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an international and interdisciplinary journal of postmodern cultural sound, text and image

Volume 16, Spring 2019, ISSN 1552-5112


Networks, Processes and Eregnisse (Events):

A Metaphysics and Ontology for the Age of Dynamic Entanglement



Tina Rock





We live in an age of entanglement and connection; we are able to reach the four corners of the universe at the touch of a finger. Science also seems to uncover more and more evidence for the fact that we are engulfed by constant creation and evolution, by connectivity and malleability, by networks and information. Thus, it appears to be the case that dynamic processes do not only fundamentally shape the realm of technology but also modern physics as well as biology. However, we lack an ontology and a metaphysical system that can cope with this dynamic reality. Traditional hierarchical metaphysical systems and the conventional ontologies of substance - characterised by stability and the simple location of well-defined and separate constitutive elements - seem quite incapable of accounting for the dynamic and entangled reality that we are currently creating and uncovering. This state of affairs is not surprising since relationality and creative change pose many challenges for rational thought. The most fundamental of these challenges that we encounter in coming to terms with our entangled dynamic reality seems to be the following: How can we conceptualise, systematise or account for - in a word how can we think - that which is relational, changing and creative as well as novel, without either turning it into stable hierarchical structures or ending with relativism and epistemic chaos?

In this paper, I will propose three concepts that I consider fundamental in order to come to terms with these challenges: dynamic networks, processes and the Ereignis. Adequately understood all three terms describe or imply the dynamic, correlated, evolving and multiple reality we live in, but each concept focuses on and accounts for different aspects of what there is. The aim of their presentation in what follows is simply to clarify the nature of these conceptual layers and their mutual inter-dependence and thus to take a first step towards building an ontology and metaphysics that is able to cope with the reality we live in. A reality of dynamic entanglement.


1.    Introduction.

Where I argue that any metaphysics and any ontology is merely an attempt to describe and order the relevant or essential aspects of what there is as it is.


Every metaphysical system attempts to grasp reality as a whole, our place in it and the generation of meaning in this world, just like any ontology attempts to describe the existential categorical basis of this world. But the various metaphysical and ontological descriptions proposed throughout the history of thought differ widely in their account of what there is, in their account of how meaning is generated and, in their account of our place in the world. How can that be the case if, as I claim, all of them try to grasp this same world, namely the world that we live in? I will argue that they only differ because they disagree on what aspects of this world should be considered fundamental or relevant, and what aspects are merely accidental and can be disregarded in constructing an adequate understanding of reality. Metaphysics and ontology, as philosophical and intellectual enterprises are situated in the realm of thought and language and thus are the result of selection, abstraction and idealisation. No metaphysical system, no ontology can provide a full account of all aspects of what there is in realistic detail – there is always a selection to be made. Just like no map can display the actual complexity of the landscape it corresponds to and still function as a map, any description or account of reality has to disregard those aspects that appear to be irrelevant for the account at hand, in order to be able to provide an intelligible account of what there is. Ultimately there is always more detail to reality than our general and abstract concepts can account for, there is always more complexity than our theories can convey and more change than we can accommodate in our systems of thought.


The world to be accounted for is always the same world – the world we live in, the world we conceptualise and the world we explore in the sciences. However, what is considered necessary or relevant to describe or understand this world changes from ontology to ontology, from metaphysics to metaphysics. And thus, metaphysicians specialise on what they consider fundamental: they specialise, for example, in explaining what is necessary, or what is lawful, what is ideal, in accounting for what can be experienced, in the material construction of reality, or the mathematical structure underlying reality, or they might specialise in providing an account for what is intelligible. Similarly, the metaphysics and ontology of dynamic entanglement, that I will work towards in this paper, is just another specialisation, but this line of thought specialises on those aspects of reality that are usually excluded in metaphysical accounts. To give a first impression of the aspects that dynamic metaphysicians specialise in and to give a first indication as to how this specialisation compares to more traditional metaphysical and ontological forms of specialisation, I will begin my investigation with a quick overview over some paradigmatic forms of thought that shaped the history of metaphysics and ontology.


2.    Historical background.

Where I take a look at the emergence of philosophy in the west and the reasons why traditionally becoming, change and creativity are generally overlooked and thus omitted from the investigation.

If we take a closer look at philosophy in its ancient Greek infancy, a certain correlation between the philosopher’s understanding what is fundamental to reality and in the way the world is accounted for emerges. There were those ancient thinkers who departed from mathematics, logic or objects/things in order to explain reality and these thinkers tended to prefer hierarchical structures and stable elements when explaining what there is. However, at the same time, there were also those thinkers who considered qualitative, organic and becoming nature as paradigmatic and who tended to explain reality through more dynamic structures. Dynamic thinkers tend to think reality through the paradigm of physis (nature), while thinkers that prefer stable hierarchies tend to use the ideals (idea or essentia) or things (pragma or res) as their paradigm.

It is especially interesting to follow this correlation in Aristotle. Depending on his object of study, from predicates or properties (categories), to metaphysical entities (metaphysics), nature (physics) or biology (e.g. de generatione animalium) his account of what is fundamental shifts. In the categories for example, where he studies the nature of things (or the way we predicate, depending on one’s interpretation of the text) there is no category connected to change, and change is treated as purely secondary. While there are categories concerning causing effects (acting, poiein) and being acted on (undergoing, paschein), the qualitative change involved in these processes is not itself discussed in any detail. In the physics on the other hand, where Aristotle studies nature, change turns out to become so fundamental that Aristotle begins Book III with the claim that nature should be “defined as a 'principle of motion and change' […]”. (Aristotle, 1984, S. 200b12) The metaphysics is characterised by a combination of stability and becoming, depending on the inquiry and the context. Similarly, there is one text of Plato’s that is genuinely concerned with becoming and development, namely the Timaeus. This is the only Platonic dialogue we have available that focuses on natural philosophy. It is an attempt to account for nature through a form of natural history.

Some remnants of dynamic thought persisted throughout the history of philosophy, hiding in plain sight – especially present in those works that were concerned with qualitative nature (physis)[1], the living and the organic. Much of German Idealism and Romantic thought, for example, was concerned with the changing, related, temporal and historical aspects of reality. And it is noteworthy how deeply this tradition was influenced and inspired by investigations into life and nature. Further examples of this correlation between nature, life and dynamic (as well as relational) thought can be found in Henrí Bergson. Bergson’s philosophy was very much influenced by the advances in biology of his time, and also, there is Alfred North Whitehead, who developed a dynamic philosophy of organism and process ontology. Martin Heidegger too, worked towards revealing this concept of physis as becoming nature and considered it fundamental for the development of his dynamic history of Being. And I would also like to mention Gilles Deleuze, a process thinker who was not only influenced by many of the thinkers mentioned above, but did also engage with biology, psychology and other concrete sciences of nature. However, even if dynamic modes of thought were employed by different thinkers throughout the history of philosophy, this kind of thought was rarely able to challenge the ortho-doxa in a transformative way.


3.    Conceptual background.

Distinguishing dynamic metaphysics from traditional forms of metaphysical thought


The first question to answer at this point is why this return to the tradition of metaphysics and ontology? Why repeat its tendency of abstract theorising that is fundamental to metaphysics and ontology, and thus risk falling back into an onto-theologically motivated forgetfulness of being? Especially considering the fact that today we are at a point in time when we seem to finally have overcome the inevitable one-sidedness caused by conceptualising reality in terms of atemporal necessity or in terms of unchanging entities and objective things.

Dynamic thinkers do try to uncover the fundamental structure of reality, in this sense they fall within the remit of metaphysics. However, the fundament that these thinkers are trying to uncover is neither absolute nor thing-like, it is not conceptualised following the structure of atemporal ideas, things or entities, the absolute or the ideal; but instead this fundament is thought along the lines of physis, of nature and the organic, of generation, creativity and becoming. So, dynamic metaphysics, while asking a question similar to traditional metaphysics, is no mere repetition of the tradition, as it implies an immanently – experientially – motivated ordering of what is necessary and what is irrelevant. Dynamic metaphysics differs from traditional forms of metaphysical thought in that it is neither constructed in a transcendental-horizontal fashion, nor does it forget the verbal character of being, i.e. its occuring essence (anwesen).


The next question to be answered before I move on is the one concerning the relationship between ontology and metaphysics. Even though I do distinguish between these fields, in my eyes this distinction between is merely methodological, as ultimately both approaches attempt to describe the same reality, however, they do so from different perspectives; ontology begins with the details and looks at how they grow into larger structures, while metaphysics is concerned with various higher levels of integration and the generation of meaning within these structures.

There are three concepts that characterise any dynamic metaphysics and ontology: dynamic networks (i.e. internal relations), processes and events. Using traditional terminology the expression ‘dynamic network’ describes an idealised metaphysical understanding of reality as a creative and open whole that, on the level of ontology, can be reconstructed as interrelated processes in the Whiteheadian sense, while the term ‘event’, as conceptualised by Heidegger, characterises how meaning and knowledge can arise and remain relatively stable over a period of time within such an ontology. Taking this seriously of course means that both the concepts of ‘dynamic networks’ and the ‘Ereignis’ belong to the metaphysical side of the investigation, while only ‘processes’ describe what there is on the level of ontology.

After having thus set the historical and conceptual stage and provided a first contrast between static and dynamic ways of understanding what there is, in what follows, I will discuss the general features of this kind of dynamic thought I propose in more detail. After beginning with the metaphysics of dynamic networks, I will move on to ontology (i.e. processes) and end with a return to metaphysics by looking at the becoming of knowledge and the stabilisation of meaning through Heidegger’s discussion of Being and the event.


4.    The metaphysics of dynamic networks


Networks have always played a part in human life. As soon as we are born, we are integrated in social, cultural, physical and conceptual networks. Just like our living bodies are shaped by communication networks of proteins and genes, our language and our knowledge are shaped by networks of transmission and our life is shaped by the networks of social and political institutions, clubs and groups. But what are networks exactly? Generally speaking, networks can be understood as correlated and interactive systems that can be described in terms of points of connection (nodes) and the links between these points (edges). Furthermore, networks, in the metaphysical sense investigated here, are all relations. There is no substrate, no fundamental rest, or basis beyond each of the contextualised and situated relations.

But how can a network emerge without things that are being related – without something being ‘networked’ so to speak?  Well, there are two answers to this worry, the first one, which I will only tackle in the next part, concerns the character of what stands in relation in dynamic networks. What is related in dynamic networks are processes and not things. That is why these networks are dynamic. The second answer to this worry, which I will quickly address now is, that the points of connection (nodes) within a network are the result of relations (i.e. the edges or connections), which means that the nodes cannot exist independently from the relations – they are constituted by the relations. Such kinds of relations are usually referred to as ‘internal relations’.

Relations are notoriously difficult to define for metaphysicians, as they are neither substances nor attributes[2], but seem to be of a third, different kind. And it is just as difficult to determine how relations relate to their relata. This is the aspect to be clarified in order to be able to conceptualise networks of relations without having to presuppose something independent that stands in relation. The British idealist F. H. Bradley and the analytic philosopher Bertrand Russell famously debated this issue over a long period of time (roughly between 1900 and 1924). They disagreed on whether relations should be considered to be internal and thus constitutive of what there is or whether they should be considered to be external and accidental to what there is.

Bradly argued that relations are internal, that a “relation must at both ends affect, and pass into, the being of its terms.” (Bradley, 1916, S. 364) While Bradly thus claimed that everything in the universe was internally related, Russell begged to differ. He reacted strongly against this idea of internal relations, arguing, amongst other things, that modern science presupposed external relations and that he considered it more likely that the idealists were wrong than modern science was wrong. 

This distinction between internal and external relations can be spelled out in many different ways, but the easiest way is to compare it to the difference between essential and accidental attributes. Some properties can be removed from a thing, while the thing remains the same. These properties are generally considered to be accidental properties. Other properties are so central to what something is, that if these properties were lost, it would not be the same, it would become something else; these are essential properties. Applying this to relations leads to the following characterisation: if relations are internal, they are essential to the relatum; removing them would substantially change the nature of what is related. External relations, on the other hand, can be removed without changing the nature of the relatum, there is something that exists independently from the relations it stands in.

If my personal identity is, for example, the result of internal relations, then who I am, depends on my relation to others, the languages I was brought up with, the experiences I made, the nutrients that sustained my body and so on. I am the result of these biological, social and conceptual relations to my parents, my surroundings, my education and so on. My identity is then the effect or result of all of these relations and the ways I chose to integrate or reject these relations. If, on the other hand, my identity was merely related externally to all these factors, then these factors only make a superficial, an apparent difference. What constitutes my personal identity is then some immutable fundament, some essence constituting the core of my identity; whatever experiences I have, whatever I encounter, whatever I learn - my essence remains unchangingly me, irrespective of any experiences or relations.

In other words, the debate on internal and external relations revolves around the following question: do relations ontologically depend on what there is independently from any relation or is what there is in itself fundamentally relational?[3] And from the point of view of a dynamic metaphysics, relations are internal and thus constitutive of what there is. The network of internal relations allows for the coherence or the unity of a reality that is pure creative becoming. As Alfred North Whitehead puts it in Process and Reality: “The coherence, which the system seeks to preserve, is the discovery that the process, or concrescence, of any one actual entity involves the other actual entities among its components. In this way the obvious solidarity of the world receives its explanation.” (Whitehead, 1978, S. 7) But this relational unity is never final nor ultimate, since all the processes of becoming (or ‘concrescence’ in Whitehead’s terms) participate in each other’s becoming, but they do not merge or dissolve into any form of absolute unity, due to the creative and open-ended nature of dynamic reality.


This creative and networked nature of a dynamic conception of reality fundamentally distinguishes dynamic metaphysics from traditional metaphysical systems in regard to their ability to change and adapt. There are again two reasons for this, the first one again relates to processes, which I will tackle in the next section and the second one regards how influence and power are distributed throughout the system. In contrast to open interrelated networks, traditional hierarchies[4] are generally organised in a vertical, linear fashion, so that power or influence can only flow in one direction, namely from the top down. In any metaphysical hierarchy the top node is connected to all or nearly all other nodes and thus exerts influence on all the other nodes, while the lower nodes exert almost no influence on the top node. Which means that these systems are built on the presupposition that some of the component parts constituting reality are more fundamental or at least more influential than the others and are to be located at the top of the hierarchy of being.

Traditional metaphysical systems are very good examples of these sorts of hierarchies. There is one (generally) transcendent top node, be it God, the unmoved mover, the idea of the good, or from which all comes, the source, etc. or hothen in the Greek language, that influences and determines the whole system. Then there is a hierarchical sequence of less and less influential lower strata (be it the transcendentalia, the angels or the various celestial spheres) that determine smaller and smaller parts of the system until we end with matter. The top node of any given hierarchical system has to remain stable as they ground or hold the whole structure in place, while lower nodes can change as they do not play as central a role in the system.[5]


Ontology: Dynamic being


Up until now I focused on spelling out the non-hierarchical and correlated structures of metaphysical networks, in what follows I will focus on the dynamic aspect. This however means that I will move from a metaphysical look on the relational whole to the level of ontology, i.e. the constitutive fundament. But before I begin a more detailed discussion of processual ontology let me address an immediate concern. Is it not the case, so the immediate challenge, that we experience all sorts of stable entities; is there not at least as much stability as there is change in the world?

Well, this observation will only hold, if one does not invest too much time in investigating this apparent stability. There are objects that do certainly appear stable over periods of time. But as soon as we investigate this apparent stability over the span of a couple of years, decades or centuries, which in terms of the universe, is really no time at all, this stable identity proves to be much less static. And if we take into account the sorts of intervals that shape our cosmos, all apparent stability becomes fluid and evaporates. In all of concrete or physical reality there is not one being, entity or thing that has stood the test of time without changing, without becoming and perishing. Woods, lakes, mountains – whole landscapes are the present result of past becoming. And there is broad consensus within the scientific community that our planet, our galaxy, even the whole universe is constantly undergoing changes, that everything in our physical universe has become at one point and will in all likelihood perish sometime.


But even if it is the case that reality is fundamentally dynamic, as these arguments suggest, how does this relate to networks? In introducing networks, I have emphasised the fact that in a dynamic network, understood metaphysically, there are no things or entities that stand in relation. And I argued that one reason for this is that relations are internal to what there is, there is nothing fully independent, nothing above or beyond the relations. Now it is time to argue the second point, namely that the internally related nodes themselves are processes and that it is these ontological processes that ultimately generate the dynamicity of the dynamic networks.

Let me get back to my example of my identity to illustrate this processual nature, before I delve into a more abstract description. If my identity is nothing but the effect of relations, what happens if I make a new connection, if I have a new experience – if there is a new relation? Every new experience (and this includes every repetition of an experience), every new relation is in some way or other woven into the complex network forming my identity. My personal identity thus grows, sometimes unperceptively other times manifestly, it evolves and changes with every encounter, with every contact, with every relation. I thus do become my physical, biological, social and mental experiences over time. Who I am now is the result of my past relations, which are my past physical, biological, social and conceptual experiences as well as the way these experiences were integrated into who I was at that point.[6] I am at present the result of my past and will change in accordance with my present encounters. I am an evolving and growing process. Thus identity takes time to become, since what something is “never appears at the outset, but in the middle, in the course of its development, when its strength is assured.” (Deleuze, 2004, S. 3) Analogously in becoming all becoming beings interact with and react to their surroundings – they are internally correlated. All of these active and passive relations shape and influence the becoming beings as they integrate these inputs or experiences by incorporating or rejecting them, just like my experiences and choices shape my becoming being. Everything thus becomes what it is – becoming existence does really precede essence. Thus, the defining feature of any dynamic ontology is the conviction that fundamentally, reality is temporal. Beings are temporal - becomings, beings and perishings – and not atemporal essences or things. Processes do not merely exist, they are not merely present, they are a becoming existence, or an occurring essence as Heidegger would put it.[7]


‘Process’ or ‘becoming being’ are thus the terms used in dynamic ontologies that are supposed to occupy logical space taken up by terms like ‘entity’, ‘thing’ or ‘substance’ in traditional ontologies. They function as the most basic category of existence, but do so without implying an unchanging essence, or any form of stable fundament. This leads to an ontology that can avoid many traditional problems, since it abandons “the subject-predicate forms of thought, so far as concerns the presupposition that this form is a direct embodiment of the most ultimate characterization of fact. The result is that the 'substance-quality' concept is avoided; and that morphological description is replaced by description of dynamic process.” (Whitehead, 1978, S. 7)

Traditionally ontologies are usually considered to be taxonomies of structures or entities and not descriptions of occurrences or events. Ontologies usually treat what we refer to with subjects and adjectives, and usually disregard whatever would correspond to the verbs. And if ontologists do look at processes, the process is treated merely as an intermediary step between the object before and the object after any change. However, to genuinely think temporal-dynamic ontology is to turn this preconception on its head, it’s to see the processes or events as fundamental, and to consider stabilities as effects of these processes - not their causes.

This clarification allows us to exclude a certain type of ontology that might look like a genuinely dynamic ontology but is not, namely event ontologies as they are being developed in the context of analytic philosophy. In these kinds of event ontologies, generally speaking, events are considered certain kinds of temporally extended building blocks out of which reality is (at least partially) composed. Examples for such events are exams, a chess game or a wedding. These events have a (relatively) determinable beginning and a determinable end, they are neither open-ended, nor creative or currently in the process of becoming. So, while these events are temporally extended, the actual flow of time, the actual process of becoming is not taken into account when coming to terms with these temporally extended entities. Conceptualising events this way limits their connectedness, cuts and separates them from the network of processual relations within which they are integrated and stops creative evolution. The dynamicity and change involved in creative becoming is kept at bay, because the event is not a becoming being, but a temporally extended existant.

Instead of accounting for open and creative goings on or evolving happenings, these sorts of ontologies merely account for temporally extended event-blocks. These sorts of events too can be accommodated by process ontologies, as meta-structures, i.e. sums or networks of certain basic processes that taken together constitute the relative stability of an event. Such events, however, do not describe final reality, the processes constituting these sorts of events do. Whitehead defines these events and their relation to the fundamental processes (actual occasions) as follows: “I shall use the term 'event' in the more general sense of a nexus of actual occasions, interrelated in some determinate fashion in one extensive quantum. An actual occasion is the limiting type of an event with only one member.” (Whitehead, 1978, S. 73)

However, there is another way to conceive of events, as proposed by Heidegger. While there is no apparent overlap between the presented ontological use and Heidegger’s metaphysical use of the term, I do think Heidegger’s ‘event’ is much more relevant for our purposes. In what follows I will argue that reality conceived as dynamic and networked processes makes events in Heidegger’s sense not only possible but also necessary in order to allow for knowledge and (limited) certainty that transcends the chaos of change. But before I will present this argument let me spell out why processes, i.e. (actual or substantial) change are so problematic for knowledge and certainty.


The pitfalls in thinking that which changes: Knowledge and the problem of understanding a world of change.


When it comes to understanding and explaining a world of dynamic change, a whole host of aporias arise, of which I will only present the ontological and the epistemological one. The ontological version of the problem of change revolves around existence and identity. How can something have existence, so the question proceeds, if it doesn’t remain what it is, but instead changes continuously and becomes something other all the time? From the perspective of epistemology, on the other hand, the problem of change concerns the possibility of gaining insight or attaining knowledge. How can we truly know something if it changes in the very moment that we are trying to grasp it? If the objects of knowledge keep changing fundamentally, then there is nothing that could be known. To sum it up, in a world of change nothing exists, and nothing can be known.

These conceptual problems do not only explain why traditional philosophy focused on the unchanging but also why coming to terms with our current dynamic networked reality necessitates a reckoning with these issues. And there are a few attempts to come to terms with the historical and dynamic aspects of reality. As in Heraclitus’ thoughts for example. Later the systematic development of an alternative mode of thought able to support historical metaphysics began with Hegel’s “Verflüssigung des Denkens” (a rendering liquid of thought), moved from Schelling’s founding on the abyss (Ungrund), the real ground of being which can never be reflected by thought and develops the idea of positive philosophy to be able to think this real, factical ground of being. Since reason is thus not able to ground itself in what there is, later thinkers like Nietzsche argue for reduced faith – or even the abandonment - of reason in coming to terms with reality.  These thoughts hold the seeds of deconstruction that led to attempts to achieve a full destruction of master-narratives. In its wake this development demolished (or at least attempted to demolish) any and all apparent or real certainties, the idea of objectivity and the absolute.

What thus (partially) began as an attempt to account for the historicity of reality, i.e. the dynamic, concrete, ungrounded and creative aspects of the universe, today seems to have ended in the philosophical gesture of destruction and rejection. Rejection of any and all presupposed or even potential stability, including the rejection of ground, foundation, of unity, of the absolute or the necessary – of language and objectivity, of science and knowledge – of everything philosophers used to strive for. This has created a quite paradoxical situation. We are now able to talk and think about rhizomatic structures, lacunae, emptiness, no-thingness, process and the like, but we don’t seem to be able to conceptualise or generate and guide sustainable creative processes. We seem unable to stabilise the creative chaos unleashed by these thoughts enough to generate a direction, or to realise any aim at all. This is not surprising, as any aim, any direction is often considered a new master-narrative, a new ultimate, another unity ordering actions and creating a new hierarchy and thus all such efforts need to be rejected as soon as they are constructed. However, to me, the gesture of renouncing the grand narratives seems itself nothing but a grand narrative, its aim merely a maximum of difference, a maximum of plurality and creativity. This gesture too still elevates one aim above all others and thus still creates familiar kinds of structures. With the added complication that any structure, as soon as it is realised needs to be attacked again, pulled down and destroyed, precisely because this new structure in the very moment of its realisation has become just another version of the grand narrative, of the ultimate aim.

The deconstructions and destructions of the last hundred years have opened up space for multiplicity, for difference, for plurality, they have even opened our understanding to the fact that these pluralities and differences are developing along historical lines, but we haven’t quite managed to strike a balance between continuity and creativity, between stability and change. Pure creativity without continuity is destabilisation, it is chaos without anything being created, while pure continuity without innovation leads down the path of traditional, stable hierarchies of suppression and power monopolies. So the question of our time seems to be the following: how to come to terms with dynamic networks, with creative related processes without congealing their processual becoming into substance, while maintaining enough structure to be able to create and produce intended outcomes - all while remaining able to set goals and realise them? I will end this paper with a short discussion of Heidegger’s concept of the Ereignis as a potential insight that could aid us in striking such a balance.


Das Ereignis


Heidegger’s notion of the ‘Event’ is notoriously difficult to understand. But let me tackle this problem by beginning with an analogy (with the additional caveat that this analogy, like any analogy, works only in one respect and lacks resemblance in others) to then move on to a more sophisticated treatment of the issue.

Let me thus begin with the following question. How is it possible to redefine entities or concepts, to give them a new meaning, even though they were perfectly understandable for hundreds of years? And what is it that renders a specific definition suddenly inadequate? These questions are especially confusing considering the fact that a redefinition does not necessarily imply an objective change in what an entity is or what the concept points out. How is it possible, for example, that we understood what it means to be a human being as a combination of psyche and matter for around a millennium, then as a combination of res cogitans and res extensa for hundreds of years, and then as Dasein? All of these concepts provide an account of the same actuality, namely of what it is to be human. Furthermore, all three concepts create insights and are in certain respects adequate descriptions of the conditio humana.

These redefinitions reflect a shift in what is considered necessary, relevant or unimportant for understanding what it means to be human. Introducing some Heideggerian language around the Event, we can say that each of these terms discloses or unconceals what it is to be human from a specific understanding of Being, from a specific understanding of which aspects of reality are fundamental, which aspects are relevant and which aspects can be disregarded. This development from one definition or conceptualisation to another can thus be understood as an effect of the shift from one set of ordering the important and the unimportant aspects of beings into one understanding of Being to another such ordered set.

The Being of beings does not exist like the myriad beings we encounter in daily life, however it unconceals beings as existing (it is) in a specific ordered manner (is so and so), before any intellectual engagement or analysis:

Be-ing is and will nonetheless never be a being. Being of a being - as what is spoken to and from this being, that is, the predicate - claims be-ing insofar as the asserting pronouncement always already has to hold itself in the open and address what is un-covered beforehand as a being in its "that" (it "is") and "so" and "so" ("is"). (Heidegger, Mindfulness, 2016, S. 169, §66)

 This specific ordered manner of existing is nothing but a determination of which aspects of beings are essential or relevant in order to grasp their existence adequately, and which aspects can be disregarded since they are not considered to characterise beings in their essence. And what is considered essential for beings to exist, be it an essence, a mathematical structure or identity, changes in the event of a creative philosophical gathering and re-ordering of what is essential and what can be disregarded: it is the fact that be-ing ‘refuses’ to give itself (fully) that “enforces the 'gathering', the 'taking together-unto-one' and the 'receiving' of the rising presencingύσις)”. (Heidegger, Mindfulness, 2016, p. 170) In Heidegger’s terminology this sequence of various forms of unconcealing of what is important and what is unimportant for our metaphysical and ontological account of the world, i.e. various forms of Being, is called the history of Being.

Leaving Heidegger for the moment, let’s look at the question in what kind of world such a fundamental re-definition is even possible. How is it possible that there are several adequate ways of generating such sets? Also, how can it be that all of these definitions are sufficiently adequate in describing or grasping what there is, to have influenced people’s understanding for centuries if not millennia? I would claim that dynamic metaphysics of processes can provide an adequate answer to both of these questions. If what there is, is an internally related dynamic process, there are many ways of conceiving or ordering these networked processes adequately and thus many ways of grasping what there is adequately, even if every grasp is always one-sided and historically situated. This one-sidedness and the correlated need for re-definitions is then not the result of an ‘human, all too human’ epistemic shortcoming, but a fundamental and necessary feature of reality. It is not the case that Aristotle simply misunderstood what it means to be human and Descartes merely perfected his description – both are perfectly adequate abstractions answering the question of what it is to be human most adequate and most relevant for their respective moment in history. It is merely the case that both focused on different aspects of reality and abstracted from others. Both philosophers thus present a necessarily one-sided and historically situated conceptual description of the interrelated and dynamic process that form human reality.


Even if we left Heidegger for a moment, we did not stray from the way he thought about Being and the Event. When Heidegger states that the main question of his philosophy of the event is the question of “Wie west das Sein?” (How does Being occur essentially?) then the dynamic and temporal nature of this understanding of Being is quite evident. The fact that he speaks of the essence of Being verbally (wesen, an-wesen) is a clear enough indication. Furthermore, he also talks about a historical dimension of Being. Considering both statements, we will have to conclude that for Heidegger Being too occurs, just like ontological beings (i.e. the processes) occur. But how does Being occur exactly, i.e. how does the history of Being emerge? It is this question, namely how these different forms of Being are given and gifted, that Heidegger unfolds in his philosophy of the event. When he claims that Being “essentially occurs as the event of grounding the 'there' or, in short, as the event” (Heidegger, 2012, S. 195), this means that every specific understanding of Being can only be given by the event.

In engaging with these questions, one has to take care not to commit the fallacy of misplaced concreteness and identify, in the classical onto-theological tradition, Being (the order of distinctions between what is relevant and what can be disregarded in one’s account) with beings (the ontological networked processes). Being is the ground of meaning allowing us to live within a given world, to develop any given ontology, to develop any conceptual framework – in this regard it is Heidegger’s analogon to the nous in ancient Greek thought. The occurrence of being as the event is what renders beings thinkable (Denkbar).

Even if there is an analogy between Being and nous, the way intelligibility is granted by the nous, however, differs substantially from the way Denkbarkeit is granted though the giving of Being that occurs as the event. The nous guarantees intelligibility and it grants a full, unrestricted, absolute understanding, provided that one has done the conceptual work necessary to access it. Being as the event, on the other hand, necessary conceals in the process of unconcealing, shows while hiding, grants while depriving, and thus only ever allows for a partial understanding. Thus, Being can never guarantee universal or absolute intelligibility. This difference between the nous and Being pertains precisely because while the nous is grounded in an ultimate, and is fundamentally connected to thought or rationality, the Event of Being is grounded in the world, in the phenomena, in the process of becoming existence. It remains a phenomenological account of the generation of meaning, tied to physis, to experience and immanence:

Since then all "is" and being arises out of beings; since then beings enjoy the preeminence of the starting point; since then beings enjoy this pre-eminence even there, where the "origin" of beingness (always categorial) is displaced into the "I think" and into its 'having been thought'. (Heidegger, Mindfulness, 2016, S. 170, § 66)





an international and interdisciplinary journal of postmodern cultural sound, text and image

 Volume 16, Spring 2019, ISSN 1552-5112



Aristotle. (1984). Physics (Revised Oxford Translation (ROT) of the complete works of Aristotle, vol 2. ed.). (J. Barnes, Ed.) Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Bergson, H. (1944). Creative Evolution. An Alternate Explanation for Darwin's Mechanism of Evoulution. (A. Mitchel, Trans.) New York: The Modern Library, Random House.

Bradley, F. H. (1916). Appearance and Reality. A metaphysical essay. London.

Deleuze, G. (2004). Cinema 1: The Movement Image. London: Continuum.

Heidegger, M. (2012). Contributions to Philosophy (Of the Event). (R. R.-N. (trs.), Ed.) Indiana University Press.

Heidegger, M. (2016). Mindfulness. (P. E. Kalary, Trans.) London: Bloomsbury.

Whitehead, A. N. (1978). Process and Reality (Corrected Edition ed.). New York: MacMillan & Co.




[1] In contrast to a mathematical understanding of nature, that is more conductive to an essentialist or substantial view then a processual one.

[2] In the parlance of external relations, the difference between relations and properties can be explained as follows. While properties are properties of an entity, relations cannot be predicated of an entity, but hold between entities. From the point of view of internal relations, this is a bit more complicated, but ultimately from this perspective the relations in sum function in analogy to essence.

[3] This is a question of (onto)logical priority, not a temporal one. In dynamic networks the relata and the relations are co-constitutive, i.e. they are reciprocally constituting each other.

[4] While hierarchies could be seen as vertically structured networks, the main difference seems to be, that in hierarchies relations are generally considered external. What something is, what influence it has does not depend on its relations, but on its essence. This essence determines the relations it stands in.

[5] This is the reason why this structure renders hierarchies much more stable and vulnerable to change. While networks possess the adaptability and openness to evolve and grow, hierarchies tend to crumble under the pressure of change.


[6] This process of integration can function through assimilation or through rejection, since sometimes the paths I did not choose, the concepts I did not engage with and the experiences that I have rejected have as much of an effect on who I am now as the experiences I actively engaged with and integrated.

[7] I admit, at first it does seem rather far-fetched to claim that everything that is - from stones, to human beings, from cars to drops of water – exists as temporal and networked (fundamentally interrelated). This ‘sameness’ of existence as becoming beings, however, does not imply qualitative sameness in the way this being is concretised or actualised. Ultimately any ontology that departs from the idea that there is a univocity of being will have to claim the same thing, namely that everything shares the same form of existence.