In other words, are relationships something added to an already existing thing or substance, or are relationships the very essence of existence? The question concerns the ontological status of relationships.
A Process View
From my point of view (influenced by Process Philosophy), we don’t exist… we happen. The whole universe is happening – not in time or space, but time and space are created from the myriad of happenings. Every happening or event is a “drop of experience”, and every experience is a creative integration –a “concrescence” of all preceding experiential events. It might be better said that we are not “human beings”, but we are “human becomings”.
The “self” does not first exist and then have relationships added to it. We are relationships – the “self” emerges from relationships. Thus, relationships precede the self. To be is to be in relationship. The process of reality is that (to quote Whitehead):“The Many become One, and are (thereby) increased by one.” The “I” is synonymous with an experiential event which, after it happens (or following its creation), it becomes a “me” which is a potential for the next becoming “I”.
If this is true, the individualistic effort to improve the “self” may be misguided. The “self” (because it is created out of relationships) can only be improved by improving the quality of our relationships rather than striving for personal success or happiness.
A Substance View
An alternative view is that the “self” is a substance. By substance I mean that which is in need of nothing other than itself in order to exist. The concept is not limited to that which can be detected by the senses – or what some might describe as physical stuff. Many religions have a substantial understanding of the “self”, “spirit”, or “soul”. According to classical Christian theology, each “soul” is created “ex nihilo” (out of absolute nothingness) by God at the time of conception. Others believe that God, or the ONE, is a primordial substance which, according to several different myths, became differentiated somehow (as sparks from a fire, or drops of water from the ocean) and which through a process of involution is being put back together again as One. Or, perhaps the separation of the ONE is an illusion which must be overcome in order to be enlightened. Perhaps this illusion can’t be overcome in one lifetime so that the seemingly separate soul substance must be reincarnated again and again until it finally reaches enlightenment. Regardless of the myth, the one commonality is that Ultimate Reality is non-relational and that relationships are unessential to existence.
Possible Questions for Discussion
- · Is there a correlation between the concept of an autonomous individual (which seems to be especially valued in our western culture) and the Newtonian scientific worldview of reality consisting of autonomous atoms?
- · Are there both external and internal relations? If so, how can we describe them or what’s the difference between them?
- · Is the quality of our relations affected by our worldview? How?
- · Are there different types of relationships (other than internal and external) and, if so, how can we describe them? For instance, what do we mean when we talk about intimate relationships?
- · What happens to children who have been isolated for long periods of time at an early age? Does research on these children shed any light on the essentialness of relationships?
- · Do we have anything we can share concerning ways we can improve our relations with other people, with nature, with God or Spirit?