Process Physics: An organismic neo-Whiteheadian physics (International Whitehead Conference 2017) | Jeroen van Dijk

Process Physics is a new way of doing physics that has been developed by Australian professor of physics Reg Cahill and his co-workers. It very much agrees with Lee Smolin’s line of reasoning (2019) that our modeling of nature should be a relational monadology, just as envisioned by Newton’s main opponent Gottfried Leibniz. Smolin holds that a lot of our problems in contemporary physics come from our Newtonian way of ‘doing physics in a box’. This is a way of doing physics which isolates our target of observation from the rest of the universe (including the observer) and then problematically extrapolates its findings to nature-as-a-whole.

In contrast, Process Physics can be characterized as a neo-Whiteheadian, habit-centered, biocentric way of doing physics without a box. It starts out with an initially undifferentiated homogeneity of noisy, self-organizing background processuality which gradually turns out to give rise to an ever-more complex network of dynamically evolving relationships. It does so by setting up a stochastic, self-reference-based modeling of nature in which all self-referential and initially noisy activity patterns are ‘mutually in-formative’ in the sense that they are actively making a meaningful difference to each other (i.e. ‘in-forming’ or ‘actively giving shape to each other’). In this way, the system evolves from its initial featurelessness to then ‘branch out’ to higher and higher levels of complexity – all this according to roughly the same basic principles as naturally developing neural networks or slime mold foraging patterns (Burchett et al. 2020).

Because of this self-organizing and noise-driven branching behaviour, the thus emerging relational network can be thought of as habit-bound with a potential for creative novelty and open-ended evolution. Furthermore, three-dimensionality, (quasi-)classical behaviour, and gravitational, relativistic and inertial effects are spontaneously emergent features within this evolving web of interrelations. Also, the network’s constantly renewing activity patterns bring along an inherent present moment effect, thereby reintroducing time as the system’s ‘becomingness’.

As a final point, subjectivity – in the form of ‘mutual informativeness’ (which is also used in Gerald Edelman’s and Giulio Tononi’s extended theory of neuronal group selection to explain how higher-order consciousness can emerge) – is a naturally evolving, innate feature, not a coincidental, later-arriving side-effect or epiphenomenon.

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