek philosophers, such as the atomists, and it is still prominent today in both research and everyday life. Almost without exception, science seeks explanations in terms of things that exhibit some kind of agency: the fundamental particles of physics, for instance, or genes as hereditary factors and determinants of form, physiology and behaviour in biology.
  4. As substance- and process-based views provide two complementary ways to explain reality, we think that the focus on substance has become unnecessarily limiting and is now impeding conceptual advances in science.
  5. The process perspective provides a richer and more natural picture of reality for three main reasons.
    1. First, it is difficult to find anything that is truly universally and eternally unchangeable. Everything changes — galaxies, stars, planets, landscapes, ecosystems, organisms, cells, genetic sequences, molecules and even atoms — although at vastly different timescales.
    2. Second, substance does not have any effect without process. If something does not dynamically interact with any other thing, it is inert and hence irrelevant. In fact, it cannot even be perceived, since perception is itself a dynamic interaction.
    3. Finally, while nothing is perceivable without process, there are many processes that are not things: a thunderstorm, for example, or a burning flame, or a disease running through a population, or a story being told, or your thoughts while reading this paper, or the headache some of us get when thinking about metaphysics.
  6. It is true that these phenomena involve entities — molecules, viral particles or electrochemical potentials in our nerve cells — but these entities are exchangeable; they come and go during the lifetime of a process. What defines and characterises a process are the dynamical interactions among constituents, not the constituents per se.


For the full text, see Jaeger & Monk - Everything flows: A process perspective on life

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