What is Becoming in Philosophy?

So, what exactly is becoming in philosophy? Well, It’s about change and growth, how things transform and evolve. In this article, we’ll explore its meaning across Eastern and Western philosophical traditions

The idea of becoming reveals much about the nature of our reality and perception. So, we take the discussion of becoming vs being in science and fundamental physics to determine which one holds the truth.

In the end, no philosophy is helpful without a practical and actionable conclusion. To fulfill this, we will explore some of the practical consequences of adopting this way of looking at the world on a personal level.

Understanding the Concept of Becoming

The idea of “Becoming” in philosophy explores the process of change, transformation, and evolution. It reflects that everything in existence is in a constant state of flux, transitioning from one state to another over time. In other words, becoming is about the dynamic nature of reality. It emphasizes a continuous flow of events and the emergence of new phenomena.

The discussion about becoming is about the nature of reality. It addresses questions such as: what kind of world are we living in? Is it made of static objects? like rocks, planets, or stars? Or is it a changing and perhaps interconnected universe?

That is to say, becoming challenges the idea of static or fixed beings. Because in becoming all things are subject to growth and change.

The concept of becoming is often contrasted with the idea of “Being”. Simply put, being represents a static state of existence.

While Being refers to what something is at a given moment, Becoming focuses on how things come into being and evolve.

Becoming has been a central theme in various philosophical traditions throughout history.

Becoming in Ancient Philosophy

In ancient Greece, the concept of Becoming held a central place in understanding the nature of reality.

Heraclitus believed in the idea of a changing universe. He famously declared, “You cannot step into the same river twice”. For Heraclitus, the world was in a constant state of change, with nothing remaining static. Because for him everything was in a constant state of transformation.

Parmenides, in contrast to Heraclitus, argued for the unity and immutability of Being. He said that change and Becoming were illusions and happened due to our false perception. Instead. the true reality was unchanging and eternal.

Plato, a student of Parmenides, used ideas from both Heraclitus and Parmenides.

He thought that there were perfect, unchanging “Forms” that everything in the world was based on. These perfect Forms were like the blueprints for everything we see around us. Plato thought that the things we see in the world are just imperfect reflections of these Forms. For Plato, this idea of things changing and becoming was very important. He said we shouldn’t talk about things as if they’re always the same because everything is always changing. However, Plato also believed that some things never change, like these perfect Forms. So, while he believed in becoming and changing, he also believed in things that stayed the same forever.

Modern Interpretations of Becoming

Western philosophy generally leans towards a focus on being. Yet, not all Western thinkers agreed with this perspective. Nietzsche, Bergson, and Whitehead, for example, emphasized the ever-changing nature of reality.

Friedrich Nietzsche, a modern philosopher, explored the concept of Becoming in his philosophy of “eternal recurrence.” Nietzsche proposed that time is not linear but cyclical, with events recurring infinitely. In his view, every moment in time is eternally recurring, leading to an eternal cycle of Becoming.

Henri Bergson developed the concept of “creative evolution.” Bergson argued that reality is not static but evolving and becoming more complex over time. He proposed that the universe has a creative force, which he called élan vital, driving the process of Becoming. According to Bergson, this creative change is spontaneous and not determined by external factors.

Jean-Paul Sartre, an existentialist philosopher, discusses Becoming in his book “Being and Nothingness.” He said that before anything else, we exist. Then, we figure out who we are through what we do and choose. Sartre believed people are free to make their meaning in life, and this freedom means we’re always changing.

For Sartre, becoming means we have the power to choose our path, even when things are uncertain. He didn’t think people were born with a set nature or purpose. Instead, he said our experiences and choices shape who we are.

Becoming and Process Philosophy

Process philosophy emphasizes the dynamic nature of reality. Moreover, it focuses on the continuous process of change and becoming.

The term process itself is about gradual change toward a particular result.

Process thinkers emphasize the sequence of things. For example, reading this article is a process, or a flash of ideas in our mind is a process.

One of the central themes in process philosophy is the concept of Becoming.

Process thinkers believe that everything in the universe undergoes continual transformation and growth. In other words, everything from atoms to organisms to galaxies is in an ongoing state of becoming. Essentially, they believe our entire reality, including us, is a constant becoming.

Essentially, believing in becoming is about focusing on relationships rather than things. The features of the process way of looking at the world are in three folds:

  • Nothing is static
  • Categories are illusionary
  • Everything is connected

Nothing is static

This could mean that we are not a constant being. This is to say, we don’t have a definite set of characteristics or identities that define us. Instead, we are defined through our relationship and interaction with the environment.

Thinking in terms of becoming means that reality is a network of interrelated events or “processes” rather than a collection of separate and isolated entities.

According to this point of view, we are not a being (human) among other things/beings (animals, houses, roads, other people). Instead, we are a process, a happening among other happenings. As a process, we interact with other processes. This interaction makes us change. As a result, we become something new all the time. In fact, in this model of reality, you have no way of stopping the change process. Since that’s how the way things are.

Categories are illusionary

Another consequence of thinking in terms of becoming is that there can be no categories.

Since everything is changing all the time, categories are superficial. Instead, we are living in a world in which everything exists in a fluid state. Why don’t we see it that way? Our perception creates a map of reality for us to navigate in life. Although this makes our practical life easier it hides the true nature of reality.

Everything is connected

According to process philosophers, everything in the universe is interconnected. Meaning, that everything is reflected in other things. This view is very similar to the idea of Indra’s Net in Hinduism. The metaphor Indra’s Net implies that there is an underlying structure that connects and reflects everything in the universe.

This connectivity also means that each entity in this connected universe can affect and change other entities. A similar idea to the Butterfly effect in chaos theory.

The butterfly effect in chaos theory: The butterfly effect is a concept in science that suggests small actions can have large consequences. For example, if a butterfly flaps its wings in one part of the world, it can lead to a hurricane somewhere else.

To sum up, process philosophy views becoming at the center of our universe. This way of looking at the world offers a holistic and dynamic perspective on reality. It focuses on the fluid and interconnectedness nature of all things.

Eastern Philosophy on Becoming

In Eastern beliefs such as Hinduism, Buddhism, and Taoism, Becoming is linked to the idea that everything in nature is temporary, interconnected, and cyclical.

In Hinduism, the concept of Becoming is closely linked to the idea of “Samsara.” Samsara, the cycle of birth and death, encompasses a world where individual objects emerge, change, and eventually vanish, each with its unique conditional characteristics.

Buddhism further elaborates on the concept of Becoming with the notion of “Anicca,” or impermanence. This implies that “all physical and mental phenomena are in a constant process of conditioned construction and are interconnected”.

Essentially, the nature of life is transient, hence the cultivation of detachment and tranquility. As a result, Buddhists seek liberation from suffering and the cycle of birth and death.

In Taoism, the concept of Becoming is expressed through Wu Wei or effortless action. Taoist philosophy emphasizes the importance of aligning with the natural flow of the universe. Thus, allowing events to unfold spontaneously and according to their nature. By embracing Wu Wei, individuals are attuned to the dynamic process of Becoming and the natural rhythm.

Qi and Becoming

The concept of qi, in Chinese philosophy, is also important in understanding the nature of becoming.

Qi is considered the vital energy that flows through everything in the universe. The cultivation of qi is central to practices like Qigong and Taijiquan. Similarly, in traditional Chinese medicine, qi circulation is vital in maintaining physical health. This idea of qi and transformation emphasizes the process of becoming.

Scientific Insights into Becoming

Discoveries in modern science and especially in fundamentals physics have offered great insight into the nature of our reality.

In physics, ideas like relativity and quantum mechanics have changed how we think about time and space.

David Tong is a professor of theoretical physics at the University of Cambridge. He lectures courses in theoretical physics, from classical mechanics to string theory.

In his lecture on quantum field theory, he explains that in school, we’re taught that the building blocks of matter are particles. We learn that particles are the smallest pieces of matter and form like Lego bricks to make all matter. However, according to David Tong and quantum field theory, this is not the entire story.

In fact, the world is not made of particles according to David Tong. Going deeper, you will see that particles are formed through quantum fields.

There are no particles in the world. The basic fundamental building blocks of our universe are these fluid-like substances that we call fields.

David Tong, Lecture: Quantum Fields: The Real Building Blocks of the Universe

According to quantum field theory, the underlying fabric of the universe consists of these “continuous fluid-like substances, spread throughout all of space. We call these objects fields”. The fields are constantly in flux and ripple like the surface of water. Some examples of well-known fields are the electric and magnetic fields.

These fields contain all matter, from trees to rocks, planets, and bodies. That is to say that at some level, everything is connected through the quantum fields.

In his public lecture at the Royal Institution of London, David Tong remarks that

And we’re all connected to each other. Just like the waves on the ocean all belong to the same underlying ocean, the electrons in your body are ripples of the same field as the electrons in my body.

David Tong, Lecture (20:20): Quantum Fields: The Real Building Blocks of the Universe

What does this discussion in quantum field theory mean for the idea of Becoming and our philosophical debate? Perhaps it means that Heraclitus was really onto something.

Practical Applications of Understanding Becoming

Living in an interconnected and changing universe is much different than living in a place where beings and things are restricted by their essence or innate nature. Understanding Becoming has practical benefits in daily life:

  1. Adaptability: Change is normal, and knowing this helps us adjust to new situations instead of resisting them.
  2. Resilience: We can bounce back from setbacks by seeing them as temporary challenges, not permanent failures.
  3. Open-mindedness: Being open to new ideas and experiences helps us be more creative and solve problems better.
  4. Personal growth: Knowing we’re always changing encourages us to try new things and become better versions of ourselves.
  5. Interconnectedness: Realizing that everything is connected helps us be more thoughtful and empathetic to others.

Living in a world of Becomings instead of a universe of Beings means embracing change and growth as natural aspects of life. Instead of seeing things as fixed and unchanging, we understand that everything is in a constant state of flux and evolution. This philosophy encourages empathy, adaptability, resilience, and a deeper appreciation for the interconnectedness of all things.

Summary Table

Understanding the Concept of BecomingBecoming in philosophy refers to the process of change and evolution. It challenges static views of reality.
Becoming in Ancient PhilosophyAncient Greek philosophers like Heraclitus and Parmenides had differing views on becoming and being.
Modern Interpretations of BecomingModern philosophers like Nietzsche, Bergson, and Sartre emphasized the dynamic nature of reality and personal growth.
Becoming and Process PhilosophyProcess philosophy focuses on the continuous process of change and interconnectedness in the universe.
Eastern Philosophy on BecomingHinduism, Buddhism, and Taoism view becoming as temporary, interconnected, and cyclical.
Scientific Insights into BecomingQuantum field theory suggests that the universe is made of continuous fluid-like substances known as fields.
Practical Applications of Understanding BecomingUnderstanding becoming helps in adaptability, resilience, open-mindedness, personal growth, and interconnectedness.
Summary Table – Philosophy of Becoming