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a synopsis of process thought...
by Sheela Pawar

Process thought is based on the philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead (1861 - 1947). Whitehead departed from traditional philosophy by conceiving of individual entities as series of moments of experience instead of as masses of static substance. Within each moment, an entity is influenced by others, creates its own identity and propels itself into further experiences. Because of the involvement of all moments of experience with each other, Whitehead conceived of the entire cosmos as an organic whole. Just as all the cells in our bodies are interrelated, all elements of the universe -- from the light waves of a distant star to a human being living in Boise, Idaho -- are interrelated. These relationships are not all equal: a single skin cell on a person's toe does not affect his or her life as much as does a nerve cell in the brain. Complex groups of cells, such as the nervous system, have a greater influence on the person than single cells. Analogously, social groups are more effective than single individuals, and individuals are more effective than single cells. People living in the United States are affected by particles released from a volcano in the Philippines. Business practices in Japan affect the global community. Individual elements that have little effect in themselves, such as a molecule of carbon dioxide, are often greatly effective in large numbers, as ecological effects of large amounts of carbon dioxide pollution attest. Relativity is descriptive of sub-atomic particles, social groups, as well as planetary systems.

Whitehead's philosophy is grand in scope. It provides a metaphysical system applicable to all aspects of our lives. It has been utilized to provide insights into aesthetics, biology, economics, education, interpersonal relations, physics, physiology, political theory, psychology, the relationship among the world's religions, and theology. As a comprehensive metaphysical system, process thought is intrinsically trans-disciplinary.

American philosopher Charles Hartshorne (1897-2000) developed and systematized Whitehead's way of thinking about the Divine. Just as the systems of the human body are guided by the human mind, Hartshorne conceived of the Divine as the guiding principle of the cosmos. Thus, the cosmos is the very body of the Divine. As the human mind is something more than the human body, the Divine is not simply equal to the sum of the ingredients of the universe. God is affected by the elements of the universe, living the joys and sorrows of every created entity, yet God is not overcome by this multitude of feeling. God's vision of the perfection of the creative universe functions as an eternal vision of hope. God gently persuades all entities towards this perfection by providing each of them with a glimpse of the divine vision of a better future. And yet all entities retain the freedom to depart from that vision.

Process thought, then, offers a vision of hope. As a relational rather than mechanistic cosmology, process thought addresses questions of social, political, economic, and ecological justice. Process thinkers work toward changing harmful and restrictive social structures to reflect the interrelational reality. Process thought advocates personal, global, and environmental responsibility; community-based economics; participatory, grassroots democracy; an end to patriarchal structures; respect for gender, ethnic, cultural, and racial diversity; non-violence; and ecological and economic sustainability.