Process Theology and the Intuitive Mind
Networks of Meaning
One time my oldest son went to hear a lecture by a gifted musician. He enjoyed the lecture very much, but he wasn't sure he could rehearse its thesis.
As he was leaving he said to a professor: "I don't think I can restate his thesis or his line of argumentation." The professor said: "He wasn't offering a single line of argumentation, he was displaying networks of meaning."
What can it mean to think in terms of networks of meaning? In the video "Manuel Lima senior UX design lead at Microsoft Bing, explores the power of network visualisation to help navigate our complex modern world." RSA (Royal Society of the Arts) offers these videos free: <http://comment.rsablogs.org.uk/videos/>.
To get a sense of network thinking, consider a rhizome. According to the RSA animate, it is "an acentered non-hierarchical, non-signifying system without a general organizing memory or central automaton, defined solely by a circulation of states."
When we enter into network thinking, we begin to think rhizomatically.
A Metaphysics for Network Thinking
Among 20th century philosophers, Alfred North Whitehead offers a metaphysical perspective that supports network thinking. In Process and Reality: An Essay in Cosmology, he presents the universe as a seamless web of interconnected events and proposes that even the inclusive mind of the universe, even God, is relational.
He suggests as well that every individual node in the web of life, whether on our planet or in any other sphere of existence, is intimately entangled with every other node in the web, which means that individuals are not self-contained substances but rather outcomes of, and contributors to, the larger web.
Thus he rejects the view that individual entities have single causes. Any event that occurs in our world, from a single act of human decision-making to a galactic explosion in outer space, emerges out of an infinitely complex past and adds to an infinitely complex future: "The many become one and are increased by one."
You can learn more about Whiteheadian thinking by going to the website of the Center for Process Studies:
Process theologians build upon his perspective to develop unique forms of theology that encourage network thinking. Many are Christian, but some are Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, and Bahai. You can learn more about the religious side of the process perspective by going to the Process and Faith website:
Not all process theologians are theistic. Some find ultimacy in the sheer interconnectedness of things. But theistic process theologians build upon Whitehead's understanding of God to develop a relational theology. For them God is personal and filled with empathy and intelligence. God is the unfolding Network within whose life the universe unfolds.
We cannot picture this Network by means of a map, but we can feel the presence of the Network within our own lives as a lure toward wisdom, compassion, and creativity. And we can trust that the Network somehow embraces all of us with an arc of love. This trust is what process theologians call faith.
The Interconnected Universe
Manuel Lima draws upon the work of Warren Weaver to suggest that science has gone through three phases. From the 17th century to the early 20th century, it was concerned with how one entity influences another. In the early and middle of the 20th century it turned its attention to the reality of random occurences, thus giving rise to a science of chaos. And then, in the latter part of the twentieth century it has turned its attention to the reality of organized complexity and self-organizing wholes. He believes that network thinking is more appropriate to organized complexity than earlier forms of thinking concerned with single causes.
Logic both Rational and Mystical
As I shared his talk with a friend, my friend said: "Oh, I do not have to think logically anymore." But we quickly realized that Lima was introducing the idea of a new kind of logic that sees things in terms of dynamic gestalts and circulatory states, that is at home with non-hierarchical approaches to life, that does not see things as reaching closure because things keep circulating, that is sensitive to the absolute interconnectedness of all things.
This new logic can seem mystical in its own way. At least it is non-linear. Linear forms of thinking think in terms of discrete and relatively self-contained entities which can be defined apart from their connections with others, and which are moved by other discrete and relatively self-contained entities. Network logic can seem non-rational because it is non-linear. However, it might better be called another kind of reasoning, perhaps tapping into a different part of the brain.
The Intuitive Mind
What part of the brain? The question is problematic because the brain is a network, too. Still, the brain is asymmetrical and divided between two hemispheres. In the RSA video at the bottom of this page, the renowned psychiatrist and writer Iain McGilchrist proposes that there is value in honoring two kinds of mind: the intuitive mind of the right hemisphere and the more controlling mind of the left hemisphere. He thinks that society today has fallen too swiftly into a valorization of the controlling mind at the expense of the intuitive mind. Perhaps network thinking has a logic of its own, but perhaps its logic is more intuitive than linear. Call it intuitive reason as opposed to controlling reason.
Linear Thinking is Good, Too
McGilchrist calls for a healthy synthesis of the two kinds of mind. In this respect he is very much like those of us influenced by Whitehead. He is passionate about reason and the careful use of language, but also passionate the intuitive mind. Those of us influenced by Whitehead are as well. If a new and more rhizomatic paradigm for thinking is emerging in the 21st century, and if it is more appropriate for certain circumstances; it is also the case that linear thinking is appropriate for other circumstances.
Whitehead was a philosopher and also a mathematician. He knew the pleasures of a linearly-ordered argument and a well-crafted piece of prose. He knew they had cognitive value. Let us hope that our engineers can think in linear terms; let us hope that our attorneys can develop clear, well-formulated arguments for defending the poor.
Multiple Intelligence Theory
Whitehead's philosophy lends itself to an appreciation of multiple forms of intelligence: mathematical-logical, verbal-linguistic, visual-spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, naturalistic, existential. Linear thinking is a combination of mathematical-logical and verbal-linguistic. I borrow the idea from the Harvard educational theorist, Howard Gardner: www.howardgardner.com.
Network thinking adds a strong visual-spatial component and finds value in the other forms. The problem of the 21st century does not lie in its appreciation of verbal-linguistic and mathematical-logical, but rather in its valorization of these two forms of intelligence as the only forms worth appreciating, and in its neglect of other forms of intelligence. When only two forms of intelligence are valorized, the others are repressed.
Sometimes even verbal-linguistic intelligence is reduced to simple-minded clarity, neglectful of the cognitive value of more poetic and multivalent uses of language. Even when it comes to verbal wisdom, there can be wisdom in vagueness: that is, in not being able to make definitive determinations of meaning. The wisdom of much poetry lies in this undecidability.
Undecidability makes room for more spacious orientation toward life, a sense of having a bigger picture of things, albeit without a frame. For process theologians, a willingness not to place everything inside a mental frame of our own making -- and not to hypostasize a particular region of mental space in which God resides -- is the very heart of faith.
The faith at issue is not firm belief but father as trust in the availability of fresh possibilities. It is not controlling or acquisitive. It is not adaptive and flexible and free. It has its own rhizomatic beauty. Perhaps faith is a transition from left to right hemisphere and then a return to balanced creativity. Let Iain McGilchrist make the case.