Welcome to Emerging Futures -- Vol 56! “A Picture Held Us Captive…” On Embracing Process...
Good Morning fall travelers,
As the nights get longer the wonderful darkness of the morning stretches further into the day. By four the moon has set and so we can awaken to a heavens full of stars and work in darkness without noticing a change till long past six.
It is somewhere in that long moment of darkness that is neither night nor morning that these words are joining the world.
It has been another busy week. We recorded a podcast with Daily of the Month — was a lot of fun riffing with Chris and Josh in Aachen, we’re curious about the final version. We have also been busy preparing for a couple of presentations later in the fall — our goal is to take on the major myths around creativity (as we see it) and offer clear actionable alternatives. We have been testing out ways to articulate this in our Linkedin posts over the last week or so — which has led to some wonderful conversations. This post On Leaders is worth your time.
This week we are wrapping up our exploration of Creativity and Processes. It is a potentially inexhaustible topic — after all every thing is process. But, as true as this is, even processes come to some form of an end…
We have noticed that talking about reality this way — that everything is process, throws all of us off to some degree. Our everyday experience seems not to be one of all encompassing dynamism of pure flowing processes — it certainly feels firmly situated in a world of things.
My morning is full of things: a cat, cat food, dishes, bowls, coffee cups, coffee beans, water, tables, chairs, lamps, papers, phone…
And that I interact with things in a sense from the “outside” — everything is separate, and I reach out to grasp the things I wish to interact with in a very directly causal manner.
My personal sense of how things are as I sit here this morning is of separate discrete entities that passively await activation, and are brought together by the actions of an outside agent (a human— me) in a clear causal manner:
And this can lead us to sense everything as a thing from the most ungraspable — our thinking or creativity — to the most graspable a coffee cup — but is it really so? What about everything being a process? Where is that?
I feel that the first thing to address is our sense that it is obvious or even natural to experience reality this way — as a world of things. There is nothing inherently obvious or natural about this.
“Tell me," Wittgenstein asked,
"Why do people always say, it was natural for man to assume that the sun went round the earth rather than that the earth was rotating?"
His friend replied, "Well, obviously because it just looks as though the Sun is going round the Earth."
To which Wittgenstein responded, "Well, what would it have looked like if it had looked as though the Earth was rotating…?”
This is the same with our particular situated historical approach to things vs processes.
A Coffee cup is a process, as is a mountain, a political movement, rain, or this newsletter. As such they do not “appear” differently than if one considers them discreet things. How I see my coffee cup now is exactly how it would appear as a process…
Then, what does it mean to say “all reality is process”?
Let’s start with how the contemporary sciences view reality:
“In the context of contemporary science… “nature” [reality] does not consist of basic particulars [things], but fields and processes… There is no bottom level of base particulars with intrinsic properties that upwardly determines everything else. Everything is process all the way “down” and all the way “up”…” (Evan Thompson, Mind in Life, p. 440)
This might at first feel disorientating— after all where are these “fields and processes”? I only see things — my computer, the coffee cup…
It is useful to understand that this perspective says more about us than it does about reality:
“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.” (Rein Raud, Being in Flux. Italics added).
Appreciating this tension between our perspective and a larger sense of the vast dynamic scope of processes is helpful, as Raud goes on to say:
“This does not mean that [discreet] 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 continuous things, stable objects, or egocentric particulars, but only between fields of constitutive tensions, and they are always formed on different bandwidths simultaneously.”
To note that there is a difference between our perspective and reality of processes is not to say we should or can ignore the dynamic processual nature of reality in our daily lives. To do so and to make the critical mistake of reintroducing entities as substances with fixed intrinsic properties (internal essences) will fundamentally hide what is perhaps the most critical quality of a process understanding: how everything is relational.
Processes at all levels from discreet things like my coffee cup to political movements are “irreducibly relational — they exist only in patterns, networks, organizations, configurations or webs… Phenomena at all scales are not entities or substances but relatively stable [relational] processes…” (Evan Thompson).
This phrase “irreducibly relational'' is what is critical. Relationality is not just that things are connected in some formal manner like all the stuff piled up on my dining room table: books, glasses, computers, papers, cables, mail…
The irreducible relationality of reality is something quite different: we should understand relationality as both a “thing” in its own right and as what determines the “parts” in a process is a critical shift in the reinvention of creativity as a process (without falling back into a substance viewpoint). Relations begin in the middle:
And from this middle they transform their component parts (processes).
Our historical reductive and atomistic logic has us always searching or proposing a discreet and singular origin — some stable ground that everything directly and linearly builds up from: e.g. “creativity emerges in the firing of neurons in the brain…”
But there is no origin of this kind:
“Since processes achieve stability at different levels of complexity, while still interacting with processes at other levels, all are equally real and none has absolute ontological primacy.” (Evan Thompson).
There is no origin.
This is very very hard to accept coming from our historical tradition that has always focused all meaning on a discreet origin — the mind of god, the intention of a creator — “in the beginning…”
But, one might ask: new things come about — that is the core logic of creativity! How is this possible if there is no origin?
Yes, this is precisely what matters — from a process perspective: The middle is the beginning…
Causality is circular. Events are self-making…
Let’s return to Wittgenstein, he was not making an argument that either view was OK — or that if one was an error, it was a natural and excusable error to make.
No, for Wittgenstein, as he says elsewhere “a picture held us captive, and we could not get outside it, for it lay in our language and language seemed to repeat it to us inexorably…”
Our historical habits, practices, language, and much else make it a challenge to get out of a way of seeing, sensing and doing that is “thing” based.
But by developing other ways of doing, acting, sensing and being alive this picture would disappear — while we cannot simply set out of this logic — we can do the work of making an alternative path in the walking away from this picture.
What is this “picture” in regards specifically to creativity?
We see it as a series of thing based myths:
But if neither the earth is at the center of the solar system, nor reality composed of discrete entities then this approach can give way to logics that emerge from a process based approach to reality and creativity:
If you begin by implicitly assuming that creativity is some discreet thing in the head of a discreet individual that has unique causal powers you will fold all events into this logic— this picture as Wittgenstein would put it.
With such a latent set of “thing-centric” patterns we look back at events and see them from within a pre-existing logic — an ecology of patterns and practices that is actively leading us more towards a hyper human and hyper brain focused reduced and reductive vision of creativity. It is a picture that in its reduction allows no meaningful way to engage creativity beyond a set of platitudes: “we all can be more curious, think like a child, get out, use our senses, daydream, connect…”
We see this logic of reductive atomistic thing thinking repeated over and over again in the telling of innovation stories where the success and failure of how some person thinks is the direct cause for the creation of the new:
“In 1948, George de Mestral went hiking… and noticed that burrs from plants… stuck to his clothing… After examining he realized…”
He noticed, and he realized... Now the world drops away, the before and after, the near and far — all drop away and we just turn our attention to him and what made him special to be able to notice and realize some thing when others did not. Now creativity is reduced to a moment and a discreet thing.
What are we missing when we do this? Is it really all about the unique discreet human (interview only the geniuses), a single moment (get the EEG) or one profound skill (abductive reasoning)?
Why are we not asking: How did the Velcro come about in the wild without a creator? Why are we not trying to tease out the agency to the plant in this process? What came before, after or was happening elsewhere? What about processes, forces and fields that are irreducible to any one person, or moment?
Could it be that in the case of the human involved development of Velcro a dynamic system stabilized in such a way that it made for a certain range of dynamic outcomes more likely than others?
Could it be that the event of Velcro coming into being emerges from a middle?
In focusing on the interior of a single individual we miss the open and dynamic whole that is opening up spaces of possibility.
Now it is not that George’s noticing is not relevant, but it is not all encompassing of the whole of the dynamic process(es) nor is it even inherently necessary. “Velcro” has emerged in many differing ways without human intentionality — this alone should give us pause.
Our capacities involved in the development of Velcro, like those of plants and their Velcro, are ecosystemic properties — they are not internal possessions. The question of creativity is a dynamic ecosystemic process one — how do we make processes — systems that will allow for more novelty to emerge?
Creativity is a process, and not a thing — it was never individualistic, and it cannot be properly understood — never mind practiced at the level of an individual and their unique brains — all creativity is situated, emerging from the midst of dynamic processes.
The crux is that to engage effectively with creative processes we cannot remain under the sway of the picture that has held us captive for far too long — that of a world of discreet things where we continue to assume all pathways will flow through individuals, and their brains, and the causal power of the ideas that magically spring forth…
How do we engage with creative processes?
Over the last eight issues of the newsletter we have laid out a process view of reality and creativity — from what it is, to how to effectively and practically engage with creative processes:
Now the sun is above the horizon — the earth does not stop spinning and moving (nor does the sun)… and so we leave you here.
Have a great week immersed in creative processes!
Till Volume 57,
Jason and Iain
Emergent Futures Lab
We’re How You Innovate
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