Of Process and Heraclitus

“You can never step in the same river twice.”
“All is flux, nothing stays still.”

Our modern preoccupation with process and processes owes a great debt to the Greek philosopher Heraclitus (600-540 B.C.?) He was absolutely correct–nothing stays the same; everything changes over time–be it a human being, a pet, a building, a natural scene, a work of art. Everything is subject to change and, over time, dissolution. The moment, the mood, the thing, being, or place will be changed in seconds, again and again, and so forth. It will not be there forever, let alone seconds, months, days, months, years, decades or centuries from now. Time and its passing implies change and process; process implies our notion of time in its various forms experienced–clock time, mental time, etc. We are forever finding ourselves in various contexts experiencing one process or another. Usually, process implies a duration or portion of process.

There is also an inevitability of process or processes, regardless of how small or how large. To live, to be born, to grow, to decline are all given, inevitable aspects of process. Consciousness is also very much related to process–where one is or is situated in a given process. And so we are relatively aware or unaware of where a process has come from or where it is going, or where we are at any given moment in Heraclitus’s river. We can only be sure that all we see and experience is a part of process and processes, that everything will change (including us), and that there will always be process and processes as the fundamental part of human lives and experience as well as in nature, societies, cultures, and any individual or socially experienced life.

From a Heraclitian perspective, windows, doors, and opportunities become significant; they simply will not necessarily be there to choose later. They will disappear, dissipate, or crumble. Much like those precious personal moments of being or becoming experienced alone or with others. They, too, like everyone, like everything shall change or pass.

As an orientation and the beginnings of consciousness, a basic understanding of process brings one closer to understanding the ephemeralness of life, experience, and anything seemingly permanent. In the end, nothing lasts and everyone or everything changes. The flow itself–the central underlying one- is simply called process. As process, flow subsumes chi, movement, change, and never stops.

“Everything flows and nothing stays.”

Fact. Basic fact, orientation, and world-view. “Process” was not invented in the twentieth century nor today. Nay. It was introduced by an ancient with a lot of common sense and observation who simply knew how things really are and how they go everywhere for everybody and everything for all time.

Yes, Heraclitus=Process and vice-versa. Who’da thunk?


An astute friend extrapolates below with regard to viewer and reader demonstrating the nuances and depths implied by the processes of viewing and reading experiences:

Your “(including us)” is a whole lot more than a simple throw-away statement.  When we repeat any process – view a painting for a second time – the effect of that painting on us will not be the same because we have changed since the first time we saw it.  Seeing it the first time had an effect on us, no matter how great or how small, and so it changed us.  Because we are now no longer the same person who viewed it the first time, it’s effect on us in our second viewing will be different: the process is different.

It’s [Louise] Rosenblatt’s “poem” metaphor – the text and the reader interact to create a “poem.”  And when they interact a second time, and a third, though the text remains the same in each case, the reader is not, and so the resulting poem is no longer the same.  The basis of her response theory.



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