Welcome to Emerging Futures -- Vol 46! It Is All Processes Within Processes...
Good morning entangled processes,
It has been another hot week. We like how George Monboit frames this heat. The weather is the conversation.
It has been another week of workshops for us. Yesterday we had the final presentations of our fifth cohort of our urban design innovation program ‘BELA’ where we work with high school students to speculatively redesign our urban environments. We take on areas in their communities that are contentious for various critical reasons and work on redesigning these areas in highly speculative ways to propose powerful equitable and green alternatives. During this process the teams calculate all of the costs with financial models in a highly sophisticated manner working with a professor in real estate. At the end they present these back to their communities. What is great is that they can factually argue that their radical green and equitable solutions are viable economically. This is quite empowering and challenging for communities and town councils who have been told by developers and others that “we cannot afford to develop affordable and green developments”. Yesterday was a really amazing day — to see high school students propose radical and viable urban plans to their communities was transformative.
Over the last few weeks we have focused on the critical topic of exaptation in our newsletter. Over the rest of the summer we wish to shift the focus to digging into processes — what they are and why they matter.
In the western tradition ‘man’ has been the measure of all ‘things’.
While we have come to see the profound problems with this anthropocentric and patriarchical view. We have focused less on how this perspective with its strong focus on humans and things covers up the process nature of reality.
Our contemporary western model of creativity is human and thing focused: it is something that occurs in our heads.
But the process view would suggest otherwise: creativity arises from the middle of dynamic relational processes. We have been touching on many aspects of this process, but we have never tried to get at processes in a simple and direct manner.
This newsletter is the beginning of shifting this…
While there are many beginning points to develop a useful and practical non-anthropocentric creativity. For us the basis would be an understanding of reality as networked dynamic relational processes.
Everything comes into the present via the coming together of many processes and constitutive relationships and opens up onto a future open to many potential paths that are kept stable via many other relationships and stable processes.
As Rein Raud says in his wonderful book Being in Flux:
“On every level, ‘being’ consists in fluctuating tensions that constitute relational patterns, and the imagined stability of entities is derived from flattened images of such tensions observed from an outside perspective. This does not mean that entities are somehow not ‘real’, if by ‘real’ we mean the capacity to participate in causal linkages. Nonetheless relations never occur between self-same and continuously things, stable objects, or egocentric particulars, but only between fields of constitutive tensions, and they are always formed on different bandwidths simultaneously.”
Our lives consist of countless interwoven processes that repeat. These range from infinitely small to massive: the process of our heart beating to climate change. And while these two processes can seem worlds apart each touch the other: our heart is further stressed by rising temperatures, and our diet to keep our hearts healthy by eating lean meats are shaping what lives on the planet and this is impacting the processes contributing to climate change.
But before leaping into the infinitely thick and overwhelming web of entangled processes, let's look at things in a very simple way:
Every day shortly after we wake up many of us engage in the action of brushing our teeth. It is a process we could describe as a set of deeply connected sequential actions:
It is a very holistic embodied process that is done as a mainly unthought act (know-how vs know-what). In the flow of it you are rarely if ever pausing to consciously contemplate the next step. Nonetheless we can see that there are steps, materials, and a pattern that repeats.
It is a process that has a distinct pattern of actions, with specific materials in an environmental context that you did it today and you will do it tomorrow.
Our first crack at defining a process then is that it is an event that is composed of a set of sequential actions that could potentially repeat.
While it is hard to truly define the beginning and the end of events — did brushing your teeth start with the emergence of the first tooth millions of years in the past? From a specific perspective of events and their processual nature we can see that they contain a beginning and end. Because of a perspective and the quasi-discreteness of the process we can say that processes have an identity. We could draw such a process as a loop:
This loop is composed of rough steps that have an overall trajectory or goal that connects to other processes: teeth brushing will flow into countless other daily practices.
If we zoomed in on each of the actions that happen during the process of brushing our teeth we would see that these too are processes that are composed of actions. Processes nest inside processes:
And if we zoomed out from this process we would see that it is nested inside of other processes and that these are further nested inside other processes. Brushing our teeth is nested inside of the process of daily hygiene. And this is nested inside of cultural process of wellbeing.
The nested and multi-scalar nature of practices is quite interesting, important and complicated. We cannot really understand or engage with a process effectively at one scale. Processes are always multi-scalar and nested. For the sake of clarity or efficiency we will often look at one scale discreetly — such as we are doing by isolating the process of brushing our teeth. In reality all processes are perspectival and multi-scalar.
The concept of nested processes can lead to reductionist misunderstandings where we imagine either the smallest level or the largest level drives the whole process. But the reductionist fallacy which we see in things like the iceberg metaphor rests upon a simple misunderstanding of what it means to be nested: Nested processes are only semi-nested, levels can and do interact directly: how we brush our teeth can shape directly the process of cultural wellbeing and vice versa. And these interactions are complex, emergent and non-linear.
These questions of non-linearity, immanence and emergence — these are topics we will put aside for now and come back to in later blog posts.
What makes a process stable?
Many other distinct processes need to converge in a way that stabilizes some part of the process. The toothpaste is a convergence of set of processes to produce abrasives, antibacterial agents, detergents, remineralizers, gelling agents, and anti-sensitivity agents. Each of these processes involve mining, chemical production, and complex factory processes that involve long periods of time, multiple steps, countless locations and a vast geography.
At each stage of the process very different things are converging in an emergent and holistic manner: habits, materials, practices and concepts. Quite a bit has to be kept in place for a system to stabilize and repeat (while allowing for the fact that processes are far more dynamic and full of continuous micro variation).
And if we looked at these convergences as a ‘slice’ in time we would see an interacting network:
As events progress through varying stages the network shifts — differing processes come into play and others recede. We can (and will) say a lot more about networks, relationships, boundaries and their dynamic. But for now this will suffice.
Processes are not just linear flows that have a singular possible outcome. Each step in a process could have a number of potential viable outcomes of which only one is enacted. The future of multiple potential variations haunts the present.
And if we looked at this ‘decision moment’ as a ‘slice’ in time we would see a virtual field:
This field would be defined by critical variables or what Raud terms “constitutive tensions” and can be diagrammed to show potential differing outcomes as being conditioned by these variables. The field is the moment by moment cross-section of the dynamic process.
As an introduction to processes — let's stop here. For this week start playing with these terms, notice and feel how you are process. Put these terms to work:
Can you diagram how they play out in your daily life?
For you what is missing in this description? Start to add concepts and tools.
How would you use this approach to reorient your creative practices? What specifically will you do differently?
Over the next month we will add, enrich and complexify this introduction into processes and the worldly dynamics of creativity. Till then stay distributed, dynamic, intra-woven, emergent and processual!
Have an astonishing week!
Till Volume 47,
Jason and Iain
Emergent Futures Lab
We’re How You Innovate
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