Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Nouns are Delusional

A friend of mine recently said to me, “nouns are delusional.” When I asked him to elaborate, he said he was quoting a physicist, but couldn’t remember who. Basically the idea is that nouns presuppose a static, unchanging object. Modern physics has shown that everything is changing all the time and that matter is energy, so nouns should actually be verbs to bring in the dimension of time and change. Instead of Kathleen, I should be called “Kathleening.”
I spent a little time googling the idea and found that Buckminster Fuller described himself as a verb. He published a book in 1970 called I Seem to Be a Verb: Environment and Man’s Future in which he wrote: 
I live on Earth at present, and I don’t know what I am. I know that I am not a category. I am not a thing — a noun. I seem to be a verb, an evolutionary process — an integral function of the universe.
My friend’s comment resonated with me because I had just read about the philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead, which also emphasizes the need to bring the element of time into our understanding of matter. From Rupert Sheldrake’s Science Set Free:
Whitehead was probably the first philosopher to recognize the radical implications of quantum physics. He realized that the wave theory of matter destroyed the old idea of material bodies as essentially spatial, existing at points in time, but without any time within them. According to quantum physics, every primordial element of matter is ‘an organized system of vibratory streaming of energy.’ A wave does not exist in an instant, it takes time; its waves connect the past and the future. He thought of the physical world as made up not of material objects but actual entities or events. An event is a happening or a becoming. It has time within it. It is a process, not a thing.
Whitehead’s philosophy is known as “process philosophy,” and its ontology (the study of being) replaces Being with Becoming. Nouns are objects that exist (being). Verbs are processes that become.
This has made me realize that the conception of static, unchanging objects is just another part of our delusional mind-generated reality. When I think of objects, I think of them as unchanging entities; change might happen but that doesn’t alter the essence of the object. For example, my car: I think of it as a wondrous mechanical device composed of an engine, transmission, wheels, and the body that I sit in (among other parts). Those things are the essence of the object “car.” When I think of it out there in my driveway, I think of a completely static and unchanging object. When a sparkplug gets clogged, or the transmission goes out, I think that something broke, and when it is fixed it goes back to normal. “Fixing” implies getting it back to its “fixed,” static object state.
What if instead I visualized my car as a verb, as a changing stream of processes? It’s actually instantly clear to me that this is a much better way to look at the car—what it is today is the sum of ten years of existence, of driving and sitting, all the dings on the doors and sludge in the transmission, and it will be different this afternoon after I drive to the Y.
I have always loved to look at trees in the winter, and this idea of “nouns should be verbs” is the reason why—without the leaves you can see the history of an individual tree written in the shape of its limbs. But now I realize that I was still seeing the tree as a static object, frozen in a moment in time, and not as a flowing movement of process in time.
When I apply this concept to myself it’s liberating. I’m not stuck as some unchanging “me,” I am a constantly evolving Becoming. I’m a work in progress. 

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